Monthly Archives: March 2010

A "Personal Relationship"

One of the more annoying apologetics I read and hear all of the time is the assertion of “personal experience” of god. Obviously, a personal god should be having personal relationships with his subjects, but I’ve never seen any evidence of such a relationship. Christians have redefined “personal relationship” to mean something other than what it is.

I have a personal relationship with my girlfriend. I don’t have a personal relationship with President Obama. This means that there are things I know about my girlfriend that I didn’t read in a book or had a chosen interpreter or some other third party tell me about her. On the other hand, there’s nothing that I know about Obama that I didn’t read in a book or had some third party tell me.

If Christians have a personal relationship with their god, they should be able to enumerate some things that they know about god or Jesus that they didn’t read in a book or had a third party tell them. Things about Jesus’ personality.

Questions you should be able to answer if you actually had a “personal” relationship with Jesus:

What does Jesus do in his free time when he’s not saving souls?
What kind of things does Jesus joke about?
What’s Jesus’ biggest secret that he doesn’t talk about to the unsaved?
What was Jesus’ childhood like?
When was Jesus’ first kiss? His first crush?

I obviously wouldn’t be able to answer questions like these with Obama (without reading it in a book or having a third party tell me), but I would be able to answer questions like these with people I do have a personal relationship with. The fact that Christians cannot answer these questions must mean that their definition of “personal” is something other than what it means in normal conversation.

The second annoying apologetic is the equivocation between subjective feelings like “love” and objective things like the existence of the person doing the loving. The objectivity of the person doing the loving has to first be established before engaging the subjective feeling of “love”. It edges pretty close to a fallacy of reification.

I don’t have faith that my gf exists. I have faith that she won’t cheat on me – they’re two very different things. If my gf didn’t exist, then the question of whether I have faith that she won’t cheat on me is irrelevant. Theist attempt to extrapolate the faith that we have in loved ones to faith that the loved one exists. Existence is an objective dilemma (barring the fallacy of reification), and has to be solved objectively. Attempting to solve an objective dilemma subjectively only leads to sophistry – and is the sole reason why there are millions of different religions on the planet.

I don’t have faith that my gf exists. My gf’s existence is based on facts. In order to prove the existence of something objective, we have to first doubt it and then test it. For instance, if someone said “it’s snowing outside” in the middle of the summer (an objective statement), then I would first doubt their assertion and then go outside to test their statement: I’d check to see if it was snowing.

Trying to apply the same methodology for subjective “facts” (like love, trust, etc) would drive someone crazy. Like if I wanted to find out if my gf was really faithful to me – I’d have to doubt her first and then set up a whole bunch of surveillance, watching her every move etc. It’s a lot easier to trust that she’s faithful.

The difference between the two situations is emotional investment. I have an emotional investment in whether my gf is faithful, I don’t have an emotional investment in whether it’s snowing in the middle of summer. In order to find out the objectivity of a fact of life, we shouldn’t be emotionally invested in the outcome. If we do have emotional investments in something, then it’s easier to pander to our emotions to make it more palatable – this is why we rely on trust when in human relationships. The emotion invovled is at the heart of the matter.

This is why I say that faith in the existence of god is intellectually bankrupt – because it’s using subjective methodology for an objective question. Objectivity is determined intellectually, not by emotions or fuzzy feelings. On the same side of that, faith that my gf won’t cheat on me is also intellectually bankrupt… but it’s not supposed to be intellectual in the first place!

However, trying to determine by fact and objectivity that my gf is faithful to me would be emotionally bankrupt. Of course this is a bad thing because the nature of the relationship is supposed to be emotional. But the objective existence of my gf has to be established first before appealing to how much I trust her. I would get strange looks if I simply asserted that I trust my gf yet she didn’t even exist… and then said that the feeling of trust I have for her establishes that she actually exists. It’s putting the horse before the cart, so to say.

Subjective, or emotional dilemmas require subjective/emotional solutions. Objective/intellectual dilemmas requre intellectual/objective solutions. The same reason why I wouldn’t get drunk (subjective, it makes me feel good) before taking a math test (objective and requiring intelligence) is the reason why I wouldn’t have to believe in god first and/or have faith (subjective, it feels good) in order to prove that god exists (objective and requiring intelligence).

Whether god exists or not shouldn’t affect you emotionally – just like the big bang theory or the theory of evolution.

(This was originally posted by me in the comments section of the blog Debunking Christianity, and is actually a rewriting of a post I made in late 2008 on FRDB)

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in personal god, personal relationship


Are Josephus’ Essenes a Catchall for Gnostics?

I think the evidence for it is very slim, but Josephus’ Essenes might be a catchall for Gnostics. Though how Josephus describes the Essenes in more detail they seem to be more like a sect full of “Daniels” – Jewish prophets for Gentile kings. Simon the Essene (AJ 17.13.3), for example, seems to follow the same pattern of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Josephus says that the Essenes “live the same kind of life as do those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans” (AJ 15.11.4)

By the time Josephus had been writing, however, Neo Pythagoreanism was flourishing. This is probably just a modern way of separating the doctrines of Pythagoreans from later (Neo) Pythagoreans contemporary to Josephus. This is from Wikipedia:

Neopythagoreanism was a revival in the 2nd century BC—2nd century AD period, of various ideas traditionally associated with the followers of Pythagoras, the Pythagoreans. Notable Neopythagoreans include first century Apollonius of Tyana and Moderatus of Gades. Middle and Neo-Platonists such as Numenius and Plotinus also showed some Neopythagorean influence.

They emphasized the distinction between the soul and the body. God must be worshipped spiritually by prayer and the will to be good. The soul must be freed from its material surroundings by an ascetic habit of life. Bodily pleasures and all sensuous impulses must be abandoned as detrimental to the spiritual purity of the soul. God is the principle of good; Matter the groundwork of Evil. The non-material universe was regarded as the sphere of mind or spirit.

Does Josephus mean that their philosophy was the same, or their mystical practices were the same? Josephus makes the same claim about the Pharisees (their way of living is like the Stoics from Josephus’ autobiography). Obviously, the Pharisees and Stoics don’t share the same belief systems, but quite possibly their overall philosophy is the same. In this respect, maybe Josephus is saying that the Essenes’ overall philosophy of asceticism is similar to the Pythagoreans.

The thing is, though, that Neopythagoreans had a lot of influence on 2nd century Gnostics. And Essenes seem to disappear right around the time that Gnostics start emerging. If anything, it should have been the Gnostics that lived like Neopythagoreans, not Essenes.

Some other things that Josephus writes about Essenes:

  • Most don’t marry, but some do (JW 2.8.12)
  • They seem to have wandering preachers. But if not preachers, they take in those of their kind in different cities, which seems to mirror the Didache (JW 2.8.4)
  • JW 2.8.11: “For their doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever; and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward”

So, who knows. There are a lot of things contrary to what we know about Gnostics that the Essenes seem to practice, but what we know of both groups is obscured by what’s lost in history.

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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in essenes, gnosticism, josephus, pythagoreanism


The Gospel of John and Synoptic Parallels

There’s an ambiguity in scholarship as to whether the writer of John knew of Mark’s narrative. I personally don’t think so, but I do think that John knew of some sort of Synoptic Gospel.

First, there are two oddities in John that would only be explained if John knew of some sort of Synoptic gospel. When I mention “a” Synoptic gospel, I don’t mean just Mark, Matt, or Luke. There were other variations in 2nd century Christianity so John might not have known what we now read as Mark, Matt, or Luke. John could have been aware of say the Ebionites’ version of Matthew, or the gospel of the Hebrews, or some other “heretical” version of a Synoptic.

Anyway, the two oddities that I think show that John knew of some sort of Synoptic(s) and was trying to tie his narrative into theirs are “Nazarene” and the phrase “Kingdom of God”. These two are littered all throughout the Synoptics, but make very few appearances in John. “Kingdom of God” is only found twice – in John chapter 3 (arguably the most famous chapter in all Christianity). John says that no one can see the “Kingdom of God” unless they are born from above (3:3 and 3:5). After this chapter, John never mentions the Kingdom of God ever again.

Now there are probably two gospels that I’ll rule out for John being aware of. First, even though it’s very weak evidence, John doesn’t seem to be aware of Mark’s Nazarene (Ναζαρηνος). John never once writes the word “Nazarene”. He writes either Nazareth (Ναζαρεθ) or Nazoraios (Ναζωραιος). Neither of these phrases are found in Mark (“Nazareth” technically is, but I argue that it’s not original to Mark). So John must have gotten his Nazareth and Nazoraios from some other source.

Second, John doesn’t seem to be aware of Matthew’s “Kingdom of Heaven”. Matthew has a preference for saying “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of Mark’s “Kingdom of God”. Matt only uses “Kingdom of God” twice when not directly quoting from Mark or Luke/Q (or their common source). So if John was aware of Matthew, he would have used that phrase in his “born from above” speech to Nicodemus in chapter 3.

However, the three times that John uses the word Ναζωραιος (18:5,7; 19:19) he uses it how Mark would say “Nazarene”, i.e. Jesus the Nazarene. And the two times that he uses Nazareth he’s actually describing the town without the qualifier. 1:46 Nathan’s response about the town by itself without the association with Jesus depends on Phil mentioning it at 1:45 so to be consistent the spelling would have to be consistent. Matthew describes Jesus as having to be a Nazarene to fulfill what was said in the prophets. However, Matt uses Ναζωραιον, which he probably got from recalling Judges 13:5 from memory (Ναζιραιον).

Now if, as many NT scholars claim, there’s a documentary relationship between the gospels, and Mark is first, then the word (Ναζωραιον) “Nazoraion” enters the synoptic tradition via Matt. Now, the only gospel left that John could be aware of is Luke/Marcion. If Nazoraion is original to Matt, then any gospel with that phrase also has to share a documentary relationship with Matt.

Luke only uses Nazoraion once – at 18:37: ιησουν τον ναζωραιον in a parable about a blind man receiving his sight:

35As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.

36When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.

37They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth [i.e. ιησουν τον ναζωραιον] is passing by.”

38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,

41″What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

43Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

This just so happens to be one of the seven miracles that Jesus does in John – a blind man being given sight. But it’s very unlike the miracle in John; John’s miracle is closer to how Mark cures someone of blindness (Mk 8:22-26).

John and Luke also have other similarities beyond the more superficial like the phrase “Kingdom of God” – Luke also uses the word “Nazareth”. John and Luke downplay the little apocalypse in Mark 13/Matt 24. Luke and John both have anti-Docetae resurrection appearance by having him eat fish and showing his crucifixion injuries.

One final and probably most important relationship between John and Luke is who seems to be the first Christian witnesses to these gospels. Valentinus and Marcion, respectively, seem to be the “heretics” who used these two gospels first, and both were Docetists. I’ve even heard that the two might have collaborated with each other, but that’s just hearsay.

So, in my opinion, it seems as though the author of John either knew Luke, knew some sort of proto-Luke (i.e. Marcion), or knew of our current Luke’s source.

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Posted by on March 23, 2010 in gospel of john, nazarene, synoptic problem


Jammin’ On The James(es)

The disciples said to Jesus, “We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?”

Jesus said to them, “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”

– Gospel of Thomas 12

So who exactly is James the Just? Why does Jesus give him such authority in this pericope in the sayings of Thomas? According to the canonical gospels, the most important members of Jesus’ students are Peter, John, and James. These names are nearly equivalent to the “pillars” that Paul talks about in Galatians 2:9 (James, John, and Cephas, though I think the name “Peter” was invented by Mark for a reason). It might be nothing, but Paul lists James first in this list. Later in Galatians, Paul mentions how “men from James” led Cephas astray (2:11-12), implying that Cephas was not the leader of the disciples like later Christian tradition asserts. It seems as though James had the most clout out of the pillars.

But then, Paul mentions meeting Cephas and James the lord’s brother on his trip to Jerusalem.

Tertullian’s Against Marcion (c. 207 CE) doesn’t list this omission from Marcion’s version of Galatians so quite possibly Tertullian’s version of Galatians didn’t have a mention of Paul meetings a James who was the lord’s brother. I mean, Tertullian was observant enough to recognize that Marcion’s version of Galatians that mentions the pillars didn’t have the same order as his version (i.e. Cephas, James, John vs. James, John, Cephas) so he would have pointed out this discrepancy if it existed. So James being “the lord’s brother” might not even be original to Paul.

But, there was a group of Christian who revered a James who was a brother of Jesus even though in Mark the only James who was a leader had a brother named John, also one of the pillars.

So if James was the lord’s brother in Galatians, is this also the James that was the pillar? We have a pillar in Galatians who’s name is James who exercises some authority over Cephas, we have a James that’s part of Jesus’ favorites who witness his transfiguration and was a brother of the other pillar John, and then we have a James who was the “lord’s brother”.

Are they all the same James?

Origen claimed (c. 220 CE) that James was called “the lord’s brother” not because they were related, but because they were brothers in righteousness. In this view, all of the Jameses that Paul mentions are the James the Just of the Thomas quote who is the true leader of the pre-Pauline church. The James who is a brother of the pillar John is the aberration; and rightly so since he dies almost immediately in the 2nd century Catholicizing (i.e. universalizing) document “Acts of the Apostles”. Then again, “Acts” never mentions the brother of Jesus named James.

In Gal 2:10, the ‘poor’ are an identical reference to Rom 15:26, and 15:31. Of course, “the poor” were a sect of 2nd century Christians: the Ebionites. “Ebionite” is etymologically derived from the Hebrew אביונים (EBYWNYM or ebionim) which in Hebrew literally means “poor” or “poor ones”. Translating this literally into Greek would be οι πτωχοι. Paul uses this phrase in genitive form in Gal 2:10 (των πτωχων).

The Poor, or the Ebionites, regarded James the Just as their leader… and regarded Paul as a Greek who converted to Judaism and then apostatized. Of course, the Ebionites also rejected all of Pauline Christianity’s teachings – like the virgin birth, co-equality with Hashem, pre-existence, divinity, atoning death, and the physical resurrection of Jesus. They also rejected Paul’s abrogation of the laws of Moses.

Maybe Thomas was a (possibly Gnostic) Ebionite document; those who only followed the teachings of the “living Jesus” and James the Just. There does seem to be some scholarly support for this – i.e. the idea that James was an early leader of the church (or perhaps a Jewish sect that preceded what would become Christianity). According to Robert Eisenmann’s “James the Brother of Jesus”, James [the Just] was written out of the record of being a leader of this pre-Pauline church. And this is probably why there’s this current confusion over which James is which.

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Posted by on March 10, 2010 in ebionites, galatians, james the just, paul


On Historiography

Now I’m not a historian, but I do know a bit about the scientific method. From what I’ve read about historiography, it seems to follow a basic scientific methodology:

Physical evidence seems to be the primary way that history is reconstructed (hence Biblical Minimalism) and written sources are used as secondary way that history is reconstructed. In other words, we shouldn’t go to written sources first since physical sources can tell a lot more about the stories of history.

This is how it’s done in every other field of science, and it’s logical and consistent that historians do the same.

The problem with Christianity is that we have no “primary” evidence, so we have to rely on writings. What I’ve learned from my few ethnography/sociology classes at NYU, people’s writings are terribly biased when processed through the filters of their own epistemology. This is the problem that sociologists have to contend with when they’re studying their subjects. I bring up sociology because history is a mix of both the hard science of archaeology and the soft science of sociology – basically sociology in the past.

In science, even in hard sciences, all knowledge is tentative. The Theory of Relativity basically says “this is how it’s worked so far”, and it will always be open to modifications to that theory if evidence pushes things in that direction. Soft sciences are even more tentative in their conclusions, since human behavior is even harder to predict than gravity.

Back to the problem with early Christanity and its history: in this case we only have writings. For the most part, early Christian writings are undated, and the earliest narratives about Jesus are anonymous. Another problem is that these writings are opinions about religious beliefs. They are writing what they want us to believe, not what actually happened. But this is not a problem restricted to Chritian writing, it’s a problem for all writing, both modern and ancient. And this is why writings are secondary material. They need corroborating data, or external controls. Secondary sources like writings can tell us more about the sociological context of the writers than what they’re actually writing about.

Related to these writers writing what they want us to believe, we know that in the 2nd century, Christians were editing these writings even further in the battle between “orthodoxy” and “heterodoxy”. So not only were the original writers writing what they wanted us to believe, but these writings arrive to us today edited by later Christians wanting us to believe what they believed. Thus you end up not with just Mark… but Mark, Matthew, Ebionite Matthew, Luke, Marcion’s Luke, Gnostic John, Orthodox John, and myriads of other permutations. All variations of Mark… all of the data are hopelessly corrupted.

But this isn’t a “show stopper” for history, since in many other fields of history they don’t treat undated and anonymous writings as a primary source. They aren’t forced to.

Thus, for example, Virgil’s Aeneid counts as evidence of both the founding of Rome, and of the social climate of the Age of Augustus. It is very bad evidence of the former, and fairly good evidence of the latter.

So at the very least, this is why I’m agnostic about the historical Jesus.

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Posted by on March 8, 2010 in early Christianity, historicity, historiography, jesus myth


A "Mythicist’s" Interpretation of Christian Origins

This seems plausible enough; and I don't know why people scoff at it. This wasn't written by me, but by a “gurugeorge” on FRDB:

I don't doubt there are some parts of the synoptics that might have been part of the older visions. The movement was already 40-50 years old by the time GMark might have been written. My idea of the synoptics is as follows. (Bear in mind that I'm holding the following true for the purposes of this interpretation – the standard view which has Paul as the earliest, and the results of Bauer's investigations into the actual composition of early Christianity):-

approx 35 CE – 70 CE – no gospels at first. Tiny but widespread movement based on middle-class “New Agey” mysticism and occultism around a postulated Messiah found prophesied in Scripture, who had already been and done his work, and was now contactable in spirit vision, and mystical-union-achievable-with as a deity. What's produced in sessions is (amongst other things) messages from the god about it's doings while sojourning on earth. Some story elements become popular, there are a few sketchy “gospels” or biographies floating around. Towards the end of this period, one of them, an “ur-Luke”, becomes popular, perhaps mainly as shared, loose oral tradition at that stage. EVIDENCE: If Paul and Hebrews earliest: the absence of evidence for the existence of a human Jesus in Paul; the presence of evidence for belief in a historical but divine being; the presence in Paul of a clear description of mystical and occult practices as “what we do” in Corinthians 12-13; reading “according to Scripture” as meaning reporting; it's clear from Paul himself that he is talking about a once-historical, now-visionary entity that talks back to him, which is linked with a mystical experience of connection with that deity (or rather, strictly speaking, revelation of the always-present connection); scholarly investigations which show some parts of Luke are not accounted for in the standard hypothesis, and appear to be very early; later on, Marcion reportedly uses some kind of slimmer “Luke”, later Gnostics are known to have traditionally favoured “Luke”.

70-90 CE – Someone or some people write GMark – which takes the most popular story-skeleton (the hypothesised “ur-Luke”) and rewrites it as a dramatic gloomy post-Diaspora retro-prophecy. The idea is introduced (or is a re-emphasis of an earlier speculation, perhaps in the ur-Luke) that some of the original apostles knew and walked with the cult figure. At that time, we'd naturally expect a variation of takes on the theme – some holding the cult figure more like in John, a true superhero-type, some taking the cult figure to have been more like in Mark, more like a preacher or priest while on earth, but certainly a vessel of the Divine in some sense). GMark is based on a more humanized vision of the saviour. Quite innocent, just natural drift in interpretation. One school or sub-sect, probably not the one “Mark” belonged to (which is more traditional proto-gnostic) but a sect sharing a more humanised vision of Jesus, but also a more Jewish-favourable stance, picks up this idea, and drafts a GMatthew that somewhat orthodoxises and “catholicises” Mark. This becomes the central gospel of the new orthodox movement. EVIDENCE: the orthodoxy self-ascribed GMatthew as being their earliest and most popular gospel, yet we know from scholarship that it can't have been; the scholarly work on GMark shows little that could be construed as apparent quotes from a human Jesus, but a whole ton of stuff based on Scripture; the absence of evidence in Paul (presuming him earliest) that any of the apostles before him knew the cult figure personally, again combined with the ever-present absence of external or internal evidence that would support a man Jesus.

90-150 CE – GLuke and Acts fabricated in response to the threatening popularity of Marcionism (still a small movement though, only a few thousand folks at this stage, still a relatively well-to-do and middle class affair on the whole). GLuke based on the “ur-Luke” used by Marcion, but taking material from GMark and GMatthew. Acts uses some folk-memory stories about Paul. Kerygmata Petrou an alternative kernel for Acts that's binned as being a bit too Jewish-weighted, and a bit too fanciful. By this time, orthodoxy is beginning to appear historically (cf. Bauer) – and it's fighting the already-established variegated, more or less woo-woo descendants of the original Jerusalem and (mostly) Pauline forms, wherever it goes. Towards the end of this period, GJohn is written, perhaps based on an earlier text more obviously Gnostic (cf. Doherty on this). Meanwhile, lots of other gospels and other material start being written by many different schools, partly in response to the first two, partly as a natural effusion. EVIDENCE: there is scholarly belief that the two are the work of the same hand; the tenor of these two documents is Catholicising and has always been recognised as such; Acts is one big exercise in reinforcing the idea of the Apostolic Succession; yet Paul has to be accounted for somehow, those who still follow him have to be “kept sweet”, so “Peter” and “Paul” shake hands; Bauer shows a to-and-fro struggle between orthodoxy and heresy – it may be the case that GJohn is a further attempt by orthodoxy to get Gnostics on board, i.e. take a gospel that's popular with them, and Catholicise it.

150 – 200 CE – by this stage, orthodoxy is starting to really flex its muscles, it has the power and money to gradually unify the Christian movement around its version of the myth, which it increasingly pushes as “canon”. It's also lucky enough to have some sharp, rationalistic minds on its side. No more gospels need to be written, gospel-getting, prophecy, occult practices – the very stuff of the Christian cells as originally seeded by Paul – are curtailed and eventually outlawed.

200 – 400 CE – the movement is gradually positioned as a mass-movement, grows a bit more, and by the end of this period is eventually presented, neatly trimmed and prettified, to Constantine as a viable possible religion to unify a failing Empire.


Posted by on March 8, 2010 in jesus myth


The Gospel of John, Gnosticism, and Mistranslations

Over at Prof. DeConick’s blog, she posted quite a teaser:

The name of my talk on the Gospel of John for the Hidden God, Hidden Histories conference is: “What is hiding in the Gospel of John? Reconceptualizing Johannine Origins and the Roots of Gnosticism”.

My “paper” has become so full and so detailed that it looks like it is going to become the basis of another book. I already have the title for it:

John Interrupted: What can the Gospel of John tell us about the origins of Christianity and Gnosticism?

The work I’m doing is from the ground up, straight back to the ancient sources. And all because one day, while preparing to deliver an undergraduate lecture on the Gospel of John, I stumbled upon a passage in Greek that is not translated accurately in any modern translation I have been able to find.

I wanna know which passage she’s talking about! lol She said in response to some inquiries in the comments “[…] I can’t reveal yet, but will once I have the paper firmly written and an abstract I can share. SOON. Another month.” So I guess I’ll have to wait to find out what the offending passage is (and which Greek text(s) she’s using).

Another one of the comments:

Rev. Fr. Troy Pierce said…
John 8:31-35 has much of interest in this regard. Especially 8:32, which I have often said is the core of Gnosticism in a nutshell.

This is what I have in my W&H version of John 8:31-35


31 ελεγεν ουν ο ιησους προς τους πεπιστευκοτας αυτω ιουδαιους εαν υμεις μεινητε εν τω λογω τω εμω αληθως μαθηται μου εστε

32 και γνωσεσθε την αληθειαν και η αληθεια ελευθερωσει υμας

33 απεκριθησαν προς αυτον σπερμα αβρααμ εσμεν και ουδενι δεδουλευκαμεν πωποτε πως συ λεγεις οτι ελευθεροι γενησεσθε

34 απεκριθη αυτοις [ο] ιησους αμην αμην λεγω υμιν οτι πας ο ποιων την αμαρτιαν δουλος εστιν [της αμαρτιας]

35 ο δε δουλος ου μενει εν τη οικια εις τον αιωνα ο υιος μενει εις τον αιωνα


31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but the son belongs to it forever.

If this is the offending passage (which I doubt), then the only possible “mistranslation” would be rendering αιωνα::aiona (i.e. “age” or “eon”) as “permanent”. But I’ve suspected John’s origins in Gnosticism for a while – Valentinus, a Gnostic, seems to be the first witness to the gospel of John.


Posted by on March 1, 2010 in gnosticism, gospel of john


Why The First Gospel — Mark — is a Post 70 CE Work

Most NT scholars date the gospel of Mark to c. 70 CE as a response to the fall of the 2nd temple[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]. When a regular person reads something like this, they might conclude that Mark was written in 70. Or maybe 72 or 75. Sometime really close to 70. My view is that Mark was written by someone who was born c. 70 CE. Let me explain.

Let’s say that instead of Jesus predicting the fall of the temple (Mark 13:14 – which is the biggest piece of evidence scholars use for dating Mark as post-70), Jesus predicts the Sept-11th attacks on the World Trade Center while preaching in 1960. And then while reading the rest of the narrative, we have Jesus complaining about having to wait on long lines at the airport, having to take off his sandals at the airport, and griping about Homeland Security.

Would someone who was mature enough (let’s say around 20 years old) to write a narrative about Jesus predicting 9-11 have those sorts of anachronisms if he was writing around 2001 or 2002? Of course not. I was 21 on Sept-11th so I of course know a lot about the pre-Sept 11th world. But, someone who was born around 2001 and wrote about how Jesus predicted Sept-11th would have those kinds of anachronisms because the entire world that they know is a post-Sept 11th world.

So if “Mark” was around 20 years old when he wrote “c. 70 CE” he would not have a bunch of post 2nd Temple Judaic traditions in his narrative: (The following was all presented at the blog Vridar)

Mark 12:1-9. “The Parable of the Vineyard” aka the parable of the wicked husbandmen

The owner [god] of a vineyard [Israel] sends servants [the prophets] to the tenants [Jews] of the vineyard to collect rent. The Jews kill the prophets (cf 1 Thess. 2:14-16) so god sends his son [JC] and the Jews kill him also. God destroys the tenants [Roman Jewish War] and gives the vineyard to others [non Jews and Christians].

This means that this is a post-70 CE parable. And continues the false theme of Jews killing their prophets while also promoting the theme that non-Jews can now inherit god’s kingdom (cf Eph 3:6).

Mark 2:22 The Parable of the Old Wineskins

“And no one pours new wine [the gospel] into old wineskins [the law]. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

A subtle commentary on strict differentiation and incompatibility between Jews and Christians, which doesn’t happen until the 2nd century.

Other anachronisms:

1. SYNAGOGUE – Greek for “gathering place” (συν::syn – together; αγωγη::agoge – bring/brought).

-“Mark’s presumption that there were synagogues throughout Galilee during Jesus Christ’s time [M 1.21,1.39, 3.1], an assumption that archaeologists and historians have not been able to substantiate” Burton Mack “Who Wrote the NT” p.159

-“Only during and after the first century CE does literary and archaeological appear for Palestine ….Whilst prayer appears to have been an integral part of the religious services in the Diaspora, its presence in Palestinian synagogues before 70CE is unattested….As for the Roman Diaspora references before then are practically nonexistent [and what does exist refers to the Disaspora].” Oxford Companion to the Bible Eds Metzger and Coogan page 721

-There is little archeological evidence for synagogues in 1st century Galilee. The Ancient Synagogue by Lee Levine (2000). Page 8:

Although the pre-70 archeological material is scanty, it is of cardinal importance. Remains of at least four synagogues buildings are attested-three in Judea and one in the Diaspora (Delos)-yet inscriptions provide the bulk of archeological evidence from this period. The Theodotos inscription from Jerusalem, that of Julia Severa from Acmonia in Asia Minor, a number of catacomb inscriptions from Rome, three synagogue inscriptions from Berenice (Cyrene), five from Delos, six from the Bosphorus, and sixteen (or parts thereof) from Egypt

2. “RABBI” – Hebrew/Aramaic for “My master”.

Mark 10.51 [and other]

Α.Jewish Encyclopedia entry “rabbi”

“Sherira’s statement shows clearly that at the time of Jesus there were no titles; and Grätz (“Gesch.” iv. 431), therefore, regards as anachronisms the title “Rabbi” (my master) as given in the gospels to John the Baptist and Jesus, ..”

Β. Geza Vermes p. 26 of “The changing faces of Jesus”

“Nor was he a “rabbi” in the technical sense despite being repeatedly addressed as such… It is even questionable whether the term ‘rabbi’ in the specialized meaning was current in the early decades of the first century AD. The great Jewish masters who lived in the age of Jesus, Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel, are all called “elders” [Grk. “presbyters”] not ‘rabbis’.”

Γ.Hyam Macoby ‘The Mythmaker’ p 21

“Thus the assembly of sages [as the Pharisee leaders were called before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70; after which they became known as ‘rabbis’ …”

Date suggested:
Post 70, ce stretching to the time when calling Jewish sages “rabbi” became common enough for the author of “Mark” to [incorrectly] and anachronistically place it in the earlier purported era of JC. Ah but when did it become common? Some time after the turn of the century?
Which thus suggests a second century date for the writing of Mark.

3. “ALL the Jews wash their hands…”
Mark 7:3

From Nineham “St.Mark” p.193

“According to the Jewish experts, the evidence of the Talmud is that in the time of Jesus ritual washing of the hands before meals was obligatory only on the priests… but the ordinary layman -including the Pharisee and the scribe- was not concerned about such questions […] It is agreed by everyone that about 100AD, or a little later, ritual washing did begin to become obligatory on all…”

So it seems possible that Mark’s statement that “ALL the Jews wash their hands” is inaccurate for the purported era of JC but possibly accurate for a time several decades later.
Suggested date:
Early 2C

Sanders writes, p. 186 of Jesus and Judaism (1985)

Mark says that ‘the Jews’ washed their hands before eating (7:3), but in Jesus’ day it would have been a small number of them. The Rabbis eventually made handwashing ‘normative’, and it is worth nothing that it is one of the very few practices of ritual purity which have continued. But before 70 the common people did not accept the practice. That is so by definition: had they done so they would have met one of the requirements of the haberim [akin to the notion of Pharisees].


Mark 15:46
“And he bought a linen shroud, and …wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb […] and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Jewish Encyclopedia [see headings]

“Gamaliel insured the perpetuation of his memory by his order to be buried in simple linen garments, for the example which he thus set put an end to the heavy burial expenses which had come to be almost unbearable …(Ket. 8b).”

Β.Mo’ed Katan
“It was not until after Rabban Gamaliel had been buried in simple linen garments that this custom became general.”

“This caused R. Gamaliel, about fifty years after the destruction of the Temple, to inaugurate the custom of using a simple linen shroud for rich and poor alike (M. Ḳ. 27b).”

So, according to the JE, about c120ce the custom was started of burial in a linen shroud thus suggesting this anachronism [JC being buried in a shroud] was written sometime after that date.


From Richard Carrier: “There is another reason to doubt the tomb burial: the tomb blocking stone is treated as round in the Gospels, but that would not have been the case in the time of Jesus, yet it was often the case after 70 C.E., just when the gospels were being written. Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “the Second Temple period…ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).

All of these anachronism indicate that the author did not remember or know about life prior to 70 CE. If Mark was written c. 70, then the author would have remembered details about society prior to 70 and these anachronisms wouldn’t be there. Just like if I had written something c. 2001 I would have remembered details about society prior to 2001. However, an author that was born close to 70 CE would include these sort of anachronisms when he matured, closer to the 2nd century.

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Posted by on March 1, 2010 in 2nd temple judaism, early Christianity

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