Category Archives: early Christianity

Yom Kippur

Leviticus 16

5 And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two he-goats for a sin-offering, and one ram for a burnt-offering.
6 And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself, and for his house.
7 And he shall take the two goats, and set them before Yahweh at the door of the tent of meeting.
8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel.
9 And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for Yahweh, and offer him for a sin-offering.
10 But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before Yahweh, to make atonement over him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness.
11 And Aaron shall present the bullock of the sin-offering, which is for himself, and shall make atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin-offering which is for himself.

Mark 10

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 14

1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused him of many things.
4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested.
7 A man called [Jesus] Barabbas (i.e. “son of the father”) was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.
8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate
10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in allegory, early Christianity


Even More Evidence Against Q?

This was posted over on Vridar, which is itself apparently an argument made by Mike Goulder. Regardless of who made the argument or whether he actually said it, it looks like it is a valid observation.

Everyone knows about the metaphor of “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but this is only one out of 10 such animal allusions in the Gospels. The full list:

Give not what is holy to dogs, and cast not your pearls before swine. (Matt 7.6) *

Or he asks for fish, will he give him a snake? (Matt 7.10) *

Who comes to you in sheep’s clothing, but inward are ravening wolves. (Matt 7.15) *

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests. (Matt 8.20)

I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. (Matt 10.15)

So be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt 10.16) *

You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matt 23.24) *

You snakes, you brood of vipers! (Matt 23.33)

As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. (Matt 23.37)

As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt 25.32) *

Notice something here? These are all in Matthew. None of them are in Mark or John. The only other place that they show up in is in Luke. Specifically, the “double tradition” material of Luke.

So there are three explanations for this. One, Matt simply expanded on the animal imagery in Q (like Matt 7.10). However, all of the verses that I put asterisks by are the ones that are only found in Matt; the double tradition only has four out of the 10 listed here as animal imagery.

Another explanation is that Matt invented all of the animal imagery and Luke used Matt as a source. This would explain why all of the animal imagery isn’t found in both Matt and Luke if it was originally from Q. Luke didn’t use Matt in its entirety. This is the one that I favor, obviously, but the previous argument still makes sense. Matt could have just expanded on the animal imagery in Q.

A third possibility is that Luke invented the animal imagery and Matt expanded on Luke. In and of itself, this seems just as likely as Matt expanding on Q. That is, if we didn’t have any other background information, Matt expanding on Q and Matt expanding on Luke seem equally as probable (but we do have background information so it seems slightly less likely that Luke invented the animal imagery).

But it is still a matter of probability. If Q exists, then Matt more than doubled the animal allegories. If Q didn’t exist and Luke is using Matt, then Luke took out more than double the animal imagery. Which is more probable? Adding to stuff, or subtracting stuff? In the Synoptic tradition as a whole, the authors were more likely to add stuff than to subtract stuff. Matt in particular expands on Mark.

So taking the redaction trend of Matt, it would seem more likely that Matt just expanded on the animal allegories in Q instead of Luke using Matt as a source.

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in early Christianity


Euangelion Kata Markon: Does Mark Have Pre-Existent Christology?

Over at Euangelion Kata Markon, a discussion is going on about the Christology of Mark (which bleeds into the other Synoptics). Some arguments:

For many scholars Mark, indeed all the Synoptics, lack an explicit teaching on Christ’s pre-existence that we encounter in the Philippians hymn (Phil 2:6-11) or John’s theologically profound prologue on the Logos. However, one scholar to challenge the consensus is Simon J. Gathercole in The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke


•Jesus stands above the Twelve who symbolize Israel (55-56) and angels (Mk 13:37) (56).
•Forgives sins, which is not something priest or prophet could pronounce, nor is it a divine passive for the passage goes on to emphasize that the Son of Man “can” and “has authority” to forgive and one should not read too much into “on earth” as God also acts on earth (57-58).
•Accused of blasphemy for forgiving sins and at the trial for his claim to the heavenly throne (cf. b. Sanhedrin 38b) (59-61).
•Sea miracles as divine acts (Ps 107 [Ps 106 LXX]; Job 9:8 LXX; cf. ego eimi in Mk 6:50) (61-64)
•Jesus “Name” (Matt 28:20; 28:19) and use of ego eimi (I am) (Mk 13:6 par; Matt 7:22; 12:12) (65-67)
•The recipient of obeisance/worship. There is little evidence in Mark though the Leper and rich man fall on their knees and Jairus at Jesus’ feet (Mk 1:40; 10:17; 5:22) (69-70)
•Supernatural knowledge into people’s thoughts (cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, p. 222) (70-71) •“Why do you call me good” seems to distance Jesus from God, but Jesus goes on to issue a command alongside the divine commandments and thus shares in the divine goodness (74)

Do go read the whole post!

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in early Christianity


The Biblical Definition of Marriage

So the Chick-Fil-A fiasco. Yes, yes, we all know about the usual Bible verses that point out the various arrangements of marriage. But, some people might think that that only applied in the “Old Testament” and was no longer valid for the NT. They would be wrong.

Here is Josephus (contemporary of the Gospel authors) describing events going on during the time period of Jesus:

2. …[Herod the Great] also allotted one of Aristobulus’s daughters to Antipater’s son, and Aristobulus’s other daughter to Herod, a son of his own, who was born to him by the high priest’s daughter; for it is the ancient practice among us to have many wives at the same time….

3. Now Herod the king had at this time nine wives; one of them Antipater’s mother, and another the high priest’s daughter, by whom he had a son of his own name. He had also one who was his brother’s daughter, and another his sister’s daughter; which two had no children. One of his wives also was of the Samaritan nation, whose sons were Antipas and Archelaus, and whose daughter was Olympias; which daughter was afterward married to Joseph, the king’s brother’s son; but Archelaus and Antipas were brought up with a certain private man at Rome. Herod had also to wife Cleopatra of Jerusalem, and by her he had his sons Herod and Philip; which last was also brought up at Rome. Pallas also was one of his wives, which bare him his son Phasaelus. And besides these, he had for his wives Phedra and Elpis, by whom he had his daughters Roxana and Salome. As for his elder daughters by the same mother with Alexander and Aristobulus, and whom Pheroras neglected to marry, he gave the one in marriage to Antipater, the king’s sister’s son, and the other to Phasaelus, his brother’s son. And this was the posterity of Herod.

– Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.1.3


2. But although the grandees of Adiabene had failed in their first attempt, as being delivered up by God into their king’s hands, yet would they not even then be quiet, but wrote again to Vologases, who was then king of Parthia, and desired that he would kill Izates (d. 55 CE, just to put a timestamp on the context of the polygyny), and set over them some other potentate, who should be of a Parthian family; for they said that they hated their own king for abrogating the laws of their forefathers, and embracing foreign customs. When the king of Parthia heard this, he boldly made war upon Izates; and as he had no just pretense for this war, he sent to him, and demanded back those honorable privileges which had been bestowed on him by his father, and threatened, on his refusal, to make war upon him. Upon hearing of this, Izates was under no small trouble of mind, as thinking it would be a reproach upon him to appear to resign those privileges that had been bestowed upon him out of cowardice; yet because he knew, that though the king of Parthia should receive back those honors, yet would he not be quiet, he resolved to commit himself to God, his Protector, in the present danger he was in of his life; and as he esteemed him to be his principal assistant, he intrusted his children and his wives to a very strong fortress, and laid up his corn in his citadels, and set the hay and the grass on fire. And when he had thus put things in order, as well as he could, he awaited the coming of the enemy. And when the king of Parthia was come, with a great army of footmen and horsemen, which he did sooner than was expected, (for he marched in great haste,) and had cast up a bank at the river that parted Adiabene from Media, – Izates also pitched his camp not far off, having with him six thousand horsemen. But there came a messenger to Izates, sent by the king of Parthia, who told him how large his dominions were, as reaching from the river Euphrates to Bactria, and enumerated that king’s subjects; he also threatened him that he should be punished, as a person ungrateful to his lords; and said that the God whom he worshipped could not deliver him out of the king’s hands. When the messenger had delivered this his message, Izates replied that he knew the king of Parthia’s power was much greater than his own; but that he knew also that God was much more powerful than all men. And when he had returned him this answer, he betook himself to make supplication to God, and threw himself upon the ground, and put ashes upon his head, in testimony of his confusion, and fasted, together with his wives and children….

– Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.4.2

So polygyny was still going on in the time period of Jesus. Yet Jesus never condemns Herod. Did Jesus not have the gall to do what John the Baptist did? Or did Jesus implicitly accept polygyny as well?

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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in early Christianity, historicity, pseudo-history


Historical Jesus Scholars Should Do What Biologists Do in the Creation/Evolution Debate

In my time traveling through the mire of debating Creationists (both occasionally IRL and on the series of tubes) one of the questions I get from them is “What is the best evidence for evolution?”. Before I even considered myself a Bayesian, I started to realize that this was a trick question, especially after Creationists would attempt to refute that “best evidence”.

On my website about the evidence for the theory of evolution, I list a bunch of evidence and then their explanation in an evolutionary framework. In a Bayesian sense, all of this evidence increases the probability of evolution, since their absence would decrease the probability of the theory of evolution. And that’s the point; the best argument for evolution is that there is so much evidence accumulated together for evolution. Which is the Bayesian answer.

Historical Jesus scholars should follow the same reasoning when dealing with mythicism. There is no “best argument” for the historical Jesus. The best argument should be a cumulative Bayesian one, meaning that the best argument for the historical Jesus is (or should be) that there is so much evidence for the historical Jesus. That’s certainly what I would do, and that is certainly what Richard Carrier will do in his forthcoming book about the historical Jesus (though he will be arguing the negative for Jesus’ historicity).

For example, Bart Ehrman, whenever questioned about whether Jesus existed or not, usually falls into the analogous Creationist trap above. He notes the best evidence for why he thinks Jesus existed which is essentially using the criterion of embarrassment. This fails for two reasons: One, like I wrote above, any “best argument” has the possibility of being wrong which if it is, then this gives the opposition the opportunity to claim victory. And two, even if that logic weren’t the case, criteriology can never uncover “evidence”. A criterion of embarrassment is an interpretation of evidence, not the evidence itself. The only way that Ehrman’s argument could be foolproof, and admitted into the evidence bin, is if it were formulated like this:

P1: All people in antiquity didn’t invent dogma that was embarrassing
P2: All Jews in antiquity were embarrassed by a crucified messiah
P3: Jesus was crucified
C: Therefore, Jesus was not invented

This argument is only as strong as its weakest premise. Do we know that all people in antiquity didn’t invent embarrassing details of their religions? Do we know that the Jews were Borg-like entity with one monolithic thing that they were embarrassed by? The same failure happens when scholars appeal to Paul meeting James the brother of the lord as a “slam dunk” argument. There are no slam dunk arguments; the only “slam dunk” should be the accumulation of evidence.

Usually, though, when dealing with Creationists, I lay out all of the evidence and then ask them to explain it using their Creationist framework (e.g. how do you explain both Endogenous Retroviruses and Ring Species using one framework?). More importantly, I ask them what is the least likely type of evidence we would expect to see given Creationism. That is the principle of falsifiability, explained using Bayesian conditional probability terminology. Historical Jesus scholars should do the same, instead of listing hypothetical documents that aren’t in evidence; they can’t be in evidence because they’re hypothetical (if you have to appeal to a hypothetical document to support your hypothesis, this makes your initial hypothesis less likely).

For example, under a mythicist framework, when talking about the original language that a pericope is written in, the least likely evidence would be… absolutely nothing. There’s no restriction on the language that a pericope would originally be written in. This means that there is no language that is the most or least probable given mythicism, making mythicism unfalsifiable when it comes to language evidence. Which is a strike against mythicism. That should be the strategy that historical Jesus scholars engage in when dealing with mythicism. On the other hand, given that Jesus was such a charismatic preacher that that was why his followers revered him and exalted him to the right hand of god after death, what is the least likely evidence we would see? The least likely evidence would be the absolutely zero quotes of his so-called charismatic preaching in any NT writings until around the time of Marcion and Justin Martyr; a full 100 years after Jesus was supposed to have lived**. If you didn’t read any gospels and only the epistles written in the first 100 years of the Christian religion, the last thing you would come away with was how much Jesus’ teachings influenced the new religion.

So as of right now I’m extremely disappointed in the way that historical Jesus scholars have been arguing against mythicism. They need to think more rigorously and scientifically, using actual logical reasoning instead of faulty criteriology and waving around invisible — hypothetical — documents. What I’m seeing is the same sort of reaction that Christian apologists have when trying to defend the truth of their god’s existence or the resurrection; being well read but not knowing anything about formal logic or even probability theory to ensure that they’re not promoting logical fallacies. Maybe the whole enterprise is inherently apologetic in nature, as Hector Avalos argues in The End of Biblical Studies.

** Of course, I’m excluding the four gospels because no one seems to be aware of their Jesus-the-teacher content until Marcion and Justin Martyr


Was Paul Against Homosexuals?

The passage which is quoted that shows that the New Testament is hostile to homosexuals is 1 Corinthians 6.9. This reads as follows:
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men."
Get that context: Men who sleep with men are "wrongdoers"! A note in the New International Version reads "The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts". The Wescott-Hort version of this reads:
"ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ἄδικοι θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν; Μὴ πλανᾶσθε: οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται"
The words that I underlined — ουτε μαλακοι ουτε αρσενοκοιται::oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai — literally mean "nor the soft (μαλακοι) nor men who lie with men (αρσενοκοιται)". The only other two times that the word "soft" occurs in the NT is at Luke 7.25 (But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing [ἄνθρωπον ἐν μαλακοῖς ἱματίοις ἠμφιεσμένον]? Behold, those who are gorgeously dressed, and live delicately, are in kings' courts.) and the Synoptic parallel Matt 11.8 (But what did you go out to see? A man in soft clothing [ἐν μαλακοῖς ἠμφιεσμένον]? Behold, those who wear soft clothing (τὰ μαλακὰ) are in king's houses).
But there's a bit of an oddity here. At least, how it seems to me. It just so happens that μαλακός (malakos) sounds a bit familiar to, uh, μαλακία (malakia) which means to be a person who pleases themselves. The Synoptic evolution between Matt and Luke using this phrase might give it away. Why would Luke reinterpret Matt's people who wear soft clothing living in kings' houses to people who are gorgeously dressed and live delicately in kings courts? Was Luke comparing John the Baptist (who was wearing "soft clothing") which is a "good" thing, to people who live in the king's court, who are ostensibly better off than people living in the wilderness? Does this mean that Matt originally had a pun between soft and masturbate? As in, people who wear soft clothing compared to people who are self-gratifying?
So "the soft" is in male plural form so it probably implies "sissies" or "weak men" who are on the, uh, receiving end of the men who lie with men. On the other hand, Paul might be talking about people who masturbate instead of "soft" men. But the last word that Paul uses – αρσενοκοιται – most definitely means men who sleep with men.
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in early Christianity, paul


What Did Paul Mean By "Another Jesus"?

2 Cor 11:

4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

5 But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”

Here Paul is implying that some “super-apostles” ὑπερλίαν ἀποστόλων or hyper-lian (super-duper) apostles were preaching some “other Jesus” with some “other gospel”. This seems to allude to heretics of some sort.

But there is a bit of an inconsistency with his use of “some other Jesus” and “some other gospel”. For both the other “spirit” and “gospel”, the adjective that Paul uses is ἕτερον yet for the other Jesus he uses ἄλλον. The word ἕτερος or heteros is where we get words like heterosexual or heterochromia. It means “another” of a different type. The word ἄλλος or hallos, on the other hand, means “another” but of the same type. So if I wanted to say “get me an apple and another pear” I would use heteros for “another” yet if I were to say “get me an apple and another apple” I would use hallos.

Using the fruit analogy: If the Jesus, gospel, and spirit that Paul is preaching are apples, then the spirit and gospel that the super-duper apostles preach is a pear yet their Jesus would also be an apple. So the gospel and spirit that these other apostles are preaching is of a different stripe altogether, yet the Jesus is “another” Jesus but of the same… I dunno, “type” of Jesus? What does that mean? And why, if it is the same “type” of Jesus but another, would it be a bad thing for these other apostles to preach about him?

We know what “other gospel” is to Paul because he uses the same term in Galatians (Gal 1.6 ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον). What exactly was the Jesus that these other apostles were preaching at Corinth? I would think that if Paul were talking about something like docetism vs. adoptionism vs. what-have-you, he would also use heteros. But he doesn’t, so those distinctions must not have existed when he wrote. Or at least, he wasn’t aware of them.

This might be more evidence for my observation that all of the variants of Jesus didn’t come about until the first gospel was written (Gnosticism, etc.). The question then becomes what sort of Jesus did Paul have in mind? Was it the Jesus of Marcion, the Jesus of Mark, the Jesus of John, the Jesus of Valentinus, or some “other” (ἕτερος) Jesus?

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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in early Christianity, paul

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