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The Jesus Of History Vs The Jesus Of Myth


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This was originally posted as part of Post 64 in the thread Did Jesus Exist. There was very little discussion so I'll try again.

 

(RubySera @ Nov 28 2006, 09:01 PM) post_snapback.gif

 

In light of Paul's Jesus, who seems to be a spiritual heavenly being, it would make sense in my mind that the gospel of John would have been next to be written after Paul's writings. And that the synoptics came last, sometime in the second century. That would show a "degenerating" or "materializing" trend of Jesus from heavenly to material flesh and blood. Is there any basis for such a theory? Seems I saw it somewhere but I forget where. In my mind, this would definitely indicate that there was no flesh and blood historical Jesus of the Bible.

 

I know this is opposite from what Christian biblical scholars say; they have Mark the earliest and John the latest for sure.

 

I am thinking this idea makes sense if we believe that Jesus is a mythical figure. Someone suggested earlier in the thread Did Jesus Exist that Paul's Jesus (a heavenly being) is very different from the Jesus of the Gospels. I think the Jesus of John is very different from the Jesus of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Of course, Paul's Jesus and John's Jesus are very different, too.

 

If we think of Jesus et al as a myth that got written down sometime in the first century CE (AD) it makes sense in my mind to think that the fully developed theology preceded or came before the historicized versions in the synoptic gospels. In other words, the synoptic gospels sound like history, and John and Paul sound like theology. Maybe John came first, then Paul, then the synoptic gospels ???

 

The Gospel of John barely escapes being Gnostic. I have not yet seen any speculations about the beginnings of Gnosticism. Perhaps Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity. Perhaps Christianity grew out of Gnosticism.

 

This, of course, raises the question: Could Paul possibly have been Gnostic? "Mystery Religion" may not exactly equate "Gnosticism." However, "gnosis" equals "knowledge" or "knowing." I did a search in Strong's Concordance (electronic version) for the word "mystery," and there are a batch of references to Paul's writings about knowing the mystery [of the kingdom of God, etc].

 

Marvin W. Meyer (in The Ancient Mysteries) argues that Christianity rightfully is a mystery religion. He quotes Clement of Alexandria (orthodox Christian) where he says it is a mystery religion, and he also quotes Paul in 1 Cor. 15, online here.

 

What do you think? Any ideas?

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From what I've read there is no "historical" jesus. The sole source of anything about the guy is the bible. There is not one extrabiblical reference to him. There are several forgeries and interpolations, but nothing that survives critical inquiry.

 

This building on a tale does have parallels in other areas. Atlantis for example. The first, and only source, of any information on Atlantis is a few paragraphs in a dialog written down, and unfinished, by Plato in about 360 bce. Anything added to that is a fabrication by the author.

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This was originally posted as part of Post 64 in the thread Did Jesus Exist. There was very little discussion so I'll try again.

 

(RubySera @ Nov 28 2006, 09:01 PM) post_snapback.gif

 

In light of Paul's Jesus, who seems to be a spiritual heavenly being, it would make sense in my mind that the gospel of John would have been next to be written after Paul's writings. And that the synoptics came last, sometime in the second century. That would show a "degenerating" or "materializing" trend of Jesus from heavenly to material flesh and blood. Is there any basis for such a theory? Seems I saw it somewhere but I forget where. In my mind, this would definitely indicate that there was no flesh and blood historical Jesus of the Bible.

 

I know this is opposite from what Christian biblical scholars say; they have Mark the earliest and John the latest for sure.

 

I am thinking this idea makes sense if we believe that Jesus is a mythical figure. Someone suggested earlier in the thread Did Jesus Exist that Paul's Jesus (a heavenly being) is very different from the Jesus of the Gospels. I think the Jesus of John is very different from the Jesus of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Of course, Paul's Jesus and John's Jesus are very different, too.

 

If we think of Jesus et al as a myth that got written down sometime in the first century CE (AD) it makes sense in my mind to think that the fully developed theology preceded or came before the historicized versions in the synoptic gospels. In other words, the synoptic gospels sound like history, and John and Paul sound like theology. Maybe John came first, then Paul, then the synoptic gospels ???

 

The Gospel of John barely escapes being Gnostic. I have not yet seen any speculations about the beginnings of Gnosticism. Perhaps Gnosticism pre-dated Christianity. Perhaps Christianity grew out of Gnosticism.

 

This, of course, raises the question: Could Paul possibly have been Gnostic? "Mystery Religion" may not exactly equate "Gnosticism." However, "gnosis" equals "knowledge" or "knowing." I did a search in Strong's Concordance (electronic version) for the word "mystery," and there are a batch of references to Paul's writings about knowing the mystery [of the kingdom of God, etc].

 

Marvin W. Meyer (in The Ancient Mysteries) argues that Christianity rightfully is a mystery religion. He quotes Clement of Alexandria (orthodox Christian) where he says it is a mystery religion, and he also quotes Paul in 1 Cor. 15, online here.

 

What do you think? Any ideas?

 

As I wrote when you first presented this thesis, it would turn everything on its ear. In this post, you have expanded on it even more. Your question about the Gnostic Christians coming first is another thesis that would turn biblical scholarship upside down!

 

What I don't know is the process whereby the canonical gospels and letters of Paul were dated in the first place. What was the protocol for the dating process? Was John put last because it gave us a more "Christ-like Jesus," and Mark placed first because it was a more "human-like Jesus"? This is another area in which I need to do more reading. (I'm hoping to take a course next fall on the gospels. This spring, I'm taking one on the OT!)

 

How did we get wed to various dates for these writings? Do these dates make sense? Are they all "educated guesses"? If so, why couldn't your thesis be just as viable?

 

I looked up every mention of "Jesus" in the epistles traditonally attributed to Paul. I'm SURE I missed some as my eyes began to glaze over. Anyway, here is what we know about the human, earthly Jesus, from Paul (not taking note of passages about a heavenly or godlike Christ):

 

Romans 1.3b – “…the seed of David, according to the flesh.”

Romans 1.4b – resurrected from the dead

Romans 4.24 – “raised from the dead”

Romans 8.3 – He came “in the flesh.”

Romans 15.8 – Preached “to the circumcision [Jews]”

I Corinthians 11.23-26 – The “Lord Jesus” instituted memorial supper the night he was "betrayed"

II Corinthians 1.3 – God is the “Father” of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

II Corinthians 4.10 – Jesus died.

Galatians 3.13 – Crucified, “hung on a tree”

Galatians 4.4 – He was “born of a woman, born under the law”

Galatians 6.14 – Jesus died on the “the cross”

I Thessalonians 1.10 – Jesus was “raised from the dead”

I Timothy 6.13 – brought before Pontius Pilate

II Timothy 2.8 – “raised from the dead” and “descended from David”

 

 

While Hebrews traditionally was attributed to Paul, this is highly disputed. In my brief look-through this evening a very interesting point came to be clearly seen. While in those letters more likely belonging to Paul, the use of "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus" or "Lord Jesus Christ" is constant. In Hebrews, however, "Jesus" is used almost exclusively, with "Christ" added before or after "Jesus" only rarely. Definitely a different style than we see in Paul's epistles. Here's one passage about the human Jesus from Hebrews:

 

Hebrews 5.7 – “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death….”

 

Lots of stuff to think about with these new theses of yours!

 

-CC in MA

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Interesting take on things, RubySera.

 

Who knows for sure? I believe that one of the primary reasons we have for believing that John's gospel was the fourth one is because of something Eusebius said (in his Ecclesiastical History) that Clement said about John filling in the gaps of the other three gospels.

 

It's doubtful that Clement actually said that, since it would be anachronistic. The concept of the four gospels didn't come to roost until Irenaeus, in 180 C.E., and Clement was 75 years or so prior to that.

 

Paul's writings and John's gospel were both popular with early gnostics. In fact, the earliest external evidence of John comes to us from gnostic sources. (Hippolytus, Valentinus and Heracleon)

 

John does say, after all - "you will know the truth and the truth will make you free". Sounds kind of like the quest for gnosis to me.

 

Of course, John also says, "the word became flesh".. most decidedly un-gnostic.

 

Another reason no one thinks John was first is because it is so dissimilar from the synoptics. But, if it was unknown to the synoptic writers or if the writer of Mark disagreed with the theology in John, it would make sense to significantly alter the storyline.

 

With regards to Paul's writings, if they didn't support a gnostic position, I don't think they would have found such a champion as Marcion. (of course, some think that Marcion was the actual author...)

 

I Timothy 6.13 – brought before Pontius Pilate

II Timothy 2.8 – “raised from the dead” and “descended from David”

 

I thought you were working on a degree in religion. If so, it's quite disingenuous of you to portray the pastorals as Pauline.

 

It's a widely held scholarly position that 1 and 2 timothy are pseudepigraphic.

 

Some of your other quotes are interpolations.

 

There IS an awful lot of discussion ongoing currently about Romans 8:3 "kata sarka" - (according to, or in the likeness of, flesh)

 

The Romans passages about crucifixion or dying and resurrecting do not necessarily place Jesus as a human being in recent history. A pretty good argument can be made that Paul's revelatory experiences led him to believe that a crucifixion took place in an upper realm - he did after all, believe that he had travelled to the third heaven - and he couldn't even tell if it was in his body or not.

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I Timothy 6.13 – brought before Pontius Pilate

II Timothy 2.8 – “raised from the dead” and “descended from David”

 

I thought you were working on a degree in religion. If so, it's quite disingenuous of you to portray the pastorals as Pauline.

 

It's a widely held scholarly position that 1 and 2 timothy are pseudepigraphic.

 

Some of your other quotes are interpolations.

 

There IS an awful lot of discussion ongoing currently about Romans 8:3 "kata sarka" - (according to, or in the likeness of, flesh)

 

The Romans passages about crucifixion or dying and resurrecting do not necessarily place Jesus as a human being in recent history. A pretty good argument can be made that Paul's revelatory experiences led him to believe that a crucifixion took place in an upper realm - he did after all, believe that he had travelled to the third heaven - and he couldn't even tell if it was in his body or not.

 

Well, I've only taken one course!!! Give me a break! :grin:

 

I did state quite clearly that I hope to take a NT course next fall and that this is an area (dating of these letters, etc.) in which I need to learn much more, so I certainly was not trying to be "disengenuous," as charged.

 

The fact remains, as well, that these epistles have traditionally be ascribed to Paul. I am aware of the scholarly disagreement regarding some of what we call Paul's letters -- a quit recent development, I understand. (And I'm always skeptical of what the Germans were doing in the 19th century with Bible scholarship, in light of what the Germans did in the 20th century.)

 

Your views are one option for the "truth" of Paul's views, most definitely. Another option, long held by most, is that Paul was referring to a crucified Jesus in the recent past, in his lifetime, who did not remain dead. This doesn't make it true or real or historical, even if this is what Paul believed and preached as "the gospel," but subscribing as I do to a literal Jesus, a literal death, and a literal resurrection is not an absurdity, either, as I see it.

 

-CC in MA

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This doesn't make it true or real or historical, even if this is what Paul believed and preached as "the gospel," but subscribing as I do to a literal Jesus, a literal death, and a literal resurrection is not an absurdity, either, as I see it.

 

It's not an absurdity. It's an impossibility. (the literal resurrection part)

 

The NT has many references to dead people returning to life. I suppose under the goddidit rules, anything is possible.

 

Funny that after the last account (in Acts) goddidit rules no longer apply. And for the next 2000 years, the dead stay dead.

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I think there is a problem when you separate the "gnostics" and the "christians". I think this gives a false impression of there being a "legitimate" christianity from which the gnostics deviated from. I think this stems from the fact that the roman literalist faction of christianity "won" the war of christian ideas in finding favour with the Emperor.

 

The church fathers waged a vicious campaign to expunge the gnostic groups and burn their writings. So we have to treat their version of christian history with great suspicion. The new testament gives a false impression of being complete. We only find the other gospels strange because we have not the familiarity with them that we have with Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. If they had been discovered in the cave at Nag Hammadi in 1945 how many people do you think would say, 'wow! Here is the story of a literal man who performed all these miracles, died and came back to life!' I think it is only because we have had 1800 years of cultural familiarity that some people feel that way. When the other gospels are included then the story of Jesus becomes much clearer.......it is a myth that people used to express transcendent ideas.

 

The gnostics never referred to themselves as "gnostics" but as christians. To them it was the developing roman church which was the church of anti christ.

 

The winners write history.

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This doesn't make it true or real or historical, even if this is what Paul believed and preached as "the gospel," but subscribing as I do to a literal Jesus, a literal death, and a literal resurrection is not an absurdity, either, as I see it.

 

It's not an absurdity. It's an impossibility. (the literal resurrection part)

 

The NT has many references to dead people returning to life. I suppose under the goddidit rules, anything is possible.

 

Funny that after the last account (in Acts) goddidit rules no longer apply. And for the next 2000 years, the dead stay dead.

 

The idea of resurrection gives me great hope for a final settling of accounts and making things right. For me, it's not an impossibility at all. But I respect very much so that for you it is.

 

-CC in MA

 

I think there is a problem when you separate the "gnostics" and the "christians". I think this gives a false impression of there being a "legitimate" christianity from which the gnostics deviated from. I think this stems from the fact that the roman literalist faction of christianity "won" the war of christian ideas in finding favour with the Emperor.

 

The church fathers waged a vicious campaign to expunge the gnostic groups and burn their writings. So we have to treat their version of christian history with great suspicion. The new testament gives a false impression of being complete. We only find the other gospels strange because we have not the familiarity with them that we have with Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. If they had been discovered in the cave at Nag Hammadi in 1945 how many people do you think would say, 'wow! Here is the story of a literal man who performed all these miracles, died and came back to life!' I think it is only because we have had 1800 years of cultural familiarity that some people feel that way. When the other gospels are included then the story of Jesus becomes much clearer.......it is a myth that people used to express transcendent ideas.

 

The gnostics never referred to themselves as "gnostics" but as christians. To them it was the developing roman church which was the church of anti christ.

 

The winners write history.

 

HI Dibby. I agree that those we call Gnostics were Christians, too.

 

Would it be correct in your view to refer to Gnostic Christians as one would, for example, refer to Catholic Christians or Baptist Christians -- so as to understand the "spin" each group is putting on the Jesus message?

 

-CC in MA

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HI Dibby. I agree that those we call Gnostics were Christians, too.

 

Would it be correct in your view to refer to Gnostic Christians as one would, for example, refer to Catholic Christians or Baptist Christians -- so as to understand the "spin" each group is putting on the Jesus message?

 

Hi CC. No. I wouldn,t say that the gnostic christians were, say, like different christian denominations that we have now. All christian denominations that are protestant have emerged from catholicism...in that they still adhere to the literalist interpretation of Jesus and the New Testament as compiled by the catholic church.

 

The christians that were later called gnostic, while differing groups, would form their communities around particular gospels, or writings. For them the message of Jesus was about personal inner enlightenment, or what they called "gnosis" (hence the name gnostic, which means "knower"). They were not so concerned with authoritarian structures, many held women to be equals (to some groups it was Mary Magdalene to who, Jesus entrusted his most precious teachings). To them the literalists were only hearing the outer message of christianity, but missing its whole inner essence. They wanted to "be in the world, but not of it". The Kingdom of Heaven was not so much a place you go for obeying the rules, but a recognition of the Christ within. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, "The kingdom of the Father is laid out. But men do not see it". In other words its here now.....we need a change in consciousness (to realise gnosis) to see it.

 

The "gnostic" christians were of no use to Constantine in his development of a universal roman religion. I mean, what is the point of trying to make an authoritarian structure of priests to control people if they are only interested in personal salvation, or gnosis? What he needed was a dogmatic priesthood with a single set of beliefs (hence the council of Nicaea), anyone who didn,t agree to the dogma was an outcast of the roman empire. Needless to say most people subscribed to the "official" chistian religion. Most churches today are the direct result of that political decision.

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The idea of resurrection gives me great hope for a final settling of accounts and making things right.

 

 

Having a “great hope” for a final settling of accounts in the hereafter is the perfect mindset to keep injustice alive and well in the here-and-now. :shrug:

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As I wrote when you first presented this thesis, it would turn everything on its ear. In this post, you have expanded on it even more. Your question about the Gnostic Christians coming first is another thesis that would turn biblical scholarship upside down!

 

Keeping biblical scholarship right-side-up is not my goal.

 

 

When I was reading Bart Ehrman's After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, one thing that hit me was that polemics went both ways. The orthodox blamed the Gnostics for being too spiritual and the Gnostics blamed the orthodox for being too literal and gruesome.

 

I also noticed that some people "went to church" in both places. I don't understand that.

 

I like the idea someone here raised that if we take the Gnostic and NT texts together as one we get a more complete picture of who Jesus was believed to be, and that this makes it all the more clear that he's just a myth.

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HI Dibby. I agree that those we call Gnostics were Christians, too.

 

Would it be correct in your view to refer to Gnostic Christians as one would, for example, refer to Catholic Christians or Baptist Christians -- so as to understand the "spin" each group is putting on the Jesus message?

 

Hi CC. No. I wouldn,t say that the gnostic christians were, say, like different christian denominations that we have now. All christian denominations that are protestant have emerged from catholicism...in that they still adhere to the literalist interpretation of Jesus and the New Testament as compiled by the catholic church.

 

The christians that were later called gnostic, while differing groups, would form their communities around particular gospels, or writings. For them the message of Jesus was about personal inner enlightenment, or what they called "gnosis" (hence the name gnostic, which means "knower"). They were not so concerned with authoritarian structures, many held women to be equals (to some groups it was Mary Magdalene to who, Jesus entrusted his most precious teachings). To them the literalists were only hearing the outer message of christianity, but missing its whole inner essence. They wanted to "be in the world, but not of it". The Kingdom of Heaven was not so much a place you go for obeying the rules, but a recognition of the Christ within. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, "The kingdom of the Father is laid out. But men do not see it". In other words its here now.....we need a change in consciousness (to realise gnosis) to see it.

 

The "gnostic" christians were of no use to Constantine in his development of a universal roman religion. I mean, what is the point of trying to make an authoritarian structure of priests to control people if they are only interested in personal salvation, or gnosis? What he needed was a dogmatic priesthood with a single set of beliefs (hence the council of Nicaea), anyone who didn,t agree to the dogma was an outcast of the roman empire. Needless to say most people subscribed to the "official" chistian religion. Most churches today are the direct result of that political decision.

 

I see, and thank you for that instruction. Is your ex-timony on the forum? I'd like to read it. If not, can you highlight what brought you from a more literalist interpretation of Jesus to a more Gnostic one?

 

-CC in MA

 

 

The idea of resurrection gives me great hope for a final settling of accounts and making things right.

 

 

Having a “great hope” for a final settling of accounts in the hereafter is the perfect mindset to keep injustice alive and well in the here-and-now. :shrug:

 

I see that it can be used that way.

 

Instead, we are to work in the here and the now to establish a world in which we see, as Martin Luther King quoted the prophet Amos, "justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." We must work to establish justice, free the oppressed, and set at liberty those who are bruised and hurting.

 

It can't all be done in the here and the now, however. Only in a resurrection will slaves and their masters meet again for reconciliation; only in a resurrection will Jews and Nazis meet again for reconciliation. The resurrection is a great hope, for me!

 

-CC in MA

 

 

As I wrote when you first presented this thesis, it would turn everything on its ear. In this post, you have expanded on it even more. Your question about the Gnostic Christians coming first is another thesis that would turn biblical scholarship upside down!

 

Keeping biblical scholarship right-side-up is not my goal.

 

 

When I was reading Bart Ehrman's After the New Testament: A Reader in Early Christianity, one thing that hit me was that polemics went both ways. The orthodox blamed the Gnostics for being too spiritual and the Gnostics blamed the orthodox for being too literal and gruesome.

 

I also noticed that some people "went to church" in both places. I don't understand that.

 

I like the idea someone here raised that if we take the Gnostic and NT texts together as one we get a more complete picture of who Jesus was believed to be, and that this makes it all the more clear that he's just a myth.

 

Jesus is literal. Jesus is mythical. I am able to hold both views at the same time, without compromising the glory or truth of either. For me, the glory and the truth of Jesus is established, firmly established, in an intersection of both paths (the literal and the mythical), not in a path that exludes one or the other. (But that's fine, too, if it works for others.)

 

-CC in MA

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CC may I suggest you take a look at http://www.sullivan-county.com/id2/gnosticism.htm for a primer on Gnosticism. It also contains links to some gnostic texts (if you've never read any, you should...I feel they are far more powerful in many ways than the traditional texts...empowering is perhaps a better choice of words). If I were still feeling a need for a religion I would probably tend toward a gnostic belief system I think (like a number of people around the site do).

 

mwc

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CC may I suggest you take a look at http://www.sullivan-county.com/id2/gnosticism.htm for a primer on Gnosticism. It also contains links to some gnostic texts (if you've never read any, you should...I feel they are far more powerful in many ways than the traditional texts...empowering is perhaps a better choice of words). If I were still feeling a need for a religion I would probably tend toward a gnostic belief system I think (like a number of people around the site do).

 

mwc

 

Thanks for the link. What an interesting guy there in Sullivan County. It would take years to barely scratch the surface of all he has posted. I have bookmarked his site.

 

I have read some of the Gnostic writings, but must read more. Very interesting and often very inspirational.

 

Thanks, mwc.

 

-CC in MA

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The idea of John’s gospel being early is interesting, but the available evidence and weight of academic opinion stand against it.

 

Placing a date on any work of antiquity is difficult, and involves reviewing many different criteria, such as-

 

- vocabulary used and grammar

- reference to historical matters (rulers, laws, places, political/religious situations, etc.)

- dependence on other writings

- when and where the writing becomes known to others

- when and where manuscript copies appear

- the development of ideas within the text

 

These and many others are used by scholars to try to determine an approximate date of composition for any work of antiquity, such as biblical books. There are very good reasons for dating the composition of the gospel of John to the late 1st/early 2nd century C.E., placing it well after the synoptics. It would take a great deal of contrary evidence to change that approximation.

 

Thank you for this primer, Artur. It's helpful to me.

 

I came across an essay (link here) about C.S. Lewis: "The Unfundamental C. S. Lewis: Key Components of Lewis's View of Scripture." The author asserts the following: "I would say that he [Lewis] views myth as a story that could be and might be true, but does not need to be historically or scientifically true because it is meant to communicate something bigger than history or science. Therefore Old Testament stories like Jonah, Esther, Song of Solomon, Job, some of David's Psalms, and even the creation account and fall of man are not necessarily historical events. In fact, in addressing the last point, Lewis writes, 'For all I can see, it [the fall] might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.'

 

A skimming of the entire essay is well worth it.

 

-CC in MA

 

-CC in MA

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