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Originalmente inicié este blog como vehículo para publicar mi libro crítico de la Cienciología.

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Originally I started this blog as a vehicle to debunk Scientology for a Spanish-speaking audience.

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Published in: on December 29, 2012 at 6:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Uncle Adolf’s table talk, 190

the-real-hitler
 
23rd March 1944, midday

Charm of the Rhineland—And of other parts of Germany—The marvellous countryside of Bohemia and Moravia.
 

I saw the Rhine for the first time in 1914, when I was on my way to the Western Front. The feelings which the sight of this historic stream inspired in me remain forever graven on my heart. The kindness and spontaneity of the Rhinelanders also made a profound impression on me; everywhere they received us and feted us in a most touching manner. The evening we reached Aachen, I remember thinking that I should never forget that day for the rest of my life; and indeed the memory of it remains today as vivid as ever, and every time I find myself on the banks of the Rhine I re-live again the wondrous experience of my first sight of it. This is no doubt one of the main reasons—quite apart from the unrivalled beauty of the countryside—that impels me each year to revisit the Rhineland.

There are other parts of Germany, apart from the Rhineland, which give me intense pleasure to visit—the Kyffhaeuser, the forests of Thuringia, the Harz and the Black Forest. It is most exhilarating to drive for miles through the woods and forests, far away from the throng.

One of my greatest delights has always been to picnic quietly somewhere on the roadside; it was not always easy, for our column of cars would often be pursued by a crowd of motorists, eager to see their Fuehrer off duty, and we had to employ all sorts of ruses to shake off these friendly and well-meaning pursuers; sometimes, for instance, I would drive up a side-turning, leaving the column to continue along the main road. Our pursuers would then overtake the cars of the column one by one, and, failing to find me, would go ever faster in the hope of overtaking me farther on. In this way we managed occasionally to snatch a few hours of peace and tranquillity.

On one occasion, I remember, a family out gathering mushrooms came suddenly on our picnic party. In a few moments these kindly folk had alerted the neighbouring village and the whole population was surging towards us, filling the air with their shouts of “Heil.”

It is a great pity that Germans know so little of their own country. Since 1938 the number of beauty spots within the boundaries of the Reich has increased considerably. In addition to Austria, we have the wonderful countryside of Bohemia and Moravia, which is a closed book to all but a few Germans.

Some of them may have heard of the virgin forests of Bohemia, but how many have ever seen them? I have a collection of photographs taken in Bohemia, and they remind one of the vast forests of the tropics. To visit all the beauties of his country, a German today would require taking a holiday in a different district each year for the rest of his life.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Uncle Adolf’s table talk, 191

the-real-hitler

16th May 1944, evening

Research and instruction—State encouragement for free research—The two tasks of research worker and teacher—Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.

 

The theory that independent research and instruction are two fields of activity which must be indissolubly related is false. Each has an entirely different function, each calls for men of a different type, and each must be approached by the State from a different angle.

Research must remain free and unfettered by any State restriction. The facts which it establishes represent Truth, and Truth is never evil. It is the duty of the State to support and further the efforts of research in every way, even when its activities hold no promise of immediate, or even early, advantage from the material or economic point of view. It may well be that its results will be of value, or indeed will represent tremendous progress, only to the generation of the future.

Instruction, on the other hand, should not, in my opinion, enjoy a like liberty of action. Its liberty is limited by the interests of the State, and can therefore never be totally unrestricted; it has not the right to claim that same degree of independence which I most willingly concede to research.

The attributes demanded of a successful teacher and a research worker are fundamentally different, and are seldom to be found together in the single individual. The man of research is by nature extremely cautious; he never ceases to work, to ponder, to weigh and to doubt, and his suspicious nature breeds in him an inclination towards solitude and most rigorous self-criticism.

Of quite a different type is the ideal teacher. He has little or no concern with the endless riddles of the infinite—with something, that is, which is so infinitely greater than himself. He is a man whose task it is to impart knowledge and understanding to men who do not possess them and who, therefore, are generally his intellectual inferiors; and in consequence he is a man who is often inclined to be pedantically dogmatic.

There are many men endowed with a genius for research who are useless as teachers, just as there are brilliant teachers who have no gift whatever for research and creative work; yet all of them, in their respective spheres, make contributions of outstanding value to the sum of human knowledge.

I do not agree with the idea that liberty of research should be restricted solely to the fields of natural science. It should embrace also the domain of thought and philosophy, which, in essence, are themselves but the logical prolongation of scientific research. By taking the data furnished by science and placing them under the microscope of reason, philosophy gives us a logical conception of the universe as it is. The boundary between research and philosophy is nebulous and constantly moving.

In the Great Hall of the Linz Library are the busts of Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the greatest of our thinkers, in comparison with whom the British, the French and the Americans have nothing to offer. His complete refutation of the teachings which were a heritage from the Middle Ages, and of the dogmatic philosophy of the Church, is the greatest of the services which Kant has rendered to us. It is on the foundation of Kant’s theory of knowledge that Schopenhauer built the edifice of his philosophy, and it is Schopenhauer who annihilated the pragmatism of Hegel. I carried Schopenhauer’s works with me throughout the whole of the First World War. From him I learned a great deal.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism, which springs partly, I think, from his own line of philosophical thought and partly from subjective feeling and the experiences of his own personal life, has been far surpassed by Nietzsche.

_____________________________

Consider obtaining a copy of the complete notes
published by Ostara Publications.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Uncle Adolf’s table talk, 192

the-real-hitler
Night of 29th-30th November 1944

Jesus and Saint Paul—Christianity, a Jewish manoeuvre—Christianity and Communism—National Socialism, the implacable enemy of everything Jewish.
 

Jesus was most certainly not a Jew. The Jews would never have handed one of their own people to the Roman courts; they would have condemned him themselves. It is quite probable that a large number of the descendants of the Roman legionaries, mostly Gauls, were living in Galilee, and Jesus was probably one of them. His mother may well have been a Jewess.

Jesus fought against the materialism of his age, and, therefore, against the Jews.

Paul of Tarsus, who was originally one of the most stubborn enemies of the Christians, suddenly realised the immense possibilities of using, intelligently and for other ends, an idea which was exercising such great powers of fascination. He realised that the judicious exploitation of this idea among non-Jews would give him far greater power in the world than would the promise of material profit to the Jews themselves. It was then that the future St. Paul distorted with diabolical cunning the Christian idea. Out of this idea, which was a declaration of war on the golden calf, on the egotism and the materialism of the Jews, he created a rallying point for slaves of all kinds against the elite, the masters and those in dominant authority.

The religion fabricated by Paul of Tarsus, which was later called Christianity, is nothing but the Communism of today.

Bormann intervened. Jewish methods, he said, have never varied in their essentials. Everywhere they have stirred up the plebs against the ruling classes. Everywhere they have fostered discontent against the established power. For these are the seeds which produce the crop they hope later to gather.

Everywhere they fan the flames of hatred between peoples of the same blood. It is they who invented class-warfare, and the repudiation of this theory must therefore always be an anti-Jewish measure. In the same way, any doctrine which is anti-Communist, any doctrine which is anti-Christian must, ipso facto, be anti-Jewish as well.

The National Socialist doctrine is therefore anti-Jewish in excelsis, for it is both anti-Communist and anti-Christian. National Socialism is solid to the core, and the whole of its strength is concentrated against the Jews, even in matters which appear to have a purely social aspect and are designed for the furtherance of the social amenities of our own people.

The Fuehrer concluded: Burgdorff has just given me a paper which deals with the relationship between Communism and Christianity. It is comforting to see how, even in these days, the fatal relationship between the two is daily becoming clearer to the human intelligence.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 1


 
Below, excerpts of the first chapter Randel Helms’ Gospel Fictions, “The Art of the Gospels: Theology as Fictional Narrative” (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):


I shall use the word “fiction” rather than “myth” to refer to the study, contained in this book, of the fictional aspects of the four canonical Gospels.

I write as literary critic, not as debunker. The Gospels are, it must be said with gratitude, works of art, the supreme fictions in our culture. Literary artists use their imaginations to produce poetry and fiction, works open to the methods of literary criticism. This literature was oral before it was written and began with the memories of those who knew Jesus personally.

Their memories and teachings were passed on as oral tradition for some forty years or so before achieving written form for the first time in a self-conscious literary work, so far as we know, in the Gospel of Mark, within a few years of 70 A.D.

Luke was obviously writing during a time when literature about Jesus was flowering. Paul was an ecstatic visionary who experienced, for what seems to be a period of nearly thirty years after the death of Jesus, visions of a heavenly being he called “Christ” and “the Lord,” and the fact is that neither Paul nor any other first-century Christian felt a need to distinguish between the heavenly being and the “historical Jesus.”

What is surprising is the great differences among the stories, even though they share, for the most part, similar sources. For example, according to Matthew and Mark, the dying words of Jesus were, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” According to Luke, Jesus’ dying words were “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” But according to John, they were, “It is accomplished.” To put it another way, we cannot know what the dying words of Jesus were, or even whether he uttered any. It is not that we have too little information, but that we have too much. Each narrative implicitly argues that the others are fictional. In this case at least, it is inappropriate to ask of the Gospels what “actually” happened; they may pretend to be telling us, but the effort remains a pretense, a fiction.

We are, with these scenes, in the literary realm known as fiction, in which narratives exist less to describe the past than to affect the present. In De Quincy’s phrase, the Gospels are not so much literature of knowledge as literature of power. As in the case mentioned above, the content of the Gospels is frequently not “Jesus” but “what certain persons in the first century wanted us to think about Jesus.” In the language of the Fourth Gospel, “Those [narratives] here written have been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

The Gospels are Hellenistic religious narratives in the tradition of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which constituted the “Scriptures” to those Greek-speaking Christians who wrote the four canonical Gospels and who appealed to it, explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every paragraph they wrote. A simple example is the case of the last words of Christ. Mark presents these words in self-consciously realistic fashion, shifting from his usual Greek into the Aramaic of Jesus, transliterated into Greek letters Eloi eloi lama sabachthanei (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?—Mark 15:34). Mark gives us no hint that Jesus is “quoting” Psalm 22:1; we are clearly to believe that we are hearing the grieving outcry of a dying man.

But the author of Matthew, who used Mark as one of his major written sources, is self-consciously “literary” in both this and yet another way. Though using Mark as his major source for the passion story, Matthew is fully aware that Mark’s crucifixion narrative is based largely on the Twenty-second Psalm, fully aware, that is, that Mark’s Gospel is part of a literary tradition (this description would not be Matthew’s vocabulary, but his method is nonetheless literary).

Aware of the tradition, Matthew concerned himself with another kind of “realism” or verisimilitude. When the bystanders heard Jesus crying, according to Mark, to “Eloi,” they assumed that “he is calling Elijah [Eleian]” (Mark 15:35). But Matthew knew that no Aramaic speaker present at the Cross would mistake a cry to God (Eloi) for one to Elijah—the words are too dissimilar. So Matthew self-consciously evoked yet another literary tradition in the service both of verisimilitude and of greater faithfulness to the Scriptures: not the Aramaic of Psalm 22:1 but the Hebrew, which he too transliterated into Greek—Eli Eli (Matt. 27:46)—a cry which could more realistically be confused with “Eleian.

Luke is even more self-conscious literary and fictive than Matthew in his crucifixion scene. Though, as I have said, he knew perfectly well what Mark had written as the dying words of Jesus, he created new ones more suitable to his understanding of what the death of Jesus meant—an act with at least two critical implications. First, that he has thus implicitly declared Mark’s account a fiction; second, that he self-consciously presents his own as a fiction. For like Matthew, Luke 23:46 deliberately placed his own work in the literary tradition by quoting Psalm 30 (31):5 in the Septuagint as the dying speech of Jesus: “Into your hands I will commit my spirit” (eis cheiras sou parathsomai to pneuma mou), changing the verb from future to present (paratihemai) to suit the circumstances and leaving the rest of the quotation exact.

This is self-conscious creation of literary fiction, creation of part of a narrative scene for religious and moral rather than historical purposes. Luke knew perfectly well, I would venture to assert, that he was not describing what happened in the past; he was instead creating an ideal model of Christian death, authorized both by doctrine and by literary precedent.

First-century Christians believed that the career of Jesus, even down to minor details, was predicted in their sacred writings. By a remarkably creative fiat of interpretation, the Jewish scriptures (especially in Greek translation) became a book that had never existed before, the Old Testament, a book no longer about Israel but about Israel’s hope, the Messiah, Jesus. Northrop Frye nicely sums up this self-reflexive aspect of the two Testaments as early Christians saw them:

How do we know that the Gospel story is true? Because it confirms the prophecies of the Old Testament. But how do we know that the Old Testament prophecies are true? Because they are confirmed by the Gospel story. Evidence, so called, is bounced back and forth between the testaments like a tennis ball; and no other evidence is given us. The two testaments form a double mirror, each reflecting the other but neither the world outside.

A voice, for example, in the (now) “Old” Testament became by interpretative fiat the voice of Jesus. When the psalmist wrote “My flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption” (Psalms 15 [16]:9-10 LXX), it was in fact not “really” the psalmist speaking, but Jesus, a thousand years before his birth. As Luke has Peter say, in interpreting these verses to the crowd at Pentecost:

Let me tell you plainly, my friends, that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this very day. It is clear therefore that he spoke as a prophet… and when he said he was not abandoned to death, and his flesh never suffered corruption, he spoke with foreknowledge of the resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 2:29-31).

By fiat of interpretation, a psalm becomes a prophecy. David becomes Jesus.

We see a two-stage creative process here: first, the psalm is turned into a prophetic minidrama; then the interpretation of the psalm becomes another dramatic scene: Peter explaining it to the multitude. That the fictive creative act is Luke’s, and not Peter’s, is clear from the Greek of the scene: Luke has Peter quote, fairly loosely, as if from memory, the Septuagint Greek text of Psalms (though the historical Peter spoke Aramaic and needed, Christian tradition tells us, a Greek interpreter). The point of Luke’s interpretation depends on the Greek texts of the verse, not on the Hebrew. The Hebrew text of Psalm 16:10b has something like: “nor suffer thy faithful servant to see the pit,” which stands in simple parallelism to the first line of the distich, “Thou will not abandon me to Sheol” —that is, you will not allow me to die. The Greek text could, however, be taken to mean “You will not let me remain in the grave, nor will you let me rot.”

Peter’s speech is an effective work of dramatic fiction, the culmination of a complex two-stage creative process. Luke, as we shall see, creates the same kinds of dramatic fictions in his Gospel, the first half of the Christian history that includes his Acts of the Apostles.

Invention of that kind is the subject of this book.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 2


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ second chapter, “How to begin a Gospel” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):


A central working hypothesis of this book and one of the most widely held findings in modern New Testament study is that Mark was the first canonical Gospel to be composed and that the authors of Matthew and Luke (and possibly John) used Mark’s Gospel as a written source. As B.H. Streeter has said of this view of Mark:

Its full force can only be realized by one who will take the trouble to go carefully through the immense mass of details which Sir John Hawkins has collected, analyzed, and tabulated (pp. 114-153 of his classic Horae Synopticae). How anyone who has worked through those pages with a synopsis of the Greek text can retain the slightest doubt of the original and primitive character of Mark, I am unable to comprehend… The facts seem only explicable on the theory that each author had before him the Marcan material already embodied in a single document.

When the author of Mark set about writing his Gospel, circa 70 A.D., he did not have to work in an intellectual or literary vacuum. The concept of mythical biography was basic to the thought-process of his world, both Jewish and Graeco-Roman, with an outline and a vocabulary already universally accepted: a heavenly figure becomes incarnate as a man and the son of a deity, enters the world to perform saving acts, and then returns to heaven. In Greek, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world, such a figure was called a “savior” (soter), and the statement of his coming was called “gospel” or “good news” (euangelion). For example, a few years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Provincial Assembly of Asia Minor passed a resolution in honor of Caesar Augustus:

…in giving to us Augustus Caesar, whom it [Providence] filled with virtue [arete] for the welfare of mankind, and who, being sent to us and to our descendents as a savior [soter]… and whereas, finally that the birthday of the God (viz, Caesar Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel [euangelion] concerning him, therefore, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.

A few years earlier, Horace wrote an ode in honor of the same Caesar Augustus which presents him as an incarnation of the god Mercury and outlines the typical pattern of mythical biography: Descent as a son of a god appointed by the chief deity [Jupiter] to become incarnate as a man, atonement, restoration of sovereignty, ascension to heaven—a gospel indeed, and so the pattern of the Christian Gospels!

(The divine emperor. When a Roman emperor died he was traditionally regarded as having become god. Here Claudius, in life a timid man with a stutter and a limp, has been transformed into Jupiter, Vatican Museum, Rome.)

The standard phrase “the beginning of the gospel” (arche tou euangeliu) of Caesar (or whomever) seems to have been widespread in the Greco-Roman world. A stone from the marketplace of Priene in Asia Minor reads: “The birthday of the god (Augustus) was for the world the beginning of euangelion because of him.” Mark uses the same formula to open his book: “The beginning of the gospel (arche tou euangeliu) of Jesus Christ the son of God [theou hyios].” Even the Greek phrase “son of god” was commonly used for Augustus. On a marble pedestal from Pergamum is craved: “The Emperor Caesar, son of God [theou hyios], god Augustus.” Mark begins his mythical biography of Jesus with ready-made language and concepts, intending perhaps a challenge: euangelion is not of Caesar but of Christ!

The early Christians could have found out what we would call historical information about Jesus, but in fact they did not. Neither Mark nor anyone else in the Christian community (perhaps circa 70 A.D. Rome) had been in Palestine at the time; all the participants were now dead, and Mark had a book to write.

Certainly, there lived a Jesus of Nazareth, who was baptized in the Jordan by John, who taught, in imitation of John, that “the kingdom of God is upon you” (Mark, 1:15); and who was killed by the Romans as a potentially dangerous fomentor of revolution. Of the outline of Jesus’ life itself, this is just about all that Mark knew. Mark possessed a good many fictional (and some non-fictional) stories about Jesus and a small stock of sayings attributed to him, and he incorporated them in his Gospel; but he had no idea of their chronological order beyond the reasonable surmise that the baptism came at the beginning of the ministry and the crucifixion at the end. Mark is, in other words, not a biography; its outline of Jesus’ career is fictional and the sequence has thematic and theological significance only. As Norman Perrin bluntly puts it, “The outline of the Gospel of Mark has no historical value.”

Mark certainly knew what to put first: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But Mark’s beginning comes when Jesus is already a grown man only a few months away from death. His Gospel says nothing about Jesus’ birth or childhood, has almost no meaningful chronology, presents very little of Jesus’ moral teaching (no Sermon of the Mount, no parables of the Prodigal Son or Good Samaritan), and has a spectacularly disappointed ending: the Resurrection, announced only by a youth, is witnessed by no one, and the women who were told about it “say nothing to anybody, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). End of Gospel.

Mark wrote some forty years after the Crucifixion, when Jesus was already rapidly becoming a figure of legend. John the Baptist presented genuine problems. Since the baptism made John look like the mentor of Jesus and the initiator of his career, the Baptist had to be demoted, but not too much; the initiator became the forerunner. Mark’s method of performing that demotion is fascinating because, paradoxically, it does in fact the opposite, and had to be corrected, three different ways, by the other three evangelists.

The baptism itself was the first awkward fact. Ordinarily, John’s baptism stood as a sign that one had repented of sin: “A baptism in token of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). It appears not to have troubled Mark that he presented Jesus as a repentant sinner. There is no hint in Mark’s first chapter that Jesus was in any way the Son of God before his baptism; indeed, there is the clear hint that at least Mark’s source, if not Mark himself, held the “adoptionist” theology.

(Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, from a fifth century mosaic in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Ravenna. Note Jesus’ nudity and his youthful, beardless face.)

All things considered, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus very satisfactorily. Indeed, within two or three decades of Mark’s completion, there were at least two, and perhaps three, different writers (or Christian groups) who felt the need to produce an expanded and corrected version. Viewed from their perspective, the Gospel of Mark has some major shortcomings: It contains no birth narrative, it implies that Jesus, a repentant sinner, became the Son of God only at his baptism; it recounts no resurrection appearances; and it ends with the very unsatisfactory notion that the women who found the Empty Tomb were too afraid to speak to anyone about it.

Moreover, Mark includes very little of Jesus’ teachings; worse yet (from Matthew’s point of view), he even misunderstood totally the purpose of Jesus’ use of parables [see below]. Indeed, by the last two decades of the first century, Mark’s theology seemed already old-fashioned and even slightly suggestive of heresy. So, working apparently without knowledge of each other, within perhaps twenty or thirty years after Mark, two authors (or Christian groups), now known to us as “Mathew” and “Luke” (and even a third, in the view of some—“John”) set about rewriting and correcting the first unsatisfactory Gospel. In their respective treatments of the baptism one obtains a good sense of their methods.

Mark had used his source uncritically, not bothering to check its scriptural accuracy. But Mathew used his source—the Gospel of Mark—with a close critical eye, almost always checking its references to the Old Testament and changing them when necessary, in this case dropping the verse from Malachi wrongly attributed to Isaiah and keeping only what was truly Isaianic. [Mark writes as if he quotes Isaiah 40:3 but his verse is a misquotation of Malachi 3:1]

Mathew disliked Mark’s perhaps careless implication that Jesus was just another repentant sinner, so he carefully tones it down, inventing a little dramatic scene. When Jesus

came to John to be baptized by him, John tried to dissuade him. “Do you come to me?” he said. “I need rather to be baptized by you.” Jesus replied, “Let it be so for the present; it is suitable to conform in this way all that God requires.” John then allowed him come. (Matt. 3:13-15)

This scene is found in no other Gospel and indeed contains two words (diekoluen, “dissuade”; prepon, “suitable”) found nowhere else in the New Testament. The verses are Matthew’s own composition, created to deal with his unease at Mark’s implication about the reason Jesus was baptized—not as a repentant sinner but to fulfill a divine requirement. Why God should require Jesus to be baptized, Mathew does not say.

Like Mathew, Luke was also unhappy with Mark’s account of the baptism and made, in his own way, similar changes. The Fourth Gospel takes an extreme way of dealing with the embarrassment of Jesus’ baptism by John: you will find there no statement that Jesus ever was baptized.

Developing theology creates fictions. Moreover, each gospel implicitly argues the fictitiousness of the others. As Joseph Hoffman has put it, “Every gospel is tendentious in relation to any other.” This is especially true with regard to Mark and the Gospels—Mathew and Luke in particular—intended to render Mark obsolete. The fictionalizing of Mark is one of the implicit purposes of the First and Third Gospels, whose writers used what were probably, in their communities, rare or even unique copies of Mark and who clearly expected that no more would be heard of Mark after their own Gospels were circulated. We do an injustice, Hoffman notes, “to the integrity of the Gospels when we imagine that these four ever intended to move into the same neighborhood.”

This becomes quite clear, for example, in two synoptic scenes describing Jesus’ telling the parable of the sower and the seed:

When he was alone, the Twelve and others who were round him questioned him about the parables. He replied, “To you the secret of the kingdom of God has been given; but to those who are outside, everything comes by way of parables, so that (as Scripture says) they may look and look, but see nothing. They may hear and hear, but understand nothing; otherwise they might turn to God and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12)

It is not difficult to imagine Mathew reading this passage, scratching his head, and wondering how Mark could so totally misunderstood the purpose of a parable—a small story intended to illuminate an idea, not obscure it. But Mark was a gentile, living perhaps in Rome; and though he clearly knew little of the tradition of Jewish rabbinic parabolic teaching, he was familiar with Greek allegorical writing, which was often used to present esoteric ideas in mystifying form. Mathew, on the other hand, was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian who knew perfectly well that a rabbi’s parables were intended to elucidate, not obfuscate. Yet, here was Mark clearly insisting that Jesus’ parables were meant to prevent people’s understanding his message or being forgiven by God: a passage, moreover, that cites Scripture to prove its point.

We can imagine Mathew’s relief when he checked the reference in the Old Testament and found that Mark had got it wrong. Actually, Mark’s citation of Isa. 6:9-10 agrees with the Aramaic version rather than with the Septuagint, but Mathew went to the latter for his quotation, which allowed him completely to change the point of Jesus’ statement. Jesus speaks in parables to enhance people’s understanding, insists Mathew, not to prevent it. That Mark’s account of the scene is simply wrong is Mathew’s implication [see Matt. 13:10-15].

Mathew and Luke found that one way of dealing with the Sonship question lay in the nativity legends already circulating about Jesus: he was the Son of God because God impregnated his mother. Both Mathew and Luke added birth narratives to their revisions of Mark, basing them on legends quite irreconcilable with each other. The next chapter examines these nativity legends.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 3


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ third chapter, “Nativity legends” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):



Two of the four canonical Gospels—Matthew and Luke—give accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus. John tells us only of the Incarnation—that the Logos “became flesh”—while Mark says nothing at all about Jesus until his baptism as a man of perhaps thirty. Either Mark and John know nothing about Jesus’ background and birth, or they regard them as unremarkable.

Certainly Mark, the earliest Gospel, knows nothing of the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth. It is clear from 3:20-21 that in Mark’s view the conception of Jesus was accompanied by no angelic announcement to Mary that her son was to be (in Luke’s words) “Son of the Most High” and possessor of the “throne of David” (Luke 1:32 NEB [New English Bible]).

According to Mark, after Jesus had openly declared himself Son of Man (a heavenly being, according to Daniel 7:13), his family on hearing of this “set out to take charge of him. ‘He is out of his mind,’ they said.” Surely Jesus’ mother and brothers (so identified in Mark 3:31) would not have regarded Jesus’ acts as signs of insanity if Mark’s Mary, like Luke’s, had been told by the angel Gabriel that her son would be the Messiah.

But Mark’s ignorance of Jesus’ conception, birth, and background was no hindrance to the first-century imagination. Many first-century Jewish Christians did feel a need for a Davidic messiah, and at least two separate groups responded by producing Davidic genealogies for Jesus, both to a considerable extent imaginary and each largely inconsistent with the other. One of each was latter appropriated by Matthew and Luke and repeated, with minor but necessary changes, in their Gospels. Each genealogy uses Old Testament as its source of names until it stops supplying them or until the supposed messianic line diverges from the biblical. After that point the Christian imaginations supplied two different lists of ancestors of Jesus.

Why, to show that Jesus is “the son of David,” trace the ancestry of a man who is not his father? The obvious answer is that the list of names was constructed not by the author of Matthew but by earlier Jewish Christians who believed in all sincerity that Jesus had a human father. Such Jewish Christians were perhaps the forbears of the group known in the second century as the Ebionites.

The two genealogies in fact diverge after David (c. 1000 B.C.) and do not again converge until Joseph. It is obvious that another Christian group, separate from the one supplying Mathew’s list but feeling an equal need for a messiah descended from David, complied its own genealogy, as imaginary as Mathew’s in its last third. And like Mathew’s genealogy, it traces the Davidic ancestry of the man who, Luke insists, is not Jesus’ father anyway, and thus is rendered pointless.

Moreover, according to Luke’s genealogy (3:23-31) there are forty-one generations between David and Jesus; whereas according to Mathew’s, there are but twenty seven. Part of the difference stems from Mathew’s remarkably careless treatment of his appropriated list of names.

Thus we have a fascinating picture of four separate Christian communities in the first century. Two of them, Jewish-Christian, were determined to have a messiah with Davidic ancestry and constructed genealogies to prove it, never dreaming that Jesus could be thought of as having no human father.

But gentile Christians in the first century, who came into the new religion directly from paganism and were already infected with myths about licentious deities, had a much different understanding of what divine paternity meant. Plutarch speaks for the entire pagan world when he writes, in Convivial Disputations, “The fact of the intercourse of a male with mortal women is conceded by all,” though he admits that such relations might be spiritual, not carnal. Such mythology came with pagans converted to Christianity, and by the middle of the first century, Joseph’s paternity of Jesus was being replaced by God’s all over the gentile world.

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)

The Septuagint, from which Matthew quotes, uses, at Isaiah 7:14, parthenos (physical virgin) for the Hebrew almah (young woman) as well as the future tense, “will conceive,” though Hebrew has no future tense as such. Modern English translations are probably more accurate in reading (as does the New English Bible), “A young woman is with child.” We can scarcely blame the author of Matthew for being misguided by his translation (though Jews frequently ridiculed early Christians for their dependence on the often-inaccurate Septuagint rather than the Hebrew). We can, however, fault him for reading Isaiah 7:14 quite without reference to its context—an interpretative method used by many in his time and ours, but a foolish one nonetheless. Any sensible reading of Isaiah, chapter seven, reveals its concern with the Syrio-Israelite crisis of 734 B.C. (the history of which appears in I Kings 16:1-20).

(Jesus’ real father? According to a malicious, early Jewish story, Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Pantera. The name is so unusual that it was thought to be an invention until this first-century tombstone came to light in 1859; for the Latin inscription see below.)

It is clear, however, that though the mistranslated and misunderstood passage in Isaiah was Matthew’s biblical justification for the Virgin Birth, it was not the source of the belief (indeed Luke presents the Virgin Birth without reference to Isaiah). The doctrine originated in the widespread pagan belief in the divine conception upon various virgins of a number of mythic heroes and famous persons in the ancient world, such as Plato, Alexander, Perseus, Asclepius and the Dioscuri.

Matthew writes that Joseph, having been informed in his dream, “had no intercourse with her until her son was born” (Matt. 1:25). Luke gives us a different myth about the conception of Jesus, in which the Annunciation that the messiah is to be fathered by God, not Joseph, is made to Mary rather than to her betrothed. Embarrassed by the story’s clear implicit denial of the Virgin Birth notion, Luke or a later Christian inserted Mary’s odd question [“How can this be, since I know not a man?”], but the clumsy interpolation makes hash of Jesus’ royal ancestry.

(The inscription reads: “Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62, a soldier of 40 years’ service, of the 1st cohort of archers, lies here”; only “Abdes” is a Semitic name.)

In due course, Jesus was born, growing up in Nazareth of Galilee, a nationality different from the Judean inhabitants of Jerusalem and its near neighbor, Bethlehem. After Jesus’ death, those of his followers interested in finding proof of his messiahnship in the Old Testament worked a Christian reinterpretation of Micah 5:2 concerning the importance of Bethlehem as the birthplace of David and his dynasty:

You, Bethlehem in Ephrathah, small as you are to be among Judah’s clans, out of you shall come forth a governor for Israel, one whose roots are far back in the past, in days gone by.

That is, the one who restores the dynasty will have the same roots, be of the same ancestry, as David of Bethlehem. Prophesying, it would appear, during the Babylonian exile, Micah (or actually a sixth-century B.C. interpolator whose words were included in the book of the eight-century B.C. prophet) hoped for the restoration of the Judaean monarchy destroyed in 586 B.C.

But since some first-century Christians did read Micah 5:2 as a prediction of the birthplace of Jesus, it became necessary to explain why he grew up in Nazareth, in another country, rather than Bethlehem. At least two different and mutually exclusive narratives explaining this were produced: one appears in Matthew, the other in Luke.

Matthew has it that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, and continued there for about two years, fleeing then to Egypt. They returned to Palestine only after Herod’s death. For fear of Herod’s son, they did not resettle in Bethlehem. But moved rather to another country, Galilee, finding a new home in Nazareth.

Luke, on the other hand, writes that Mary and apparently Joseph lived in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem just before Jesus’ birth to register for a tax census. They left Bethlehem forty days later to visit the temple in Jerusalem for the required ritual of the first-born, returning then to their hometown of Nazareth.

Examination of these two irreconcilable accounts will give us a good picture of the creative imaginations of Luke, Matthew, and their Christian sources.

In most of Matthew’s Gospel, the major source of information about Jesus is the Gospel of Mark (all but fifty-five of Mark’s verses appear in Matthew, either word-for-word or with deliberate changes). But Mark says nothing about Jesus’ birth. When one favorite source fails him, Matthew inventively turns to another—this time to the Old Testament, read with a particular interpretative slant, and to oral tradition about Jesus, combining the two in a noticeably uneasy way.

We must remember that for the Christian generation that produced our Gospels, the Bible consisted only of what Christians now called the Old Testament, and a particular version thereof, the Greek Septuagint. But before they wrote the New Testament, Christians created another entirely new book, the Old Testament, turning the Septuagint into a book about Jesus by remarkably audacious and creative interpretation. Meanings it had held for generations of Jews, its historical and poetic content especially, ceased to exist; it became not a book about the past but about its own future.

Of course, other groups such as the Qumran sect also read the Bible oracularly, but Christians specialized this technique, finding oracles about Jesus of Nazareth. If a passage in the Septuagint could be read as a prediction of an event in the life of Jesus, then the event must have happened. Thus, if Micah were understood to mean that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, then Jesus must have been born there, no matter what his real hometown. But as it happens, the Bethlehem birth story, dependent upon the Christian interpretation of Micah, and the magi-and-star legend, dependent upon Hellenistic and Jewish oral tradition, fit together very uneasily. The story of the magi (“astrologers” is a more meaningful translation) says that “the star which they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay” (Matt 2:9).

In all the stories, the astrologers point to a special star, symbol of the arrival of the new force (Israel, Abraham, Jesus). Says Balaam: “A star shall rise [anatelei astron] out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel, and shall crush the princes of Moab” (Num. 24:17 LXX). The astrologers in Matthew likewise point to a star: “We observed the rising of his star” (Matt. 2.2).

Now the source of the story of the king (Nimrod, Herod) who wants to kill the infant leader of Israel (Abraham, Jesus) shifts to the account of Moses in Exodus, the classic biblical legend of the wicked king (Pharaoh) who wants to slay the new leader of Israel (Moses). Indeed, the story of Moses in the Septuagint provided Matthew with a direct verbal source for his story of the flight into Egypt. As Pharaoh wants to kill Moses, who then flees the country, so Herod wants to kill Jesus, who is then carried away by his parents. After a period of hiding for the hero in both stories, the wicked king dies:

And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian, “Go, depart into Egypt, for all that sought thy life are dead” (tethnekasi gar pantes hoi zetountes sou ten psychen—Ex: 4:19 LXX).

When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel for those who sought the child’s life are dead” (tethnekasin gar hoi zetountes ten psychen tou paidiou—Matt 2:20).

Of course, Moses flies from Egypt to Midian, while the Holy Family flees to Egypt through Midian.

* * *

“This was to fulfill the words spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23). There is, however, no such passage in all the Old Testament. Matthew had apparently vaguely heard that such a verse was in the “prophets,” and since he really needed to get the Holy Family from the supposed birthplace to the known hometown, he reported the fulfillment but left the biblical reference unspecified.

Like Matthew, Luke faced the same problem of reconciling known Nazarene upbringing with supposed Bethlehem birth. His solution, however, was entirely different, and even less convincing. Whereas Matthew has the Holy Family living in Bethlehem at the time of the birth and traveling to Nazareth, Luke has them living in Nazareth and traveling to Bethlehem in the very last stages of Mary’s pregnancy. Though Luke 1:5 dates the birth of Jesus in the “days of Herod, king of Judaea,” who died in 4 B.C., he wants the journey from Galilee to Bethlehem to have occurred in response to a census called when “Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

As historians know, the one and only census conducted while Quirinius was legate in Syria affected only Judaea, not Galilee, and took place in A.D. 6-7, a good ten years after the death of Herod the Great. In his anxiety to relate the Galilean upbringing with the supposed Bethlehem birth, Luke confused his facts. Indeed, Luke’s anxiety has involved him in some real absurdities, like the needless ninety-mile journey of a woman in her last days of pregnancy—for it was the Davidic Joseph who supposedly had to be registered in the ancestral village, not the Levitical Mary.

Worse yet, Luke has been forced to contrive a universal dislocation for a simple tax registration. Who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores of hundreds of miles to the villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form!

Needless to say, no such event ever happened in the history of the Roman Empire.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 4


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ fourth chapter, “Miracles I (The Synoptic Narratives)” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted):

Käsemann’s judgment is that the “great majority of the Gospel miracle stories must be regarded as legends.” The kind of incidents which in fact commend themselves as being historically credible are “harmless episodes such as the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever and the healing of so-called possessed persons.”

The next two chapters will examine the thirty-odd narratives in the Gospels which depict the Synoptic and Johannine attitudes toward miracles, demonstrating their literary lineage, and discuss how these fictional or legendary stories came to be composed.

Narratives about Jesus’ performing miracles were virtual requirements, given first-century Christianity’s understanding of the Old Testament. Matthew 11:2-5 makes this quite clear:

John, who was in prison, heard what Christ was doing, and sent his own disciples to him with this message: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect some other?” Jesus answered, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are hearing the good news.”

Matthew has Jesus list what are, in fact, signs of the advent of the New Age, as Isaiah had predicted: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart” (Isa. 35:5 LXX). Matthew combined Second Isaiah’s declaration using that prophet’s very words from the Septuagint.
 

The resurrection of a dead son

Both Elijah and Elisha mediate two striking miracles, the creation of abundance from little and the resurrection of a dead son. If these sound familiar to a reader of the Gospels, we should not be surprised.

Since Luke’s account of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son so clearly betrays its literary origins in the Septuagint, I shall begin with it:

And it came to pass [kai egeneto] afterwards that Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. As he approached the gate of the town he met a funeral. The dead man was the only son of his widowed mother; and many of the townspeople were there with her. When the Lord saw her his heart went out to her, and he said, “Weep no more.” With that he stepped forward and laid upon the bier; and the bearers halted. Then he spoke: “Young man, rise up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak; and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Deep awe fell upon them all, and they praised God. “A great prophet has arisen among us,” they said. (Luke 7:11-16)

Either Luke or some Greek-speaking Christian behind Luke composed this story on the basis of the account in the Septuagint version of Kings depicting the raising of the dead son of the widow of Sarapeta (III, [I] Kings 17:8-10, 17, 19-23 LXX). Both stories begin with a favorite Septuagintal formula, “And it came to pass.” Both concern the dead son of a widow (chera). In both the prophet “went” (eporeuthe) to the town, where he met a woman at the “gate of the city” (ton pylona tes poleos—LXX; te pyle te poleos—Luke), even though archaeological study has shown that the village of Nain in Galilee never had a wall.

Nain’s fictional gate is there for literary reasons: Sarepta’s gate transferred. In both stories the prophets speak and touch the dead son, who then raises and speaks. In both stories it is declared that the miracle certifies the prophet (“Behold, I know that thou art a man of God”—LXX; “A great prophet has arisen”—Luke). And both stories conclude with precisely the same words: “and he gave him to his mother” (kai edoken auton te metri autou).
 

The raising of Jairus’ daughter

Early Christians knew, on the basis of Isaiah 26:19, that raising of the dead was to be one of the signs of the advent of God’s kingdom. The only Old Testament narratives of resurrection are in the stories of Elijah and Elisha. In Mark 5, Matthew 9, and Luke 8, the president of an unnamed synagogue, one Jairus (whose name, “He will awaken,” betrays the representative and fictional nature of the account), comes to Jesus. Like the Shunnamite woman to Elisha, “falls at his feet and entreats him many times,” saying, in both Mark and Luke, that his only daughter was dying. In Matthew, to align more closely with the story’s Old Testament source—as is typical of the careful and knowledgeable first evangelist—the child is already dead.

The story stays close to the Old Testament original. In both, the prophet, on the way to the child, receives a message that it is dead, but continues resolutely. In both stories the prophet seeks privacy for the miracle: “After turning all the others out, Jesus took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and went in where the child was lying,” just as Elisha shut the door upon himself and the child.

And in both, the prophet touches the child and speaks, and the child awakes. In Mark, the parents were “ecstatic with great ecstasy” (exestesan… ekstasei megale—Mark 5:42); in Kings, the mother of the child is “ecstatic with all this ecstasy” (exestesas… pasan ten ekstasin tauten—IV Kings 4:31 LXX). Just as the widow of Nain’s son began as the widow of Sarepta’s son, so the daughter of Jairus began as the dead child of Shunnam.

* * *

The other process, the heightening of the miraculous and the elimination of hints about the limitation of Jesus’ power to work miracles, is evident in later treatments of Mark’s account of Jesus at Nazareth. There in his own town, says Mark, he was not notably successful:

Jesus said to them, “A prophet will always be held in honour except in his home town, and among his kinsmen and family.” He could work no miracle there, except that he put hands on a few sick people and healed them, and he was taken aback by their want of faith. (Mark 6:4-6)

Matthew, with a more “advanced” theology and a more fully deified Jesus, could not accept Mark’s assertion, so he treated it as fiction, untrue; it was not that Jesus could not perform great miracles in the face of lack of faith in him, rather he chose not to do so. Bearing this in mind, we may more readily grasp why Matthew and Luke chose to leave out altogether two of Mark’s miracle stories. Jesus is asked to heal a deaf mute:

He took the man aside, away from the crowd, put his fingers into his [the man’s] ears, spat, and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, he sighted, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened.” With that his ears were opened and at the same time the impediment was removed and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7:33-35)

In the next chapter, Jesus is asked to cure a blind man:

He spat on his eyes, and laid his hands upon him, and asked whether he could see any thing. The blind man’s sight began to come back, and he said, “I see men; they look like trees, but they are walking about.” Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; he looked hard, and now he was cured so that he saw everything clearly. (Mark 8:23-25)

For Matthew and Luke, who eliminated both these stories from their revisions of Mark, the notion that Jesus needed any kind of ritual (magic word) or medicinal (spittle) help, or even that he needed a little time and repetition of the treatment, was unthinkable. (Matthew characteristically depicts Jesus’ miracle-working powers as instantaneous.)

A Romanized Jesus in this painting found in a Christian catacomb in Rome. The beardless Jesus (Romans regarded the beard as a feature of the Barbarians) also has short hair and is wearing a Roman tunic.

Matthew ensures his story replaces the two he removed from Mark by depicting the man as both mute and blind.

Then they brought him a man who was possessed. He was blind and dumb, and Jesus cured him, restoring both speech and sight… But when the pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub prince of devils that this man drives the devils out.” (Matt. 12:22-24).

A miracle story grows here before our eyes. Luke’s mute becoming mute and blind.
 

Food miracles

Like so many of the other miracle stories, these too have their origins in the Old Testament.

The disciples, though they have presumably just witnessed Jesus feed five thousand with five loaves, naively ask, “How can anyone provide all these people with bred in this lonely place?” —Mk. 8:14. Mark obviously found two stories in unrelated layers of oral tradition and, failing to grasp that they were different versions of the same story, put them into narrative sequence, making the disciples appear unbelievable stupid.

In any event, both narratives stem from IV [II] Kings 4:42-44 read as a typological foreshadowing of the career of Jesus. Both Testaments specify the number of hungry persons (one hundred in the Old; four and five thousand—much greater miracles!—in the New); both specify the inadequate amount of food available (twenty loaves in the Old Testament; five and four loaves—again greater miracles—in the New).

In both the prophets instruct their disciples to feed the people, and in both the disciples protest the inadequacy: Elisha’s disciple complains, “I cannot set this before a hundred men” (IV [II] Kings 4:43); while Jesus’ disciple asks “How can anyone provide all these people with bread?” (Mark 8:5). Finally, in both stories, the meager loaves are miraculously amplified to feed all present and more: “And they ate, and left some over” (IV [II] Kings 4:44); “They all ate to their heart’s content, and seven baskets were filled with the scraps that were left” (Mark 8:9).

Interestingly, the miracle of the loaves and fishes is one of the very few Synoptic miracle stories which have also been used in the Fourth Gospel.
 

Stilling the storm; walking on the sea

Jesus also showed his power over nature in fictions about water. The ancients knew from Psalm 107 what power Yahweh has over the sea (Ps. 107:25-30). In Jonah, the sailors “called on the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, do not let us perish’” (1:14); in the Psalm, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble.” As a consequence, Jonah says, the “sea stopped raging” (1:15); the psalmist, “the storm sank to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were stilled.”

Matthew knew, unlike Mark, that the stilling of the storm was based in part one on the Book of Jonah, for again he rewrote his version of Mark’s narrative. Taking key words from Jonah—“Lord,” “save us,” “we perish”—Matthew rewrites Mark: a fictional correction of a fictional account, each of which is based in its own way on the Old Testament.

With this in mind, the nature of the rest of the miracle story as Mark first wrote it is more easily grasped. If it seems strange that Jesus could sleep in the stern of a small open fishing-boat in the middle of a storm so violent that waves were breaking over the vessel and filling it with water, Jesus’ sleep should be seen not as a description of an event but as a literary necessity.

Jesus also showed his power over the sea by walking on it (Matt. 14; Mark 6; John 6); a variant of the stilling of the storm.

Both versions reveal their origin in the same part of the Old Testament, Psalm 106 of the Septuagint (107 Heb.), with perhaps additional influence from the Book of Job. Early Christians knew from Job 9:8 that the Lord “walks on the sea [peripaton epi tes thalasses] as on dry ground”; thus they also presented Jesus “walking upon the sea” (peripaton epi tes thalasses—Mark 6: 48).

But for the basis of their narrative about this “predicted” event, they went to the Septuagint Psalms, as may best be seen by comparing Mark’s and John’s versions of the pericope. Matthew enriches his account with a fascinating addition about Peter’s effort to copy his Lord.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 12:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 5


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ fifth chapter, “Miracles (II): The Fourth Gospel” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted):


The Fourth Gospel presents an understanding of miracles quite different from that in the Synoptics, and even uses a word for miracle—sign (semeion)—which the others explicitly reject. The understanding of “signs” in the Fourth Gospel, indeed the word itself, stems from the Septuagint: Moses “wrought the signs [semeia] before the people. And the people believed” (Ex. 4:30-31 LXX).

Mark 6:5 claims (though Matthew and Luke refuse to repeat the verse) that in cases of weak faith, Jesus “could work no miracle.”

Nowhere in John is faith the precondition of miracle. In the Synoptics, faith precedes the miracle; in John, the miracle precedes faith. John’s uneasiness about miracle-engendered faith, blending uncomfortably with the conviction that this was the way Jesus chose to reveal himself, may lie behind the strange fact that there are so few miracles in the Fourth Gospel: seven, compared to twenty in Matthew and twenty-one in Luke. John’s way of accounting for the paucity of his miracle stories is to declare that he has written only a selection of a much larger number available to him:

There were indeed many other signs [semeia] that Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. Those here written have been recorded in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may possess life by his name. (John 20:31-31)

 
The water made wine in Cana

An examination of the account of Elisha’s providing flour and oil in III Kings LXX reveals some direct verbal sources for the story of Jesus’ miracle at Cana.

One of the most puzzling aspects of this first miracle in the Fourth Gospel is Jesus’ rudeness to his mother: “Woman, what have I to do with you? [Ti emoi kai soi, gunai].” As has been seen before, the statement is here not a historical report but an antitype of Elijah: for the woman (gune) in need of food says to the prophet, “What have I to do with thee? [ti emoi kai soi]” (III [I] Kings 17:18 LXX).

(Archaeologists at modern-day Cana found pieces of stone jars, including the one shown here, that date to the time of Jesus and appear to be the same type of jar mentioned in the water-to-wine story.)

But as it happens, Elijah’s miracle provides flour, not wine. Why the change?

It appears that this miracle story in the Fourth Gospel was not only mediated through the story of Moses, where it picked up the concept of “sign,” before it reached John; it also went through one other transformation, influenced by the mythology of Dionysius. As Bultmann has pointed out:

On the festival day of Dionysus the temple springs at Andros and Teos were supposed every year to yield wine instead of water. In Elis on the eve of the feast, three empty pitchers were put into the temple and in the morning they were full of wine.

In other words the miracle story had an extensive history before it reached the author of the Fourth Gospel. Neither he nor anyone he knew attended a wedding at Cana-in-Galilee at which Jesus provided a hundred and twenty gallons of wine to those who had already drunk so freely they had exhausted the day’s provisions; the story is fiction and has a clearly traceable literary lineage.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 6


 
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ sixth chapter, “The Passion narratives” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):


The story of the garden of Gethsemane is one of the most moving fictional creations in the New Testament. Though Mark’s Gospel is the first to tell the story in written form, its origins in the Old Testament are more clearly revealed in Luke’s version, whose vocabulary betrays its origins in Septuagint III Kings 19, the story of Elijah’s fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel.

The account is obviously fictional, since there could have been no witness to Jesus’ agony in the garden after he left his followers; they were all, according to the story, asleep.
 

Judas’ suicide

Mark had said nothing about the fate of Judas Iscariot after Jesus’ arrest, only that the priests promised to pay him money, not even indicating whether the money was ever paid. But the Christian sense of retribution could not rest with this, and soon legends were circulating that Judas died horribly. Luke knew one of these legends:

This Judas, be it noted, after buying a plot with the price of his villainy, fell forward on the ground, and burst open, so that his entrails poured out. This became known to everyone in Jerusalem, and they named the property in their own language Akeldama, which means “Blood Acre.” (Acts 1:18:19)

[Matthew on the other hand wrote:]

So Judas threw the money down in the temple and left them, and went and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:5)

That there were two such legends also accounts for the two different stories about Judas’ death: he hangs himself in Matthew and burst open in Acts. Both versions of the death are based on oracular readings of the Old Testament.
 

The Crucifixion

That Jesus was crucified by the Romans—the usual method of executing rebels—is the historical basis of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death (Mark 15, Matt. 27, Luke 23, John 19); the accounts are nevertheless fiction, composed for theological purposes.

If, as many hold, the author of the Fourth Gospel knew Mark’s work, why did he assert so strongly, contradicting Mark, that Jesus carried his own cross? Again the answer is a matter of theology rather than history. The Fourth Gospel was written, in part, as an attack upon Gnostic Christianity, which held that the Son of God was not really crucified; some Gnostics in fact held that Simon of Cyrene not only carried the cross, but was himself killed upon it. John dealt with that argument simply by eliminating Simon altogether.

Moreover, John had an entirely different picture of Jesus’ condition at the crucifixion. In the Synoptics, the implication is that Jesus is too weak, following his scouring and beating, to carry his own cross; but for John, Jesus is entirely triumphant throughout the passion. John presents no cry of dereliction from the cross (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) but instead insists that the dying words were a cry of triumph: “It is accomplished!” (19:30). Such a figure was quite capable of carrying a cross.

Mark continues: “The hour of the crucifixion was nine in the morning” (the third hour, Roman time—Mark 15:25); John, however, tells us that “It was the eve of Passover, about noon,” when Pilate “handed Jesus over to be crucified.” Thus, we cannot know the hour of crucifixion. Nor, in fact, did the evangelists know: their times were fictional creations, parts of a theological framework.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gospel Fictions, 7


  
Below, part of Gospel Fictions’ seventh chapter, “Resurrection fictions” by Randel Helms (ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages):


 
The earliest extended statement about the Easter experiences appears not in the Gospels but in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It dates from the early 50’s, some twenty years after the crucifixion. Paul’s statement is as interesting for what it does not say as for what it does:

I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised to life on the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, and afterwards to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred of our brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, and afterwards to all the apostles. (15:2-7)

None of these appearances, in anything like the sequence Paul lists, is depicted in the four Gospels. Moreover, not one of the Gospel resurrection appearances is identical to those listed by Paul. Paul did not know the Gospel resurrection stories, for the simple reason that they had not yet been invented, and the four evangelists, who wrote twenty to fifty years after Paul, either did not know his list of appearances or chose to ignore it.

Perhaps most surprising of all the differences is Paul’s failure to mention the legend of the empty tomb, which was, for the writer of the earliest Gospel (Mark), the only public, visible evidence for the resurrection. Though Paul vigorously attempts to convince the Christians at Corinth, some of whom apparently doubted, that Jesus indeed rose from the dead (“if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain”), he never mentions this most striking piece of evidence.

Indeed, he had probably never heard of it; it was a legend that grew up in Christian communities different from his own. It may even have post-dated his death, for Mark wrote almost twenty years after his letter to Corinth. Worse yet, Paul would not have agreed with Mark’s theology even had he known it; for Paul, resurrection meant not the resuscitation of a corpse involving the removal of a stone and the emptying of a tomb, but a transformation from a dead physical body to a living spiritual one. “Flesh and blood can never possess the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50).

Not only is St Paul apparently unaware of the resurrection narratives recorded in the Gospels, but his own list of appearances is irreconcilable with those of the evangelists written later. Paul has it that the first appearance of the risen Lord was to Cephas (he always calls Peter by his Aramaic name, and apparently knows no stories about him in Greek). The Gospels describe no initial resurrection appearance to Peter (some women, the number varying from three to two to one, see him first), though Luke says that Peter did see him.

According to equally irreconcilable accounts on the Gospels, the first appearance was to Mary Magdala alone (John), or to Mary Magdala and the other Mary (Mathew), or to Mary Magdala, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James (Luke).

Again, Paul declares that the second resurrection appearance was to the “twelve,” whereas both Mathew and Luke stress that the appearance before the disciples was to the “eleven,” Judas being dead. Either Paul did not know the story about the defection and suicide of Judas Iscariot or else the “twelve” meant something different to him.

In other words, different centers of early Christianity produced their own collections of evidence of Jesus’ resurrection; these grew up independently and had, in the cases considered so far, almost nothing to do with each other. Of course, the most famous of the stories appear in the Gospels. Already in the mid-first century A.D., when Paul first wrote to the Corinthians, the idea was well established that Jesus rose again “on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (15:34). That is to say, Christians had scoured the Old Testament for passages that could, out of context, be interpreted as ancient oracles about the career of Jesus.

This involved interpretative methods that to modern eyes seem bizarre. Matthew’s assertion, in 21:4-5, based on his failure to understand the parallelism in the language of Zech. 9:9, that Jesus rode into Jerusalem astride two animals at once, is such an example. Moreover, the length of Jesus’ stay in the tomb was computed by reading Hosea 6:1-2 out of context, it being the only passage in the Old Testament with an “on the third day” allusion:

Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us and will heal us,
he has struck us and he will bind up our wounds;
after two days he will revive us,
on the third day he will restore us,
that in his presence we may live.

Hosea is, in these verses, not discussing the career of a holy man seven hundred years in the future. He is addressing his own countrymen in his own time, calling upon a corrupt people for moral and religious reform, berating people of whom one could say:

Their deeds are outrageous.
At Israel’s sanctuary I have seen a horrible thing:
there Ephraim played the wanton
and Israel defiled himself. (Hos. 6:10)

Some early Christians were aware of the paucity of Old Testament predictions about the length of Jesus’ stay in the tomb, and set about to invent more. Matthew’s additional evidence contains a prophecy in conflict with his own resurrection narrative.

According to this evangelist, Jesus was buried on Friday just before sundown, and the tomb was found empty at sunrise on Sunday; thus, Jesus was presumably in the tomb two nights and one day. Nonetheless, Matthew imputed to Jesus the following, composed out of the Book of Jonah: “Jonah was in the sea-monster’s belly for three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).

The oldest Christian narratives describing the discovery of the empty tomb on the third day appears in the Gospel of Mark:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic oils intending to go and anoint him; and very early on the Sunday morning, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were wondering among themselves who would roll away the stone for them from the entrance to the tomb, when they looked up and saw that the stone, huge as it was, had been rolled back already.

They went into the tomb, where they saw a youth sitting on the right-hand side, wearing a white robe; and they were dumbfounded. But he said to them, “Fear nothing; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here; look, there is the place where they laid him. But go and give this message to his disciples and Peter: ‘He will go on before you into Galilee and you will see him there, as he told you’.”

Then they went out and ran away from the tomb, beside themselves with terror. They said nothing to anybody, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8).

The most ancient manuscripts of Mark end at this point, one of the strangest and most unsatisfying moments in all the Bible, depicting fear and silence on Easter morning and lacking a resurrection appearance. But within about fifty years, at least five separate attempts were made by various Christian imaginations to rewrite Mark’s bare and disappointing story; they appear in the Long Ending and the Short Ending of Mark, and in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John.

The first two are second-century interpolations in some texts of Mark and are identified as such in any responsible modern text. They are Mark 16:9-20 (in the King James version and others based on late manuscripts), an unskillful paraphrase of resurrection appearances in other Gospels; and Mark 16:9 in few other late manuscripts, in which the women followed the youth’s instructions to tell the disciples, a statement that conflicts with verse 8 of the original text.

Probably the first large-scale effort to rewrite Mark’s account and make it more pleasing to the faithful took place when the Gospel of Mathew was written in the last two decades of the first century. Although the major written source information was the Gospel of Mark, Matthew made up striking changes in Mark’s resurrection narrative. Mark’s account ends with the women running away from the tomb in terror and in their fear say nothing to anybody.

Matthew did not like this ending, however, so he changed it, consciously constructing a fictional narrative that more closely fit what he and his Christian community wanted to have happen on Easter morning: “They hurried away from the tomb in awe and great joy, and ran to tell the disciples” (Matt. 28:8). How did Matthew feel justified in making such a major change in Mark, a source he obviously regarded, for the most part, as authoritative?

The answer is that Matthew was a conscious literary artist who sincerely believed in the resurrection; moreover, he believed he had the authority, granted him by his church and by its interpretation of the Old Testament, to “correct” Mark’s Gospel and theology. Indeed, he had corrected Mark many times before, often doing so on the basis of what he regarded as his superior understanding of the oracles in the Old Testament.

For since Jesus’ life happened “according to the Scriptures,” early Christians were confident that in order to find out about him, they did not need to engage in historical research or consult witness (in our understanding of these two approaches); they found detailed history in the ancient oracles of the Hebrew Bible, read as a book about Jesus.

Matthew was a careful student of both the Old Testament and of Mark, which in his time was not yet accepted as canonical Scripture and thus could be changed at need. His study revealed how frequently Mark’s Gospel was transparent upon Scripture (or based upon it), and in ways that Mark himself apparently did not recognize.

Mark had composed his Gospel on the basis of earlier oral and written sources, which in turn had found much of their information about Jesus in the Old Testament. Though Mark seems not to have realized that this was so, Matthew readily recognized the relationships between Mark and the Old Testament, and even took it upon himself to extend and correct them.

In this case he saw Mark’s resurrection narrative as transparent upon de Book of Daniel, especially chapter 6, the story of the lion’s den. On recognizing the relationship, Matthew seems to have consulted the Septuagint version of Daniel and believed that he found there details of a more accurate account of the happenings of the Sunday morning than could be found in the pages of Mark; never mind that Daniel’s narrative is a story in the past tense about presumed events in the distant past. Matthew ignored its narrative and historical content and turned it into a prophetic oracle, as had the originators of Mark’s story.

It seems clear that in a literary sense at least, Matthew was right: the account of the empty tomb used by Mark was indeed structured on Daniel’s story of the lion’s den. In the 30’s and 40’s, the empty tomb story was not part of the tradition about the resurrection: Paul was unaware of it. The legend grew in Mark’s community, or one from which it borrowed, as part of its stock of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

As Matthew was to do again nearly a generation later, certain Christians, perhaps in the 50’s and 60’s, searched the Old Testament, a major source of what was for them authoritative information about Jesus, in order to construct their account of the passion and resurrection, and found in the Book of Daniel much of what they needed. Consider the parallels. […]

[Helms’ text cannot be copied and pasted in the internet. Above I typed directly pages 129 to 135 from his book, Gospel Fictions, Prometheus Books, 1988. But I’ll omit Helms’ detailed account of these parallels and jump to page 142:]

In sum, we may say that Matthew’s account of the resurrection is a fictional enlargement of Mark’s fictional narrative, produced, at least in part, because of what he saw as the incomplete and inadequate nature of Mark’s last chapter. Certainly, Matthew sincerely believed in the resurrection; he also believed that his version of the story was more authoritative, more “scriptural,” than Mark’s, but his sincerity does not make the story less fictive. The same may be said of Luke’s enlargement of the Markan resurrection account.

The Gospel of Luke is, like that of Matthew, an expanded revision of Mark. Of Mark’s 661 verses, some 360 appear in Luke, either word-for-word or with deliberate changes. Some of the most dramatic of these changes appear in Luke’s version of Mark’s resurrection narrative.

Luke’s most significant change from Mark—the totally different angelic message at the tomb—finds its origin not in the Old Testament, however, but in Luke’s need to prepare his readers for the story of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, which he also wrote. In the version of the story Luke wishes to present, the disciples cannot be ordered, or even allowed, to leave Jerusalem for Galilee; they must remain for the all-important Pentecost experience.

Matthew composed a Galilee resurrection appearance using the Book of Daniel as the source of what Jesus would have said. But Luke eliminates the angels’ statement that the risen Jesus is going to Galilee; in contrast to Matthew, who composes a new statement for Jesus out of the youth’s speech in Mark (“take word to my brothers that they are to leave to Galilee”—Matt. 28:10), Luke imputes to Jesus a new saying that demands quite the opposite: “Stay here in this city until you are armed with the power from above” (Luke 24:49).

Luke thus presents resurrection appearances only in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Mark implies, and Matthew specifically declares, that Jesus, followed later by his disciples, left Jerusalem immediately after his resurrection and went to Galilee some eighty or ninety miles to the north, where they all met. Luke writes (Acts 1:3-4) that the risen Jesus “over a period of forty days… appeared to them and taught them about the kingdom of God. While he was in their company he told them not to leave Jerusalem.”

For Luke, the story of Pentecost, described in the second chapter of Acts, overshadowed any assertion that the disciples were in Galilee meeting Jesus; they had to be in Jerusalem, so he placed them there and constructed a saying by Jesus to justify this change.

The fourth evangelist, John (who was not the Apostle, but a Christian who wrote at the very end of the first century), possessed a collection of resurrection narratives different from those used by Matthew and Luke, and irreconcilable with them.

In Luke, when the women returned to the disciples with the joyous news that the tomb was empty and that two angels had declared Jesus risen, “The story appeared to them to be nonsense, and they would not believe” (24:11); but in John, when Peter and the other disciples hear the women’s message, they run to the tomb and find it empty, whereat, says John, they “believed” (20:28). […]

The Gospel of John , as originally written (circa 100 A.D.), ended immediately after Jesus’ appearance before the doubting Thomas. Early in the second century, however, certain Christians to whom the gospels of Mathew and Luke were important, recognized that both these earlier works stress, in opposition to John, that the resurrection appearances occurred in Galilee as well as Jerusalem. They took it upon themselves to reconcile John with the others by adding a twenty-first chapter.

That this section is not by the author of the rest of the Gospel is clear from the prominence it gives to the “sons of Zebedee” (John 21:2), who are mentioned by this name nowhere else in the Fourth Gospel, though they are central figures in the Synoptics.

A major propose of this addition, and another sign of its late date, is betrayed by the last saying attributed to Jesus in the chapter. For no reason apparent in the narrative, we are told that Peter “saw” an unnamed disciple, the one “whom Jesus loved,” and asked Jesus, “What will happen to him?” Jesus’ response was, “If it should be my will that he should wait until I come, what is that to you? Follow me.”

The saying of Jesus became current in the brotherhood, and was taken to mean that the disciple would not die. But in fact Jesus did not say that he would not die, he only said “If it should be my will that he should wait until I come, what is that to you?” (21:21-23)

Obviously, this disciple (in fact all the first-generation Christians) had long since died, and Jesus showed no signs of returning. The tradition persisted, however, that those were the words of Jesus, for the first generation indeed confidently expected the early return of their Lord (had he not said, in Mark 9:1, “There are some of those standing here who will not taste death before they have seen the kingdom of God already come”?).

A saying had to be constructed that would not only demystify and reinterpret this persistent legend, so troubling to the faithful, but solve the apologetic problem it presented. Chapter 21 exists, in part, for this purpose; and though the attempt is an unconvincing quibble, it had to be made.

The resurrection narratives in the last chapters of the four Gospels are effective stories that have given solace and hope to millions of believers who have not read them carefully.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment