Category Archives: mark’s gospel

Introduction To Luke

The next destination on our voyage of discovery is the Gospel of Luke. This direction was not inevitable, but for many reasons it seems the best choice. The reason I chose Luke is because of sources. In Luke 1:1-3, he talks about the account handed down to him by the eyewitnesses and the servants. Note that the account is singular, but the eyewitnesses and servants are plural. This means that a single story line was created by multiple witnesses and transmitted by multiple recorders. There is no possibility to know the identity of the former; those who told the story from the time of Jesus are impossible to reconstruct. Two good guesses would be Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. These are the only two names that Paul mentions, and the only two that also occur in the NT. All the others, such as the sons of Zebedee and Andrew and all the rest disappear for several decades, if not forever. The rest are filler, side characters used to bring Jesus out in relief. Let’s face it: what did any of them actually do? Aside from Judas betraying Jesus, none of them are credited with any sort of independent activity, with one exception: the sons of Zebedee arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven. Other than than, basically nothing. Peter plays his role, and Paul attests to James, and a brother of Jesus named James is identified in Mark 6. So Peter and James are the only two eyewitnesses that we can hope to determine.

Do we have any better hope of identifying the “servants” who transmitted the account of the eyewitnesses? We can be reasonably certain of Mark. Luke’s or Matthew’s use of Mark is by no means proven, but there is no theory that explains the Synoptic situation better than that the latter two both knew and used Mark as a source. In a wrinkle, Luke is the first evangelist of whom we can be absolutely certain that he was aware of Paul; at least, we can be certain if the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, which I am going to take on faith. I will be better able to judge that when I actually translate Acts. Now, knowing about Paul’s career is not the same thing as knowing about and having read what Paul wrote. Luke could have known the former without ever having read a word of what Paul wrote. At this point, I’m completely undecided about whether Luke had ever read anything authored by Paul. Regardless, he had a source, or sources, to tell him about Paul’s missionary activities; I am too ignorant at this point to know whether Acts mentions any of the Communities to whom Paul wrote letters. Paul did spend time in Greece in Acts, and that is verified in Galatians and Corinthians. Acts also describes Paul’s time in Ephesus in some detail, but Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is not considered authentically Paul. The overlap of Paul’s adventures in Acts, and the names of the places that received Paul’s letters will possibly provide clues about whether Luke had read any of these letters.

Note: if this were a proper research paper, which it assuredly and vehemently is not, I would have answered some or all of these questions already. But the entire exercise of this blog represents the preliminary research. Reading the works in Greek and translating them provides a much more intimate knowledge of the texts than I would garner from reading them in English, no matter how closely I annotated the texts. So I hope that this explanation of the thought process I use is useful as a how-to for further historical inquiry. 

The sources for Paul that Luke encountered may have been written, or they may have been oral. Either way, the question is to what level of detail did they record and relate Paul’s adventures? And “adventures” is a proper description for what Paul experiences in Acts: shipwrecks, angry mobs, last-minute escapes, arrests, these are the stuff of an Indiana Jones movie. In fact, I have come across more than one modern scholar who referred to the similarity between Acts and Hellenistic novels. If you take these adventures and add some of the material that only Luke contains, in particular the material leading up to the public ministry– like the birth narrative–I think that an overall picture of how Luke approaches his gospel and its sequel emerges. When I think about the four evangelists and their different approaches to the narrative of Jesus’ life, I categorize them as such: Mark is a journalist, Matthew is a rabbi (albeit one who converted), John is a theologian, and Luke is a novelist.

Because one serious fault (there are more) I find in biblical scholarship is the failure to ask why each of these evangelists decided to write a gospel. What would possess someone to sit down and write out an account of Jesus’ life? But that’s just a variation on the question of why does anyone write anything? Why am I writing this blog? We write because we believe we have something to say. In the treatment of Mark we discussed some of his motivations: that the Temple had been destroyed, the generation that knew him had died, that there were a number of different interpretations of Jesus’ life and it was necessary to record a story of Jesus in order to preserve the stories and create a single narrative that wove the various traditions–in particular the Wonder-Worker and the Christ traditions–into a unified whole. Matthew’s intent, it seems to me, was to take Mark a step further, to submerge the Wonder-Worker tradition more firmly into the Christ tradition, especially to emphasize Jesus’ divinity and his status as the son of (a) g/God. Why did Luke write? It may seem that, to some degree at least, the answer to this might depend on whether or not Luke knew about Matthew; that knowledge of Matthew might have changed Luke’s motivation, but I don’t think this is true. Because I think Luke approached the topic as one needing to be filled out; and, in a sense, I think this is more true if we assume Luke knew about Matthew. In fact, it may make more sense if Luke knew about Matthew.

Here is where we have to talk about Q. It must always be remembered that there is no argument for Q. No one has ever made a case for its existence. The entirety of the case for Q is that Luke butchered the “masterful” arrangement of the Q material that Matthew created. Thus, the “argument” goes, shows that Luke did not know about Matthew, or the former would never have violated the latter’s organization of the Q material. Please note that this is not an argument. It’s an expression of aesthetic preferences. It’s akin to saying, “I can’t believe Dali butchered Da Vinci’s treatment of the Last Supper so badly”. Or, “I can’t believe Picasso butchered the arrangement of nature by putting both of that woman’s eyes on the same side of her nose”.  So Dali obviously never saw Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and Picasso obviously never saw a normal person with only one eye on each side of her nose. That’s ridiculous, but that is the entire gist of the Q argument, and it has been for over a century.  The biggest point the Q people make is that Luke always–always!–changes the placement of the material from Mark relative to Matthew. This alteration, I would suggest, is because Luke deliberately set out to tell the story differently from Matthew. Otherwise, why not just copy Matthew, stick in the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son and call it a day? That seems to be what the Q people think should have done. Now, there is no real “argument” for this supposition of mine, but there is no argument for Q, either. At least I’m honest enough to admit what I lack.

This is all very important because it ties in with the “servants” to which Luke alludes in 1:1-3. A combination of Mark and Paul–or sources about Paul, whether written or oral–puts us into plural territory; with just these two we can talk about “servants” who handed over the tradition of the eyewitnesses. So right off the bat, we know that Luke had some kind of source material that was not available to either Mark or Matthew. What about Q? One of my problems with the idea of Q is that it seems very odd that so much of what Jesus taught should have completely bypassed Mark. The early Church put Matthew first and contemporary scholars still value Matthew over the other Synoptics because Matthew seems to have the complete story. It has the Sermon on the Mount, for heavens’ sake! Try to imagine a Christianity based solely on Mark, and what you get is something very different from what we have received. As such, is it possible to imagine a Jesus who did not say, “blessed are the poor in spirit…”? Most of us could not; ergo, Q. But can we imagine a Jesus who did not tell the story of the Prodigal Son? Or the Good Samaritan? Aren’t those such quintessentially Christian stories that the religion would be very different if they were not part of the corpus? If the Sermon on the Mount came from Q, where did the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son originate? Were these part of source material that bypassed both Mark and Matthew? I find it difficult to believe that a written source like Q completely bypassed Mark; I find it impossible to believe something bypassed both Mark and Matthew.

So did Luke invent these magnificent stories? The Q researchers talk about M and L material–stuff that’s unique to Matthew and Luke respectively–and insinuate, if they don’t blatantly claim that this new material is drawn from an earlier source. Never (as far as I know, anyway) is it suggested that maybe Matthew and or Luke wrote the new material themselves. They can’t do this, because that would be to admit that maybe there was no Q, because the Q material was pretty much all composed by Matthew. And that would, in turn, pretty much scuttle the idea of Q, because Matthew was Q. And that would mean that Matthew and Luke are not independent of each other. As I see it, and from the point of view of historical development, it is pretty much impossible to conceive that any of the new material in Luke and John traces back any further than, perhaps the time of Matthew. It is possible that each Luke and John came across a story here or there, or a detail that belonged to a source from an undisturbed community that had maintained something handed down for several generations. It’s possible. But these would be no more than snippets; certainly there would have been nothing like the Prodigal Son nor the Wedding Feast at Cana. Those are later inventions, much later.

To be clear, I do believe that Luke had more than two, or even three sources available to him. Aside from the Paul source and Mark, there was Matthew/Q–which I believe are the same thing. That brings us to three. I believe it highly likely that he had more. We know that new voices of witness continued to be created for several hundred years after the death of Jesus, so there is little reason to think that the time between Matthew and Luke was any exception. Likely the impetus to new creation picked up steam as time passed: witness the number of letters attributed to the “apostles” that came about in the decade either side of the turn of the century, as well as works like the Didache. Most of these sources would have proved ephemeral; or perhaps “preliminary” is a better word. These are the traditions that coalesced into the Didache or the Epistle to the Colossians and later, much later, into the Gospel of Thomas. If I’m willing to concede the existence of other sources available to Luke, why am I so adamantly opposed to Q? That is a legitimate question. The problem with Q is that it is much too important a source to have come into being as a written document, influenced half of the canonical gospels, and then disappear without a trace, a ripple, or the vaguest, most off-hand allusion to its existence. If it was important enough for Matthew and Luke to use it the way they did, it was important enough for someone else to preserve, or at least remember a decade or two later, when the later epistles or the pieces that ended up being non-canonical were being written. But there is absolutely nothing. I’m not sure of the context I read this, but someone raised the question of “Why did Mark survive?” If all, or the vast majority of his material was absorbed by Matthew, as the Q material supposedly was, why did Mark not vanish along with Q? This question is conveniently not asked, so I have no idea what the “correct” responses would be. Based on what happened with Q, Mark should have disappeared without a trace as well.

We are not finished with Q. It will be a source of discussion throughout Luke. It’s a huge topic, but it’s also something of the elephant in the room: no one really wants to discuss it; everyone does want to repeat reassuring phrases that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Q.

There is one final issue to be discussed. Let’s go back to the whole idea of Luke being a novelist. That is a very bold claim on my part, made in the security of knowing that I will never be seriously challenged on it. My point is this: we noted that Paul’s description of his conversion is very different from the more famous version that we all know from Acts; the one that is so famous that the term “Road to Damascus moment” is a cliché in the English language. What I would ask, however, is if they are really so different? Paul tells us he received the gospel through a revelation (Greek: apocalypsos) directly from God. And what happened on the Road to Damascus? Paul was struck from his horse and converted, as through a revelation from God. In short, the version in Acts is a more dramatic, more highly dramatized moment, but the underlying principle is the same: God/Jesus intervened directly in Paul’s life, changing its course forever, turning him into a follower and a missionary and an apostle, as he calls himself. If Luke can transform Paul’s description like that, what other term than “novelist” would fit? Poet? Sure, the story is told in prose. So this is a description that, I think, is not wholly ridiculous.

We shall see.

On to Luke.

Summary: The Context of Matthew-1

Here’s what I think, where I think Matthew fits in. The early period of development saw a mosaic of different communities. Some of them were organic: they grew up in Jerusalem and Galilee, in places where people had been touched directly by Jesus. The community in Galilee owed a lot to the organization and patronage of Mary the Magdalene. She knew Jesus when the latter was alive, and probably provided some financial support for him and his small crew that included Peter, probably the sons of Zebedee, and maybe James, brother of Jesus. I’ve toyed with the idea that perhaps the Magdalene was married to James, brother of Jesus, but I think that’s unlikely given the way the paths diverged after Jesus’ death. The Magdalene probably followed Jesus into Jerusalem and was there, in some capacity, when Jesus was executed. At which point she returned to Galilee with a significant number of Jesus’ followers. This community was likely responsible for the creation of the Passion Narrative. Perhaps this did not come about immediately, but the tales of being in Jerusalem during the last days of Jesus’ life were told by the group in Galilee, and eventually grew into a story that reached Mark, who probably re-worked it to fit the pro-Roman sympathies of the day. The Galilean community were responsible for the part of the Passion/Resurrection Narrative present in Mark and Matthew that included instructions that the survivors were to return to Galilee. This group did not see Jesus as a divine individual, but he was revered as a wonder-worker who had performed miracles, which was seen as demonstrating Jesus had God’s favour.

Another group grew up in Jerusalem. This, of course, was the community led by James the Just and Peter. If the sons of Zebedee were indeed followers of Jesus, they went back to Galilee with Mary, for they are not part of the landscape for Paul. It’s possible that they did not exist, but their roles are so prominent that I’m loathe to consign them to the dustbin of fiction. But note how they disappear from the scene during the Passion and Resurrection. If these two narratives are the creation of the Galilean community, then chances are that these two were not part of this community. So if they were not part of neither the Galilean nor Jerusalem communities, then where did they fit? Most likely they were part of the community that produced Mark; he features them prominently, and he treats them much better than he treats Peter; so I would suggest that they played an integral part in the foundation of the community to which Mark would subsequently belong, so Mark wrote them into the role of being founding members of Jesus’ inner circle. Note that they do not–most likely, cannot–supplant Peter for pride of place. Peter’s role is apparently too well established to be left out, or even just ignored; he can, however, be slighted, disparaged, and superseded to some degree.

The elevation of Peter comes at the expense of James the Just. Based on Paul’s testimony, I do not think it can be productively argued, or even asserted, that James was not the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly. “The James Gang” as I rather facetiously nicknamed them back when we were reading Galatians. The thing is, Paul’s account is just sufficiently jaundiced to make it highly unlikely that he was making it up. Paul did not particularly like James, and Paul didn’t have a terribly high opinion of Peter, based on the latter’s unwillingness to stand up to James. That James stayed in Jerusalem is one reason I discarded the notion that perhaps it was James who was married to the Magdalene. It’s not impossible that they were married, but parted company, but I would think that such a relationship would have shown up in the Passion Narrative that Mary most likely helped create. At the very least, she prepared the ground for it by telling–and doubtless re-telling–the story of Jesus’ last days. Mark disparages Peter, but he completely omits James the Just, and yet the latter’s reputation persisted to become incorporated into the Gospel of Thomas. Of course, this reputation only “persisted” if the Gospel of Thomas was written later, rather than earlier; but I believe it to date to the second, if not third quarter of the Second Century, based on content and form and other internal evidence.

This puts Mark and James on separate tracks. It has often been pointed out that Mark’s knowledge of the geography of Judea and Galilee & environs is perhaps sketchy at best. I am not qualified to confirm or deny this; I will operate on the belief that there are legitimate reasons for saying this and take the position that the assessment is accurate, largely because I’ve never encountered an argument denying this position. The implication, therefore, is that Mark was most likely separated physically from Jerusalem, and so may not have been aware of the tradition of James. One of the more salient implications of this lack of awareness is that Mark was probably also unaware of Paul. Wherever Mark was–and Rome is not impossible, which some traditions suggest–Paul was not there, and his presence was not known to whatever community it was to which Mark belonged. It was a community that probably owed its origin to the sons of Zebede, who are not mentioned by Paul. In which case, we have to ask–and question–whether these sons were real, or if they were actually close followers of Jesus. It is doubtful that they were disciples ab origine, as Mark and Matthew say, or whether they were participants to any of the great events of Jesus’ career, such as the Transfiguration and the events in Gethsemane. Of course, we have to ask if any of those events actually took place; if we conclude that they didn’t, then of course they did not participate. And Matthew most likely just followed Mark on much of this because he had no reason not to follow Mark.

That takes us back to something said in the commentary to the text. The writing of a gospel by Mark was probably a watershed event for the development of the proto-church for many different reasons. First and maybe foremost–to put this in crass commercial terms of the 21st Century–it was probably a killer app as a marketing tool. Suddenly, you had a complete story of your founder, and you had a consistent story. The fragmentation would slow down considerably; thinking in terms of a river, it’s like being able to keep the main channel strong, thereby preventing the branching into a thousand streams of a delta. This way, someone hearing the story in one town would not go to another and hear a different story. The effect of this would be that the two stories would reinforce each other. Conflicting versions would be reduced, which means that someone new to the story would not find the different versions confusing, leading the potential convert to conclude that the believers simply didn’t know what they were talking about, leading her to return to the worship of Isis. Tied to this, a written story is very portable and so exportable. Yes, manuscripts were time-consuming to produce, but the fact of the matter is that Mark isn’t that long, so it could be copied and then read to many, many new people.

This, in my opinion, is why the gospels took precedence over Paul’s letters. These latter were not really intended for general circulation; they were written to specific groups to address specific circumstances. Mark’s gospel, OTOH, was general and universal. It set the tone and the outlines, digging the primary channel in which the main stream of the river would flow from that point forward. At root, the Jesus of Mark was the wonder-worker who told parables about the kingdom. The latter was neither fully nor effectively explained. Maybe this was to de-emphasize Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist; or maybe it was designed to prove Jesus’ connexion to the Baptist. In this latter case, perhaps Mark, writing from a physical as well as temporal distance, did not really understand what the Baptist had actually meant by the kingdom, thereby causing Mark to leave this part of Jesus teaching rather vague and undeveloped.

With all this, Mark was not a complete story. Far from it. Many details were missing. Being aware of this, Matthew set out to correct these deficiencies. First thing was to give Jesus a father, thereby to reduce the charges that Jesus was a bastard. Mark does not know–indeed, he does not care–who Jesus’ human father was. For Mark, Jesus was a man whom God chose at the moment when he was baptised by John. Then, and only then, he became “my son”, as God declared from the heavens. To compound the problem, Mark later calls Jesus the son of Mary (Ch 6). So Matthew has to set the record straight. So he provides Jesus with an earthly father, but goes further to provide Jesus with that most important of documents of legitimacy: a pedigree. Not only was Jesus given an earthly father, he was given a royal lineage. This provided an enormous boost to Jesus’ credibility. Jesus was not some nobody; he was the descendent of the Judahite king David (who had pretensions, however illegitimate, to the throne of Israel). This was a brilliant stroke, because it gave legitimacy to Jesus’ heritage, but also to the claim of being the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah. This aspect of Jesus’ identity had become grafted, however imperfectly and incompletely, onto Mark’s story. This was not nearly enough for Matthew.

Aside from making it clear that Jesus was not a bastard, Matthew decided to take this all to a truly cosmic level, to demonstrate that Jesus’ birth was an event of universal significance. We are so inured to the story of the Star of Bethlehem* that I am not sure that we don’t quite grasp the enormity of this concept. Jesus was so important that the stars themselves aligned to announce his birth. That is to say, that his birth was destined from the beginning of time, so that it was written into the course of the heavens. Now, as the descendants and intellectual heirs of a millennium of absolutist philosophical thinking, we are sort of accustomed to this sort of thing, and we don’t get what it all means. To anyone of Matthew’s day, none of this would have been lost. The idea that Jesus had a star, and that it was read and understood by magoi from further east. Just so we’re clear, a magos–plural magoi, in Latin magi–was, at root, an astrologer. They were “wise” because they could read the secret language of the stars. The point to take from the episode of the Magi is that this was written before the idea of God that we take for granted did not permeate the popular conception of God to the degree it does today. God’s response to Job was, “where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?”; Paul tells us he was selected from the time he was in his mother’s womb, and talks about God laying the foundations of the cosmos, but there is not the sense of God setting out the course of things from The Beginning. This is not a Jewish conception, nor does it fit with the attitude of Free Will that took root in the thinking of the Patristic thinkers. No, what Matthew is describing is, at root, pagan Fatalism. Just as the course of the planets is fixed, so the course of history is fixed. We are allotted our role, our fate is determined, and we play out the string fundamentally unable to do anything about it.

Looking back on this now I see this is as a very big clue about Matthew’s origins. After checking to see what I said at the time, I hadn’t picked up on it then because I had not begun to piece together the bits of evidence that Matthew began life as a pagan, rather than as a Jew. After all, everyone agrees that Matthew is the most Jewish of the evangelists, and it’s widely assumed that Luke was the only pagan among the evangelists. It’s taken on faith. But having picked up on a number of other clues, the whole theme of the Star of Bethlehem is like a big, blinking neon sign that says “PAGAN !!! “. The Jews were anti-astrology, and this attitude carried over to the early Church. Astrology, and its concomitant concept of ineluctable Fate was disparaged by both Jews and strict Christians as pagan, and the latter saw it as inexorably opposed to, and completely incompatible to the idea of Free Will. So the idea of an astrological event announcing the birth of the Christian Saviour is ironic in the extreme. It’s ironic to the point of contradictory. It’s contradictory to the point that it almost seems to be the final piece of evidence necessary to prove definitively that Matthew was not raised as a Jew. Of course, most biblical scholars and clergy will doubtless disagree with me, and vehemently, and vigourously deny that Matthew was a pagan, and vociferously assert that this motif of the Star and the astrologers even suggests such a ridiculous idea, let alone proving it.

A bit of research has turned up various thoughts and interpretations of the star and of the “wise men”. Overall, there is a concerted effort to play down the role of the magoi/magi as astrologers. One recent commentator even puts the word “astrologers” in quotes, as if to sniff away the idea as preposterous. Of course, there are all of the attempts to explain this as a comet, or a supernova, or some such occurrence based on the science of astronomy. Of course, these attempts miss the point, and really need not concern us; at the moment, we are concerned with how the star is explained by biblical scholars, not astronomers. The former want to play down the role of astrology because, even today, good Christians are at least uncomfortable with, if not overtly hostile to, the notion of astrology. But the point remains that this is the base meaning of magos/magus. Like the Nile, the rivers of Mesopotamia flood each year, and being able to predict the timing of the flood was very important for agriculture. The floods are seasonal, and the seasons are related to the movement of the earth around the sun. So the sky provided a very reliable calendar, if one knew how to read it. Here is the birth of both what we call astronomy and astrology; the thinking was that if the sun and stars all determined when the rivers would flood, then of course they have significant influence over mere humans, too. So it’s very important to realize that there was no difference between the two until the later 1500. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and other founders of astronomy were really doing what we would call astronomy. Kepler was trying to figure out the length of time the various planets “stayed” in a given constellation of the Zodiac when he discovered his Laws of Planetary Motion. 

So, all in all, the use of the Star is, I think, a fairly strong indication that Matthew was a pagan.

to be continued…

* By happenstance or coincidence or divine intervention, I’ve been writing about the Star of Bethlehem on the 24th and 25th of December. Of course, we got Luke and the shepherd who were “sore afraid” (at least in the KJV) rather than Matthew for the gospel.

Matthew Chapter 28:11-20

This section concludes the chapter and the entire Gospel of Matthew. It’s been a very long, but not too strange, trip.

11 Πορευομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδού τινες τῆς κουστωδίας ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν ἅπαντα τὰ γενόμενα.

12 καὶ συναχθέντες μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων συμβούλιόν τε λαβόντες ἀργύρια ἱκανὰ ἔδωκαν τοῖς στρατιώταις

13 λέγοντες, Εἴπατε ὅτι Οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς ἐλθόντες ἔκλεψαν αὐτὸν ἡμῶν κοιμωμένων.

14 καὶ ἐὰν ἀκουσθῇ τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ ἡγεμόνος, ἡμεῖς πείσομεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους ποιήσομεν.

15 οἱ δὲ λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια ἐποίησαν ὡς ἐδιδάχθησαν. Καὶ διεφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον [ἡμέρας].

Going toward away, look! some of the guards coming to the city they announced to the high priests all the occurrences. (12) And gathering with the high priests they took counsel taking money because they gave to the soldiers, (13) saying, “Say that his disciples coming in the night stole him we being sleeping. (14) And if this was heard by the leader, we persuade him and we make you careful.”  (15) They taking the money they did as they were taught. And this story was blazed out throughout Judea until this very day.

The translation is way too literal. The upshot is that the high priests paid the guards to tell a false story. The interesting part is that, supposedly, the story was being told even to the time that Matthew wrote. Really? I’m not sure whether to pooh-pooh the idea that they were still talking about it, or to take it as “hmmm…” moment. Having just said what I said about Matthew not being likely to have new, actual historical information, I would have nerve saying that this was true. And, indeed, my initial reaction is that this is something that Matthew sort of made up. But then, why? Why would he make this up? Seems a tad improbable, but, seriously, why make this up? Why suggest that there is an alternative story out there? Doesn’t the probability lean to the side of Matthew saying this as a way of explaining, and hopefully refuting something that was out there? To refute something that people were actually saying?

Thinking about this further now that it’s had time to settle in, this little throw-away line may have huge ramifications for a lot of things. Let’s unpack this a bit. Mark gave no indication of a story like this, but then Mark didn’t really have a resurrection story. What this suggests is that the whole idea of the resurrection, and the story explaining it, only fully came into existence Mark, and before Matthew. This set of circumstances would make sense when taken in conjunction with my previous point about the writing of Mark being something of a watershed in the development of the Jesus movement. Having a written gospel spread the word more effectively, but perhaps it also caused people to ask questions, like, why was the tomb empty? What did happen to Jesus’ body? Which would lead others, less sympathetic to the cause, to suggest that the body had been stolen by his disciples. Refuting this, in turn, could have been one of the spurs that prompted Matthew to write his gospel in the first place.

Of course, so far we’ve ignored an obvious point: that Paul was talking about the resurrection long before Mark wrote his gospel. Not only is that a valid point, but it’s salient as well (a salient point is redundant). If I’m going to suggest that the resurrection story didn’t come about until after Mark, what about Paul’s preaching on this subject? I’d best have one damn good explanation for that.

This make take us back to the question of whether Mark was aware of Paul. To be honest, I am not aware of the scholarship on this, but it is entirely possible that Mark was not. If not, he could have written his gospel without knowing that Paul claimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. But then, to whom did Paul preach? To pagans. Matthew, as I see it, was a pagan and not a Jew. So did he become aware of Paul’s teaching about the resurrection from contact with a pagan church that had been influenced, if not founded, by Paul’s mission work? What I am proposing is that there were two separate traditions; indeed, there were likely, but I’m thinking of two main branches here, with however many tributaries and however fragmented the delta was. I’m suggesting that there was a Jewish tradition and a pagan tradition. Indeed, this may be a commonplace; Paul tells us that exactly this situation existed in Galatians, so it’s hardly like this is a radical suggestion. He and James were at loggerheads about the Jewish question, but what if there were other, more fundamental differences of opinion between the two? What if the Jewish tradition wasn’t big on the idea of the raising from the dead? Or, Paul was a Pharisee, who believed in this before encountering the teachings about Jesus; was James a Pharisee? Is that part of the reason the Pharisees get such special treatment in the gospels? Because the Jewish tradition didn’t agree with the Pharisees? But then Matthew, not being a Jew, really didn’t get the whole reason for the division, so he just kept up the disparagement of the Pharisees without realizing the implications?

There are a lot of pieces that seem to fit. The problem is, each piece makes the overall whole less likely, not more so. The more complicated the story, the less likely it is to be true. This would seem to be counterintuitive, but if you think in terms of contingent probabilities–C is only true if B is true, and B is only true if A is true–you may see the problem. Each piece depends on another, and each connexion represents a potential fracture point, a place where the joint is weak and the glue holding it all together can come unstuck.

11 Quae cum abiissent, ecce quidam de custodia venerunt in civitatem et nuntiaverunt principibus sacerdotum omnia, quae facta fuerant.

12 Et congregati cum senioribus, consilio accepto, pecuniam copiosam dederunt militibus

13 dicentes: “Dicite: “Discipuli eius nocte venerunt et furati sunt eum, nobis dormientibus”.

14 Et si hoc auditum fuerit a praeside, nos suadebimus ei et securos vos faciemus”.

15 At illi, accepta pecunia, fecerunt, sicut erant docti. Et divulgatum est verbum istud apud Iudaeos usque in hodiernum diem.

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς,

17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.

18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,

20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

But the eleven disciples went out to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus arranged for them, (17) and seeing they worshipped him but they doubted. (18) And coming forward Jesus spoke to them saying, “It was given to me all power in the sky and upon the earth. (19) So going going out all the peoples were learned, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the sacred breath. (20) Teaching them to watch all so much I command you. And, look! I with you I am all days until the end of the aeons”.  

So that’s it. It occurs to me that until now I’m not terribly familiar with this gospel, or at least this version of the resurrection story. To whit, they actually do go to Galilee, something of which I had not been aware, largely because this version of the Resurrection is not read all that often. One salient feature is that this whole going to Galilee was rather an ephemeral phenomenon. After Matthew, it vanishes from sight. Of the four stories, I believe that this one gets the least attention. Mark is the first, Luke is the most well-known for the same reasons we think of his nativity story in preference to Matthew’s story, which is the only alternative version.

So what happened? Not only did the idea of going to Galilee sort of fade, it faded to the point that a lot of people are not really aware of it; or is it just me? One obvious answer to that questions is that the focus of the growing movement shifted away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem. Mark had the  bit about Galilee, and Matthew followed him on that. But note that it’s like Matthew wasn’t really sure what happened in Galilee. We get Jesus sending out his disciples, so this passage has been called the Great Commission, but if it’s so great, why did Luke forget about it? Luke probably didn’t. Rather more likely is that the tradition of the church had turned towards Jerusalem, so Luke corrected Matthew to reflect this. Remember that Luke is the first evangelist who was undeniably aware of Paul; before Luke, we can’t be sure. And Paul tells us that the focus of the Jesus community after Jesus’ death was in Jerusalem, and not in Galilee; is that why Luke moved the action there? Remember, too, that Luke is the first–and only–writer to tell the stories of both the Ascension and Pentecost, the latter of which took place in Jerusalem. Then John splits the difference, and has part of Jesus’ post-resurrection career occur in Jerusalem, but then it moves back to Galilee. So there was, apparently, a pretty strong tradition tying the post-resurrection Jesus back to Galilee.

Why? Because it makes sense that people from Galilee would return there after the trauma of the loss of Jesus. But even more convincing, I think, are all the boring, mundane reasons: that’s where there homes and family and source of livelihood were. Jerusalem was a big city, and cities then, as now, are expensive. So sure, they returned to Galilee. Now here’s a thought: we’ve noted that the Magdalene appears during the Passion Story, and plays a prominent part in the Resurrection story. Perhaps this is because she provided sponsorship of the disciples–in Galilee. She would not be the first patron(ess) to get herself written into the story due to reasons of financial support. Perhaps her role did not come into prominence until after Jesus’ death. That would very nicely explain why she shows up in the narrative in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. It would also be a strong prima facie case to suggest that the Passion Narrative may have originated in the Galilean community. That is a thought that needs further consideration.

So that’s a bit of an eye-opener, I must say. And shame on me for not realizing this sooner than now. But then, this was intended as a voyage of discovery.

As for the Great Commission, the very last words of the gospel, there are a couple of points to be made. The first, of course, is that the event is a post-facto fiction, meant to explain from a point forty years after what happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death. It’s a foundation myth. The interesting inference that we, perhaps, can draw from this is that it suggests leadership of the community became situated in Galilee, when we know differently from Paul. What this implies, I believe, is that there was a period stretching most likely from the Destruction to the time of Luke, a period that includes Matthew, when the leadership of James, centered in Jerusalem, was either being suppressed or had largely been forgotten. Now, given Matthew’s desire to play up Jesus’ divinity, and the way he inversely downplayed the brothers of Jesus related in Mark, it’s not difficult to imagine that he may have known about the Jerusalem Community, at least to the point of being vaguely aware that it had existed; such minimal awareness, however, would have led to Matthew’s lack of value for James and his group almost as effectively as not knowing about it altogether, So I suspect Matthew did have some minimal knowledge about James, but not nearly enough for Matthew to value the role of James.

Perhaps the final point about the Great Commission is its emphasis on teaching the peoples, the non-Jews. I won’t use the term “gentile” because it does appear in either the Greek or the Latin; I’m not sure of the etymology–but I suspect it derives from the Latin gens, gentis, “peoples”, which is used in the Latin translation below. This is yet another indicator that this part of the story was created very much later than the life of Jesus, and probably even later than Mark. The first evangelist does have a few references to Jesus’ preaching to non-Jews; there is the Syro-Phoenician woman outside Tyre, for example, but the message has become much more prominent in Matthew. Think of the story of the centurion who does not believe himself worthy for Jesus to enter his home. References to non-Jews and their role in the kingdom (The Wedding Banquet; the invited guests won’t come) come early and often in Matthew. This Great Commission is the finishing touch, the pìece de résistance for this transfer of the center of gravity from Jews to pagans. Jesus himself ordained it so.

That’s it. It feels like there should be some grand words of conclusion here, but those will be saved for the summary. Thank you for your patience.

16 Undecim autem discipuli abierunt in Galilaeam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus,

17 et videntes eum adoraverunt; quidam autem dubitaverunt.

18 Et accedens Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Data est mihi omnis potestas in caelo et in terra.

19 Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes, baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,

20 docentes eos servare omnia, quaecumque mandavi vobis. Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi”.

John Dominic Crossan: “Who Killed Jesus?”

A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the book Who Killed Jesus?, by prominent NT scholar JD Crossan. Professor Crossan (emeritus) is an eminent figure in biblical scholarship, with a number of highly-regarded books to his credit. I’ve read a couple of others by him, but exactly which ones I no longer recall. Since the book currently under discussion deals with the subject of, and comes at exactly the point in the narrative where we are–the Passion Narrative–I’ve held off forging ahead with my translation and comment while I read the book, the idea being to see if there were interesting and useful points that could inform and enlighten my understanding  and the discussion of the topic. But first, this is not a review of the book in any standard sense, for several reasons. First, the book is twenty years old, so a review is rather beside the point at this time. Second, the purpose of reading the book was to see if the scholarly argument provided further insight into the topic, not whether the book is worth reading. Finally, part–a large part–of the purpose of the book is  set out in the subtitle: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of The Death Of Jesus.  This is a worthy and necessary goal, but not one that is fundamental to our purposes here. This topic does overlap with our research, since it helps to provide possible motivation for why the authors of the gospels wrote what they did and in the way they did.

Having glanced at the Amazon review section for the work, it seems that “John D. Crossan is generally acknowledged to be the premier historical Jesus scholar in the world”. That is  a very weighty designation. Given this title, one should approach a confrontation with Crossan as one would approach the possibility of fisticuffs with the UFC champion of the world: she is the best; who the heck are you? Would you challenge LeBron James to a game of one-on-one? Personally, I would not challenge Rhonda Rousey, even though she’s no longer the champion, nor would I be so rash as to take on King James. Crossan? Absolutely. And why? Because he is/was a professor of Religious Studies, but he is writing history. That is to say, he’s on my turf; a pro athlete is great at whatever game he or she plays, but that does not mean they can play another game equally well, or even competently. Some pro athletes are also good golfers; most are not. (I am certainly not, but that’s irrelevant.)

One problem with this book, and pretty much every book I’ve ever read on the subject of the Historical Jesus is that these books are not written by historians. They are written by biblical, or religious studies people. They may know their NT textual analyses, but can they play golf? The other problem is that most of these books were written by people who, if not practicing Christians, were raised as such, and they approach the topic of historicity based on study of the Bible, and not study of history. Oh, they’ve read Tacitus and Josephus–at least, I’m sure, the relevant sections–but they’ve never studied Tacitus, or history in general, as an historian would study the text. These two problems–or, perhaps they are really only different facets of the same problem–is that their perspective is off; they never truly engage the topic as historians should. This is why all the books I’ve read by religious studies people sort of blur together. They have all come at the subject with the same approach, and so they, ultimately, make the same case. Oh, they may regard different stories as historical or non-historical for sound and valid and good reasons, but they never get themselves out of that single approach that largely predetermines their outcome: much of the NT is historically accurate.

The key aspect of this approach, this method that is unsound, is that they believe that all of the writers of the NT, and of at least some of they apocryphal texts, are writing to illumine and preserve a single, unitary, and ultimately factual account of the life and death of Jesus. That is, the scholars all assume that, ultimately, all of the evangelists and the authors of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter, are telling exactly the same story. And they never, ever challenge, even in their own minds, this assumption. I would hazard to guess that most–if not quite all–are fundamentally unaware that they are making this assumption. It’s the classic “buried assumption”: something that affects nearly everything, but is never acknowledged because almost no one realizes it’s there. This assumption, I would argue, is the direct result of coming into the topic from a background of biblical or textual or literary analysis, and not from a background in history.

There is a corollary to this assumption: it leads to positing the existence of shadowy texts for which there is not a shred of evidence, and then taking it as a given that these hypothetical texts did, in fact, exist. Of course, Q is the most famous, and the most pernicious, example of this. In Crossan’s book, we come across another, called The Cross Gospel. This is a text of the Passion Narrative that was put to paper in the 50s, or about the time that Q was. This narrative them became the basis for the four canonical gospels and, according to Crossan, the Gospel of Peter. The evidence for these texts is completely literary, and completely dependent on being able to get into the mind of the evangelist whose work is considered. This leads to a lot of, “well Mark really means”, and “Luke would never mess with a masterpiece like the Sermon on the Mount”, and “the Matthew changed Mark because it’s consistent with Matthew’s overall intention”, and other such things. This is what happens, I suspect, when living in a world of textual and literary analysis. I’ve studied enough literature qua literature to know how the process works, even if I was never very good at it.

With those two–or one-point-five–points, perhaps we can encapsulate the whole of Crossan’s case, just as one can deduce Hercules from just his foot*. The fatal flaw in Crossan’s case comes very early in the work, within the first 30 pages, as he’s setting out the evidence. He admits that the Synoptics are all dependent on Mark for their passion narrative. Indeed, he concedes that John’s passion narrative is based, largely, on Mark. As such, Matthew, Luke, & John are dependent sources; they cannot be assessed historically as anything but an appendage to Mark. More or less. That’s a bit strong, but in historical research, and “dependent” has a fairly specific, perhaps technical meaning. The most significant aspect of this is that one cannot take a variation in the dependent source as more historical than what the original source said. This simply means that if Matthew contradicts Mark on a point of fact, we should take Mark’s words as more likely to be accurate. Unless there is strong indication that Matthew also had access to a second source that was not Mark. Hence, Q becomes very, very handy, and the willingness to jettison Q turns into obstinance .

But, Crossan is not content to let John rest there. Noticing how different John’s treatment of the miracles of Jesus are, he goes on to posit that John is independent of Mark on these miracle stories. Since much of my case depends (pun?) on this assumption, or assertion, of Crossan, we need to be very clear on why this is a problem. To be blunt, I do not know, exactly, what Crossan means by “for me, (John) is independent of the Synoptics for the miracles and sayings of Jesus”. As mentioned, for historical studies, “in/dependent” has a fairly specific–almost to the point of technical– meaning. I do not know if Crossan understands and uses the word in this historian’s sense. If he simply means that John has a different take on the miracles and sayings, I don’t have a problem with that–in fact I’d agree with that–but I would not, could not accept the description of this as an “independent” source. From the historian’s perspective, an source that is truly independent is one that has access to knowledge that the first source does not. Given Q, Matthew becomes an independent source for the sayings of Jesus. So the question becomes, is Crossan saying that John had access to a second, now lost, collection of the sayings of Jesus that dated back prior to Mark, and that represented a tradition that was unaware of Mark, and of which Mark was unaware?

That is the essence of Q: the author(s) of Q were unaware of Mark, and Mark was unaware of Q. Is Crossan saying that John also had his own source? Reading this from the perspective of an historian, that is what I understand by him saying “John was independent of the Synoptics”. Is that what he means? If so, then the entire case becomes untenable because he provides no evidence that such a source existed, that it was independent of Mark, and that John was the sole evangelist (or epistle writer) aware of this source. Contrariwise, if that is not what Crossan means, then what he’s saying is that John (or someone) made stuff up. In which case, there is no historical validity in taking John as in any way independent of the Synoptics. People have been making stuff up about Ronald Reagan for a couple of decades now; that doesn’t mean that they can be used as historical arguments. Amity Shlaes argues that FDR had a time machine because the policies he implemented were able to cause the Great Depression after he took office in 1933, when, in fact, it started in 1930 (or thereabouts; the point is, it was several years before FDR took office). They’ve made this stuff up; it is not necessary to present an argument against these positions in an argument about history because they are not based on fact. In the same way, I don’t have to account for unicorns in the evolution of the modern horse.

Crossan then compounds this error, and then magnifies it. He freely admits that Gospel Peter (GPtr) is an independent source for the Passion Narrative. He claims that GPtr influenced the Synoptic gospel writers by influencing Mark. What’s more interesting is that he asserts this after admitting that there is no evidence for the GPtr before the end of the Second Century, at least a century after Mark wrote. How is this possible? It’s possible because GPtr retained traces, or even sections of something called the Cross Gospel. Apparently, he realized that the idea of arguing that this independent tradition survived, uninfluenced by the mainstream traditions for 150 (approx) years was a fool’s errand, so he credited it with being incorporated into Mark, and so the other three canonical gospels. I am not sure, exactly, what this encompasses or implies, or what purpose it serves. Yes, it pushes the beginning of the Passion Narrative back into the 50s, but so what? That’s still a generation after Jesus’ death. So late a date is more apt to produce legend than it is to record fact. It’s enough of a time lapse that real memories have been supplemented–or supplanted–by what people want to remember. But it remains that, if it influenced Mark, and so the other gospels, it’s no longer an independent source. Or rather, Mark is no longer independent. The net result is that we still have only one real source for the Passion Narrative, whether it started with Mark, or with GPtr. Crossan is trying to have it both ways, but the math just doesn’t work out. It’s still 1 + 0 = 1, whether the 1 is the Cross Gospel (so-called) or Mark.

Now, of course Mark–probably–had earlier material available to him. It seems like he must have. But we have no evidence that Paul was aware of any such available evidence, that he had any knowledge of a Passion Narrative. As such, there is no reason to believe that such a narrative existed. It’s certainly possible, and maybe there’s a 25% probability that such a story existed, but neither of those are proof. This, of course, is the argument from silence, and that is a dangerous bit of reasoning when applied to the ancient world, when there is so much evidence that is missing because it never existed. But the fact remains that our only written source from the 50s and into the 60s is Paul, and he provides no hints about the causes of Jesus’ death, no explanation of who ordered the execution–because it was no doubt carried out by the Romans–or why this happened.

Crossan is fully convinced that something like the cleansing of the Temple really did happen, and tries to tie Jesus into John’s programme of individual repentance divorced from the Temple structure, which in turn threatened the Temple structure, which is what caused the Jewish authorities to get nervous and connive for Jesus’ execution in the same way that Herod Antipas executed the Baptist. That is one serious causal chain of events. But we have no evidence for any of this. Josephus supposedly talks about Jesus, but he never, ever connects him to John. Really, Josephus short paragraph on Jesus does no more than repeat the gospel story: that the best men of the Jews had Jesus put to death. But this was written in the 9os, long after the orthodox story of the gospels had become The Gospel account. Josephus seems completely unaware of who these “best men” among the Jews were, even though he is well aware of Caiaphas and mentions him in other contexts. It’s this sort of selective use of Josephus that makes me say that biblical scholars, no doubt, have read Tacitus or Josephus, but they’ve never studied it and they may have only read the few paragraphs in question without understanding Josephus as an historian.

What are we left with? A bunch of stories that probably don’t date back before the 60s, if they are that early. There were, without doubt, a number of traditions about Jesus. While discussing Mark, I used the analogy of a weaver, taking many individual threads and weaving them into a whole cloth. Most of these threads were probably oral, stories and traditions. Most likely after that, what was recorded by Mark became dominant, what was not faded into the background and then faded away. In the meantime, other traditions sprang up, ones that resulted in the Sermon on the Mount; the social consciousness of many of these teachings may point to an origin with James the Just and the Jerusalem Assembly, but that is still a suspicion, or a perhaps a working hypothesis. It has not been solidified with a real argument.

Notice what I said up there: other traditions sprang up. We–and perhaps Professor Crossan in particular–need to bear constantly in mind that revelation did not end with John’s Apocalypse (which was probably not even the latest of the books of the NT). Revelation continued. We have an array of Gospels and Acts and stories attributed to all sorts of people: Peter, Pilate, and even Judas Iscariot. Elaine Pagels documented this decades ago in her Gnostic Gospels. This was why the Church eventually had to set which works were canonical, and which weren’t. The Gospel of Peter falls into this latter category. In a sense, all of these apocryphal sources present evidence that is “independent” of the canonical scripture, at least by Crossan’s use–or misuse–of the term “independent source”. No doubt you can see where this is going, even if Crossan can’t, or more likely, doesn’t want to see it. Making stuff up doesn’t make it evidence, or a viable source, or anything really useful, except to see the very broad range of interpretations that were attached to Jesus. This failure–perhaps willful–to see much of this as creative writing, couple with the way Crossan manipulates the word “independent”, dooms any argument that he can put forth.

Which takes us back to the first point I made above: that there is an assumption that all writers of Gospels and Acts that deal with Jesus or his close companions, whether they were determined to be canonical or apocryphal, set out to tell exactly the same story has had been told before, but using different evidence. This simply cannot be true. We have already seen the very significant differences between Mark and Matthew, and between the evangelists and Paul. They are telling significantly different stories. The biggest part of this goes back to the question of “Why did anyone after Mark sit down to write a new gospel?” Why indeed? The answer is simple, but, nevertheless, is often overlooked. New authors write new gospels because they believe that they have something new to say. That is, they either have new or different evidence or traditions to draw upon, or they have a different understanding of Jesus or the time after his death. In other words, they are writing to correct some aspect that they feel is missing, incomplete, or just plain wrong. We have to keep going back to the Arthur legend for our analogy: new characters were added as time passed, so that, by the time of Malory, there were dozens of new faces sitting around the Round Table. Even the Greek myths are disconcertingly unstable. The details and they understanding changed. Euripides did not tell the same stories as Hesiod had, half a millennium earlier. The difference is that we understand Arthur and Greek myth as literary creations, but we treat the NT as essentially fixed and singular and unitary. In fact, the variation in Greek myth can disconcert a modern neophyte reader because modern Christian neophyte readers approaches Greek myth as they approach the Bible and NT: as a single, unitary, and fixed account of Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Peter is not necessarily, or at all, interested in telling the same story as Mark or Matthew. If he had been, why did he even bother to write at all?

Just to be clear, Crossan believes that GPtr is early and has an elaborate argument for the date. In fact, it is so elaborate that he believes he can date it to a range of less than five years. If this were a proper scholarly paper, I  would set out his case and then demolish it. But this is a blog post. Suffice it to say that he insists that the progression towards anti-Judaism indicates a later date. John is the most anti-Judaic, so his gospel is the latest. In Crossan’s judgement, GPtr is the least anti-Judaic, so it must be the earliest. Q.E.D. Case closed. To put it mildly, this assumed progression is hardly an indicator set in stone. Yes, there does seem to be a progression to John, except that Luke is somehow less anti-Judaic than Matthew. So maybe this doesn’t work like Carbon-14 dating, where the progress is steady and inexorable. Bear in mind that the fragment that we have of GPtr is fairly small, so it’s impossible to assess the overall attitude of the author to Jews. Even if it were possible, there could be a myriad of reasons why someone in the late Second Century chose to depict the villains as the Jewish authorities while exonerating the Jewish people. The most obvious is that the author wanted to explain why there were still Jews. Well, it was all the fault of the rascally high priests and Herod (!) This limits the damage to Jesus’ reputation by keeping the number of doubters as small as possible. It’s pretty simple, after all, since by the end of the Second Century, the Jews were no longer the primary enemy; the Church was more concerned with explaining itself to pagans than it was to Jews. The Jews were no longer much of a threat, so it was easy to pull back on the vitriol against them. Oh, and yes, Herod. In the GPtr, the trial is conducted before Herod, and Herod and the high priests and Pilate and a bunch of Romans all witness the Resurrection. Really, that says all we need to say about the author’s understanding of the situation in the mid-First Century.

And really, from the historical point of view, I believe that nothing written after Luke, or even Matthew, can be expected to contain previously unreleased material. Luke was aware of Paul, which indicates a coalescence of Christian thinking. After that point it’s hard to credit that any Christian anywhere, sixty years after the fact, could have possessed knowledge of things that dated back to Jesus. Indeed, it seem unlikely enough with Matthew. By the time of Luke, the story of Jesus was well-enough known that Josephus takes it as true. So we have entered into the age where the basic story was set, even if it was still possible to tinker around the edges. I suspect that very little of Acts can be taken seriously as history. That it uses the names of actual Roman officials and titles and events does not mean that the rest of it is true. A Tale of Two Cities takes place during the French Revolution, which certainly happened; however, the events of the novel are just that: events in a novel. So looking for new historical information–aside from the incidentals that all writing includes–is probably not a terribly wise or effective thing to do.

As an aside, Crossan distinguishes between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and rightly so, I think. Anti-Judaism is more of a conflict with, and denigration of, the religion qua religion. Anti-Semitism blatant racism. So they are not exactly the same thing, but anti-Judaism did eventually lead to full-blown anti-Semitism.

There are a few other useful bits to be gleaned from the book. They will be presented in the appropriate context since this has gone on way too long!


* “Ex pede, Herculem“, see:


Matthew Chapter 26:14-25

The chapter continues, and now we will be reading about the events of Thursday night, which have become known as the Last Supper. We know that it was a Thursday since Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath. Of course, the day wasn’t named after Thor; in fact, per my understanding (corroborated by Wikipedia), the Romans did not designate a 7-day week, each day having a name repeated every seven days. Rather, they simply designated the date of the month. Jews of course reckoned a week in seven days so that they could track the Sabbath, and the 7-day week became the standard under the Christians who needed to keep track of their Sabbath, on the first, rather than the last, day of the week. The Germanic names came via Anglo-Saxon England.

14 Τότε πορευθεὶς εἷς τῶν δώδεκα, ὁ λεγόμενος Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης, πρὸς τοὺς ἀρχιερεῖς

15 εἶπεν, Τί θέλετέ μοι δοῦναι κἀγὼ ὑμῖν παραδώσω αὐτόν; οἱ δὲ ἔστησαν αὐτῷ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια.

16 καὶ ἀπὸ τότε ἐζήτει εὐκαιρίαν ἵνα αὐτὸν παραδῷ.

Then coming one of the Twelve, he called Judas Iscariot, to the high priests. (15) He said, “What do you wish to give me, and I will hand him over to you”. They weighed out for him thirty pieces of silver. (16) And from then he sought an auspicious time in order to hand him over.

Does the fact that Judas makes no appearance prior to this make anyone else suspicious? If not, it should. One can argue by analogy that the man who betrayed the Greeks at Thermopylae is nowhere mentioned aside from this act of treachery; and Herodotus is loath to name this man, exactly for the reason that this vile creature does not deserve to have his name preserved. But, name him he does. That is a very different set of circumstances; there, he played no role in the story before that moment, whereas Judas, one of the Twelve, seemingly should have been around a bit before this entry onto the stage of history. In fact, the only previous mention of him is when Jesus names the Twelve; however, that naming is the only time many of this group are mentioned. Judas at least plays this additional role.

This is not the time nor place to discuss the Twelve, so we will turn to Judas. I am not competent to provide an informed judgement on this, but I have read the suggestion that “Iscariot” is derived from sicarii, the notorious assassins who caused havoc in Jerusalem up through the destruction of the city. In fact Josephus says that the groups that resisted the Romans in Jerusalem and in Masada were sicarii. This, of course, is by way of discrediting the leaders of the rebellion, those who resisted Rome till the bitter end, separating the “loyal” Jews who desperately wanted to surrender Jerusalem and swear their undying fealty to Rome. The attachment of “Iscariot” as a surname seems possibly to be an effort to discredit Judas by tarring him with the brush of the sicarii. The biggest problem with this theory is that it depends on a change in language. Sicarii is Latin; the initial “I” would have been added when it was translated out of Latin, but a transition from Latin to Greek would probably not have been sufficient. Latin to Aramaic? I can’t say.

The problem is that much of this depends on when the Passion Narrative was originally composed. One school of thought believes that the passion story circulated as an independent narrative even before Mark was written. There is a certain logic to this; after all, followers of Jesus would likely want to know why he was crucified, it only makes sense. The problem with this is that there is no reason to produce this particular narrative if it was created prior to the rebellion of 66-70. Assuming that the story took the form, and provided the causation it did to exculpate the Romans and lay the blame on the Jews really makes sense in the period immediately following the rebellion. It has been noted just how much further Josephus goes to do exactly that; however, he was writing explicitly for a Roman–even an imperial–audience. In reading De Bello Judaica, one comes away with a strong sense of similarity between the way Josephus and Mark excuse the Romans.

The point here is that the whole affair of Judas, and even the person himself, should be viewed with great suspicion. There is, of course, a wonderful dramatic element to Judas’ role, which is no doubt intended. Is it too convenient? Making that judgement in the affirmative requires leaving the realm of historical analysis. This is not to say it’s not a valid question; it certainly is. But any such judgement is literary or stylistic, both of which are very different from historical judgements. A true historical judgement would be to affirm that the evidence for Judas is pretty thin. I say this because the NT is, by and large, not a terribly reliable historical source, except when it’s not trying to be. It tells us how the beliefs changed over time even if it can’t support the reported actions that are designed to convey the message of Jesus.

The other thing to bear in mind is the motivation of the high priests. On one hand, it started in Galilee, but this group was not in Galilee, had no responsibility for Galilee. We are supposed to believe that the combination of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple were enough to make the authorities afraid of Jesus. As we have seen, however, the entry into Jerusalem was more of a procession of a group of followers than a parade passing between throngs of onlookers. Mark’s description is very plain, and fairly clear, and plainly and clearly describes a procession of a group. Matthew felt the lack of the potential to menace the authorities, so he amplified how the entry attracted onlookers–in itself a clear indication of the nature of the event as a procession–and the children shouting “Hosanna” in the Temple precincts. Then the cleansing of the Temple is obviously a fiction, or a very small event that grew to mammoth proportions in the subsequent re-tellings. As Josephus makes incredibly clear, the Temple was enormous. The idea that a single man could clear out all the commerce is simply preposterous. And the resultant disruption would have led to Jesus’ arrest on the spot. He would not then have returned the next day and had an exchange with the same threatened authorities that, while tense, did not display any real signs of animosity. So if the two main causes for the authorities’ malign intent are shown to be grossly exaggerated or simply fictional, what is left? 

14 Tunc abiit unus de Duodecim, qui dicebatur Iudas Iscariotes, ad principes sacerdotum

15 et ait: “ Quid vultis mihi dare, et ego vobis eum tradam? ”. At illi constituerunt ei triginta argenteos.

16 Et exinde quaerebat opportunitatem, ut eum traderet.

17 Τῇ δὲ πρώτῃ τῶν ἀζύμων προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες, Ποῦ θέλεις ἑτοιμάσωμέν σοι φαγεῖν τὸ πάσχα;

18 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Ὑπάγετε εἰς τὴν πόλιν πρὸς τὸν δεῖνα καὶ εἴπατε αὐτῷ, Ὁ διδάσκαλος λέγει, Ὁ καιρός μου ἐγγύς ἐστιν: πρὸς σὲ ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα μετὰ τῶν μαθητῶν μου.

19 καὶ ἐποίησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ ὡς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἡτοίμασαν τὸ πάσχα.

20 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης ἀνέκειτο μετὰ τῶν δώδεκα.

On the (day) before the unleavened (bread) came the disciples to Jesus saying, “Where do you wish we will prepare for you the Pesach eating?” (18) He then said, “Go up to the city towards the such a one (some guy) and say to him, ‘The teacher said, “My season is nigh. With you I will make the Paschal (meal) with my disciples”.’.” (19) And the disciples did in this way that Jesus arranged for them, and they prepared the Pesach (meal). (20) Having become evening, he reclined with the Twelve. 

This method of arranging matters is, of course, and echo of how Jesus told the disciples to find the donkey he would ride into Jerusalem the previous Sunday. The only real differences is that the man that they are to meet, or find, is not described in the least. Jesus had instructed his followers fairly clearly on where to find the donkey, but here it’s just “such a man”. Second, we are told that Jesus arranged things for them. This has a slightly difference implication than the arrangements for Palm Sunday. There, it was more or less left that Jesus had predicted how they would find things, but that the events and their sequence were to play out on their own. Here, OTOH, Jesus moves the pieces around himself.

Update: When writing the paragraph above, I hadn’t looked at Mark’s version. There, Jesus says that they will find a man carrying a pitcher of water. And, since drawing water was woman’s work, this would truly be a distinguishing feature. Given this, the “such a man” makes much more sense. But what this means is that Matthew assumed that the audience would be familiar with Mark’s account, so they would know “such a man” indicated a man carrying water. Or, the other possibility is that a copyist shortened this, abbreviating the ms knowing that other readers or copyists were familiar with Mark. Either way, Matthew cuts this section to about half of what Mark had. Matthew does this on several occasions, leaving out what he doubtless considered “unnecessary” details. Here, however, the editing is a bit too severe, I think. 

Upon reading this, it seemed that the expression “my season is nigh” was an echo of what Jesus said when he was setting out on his ministry, that the kingdom is nigh. Actually looking for the word usage, this turns out not to be true. In both Mark and Matthew Jesus says that “the kingdom has drawn near”.

Finally, this seems clearly to be Jesus and the disciples making preparation for the Passover Seder. This makes Thursday the Day of Preparation, the day the seder is prepared. I mention this because all three Synoptic Gospels seem to make this quite clear. This would mean that Jesus was executed the first day of Passover. In John, however, the day is moved back one, so that Jesus was killed on the Day of Preparation. Supposedly John is making the connexion between Jesus and the Paschal Lamb stronger. On the Day of Preparation, Jews all over the world would have been killing lambs while Jesus was on the cross.* If nothing else, this should be a cautionary tale that, in writing gospels, the Truth to be conveyed took precedence over mere factual accuracy.

*[ Please note a total ignorance on my part regarding the killing of animals in preparation for eating. It is my understanding that it is possible to kill the animal and eat it on the same day. This, after all, was the process in pagan sacrifices. If I’m wrong, well then I’m wrong. ]

21 καὶ ἐσθιόντων αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι εἷς ἐξ ὑμῶν παραδώσει με.

22 καὶ λυπούμενοι σφόδρα ἤρξαντο λέγειν αὐτῷ εἷς ἕκαστος, Μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι,κύριε;

23 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν, Ὁ ἐμβάψας μετ’ ἐμοῦ τὴν χεῖρα ἐν τῷ τρυβλίῳ οὗτός με παραδώσει.

24 ὁ μὲν υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ὑπάγει καθὼς γέγραπται περὶ αὐτοῦ, οὐαὶ δὲ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐκείνῳ δι’ οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται: καλὸν ἦν αὐτῷ εἰ οὐκ ἐγεννήθη ὁ ἄνθρωπος ἐκεῖνος.

25 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν εἶπεν, Μήτι ἐγώ εἰμι, ῥαββί; λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶπας.

And they having eaten, he said, “Amen I say to you, that one of you will betray me.” (22) And they began sorrowing exceedingly, saying to him each, “Surely, not I, lord.” (23) And he, answering, said, “One dipping with me his hand in the cup, he will betray me. (24) For the son of man will raise up accordingly as it is written about him, ‘Woe to that man through whom the son of man is handed over. Better for him if not having been born that man’.” (25) And answering, Judas the betrayer said to him, “Surely I am not (he)?” (Jesus) said to him, “You say it.”

The first point I’m itching to make is the root of the word for “dip”, as in, “dipping in the cup”. The word is “em-bapto”. Perhaps the root is recognizable as the root of “baptize”.  The point here is the so very ordinary meaning and usage of that word. There is nothing special about it. In Greek, the doughnut chain could be “Baptizin’ Donuts”.

[ Note: there is an American chain of doughnut shops known as “Dunkin’ Donuts”. This chain is especially popular in Rhode Island, where I happen to live. Here in RI, it approaches something not dissimilar to a mania. ]

The second point is a question: do you notice the elements of drama here? And let’s note that the whole idea of fiction as an art form was a whole lot less well-developed when this was written than it is now. Reading this now seems hackneyed to the point of trite, but what was there in the ancient world to compare to this? The HS has moments of intensity, to be sure, but drama? I suppose there’s the will-he-or-won’t-he story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, but the audience knew going in that it wasn’t going to happen. Back when I was in HS, there was an annual state-wide competition for dramatic readings, and I had always thought that the passion would be a good choice due to the level of dramatic tension present.

Now, drama does not preclude reality; in fact, real-life history provides episodes of extremely high drama, which is why historical novels/movies never go out of fashion. The problem here, however, is the lack of ascribed motive. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Even John felt this lack, so he was sure to add that Judas kept the common purse and stole from it; from there his betrayal of Jesus could be seen as simply greed. Jesus Christ Superstar does a better job, portraying Judas as afraid that Jesus would touch off a rebellion, bringing about the events of the Jewish War two generations earlier. What we have is the high priests lacking a motive, and Judas lacking a motive. As I see it, this double lack of ascribed–and plausible–motive really undercuts the credibility of the account. Without a motive, we are left with Judas betraying Jesus because the course of events requires that this happen. Fictional accounts that don’t provide sufficient explanation for an action always ring false; and so does this. 

To be clear, nothing I have said provides a terribly strong argument against the betrayal by Judas, or anything else contained in the Passion Story. It cannot really be proven false by any standard method available to historians. But as with so many things, it’s not the big gaping hole that sinks the account as we have it. There is no collision with an iceberg, but a series of small nicks, a dozen, or two dozen or more, that, while inconsequential by themselves, add up to an accumulation of water that does, eventually, drag the whole ship down to the depths.

17 Prima autem Azymorum accesserunt discipuli ad Iesum dicentes: “ Ubi vis paremus tibi comedere Pascha? ”.

18 Ille autem dixit: “ Ite in civitatem ad quendam et dicite ei: “Magister dicit: Tempus meum prope est; apud te facio Pascha cum discipulis meis” ”.

19 Et fecerunt discipuli, sicut constituit illis Iesus, et paraverunt Pascha.

20 Vespere autem facto, discumbebat cum Duodecim.

21 Et edentibus illis, dixit: “ Amen dico vobis: Unus vestrum me traditurus est ”.

22 Et contristati valde, coeperunt singuli dicere ei: “ Numquid ego sum, Domine? ”.

23 At ipse respondens ait: “ Qui intingit mecum manum in paropside, hic me tradet.

24 Filius quidem hominis vadit, sicut scriptum est de illo; vae autem homini illi, per quem Filius hominis traditur! Bonum erat ei, si natus non fuisset homo ille ”.

25 Respondens autem Iudas, qui tradidit eum, dixit: “ Numquid ego sum, Rabbi? ”. Ait illi: “ Tu dixisti ”.

Matthew Chapter 25:31-46

So far in the chapter, we’ve had the parable of the Ten Maidens and the Parable of the Talents. Jesus is still talking, but he shifts gears and goes into more or less a straight narrative about the coming of the son of man. I don’t think a lot of intermediate commentary will be necessary.

31 Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσει ἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ:

32 καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺς ἀπ’ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ὁ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων,

33 καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων.

“And when the son of man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon the throne of his glory. (32) And then will be gathered before him all the peoples, and he will separate them one from another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) And the sheep will stand on his right and the goats on the left.

The son of man comes in his glory, and sits on the throne of his glory. This is not the reflected glory of God, but that belonged to the son of man alone. This is a marked departure from the verbiage in Mark, in which the son of man would come in great glory. Yes, it’s great, but it’s not his and his alone. Rather, he’s likely to be partaking in the glory of the father. In fact, that is how I would think that Mark should be understood, which would be of a piece with the son of man not being divine in his own right. As such, Matthew here takes us further along the track to a divine Jesus. There is also the mention of his throne, he being the son of man. That I find to be less decisive. After all, Jesus says that the disciples will have thrones to judge the twelve tribes. A throne can be given. Or taken. But then, I suppose the same can be said about glory.

31 Cum autem venerit Filius hominis in gloria sua, et omnes angeli cum eo, tunc sedebit super thronum gloriae suae.

32 Et congregabuntur ante eum omnes gentes; et separabit eos ab invicem, sicut pastor segregat oves ab haedis,

33 et statuet oves quidem a dextris suis, haedos autem a sinistris.

34 τότε ἐρεῖ ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου:

35 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με,

36 γυμνὸς καὶπεριεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶ ἤλθατε πρός με.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Follow, ones blessed of my father. You will inherit the kingdom having been prepared for your from the foundation of the cosmos. (35) For I hungered and you gave me to eat, I thirsted and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you led me together, naked, you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me. 

The first thing to note is that the king is not the father. Now, the idea that a son should succeed to the kingdom of his father is hardly unusual; quite the opposite, in fact. But it shows, once again, a gradation in the relative powers of the two. The kingdom is of the father, not the son, regardless of who happens to be sitting on the throne at a particular moment. For example, it’s never referred to as “Solomon’s Kingdom”, but as that of David. The latter founded it, the former inherited it. Just so is the implication here. This is another indication of the gradation of the deity; Jesus is in some way inferior to the father. This is a holdover from Mark, and it’s also part of the original Jewish conception of the messiah: in Jewish tradition, the messiah was human. So we’re on the road to the apotheosis of Jesus, but the record still contains traces of the earlier attitudes.

Second, we have ordination from the foundation of the cosmos/universe; the word is also frequently translated as “world”. This is no more inaccurate than universe. In Greek, “kosmos” means “order”, or “organized”. So the kingdom has been set aside for those on the right from the time that the foundation of the current order was laid; this current order is opposed to the chaos that had come before. In some ways, this idea is more Greek than Hebrew; however, I don’t want to push this too hard because I don’t read Hebrew, so I can’t really say what the story of Genesis tells us. But this idea of creating an order from chaos is very Greek; while this idea is arguably implicit in Genesis, it’s very explicit in Greek myth.

Finally, just a couple of vocabulary notes. These are mostly fun facts to know & tell rather than anything really important for understanding the text. The word for naked is “gymnos”. You will recognize this as the root of “gym/gymnasium”. This is because the Greeks exercised naked. So, you went to the “place you get naked” to do your exercise. Second, the word that usually gets translated as “visited”, in “I was sick, and you visited me” is derived from the same root whence we get “bishop”. The idea is one of oversight, and not so much the sense of visiting the sick from compassion. Again, hardly a game-changer, but this is another one of those places where a particular translation has become standard, even if it isn’t really all that exact. But, it gets the point across. 

34 Tunc dicet Rex his, qui a dextris eius erunt: “Venite, benedicti Patris mei; possidete paratum vobis regnum a constitutione mundi.

35 Esurivi enim, et dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et dedistis mihi bibere; hospes eram, et collegistis me;

36 nudus, et operuistis me; infirmus, et visitastis me; in carcere eram, et venistis ad me”.

37 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα καὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, ἢ διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν;

38 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, ἢ γυμνὸν καὶ περιεβάλομεν;

39 πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε;

40 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶν ἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

“Then the just will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering and feed you, or thirsting and giving you drink? (38) When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ (40) And answering the king will say to then, ‘Amen I say to you, upon whenever one of the least of my brothers you did (it) for me’.

Along with the Beatitudes and Paul’s description of love, this story is justifiably one of the most beautiful and meaningful stories in the NT. It also, I believe, demonstrates an attitude markedly different from what had come before. This attitude is not exactly novel; it builds upon the Jewish tradition of social responsibility for the lesser of society, and maybe borrows a bit from the Stoic idea of universal siblinghood. (Thought perhaps I’d coined that term, but it’s in Google.) Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, perhaps it’s not the thought or the idea that’s so novel, but it’s the level of emphasis this attitude receives with the NT. It’s been very interesting to note how vague the NT writers are with ideas like salvation, the soul, and eternal life. Of course the big one here is whether–and in what way–Jesus was divine.

In the same way, thinking about the Hebrew Scriptures, the message of social justice is not the one that comes to mind first and foremost. I mean, there’s not much about social justice when Moses is parting the Red Sea, or Joshua is bringing down the walls of Jericho, or Daniel is in the lion’s den. But this is the problem with only really being familiar with the highlights of HS. One misses the message of Ezra and some of the others (which I cannot name off the top of my head). The point is that the innovation of Jesus and his followers was the emphasis put on social justice, and I think the emphasis point on social justice towards individuals. I really hate getting all general here, but there is a sense in which Judaism is more about the collective than the individual; they are the Chosen People, but Jesus talks about chosen individuals. Honestly, though, I don’t think this was a big part of Jesus’ message; rather, I would suggest that it’s something that came about later, as the number of pagans grew in the various communities. There had to be a de-emphasis on the collective idea of a chosen people in favour of a creed that embraces individuals regardless of national or religious origin since this was the direction the proto-church was heading. Paul led the way, with there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, etc. Here, I think we’re seeing the full assimilation of that attitude into the “mainstream” of the Christian communities. At least one of them, that of Matthew, anyway.

One implication of this, of course, is that this was not necessarily part of Jesus’ original message. That thought is probably disconcerting to a lot of Christians; and it should be. In support of this, it needs to be pointed out that this “for the least of my brothers” is not in Mark; nor is it in Luke. This latter means that it cannot have been part of Q, even if this unicorn of a document had ever actually existed. So it comes down to Matthew, and Matthew alone. Of course it’s possible that Matthew had a source that traced to Jesus on this while bypassing Mark. There is nothing remarkable about this, because that’s the definition of Q, except that Q managed to survive to reach Luke before disappearing without a trace. Really, it comes down to deciding whether this source of M material is a more likely explanation than the possibility that Matthew invented material on his own. That it bypassed Mark isn’t too hard to get around; in fact, the existence of separate threads of tradition, mutually unknown to each other in the early days, is more likely than not, IMO.

But the fact remains that this is the sort of idea that probably makes more sense in the post-diaspora world than it does in the days of Jesus. After all, Jesus did not spend a lot of time worrying about non-Jews. Of course, evaluating this perspective depends on the degree to which you see this as directed to non-Jews. There is no reason it has to be, but I believe it makes more sense in that context. As the horizons of the new movement expanded to include more non-Jews, eventually becoming a movement of mostly non-Jews, breaking down the connection to Israel while building up the connection to preferred behaviours–peacemakers, the meek–emphasizing the least of my siblings–makes an increasing amount of sense. The message becomes more tailored to an unspecific audience, people who act a certain way, rather than people united only by common descent.

37 Tunc respondebunt ei iusti dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem et pavimus, aut sitientem et dedimus tibi potum?

38 Quando autem te vidimus hospitem et collegimus, aut nudum et cooperuimus?

39 Quando autem te vidimus infirmum aut in carcere et venimus ad te?”.

40 Et respondens Rex dicet illis: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis”.

41 Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοι εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳκαὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ:

42 ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με,

43 ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶ οὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με.

44 τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶ λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα ἢ διψῶντα ἢ ξένον ἢ γυμνὸν ἢ ἀσθενῆ ἢ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐ διηκονήσαμέν σοι;

45 τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε.

46 καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“And then to those on the left, ‘Go away from me, those having been accursed, to the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I hungered, and you did not give me to eat, I thirsted and you did not give me to drink. (43) I was a stranger among you and you did not gather me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick or in prison and you did not come to look in upon me’. (44) Then they will answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungering or thirsting or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and we did not minister to you?’ (45) Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I say to you, upon so much you did not do for one of the least, you did not do for me’. And they will be destroyed in the eternal punishment, but the just (will go) to life eternal.”  

Well, if the kingdom has been prepared for the just since the foundation of the universe, then it stands to reason that the fire has been as well. Or has it? This was prepared, supposedly, for the devil and his angels, but that rebellion did not take place until…when?

This is what happens when stories grow. They start to lost internal consistency. This is exactly what happens when people lie to cover up either a high crime or a misdemeanor: if the lie can be a one-and-done, then it’s easy enough. Yes, I took out the garbage. But in the case of a complex situation, the lie often has to be elaborated. Then what happens is that the liar has to create other lies to explain the first, and then additional ones to bridge the gaps, until he or she creates a flat contradiction. This is the stuff of detective fiction. And, after all, what is a lie but a piece of fiction, or a story. The first story, “let there be light” is simple enough. But where in there is the rebellion of Lucifer? If Lucifer = Satan, then he existed prior to creation, because he was there to tempt Adam & Eve. But when? Before the creation, or just before the creation of the world? But–never mind. The point is that, if God created the kingdom for the just, that was because God realized that this kingdom would be necessary, because there would be people, and some of them would be just, and so they would need to be rewarded. So, if God understood that, surely God also knew that there would be unjust, and would have known that some of the angels would rebel, which means that both the kingdom and the eternal fire were created from before the beginning. Since God created these creatures knowing that they would warrant damnation, we have a perfect case for Double Predestination: creatures created knowing that they would be damned. It took until the time of Calvin for his interpretation to be widely accepted.

But that’s all very fine and theological. The important part of this, the lesson that needs to be learned here is that we have a very explicit statement of the reward and punishment theme that is so very central to Christian belief. Is it the central tenet? Or would that be the Resurrection? Probably the latter, because the reward and punishment depends to some degree on the Resurrection having occurred, since this was the event that ended death, and made life eternal both possible and real. You may recall from the essay on Josephus, that this idea of reward and punishment was not exactly Jewish; rather, Josephus–who, recall, was Jewish–credited this belief to the Greeks, that they were the ones who conceived this idea. This makes sense since the idea of an immortal soul is Greek rather than Jewish. 

Given this, it is sorely tempting to seize on this as an “aha!” moment. As in, “I told that Matthew was a pagan, and Aha!, it is he who makes the most explicit case for the binary choice of reward and punishment. This would be to overstate the case. The truth of the matter is that, as I write this, I’m not at all certain that neither Paul nor Mark said something just as definitive. This is the sort of thing that requires a bunch of textual comparison, to see when ideas appear and how they develop over time. This may be no more than a terminus ante quem, the stake in the ground showing that the idea of reward and punishment has been established at this point, and that the reading of anything written after this has to be done with the reward/punishment motif as a datum, a given, something that has to be read into whatever else Luke or John or the later writers of epistles will say. In and of itself, that is important. Such markers are necessary if we’re really going to analyze this text in the way it needs to be done: as a progression, rather than as a number of different writers all explaining the same set of ideas, a set that was fixed before any of them started to write. One hopes that, by now, we all realize that we simply cannot read the NT like that. It was not, or it did not start as a set of fixed ideas, but ideas that were in flux, and that only became settled as time progressed, said progression continuing to occur for several centuries–or more–after the last bit of the NT was written.

The proof of that is the idea of Double Predestination. It’s pretty much here, if you have any feel for, or sense of how theological or philosophical argumentation and interpretation operate. The logic of this passage is pretty much inescapable, no less so for not being completely explicit. But a millennium and a half would elapse before Calvin made it stick. There were trial runs before Calvin, but The Church was, prior to that, always able to squelch them. Even now, I have a sense that this idea of Double Predestination is not exactly the central theme of any denomination descended from Calvinism. It doesn’t suit us, it undermines free will, it is remarkably similar to the pagan idea of ineluctable fate. Is that another clue that Matthew was a pagan, someone who had grown up with this idea in his mind, a buried assumption? Perhaps. But in the realm of argument for and against Predestination, Romans looms large. No real conversation on this topic can be held until we have considered Romans in detail and in its entirety. 

41 Tunc dicet et his, qui a sinistris erunt: “Discedite a me, maledicti, in ignem aeternum, qui praeparatus est Diabolo et angelis eius.

42 Esurivi enim, et non dedistis mihi manducare; sitivi, et non dedistis mihi potum;

43 hospes eram, et non collegistis me; nudus, et non operuistis me; infirmus et in carcere, et non visitastis me”.

44 Tunc respondebunt et ipsi dicentes: “Domine, quando te vidimus esurientem aut sitientem aut hospitem aut nudum aut infirmum vel in carcere et non ministravimus tibi?”.

45 Tunc respondebit illis dicens: “Amen dico vobis: Quamdiu non fecistis uni de minimis his, nec mihi fecistis”.

46 Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum, iusti autem in vitam aeternam ”.



Matthew Chapter 25:14-30

Here we have the famous Parable of the Talents. This was not in Mark, but it is in Luke, but I’m not sure it was supposedly in Q. The section before and this next section are still actually the continuation of Chapter 24. Jesus is talking about the coming judgement. There are aspects to the composition (no doubt the “masterful” composition) that are interesting about this, but they are best left to the summary. Once again the message is fairly plain, and the text is very known. I expect a minimum of comment on this.

14 Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,

15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα, ᾧ δὲ δύο, ᾧ δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως

16 πορευθεὶς ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα πέντε:

17 ὡσαύτως ὁ τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο.

18 ὁ δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ.

“For {the kingdom} even as a man journeying away from home called his private slaves and gave to them the goods of him. (15) And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his particular ability, and he went away. In the meantime, (16) the one with five talents, going out, working among them (putting them to work), and he earned five more. (17) And in the same way the he {with two} earned two more. But he with one, taking it (and) going away he dug the earth and hid the silver of his lord.

To me, the most striking aspect of this is the capitalistic sensibility displayed. The verb used of the first is that he put the talents “to work”. If that’s not capitalism, I don’t know what is, or what it is. Very enterprising slaves, these.

A word on ancient slavery. By no means do I want to soft-peddle it. Slavery is slavery, but the application of it can be very different. A certain number were given virtual death sentences by sending them to work in mines. OTOH, a certain number of slaves were very much part of the grand scheme of the master’s house. So the notion that these slaves should be so diligent about the master’s property need not be surprising. After all, the master entrusted a lot of money to his slaves.

Finally, there is the theological import. Perhaps we usually hear Luke’s version of this, for two reasons. I am used to hearing that the distribution was 10/5/1. And I am not used to hearing the line about “each according to his abilities”. That radically changes the whole sense of the story. Revelation: I pulled out my trusty Harmony of the Bible and was presented with a mild shock. Unless I’m totally misusing that volume–which is far from impossible–there is no corresponding version of this story in Luke; rather this is a “Matthew only” story. So the “to each per his/her own abilities” is integral to the story, which effectively reinforces the idea of the kingdom being a reward, while punishment is earned  & deserved.

14 Sicut enim homo peregre proficiscens vocavit servos suos et tradidit illis bona sua.

15 Et uni dedit quinque talenta, alii autem duo, alii vero unum, unicuique secundum propriam virtutem, et profectus est. Statim

16 abiit, qui quinque talenta acceperat, et operatus est in eis et lucratus est alia quinque;

17 similiter qui duo acceperat, lucratus est alia duo.

19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται ὁ κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει λόγον μετ’ αὐτῶν.

20 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ ὁ τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.

23ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου.

“After much time the master of those slaves came {back} and took up speech with them. (20) And coming forward the one receiving five talents brought forth the other five talents saying, ‘Lord, you handed over five talents to me. Behold another five talents that I have earned’. (21) And his master said to him, ‘Well {done}, good slave and faithful. Upon a little {you were} faithful, upon much I will place you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’. (22)  And also coming forward he {given} the two said, ‘Lord, two talents you have given me. Behold the other two talents I have earned’. (23) He said to him [the slave], ‘Well done good and faithful servant, upon little faithful, upon much I will stand you. Therefore come into the delight of your lord’.

Just a few minor matters. I had been translating “kyrios” as “master”. That works, but “lord” is better. Not that it’s any more accurate, but because it has the double implication of an earthly AND a heavenly lord. The Jews often referred to God as “lord” (Adonnai, IIRC?) in order to circumvent the need to use the word “God” or YHWH.

Second, the expression<<δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ >> is in the vocative case. This is reserved for direct address, when speaking directly to someone. As such, it does not get a lot of use in historical, or expository writing; it’s much more common in poetry (O Nightingale) or prayer (O Zeus), or even drama. In works such as the NT, where there is no direct dialogue. Pater Noster, and its Greek equivalent are technically in the vocative, but for the word “father” in both languages the vocative and the nominative case have the same ending. Words ending in -us (Latin) or -os (Greek) generally have a distinctive ending for the vocative.

“Come into the delight of your lord” is rather an interesting phrase, and concept. The KJV and others give this as “enter into the joy of your lord”, and that may have a more natural sense in English. The NIV provides “come share in the joy”, which sort of gets the message across, but is dead wrong as far as the Greek goes. Regardless, the implication is pretty straightforward, that the servants are to be rewarded. More, the proper inference is that they will be rewarded eternally, in the joy of the kingdom.

18 Qui autem unum acceperat, abiens fodit in terra et abscondit pecuniam domini sui.

19 Post multum vero temporis venit dominus servorum illorum et ponit rationem cum eis.

20 Et accedens, qui quinque talenta acceperat, obtulit alia quinque talenta dicens: “Domine, quinque talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia quinque superlucratus sum”.

21 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

22 Accessit autem et qui duo talenta acceperat, et ait: “Domine, duo talenta tradidisti mihi; ecce alia duo lucratus sum”.

23 Ait illi dominus eius: “Euge, serve bone et fidelis. Super pauca fuisti fidelis; supra multa te constituam: intra in gaudium domini tui”.

24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας:

25 καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν.

26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα;

27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ.

28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα:  

29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

30 καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Coming forward, also he having received one talent said,  ‘Lord, I know that you are a hard man, reaping where  you do not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. (25) And I being afraid went out and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours’. (26) Answering the lord said to him, ‘Wicked slave and slothful, you knew that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I do not reap. (27) So you ought have thrown my money to the exchangers (money changers), and coming I carried off what was mine plus growth (i.e., usury = interest; lit =  birth). (28) Take from him the talent and give it to the one having ten talents. (29) For to him has all been given and he has reproduced abundance. From him not having and what he has will be taken. (30) And the useless slave throw him into the darkness outside. There will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth’.”

What was I saying about capitalism? There is something extremely harsh about all of this. Yes, it’s metaphorical, and yes, it’s meant to instill a bit of fear, but this sounds so much like the modern business world that it’s a bit scary. The slave with one talent did nothing wrong; he did not squander the money, nor lose it, nor do anything disreputable with the money. He kept it safe. No more, but no less. But this was not enough for the greedy lord. He wanted return, and not only a return, but a doubling of his money. That is a pretty harsh demand, and a very high expectation. And it’s not simply that the slothful slave is not rewarded; he’s actively punished. This feels like Jack Welch’s “Up or Out” system of review during his tenure at GE. An employee was either worthy of advancement (up), or he was fired (out). And they were pretty much always a ‘he’. Now, this was only for higher-level executives, but still, talk about a cutthroat atmosphere! So here it wasn’t that the slothful slave was able to work out his tenure doing his job; rather, he was fired. Think about this, and then think about the message of the Prodigal Son. Could they be more diametrically opposed? There the son did squander the money and engage in riotous living. 

But the truly grinding part of this is the message: he who has nothing/little, even that will be taken away. Wow. At least the contrapositive of this is not added: that to him who has, even more will be given. Of course, that is exactly what happened. The one with the most got more. And it’s not like the second didn’t provide an equal return; he did. Both earned a gain of 100%. And it’s arguable that the second had to work harder, because the more you have in principle to start with, usually you can earn a higher return. So I would have given it to the one who started with two. Regardless, the message here is that the rich get richer, even if it’s not stated explicitly. Of course, the “gains” being discussed are meant to be spiritual, but that is not what is said. I don’t honestly know if this happened, but I can certainly imagine the good Puritans using this story to justify a lot of sharp business practices, to justify chasing after money and serving Mammon rather than God. I know there was a long-lived debate about whether it was acceptable to lend money at interest, the Church being generally opposed. The solution was for Jews to act as money lenders, then bankers. Neither side was terribly concerned about the prospects for eternity of the other, so it was not considered sinful. IIRC, the Rothschilds originally made their money as bankers.

Yes, again I understand that there is a didactic point being made here: make use of your talents. (BTW: the word in Greek transliterates to ‘talenta’.) If you do not, you will be punished. Presumably the “return” you are to make is to bring others into the community? That is not completely clear, but it seems a reasonable inference. Regardless, the real and true purpose of this story is to light a fire under believers, to get them to appreciate the need to get up and hustle for your salvation, that you cannot be complacent or just nurture what you have. Rather, you have to be active in seeking your salvation. So I think the existence of this story indicates a situation in which the literal coming of the kingdom was seeming a bit less likely, leading to a “why bother” sort of mentality. Hence the reference to Noah.

So I think it’s safe to infer that, with this gospel, we are at a point when the Parousia seems a little less imminent, the kingdom perhaps seems a little less nigh. I don’t think we’ve quite turned the corner into John, when the idea of the Second Coming has truly receded, but the first steps along that path have been taken. Indeed, perhaps we’ve taken the second and third sets of steps on that path. It is interesting to not that the concept of a “Parousia” (which should be ‘parousia’) has been coined, leading to it being referred to as a noun unto itself. It is the parousia now, even if the word is never used by Luke, and only shows up in some of the epistles. That Matthew labels it as a something, I believe, tells us that he saw it as necessary, or at least important, to establish–or re-emphasize, perhaps–this as an idea, to remind the community of the faithful that it was going to happen. the next step on this process, I believe, will be to equate one’s personal death with Judgement Day. That will not happen within the context of the NT.

24 Accedens autem et qui unum talentum acceperat, ait: “Domine, novi te quia homo durus es: metis, ubi non seminasti, et congregas, ubi non sparsisti;

25 et timens abii et abscondi talentum tuum in terra. Ecce habes, quod tuum est”.

26 Respondens autem dominus eius dixit ei: “Serve male et piger! Sciebas quia meto, ubi non seminavi, et congrego, ubi non sparsi?

27 Oportuit ergo te mittere pecuniam meam nummulariis, et veniens ego recepissem, quod meum est cum usura.

28 Tollite itaque ab eo talentum et date ei, qui habet decem talenta:

29 omni enim habenti dabitur, et abundabit; ei autem, qui non habet, et quod habet, auferetur ab eo.

30 Et inutilem servum eicite in tenebras exteriores: illic erit fletus et stridor dentium”.

Summary Matthew Chapter 24

The intent was to compare and contrast Matthew 24 with Mark 13 in order to see what had changed in the interim. Then, we’d examine the changes for a theme, and develop a theory for why the changes had occurred, and then use this to explain developments in the beliefs of the followers of Jesus. One problem: the two chapters are virtually identical. I could copy & paste the Summary of Mark 13, make some very minor changes, and then call it a day. Tempted as I might be, we’ll try a different approach.

There are some minor differences. In Mark, Jesus explains the signs to Peter, James, and John; in Matthew, he tells all the disciples. Speaking of temptation, it is very tempting to see this as perhaps more significant than it may be. One of my contentions is that Jesus did not have an inner circle of Twelve; I suspect that was implemented by James, on very little evidence whatsoever. In Mark, Jesus seems to have five chief followers: the three just named, Peter’s brother Andrew, and Judas who betrayed him. And note that Judas is not mentioned until the very end, and the rest of the Twelve, Matthias and Phillip and whatever the rest of them were named are exactly that: named. The term is more common in Matthew, but written later we would expect that. In Mark, the term really does not become lodged in the vocabulary until the Passion story, when it’s used instead of disciples. There is a body of opinion that believes the Passion story had a separate genesis from the gospel itself. It’s possible that the creators of this narrative were familiar with a tradition of the Twelve, where the rest of the stories Mark accumulated were from a different (set of) tradition(s).

This has an interesting implication. If the Twelve are in the Passion narrative, and the Twelve are part of the James tradition, does that mean, or possibly imply, that the Passion narrative came from James and his group? It’s possible, but not necessary. James is considered to represent the Jewish roots of Jesus’ teaching; that is certainly the impression Paul provides. As such, it seems unlikely that James would be the one to come up with the idea of blaming the Jewish authorities. With this, we have acknowledge that there is an opinion that the Passion narrative predates the rest of the gospel. It appears, however, that this opinion is under fire and does not command the respect that perhaps it once did. The other consideration is that it is, above all, the Passion story that attempts–almost desperately–to exonerate the Romans and place blame for Jesus’ execution on the Jews. As I have seen, this very, very clearly of a piece with Josephus’ attitudes in The Jewish War. This puts the composition of the Passion story after 70, after the destruction of the Temple, at the same time that Chapter 13 was composed.

Lately I have been toying with the idea that perhaps Mark was written both before and after 70. That is to say, Mark composed up to, say, Chapter 9 prior to the War, and then adding 10-15 after. The thing with this theory is that it’s entirely unnecessary. If you’ll recall, my analogy for Mark was that of a weaver, weaving the strands of different traditions into a single, unitary narrative. He would have, or could have done this starting in 67 (e.g.) and then completing it all after 70. Or, he could have written the whole thing after 70. I will maintain that the War and its consequent destruction of the Jerusalem assembly left a bit of a hole in the fabric of the Christian assemblies, which the composition of a written “good news” was intended to fill. The Jerusalem assembly may have been moribund in a real sense prior to the war, but the loss could still have had serious psychological impact. And it would have particularly benefitted any surviving members of the Jerusalem assembly to come up with a story that put distance between them and the rebel Jews. This could put Mark into the category of a refugee from the war; it’s an interesting theory, but there are apparently a few geographical mistakes which make it seem that Mark was not familiar with either Galilee or Judea or both. More likely, he got his story from a refugee. Perhaps even more likely is that he got the story from someone on the Roman side: the outline, but lacking in details. But then, Mark didn’t really need details; he only needed the outline. One thing I do find hard to credit is that Mark was a companion of Peter. How was it that Peter did not tell Mark about Jesus’ teachings? How did those end up in Q and not in Mark. Yes, explanations can be provided; the problem is, this requires further elaboration on the story. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the more complex the story, the less likely it is to be true. This is especially true for stories told a distance in either place or time. Here we have both.

One other minor difference between the two versions is that Matthew has the non-specific disciples specifically asking Jesus for the signs of his Parousia. Interesting to note that Matthew is the only evangelist to use this word; all other occurrences are in epistles, mostly in the three letters of Paul that we’ve read: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians. Matthew only uses the word four times, and they are all in this chapter. The first is in Verse 3, when the disciples ask for the signs; the other are in Verses 27, 37, and 39. All pertain to the Parousia of the son of man. Now, the significance of this is blunted to some extent. Mark certainly connects the horrors of those times with the coming of the son of man; it’s just that Mark does not use the term “parousia”. But he talks about the sun being blackened, the moon not giving light, & c. These two couplets are both from Isaiah, but they are from different parts of Isaiah, Chapters 13 & 34; however both are talking about the day of the lord, when he comes in anger, so the reference is appropriate.

Just a word about “parousia”. It’s another of those Greek words (like baptize) that has a special meaning in English that is completely absent in Greek. It simply means “presence”, or “arrival”, which we is probably how we should take it when used of the son of man. Now note that: it does not mean return. If Jesus is going to make a second coming, is going to arrive a second time, would it not be more appropriate to talk about his return? Is there a very subtle linguistic clue here? Of course, I just said that Mark does not use the word, even though Matthew does. Mark simply says the son of man is coming; again, a very neutral, ordinary verb. But he does not say that the son of man is returning, so I don’t think the use or non-use of this particular word is all that significant; it’s the idea of what it means that matters. There is nothing special about the word; in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul talks about the parousia, the arrival, of three assistants in Corinth, and there are a few other neutral uses of the word in the NT–almost all of them in epistles.

Rather, I would suspect that the non-use of the term is compatible with Paul’s non-use of the term “son of man”. Paul talks about the arrival of the lord; he does not talk about the return of Jesus. For, to Paul, Jesus the man was not returning; rather, the apotheosis of Jesus, as the lord, was to arrive. This could, perhaps, provide a clue about the son of man. If Mark is still reflecting the earlier belief that Jesus the man was not entirely divine, then this would explain why Mark has Jesus talk about the son of man in more-or-less third-person terms. Jesus is effectively saying that the son of man will come as prophesied in Daniel, with the implication that he is to be the son of man. In this way, the son of man both is and is not Jesus. Of course, this runs the risk of being overly complex, but it does provide some rationale for the ambivalence and ambiguity about Jesus’ divinity found in Mark.

Matthew, of course, has no such ambivalence. Jesus was divine from birth. That event was proclaimed even in the stars as seen by the magoi. This means Jesus was a figure of cosmic significance right from the start. And since Matthew alternates son of man with son of God, the identity of the two becomes clear.

One interesting omission from Mark involves the intimate nature of the coming tribulation. Matthew does not tell us that brother will betray brother, or that a father will betray his child. Rather, he adds the analogy to Noah, and tells us that of two women or two men, one will be taken and the other will not. This, I think, reflects the added distance from the war that Matthew had. Some of the grim details of civil war that were so important, perhaps because they were so fresh, to Mark have faded into the background for Matthew. So the latter omits the references to civil war, and adds references to an earlier apocalypse, that of Noah, and the more supernatural element of one being taken while the other is left.

Looking at the big picture, the changes from Mark are fairly minor, and largely can be described as tinkering about the edges. Matthew retains the main outline and major themes; he adjusts the focus a bit, making this a little less about an actual physical event and more about a cosmic event, but there is nothing terribly startling. This similarity indicates that the thought-world of the church had not moved too far between the times of the writings of these too gospels, but it had moved. The most telling difference, I think, is the addition of the parable of the faithful and wicked slaves. The time is still coming, the day of the lord approaches, but the exact timing is uncertain. Therefore, we need to be like the faithful servant: be ready, be watchful. Do not suppose like the wicked servant that the time has been delayed. Most likely this directly addressed a real situation among Christian communities. Paul expected it momentarily; but two generations have come and gone since then and there has been no coming. It is easy to see where this would make the followers of Jesus a bit concerned, leaving them perhaps a bit demoralized. To paraphrase Cicero, how long, o lord, must we endure? No doubt that was a difficult question for leaders of the various assemblies. This parable was added to address exactly this question.

Josephus: De Bello Judaico; On The War With The Jews

By delightful happenstance, my completion of reading On The Jewish War coincides very nicely with the completion of Matthew 24, which is the latter’s version of Mark 13. Both of these are apocalyptic writings; they talk about a period of enormous tribulation, followed by the coming of the son of man, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. For the most part, the chapters describe the end of human history. Maybe. Like so many other things in the NT and elsewhere, there is a wonderful miasma of ambiguity about what exactly is to happen, leaving many things open to interpretation. And this interpretation has been going on for the past 2,000 years.

Why is the happenstance so fortuitous? De Bello Judaico is the only surviving account of the revolt and war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The latter was complete; the absolute destruction of Jerusalem would not occur until 132, when it was razed to the ground, a polis, a city on the Greek model, was planted there, and the name was changed. However, the destruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple that occurred in 70 CE was total enough. It was a cataclysmic event in Jewish history, but one not quite on the scale of the destruction of the first Temple, which resulted in the Babylonian captivity. That was the event that forged the national identity of the Jews, and saw the revision of any of the existing texts in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the writing of most of the rest of that book. The destruction in 70 was more dire than the final destruction in 132; the latter merely finished the job, as the Third Punic War removed Carthage from the map, but Carthage had been thoroughly destroyed, and had ceased to matter, at the conclusion of the Second Punic War in 202 BCE. Carthago delenda est.

Note the date: 70 CE. The destruction of the Temple, and the dispersal of the Assembly of Jesus in Jerusalem were the direct causes, I would argue, of Mark deciding to write a gospel. We have discussed Paul’s evidence that the proto-church was run by James, brother of Jesus. There is, IMO, no good reason, no reason with historical validity, to doubt this evidence. There is no reason for Paul to have invented this, and the method in which he conveys the information–in a letter to another assembly–is too casual to be the result of an effort to alter the record. This is not to say that Paul didn’t put his own slant on the events described; of course he did. Rather, it’s to say that the events described actually did happen, albeit perhaps not exactly as Paul tells us. All primary historical documents from the ancient world are like this.

James, the leader of the Jerusalem Assembly, reportedly died in the mid-60s CE. In another work of Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, we are told that James was executed ca 64 CE. There is reason not to take this completely at the word of the author. Unlike Galatians, there is reason to believe that the text of Josephus may have been doctored by later Christian copyists or editors. Regardless, by the mid-60s, most of the generation that had known Jesus personally would not have been young any longer. Even if Jesus were the older brother, there’s no reason James had to be much younger; a series of children a year or two apart was the norm for the time and place. So James would likely have been 60 at the very least, especially if Jesus had been born in the time of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE) as Matthew tells us. Regardless, the historical record of the bulk of the NT gives the impression that the shift in emphasis from being a sect of Judaism to being a separate entity was more or less complete by the mid-60s. The sense is that the Assembly of Jerusalem was largely a moribund institution, and that the torch had been passed, perhaps to Rome. The death of James could easily have been a factor in this transition; the likelihood is that the various assemblies of former pagans–such as, but not limited to–those founded by Paul had shifted the weight of the movement out of Judea and Galilee. Thinking about it, I suspect that the transfer from Jerusalem had happened by the the time Mark wrote, but that Rome would be the eventual centre of the Church may not have become obvious until Luke wrote; and that may very well have been why Luke wrote his gospel, but more particularly Acts.

None of this, however, explains the connection between The Jewish War and Mark 13/Matthew 24. The Penguin edition I read was first published in 1959. In the Introduction, the translator goes out of his way to comment on whether Mk13/Mt24 recorded an actual prophecy, or if it were an after the fact description of what would happen based on what did happen. The translator favors the former; he is sure that it was a genuine prediction, contra what scholars of “the previous generation”–as he puts it–believed. For it has become standard scholarship to accept the predictions of Mk13/Mt24 as after the fact descriptions. I believe that, firmly. Some of that, of course, is the approach taken here: that, in historical writing, miracles and prophecies cannot be taken at face value; the former is a certainty, but the latter can bend because there are times when people predict things that do happen. Jeanne Dixon, the astrologer, made her name and fortune by correctly predicting the assassination of JFK. Whether the stars accurately told her this, or whether it was a lucky guess, or inference, doesn’t matter. She did it.

There are many aspects of standard scholarship that I do not accept. The existence of Q is believed by most people, most scholars, but I certainly don’t accept that. Why do I accept this and not that? It’s largely a matter of the detail involved. The words of Mk13/Mt24 are very specific, and very detailed. They do not sound like a prophecy. And now that I’ve read The Jewish War, I’m even more convinced of this than I was before. The horrors that Josephus describes are very similar to much of the content of the two chapters of the NT in question. In fact, some of the details are so close that I’m toying with a theory that Josephus read Mark. TJW was published in 75, so it’s not out of the question based on chronology. This would require that I posit the chain by which I explain how Josephus got the copy of Mark, and within the few years between the “publication” of Mark and the publication of TJW.

And honestly, just as it is not necessary for Q to exist, there is no reason to require that the similarities between Mark and TJW be based on direct textual dependency. Both Mark and Josephus wrote within a few years of the destruction of the Temple. This was an event of world-renowned proportions, something like the events of 9/11, but increased by several orders of magnitude. And Josephus did not need Mark; he was a direct participant in the events described, first on the side of the Jews, then, after turning traitor, on the side of the Romans. If there is any textual dependency, I would suspect it ran in the other direction: that Mark was aware of Josephus. However, that would push the writing of Mark after 75, and that just seems to be too late. It is possible, however, that Mark was revised after the publication of TJW, but that is creating bodies unnecessarily.

Rather, I suspect that the basic outline of the events of the War were simply very well known in the Eastern Mediterranean–or even beyond–within a very short period. The war lasted 3-4 years; the Jews held out for a good long time, much longer than the Gauls or Buodica. So there had been time enough for the situation to sink in to the consciousness of the Empire as a whole. By the time of the Destruction, knowledge, perhaps lacking in detail, of the war probably extended throughout the Western Empire as well. The point is that there would have been many people aware of the events, and from direct experience. Four legions participated, plus numerous Arab and Syrian auxiliaries, plus slaves, camp-followers, those who sold provisions, and so on; there were easily 10,000, if not 15,000 individuals who had first-hand accounts to tell. The general outline, as a result, was likely to be widely known by many, many people. And Mark could have been one of them. Tradition has him writing in Rome as an associate of Peter, but I doubt Peter made it to Rome, so it seems more likely that Mark was likely writing in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The descriptions of Josephus are horrible. They describe, sometimes in very graphic detail, the horrors of faction and famine that the Jews suffered, and they apparently suffered terribly. There is likely a degree of exaggeration in the descriptions, but even cutting by half would still provide an experience that was extremely horrific. (I can’t stop using variations of “horror” because nothing else seems close to adequate. Conrad put that particular word in Kurtz’ mouth for a reason.) I’ve used this before, but it bears repeating: the descriptions of Mk13/Mt24 truly seem to be blurbs written for the cover of TJW.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the war wasn’t what the Romans did to the Jews. Rather, it was what the Jews did to themselves. While the Romans were outside the walls, there were three factions inside that were fighting it out amongst themselves. Or, rather, there were two bandit groups duking it out between themselves, and the mass of the townspeople were victims of both. Again, if half of what Josephus is even anywhere close to true, the levels of murder and plunder and rapine inflicted on the townspeople were staggering. This is where, I suspect, some of the dire warnings were born: that there would be betrayal, and families set against each other, and lawlessness. These all happened, according to Josephus. Jesus warns of love growing cold; Josephus describes how the effects of hunger within the walls led to families turning on each other for scraps of food, not caring when a loved one died. And this could easily be what is meant by the one standing at the end will be saved; if you were able to weather all these tribulations, and only if, would your life be saved. This is not about eternal salvation in this use of “save”, but of simple physical survival. The verb “to save” in the NT, perhaps more often than not, refers to physical, rather than spiritual or eternal salvation. It’s all been spiritualized over the millennia, but erroneously so IMO.

Another interesting find in TJW is an echo of Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem. When the bandit leader John enters the city, exhorting all to put up resistance to Rome, the older, more sensible men begin to mourn the passing of Jerusalem as if it had already happened. This is an exact correlation to what we are told Jesus did. What this would indicate is that the theme of the lamentation entered popular consciousness to be picked up independently by Mark and by Josephus at different times. We also have the story of Niger, one of the respectable Jewish leaders. When the bandits took control of the city, they began to execute the reputable, the respected, the solid leaders of society. Niger had been more than a competent leader in the war so far, so he was targeted by the bandits. As he was being dragged off to execution, he laid a curse on the city of Jerusalem that included battle and slaughter and famine and disease and, ultimately the fight to the death among the Jews themselves. All of these, of course, happened, as Josephus points out. This is very similar in theme and content to Jesus’ prophecies.

So, in short, reading Josephus has left me more convinced than ever that the warnings of Jesus are descriptions of past events. The similarities are too clear.

Aside from that, there are several other aspects of the book that are worth noting. First and foremost, this is one of the most extreme examples of blaming the victim I have ever encountered. Especially after he changes sides, Josephus twists himself into very complex knots to paint the Jews as the real villains of this affair. In particular, Titus, the son of the new emperor Vespasian who had begun the war as the Roman general, is the model of perfection. Brave, effective, an unstoppable fighter, but above all compassionate, he and the bulk of the Roman army are disgusted by the fighting inside the walls, at the butchery of innocent people by the two groups of bandits, despairing that these bandits will not allow the city to surrender, thereby allowing the Romans to spare the mass of the citizenry. It’s those darn bandits! Compared to this, the way Mark was able to excuse the Romans and blame the Jews for the death of Jesus is the work of an amateur. Josephus was such an effective traitor that he was given an imperial pension and lived out his days in the good graces of the successive emperors.

One thing worth noting is that there is not a single reference to Christians, to Jesus or James, or anything vaguely related to the followers of Jesus. And recall that this was at a time when the Christian community in Rome was large enough, and well-known enough, for Nero to blame them for the fire in 64. It is easy enough to dismiss this; after all, that was not Josephus’ purpose. Such a dismissal, however, neglects to note that Josephus mentions other groups within Judaism; in particular, he goes on for several pages about the Essenes. Of course, he tells us in the later Antiquities, that he was member of this sect for two or three years, so of course it held a special place in his affections.

So yes, it is possible that he ignored the Assembly because it didn’t serve his purpose to do so. It just didn’t come up. But it’s also possible to read this as an indication that the Jerusalem Assembly had indeed drifted into insignificance at this point. If so, then this should, or could indicate that my supposition that the tipping point between Jews and pagans had already arrived by the time of the war. It’s hardly proof, but it doesn’t contradict the notion.

As for the title, it was pointed out in the Introduction that it very much fit in with other such books, especially in Latin. For example, the De Bello Gallico of Julius Caesar. The purpose is to emphasize that the book is to be taken from the Roman, and not the Jewish perspective. IOW, it’s another way Josephus sought to curry favor with, and show his sympathies towards the Romans rather than those pesky Jews.

That being said, I have to say that the Romans do not necessarily come off all that well in some ways. At one point, Josephus goes to great lengths to tell us about the famous discipline of Rome’s army; but, during the final siege, before the city is taken, the Romans fall for a half-dozen ruses (at least; I lost count) perpetrated by the Jews. These are effective in getting a lot of Romans killed or wounded exactly because the Jews lure the Romans into breaking that discipline. One means of capturing a city was to build siege towers that allowed the attackers to overtop the walls. Since they were made of wood, the defenders tried to set them on fire. In one incident, after making these enormous towers, it appears that three Jews are able, on their own, to sally out of the walls with torches in hand and set the towers on fire without any real trouble. It seems hard to credit that the Romans were quite this stupid, but perhaps they were. Jerusalem was a strongly fortified city; it should have been difficult to capture. But this story makes the Romans look more or less incompetent.

The final topic I want to mention is the belief in the soul, or perhaps beliefs about the soul. These come twice. The first is during the discussion of the Essenes. According to Josephus, the Essenes held that, while the body was corruptible and temporary, the soul was immortal. In addition, they believed in the differential treatment of the souls of the good and the souls of the wicked. After death, the souls of the good are rewarded, going either to a place beyond the ocean, or perhaps taking their place among the stars. In contrast, souls of the wicked are consigned to a dark, stormy pit, a place of eternal punishment. Both of these, he explicitly tells us, are the same doctrine as the Greeks. This provenance is reinforced later when Titus exhorts his men into the danger of battle. The brave, he says, will be rewarded with a pleasant afterlife.

The significance of this is to demonstrate two things. First, that the idea of the immortal soul, and by extension, an afterlife, were not of Jewish origin, but pagan, specifically Greek. The second is that the idea of a soul and an afterlife were now fairly well entrenched in the cultures of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was becoming, or had become, a common heritage for peoples of many different backgrounds. The Jews, some of them anyway, had assimilated the idea and accepted it as part of their religious beliefs. As such, assuming Jesus taught such a doctrine, this teaching did not originate with Jesus. He may have helped spread it among Jews, but it found particular resonance among pagans. And this may have been one of the major pivot points that separated who converted and who didn’t. Even today, Jews are decidedly ambivalent about the idea of an immortal soul, as I understand their beliefs. Again, as I understand it, they may not deny the immortal soul, but it is not a central tenet in their belief system. This is quite in contrast to Christians, for whom it’s pretty much the starting point.

There are numerous other points in TJW that offer the opportunity for compare & contrast with the NT. The other night at Evensong I heard about Joseph of Arimathea, of how he risked his status, and perhaps his life, by taking down the body of Jesus. Well, Josephus says that Jewish custom was to remove the bodies from the crosses before sundown. So maybe that wasn’t so daring after all? We’ll revisit this at the appropriate point in the narrative,

Here is an interesting tidbit. Per Josephus, the Jews were given leave by the Romans to execute anyone, including Romans, who went too far into the Temple. There were inscriptions–in Greek–warning folk to come no nearer. Could this possibly have been the reason Jesus was executed? Food for thought, anyway.

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 can perhaps be found in the extensive literature about Jesus, but others, 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 connexion 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, supposedly, 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; he refers 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. The most significant example is the idea of a 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 before 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.