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Water and Spirit

Mark 1:10

και ευθυς αναβαινων εκ του υδατος ειδεν σχιζομενους τους ουρανους και το πνευμα ως περιστεραν καταβαινον εις αυτον

Reading this in Greek, I see a subtle wordplay that isn’t really as evident in English translations. This translates roughly as “And immediately ascending from/out of the water [he] saw the sky split and the spirit, like a dove, descended into him“.

The wordplay is between Jesus rising out of the water and the spirit falling into him. But, like I said, in English it doesn’t really do justice. Mark uses the words αναβαινος and καταβαινος to describe the rising/falling. The more obvious parallel in English would be ascending/descending since they are the same word but with opposite meaning prefixes.

The “split” between the two words occurs when there’s a “split” in the sky, as though there was a split between worlds, like walking from the real world into “camera negative” world through some portal. It kinda reminds me of a video game, like in “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” or “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” where there’s a real world and then the opposite world.

After being baptized by John, the world flips or splits and Jesus is then baptized by the spirit. Instead of going into the water, the “water” (i.e. the spirit) goes into him. There seems to be an interplay between water and spirit at the beginning of Mark, but oddly in Mark this theme is never revisited.

Maybe Mark was harkening back to Genesis 1:2?

Ελληνικα
η δε γη ην αορατος και ακατασκευαστος και σκοτος επανω της αβυσσου και πνευμα θεου επεφερετο επανω του υδατος

English
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and God’s spirit was hovering over the water

When I think of interplays between water and spirit, I think of Johannine theology: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit [υδατος και πνευματος]’” (3:5). I wonder which came first? Maybe John is trying to rectifiy the once separated “water and spirit”? The human Jesus and the spiritual Christ; the christology of pre-gnostics like Cerinthus – a “separatist” according to Irenaeus (AH 3.11.7).

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2010 in gospel of john, gospel of mark, spirit, water

 

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

 

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

Ελληνικα

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

English

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.

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

 

Born Again

Is Justin Martyr the origin for the phrase “born again”?

Και γαρ ο Χριστος ειπεν· Αν μη αναγεννηθητε, ου μη εισελθητε εις την βασιλειαν των ουρανων.

For Christ also said: Unless you are born again, you shall not go into the kingdom of heaven.

– Justin, First Apology 1.61.4

The above bolded phrase is literally “reborn”. Contrast this with what’s found in John 3:

3 απεκριθη ιησους και ειπεν αυτω αμην αμην λεγω σοι εαν μη τις γεννηθη ανωθεν ου δυναται ιδειν την βασιλειαν του θεου

3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

This part is a bit trickier. The phrase here γεννηθη ανωθεν::gennithi anothen has a double meaning that makes sense of Nicodemus’ confusion. It can mean both “born again” and “born from above”. In the entire canonical New Testament, this is one of two times that ανωθεν is used to mean “again”. All other times it’s used to mean “from above”. Off the top of my head, the only other time is in one of Paul’s letters where he complains about having to do something “all over again”, as in from the beginning (don’t feel like looking it up right now lol).

So poor Nic is confused about what it means to be “born again” since you can’t crawl back into your mother’s womb to be born a second time. Jesus replies “You idiot, I meant anothen as in from above; as in from the spirit”. If John had Jesus say αναγεγεννημενοι as 1 Peter says (1:23), then the context in John wouldn’t have made sense.

So it seems as though John had a literary/entertainment reason for having Jesus say “born again/from above”. But it can go either way – did John reappropriate this from Justin and put it in a literary context, or did Justin fub and simply recall this “saying” from John? Surely an educated philosopher like Justin would have remembered the context of the phrase “born from above”.

Another odd thing is that “kingdom of heaven” is a phrase only found in Matthew.

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2009 in born again, gospel of john, justin martyr

 

Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?

1. None of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses (they were written in third person). This is the conclusion of a vast majority of NT scholars. The earliest witness to gospels with names attached to them comes from Irenaeus c. 175 CE. The earliest witness to any gospel narrative period is Marcion c. 135. No one prior to Irenaeus says “the gospel according to Matthew” or any other such similar phrase.

Even if they were written by eyewitnesses, eyewitness testimony is dishearteningly unreliable.

2. Matthew and Luke are not independent accounts. They are reimaged versions of Mark, since the authors did not like Mark’s low (adoptionist/separatist) Christology. Why would an eyewitness (supposedly Matthew) copy almost verbatim huge swaths of a non-eyewitness (Mark) in his gospel? (for Luke, “Theophilus” was also the name of a Christian in the late 2nd century who appears to not know about the Jesus story – so it makes sense that it would be addressed to him [Theophilus, to Autolycus]).

3. Mark has John the Baptist doing baptisms specifically for the cleansing of sin. Josephus has John the Baptist specifically not doing baptisms to cleanse someone of sin, “but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2).

4. Mark has Jesus being insanely popular, drawing insane crowds everywhere he goes and renowned all throughout Galilee and Judea. Jesus’ popularity of this magnitude is not corroborated by any other contemporary Jewish writer (Photius, Bibliotheca 33). Jesus’ popularity seems to be a plot device.

5. Mark has Jesus being stalked by the Pharisees everywhere he goes, implying that the Pharisees were the ruling class of Jews prior to 70 CE. The ruling class of Jews during Jesus’ lifetime were the Sadducees, the Pharisees didn’t gain power until the fall of the temple. Meaning that this is a post-70 conflict between Christians and Jews projected into the past.

6. Mark has Jesus go to Gerasa to evict the demon “Legion” from someone and into a herd of pigs, where they stampede into the sea. Gerasa is about 30 miles from the Sea of Galilee so it would have taken over an hour for them to run that far.

7. Mark says that the Pharisees and “all the Jews” had to wash their hands before eating. This only applied to priests.

8. Mark has Jesus clear out the temple of the money changers and singlehandedly preventing anyone from bringing any merchandise through the temple court. The temple wasn’t just some run of the mill temple, it was also a military fortress. There’s no way he would have been able to do this singlehandedly without being immediately arrested (or without a lot help, which would have looked like an insurrection).

9. Mark has Jesus call Daniel a prophet. Daniel is not a prophet according to Judaism, as he wrote (c. 165 BCE) after the time period that prophecy had ended.

10. Mark has the Sanhedrin giving Jesus a trial on a Friday night, during Passover. Trials could only be held on Mondays or Thursdays, not at night, and definitely not on high holy days like Passover. Mark also has the Sanhedrin convicting Jesus for claiming to be the messiah. Claiming to be the christ is in no way blasphemy. There were multiple characters with the title “christ” in the LXX.

11. Mark has Pilate give Jesus a fair trial. Pilate was actually known for executing troublemakers without trial, as he was impatient and hot-headed (Philo, Embassy of Gaius 38.301-303). Not only that, but Pilate presumably gave Barabbas a fair trial as well. Pilate then releases one prisoner because it was a Jewish holiday. Pilate actually had no respect for Jewish customs and almost started a rebellion due to his disrespect. Mark then has Pilate being afraid of the Jewish mob (who for some reason have done a complete 180 in how they view Jesus), when in actuality Pilate had no qualms about assassinating a mob of complaining Jews (Josephus, Antiquities… 18.3.2). Pilate was eventually recalled back to Rome for massacring a bunch of unarmed Samaritans who were following a messiah claimant on Mt. Gerizim.

12. Barabbas is Aramaic for “son of the father”. It just so happens that Jesus — the supposedly real son of the father — meets his polar opposite and his opposite is released, which seems to mimic the scapegoat ceremony of Leviticus 16, where one goat is released and the other goat is sacrificed for sin (some manuscripts of Matthew actually have Barabbas’ given name as “Jesus”).

13. The entire crucifixion scene quotes numerous times from Psalm 22. The Psalms are not prophetic, thus these lines must have been purposefully lifted from that Psalm.

14. All four canonical gospels have emphatically conflicting Easter narratives; consider the Easter Challenge. There’s also no tradition of any “empty tomb” prior to Mark’s gospel. And most common tombs did not have circular stones in front of them that could be “rolled away” (16:3) prior to 70 CE.

15. For some reason all throughout Mark, only demons, the reader, and people who are not named know that Jesus is the messiah. Everyone who is “known” doesn’t know. This makese sense as literature or entertainment, not history.

16. John, who according to tradition, was the son of Zebedee and apostle, was a fisherman. Fishermen in antiquity weren’t widely known for their literacy. John calls Jesus “the Word”:

(205)[…]And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word is continually a paraclete to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race.

(206) And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, “And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and You; neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work. For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace.”

Oh wait, that’s not from John’s gospel… that’s from Philo’s (20 BCE – 50 CE) “Who is the Heir of Divine Things”. How could an illiterate Aramaic speaking fisherman from the first century read Philo’s work (in Greek, not Aramaic), and say that Jesus was Philo’s “Logos”, who Philo himself reappropriated from the Stoics?

17. John has Christians being kicked out of synagoges during Jesus’ lifetime. This doesn’t actually happen until after the council of Jamnia c. 90 CE.

18. John has Jesus being seen as “the messiah” for a group of Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans reject Davidic authority and thus would not have seen a Jew as their messiah (Jews destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim c. 110 BCE).

19. John has Jesus philosophizing about his own awesomeness in long winded discourses throughout this gospel, which is contrary to the shorter speeches in the synoptics. There’s no way anyone who was a witness to any historical Jesus c. 33 would have remembered these long speeches for nearly 70 years. Thus they must be an invention of the author.

20. John has Jesus claim to be god himself, and the only way towards salvation. This would have gotten Jesus arrested and stoned immediately for claiming equality with YHWH. The Jews almost went to war with Rome c. 41 because Caligula declared himself a god in the flesh and wanted a statue of himself erected in the temple. And Jesus claiming that he’s the only way towards salvation would have been nonsense to Jews while the sacrificial system was still functioning.

21. John has Jesus say “your law” when refering to the laws of Moses as though he’s not Jewish.

 

Paul, Cephas, and Peter

I mentioned in my post on the history of early Christianity that Paul says in 1 Cor 15 that Jesus appeared to “Cephas (κηφας::kefas), and then the twelve” which might imply that Peter and Cephas are two different people. Because according to the gospel narratives, Peter was one of the twelve. Thus Paul should have written “Cephas and the eleven” if Peter and Cephas were indeed the same person.

Galatians 2:6-14 is the only mention of a person named “Peter” (πετρος::petros) in Paul’s letters. Assuming they are the same person, every other instance of this “pillar” Paul uses the name Cephas. Why Paul would out of the blue decide to call Peter “Peter” here instead of his usual “Cephas” has no other explanation other than interpolation.

Galatians 2:6-14

Ελληνικά:

6απο δε των δοκουντων ειναι τι οποιοι ποτε ησαν ουδεν μοι διαφερει προσωπον [ο] θεος ανθρωπου ου λαμβανει εμοι γαρ οι δοκουντες ουδεν προσανεθεντο

7αλλα τουναντιον ιδοντες οτι πεπιστευμαι το ευαγγελιον της ακροβυστιας καθως πετρος της περιτομης

8ο γαρ ενεργησας πετρω εις αποστολην της περιτομης ενηργησεν και εμοι εις τα εθνη

9και γνοντες την χαριν την δοθεισαν μοι ιακωβος και κηφας και ιωαννης οι δοκουντες στυλοι ειναι δεξιας εδωκαν εμοι και βαρναβα κοινωνιας ινα ημεις εις τα εθνη αυτοι δε εις την περιτομην

10μονον των πτωχων ινα μνημονευωμεν ο και εσπουδασα αυτο τουτο ποιησαι

11οτε δε ηλθεν κηφας εις αντιοχειαν κατα προσωπον αυτω αντεστην οτι κατεγνωσμενος ην

12προ του γαρ ελθειν τινας απο ιακωβου μετα των εθνων συνησθιεν οτε δε ηλθον υπεστελλεν και αφωριζεν εαυτον φοβουμενος τους εκ περιτομης

13και συνυπεκριθησαν αυτω [και] οι λοιποι ιουδαιοι ωστε και βαρναβας συναπηχθη αυτων τη υποκρισει

14αλλ οτε ειδον οτι ουκ ορθοποδουσιν προς την αληθειαν του ευαγγελιου ειπον τω κηφα εμπροσθεν παντων ει συ ιουδαιος υπαρχων εθνικως και ουκ ιουδαικως ζης πως τα εθνη αναγκαζεις ιουδαιζειν

English:

6As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message.

7On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.

8For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.

9James, Cephas, and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

11When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

In the reconstructed version of Marcion’s To the Galatians, Gal 2:7-8 are not in it:

(Gal 2:5) To these not even for an hour we yielded in subjection, That the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

(Gal 2:6) But from those reputed to be something – those of repute conferred nothing to me.

(Gal 2:7) But against them, when they had seen that I was entrusted the gospel of the uncircumcision.

(Gal 2:9) Peter, James and John , who regard themselves pillars, gave to me the right of fellowship: – to me the nations – to them the circumcision

In the Epistle of the Apostles (EoA), the writer gives a list of all of the apostles:

2 We, John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathanael, Judas Zelotes, and Cephas, write unto the churches of the east and the west, of the north and the south declaring and imparting unto you that which concerneth our Lord Jesus Christ

The only question that remains is why the interpolation? The only other instance of “Cephas” in the entire NT besides 1 Corinthians and Galatians is at John 1:42, who deliberately joins the two. However, the EoA uses the same motiffs as the gospel of John (disciples poking holes in Jesus’ wounds) so they might have been using that gospel as a source. If so, how could they separate Cephas and Peter?

The interpolation doesn’t add or subtract anything to Paul’s rant here, so the only purpose must be the same purpose as John 1:42 – joining the name Cephas and Peter into one person. Nowhere else does Paul mention that a “Peter” is a pillar of this Jesus movement. Maybe this version of Gal 2:7-8 is the same person who wrote John 1:42.

Edit: Or maybe the interpolation does detract from the rant a bit. Reading this section without the interpolation, Paul obviously has no love for the “so-called” pillars. Which follows the theme of 2:6 where he obviously said that their apparent leadership had no effect on his message, only that he remember the poor (which he did). Using the word δοκουντες::dokountes to describe them (“so-called”) makes sense of how he had no qualms about rebuking Cephas to his face later on in the letter. The interpolated passage softens the vitrol of Paul’s disdain for these pillars… which makes it seem slightly anti-Marcionite.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2009 in cephas, gospel of john, interpolation, marcion, paul, peter

 

C. S. Lewis’ Trilemma

C. S. Lewis’ trilemma is really easy to refute, since it rests on quite a few unfounded premises. The simplest refutation of Lewis’ trilemma is “It’s still possible that Jesus could have been crazy and/or a liar and still had a few good moral teachings. I don’t see how those are mutually exclusive. He could have been a mostly good guy who was a little nuts, or could have believed that lying to get people to accept his moral teachings was a noble lie.” For some reason, Lewis thinks in black and white – either he was a great moral teacher AND god, or he was a liar/madman or a demon. Since Jesus being a moral teacher is “not one of the options”, that only leaves God, demon, or madman. Since people like the character of Jesus they don’t want to concede that he’s a madman or a demon, so the only option left, according to Lewis’ false trilemma, is the God of the Jews. Of course, there are two other options – Jesus was mistaken, or Jesus was a legend. Jesus could have been all too human and simply mistaken, or Jesus could have had words put in his mouth by his non-Jewish followers decades later. My conclusion is the latter:

From Mere Christianity Chapter 8 – “The Shocking Alternative”

1. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilisations are built up–excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

I agree with this part of his argument. Except that since the [Christian] Satan doesn’t exist (which is a different being than the Jewish Satan), that part falls flat. We live in the darkness of a demon-haunted world, creeping with trepidation and fear at the shadowy images just outside of our peripheral vision. They seem to mirror our movements; they rise when we rise and are right at our side when we fall… looking right at us, never once extending a helping hand. However, when certain people light the candle of reason, we see that there were no demons at all – merely a mirror. Our own reflection. They are ourselves. Those “demons” were just us looking back into ourselves via silhouettes floating in the mirror in the dimly lit room of our superstitions.

2. And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded.

“God” seems to have done the same for chimps. Chimps have been known to drown themselves trying to rescue fellow chimps in a moat, or starve themselves when they realize that when they press a button to get food, they shock a fellow chimp. What’s going on here? Chimps, just like ourselves, are social creatures. Social creatures can only survive if they work in unison – which can only work if you have some inclination of how your fellow [being] feels. We call this “feeling” empathy; and empathy is godless.

3. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and by his death, has somehow given new life to men.

Somewhat true, but:

4. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was–that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

For some reason, Lewis fails to account for the Jews and their constant struggles against idolatry – one of the most idolatrous crimes was a human being declaring themselves to be a god. Jews have absolutely no tradition of worshipping any of their kings or high priests as a god, let alone YHWH himself. This concept is completely foreign to Jews. All throughout Jewish history, YHWH has come down to Earth to interact with his chosen people directly. This is in direct opposition to Lewis’ later claim of Jesus being YHWH himself, and YHWH all of the sudden needing a mediator to interact with his chosen people – any Jew who claimed that he was YHWH in the flesh would be desecrating the monotheism of the Shema, which incited Jews to rebellion in other historical contexts that Lewis seems to be ignorant of: the Maccabean Revolt of 164 BCE, the Jewish-Roman war of 70 CE, and the Bar-Kockba Revolt of 132 CE.

5. Then come the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.

This depends on which “Jesus” you’re talking about. The Jesus in Mark (the first gospel written) most certainly never claimed he always existed, and is ultimately unsatisfied with Peter. He is basically a nobody until the holy spirit possesses him, adopts him as his son, and forces him into the wilderness. Mark’s Jesus is subtly Gnostic; only demons and unnamed people recognize Jesus as the Savior and exonerator of sin. Jesus’ disciples and the Jews are completely clueless. Any time Jesus does a miracle on one of these unnamed, he asks the recipient to not tell anyone, yet they do the opposite. Mark’s story is filled with lovely Greek irony – only the reader, demons, and unnamed people recognize Jesus as the Christ. At the end of Mark’s gospel, the clueless women (who he names) come to anoint the dead body, but are told by the anonymous young man that Jesus has risen. No longer should Jesus’ status as salvation be kept a secret, but proclaimed from the mountaintops. The named women of course do the opposite – just like everyone else in this gospel. They don’t recognize Jesus as the Christ, they run away scared and don’t tell anyone – and this is how Mark’s gospel ends which is how it is in history. No one knew that Jesus was the messiah, except the lucky initiate who is blessed with esoteric knowledge. Subtle Gnosticism, which is/was the beauty of the original ending. Of course, depending on which Bible you read, “Mark” then has Jesus appear to Mary Magdelene and drives several demons from her, but everything after 16:8 is unoriginal to Mark.

This Jesus is different from the Jesus in Matthew, who seems to like Peter and is the literal son of God. The Jesus in Matthew/Luke, as opposed to Mark, actually teaches some moral values (the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse). In another respect, the Jesus of Mark never once claimed that he was coming back to “judge the world”; that sentiment is more Pauline than any of the Synoptics. The Jesus in Thomas never declares himself to have any special relationship with YHWH; as a matter of fact, he says that if you “drink the same cup that [he] drinks, you can become like [him]”. If the Jesus of Thomas thought he was god, imagine how much more radical it would be for god to say that you too could become god?

Of course, Lewis seems to only have the Jesus of John in mind when he writes this premise. He doesn’t seem to understand the history of early Christianity. There were many “types” of Jesus’, all believed by the many different Christian sects. The Ebionite Jesus differed from the Valentinian Jesus. The Valentinian Jesus differed from the Basilidean Jesus. The Basilidean Jesus differed from the Marcionite Jesus. The Marcionite Jesus differed from the proto-Catholic Jesus. The Arian Jesus differed from the Athanasean Jesus. John was originally the choice gospel of the Gnostics which was reappropriated by the [non-Jewish] writer of the Johannine epistles sometime in the early 2nd century. It suffices it to say that if Jesus was a Jew, there’s no way he would have said anything remotely like what the Logos of John said. The Jesus (the Logos) of John is unattractively arrogant and likes to speak in longwinded speeches like the philosophers of the day. Simply philosophizing about his awesomeness and never giving any moral lessons. This is markedly different than the Jesus in the Synoptics, who is trying to teach his Jewish followers how to improve the world for the coming kingdom with short parables. Not once does the Jesus of John speak in parables and he only once mentions the “Kingdom of God” – hence the deliniation in scholarship between the Synoptic Gospels and the gospel of John, which stands alone as an aberration.

6. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it.

True.

7. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else.

Again, which Jesus? The Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas never claimed to be YHWH. This only happens in John. Not only does John’s Jesus claim that he and the father are one, but he’s also said to be the “Logos” of Stoicism in the opening hymn. John’s Jesus is as Jewish as a bacon-burger.

8. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

Not quite. We have two months out of the year that were named after people deified. July and August. Caligula attempted to have himself deified and a statue of himself set up in the Jewish Temple around 40 CE but was eventually assassinated. If he had carried through with that act, the Jews would have went to war with Rome immediately, instead of waiting 30 years.

9.One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct.

This, again, is ignorant of Jewish history. All Cohenim Gadol (High Priests) can forgive sins. That is their primary role in 2nd temple Judaism. Ironically, all High Priests are “Christs” in that they are anointed with oil once taking office. The anonymous author of the epistle to the Hebrews knew this, and presents Jesus as a heavenly Christ who forgives sins in heaven. This is strangely analogous to the Jewish philosopher Philo’s “Logos”, who he reappropriated from the Greek Stoics and added some Jewish flavor. Philo’s Logos (Word) was a second power in heaven who stood on the confines between the Father and humanity, being both uncreated like the Father and suffering like man. Philo’s Word was a paraclete, taking in the sins of mankind and negotiating in favor of humanity just like epistle to the Hebrews’ Christ. Of course, Philo was born 20 years before Jesus, and was teaching his Logos/Word as a divine paraclete and “second power” in heaven while Jesus was a pre-teen.

How odd it is that Philo never once writes a word about his contemporary Jesus – who was supposed to be the living embodiment of his Logos, yet writes quite disparagingly of his other contemporary Pilate.

10. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences.

Of course, this assumes that Jesus actually said this! Considering that the documents that describe these scenes were written in third person already throws some doubt into the “eyewitness” claim. The fact that the vast majority of New Testament scholarship conclude that the gospel narratives were written by anonymous Christians far removed from their Judaean/Galilean context means that the depth of Lewis’ argument here becomes incredibly shallow.

No, what the authors of the gospel narratives wanted to do was demonstrate, just like the author of Hebrews, that a Jesus was a new “High Priest” in town, giving people hope that their sins could still be forgiven after the official office of the High Priesthood, the Sacrificial System, and the 2nd Temple had been destroyed in 70 CE – evidencing the near scholarly consensus that these stories were written in a post-2nd Temple (70 CE) era.

11. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.

Considering actual New Testament and 2nd Temple Judaism scholarship on the issue, it really makes no sense at all.

12. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

Just about every king in the pagan world was deified after death. Having a story where a Jew starts making the same claim as other pagans must mean that this story was written by non-Jewish pagans. And of course like I wrote earlier, High Priests absolved sin via the Sacrificial System. Lewis’ claim of being unrivaled is emphatically over-stated.

13. Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less so unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

I agree. Humility and meekness are not any of Jesus’ traits in the gospel narratives… but who knows what Jesus really said and did? I have to wonder who these “enemies” who read the gospel narratives are though. Maybe the author of the Toledot Yeshu? But there are quite a few people who read the gospel narratives and find silliness. I have yet to meet someone who read the gospel narratives and then was convinced it was true. Either people who are ambivalent or agnostic to Christianity read them and blow them off, or Christians who want to confirm what they already believe read them and find them to be earth-shattering genius.

14. I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

I really don’t see how this follows. Of course Jesus said some things that are morally upright, yet he also said quite a few things that are morally repugnant. Off the top of my head, calling a “Syro-Phonecian” woman a dog (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) and his rant against the caricature of the Pharisees in Matthew and Luke. Though I highly doubt Jesus’ rage against the Perushim was historical, since the Pharisees weren’t the Jews in power during the tenure of Pilate. The Sadducees were actually the legalistic Jews who were also the ruling class of 2nd Temple Judaism since the time of the Maccabean Revolt. The Pharisees were actually more interested in practical application of the Law unlike the Sadducees; the Sadducees (much like the modern Karaite Jews) rejected the Oral Law that the Pharisees said expounded on the written Law and made it less restrictive. The Pharisees started gaining clout in Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, since the Temple was the power base of the Sadducees; meaning that Jesus’ ranting against the “legalistic” Pharisees is an anachronism of a writer describing post 70 CE conflicts in 33 CE.

15. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.

What’s wrong with being human? We all say some things that are cogent, but also say things that are offensive. The claim of being “god” dishearteningly common.

15. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

The author of the gospel of John most certainly didn’t leave that option open. However, there’s no reason to think that there’s any history in that gospel. Lewis’ argument can only function on the absolute historicity of that gospel. Ironically, Jesus doesn’t give any great moral lessons in that gospel; that only happens in the Synoptics. The biggest mistake is assuming the καθολικος catholicos (wholeness) of the four gospels.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2009 in c. s. lewis, gospel of john, logos, mere christianity, trilemma

 
 
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