Sunday, February 19, 2017

Another failed book on Jesus and his alleged Davidic dynasty family

The Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New TestamentThe Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New Testament by Peter Cresswell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Good on textual criticism; gobs of gibberish elsewhere

Cresswell does good work on textual criticism of Codex Sinaiticus, and related topics, such as its relation to Codex Vaticanus and the possibility that Sinaiticus was created to serve as an exemplar for the creation of 50 bibles Constantine wanted Eusebius to do.

Much of the rest of the book is rank speculation, and no, that comment is not coming from a conservative Christian, but from someone at least as educated in critical biblical scholarship as Cresswell.

First rank speculation is the idea that "Pauline Christianity" is largely derived from Mithraism. First, take the Eucharist, as first articulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Many Greek mysteries had similar fellowship meals; this isn't something unique to Mithraism. Second, other themes allegedly from "Pauline Christianity," such as miraculous birth of the savior-god and a dying-rising savior god, were of course known around the eastern Mediterranean long before the rise of Mithraism. Indeed, a lot of scholarship shows that the development of Mithraism was itself influenced by these other mysteries, as part of what made it become a mystery religion itself.

Wikipedia, in its piece on Greco-Roman mysteries, lists a full dozen of them. Indeed, in its piece on Sabazios, it notes Jews were accused of worshiping this mysteries god, under confusion of Sabazios with either the Sabbath or Yahweah Sabaoth.

Third, for Paul allegedly incorporating so much of Mithraism into Christianity, at least in this book, Cresswell doesn't tell us what he considered genuine Pauline letters.

And, though not mentioned here, Cresswell would probably cite the Dec. 25 date of Christmas as showing Mithraic influence. Really? Why isn't that a sign of the influence of Saturnalia instead? Of more likely, of Sol Invictus? Or what about Christmas in early Egypt being placed at Nov. 18, which just so happened to be the date of a major Osiris festival — which gets us back to a non-Mithraic mystery?

Next, on to the idea that Jesus and Davidic family members were quasi-Zealots not only revolting against Rome, but a dynasty of sorts. This Eisenman-Tabor-DaVinci Code idea has no support within the canonical New Testament and has little in other early Christian literature, until one goes mucking around in the Pseudo-Clementines or else taking a "sectarian" (I see what I did there) view of the Dead Sea Scrolls as reflecting a fight between Paul and heirs of Jesus, rather than being sectarian, non-Christian Jewish literature covering a wide range of issues.

Jesus might have been a revolutionary — with OR WITHOUT being being part of a Davidic dynasty. Or he might have been Geza Vermes' et al's Jewish faith healer. Or he might have been the Jewish Cynic of Burton Mack, and at one time of John Crossan. The fact is, the Second Quest for the historic Jesus and its extension through the Jesus Seminar etc has brought us no closer to a denouement than did the First Quest. Jesus might have been one of the Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus for all we know.

There's also an element of petard-hoisting here. While claiming limited historicity for gospels allegedly edited by the Constantinian and post-Constantinian church, Cresswell, Eisenman, Tabor et al will nonetheless do their own mining of the gospels for anything alleged to support their Davidic family dynasty ideas. But — how do you know Jesus family passages were edited? if we do have some evidence, how do you know what they were edited from? Cresswell does show some cases where we can know this. In others, he engages again in rank speculation, the biggest of course being that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife.

Elsewhere, Cresswell presents himself as having insightful learning only to later shoot himself in the foot. He rightly points out that the "barjona" of "Simon Barjona" in Matthew likely does not mean "son of John" but is the Aramaic for "outlaw." He then, later, laughably claims that "Arimathea," as in Joseph of, is a botched transliteration of "ab Maria," as in "mother of Mary." The reality is that it is a place-name surname, after a Jewish village. Indeed, Eusebius himself, so touted in discussing the text-critical history of Sinaiticus, makes the specific village identification.

That, in turn, undercuts a claim made elsewhere by Cresswell that such place-based namings were rare in the New Testament — a claim he (along with Eisenman and others) employ to claim that "Jesus of Nazareth" must be "Jesus the Nazorean." Truth is, per Joseph of Arimathea's name (and dispute over whether Judas Iscariot is "Judas the man from Kerioth" or "Judas the Sicarian") we don't know.

And I haven't mentioned until now that Cresswell's idea that the "we" sections of Acts reflects a separate document from the third-person narratives of Acts is also laughable. Sherwin-White in his "Roman Law" has addressed this, noting that switching to a "we" narrative was a literary commonplace in the 1st-2nd centuries CE in this type of literature whenever the protagonist was on a shipboard journey.

Also laughable is his claim that Matthew (in Cresswell's attempt to give credibility to Papias) originally worked with an Aramaic version of Q, combined with Mark, and wrote his Matthew in Aramaic.

And, all of this information undercutting Cresswell (and Eisenman, Tabor, et al, to the degree they hold it) is easy to find.

So, contra breathless blurbs, this is NOT a "pivotal" or "groundbreaking" book, other than on the textual criticism areas, perhaps.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 09, 2017

One will be taken and the other left

For people not familiar with the Christian scriptures, whether some atheists, or some Xns both liberal and fundamentalist or conservative evangelical, that's Matthew 24:40 I'm referencing. And, whether riffing directly off Pauline material or not, the "Great Apocalypse" of the synoptic gospels at least arguably supports Rapture-type ideas, contra, oh, an L.D. Burnett at S-USIH, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, who claims the Rapture is un-Christian.

Baptism for the dead, of Mormon doctrine, is also Christian, L.D. and others. Deal with it.

But let's get back to why that header I have us up there.

In the fairly small town to which I recently moved, a lady announced earlier this week that she had officially been pronounced cancer-free by her doctor after a fairly severe cancer with arduous treatment process.

She took this all as a gift from Jesus, etc. She also went so far as to say, even for comment to the newspaper, that she was using this as a tool to try to convert her atheist doctor.

Erm, not so fast, ma'am.

The very next day, a young firefighter, or rather, a young ex-firefighter on forced medical retirement due to extensive radiation-induced heart damage due to an infancy neuroblastoma cancer, died.

And, where was god then, when in an existential Rapture-like sense, one was taken and one was left.

Was it better for the firefighter to die as gain than live for Christ?

Well, the conservative Christian apologists will offer up the tender mercies of god, the inscrutability of god, silver linings that we can't see, etc.

Then, when the likes of me counter with Ye Olde Problem of Evil?

Some of them will counter with "original sin."

Do not go there, unless you really want your biblical literalism to be that repugnant.