Top 10 Non-Standard Opinions on this blog

In casting about for a title to this piece, the word “heresy” came to mind, but it was dismissed. The word is, of course,  sensationalist, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It was rejected more because it was simply not really accurate. Were the title to be more accurate, and more appropriate, the title might read: “Top 10 non-standard and/or controversial positions argued herein”. But that is boring, and too long besides. The point is, these are things I’ve argued, or at least suggested more than once, that are very different from, or in contradiction to things that “everyone knows” about Jesus, his life, and his career. Some of them, I suggest, may never have been argued by anyone who could be considered a legitimate scholar, and certainly not anyone who specialises in NT studies.

So these are things, opinions, ideas, theories, theses, positions that you will encounter on these pages if you take the time to read through. And they are in no particular order.

  1. Far from being embarrassed by the Baptist, the writers of the gospels sought to enhance and expand upon the connection to John. Paul does not mention John. Mark has him baptizing Jesus. Luke says they were related. This is not how the arc bends if later followers are embarrassed by a connexion. The embarrassing character shrinks, receding into the background; his role does not expand.
  2. There was no Q. This is, technically, a minority opinion. It has been argued in polite scholarship, and there are legitimate scholars who hold and argue this position. But it’s significant.
  3. Jesus was not from Nazareth. I have never seen this suggested anywhere. As far as I know, no one has ever bothered to question Jesus’ provenance. It has simply been taken on, well, faith that he was from Nazareth. I would suggest a close reading of the text indicates that he was actually born and raised in Caphernaum.
  4. James, brother of Jesus possibly had more impact on the message of what became Christianity than Jesus did. By most counts, Jesus’ public ministry lasted about three years, and he was executed during the reign of Tiberius. James was executed in the early 60s. That means he was the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly for something approaching 30 years, possibly ten times as long as Jesus was in charge of the ministry. It is ludicrous to think that James had no impact on what the message of the Assembly was, and what its beliefs were, or what they became. Unless James was completely and utterly devoid of original or independent thought, and he simply and consistently parroted what Jesus said–and only what Jesus said–the idea that he didn’t influence the message is nearly impossible. Look at the ways that Lenin “adapted” the principles of Marx, and Marx had a much longer career than Jesus did. And Marx actually wrote down what those principles were.
  5. The transition from a mostly-Jewish, to a mostly-pagan group took place much earlier than is thought. I believe that this was part of the reason why Mark wrote a gospel. He wanted to set down the basis, the Jewish basis, for Jesus’ message before it got swallowed up by paganism. Hence the Aramaic phrases, like “talitha koum’, and “eloi, eloi, lema sabbnachthani” that he felt compelled to translate. The process was nearly complete by the time Matthew wrote. His references were pagan; the referring to Hades instead of Gehenna, for example. And the idea of a divine human.
  6. Matthew was a pagan himself. Too much of his attitude, and his world-view is more consistent with paganism, rather than Judaism. Like the divine human, the son of a god.
  7. There was a tradition that Jesus was not divine running parallel to the Pauline version that Jesus was the Christ, which was later expanded into Jesus being divine. This is cheating a bit, because some of it derives from reading the Didache, which seems to belong to the late First Century, or even the early Second. In this document, Jesus’ divinity is very ambiguous. This is much closer to the first half of Mark than to Matthew. This means that the tradition lasted from before Mark to after Luke befoe finally succumbing.
  8. Mark pays great attention to the ritual magic of Jesus. He describes several instances in which Jesus needed to use outside materials, like mud made with his spit, or when the power worked without Jesus’ intent, or that the lack of faith prevented him from working any wonders. These all disappear from Matthew; my contention is that they were tied to a “wonder-worker” tradition about Jesus, in which he is not divine, is not the Christ, but is a traveling magician, with which the ancient world was full. This tradition probably fed into the group that produced the Didache.
  9. Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans had nothing to do with anything he taught. The Romans did not overly concern themselves with niceties like whether someone was actually guilty of a crime when they executed people.
  10. The religious authorities had nothing to do with Jesus’ execution. The idea that they had to beg and cajole and trick the Romans into executing Jesus as a potential rebel is ludicrous–see #9 above. This was a story invented to make the Jews–who had not become followers of Jesus–look bad, which thereby helped put some distance between the nascent community and the Jews, who had rebelled against Rome. By excusing the Romans, the followers of Jesus were trying to purchase benign neglect from the Romans.

There are probably more. But these are off the top of my head. These are all things that I have found in the text itself. These are things that are reasonably clear–if you read the NT as a series of documents that contain historical information. They are not present when reading the NT as a unitary whole, meant to tell a single story with a single point of view that is fully and completely internally consistent.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 10, 2015, in Historical Jesus, mark's gospel, Matthew's Gospel, Q, Special topic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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