Back in Mrs. Wilson’s 5th grade Sunday School class, we were taught that Jesus was the Son of God. And when Jesus kneeled down to pray, that’s who he was praying to. By the time we got to high school, Mr. Wilson (spouse) taught us the Gospel of John, where Jesus and God were described as the same thing. Hmmm.
OK, so there’s gotta be a story here. Yep. Jesus himself never really said he was a god … or THE God. The disciples did not think Jesus was a god. Paul never said Jesus was a god in any of his letters. And the very first Christians did not think Jesus was a god — at least while he was here on Earth.
You left some wriggle room there. Agreed. As time went on, the followers developed a belief system where Jesus became a god when he was taken up to heaven after his resurrection. As the number of followers increased approaching the 2nd century (i.e. more cooks in the kitchen), the deification of Jesus kept getting earlier and earlier. We can see this in the Gospels themselves. The first Gospel Mark says nothing of note about Jesus being a deity (maybe with his baptism). Luke and Matthew added a virgin birth story to their narratives as an indication that Jesus must have been a deity when he arrived on Earth. John takes it back even further, clearly saying Jesus was around with God from the beginning.
This makes it sound like the early followers may have made Jesus a deity. We will not stray into theological territory here. But Professor Bart Ehrman speculates that if Jesus had not been declared God, the Christian group would have remained a small Jewish sect and may have even died out. By making Jesus a deity, the Christians attracted a large number of Gentiles into the group. And by the time we get to Constantine’s conversion 300 years later, the Christians have recruited a size-able critical mass of followers, which made his conversion politically palatable. And the rest is history.
But you still did not address how the Christians addressed the conundrum of Jesus being the Son versus Jesus being equal to God. We’ll do that next week. We’ve exhausted our three bullets this week.
We’ll get back to Moses next week. But the Chief Editor opted to spend last Sunday afternoon listening to Professor Bart Ehrman lecture on the Gospel of Mark. Yep … it’s come to this for how to spend Sunday afternoon. But the lecture itself was pretty good. And here are some key insights on Mark that the Chief Editor learned:
Who was the author of Mark? It was not until about 180 CE that the church elders labeled the author of this gospel as Mark. The author never identifies himself as Mark. And no one knows who he was. Only that he wrote the gospel in Greek, probably wrote it in Rome, and was not Jewish, but more likely a converted pagan.
Do we have an original manuscript? We do not have anything close to the original manuscript of Mark (or any of the books of the Bible). The oldest reasonably full manuscript is from around 200 CE, and the first truly complete manuscript is from 370 CE. That means there were several decades of re-copying and editing before getting to what we see today. Professor Ehrman emphasized that the copyists were not professional scribes, and had no idea they were creating something that was going to be considered a holy book for future generations. The typical copyist was more likely some retired guy who volunteered to help out by making a few copies for some of the other churches in the area.
The ending of Mark. Professor Ehrman discussed the original ending of Mark (shown in the panel below with the parchment background) vs the later addendum (also shown below). The short ending corresponds with the tone of the rest of Mark — people were afraid, and Jesus kept warning people not tell anyone about his miracles. But later on, the Christian elders wanted a narrative about a resurrection … plus some other things. So one of those scribes added the rest of the verses (scholars can tell they are different by the writing style). This is where we get the endorsements for snake handling and drinking poison. We wonder if those folks who practice these rituals today know that it was most likely some retired guy recruited as a scribe who inserted that sentence in the back of the gospel of Mark?
Last week we talked about the Gospel of Philip and its reference to Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene. A scandalous post. But fun. This week we dug out some other posts from Bart Ehrman speculating on whether Jesus was married or not.
Cultural standards? Some sources (and we have probably cited them here) have said that most Jewish men in the time of Jesus were married, and it would be highly unlikely for Jesus not to be married. However, it was not impossible for a Jewish man to be single in those days. The Jewish sect called the Essenes for example. Paul himself openly declares in 1 Corinthians that he is single and celibate (the text is silent on whether that was by his choice or not; Paul was a bit of a boor … and a bore … at times).
Mary featured after the Resurrection. Out of all four gospels, Mary Magdalene is mentioned only once as being present during Jesus’ entire public ministry. The passage is Luke 8:1-3, where we are told that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, along with a large group of other women, financially supported Jesus and his disciples. That’s it! That’s what it says. She is not singled out as special in any way to Jesus. But Mary M takes on a more prominent role after Jesus’ resurrection. Specifically,she was with the first group of women who found the empty tomb.
Inconsistent with other mentions of Jesus’ family. Mary M is always called “Magdalene” in order to identify which Mary she is (Magdala is a town along the Sea of Galilee). She is not Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary the sister of Martha of Bethany, or Mary the mother of Joses. She is never identified as Mary, the wife of Jesus. If they were married, that would be inconsistent with other parts of the gospels that talk freely about Jesus’ other family members.
So, even though it’s not as much fun to speculate about, at least according to Dr. Ehrman, Jesus and Mary M probably did not have a ‘thing’ going on.
This week we discovered some fun stuff about the Gospel of Mark, which is the first gospel written around 60-70 CE.
There are some things we have talked about before: Mark makes no mention of Joseph by name. And Mark has no virgin birth story.
But then things get interesting.
Mark has no appearances of Jesus after the women discover the empty tomb. Upon arriving at the tomb on the third day, they find the stone at the entrance of the tomb removed and a young man (not an angel) tells them:
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing (Mark 16:6-8)
And there the gospel simply ends! Or that was how it originally ended. Here’s what James Tabor and other Biblical historians have discovered: The last 11 verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-19) were likely pencilled in centuries later.
Why did they do that? Well, the other three gospels all contained accounts of Jesus appearances after the resurrection. And over the years, the appearances had become an integral part of the Christian theology. So church leaders decided to made some additions to Mark. Pretty much all the Christian Bibles in use today contain those … how should we say it … enhancements.
How do the scholars know this? First, this ending is not found in the earliestGreek copies of Mark. None of the third century manuscripts contain these last verses. And in the latter Greek versions that begin to contain these verses, the language and style of the Greek is clearly not from the same author as the original Mark.
Here is the ending of Mark as we generally see it. The high-lighted words are lifted directly from Matthew, Luke, and John:
Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Let’s talk conspiracy theory this week. In the Gospel of John (written 70 years after Jesus’ death) there are four references to an unnamed disciple. This disciple was at the Last Supper, the crucifixion, the empty tomb, and on the Sea of Galilee in one of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection. The gospel writer calls him “the most Beloved Disciple.” Who was this?
Mary Magdalene? This one is the most fun to talk about. Certain novelists sell a lot of books based on this theory. And DaVinci’s Last Supper painting does show a very feminine-looking disciple at the table. But most Biblical scholars think the use of the male pronoun in the text limits the gender to male. Plus Mary Magdalene is mentioned separately as being present at the tomb along with the Beloved Disciple.
One of Jesus’ brothers? The Beloved Disciple is also likely someone not named elsewhere in the Gospel of John. The only disciples not named in the Gospel of John are the “other” James, the “other” Jude, and the “other” Simon, and Matthew. These four (some scholars think even Matthew was a brother) were all part of the Jesus family.
Brother James. According to arguments presented by scholar James Tabor, Jesus’ brother James is the most likely candidate for the Beloved Disciple. He may have been one of the original 12 (i.e. the “other James”), and therefore was likely a part of Jesus’ inner circle. Plus, at the scene of the cross, Jesus gives the care of his mother Mary over to this Most Beloved disciple. Jewish tradition would have logically made that the next oldest brother.
There’s lots more, but we’ve only got three bullets per week.
This week we ran across a new Biblical scholar named James Tabor. He writes some good stuff. This week we are going to take up some of the things he says regarding Joseph.
Where did Joseph go after the birth of Jesus? Joseph is never mentioned again after the birth narratives in any of the Gospels. Maybe he died early? All the references to family in the Gospels mention Jesus’ ‘mother and brothers’. Even at the crucifixion. But no Joseph. This makes it seem likely that Joseph died early, whether because he was substantially older than Mary or for some other unknown cause.
Conspiracy theory. If Joseph died soon after Jesus’ birth without having other male children, Jewish law would have Joseph’s brother marry Mary so as to carry on the lineage. Far-fetched? Maybe not. It comes up in a discussion in the Gospels where Jesus is asked about a woman who is widowed seven times and each time successively marries a brother of her first husband (Mark 12:19-22). Why would that come up randomly in a Gospel account?
Sure, then where is this brother mentioned? Though seldom recognized he is mentioned in the New Testament (John 19:25). His name is Clophas. You know what Clophas means in Greek — the Replacer.
Well, this presents a conundrum. Putting theological debates aside, we have always assumed Joseph was the father of Jesus. But if Joseph died childless, then Mary the widow would have been required to marry Joseph’s brother. Does that mean Clophas was the father of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Is it too far-fetched to think that Clophas might have been the father of Jesus?
Before Paul, early ‘Christianity’ was pretty much an offshoot of traditional Jewish practices, complete with circumcision requirements and dietary laws. These small groups added an apocalyptic twist by insisting that a man named Yeshua (i.e. Jesus) had died and come back to life. And then came Paul, a tent-maker from Syria who began telling people (very insistently at times) that he had seen the risen Jesus in a vision.
Paul expanded the appeal by reinventing Christianity around a theology based on faith rather than through good Jewish works. This was excellent marketing, because it expanded Christianity into an international religion. Paul probably already had a bias toward mixing of various religious sects, because he came from Syria, which was much more cosmopolitan in allowing both Jews and Gentiles to worship under the same roof.
The key event that sealed the deal for Paul’s version of Christianity was when the Temple was destroyed around 70 CE. At that point the identity of the Jewish Christian churches disappeared. This left only Paul’s churches outside of Jerusalem to carry on the Christian religion. And since the winners write the history, this explains why we don’t hear much about the non-Paul leaders in the early Christian development.
Fun fact: Paul never quotes Jesus.
Interesting Speculation: Was Paul’s vision some kind of epileptic seizure caused by little sleep, frequent danger, and stress? And did it result in damaged eyesight, that might be indicated by Paul himself in Galatians 6:11, “SEE WHAT LARGE LETTERS I WRITE WITH MY OWN HAND.”
Editor note: Much of today’s post comes from Neil Carter’s blog entitled Godless in Dixie.
Major premise. One of Paul’s beliefs, which was common at the time, was that the end of times was near. This was reinforced by his epiphany that Jesus himself came back from the dead, which Paul thought must be a further sign that the end is near. So when Paul says that Jesus will return soon, he meant it literally.
What was Paul’s major theme? Paul focused almost solely on the death and resurrection of Jesus. His theology (written mostly in Romans) was that the Jewish God (similar to the Roman and pagan gods at the time) required some form of sacrifice. Sacrifice was a common theme, even in the Jewish temples. According to Paul, Jesus’ death was also a sacrifice, but on a much larger scale.
What did the traditional Jewish leaders think? They were not appreciative. James (Jesus’ brother) and Paul had several go-rounds back in the day. The traditional Jewish leaders, even if they were following Jesus’ teachings, were all about following the Law and doing the ‘right’ thing. What was the ‘right’ thing? Getting circumcised, eating Kosher, and honoring the Sabbath and other Jewish laws. Paul was having none of that.
Fun Facts: Paul did not found the largest early Christian church, which was in Rome. This ‘large’ church had about 26 members, six of whom Paul addressed as Jewish.
We have not talked about the letters of Paul for awhile.
Forgeries? Six of the thirteen New Testament letters that name him as the author are probably not from his pen, but were written by later followers. Why? Well, it always sounds more convincing if you say you’re the Apostle Paul than if you say you’re not Paul. Which are the authentic ones? Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.
Church issues. And the letters were always to some church having problems. We only know one side of the issue — Paul’s side. But because he’s trying to patch things up at these churches (which may have been only 12 people at the time), it is rare that we really see a comprehensive outline of Paul’s theological viewpoint on things.
The Road to Damascus. Paul says nothing in his letters about being “blinded by the light” on the road to Damascus. This account is recorded 3x in Acts, which was likely written by the same author as Luke. What Paul says is that Jesus “appeared” to him and that “God revealed his son” to him. That may or may not be more dramatic.
Whatever visionary experience Paul had, it changed everything for him — what he thought about Christ, God, salvation, the role of Jews in the plan of God, and many other things. We’ll talk about some of these next week.
We bet the headline today got your attention. This week we ran across some fun things recorded in a 3rd century apocryphal text called the Acts of Thomas. This is a different book from The Gospel of Thomas that we have mentioned in other posts. This one is just fun to think about:
Thomas the Twin. In The Acts of Thomas, the author claims that Jesus and Thomas were twins. How’s that happen when one of the twins is supposed to be conceived by God? Well, the author is silent on the how, but this type of biological arrangement is not unknown in the ancient world. Specifically, in Roman legends the god Hercules had a mortal twin brother from the same mother.
It gets better. After Jesus’ death, the apostles draw straws to determine where they each get to go for their missionary work. Thomas draws the India straw. He is not happy about that. Possibly because there is another story telling how he spent some of his earlier years in India (with Jesus?). And you know how young people can sometimes be … maybe … a little rowdy. The book implies that Thomas may have gotten into some trouble during his first go ‘round.
A wedding ceremony. While in India, Thomas is asked to preside over a wedding ceremony. He reluctantly agrees, and then spends time alone with the bride after the ceremony (noooo, not doing that). He convinces her that sexual abstention is the only way to achieve connection to God (a popular, albeit short-lived, position of certain early Christian sects). And she bought in! The groom wasn’t happy. Her father the King wasn’t happy. Thomas left town immediately.