Bowl from Alexandria, dated late second century BCE to early first century CE
“By Chrst the magician”
Christianity is Older Than We Think
Surpirsingly Early Chrst Cup Dating Corroborated by Multiple Sources
French marine archaeologist and co-founder of the Oxford Center of Maritime Archaeology, Franck Goddio, announced that his team discovered a cup in Alexandria with the engraving “DIA-KRHST-OUOGOISTAIS”, which means “By Chrst the Magician”.
The idea that Jesus was as a magician may seem shocking at first, but the gospel stories from the Bible do in fact portray Jesus as exorcizing spirits and curing diseases, even using his own saliva on dirt as a healing agent, which were all a common magical practice in ancient times. These practices were regarded as magical and it is only from the Biblical context that they instead get instead categorized as “miracles” in order to contrast against magic. The fact that it comes from Alexandria instead of Jesus' hometown of Galilee might also seem strange, but Alexandria had always been an early stronghold of both Judaism and Christianity.
More shocking, however, is that the bowl dates to the late second century BCE to early first century CE.
Since the four gospels place Pontius Pilate behind the crucifixion of Jesus, most Biblical scholars have dated the event to 30 CE. If time is allowed for Christianity to develop as a movement to develop after the death of Jesus, the date on the cup seems to be too early. So early, in fact, that some scholars are hesitant to say that the engraving on the cup refers to Jesus Christ and are looking for other ways to explain it. Oxford Classical archaeologist Bart Smith suggests that the engraving might refer to a person named “Chrestos” and that the cup belongs to a hypothetical cult named Ogiostais.
The discoverer himself is more optimistic. “It could very well be a reference to Jesus Christ, in that he was once the primary exponent of white magic,” said Goddio in the NBC News article.
The magic cup is not the first evidence that Jesus was known as an enchanter. The Jewish Talmud, a 6,200-page compendium of Rabbinic teachings, also refers to Jesus, or Yeshu, as “the Nazarene” who “practiced magic and deceived and led Israel astray.”
Strangely enough, the Talmud says that Jesus lived in the first century BCE.
In the Talmud, Yeshu/Jesus is the student of Joshua ben Perachiah, a rabbi who is said to have fled from Jerusalem to Alexandria to escape religious sectarian persecution from the Jewish king, Alexander Jannaeus, taking the young Jesus with him. The Gospel of Matthew also tells a story of Jesus being taken to Egypt by parental figures, only in the gospel version, Jesus is just a baby. The Talmud claims that Jesus was a memzer, a word that is typically translated as bastard but includes other forms of illegitmacy of birth such as a product of incest. Other stories about Yeshu in the Talmud tells stories about Yeshu being excommunicated by Joshua ben Perachiah for one minor misunderstanding or another, which is then said to have been the reason why Yeshu subsequently becomes an idolater. But the stories come off as unrealistic rationalizations.
In other Jewish magical traditions, Joshua ben Perachiah is himself an exorcist. In fact, his name is also used on magic bowls just like this one!
Why would the Talmud describe Joshua ben Perachiah as a good, upstanding Pharisee who fails to keep his student Yeshu from becoming a magician if there are other traditions that say Joshua ben Perachiah was himself also a magician? A likely answer is that ben Perachiah was originally a magician and taught his nephew his trade and that the Talmud author appropriated Joshua ben Perachiah and remade him into a Pharisee and so had to invent stories about Yeshu being excommunicated to explain the disconnect between Yeshu and his uncle. So these stories about Joshua ben Perachiah excommunicating Yeshu are just trying to explain why Joshua ben Perachiah wasn't a magician like his famous contemporary was. He was a good but overly harsh rabbi who, in the Talmud's own words, pushed the impressionable Yeshu away. Every good rabbi was supposed to push their student with one hand -- cricitizing them to keep the student disciplined -- and then bring them back with the other hand, so as not to student to give up in frustration, but the Talmud says that Joshua ben Perachiah pushed Yeshu away with both hands, causing the boy to run away and join the magician circus in Egypt. Some of the Talmud's authors and editors decided to canonize Joshua ben Perachiah and demonize Yeshu so they invented a rift between the two based on some silly misunderstanding that caused the student to “go off and become an idolater”, when in reality they were both “idolaters”.
The Talmud says that after Yeshu was excommunicated by Joshua ben Perachiah, he returned with knowledge of Egyptian magic, seduced people into following him. He is said to have had not twelve but five disciples. Yeshu was stoned to death of idolatry and was then hung on a tree in the town of Lydda during Passover. This Passover execution parallels the story element of Jesus being crucified in Jerusalem on or near Passover from the gospels. Yeshu is then said to be one of the top three worst idolaters of all time and is boiling in excrement as punishment for his spiritual crimes.
The part about Jesus being hung on a tree has a strong parallel with how Jesus is described as being executed in all of the New Testament books outside the gospels. Jesus is repeatedly referred to being hung on a xulon (Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter 2:24, Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29), which is typically translated as “tree”, although it could mean any kind of wooden pole. The New International Version instead translates the phrase: “hung on a pole”. The gospels instead say that Jesus was hung on a stauros, the more literal identification for “cross”. It is generally assumed that the references to Jesus being hung on the cross in the gospels are literal and the references to Jesus being hung on a tree in passages that were duplicated in the New Testament Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles are allegorical, but what if the opposite is true? What if the references to Jesus being hung on a tree were meant to be taken literally and the story element of Jesus being hung on a Roman cross was supposed to be an allegory comparing the Roman persecution of a fictional Jesus in the first century CE to the sectarian persecution of a historical Yeshu in the first century BCE? Another passage from the Epistles, 1 Thessalonians 2:14 also identifies fellow Jews, not the Romans, as “the ones who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out”, which is such a heavy contrast from the gospel story that many scholars consider the passage to be an interpolation.
There is another Talmudic story where a a “Notzi”, or Nazarene, tries to heal a man from a snakebite but is prevented from doing so by a respected second century CE rabbi because the rabbi believed it was better for the bitten man to die than to be saved of the snake venom through a charm and be “bitten by the snake in the hereafter”. Since the Talmud refers to Christians as the “Notzi”, or Nazarenes, and the Bible and Church Fathers confirm that this was the pre-Christian designation for a follower of Jesus, this story may represent part of a historical reasoning for the religious conflict between Pharisee and Nazarene. The “magic” Yeshu may have been included unorthodox Egyptian healing techniques or rituals. The miracle stories in the first three gospels, called the Synoptic gospels, likewise reflect a tradition of ritualistic healing measures not found in the Old Testament which the Pharisees and elders constantly lodge theological complaints against. It is only much later, when Acts of the Apostles is written, that a distinction is made between the miracles of Jesus and the trickster magic of the supposed “fountainhead” of the heretical Gnostic mysteries, Simon Magus.
There is also evidence that at least one ancient sect of proto-Christians believed Jesus lived in the first century BCE. Epiphanius, a fourth-century heresy-fighting bishop, himself endorsed a legend from a competing Jewish sect of Christianity, that said that Jesus inherited his Messianic kingship from Alexander Jannaeus. Of course Epiphanius still believed that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate so he apparently did not even realize that Alexander Jannaeus lived a century earlier:
The priesthood in the holy church is [actually] David’s throne and kingly seat, for the Lord joined together and gave to his holy church both the kingly and high-priestly dignity, transferring to it the never-failing throne of David. For David’s throne endured in line of succession until the time of Christ himself, rulers from Judah not failing until he came ‘to whom the things kept in reserve belong, and he was the expectation of the nations’. With the advent of the Christ the rulers in line of succession from Judah, reigning until the time of Christ himself, ceased. For the line fell away and stopped from the time when he was born in Bethlehem of Judea under Alexander, who was of priestly and royal race. From Alexander onward this office ceased – from the days of Alexander and Salina, who is also called Alexandra, to the days of Herod the king and Augustus the Roman emperor (Though this Alexander was crowned also, as one of the anointed priests and rulers.) For when the two tribes, the kingly and priestly, were united—- I mean the tribe of Judah with Aaron and the whole tribe of Levi—kings also became priests, for nothing hinted at in holy scripture can be wrong.) But then finally a gentile, King Herod, was crowned, and not David’s descendants any more. But with the transfer of the royal throne the rank of king passed, in Christ, from the physical house of David and Israel to the church. -Panarion Ch. 29 (emphasis added)
From the time that Augustus became Emperor [27 BCE]... until Judaea was made [entirely] subject and became tributary to them, its rulers having ceased from Judah, and Herod being appointed [as ruler] from the Gentiles [37 BCE], being a proselyte, however, and Christ being born in Bethlehem of Judaea, and coming for the preaching [of the Gospel], the anointed rulers from Judah and Aaron having ceased, after continuing until the anointed ruler Alexander [76 BCE] and Salina, who was also Alexandra [67 BCE]; in which days the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled: ‘A ruler shall not cease from Judah and a leader from his thighs, until lie come for whom it is laid up, and he is the expectation of the nations’ –that is, the Lord who was born. -Panarion, Ch. 51 (emphasis added)
What was the name of this heretical sect that Epiphanius was speaking against? The “Nazoraeans”.
Now, Epiphanius does make a distinction between the Nazoraeans of his own time and the Nazoraeans from the time of Jesus. The former was just another heretical sect among dozens while the latter was the name that all Christians went by before they were called Christians. According to Epiphanius, the Nazoraeans of his time continued to follow the laws of Moses and believed that the mantle of king David's leadership had rightfully passed from Alexander Jannaeus directly to Jesus. Epiphanius agrees with them on the last part although he provides no explanation for why the king would have done this. Instead, the crown of Judah was placed upon the head of the first queen of Jerusalem, Salome Alexandra, who represented the Jewish elders fighting against Jesus, and who, according to the Talmud, are the ones who stone Jesus to death and hang him on a tree.
There is also a quote from Mara Bar Serapion which indicates that he believed a nameless “wise king” was killed around the same time period:
What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down. (emphasis added)
The reference to the “wise king” being killed by sectarian Jews rather than by Romans matches with the passage from 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 mentioned earlier, which also places blame on Jesus' death on Jews. This scenario would only make sense in a pre-Roman context when the state of Judah still had the ability to execute people for religious reasons. The Pauline Epistles in the New Testament likewise refer to Jesus bringing a “New Covenant” just as Mara says the wise king instituted a “new law”. The fact that this King of the Jews was nameless is interesting in light of the Talmud's claim that the name Yeshu is an acronym for yemach shemo vezichro, meaning: “May his name and memory be obliterated”. If so, it was perhaps the greatest irony that the Greek variation of that name would become the most famous name in the world for the past thousand years.
Mara Bar Serapion's quote is dated sometime between the first and third century CE Most scholars assume that the part about the Jews being driven from their kingdom refers to the fall of Jerusalem by the Roman Emperor Titus in 73 CE, but the very short and failed occupation of Jerusalem by three competing Jewish factions between 68 and 73 CE could hardly have been a “kingdom”. The Jewish kingdom referenced by Mara must have been the Hasmonian kingdom, which fell shortly after the death of Salome Alexandra, also known as Salina, in 63 BCE, to Pompey, the famous Roman ally/rival of Julius Caesar. Although Mara Bar Serapion is usually ignored by modern scholarship, he is the most credible person to reference Jesus because Mara was a non-Christian who still believed in him in a polytheistic way and so was the most likely of all the early extra-biblical sources to have received his information from a source apart from the Biblical canon.
If the Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate was invented as a mythical retelling of the first century BCE Yeshu, it would hardly be surprising if Greek-speaking Jews and Christians unfamiliar with Yeshu would have started assuming the gospel Jesus was the historical Jesus.
The Testimonium Flavian Forgery
The most famous reference by a historian to Jesus is accredited to Josephus Flavius in the first century CE. The Antiquities of the Jews, the second historical work under his name, appears to provide an uncharacteristically small description of Jesus and his followers. The standard version of the Josephus text that has come down to us has a short paragraph about Jesus called the Testimonium Flavian, which reads:
But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with sacred money... However the Jews were not pleased... So he [Pilate] bade the Jews himself to go away; but they boldly casting reproaches on him, he gave the soldiers that signal... and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not, nor did they spare them in the least...and thus an end was put to this sedition.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder; and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis in Rome... (emphasis added)
Since Jospehus had said elsewhere that the Roman Emperor Vespasian was the one prophesized in Jewish Messianic lore, he could not possibly have believed that Jesus was the Christ. One theory, popularized by Biblical scholar Geza Vermes, is that the original text instead used the phrase “He was called the Christ”, which correlates with a later Antiquities 2.23.20 passage from two books later about James, “brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ”. However, these are the only two instances in his both of his historical works in which he uses the title Christ. Every other time Josephus refers to a Jewish term unfamiliar his Roman audience, he provides a long explanation of what the term means, but in this case, he appears to assume that his readers are familiar with the term Christ.
This historical verification of Jesus living in the first century CE is accepted by a majority of Biblical scholars today, but during the 1800s, scholars nearly unanimously in identifying the passage as a falsely attributed interpolation of the original text. In 1874, the Anglican priest Sabine Baring-Gould wrote:
That this passage is spurious has been almost universally acknowledged. One may be, perhaps, accused of killing dead birds, if one again examines and discredits the passage... It has been suggested that Josephus may have written about Christ as in the passage quoted, but that the portions within brackets are the interpolations of a Christian copyist. But when these portions within brackets are removed, the passage loses all its interest and is a dry statement utterly unlike the sort of notice Josephus would have been likely to insert. He gives colour to his narratives, his incidents are always sketched with vigour; this account would be meagre beside those of the riot of the Jews and the rascality of the priests of Isis. Josephus asserts, moreover, that in his time there were four sects of the Jews--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the sect of Judas of Gamala. He gives tolerably copious particulars about these sects and their teachings, but of the Christian sect he says not a word. Had he wished to write about it, he would have given full details, likely to interest his readers, and not have dismissed the subject in a couple of lines.
What Baring-Gould wrote over a century ago is nevertheless just as true today, but by the 20th century, popular opinion shifted and the majority of scholars decided some parts of the text was genuine. Most biblical scholars and something like three out of four Josephus scholars now believe there is a Josephan core within the interpolation. The choppy way the sentences are formed could indicate that the more glowing compliments were added later. But, assuming the passage was added on to, that does not prove that the earlier version was not itself an interpolation. Regardless of how many times the Testimonium Flavian was edited, the entire passage is out of context. The “sad calamity” that “put the Jews into disorder” that is undoubtedly referring to the sedition over Temple funds. It is also in the middle of a list of massacres of Pharisees caused by an evil an overbearing Pilate bringing catastrophe after catastrophe on the Pharisees, whereas the Testimonium suddenly paints Pilate as being the puppet of the Pharisees, just as they are portrayed in the gospels.
Another reason to be skeptical of the Testimonium Flavian, as pointed out by Baring-Gould and others, is that the “sad calamity that threw the Jews into disorder”, underlined above, could only be referring to Pilate putting an end to a sedition, also underlined above. The reference to Jesus is in between these two underlined clauses, so the entire passage flows much better if the entire Testimonium was removed. Josephus may have been prone to going off on a tangent, but never one so short and out of character for him.
While the majority of the early Church fathers, most especially the Alexandrian theologian Origen, were very familiar with the works of Josephus and quoted Antiquities often, all of them failed to reference the Testimonium. It was not until 324 CE that the first person quoted the Testimonium. This person was the Roman Emperor Constantine's official church historian, Eusebius of Caeseera, and he also happened to use similar terminology as used in the Testimonium, such as “tribe of Christians”.
There is one other Jewish historian that we know of who wrote a chronicle of Jewish kings that covered the time of Jesus. It was written by a rival of Josephus named Justus of Tiberius. Although his historical work is now lost, Photius, the 9th century Patriarch of Constantinople, did own a copy and he was so shocked to find that Justus failed to mention Jesus, he concluded it must have been done on purpose to spite him.
A study done by Paul Hopper, Professor Emeritus of the Humanities at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, showed that the differences in Greek verb forms came from a very different genre of rhetoric connected to creeds closer to the time of Eusebius. In Hopper's conclusion, he writes:
Outside the Gospels, there is no independent contemporary (i.e., first century CE) account of these events. The silence of other commentators, and the absence of any mention of the Testimonium by Christian writers for two full centuries after Josephus, even when engaged in fierce polemic about Jesus, are strong indications that the passage was not present in Josephus’s own extraordinarily detailed account of this period. The activities of a religious fanatic who moved around Galilee and Judaea preaching a gospel of peace and salvation, was said to have performed miracles, was followed by crowds of thousands of adoring disciples, and within the space of a few hours invaded the hallowed grounds of the Temple, was hauled up before the Sanhedrin, tried by King Herod, interrogated by Pontius Pilate and crucified, all amid public tumult, made no impression on history-writers of the period.
And aside from all that, even if we assume that Josephus wrote part of the Testimonium and it went completely ignored by the church fathers for all that time, there is no possibility that this could have come from a Roman report because any Roman report would have focused entirely on the fact that Jesus disrupted the Temple festivities during the Cleansing of the Temple, which is described as the cause of Jesus' crucifixion in the first three gospels. Josephus consistently denounced all such discontents in his writings. The Testimonium even fails to provide any context for Jesus' death, saying only that the principal Jews executed a wise, truthful, inclusive, and beloved teacher for no particular reason. If there is an authentic core to the Testimonium, it could only be the synopsis of a floating gospel fiction like that of Luke 24:19-24 which Josephus would have passed along as history, just as he relayed apocryphal miracle stories about Moses as history.
Christians, Chrestians and Tacitus
Another popular citation to mention Jesus is by the Roman historian Tacitus. The copies of his 116 CE Annals that have come down to us read:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Chrestians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. And a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (emphasis added)
Like the Testimonium Flavian, the information provided is extremely sparse, but unlike it, the tone is negative. The first noticeably strange attribute from the quote is that “Chrestians” are said to have derived their name from “Christ”. As it turns out, the word “Chrestians” in the Tacitus manuscript was at one point “corrected” to say “Christians” and it was only due to a suspicious space left behind and ultra-violet examination that the 11th century original was shown to have been subsequently altered. But why would Tacitus use two different spellings?
One possible explanation for why there are two different spellings is that one of them is an interpolation. Frank Zindler, the director of American Atheist Press, argues in his book The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, that the passage could not have existed for so long without being cited by the Church fathers. For example, the second century Latin father Tertullian quoted Tacitus’ Histories, but failed to quote this passage from Annals. Both Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius failed to include the Tacitus quote in their compilations of non-Christian citations of Jesus, and Origen, a known voracius reader, appears to have missed it too. Zindler also points out that this story about Nero scapegoating the Chrestians for a fire and then torturing and burning them in obscene ways contradicts another account from Seutonius that Nero never had anyone killed in his gladitorial show. Seutonius, who was critical of Nero, did later say that Nero punished the Christians, and it is possible to interpret his words as meaning a death sentence, but Zindler thinks that Nero's flaming Chrstian circus show as described by Tacitus to be highly unlikely given that statement by Seutonius. It can be countered that there need not be a contradiction since one was a general comment about a gladiator show and one was a specific punishment in retaliation for a scapegoated crime. Zindler even goes so far as to open up the possibility that the entire Annals is a forgery, although other versions of the manuscript being discovered, as well as a misquote of Annals from the astronomer Ptolemy, have provided more than enough evidence of its overall authenticity. Nevertheless, if the sentence describing Christ as the origin of the Chrestians, italicized above, were taken out of the paragraph, that would not only solve the seeming contradiction that Christ would beget Chrestians, but it would also (re)connect two closely related sentences and eliminate the one part of the paragraph that connected Jesus to the first century CE.
A second explanation for why there are two different spellings is that both "Christians" and "Chrestians" were terms being thrown around at the time and Tacitus was attempting to explain how one became the other. The 19th-century German Lutheran theologian Adolf van Harnack suggested that Tacitus was trying to show his superior knowledge by providing the true etymology of the name the Chrestians mistakenly called themselves. Yet Tacitus himself gives no such indication that that is what he was doing. Where would Tacitus have gotten his information? Although Tacitus did commend himself for relying solely on written evidence and not accepting hearsay, it is nevertheless hard to imagine that he would bother spending time checking Roman archives for such a short, unimportant tangent. Even if we assume Tacitus had attempted to retrieve archives to confirm that Christ lived in the first century BCE, the records from Jesus' time period would probably have been destroyed in the two library fires that had occurred in Rome since then. So if Tacitus did write the sentence about Christ living during the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, he probably would have gotten it from Chrestians or the gospels themselves. The only canonical gospel from the Bible that mentions Tiberius is the Gospel of Luke in the fourth chapter, and as it so happens, a very popular heretical group known as the Marcionites used a version of the Gospel of Luke that instead began with the line about Jesus living during the time of Tiberius, and that they also called Jesus "Chrestos" instead of "Christos" since they did not believe that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. There is also an Egyptian text from Oxyrhynchus, dated to around the fifth century CE, of a man named Horus who identifies himself as a Chrestian. The fact that there were both Christians and Chrestians has been substantiated by a large number of Phrygian inscriptions from Anatolia (modern Turkey), including a stone inscription that says, “Chrestians for Christians”, proving that they were undeniably two distinct yet intertwining groups.
A Phrygian inscription reading, “Chrestians for Christians”
If Christians believed in Christos, did that mean that Chrestians believed in Chrestos? Seutonius reports that since “the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” Scholars are divided as to whether to interpret this to mean that an unrelated Jew named Chrestus led the riot in Rome or that the sentence was poorly spelled and written but that Seutonius meant that Jesus inspired Jewish Christians to revolt in Rome. Given the alternate spelling that Tacitus provides, it seems very likely that Christos and Chrestus were the same person and that he inspired two different religious sects that had different interpretations of his theological status.
Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to the Gospel of Luke, implies there was some connection between the riot and Christianity because it tells of two followers of Jesus named Aquilla and Priscilla that arrived in Corinth following the expulsion and there met Paul and then taught another follower named Apollos. Now, there was actually a second century Montanist follower of Jesus named Priscilla who taught asceticism and was part of a duo as well, although it was not a man but another woman named Maximillia. Although Acts first introduces them as Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, it later switches the order to Priscilla and Aquilla. Thus it may have been that the original sources used the names Priscilla and Maximillia but were later changed to a husband and wife duo so that the story supported a revised rule that women were not allowed to teach. The Montanists lived in Phrygia where the term Chrestian has been shown to have been used.
Unlike the Marcionites, the Montanists were not considered heretics to the Apostolic Church, but they were not greatly liked either. Like the Marcionites, the Montanists believed in the equality between men and women, and they also had a very anti-hierarchal nature. They were very politically troublesome in that they identified the “New Jerusalem” from the Book of Revelation with the Phrygian town of Pepuza. Later in life, Tertullian himself converted to “The New Prophecy” (which some Christians referred to as the “false prophecy”), denegrating the Apostolic Church he once defended as a “church of a lot of bishops” before founding his own Tertullianist group that outlasted Montanism but dwindled down to almost nothing in St. Augustine's times. Not wanting to admit that the sect was run by women, the Apostolic church named the sect after its highest-ranking male leader, Montanus, a former priest of Apollo. In Acts of the Apostles, Aquilla and Priscilla meet a certain Apollos who they are said to have taught about Jesus. Acts then makes it a point to say that Apollos was in Corinth when Paul begins teaching about Jesus in the city of Ephesus, during which time Acts says that the Holy Spirit inhabited the Ephesians so that they began to speak in tongues, and speaking in tongues was the central hallmark of the Pentecostal-like Montanists. Thus, the author of Luke-Acts attempts to give Paul credit for Montanus’ Ephesian converts by having Paul precede Montanus, a theme also found in 1 Corinthians which says: “I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow”.
In conclusion, both Josephus and Tacitus wrote their references to Jesus 20 to 40 years after the earliest gospel appeared and there are no additional details from outside the gospel tradition that they knew about Jesus as anything other than a story. The first gospel stories of Jesus are believed to have been written right after the war since so much of the death of Jesus is interpreted through the lens of the destruction of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem by Josephus' Roman messiah, Titus, in 73 CE Like the Book of Daniel, the Gospel of Mark, associated the death of the Messiah with the end of the world, and so a story about the messiah Yeshu, like that found in the Talmud, would have a problem resonating with people in the late first century since that was so long ago. Why would the death of a man almost 140 years ago have anything to do with what was happening then? An event 40 years previous was more prescient. But is it really possible that the gospel story about the first century CE Messiah could have been based on an earlier proto-gospel about the first century BCE Messiah? There is, in fact, strong evidence that such a proto-gospel once existed in the form of a satirical anti-gospel written in Aramaic, providing a scornful biography not of the canonical Jesus, but of the Talmud's Yeshu.
Sepher Toledot Yeshu: The Anti-Gospel
Sepher Toledot Yeshu, or “Book of the Generations of Jesus”
The Talmud passages do not provide very much information about Yeshu other than to say that he was an a student of Yehoshua ben Perachiah as well as a memzer of “illegitimate birth”, he was taken to Egypt in his youth, and that he later turned to idolatry and became a magician with five disciples. But his story is further elaborated on in a series of Jewish anti-gospels collectively referred to as the Sepher Toledot Yeshu, or Toldoth Jeschu. Two of these Toledot anti-gospels have been translated into English and titled: 1) The Jewish Life of Jesus and 2) The Jewish Life of Christ. The Jewish Life of Jesus appears to be the earlier version of the two. Rather than it being a Jewish satire of the Greek gospels, Life of Jesus appears to be a very short, early gospel about the first century BCE Jesus that has been altered to put him in a negative light. Life of Christ looks like a sister text to Life of Jesus that has been edited up to be harmonized with one of the Greek canonical gospels, perhaps Matthew.
Both Toledot stories revolve around Yeshu gaining his healing powers by stealing the secret Name of God and using it as a magic word, after which Yeshu tries to convert a queen named Helene, who is said to be his relative. The gospel Jesus is portrayed as a peasant whose fame comes from his ability to provide miraculous healings, but in this story, Yeshu is highborn, a status that provides a far more realistic background for someone whose identity was used to found a religion. In the Toledot story, Queen Helene wavers between supporting him and supporting his enemies. These enemies are the ostensible heroes of the piece, Jewish elders who appear to represent proto-Pharisees.
The earlier Jewish Life of Jesus version of the story is set primarily in Beth-El and the surrounding lands of Israel. In this version, Yeshu learns the secret Name of God from the Stone of Jacob mentioned in Genesis 28:18 by sneaking into a temple guarded by magic copper dogs whose bark makes anyone who memorized the Name of God forget it. Yeshu, however, overcomes this magical protection by writing down the name and then hiding it inside his cut flesh. After he learns how to use the name to heal and resurrect people, he uses his powers to impress Queen Helene. Although the few scholars who have undertaken to analyze the Toledot Yeshu have tried to guess the identity of this queen, no one has so far has suggested the Seleucid and Ptolemic queen of Syria, Cleopatra Selene, one of the final monarchs before the fall of the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemic kingdom. The Gospel of John tells a story about Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman by the Well of Jacob and is able to prophesize that she had been married five times and in fact Cleopatra Selene had herself been married five times. The queen in the story eventually sides with the elders and Yeshu is arrested but escapes with the help of his disciples. Yeshu then went to Jerusalem in disguise, dressed in the same identical garb as all of his disciples, so it takes a traitor, named Gaisa or Eisa, to point Jesus out by kneeling before him. Yeshu is arrested and stoned to death as a magician and is then hung on a cabbage stalk or a carob tree.
Life of Jesus also includes a very obvious interpolation breaking the story structure in the middle of the narrative to describe an episode not found in Life of Christ in which Jesus and Judas have a mid-air sorcerer battle that is very similar to an apocryphal Christian story in which the evil sorcerer Simon Magus squares off against the apostle Simon Peter. Both versions of the flying battle ends with a crash landing. One of the reasons we can be sure that the sorcerer battle in the Toledot is a later interpolation is that this is only time Judas is introduced yet after this story, it goes back to the original plot in which Gaisa is the traitor.
The later Jewish Life of Christ version changes the setting of the story from Bethel to the south to Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. The Stone of Jacob is relocated to inside the Jerusalem Temple. The magic copper dogs that guard the temple are changed into magic copper lions, which better fits the totem animal of Judah. The traitor in this version is called Judas, which means that it was probably edited together after 70 CE since the name Judas most likely derives from Judas the Galilean, the Zealot resistance leader who brought about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The name Iscariot is usually translated to mean a person from Kerioth but the Encyclopedia Britannica assocaited it with the word Sicarii, meaning “dagger-man” or “assassin”. Biblical scholar Robert M. Price instead links it to the Hebrew Ishqarya, but I wonder if it can not be both. A similar Jewish rebellion in the second century CE by Simon bar Kokhba brought about a similar defeat and punishment, and if the ill-will towards that “false Messiah” is any indication of what was said of Judas of Galilean, then it would not be any surprise as to understanding the reason why that name became synonymous with betrayal.
In Life of Christ, Queen Selene becomes identified with Salome Alexandra, one of the last rulers of the Hasmonian kingdom. The fact that the Seleucid Empire fell with the death of Selene and the Hasmonean kingdom fell with the death of Salome may have caused different stories about Jesus inheriting their respective thrones to have gotten confused for one another. Saying 61 from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas seems to have this kind of “Queen's earthly kingdom dies while Jesus' spiritual kingdom lives” myth in mind when it portrays Jesus telling a woman named Salome “Two will rest upon a bed; one will die, the other live.” Salome replies, “Who are you, man, whose son? You have mounted my bed and eaten from my table”, to which Jesus says: “I am he who comes forth from the one who is equal; I was given of the things of my Father.” Echoing the theme in the Toledot of the queen responding favorably to Yeshu, Salome replies, “I am your disciple” and Jesus says: “Therefore I say: If he is equal, he is full of light, but if he is divided, he will be full of darkness.”
It is often said that these Talmudic and Toledot stories are just rabbinic reactions to Christians, but it is very hard to imagine that some rabbis read one of the gospels and decided to come up with this first century BCE narrative as a retort. Why put Jesus earlier in time and make Christianity older? Why would the rabbis have their leaders take on more culpability for his death without any Roman interference (which just so happens to agree with Mara Bar Serapion and 1 Thessalonians)? Why would they leave out any trace of the pacifistic philosophy and apocalypticism and then expand on the “Escape to Egypt” story, putting it into a far more historical context? Clearly, story elements such as hiding Jesus’ body and the gardener motif are minor details far too deep within the fabric of the gospel narrative for Jewish satirists to pick up and elaborate on while at the same time ignoring all the far more important plot elements and theological positions from the Greek-written canonical gospels from the Bible.
Critics have tried to date the Toledot Yeshu very late -- usually the 500s -- sometimes as late as the medieval period, but there is very compelling evidence that the story elements used come from a tradition earlier than the canonical gospels. There are two scholarly books that analyze the Talmudic references and the Toledot to a degree rarely seen in other works. Both of these books, Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? (1903) by the English historian and theosophist G.R.S. Mead, and The Jesus the Jews Never Knew (2003) by Frank Zindler, came to the conclusion that the Talmudic Jesus tradition was earlier than the gospel Jesus tradition. But whereas Mead left the question as to whether the original Jesus lived in the first century BCE or not open, Zindler came to the conclusion that the Yeshu references began as anonymous aphorisms and then slowly built up knowledge as information after proto-Christians invented a first century BCE Christ figure. Price has likewise suggested that as time moved on, Jesus may have been “dragged along”, the date for his setting being updated as the story evolved.
Six Reasons Why the Talmudic Tradition that Jesus Lived in the First Century BCE is Older Than the Gospel Tradition
1) In Matthew 28:12, the Jewish chief priests and elders, after hearing the report from the Roman guards that two angels had come down and released Jesus from the tomb, conspire to devise a story about how Jesus’ disciples moved his body to trick everyone into thinking that Jesus rose from the dead and the Toledot story involves Yeshu’s betrayer, a gardener, moving his body to his garden, tricking the disciples into thinking Yeshu rose from the dead. The gospel could only be citing a Toledot or related story. The Toledot tradition that Jesus is buried in his betrayer's garden later caused the betrayer to become associated with a “Field of Blood”. The authors of Matthew 27:6 and Acts 1:18 then invented contradicting explanations for how this “Field of Blood” ended up associated with Judas. Tertullian references a Jewish belief in the early 200s that the betrayer had moved Jesus' body from his garden to stop the followers of Jesus from stepping on his lettuces, just as depicted in the Toledot (De Spetaculis 100.30.3; Mead 182).
2) In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene confuses the gardener with Jesus as if they are twins who looked alike, which is a parallel to the fact that certain dualistic Gnostics like the Sethians and Cainites portrayed Judas as the “twin” of Jesus. The final editor of the Gospel of John appears to have been at particular pains to distinguish Judas Iscariot from Judas Thomas “not Iscariot” (the name Thomas meaning “the Twin”), like in 14:22. Although none of the Gnostic gospels describe Judas as a gardener, the fact that the Toledot identifies Judas with the gardener shows that the gospel scene of Mary Magdalene confusing Jesus for the gardener was inspired by the earlier motif that the “twin”/betrayer of Jesus was a gardener.
Many Biblical scholars have attempted to assume that the Greek gospels were based on earlier Aramaic gospels. Other Biblical scholars have criticized this assumption because there is little to no proof. Yet the supreme irony is that there always were Aramaic writings about Jesus, reasonably early and available in the most popular Jewish theological work after the Bible, and yet no leading New Testament scholar of the twentieth century ever considered analyzing them beyond a superficial glance for historical purposes. Even among Talmudic scholars and Biblical scholars who advocate looking for a more “Jewish” Jesus, the Talmud and Toledot are in general silently dismissed. Many scholars, including Zindler, point to the fact that there are variations of the text that leave out the name of Yeshu, indicating it was inserted in later. However, there is a long Jewish tradition of leaving out the name of a heretic or an enemy so that his name would vanish from history. Whether the name was inserted or taken out, there were some ancient Jews who knowingly dated Jesus to the first century BCE.
3) Biblical scholar Delbert Burkett, in his groundbreaking work, From Proto-Mark to Mark, posits the idea that the Synoptic gospels and Stephen's trial in Acts of the Apostles used a “Sanhedrin Trial Source”. Burkett points out that this lost source tradition portrayed Jesus as being executed by fellow Jews without Roman assistance and could possibly be related to Yeshu in the Talmud. Separating the “Sanhedrin Trial Source” from the gospel context also solves the problem of how the Sanhedrin could have been expected to be assembled at night, complete with false witnesses, during the Passover holiday. The tradition of execution by Jews also better fits with 1 Thessalonians 2:15 and Mara Bar Serapion. In the Gospel of Peter, Jesus is condemned to death by both Herod and Pilate, not individually, as is described in the gospels of Luke and John, but together at the same time, which is rather implausible historically. Even more strikingly, Jesus is crucified by “the people” without any mention of Roman assistance, after which they get worried about the sudden darkness that comes about because of the Biblical law about leaving a condemned criminal's body up all night. After Jesus dies, Roman soldiers do get involved to guard the body. In the book, Who Killed Jesus?, John Dominic Crossan suggested there are interpolations in the text, and while he still believes that Herod and Pilate played a role in the earliest core document, which he calls the Cross Gospel, an execution carried out by the people and not soldiers suggests the earliest version of the apocryphal gospel story may have been set in the first century BCE when public executions would have been carried out by Jews.
4) In the Toledot stories, Yeshu disguises himself by wearing the same disguise as three hundred of his followers and so his betrayer signals which one is Yeshu is by bowing at him. In the gospel stories, the elders need Judas to signal undisguised and easily-recognizable Jesus among a few disciples using a kiss because it is dark. The story element in which a sign by a traitor is necessary to identify Jesus makes more sense in the context of the Toledot story of Yeshu disguising himself (Zindler 390n).
5) Gospel of Thomas says that there were 24 prophets, not 12 disciples, who spoke about Jesus (Saying 52). A suggestion made by Jesus Seminar scholar Robert Funk is that this refers to the 24 books of the Old Testament, but the books are not divided by one prophet per book. More likely it refers to the 12 apostles mentioned in the New Testament plus 12 earlier apostles from the first century BCE mentioned in the Toledot as “bad offspring of foul ravens”, who came and taught after Yeshu’s five disciples were killed.
6) In Mark 8:19-21, Jesus asks the disciples the exact numbers involved when he broke 5 loaves for 5,000 people, leaving behind 12 baskets, and then broke 7 loaves for 4,000 people, leaving behind 7 baskets. By asking his disciples to focus on the exact numbers, the gospel author presents his readers with a specific numerological puzzle. The number 12 presumably refers to the 12 apostles. The number 7 more than likely refers to the 7 Grecian Jewish “table waiters” of Acts 6:5 that church historians would later dub the Seven Deacons. This would leave another group of five who would have needed to appear before the 12 apostles, which can only be the 5 disciples of Yeshu from the Talmud.
The fact that almost no Talmudic scholars accept the Yeshu statements to relate to the historical Jesus, does tarnish the credibility of a historical Jesus based on the Talmud and Toledot. But this does not appear to have been the case before modern times. The 1887 book, Medieval Jewish Chronicles, by Adolph Neubaueri, quotes a twelfth-century Spanish historian named Abraham ben Daud as saying not some but all the Jewish history writers of the time identified Jesus as the student of Joshua ben Perachiah and said that he lived during the time of Alexander Jannaeus. The reason this is not the case today can be attributed not to an accident of history but a purposeful censorship by the Roman Catholic Church. Along with censorship, Christian repression also led many Jewish copyists to self-censor, and so many copies of the Talmud have the passages missing. Things were not any better when Martin Luther got his hands on the story, as he used it to help slander Jews with anti-Semitic tracts. Many Christians, including Martin Luther, used the Toledot story to stir up anti-Semitism, typically leaving out the part about Yeshu living in a different century. It should perhaps be no surprise then that Judaism before the late twentieth century had evolved into a religion with collective amnesia when it came to Jesus.
Indicative of the suffocating nature of the censorship, there were notes discovered hidden within two copies of the Toledot, originally written in Slavic Hebrew and then translated into German, that warns its Jewish readers that because of the Christian ban on the Toledot, it was to be copied only by hand and never printed. Neither should it be read in front of Christians or anyone frivolous enough to gossip about it. Rabbinic writings from the 1100s to 1900s confirm that the Talmud and Toledot were censored by the Church to keep Christians from learning about this other Jesus. So, as sensationalist as it sounds, the story of the first century BCE Jesus is a full-on Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy theory. That does not necessarily make it historically true. Even if the Talmudic tradition is earlier, Jewish Talmudists could possibly have adopted one historically untrue myth only to have it repressed by another historically untrue myth. I will go more into what I think is historically true of the first century BCE Jesus later. But it does go to show that we should not take the unpopularity of an idea on its face if there had to be a lot of repression to make the idea unpopular.
The Gospel of Matthew Subtly Admits Jesus' “Illegitimate” Birth
One of the parallels that can be drawn between the Jesus of the canonical gospels from the Bible and the Jewish conception of Jesus from the Talmud and the Toledot is the narrative that Jesus was born fatherless. The shortest and earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, only speaks of the family of Jesus as being his mother and brothers, and there is nothing in the gospel about Jesus being born of a virgin. The character of Joseph, the “step-father” to Jesus, only appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. According to the anti-Christian philosopher Celsus, as well as certain passages in the Talmud and Toledot, the real father of Jesus was a man named Panthera, or Pantera. The Toledot also sometimes uses another name, ben Stada, although there appears to have been some confusion as to who Stada was exactly:
Ben Stada was Ben Pandera. Rab. Chisda [d. 309 CE] said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. (Another said:) The husband was Paphos ben Jehuda; Stada was his mother; (or) his mother was Miriam, the women's hairdresser; as they would say at Pumbeditha, Setath da (i.e. she was unfaithful) to her husband. -Shabb. 104b, G.R.S. Mead Translation
According to the Toledot, Panthera was a Jewish vagabond, but Celsus, writing around 177 CE, instead identifies him as a Roman soldier. A statue monument in Germany dedicated to a Tiberius Julius Abdes Panthera, born in Sidon in Phoenician in 9 CE attests to it being a real name used by a Roman soldier, as Zindler has pointed out (139). Both Epiphanius and the eighth-century monk John of Damascus claimed that Panthera was a surname of one of Jesus' grandfathers, although they differed on whether it was from the paternal or maternal line. Some Biblical scholars have suggested that “Panthera” was a pun on the Greek word for “virgin”, parthenos, but the two words do not come from the same root.
An analysis of how the name Mary is used in the gospels may help shed some light on the question of Jesus' parentage. There are at least three major characters named Mary in the Bible: Jesus' mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the sister of Martha. In the gospels, Mary Magdalene is a follower of Jesus. In the canonical gospels, she plays the role of the woman who finds the empty tomb. Her name is typically believed to derive from the city of Magdala, as in Mary of Magdala, with Magdala being rooted in the Hebrew word migdal, meaning tower. The Gospel of Luke describes her as one of many sinful women with a side note that Jesus had at some point in his overlooked past removed seven demons from her. Other than that, the gospels treat her as a non-entity.
But Mary Magdalene plays a more important role in some Gnostic gospels. The Gnostic Gospel of Philip suggests that Jesus often kissed Mary, causing some books like The Da Vinci Code to theorize that Mary Magdalene was really Jesus' wife. In the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, Mary unveils secret knowledge about seven powers of wrath, which probably inspired the idea of the seven demons being exorcized from her. Most scholars identify this Mary with Mary Magdalene but some instead identify her with Jesus' mother. Peter plays a villain in this gospel, incredulous that Jesus would tell such a thing to a woman, but the disciple Levi reveals that Jesus loved Mary more than the rest of the apostles. Catholic theologian Ramon K. Jusino has even suggested that Mary Magdalene was the original “Beloved Disciple” in the Gospel of John before she was changed by an editorial update into the anonymous male disciple in the current canonical version. In the Gnostic Pistis Sophia, the feminine incarnation of Wisdom, Sophia, is oppressed by a seven-headed dragon in the same way that Satan as the Red Dragon in the Book of Revelation stalks after the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet”, who is pregnant with child, and thus symbolic of the Virgin Mary. The apocalypse tells how the newborn is snatched by God or an angel before the great battle with Michael and the angels. The story is similar to a Greek myth about the newborn god Apollo shooting dead the dragon Python as it chased his mother Leto, the daughter of the sun and the moon. A Jesus sect known as the Montanists, led by a former priest of Apollo, were known to have used the Gospel of John and so may have helped shape the editing of John's apocalypse.
In the Toledot, Mary Magdalene is not the wife of Yeshu but his mother. The Toledot translates the Aramaic name Magdala as hairdresser, rooted in the word gadal, to weave. At the time, this was a popular euphamism for a prostitute. The Toledot's etymology for Magdala is somewhat corroborated by a tenth century Arabic-Syriac lexicon that substantiates the identification, saying the name Magdalene was given to her because her hair was braided. Since the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene both assume the role of the metaphysical fallen Sophia in Gnostic literature, it's possible to see how Mary the hairdresser could have been fictionalized by the Gnostics as the symbol for fallen wisdom, becoming the spiritual wife to Jesus as the Logos. Following this background, it is easy to see how later Literalist editors adopted the spiritual mother/wife Mary figure and, being confused by the dual role, split her as being a completely different person. Just as the early figure of Judas was split into Judas Iscariot and Judas Thomas in later gospels, so too did Mary Magdala split into the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.
Modern scholars have largely assumed that the accusation that Jesus was an “illegitimate” memzer was just a fictional reaction against the Christian claim from the gospels of Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born of a virgin, but there is a rarely discussed admission in the Gospel of Matthew that the accusation of adultery was not reactionary myth. The beginning of Matthew's gospel has a genealogy that lists 40 men but only four women. As religious studies scholar James Tabor and others have pointed out, those four women are not the most important are the most memorable women from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba are instead cited as controversial figures because of their scandalous sexual reputations from the Bible. In three of the cases, excluding Rahab, the sinful sex act itself is instrumental in bringing about the current genealogy being listed. So the whole point of including the names of those four women is to try and mitigate the damage from the accusation that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he was a memzer, but rather than defend Mary's virginity, the genealogy implicitly admits that Jesus was “born in sin” while reminding the reader that there were other important women from the Bible who were less than pure but were nevertheless important to the history of the Jewish people.
The Evolution of the Virgin Birth Narrative in the Gospel of Matthew
If the author of Matthew admits that Jesus was born a memzer, why would the same author also claim that Mary was a virgin? One could argue the fictional virginity was meant to be taken as symbolic. But I think the answer to that question is that it was not the same author. The Gospel of Matthew was known to have been used by two other “heretical” Jewish sects dedicated to Jesus: the Ebionites and Cerinthians. The Ebionites, a name that means “the poor ones”, continued to follow the laws of Moses from the Hebrew Torah and revered James the Just, which the Epistle to the Galatians calls the “brother of the Lord”. Many Biblical scholars, including Tabor, as well as Jewish scholars like Robert Eisenman and Hyam Maccoby, believe that the Ebionites represented an earlier form of Jewish Christianity that followed the ideas not only of Jesus but also John the Baptist and Jesus' brother James and that the Ebionites were against Paul and the Greek Hellenistic reforms to Christianity, such as adding a bread and wine Eucharist symbolizing the body and blood of a dying-and-rising god, which the scholars of this camp usually attribute to him. The Ebionites also believed in an Adoptionist Christology, meaning they believed that Jesus had been born to two parents but that he became unified with Christ when he was “adopted” by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and this Christ spirit left him just before he died. This belief was reflected in their version of the Gospel of Matthew being much closer to its primary source, the Gospel of Mark, in that it contained neither the genealogy nor the virgin birth narrative.
The Cerinthians, supposedly named after a heretical teacher named Cerinthus, were another Jewish Adoptionist sect that was also semi-Gnostic. Like the Gnostics, they believed that the world had been created by a Demiurge who was not the highest god, but unlike the Gnostics they believed the Demiurge was good, equivalent to the Logos or “Word” of God referenced by both the Gospel of John and the Jewish Middle Platonist Philo. According to Epiphanius, the Cerinthians only used the Gospel of Matthew, but he also said that there were also anti-Logos followers of Jesus in Anatolian Phrygia who claimed that the Gospel of John had been written by Cerinthus. That certainly would not be true of our canonical version of John but my own speculation is that a Cerinthian wrote an earlier version of John hypothesized by the famed Lutheran theologian and Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann called the Signs Gospel. The Cerinthians appear to have combined Jewish and Platonic ideas together, such as having an Endtime eschatology consist of not one but two apocalypses, the first one ushering in the Jewish idea of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth centered in Jerusalem with the Platonic idea of the second apocalypse consisting of souls exiting their bodies and going up to heaven. This perfectly matches up with the dual-resurrection eschatology and Logos terminology in the Apocalypse of John (Rev. 20), indicating that our version of that book also had a Cerinthian editor. This Cerinthian “Premilliannialism” was ultimately declared heretical by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Cerinthian version of the Gospel of Matthew included the genealogy but, following an Adoptionst Christology, it did not include the virgin birth narrative.
The canonical version of the Gospel of Matthew has several connections to the city of Antioch and to the apostle Peter, who the Epistle to the Galatians associates, using Peter's alias Cephas, with Antioch. One example is Matthew 17:24-27, Peter asks Jesus about the Temple tax and Jesus tells Peter that he will find a fish with a stater coin worth four drachma in its mouth to pay the tax for both of them, and stater coin was only worth four drachma in Antioch. Another example is that the epistles attributed to Ignatius of Antioch also appear to reflect the tradition from Matthew. In Mark 8:27-38, Peter is the first to identify Jesus as the Christ but then Jesus tells his disciples to tell no one about this, but characteristically of Mark's habit of treating the top three disciples as confused flatterers, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die and Peter rebukes him, causing Jesus to say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.” In contrast to that, Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus tells Peter that it was God and not “flesh and blood” that revealed this to him, then Jesus announces that that he will build his church on the cornerstone of Peter, whose name means rock. The statement that was originally meant to legitimize the Antioch church but was later adapted by the Catholic Church to associate Peter's church with Rome. Acts 11:26 concurs that the church was first called Christian in Antioch but insinuates it had more to do with Barnabas and Saul/Paul. The Epistle to the Galatians and the Toledot story The Jewish Life of Jesus also portrays Cephas/Peter as trying to walk a line between James' Jewish apocalyptic sect centered in Jerusalem and Paul's Hellenized mystery religion from Alexandria and Anatolia. The canonical version of Matthew best reflects this attribute of combining both traditions: it combines the Jewish concern for keeping the Law (5:18) with the Hellenistic attribute of a high Christology in which Jesus is part of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (28:19), and moves from the Jewish mission to save only the lost sheep of Israel (15:24) to the Hellenistic mission to making disciples of all nations (28:19).
The Antioch editor of the Gospel of Matthew tried to connect the Hellenistic idea of the virgin birth to Jewish scripture by citing Isaiah as prophesizing the virgin birth of Jesus when he said “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” However, this quotation comes from the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah, which uses the Greek word parthenos, or “virgin”, while the Masoretic and Dead Sea Scroll versions of Isaiah use the Hebrew word almah, meaning “young woman”, which better matches the original context from the text that it was a sign for king Ahaz of Judah, possibly that his son Hezekiah would be born.
Using these three versions of Matthew, we can map out the evolution of the Virgin Birth narrative:
1) The Ebionites use a version of the Gospel of Mark as a source to construct the earliest version of Matthew, which, like Mark, says Jesus was born to two parents and was adopted by the Holy Spirit to become the Christ.
2) The Cerinthians react to the accusation that Jesus was a memzer by adding a genealogy to Ebionite Matthew that highlights four women of questionable purity.
3) The Church of Peter in Antioch adds the Virgin Birth narrative to Cerinthian Matthew and tries to tie it to a Jewish prophecy from the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah.
Although Biblical scholars more often than not take the church father's word that it was the Ebionites or the Cerinthians, or in the case of Luke the Marcionites, who cuts out the genealogy and the virgin birth narratives to suit their own theologies, the narrative conflict between the defense of the Jesus' memzer status and the Virgin Birth narrative permits a more Deconstructionist perspective. The Gospel of Matthew has many Jewish elements in it so it makes sense that it would have an origin in Jewish Jesus sects. Following this timetable, we can conclude that the accusation of memzer came first, that it was at first defended as true but irrelevant by the Cerinthians, and that finally it was denied and mythologized as a Virgin Birth by what might have been the first church to call themselves Christians.
The Synoptic Problem: Complicated
The Gospel of Matthew was not the only gospel to go through multiple sectarian updates before being canonized into the version that we are familiar with. Many of the same sayings and stories that are in the Gospel of Mark are repeated, more often than not word-for-word, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and there are word-for-word sayings that are shared between Matthew and Luke that are not in Mark. The relationship that Mark, Matthew and Luke have in sharing so much of the same content is known in Biblical scholarship as the Synoptic Problem, named for the first three gospels, called Syn-optic by Biblical scholars because the three gospels see through one eye.
Many Biblical scholars believe that the earliest gospels that spread among Christians contained only the sayings of Jesus. This belief is especially prevalent among scholars like Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, who see the historical Jesus as a Hellenistic Jewish sage who preached a counter-cultural philosophy of social justice. This idea originally came about because of the way the sayings of Jesus common to Matthew and Luke are distributed into different contexts. Scholars assumed Matthew and Luke must have copied from a now-lost common source, dubbed Q for the German word Quelle, meaning “source”. Some but not all of these scholars also assumed non-Q sayings used exclusively by Matthew and other non-Q sayings used exclusively by Luke also came from hypothetical saying gospels, usually dubbed M and L after the names of the gospels that used them as sources. Both the Two-Source Hypothesis (Mark and Q) and the Four-Source Hypothesis (Mark, Q, M, L) were established by the British Biblical scholar Burnett Hillman Streeter in 1924, but only through literary criticism. There was no physical evidence that proto-gospels containing only wisdom sayings actually existed until the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Although many of the sayings in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas were shown to have Gnostic additions to them, the core of the sayings appeared to compliment the counter-cultural sayings in the Synoptic gospels, providing a more solid foundation for the Two-Source and Four-Source Hypothesis. Most modern Biblical scholars now believe that the primary sources used to create the gospels of Matthew and Luke were Mark and Q. But there were also some alternative hypotheses that did not include the use of any hypothetical documents. The Farrer Hypothesis instead posited that the author of Luke simply used Mark and Matthew as sources but decided to only copy sayings and not any narrative elements unique to Matthew. The Griesbach Hypothesis suggested that Luke copied Matthew and that Mark wrote a shorter synopsis-gospel using Matthew and Luke as sources. The Hypothesis named after St. Augustine states that Mark used Matthew as a source and Luke used Mark and Matthew as sources. But by the late twentieth century, these alternative hypotheses were mostly abandoned.
In the 1980s, a Canadian professor of religion John S. Kloppenborg divided Q into three layers of tradition: Q1) The earliest layer of counter-cultural wisdom axioms similar to the Greek Cynic philosophy of abandoning wealth, power, and social conventions; Q2) a secondary layer of apocalyptic pronouncements of End Time judgment on those outside the Jesus movement, and Q3) a final layer of miscellaneous John the Baptist sayings and the “Satan's three temptations in the desert” story. Crossan, The wisdom sayings were believed to go back to the historical Jesus while the apocalyptic metaphors were ascribed to a later editor who had grown bitter at former followers that had fallen away after waiting too long for Jesus to return. This allowed the Jesus Seminar and like-minded “Liberal Jesus” scholars to further solidify Jesus as a Cynic sage who never pronounced embarrassing End Time judgments of the world's end and hellfire.
But as Q scholars went deeper into the hypothetical subdivisions of a hypothetical source, the Farrer Hypothesis made a sudden comeback in a backlash of skepticism towards Q at the turn of the century, largely thanks to the internet presence of Mark Goodacre, a student of Michael Goulder, Farrer's primary student. One of the central planks of the Farrer Hypothesis is that there are “minor agreements” between Matthew and Luke against Mark that are not sayings from Jesus (the parts that Kloppenborg and others relegated to Q3), so Occam's Razor states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one: Luke used Mark as his primary source but took some sayings and events from Matthew as well. Now, the “minor agreements” are definitely a problem, and simply assigning them to one last update of Q is a poor solution since they would make little sense in that context. But there are far more examples in which Matthew and Luke expanded in different directions where Mark left off as well as many examples in which Luke is shown to have the more primitive version of a verse than Matthew, such as in the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:2; Matthew 6:9). The problem is not that the Two Source and Four Source Hypotheses are too complicated. The problem is that they are too simple.
Despite the fact that the Synoptic gospels have so much content in common, there are also hundreds of derivations in the order of events such that Matthew and Luke appear to be jumping around a lot for no discernable reason. The Two/Four Source Hypotheses have more explanatory power because they provide reasons for the disorder: Matthew and Luke were switching between Mark and Q/M/L. More sources equals more complexity in weaving them together. The Farrer Hypothesis is not providing the simplest explanation for a simple problem. Rather, it is trying to answer a complex problem with a simple answer by delegating the inherent complexity of the problem to the supposedly inscrutable minds of Matthew and Luke so as not to have to necessitate the complexity and uncertainty of hypothetical sources. The fact is that we know there were dozens of variant versions of the gospels that were floating around among the many different Jesus sects of the second century that inherited their gospels from other sects so there is no reason to believe that the ones that got canonized were the earliest.
In 1983, the German Biblical scholar Helmut Koester advanced the complexity of the Two/Four Source Hypothesis further by suggesting that Luke had used an earlier version of Mark that did not include the “Bethsaida Section” in Mark 6:45-8:26. The section begins and ends in the village of Bethsaida and consists mostly of loose retellings of an earlier narrative arc of miracle stories. Koester also suggested that our canonical Mark was a censored version of a still-later version of the Gospel of Mark called Secret Mark which included a resurrection story similar to the Lazarus story in the Gospel of John, based on controversial evidence supposedly discovered by the Biblical scholar Morton Smith in the Mar Saba monastery in the West Bank in 1958. Crossan accepted Koester's Bethsaida/Secret Mark model but also included the Cross Gospel, another hypothetical source text covering the Passion of Jesus' execution based on Crossan's comparison of the four Passion narratives in the gospels with the apocryphal Gospel of Peter from Nag Hammadi.
Yet even Crossan's model, with all of its unprovable hypothetical texts, turns out to be not complicated enough. By far the strongest model for the development of the Synoptic gospels ever presented by Biblical scholarship comes from the extensive proofs laid out by Delbert Burkett in his 2004 books, Rethinking the Gospels, Vol. 1: From Proto-Mark to Mark and Vol. 2: The Unity and Plurality of Q. In Vol. 1, Burkett shows that even more instances of what originally appeared to be random jumping around in the Two/Four Source and Koester models is actually the result of editors switching between different source texts, combining smaller gospels into larger gospels, and not just by Matthew and Luke but also Mark. Although the idea of a pre-canonical Ur-Mark had been around since the late 1700s, Burkett is the first to provide compelling technical graphs to map out how multiple Proto-Mark gospels were weaved together by each of the Synoptic evangelists.
The Two Source, Four Source, and Farrer Hypotheses all accept “Markan Priority” because from a narrative and theological perspective, Matthew and Luke build their gospels on top of Mark, in that their gospels are longer with more teachings and miracle stories and more advanced theologies, but from the perspective of sentence structure, there are actually a large number parts in Mark's gospel that combine phrases found only in Matthew with phrases found only in Luke in the equivalent pericope. Taken by itself, this might seem like evidence for the Griesbach Hypothesis, but if we grant Markan Priority to be the certainty that Biblical scholarship has shown it greatly deserves, then the only other possibility is that Mark conflated a Proto-Mark source that Matthew used with a Proto-Mark source that Luke used. Burkett calls them Proto-Mark A and Proto-Mark B. Here are some examples:
Mark 1:32: “When evening came [Matt. 8:16], when the sun set [Luke 4:40], they were bringing to him all the ill and the demonized [Matt. 4:24; 8:16]. And the whole city was gathered at the door. And he healed many ill with various diseases. And he cast out many demons. And he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew him [Luke 4:41].
Mark 1:42: “The leprosy left him [Luke 5:13] and it was cleansed [Matt. 8:3].”
Mark 3:7: “And Jesus with his disciples [Luke 6:17] withdrew [Matt. 12:15] to the sea [Luke 5:1]. And a large crowd followed from Galilee [Matt. 4:25; Luke 5:17] and from Judea and from Jerusalem [Matt. 4:25; Luke 5:17, 6:17] and from Idumea and across the Jordan [Matt 4:25] and around Tyre and Sidon [Luke 6:17]. A large crowd, hearing what he was doing, came to him [Luke 5:1, 6:18]. And he told his disciples that a boat should wait for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him [Luke 5:3]. For he healed many, with the result that those who had afflictions would fall upon him that they might touch him [Luke 6:19]. And the unclean spirits when they saw him, fell before him and cried out saying, “You are the Son of God.” [Luke 4:41]. And he ordered them repeatedly not to make him known [Matt. 12:16; Luke 4:41].”
Mark 5:2: “When he got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs [Matt. 8:28] with an unclean spirit met him, and he had his dwelling in the tombs [Luke 8:27]
Mark 5:12: “Send us into the pigs [Matt 8:31], so that we may go into them [Luke 8:32].”
Mark 5:28: “For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be healed [Matt. 9:21]. And immediately the fount of her blood dried up [Luke 8:44].”
Mark 5:30: “Turning around in the crowd [Matt. 9:22], he said ‘Who touched my garments?’ [Luke 8:45]”
Mark 5:34: “Go in peace [Luke 8:48], and be healed of your affliction [Matt. 9:22].”
Mark 5:38: “And he sees an uproar [Matt. 9:23] with people weeping and grieving greatly [Luke 8:52].”
Mark 5:37: “And he did not let anyone follow with him except Peter, James, and John… [Luke 8:51]. Throwing everyone out [Matt. 9:25], he took along the father and mother of the child [Luke 8:51].
Mark 6:30: “And the apostles gather to Jesus. And they reported [“apangello”; Matt 14:12] to him all the things they had done [Luke 9:10] and the things they had taught. And he says to them, “Come, you privately [Luke 9:10], to a deserted spot and rest for a little.” For there were many coming and going and they did not have time even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted spot privately [Matt. 14:13].”
Mark 6:33: And they saw them going and many found out [Luke 9:11]. [“The crowds followed them.” -Matt. 14:13, Luke 9:11.] And on foot from all the cities [Matt. 14:13] they ran together there and preceded them. And getting out he saw a large crowd and felt compassion for them [Matt 14:14], because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things [~Luke 9:11]. [“And he healed their sick” -Matt 14:14; Luke 9:11.]
Mark 8:37: “A great [Matt. 8:24] storm of wind [Luke 8:23] came up, and the waves broke into the boat [Matt. 8:24] so that the boat was already filled up [Luke 8:23].”
Mark 14:12: “On the first day of the Festival [Matt. 26:17] of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb [Luke 22:7], Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” [Matt. 26:17] So he sent two of his disciples [~Luke 22:8], telling them, “Go into the city [Matt. 26:18], and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you [Luke 22:10]. Follow him...” When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve [Matt. 26:20].” (This pericope came from a contender of the Griesbach Hypothesis, Thomas Longstaff.)
One of the more compelling proofs that Burkett has shown is that Mark 9:17-27 actually combined one exorcism story found in Matt. 17:14 and Luke 9:38 with a different exorcism story from a now lost source. If you remove all of the text unique to Mark, you will find that the shaved off parts actually form a relatively complete, internally consistent story completely different than the one found in Matthew and Luke. The story in Matthew and Luke is about an “unclean spirit” that throws a boy into the fire and water and the lack of faith in Jesus' disciples. The story that Mark combined that one with is about an “unspeaking and mute spirit” and the lack of faith in the boy's father. Combining the two stories has also caused an internal inconsistency in which a crowd forms in Mark 9:25 despite the fact that the crowd was already there in 9:17. Mark 9:14-16 also uses a very high concentration of characteristically Markan language (“around them”, “arguing”, “immediately”, “they were astounded”, “running forward”, “they greeted”, “he asked”, “around you arguing”) that both Matthew and Luke omit. The words are also used by Matthew and Luke in non-Markan contexts so there is no reason to believe that Matthew or Luke disliked these words and chose to edit them out all 24 times that Mark uses them.
These linguistic peculiarities of omitting Markan language are not limited that pericope either. Mark used the word “polus” (“much”) 58 times, of which Matthew fails to use the word or material 76% of the time and Luke fails to use it 84% of the time. Of the 13 times that Mark talks about Jesus looking around, the crowd moving around Jesus, Matthew appears to omit all 13 instances and Luke appears to omit 11 instances (3:5, 3:32, 3:34, 4:10, 5:32, 6:6, 6:36 9:8, 9:14, 10:23, 11:11, 3:32, 3:34). Matthew and Luke both appear to omit all 9 instances where Mark uses the phrase “he began to teach”, “he taught them”, or “in his teaching”, and Matthew and Luke both appear to omit all 7 instances in which Jesus is trying to get privacy from the crowds (1:33, 1:45, 2:1, 3:20, 6:31, 7:24, 9:30).
Burkett's model helps make us understand that the gospels were not simply written by an author using one or two sources, but rather, the evangelists were typically using many different sources, switching around between them, causing rifts in the narrative that would be otherwise hard to explain as creative choices by the author. The gospels that we know about are only the ones that winners of history's theological battles allowed to survive. The earliest gospels were only sayings -- good tidings -- which is literally what the word gospel means. Narratives eventually creeped up around them and the sayings were given a context of Galilee in 30 CE. Mark took tiny phrases from two different Proto-Marks as well as other lost source texts and combined them to make denser word structures and even combined two exorcism stories into one. The original (Ebionite) author of Matthew did not use the Mark we know as a source but one of the two Proto-Marks and Lukan tradition received the other one. These later authors did not conflate passages but rather combined the smaller Proto-Mark episodes into larger story arcs, creating larger and larger texts. The combining of gospels did not stop with the four that are in the Bible. The mid-second century Christian philosopher and martyr Justin used a single lost source that he called the “Memoirs of the Apostles” that used verses that were conflations of sources also present in Matthew and Luke. A student of Justin's named Tatian harmonized all four gospels into a “super gospel” called the Diatessaron. There used to be many different versions of the gospels, although most of them appear to be earlier or later variations of the four canonical gospels we have in the Bible. Each of the four gospels was not written by one specific author but rather is a reposit of conflicting narratives that have been edited together and harmonized to smooth over the edges of voluminous number of revisions from centuries of interdenominational conflict. What would become modern Christian theology was only one of many second century CE Jesus sects that were co-evolving with one another, largely by the memetic selection of holy texts, first by how particular verses were combined in each sect's particular gospel, but with time graduating to how particular books were combined into each sect's particular canon. The irony of the Synoptic Problem is that the Four Source and Griesbach Hypothesis both turned out to be correct in their own ways. The construction of the gospels involved what was probably one of the most complex games of Telephone ever played.
Where Did the Bible Come From?
It is perhaps not an accident that the church that won out by getting adopted by the fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine was the one to put a stop to the ongoing narrative construction of collaborative fiction by canonizing not one but four different gospels in the late second century, each one previously associated with a previously-established Jesus sect. Each gospel was originally meant to represent a different perspective but in uniting them, the church that eventually won out, the Apostolic Church, managed to corral the members of four different Jesus sects into one church. Most Jesus sects only used one gospel and most of them were constructed by conflating a multiplex of texts together. When Constantine's church historian looked back into the history of history of his church, it led towards two bishops from Anatolia who the disciple John supposedly converted, Polycarp of Smyrna and Papias of Hierapolis.
The first known reference to a gospel comes from Papias, sometime between 95 and 120 CE. Eusebius, writing around 300 CE, quotes Papias as saying that Mark had written his gospel based on what Peter had told him, but not in any ordered way, and that Matthew had written his logia, or “sayings”, in an ordered arrangement in Hebrew, which was then interpreted by everyone else as best they could. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the German Biblical scholar who first hypothesized the Q source, believed that the Q sayings could be identified with this logia of Matthew and used that as the name of the source. Later scholars, however, dropped this label, believing that there was nothing substantial to differentiate it from other hypothetical sources like M or L, or even a source that has since been lost. But given that Q appears to have been a predominate source since it was used for two different gospels, the identification would provide an excellent explanation for how the Gospel of Matthew got its name: it was inherited from its source, which had originally been named after the disciple of Yeshu.
Regardless of which sayings source if any the “Sayings of Matthew” refer to, the name of the lost text establishes that the earliest known disciple of Jesus referenced outside the gospels was Matthew, the only name among the Twelve that also appears as one of the original five disciples of Yeshu. Thus, one of the earliest written documents to quote Jesus may have originally been ascribed to one of his first century BCE disciples. All of the Biblical epistles fail to identify James, Cephas or John as disciples of a historical Jesus, with the exception of 2 Peter, which is generally accepted to be a forgery. None of the epistles except 2 Peter identifies Jesus as an itnerant preacher. The Epistle to the Hebrews says Jesus was executed outside the city gate but 1 Thessalonians says he was killed by Jews, not Romans. Only 1 Timothy, dated to the late second century, and the apocryphal epistles of Ignatius say that Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate. According to the Epistle to the Galatians, James is a “pillar” and Cephas is an “apostle”. Given that each of the four gospels give different names for the Twelve, it is not far from reasonable to assume that the “disciples” were the names of important first- or second-century CE teachers as symbolic disciples in an allegorical conceit of fiction. For example, James would have represented the Ebionites who still followed the laws of Moses. Thomas would have represented the Gnostics who wrote gospels based on the twin brother of Jesus, Judas Thomas, a character split from Judas Iscariot to differentiate the Thomas Gnostics from Zealots who followed Judas the Galilean. Matthew probably represented a sect that read the Sayings of Matthew. Papias seems to use the term “disciple” in the same metaphorical way since he lists two different Johns and an otherwise unknown Ariston as “disciples of the Lord”. Assuming the Twelve are all real historical people, clues from the epistles and various apocrypha indicate that they probably originated come from different backgrounds, lived in different cities, and espoused contending theologies while competing against one another. The Biblical scholar Robert M. Price provides numerous examples of these contradicting theological traditions in his book, The Pre-Nicene New Testament.
Most Biblical scholars, including Tabor, Eisenman and Maccoby, believe that the James referenced in the Epistle to the Galatians is the literal “brother of the Lord”, but there is no indication as to how literal the title was meant to be taken. The author, supposedly the apostle Paul, is shockingly hostile towards James and his followers in some places, calling them “false believers” and “spies” of the “circumcision group” who want to make his followers “slaves”, while in another place, he is completely deferential, assuming that if James disagrees with him that he would have “run his race in vain”. In one of the places where he is hostile, he makes it a point in 1:17 to say he did not receive any of his Jesus' teachings from any of the other apostles but from revelation. There is no attempt by the author to explain why his spiritual visions should be taken as equal or superior to James' or Cephas' knowledge of the historical Jesus, which implies that the original author assumed that James and Cephas had either received their information by revelation or by a more indirect tradition than personal knowledge. The Epistle of James itself introduces the author not as the brother of the Lord, but “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Even if we assume that James took the title “brother of the Lord” for himself, it may have been either because Yeshu was a distant relative or because it was a term particular to James or his sect. Josephus also mentions a James who was “brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. He is described not as an illiterate rebel peasant from Galilee but a conservative Jerusalem priest, which brings about its own host of problems. The confusion is likely the result of another Christian interpolation in which thr original Josephan passage referred to James as the brother of another Jesus, son of Damneus, mentioned shortly thereafter in the paragraph.
Acts tries to smooth over the conflict between James and Paul by describing a friendly meeting they had in Jerusalem, yet at the same time it admits that it was the followers of James who attacked him at the Jerusalem Temple site. The Clementine Homilies instead say that it was Saul who threw James off the pinnacle of the temple and thinking him dead left, although James survived with broken legs. The second century bishops Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus agreed that he survived the fall but said that he was soon beaten to death afterwards. The conflict between James and Paul seemed to center around whether converted Christians should follow the laws of Moses from the Torah. One of the sects dedicated to Paul, the Marcionites, believed that the Hebrew laws had been created by Demiurge, a just god who created the word, but that the New Covenant established by Jesus came from the highest god, who was not a just god but a good god. In his book, Against Marcion, Tertullian calls Paul “the apostle to the heretics”.
The first canon of Biblical scripture came from the Marcionites, supposedly from Marcion himself. Marcion originally came from Sinope in Anatolia but he was said to have moved to Rome and donated a massive amount of money to the church before revealing his theology in 144 CE. The Marcionite canon consisted of a shorter version of Luke called the “Gospel of the Lord” and ten shorter versions of the Pauline epistles. All of the Hebrew books were left out. The vast majority of Biblical scholars, including most of the people who think Jesus never existed, believe that seven of the thirteen Pauline epistles are genuine. The 19th century German Protestant theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur and his Tübingen School of theology brought that number down to four (Romans, Galatians, and 1 & 2 Corinthians), but the 19th century German philosopher and theologian Bruno Bauer dismissed the authenticity of even these four core epistles (as well as the historicity of Jesus). Price makes excellent arguments in The Pre-Nicene New Testament for all of the Pauline Epistles being forgeries. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12, “Paul” claims to speak in tongues and yet at the same time disparages the practice and tries to put an end to it, or in Galatians 1:17, the writer presupposes the narrative in Acts 9 by saying he “returned” to Damascus without ever mentioning that he went there. Price provides strong evidence that the epistles were first forged by Marcionites and then later edited by to harmonize it with the Acts narrative.
In the Marcionite version of Luke, Jesus was not born from humans at all but came down from heaven like an angel. Tertullian accused Marcion of interpreting scripture “with a pen-knife”, cutting the Gospel of Luke to make it fit into Marcion's own Stoic philosophy. The majority of Biblical scholars have taken his word for it, but other scholars such as Joseph B. Tyson have put forth the more likely suggestion that the two gospels were sister texts, both descended from a common proto-Luke gospel. For example, in Luke 4:23, Jesus while in his hometown of Nazareth mentions healings in Capernaum that he says everyone is aware of, yet he visits Capernaum for the first time in 4:31 and everyone is “amazed”, which seems to indicate that the Capernaum visit originally preceded his hometown visit just as it does in Mark and Matthew. In fact, Tertullilan quotes the first line of Marcion's gospel as being a combination of 3:1 and 4:31, describing how Jesus descended directly from heaven and went first to Capernaum, indicating that beginning of Marcion's gospel featured a narrative order that better reflected the original. When the villagers of Nazareth get angry at Jesus and try to throw him off a cliff, Jesus walks right through them in 4:30, again indicating that the original version of Luke portrayed Jesus as spirit who only looked human, a belief known as Docetism.
The Marcionite concepts are based largely on the Hellenistic concepts of Stoicism, a philosophy based on virtue through knowledge that was heavily related to Cynicism. Acts 17:18 likewise operates in this milieu as it attempts to differentiate Christianity from the Greek philosophies by having Paul try to convert the Epicureans and Stoics he meets in Athens. As mentioned, Tertullian accused Marcion of editing the Gospel of Luke according to his own Stoic philosophy. Tertullian chided the Marcioinites and Gnostics for using Greek philosophy, asking “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”, apparently under the same impression as Philo that the concept of the divine Logos came from Moses. But when Tertullian actually gave an overview of the Marcionite gospel, the vast majority of changes were deletions, true to Tertullian's quip against Marcion about interpreting with a pen-knife. So how does an editor add a philosophy into a gospel by removing content? In fact, it is not just ancient heretics like Marcion but scholars like Crossan and the Jesus Seminar who read Jesus as a Cynic sage out of his Cynic/Stoic wisdom sayings, certainly not because of what was cut from the gospels by Stoic theologians like Marcion but perhaps because of what was added by them.
Like the Marcionite gospel, the Marcionite epistles were shorter than the canonical ones. From my own analysis of the Pauline Epistles, the terminology clustered around the Stoic/Marcionite parts of the letters appears to be more primitive, using terms such as “Spirit” and “Christ Jesus” (or, more likely, “Chrest Jesus” originally), and the terminology clustered around the Septuagint readings is more orthodox, such as “Holy Spirit” and “Jesus Christ”. This would seem to indicate that the Church of Peter took the Marcionite epistles and adapted them to the theology of the Antioch Church. As some scholars have noted, The author of Acts, likewise appear to have used two different sources: 1) a “We source” written in first person in the guise of travel log of Paul's sailing adventures; and, 2) an “Antioch Source” that starts suddenly in Antioch in Chapter 14 which portrays Saul as a subordinate to the apostle Barnabas along with Chapter 4, which highlights the importance of Peter. These most likely reflects contributions taken from first the Marcionites, and second the Antioch Church.
By the time the Marcionite epistles were written, The Marcionites were trying to define their sect against the Judaistic sectarianism of James and the Ebionites. The Epistle to the Galatians was “the charter of Marcionism” and so took first place in the list instead of the Epistle to the Romans. Galatians portrays Paul upbraiding Peter in the city of Antioch sometime in the 50s. Antioch, as we have seen, is also the same city that the Church of Peter was located. The Church of Peter produced the Gospel of Matthew no earlier than 90s CE, including verses criticizing Pauline rejection of the law, saying “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” So it does seems a little too symbolic for the one interaction we read about between two of the most important apostles to so well encapsulate the historic conflict between the churches of Peter and Paul in Antioch in the second century. The story of Paul personally quarrelling with Peter in Antioch is equivalent to reading a story that Abraham Lincoln got into a bar fight with Jefferson Davis over slavery on the Mason-Dixon Line 40 years before the Civil War. It sounds more like an origin story explaining the conflict between the two churches, which would mean it was more likely forged later.
The church father Hippolytus actually compares this Marcion to the evangelist Mark and suggests that the Marcionites believed the two Marks were one and the same:
When, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark.
The Marcioniotes believed that Jesus was not the Jewish Christ but had descended as the Chrest, a god from the heavens. According to Irenaeus, the Adoptionists used the Gospel of Mark and the Docetic Marcionites used the Gospel of Luke, but it is possible that they both originally came from an earlier sect dedicated to Mark. Justin in the 150s called the Marcionites the Marcians, so the use of the name Marcion, or Little Mark, may have been a later invention. One distinct possibility is that the Marcians split into the Marcosians, Western Gnostics who practiced a form of Valentinianism, and the Marcionites, Docetic Chrestians who spread out to Turkey and then Rome. That help explain why both the Marcosians and the Marcionites revered Paul and was led by a womanizer named Mark.
There is another factor that suggests an earlier layer of Mark was not Christian but Chrestian. Mark 8:32 has Jesus harshly accusing Peter of being Satan only seconds after Peter identifies him as the Christ. In the version of Mark that came down to us, the reason Jesus accuses Peter of demonic inspiration is because Peter denied that Jesus would have to die and rise again, but the same explanation about Jesus' death is in Luke 9:22 without mentioning the rebuke. If verses 8:31-32 are removed from the story since they appear to be independent of this story, then Jesus would have called Peter Satan for identifying Jesus as the Christ. After Jesus' accusation against Peter, Jesus explains to Peter that he is “setting your mind not on God's interest, but on man's." The verse works for its current context but it also works for the revised verse considering the militaristic implications of the Messiah in that time period. Furthermore, in Mark, it is only blind men who refer to Jesus as the “son of David”.
Although all three Synoptic gospels give a story about Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross of Jesus, Mark alone identifies his sons as Alexander and Rufus. Although we know little about the family of the failed militaristic Messiah, Simon bar Kokhba did have a son named Rufus. Even though we do not know if his other son was named Alexander, the fact that Rufus had a son named Romulus proved that the anti-Roman insurgent family was no more averse to using Hellenistic names as the Hasmoneans were. The identification of Simon of Cyrene with Simon bar Kokhba also explains why the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides from Alexandria has a Docetic Jesus laughing at Simon as he is miraculously crucified in Jesus' place. Mark's inclusion of Simon bar Kokhba into the gospel proves that the version we have comes from the second century and reinforces the theme that Simon Peter was being accused of being worldly for desiring a militaristic Christ.
The author who edited our version of Luke and then combined it with his Acts of the Apostles, wrote these two texts in the form of a letter to a certain Theophilus. It is the earliest gospel to outright claim to the reader to be a historical narrative rather than a fictional or allegorical myth. Luke-Acts is typically dated by most Biblical scholars to have been written around the 80s, although facts like Luke-Acts appearing to use information from Josephus have led some scholars like Tyson to date it to the early 120s. In the 150s, Justin used a source that combined sources from both Matthew and Luke, which may have said that Jesus was born in a cave but apparently did not include anything about Judas. Although Luke portrays his gospel as a historical account, Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, Trypho the Jew claims that Christians “having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves...”. Yet Justin's retort to prove that “we have not believed empty fables” is not to cite historical sources but to provide more interpretations from scripture. Thus, Justin seems to acknowledge that faith that Jesus existed was equivalent to faith in Jesus being the Messiah. Although Justin's writings prove that a version of Luke existed by the 150s, the fact that Luke and Acts are addressed to a certain Theophilus and we know that there was in fact a bishop of Antioch named Theophilus in the 170s, it would make perfect sense that the Biblical versions of Luke and Acts were originally addressed to him. Both Luke-Acts and Theophilus were reacting against Marcioinite theology. There is even a literary connection in that Luke makes a point that Antioch is the first place where the “disciples” of Jesus were first called Christians and Theophilus of Antioch is the one of the first known writers to explain the meaning of the name Christian. Unlike Justin before him, who defined Christian as a follower of Jesus Christ, a title of kingship or priesthood meaning “the Anointed One”, Theophilus' used an otherwise unknown explanation that Christians are themselves anointed with the oil of God.
Like most of the Christian epistles, canonical and apocryphal, Theophilus showed little interest in the historical Jesus in his writings and concentrated his discussions on the philosophical side of the religion. In the book Jesus After the Gospel: The Christ of the Second Century, Robert Grant summarizes the analysis of other theologians such as Armitage Robinson, J. Bentivegna, and Samuel Laeuchli, calling the religion of Theophilus “a Christianity without Christ” in which “there is no Christian theology” and “the very names Christ and Jesus are absent: the Gospels are referred to only in passing for moral precepts” such that “after having read the work of Theophilus... nobody would have the slightest idea that Christian doctrine might have anything to do with the person of Christ.” Theophilus does not speak of Christology but “Christian-ology”, so that anyone who followed his writings could have easily “converted to Diaspora Judaism” rather than Christianity. In a letter to Autolycus, Theophlilus speaks of man gaining death through disobedience to God and eternal life through obedience (2.27). The passage is similar to Romans 5:19, only in the Pauline passage it says that many were made sinners through the disobedience of one man (Adam) and that many would become righteous through the obedience of one man (Jesus). Grant interprets the change in emphasis as an another instance of Theophilus taking an older theological passage from Paul and removing the Jesus inference to make Christianity more palatable to Greek philosophy, but if Jesus was originally understood to be a symbolic fiction, it may in fact be the Epistle to the Romans that reflects the newer tradition. Another example of this older tradition of Christianity without Christ is the Shepherd of Hermas, a 70+ page work of Christian apocrypha that fails to use the name Jesus or the word Christ. The Shepherd of Hermas provides only a vague Adoptionist belief that a pre-existent spirit had inhabited the body of a virtuous slave. Grant compares Theophilus to an Adoptionist, to which we must consider: was this “Christianity without Christ” the norm for all the early Adoptionists?
Irenaeus, Inventor of the Biblical Canon and Chief Forger of Biblical History
The centralization of Jesus in worship seems to have first appeared with the Pauline epistles from the Marcionites. The conflict between Paul and James with Peter stuck in the middle, as described in the Epistle to the Galatians, most likely represents the conflict between the Ebionties and Marcionites in Antioch in the second century. The Church of Peter in Antioch then tried to bring the Marcionites and the Ebionites together by adopting both the high Christology and Hellenistic philosophy of the Marcionites along with the creation myths, history, and prophetic interpretations of Jewish scripture of the Ebionites. The Pauline epistles we have today are a combination of Marcionite concepts like freedom from Jewish law and symbolic crucifixion along with more Peterine concepts such as Jesus being the Christ and Hellenistic interpretations of Jewish scripture. The combination ended up focusing the religion on Jesus as a person and as a result, the Didakhe, the Gospel of Matthew and 1 Peter were produced. Judging from the Didakhe, the Jewish Christians of Antioch only accepted Jesus as “the servant of God” and that he was the one who had provided knowledge of the Eucharist. Greater focus shifts to Jesus as one who suffered in 1 Peter but the author still only identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus, not a disciple. The epistles of 1 and 2 Clement talk a lot about Jesus without sayings anything about him as a historical person. 2 Clement 14:3 even says “Now the Church, being spiritual was manifested in the flesh of Christ”, suggesting that Jesus was meant as a symbol of the church. But this was followed up a Literalist reaction. The Second Epistle of Peter, written by a different author, attempted to provide corroberation for the Literalist interpretation of the gospels, saying that the Peter had personally witnessed miracles written about in the gospels. The fact that the author feels the need to defend himself saying, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories...”, implies that a lot of people believed the stories of Jesus to be just that. Papias tells a story about Judas Iscariot becoming a giant bloated monster, perhaps as an attempt to explain a tradition referenced in Acts 1:18 that Judas exploded after an unexplaned fall, as suggested by Robert M. Price in his book, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, but it is due to Papias' unreliable acceptance of myths that Eusebius said that “He was a very stupid man if you judge him by his books”. The Antiochian church also appears to have written a version of Acts of the Apostles that opens in what is now Acts 13, giving a long list of apostles, of which “Saul” is the last. This downgrading of Paul's importance, such that the Antioch Source referred described the adventures of “Barnabas and Saul”, did not seem to last, as the popular reference to them in Acts appears to have later been updated to “Paul and Barnabas”.
At some point, the Church in Antioch began to lose its authority and Asia Minor became the new center for the development of the Jesus sects, most especially in Ephesus and Smryna. There are some indications that both Luke-Acts and John were written by someone from the Church of Ephesus. Acts 20:17-38 provides a very touching scene between Paul and the Presbyters, or Elders, of the Church of Ephesus. Also, most of the episodes in Acts emphasize Peter and John as the most important disciples, and there were one or two apostles named John associated with the founding of the Church of Ephesus. The inclusion of Peter showed that this new Ephesus church still wanted to give respect to the Antioch Church as it appears heavily dependent on them. The church historian Eusebius claimed that John's follower Polycarp of Smyrna shared correspondence with Ignatius of Antioch and would travel to Antioch often. The concept of the Logos found in the Gospel of John was first conceived of by the sixth century BCE Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus and tradition places the authorship of John in Ephesus.
According to one bishop, John had written his gospel to refute the Jewish Gnostic Cerinthus, relaying a story of how the disciple John one day ran into Cerinthus at the public bath in Ephesus and exclaimed, “Let us flee, lest the bath house fall down! For Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within”. That bishop was Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus is not a very well-known church father and yet he is so important to the evolution of Christian theology, it would not be an understatement to consider him the true founder of the Apostolic Church of Rome. The Apostolic Church ultimately turned into the Catholic Church in the mid-second century and was then chosen by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century to become what would be known as Orthodox Christianity, which ultimately developed into Nicene Christianity, and then the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
Irenaeus was the first church father to use the same Christian library established by Constantine and canonized by the Synod of Hippo in 393. He canonized the four gospels by saying that there could only be four gospels just as there could only be four winds and four corners of the earth. He is the first to give a name “Gnostic”, Greek for “knowledgeable”, to certain Jesus sects that he wrote against, although in his own context they were “Gnostic falsely so-called”, implying that he and the Presbyters of the Apostolic Church retained the true “knowledge”. He is the first to cite the Pastoral and Johannine epistles that attack sectarians who had a more symbolic interpretation of the gospel story as “anti-Christs”. The books he cited from when laying out his theology matches well with the modern canon established by the Council of Trent in 1545 except that he also cited the apocryphal Book of Enoch and the Shepherd of Hermas and left out Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 3 John and Jude. He also included the “Old Testament” in his canon, continuing the Antioch Church's tradition of adopting the Messianic prophecies extrapolated from the Septuagint without upholding the “Laws of Moses” in the Pentateuch. He is also the first to catalogue all of the known Christian heresies of his time, creating the first systematic theology that defined all the different sects as well as his own sect. In his definitive tome, The Refutation and Overthrow of Gnosis So-Called, or Against Heresies for short, Irenaeus attacks the theologies of the Adoptionists, Ebionites, Cerinthians, Docetae, Marcionites, and the various Gnostic sects, but especially main rival-sect, Valentinianism.
In Against Hereies, Irenaeus makes the absurd claim that each of the four canonical gospels was stolen by one particular heretical Christian sect. According to Irenaeus, Mark was stolen by the Adoptionists who believed the Spirit “adopted” Jesus at his baptism, Matthew was stolen by the Jewish Ebionites who kept the Torah and rejected his divinity, Luke was stolen by the Stoic Marcionites whose Docetic theology taught that Jesus came down from heaven unborn, and John was stolen by the Plato-loving Valentinians who identified Jesus with the Logos. As it turns out, Mark does portray an Adoptionist theology of Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit first at baptism. Matthew is the sole gospel that makes the Ebionite argument that the Jewish Laws of Moses were still in effect. Luke does portray Jesus as a Docetic phantom who can walk through people. And John is the only gospel to speak of the Logos. So it appears that Irenaeus' Apostolic Church stole and edited the heretical gospels originally written by the four sects he named so that they could lay claim to their traditions. Instead of going the usual route of combining gospels to get a full "historical" picture, Irenaeus instead kept the four gospels apart so that each one could best appeal to the various sects.
Each of the four leaders of the heretical sects were likewise “converted” over to the Roman Apostolic Church to maximize the church's maximum advertising potential. The evangelist Mark was made into a student of Peter. Peter was paired with John. James the Just was turned into a friend and ally of Paul. Paul was aligned with the Johannine Church in Ephesus. Early bishops such as Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch were linked to the Presbyters of Ephesus and Smyrna through apocryphal epistles ascribed to them. And finally, Irenaeus connected himself personally to John through Papias, and most importantly, Polycarp. By adopting these early teachers, Irenaeus was able to convince the Adoptionists, Jewish Ebionites, Docetic Marcionites and Gnostic Valentinians that it was the heretical sects who had moved away from the theology of their respective founders. Irenaeus instead introduced a theology that harmonized all of these contentious leaders in a way similar to how some people today will consolidate the contradicting beliefs of the Founding Fathers into a single homogenized concept.
The authority that Irenaeus claimed for his Roman church was by the unproven allegation that Peter and Paul were crucified in Rome and by the direct connection to the apostles who were said to have been taught directly by one of Jesus' original disciples. Irenaeus, who was said to have to lived in Lyons, France, and to represent the Church in Ephesus, visited the bishop in Rome. There, he claimed his authority as a student of Polycarp, who he claimed was a follower of the disciple John, yet Irenaeus was writing an incredible 150 years after Jesus' death. Irenaeus, naturally, tried to stress that Polycarp was extremely old (86!) and he was, of course, very young. It is for this reason alone that images of St. John the Evangelist is always depicted as a babe amongst older disciples. He had to be young so that when he grew up to be he could teach a youthful Polycarp, who could then grow up to an old man and teach Irenaeus as a child. But even then the math does not work so Irenaeus had to claim that Jesus was actually crucified in the 50s!
It is not just Polycarp's relationship to the disciple John that's suspicious. Irenaeus' connection to Polycarp is also quite tenuous. As author Stephan Huller has pointed out, Irenaeus more likely invented the connection to Polycarp because Polycarp was the teacher of his Valentinian rival in Rome, Florinus. In a letter written by Irenaeus to Florinus, he contends that unlike what Florinus had been telling people, Polycarp was not the source of Florinus' Gnostic teachings, saying, “These opinions those who were presbyters before us, who accompanied the apostles, did not hand on to you. For while I was still a boy I knew you in lower Asia in Polycarp's house when you were a man of rank in the royal hall and endeavoring to stand well with him.” Irenaeus' main rivals were the Valentinians just as the Marcionites were the main rivals of Tertullian. If Polycarp was a saint of the Valentinians, then Irenaeus probably just adopted the label just as he had done for all the others. Even Eusebius doubted that Polycarp really knew the disciple John. Eusebius instead used the quote from Papias naming two Johns to posit that the disciple John had written the Gospel of John and 1 John while Polycarp's John was John the Presbyter who wrote Revelation, 2 John, and 3 John. As reasonable as this uniquely skeptical interpretation seems, there was a good reason for Eusebius to split the authorship that way. As mentioned earlier, Revelation contains the Cerinthian theology of premillennialism, a holdover from the heydays of the Jewish earthly revolution against Rome, which naturally made the emperor's historian uncomfortable enough to disqualify the Book of Revelation as canonical. Despite what Eusebius thought, Ireaneus insisted that his John was the disciple John and the Catholic Church decided to side with Irenaeus over Eusebius, as well as keeping the Book of Revelation canon.
Although Eusebius was certainly right that Polycarp's John was not the disciple John, the Gospel and Apocalypse of John appear to have had a long history together. They both appear to have originated with the Cerinthians and then got adopted by the Valentinians and only then got procured by the Presbyters of the Apostolic Church. Irenaeus said that the Gospel of John was written to refute the Cerinthians but he also said that it was used by the Valentinians. The earliest surviving commentary to the Gospel of John comes from Heracleon, a disciple of Valentinus. Rudolf Bultmann and Randel McCraw Helms both saw the Gospel of John having three different layers: 1) a Jewish Signs Gospel that listed seven miraculous signs performed by Jesus; 2) a spiritualized Gnostic version of John that was anti-Baptism and anti-Eucharist and emphasized that the Logos took on a spiritual body; and 3) an apocalyptic version of John that was pro-Baptism and pro-Eucharist and emphasized that the Logos took on a physical body that was physically crucified and resurrected. Although Bultmann and Helms assumed this evolution happened in the first century, the model makes more sense in a second century context: the Cerinthian Signs gospel was edited into a Valentinian version of John, then Florinus brought that version of the gospel to Rome where Irenaeus or a predecessor rewrote it into the version we know today. Irenaeus then assimilated Florinus' Valentinian figureheads, John and Polycarp, in order to open up the Apostolic Church up to the Valentinians, just as Mark had been assimilated for the Adoptionists, James for the Ebionites, and Paul for the Marcionites.
Marcion was said to have created his sect in the year 144, some eight years after Emperor Hadrian defeated the militant Messiah, Simon bar Kokhba. This was also around the same time that Irenaeus claimed that Polycarp of Smyrna ran into Marcion in a bathhouse in Rome and called him the firstborn of Satan. So not only is Polycarp associated with Valentinianism through Florinus but he also seems to have some vague association with Marcionism as well. The year 144 was also the year in which a four-year dispute arbitrated by the Emperor Antoninus Pius between the Anatolian cities of Ephesus and Smyrna was resolved. It was also the year that the extremely famous Sophist Polemo decided to commit suicide due to arthritic pain by having himself locked in his own tomb. In the article, Polycarp and Polemo: Christianity at the Center of the Second Sophistic, by New Testament scholar Hans Dieter Betz points out how the Martyrdom of Polycarp portrays Polycarp as gesturing, gazing, improvising and displaying masculinity just like a sophist. Polycarp also speaks like a Sophist arranging for a public declamation when he says “I am a Christian. Now if you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, appoint a day and give me a hearing.” The Martyrdom of Pionius even claims that a relative of Polemon, also called Polemo, arrested a disciple of Polycarp and purported copyist of The Martyrdom of Polycarp on the anniversary of the martyrdom.
Stephan Huller has also written a twenty-six part series called “Against Polycarp”, about how Irenaeus' description of Polycarp was a revision of the biography of the Cynic Christian Peregrinus, meant as damage control after Lucian of Samosata destroyed Polycarp's credibility by publishing the biting satire The Passing of Peregrinus. Proteus Peregrinus is also said to have committed suicide by burning himself to death at the Olympic Games in 165 CE and Lucian claims to have invented the sighting of Peregrinus' soul rising as a vulture from the flames and then heard a follower of Peregrinus claim to have seen the vulture himself. Around that same time, Polycarp is said to have been martyred in Smyrna by being burned, although when the flames his not hurt him, he was stabbed and his blood put out the fire. Peregrinus is also said to have written Christian scripture. Huller believes it is a version of Hegesippus that contains the fictional lineage of the Jerusalem priests who continued the legacy of Jesus until James was killed and Jerusalem fell. Author Roger Parvus of Vridar.org suggests that they were originally the The Letters of Ignatius, given that the bishop of Antioch's name fit Peregrinus' fiery end.
Although I had not noticed the connections Peregrinus had with Polycarp or Ignatius, I had made a very similar connection between Peregrinus and Paul. Both Paul and Peregrinus got in trouble with Jewish sectarians for violating kosher rules. Both Paul and Peregrinus were arrested and while in jail, a female disciple bribed her way into his jail cell. In the case of Paul it was Thecla in The Acts of Paul and Thecla. Both were involved in a riot. Both were compared to Socrates. Peregrinus also betrayed Pharisees to the Romans just as Paul was said to have persecuted Jewish Christians. Acts also makes a very suspicious declaration that the Spirit of Jesus forbade Paul from sailing to Mysia, which happened to be where Peregrinus was from. Lucian said he used that Peregrinus used money given to him to buy Roman citizenship, something that Acts makes a point of saying Paul did not do, although the claim made in 2 Corinthians that he “robbed other churches by accepting their contributions so I could serve you” could possibly be considered a reference to such a purchase. As Robert M. Price has pointed out, an early version of a verse from 1 Corinthians reads “I deliver my body up to be burned” (13:3 ESV), referencing Peregrinus' fate of suicide by fire.
To be sure, Peregrinus was not the only inspiration used for the Paul. Both Price and Parvus build on the hypothesis of F.C. Baur, founder of the Tübingen School of higher criticism, that Paul was a cypher for Simon Magus, whom Irenaeus considered to be the fountainhead of Gnosticism. Menander learned from Simon. A Docetic Gnostic named Cerdo gave it to Marcion. Thus Paul was Simon Magus before he was Peregrinus. But how did Peregrinus ultimately inspire different aspects of Paul, Polycarp and Ignatius? The best explanation in my mind is that Peregrinus both popularized and polarized Christianity in Asia Minor and made it much more accessible to the average Anatolian while alienating Jewish and Roman Christians. In 177, there was an earthquake in Smyrna, the same year Irenaeus had been sent from Lyon to Rome regarding Montanism from Phrygia, which was right next to Lydia, where Smyrna and Ephesus were located, and Mysia, where Peregrinus was from. But rather than discrediting Montanism, the major conflict for Irenaeus is Valentinianism. So he publishes a book that lays out a lot of different heresies but primarily attacks Valentinianism. In this book he claims he lived in Smyrna is a boy, knew Polycarp better than Florinus the Valentinian did when Polycarp was there, and lays out a history of the church connecting that connected Jesus to John to Polycarp to him. Ireaneus collectivized the various strands of competing histories by renaming the major players. James went from being one of the Teachers of Righteousness to being the bishop of Jerusalem. Peregrinus went from an unkosher Cynic provacateur to the Marcionite Apostle to the Gentiles, to Paul, Good Friend to the Twelve Disciples. Polemon went from Smyrna's most famous sophist ambassador to Polycarp the Gnostic teacher and Peregrinus-style Martyr to Polycarp, Good Friend of Papias, Ignatius and Irenaeus. If many of these second century figures are in fact inventions created by Irenaeus, that leaves us with very few historical witnesses to a historical Jesus.
Hadrian is quoted as saying that the rites of Christianity and Serapis worship in Egypt were completely identical. He then went on to create his own clone of Serapis worship in memory of his dead lover Antinous, whose image can still be found holding a cross in one hand and the grapes of the Eucharist in the other. After putting down the Jewish rebellion in the Third Jewish/Roman War, Hadrian completely outlawed Judaism, depopulated Jerusalem, and renamed it Aelia Capitolina. Both Judaism and Christianity became deeply conservative and weary of Zealot nationalism. Reforms were taken up by Antinous Pius with Christians and Jews being allowed some concessions. This might explain why Marcionites, who refused to identify Jesus as Jewish or the Messiah were said to have established their church the same year Antinous Pius concluded talks in Polycarp's Smyrna and become wildly popular in the early second century. By the time the Emperor Commodus and Irenaeus came around, forty years had passed since the last Jewish war and so Messianic terminology may have finally been allowed some symbolic leeway. The world-denying, empire-denying Gnostics had started to become delegitimized by competing Middle Platonists like Celsus and by the third century, Neo-Platonists like Plotinus were labelling Gnostics as heretics to Plato just as Apostolic Christians like Irenaeus were saying that Plato was more religious than the Gnostics. As Stephan Huller has pointed out, Lucian of Samosata, Celsus, and Irenaeus sound a lot alike in their condemnations of counter-cultural Cynicism and Gnosticism. Given that so much of the sects dedicated to Jesus, apart from Papias and Justin, have nothing to do with Ireaneus, the only impending conclusion that can be drawn is that nearly all of Christian and Chrestian history that existed before Irenaeus has come down to us only through the filter of his fraudulent interpretations.
The Dying-and-Rising God and the Mother Principle
If Irenaeus is largely responsible for what would become dominant Christian theologies of modern times, what were the beliefs regarding the Gnostics that he hated so much? Gnosticism started in the first century and scholars are undecided as to whether it began as a spiritual philosophy inside or outside Christianity. None of the sects referred to themselves as Gnostics, and although the majority of them did emphasize secret knowledge, the label is really more an umbrella term, like the word Celtic, referencing many different groups of people with different belief systems. However, some theological concepts can be abstracted to provide a general idea of what they believed as a whole. In general, Gnostics believed the highest God, the Monad, or the “One”, did not create the world but instead manifested various emanations of angel-like Aeons from the Pleroma, the fullness of God, and that Sophia (“Wisdom”) was the lowest Aeon, the one closest to the material world. Sophia was either formed from Christ or gave birth to him, which is why the Gnostics spiritualized Mary into the role of Sophia as an allegory for the marriage of Wisdom and the Logos. As such, the Gnostic Sophia was a feminine version of the Holy Spirit and was considered the great Mother Principle of the cosmos. Jesus acted as a mediator between God and humans, allowing their souls to be saved from the material world and ascend through the emanations. To recover the hidden spark of light inside humans, the spiritual Savior, Christ, descended into Jesus, drawing all of the sparks of light to himself, before leaving the body of Jesus before the crucifixion. This salvation allowed Christ to ascend with Sophia back through the planetary spheres into the heavens. By attaining a higher understanding of wisdom, Gnostics believed their souls could escape the material realm and ascend back with them.
The material world was created when the Sophia made the cataclysmic Error of trying to know the great Unknowable Bythos, causing Sophia to be exiled. She is generally believed to have given birth to creator of the world, the Demi-urge, whose name literally means “people-worker”, that is, a “craftsman”, or later “creator”. The Demiurge was seen by the earlier Platonists as benevolent but the Gnostics described him either in more neutral (Just not Good) or evil terms. He was often described as not fully formed, an “abortion”, another Gnostic term that “Paul” uses, this time for himself. Although he created the world, the Demiurge was ignorant of any higher emanations above him, with the Apocryphon of John calling him Samael, meaning “the blind god”. As Robert M. Price has pointed out, the term Demiurge is very similar to the occupation of tekton, meaning “technician”, “craftsman” or “carpenter”, given to Jesus or his father in the gospels. The author Acharya S has noted a thematic link between the two in Hebrews 11:10: “He looked forward to the well-founded city, whose teknites and demiourgos is God”. Following this symbolic association, it is also notable that the Gospel of Mark refers to Jesus as a tekton but the Gospel of Matthew, which originated from the Ebionite sect that saw Jesus in more human terms, instead refers to Jesus as the son of a tekton.
Although much of Gnosticism derived from Platonism and other Greek philosophies, the dying-and-rising Savior figure of Gnosticism followed in the footsteps of the ancient Eleusian and Dionysian mystery religions in which a young shepherd god or demi-god would be killed and then hung on a tree before coming back to life. This process also provided the salvation of the worshippers through a Eucharist of bread and water/wine representing the god's body and blood. The young shepherd god was also associated with an older or more powerful fertility goddess who was very often associated with the primeval waters of creation. The Gnostics likewise associated Sophia with the primeval waters.
The earliest known dying-and-rising god came from the religion of the Sumerians and Akkadians, two of the earliest human civilizations that grew up around the Fertile Crescent surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of Iraq. Sumerian mythology also employed alternate versions of the Biblical stories written in the third millennium BCE. The Creation of Heaven and Earth, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah's Ark, Nimrod's Empire, and the Tower of Babel all had parallel equivalents written with wedge-shaped cuneiform characters pressed into clay tablets. The parallels in Genesis stop with the story of Abraham as the pagan and Jewish traditions branched off. Psalms and the Book of Isaiah would go on to portray Yahweh as a storm/war god who, like the pagan god Ba'al, who created the world, rode on the thunderclouds, and either slew or would slay the dragon of the primeval waters at the beginning or end of time.
In Ezekiel 8:14, it says that women used to weep over the death of Tammuz at the Jerusalem Temple in the same way Christians mourn the death of Jesus on Good Friday, suggesting that many women may have considered Yahweh to be the Semitic equivalent of Dumuzi. The month of July is even named after him in the Hebrew and Arabic calendars. Strangely, Ezekiel is so disgusted by the Tammuz worship that he calls for those who hate such practices to put a Tau or T mark on their foreheads to show they were not Tammuz worshippers. The Hebrew Bible here actually suggests that Judeans should literally put a cross on their heads as a part of a covenant to prove that they do not worship the dying-and-rising god. More likely the Tau symbol originated as a symbol for Tammuz rather than a symbol against him. Some scholars have suggested the T mark stood for the word Torah, but it could equally have stood for Tammuz.
Tammuz was known in Sumer as the young dying-and-rising shepherd god Dumuzi, whose name means either “Living Son”, “Risen Son”, “True Son” or “Faithful Son”. The name Dumuzi appears on the Sumerian kinglist twice, once as “Dumuzi the Shepherd”, who reigned in the earliest recorded era before the flood, and then again as “Dumuzi the Fisherman” a king of Uruk immediately preceding the famous king Gilgamesh. Jesus, too, is known as “the Living Son” and “the Good Shepherd”, was said to have chosen twelve fishermen to become his disciples, saying “I will make you fishers of men.” The double-wedged fish symbol, the Ichythis, was a symbol of Christianity that preceded even the cross. Dumuzi's father Enki, the god of wisdom, also used the fish as his totem symbol and his temple was located in Sumer's first city, Eridu, a port city on the Persian Gulf. Genesis refers to it as Cain's city of Enoch. Enki's temple, E-Abzu, built around 5,300 BCE, expanded to become one of the oldest cities in the world. The town of Kuara, where Dumuzi the Fisherman was from, founded around 2,500 BCE, was just a few miles away and within the cultic orbit of Enki's city. The fisherman priests of Enki are shown in some reliefs as literally dressing up in giant fish costumes during their ceremonies. Enki was also the god who warned the ark-building hero, variously named Ziusudra, Atra-Hasis, or Utnapishtim, about the oncoming worldwide flood. In a parallel Hindu myth, the Matsya Purana, or “Fish Chronicle,” it is the Enki-like god Vishnu who takes the form of a fish in order to warn the flood hero Satyavarman, and even pull his ark. Satyavarman was believed to be the seventh Manu, an Indo-European name for the archetypal man that is actually etymologically related to the English word “man”. In Nabataean mythology, the great deluge was said to have been caused by the death of the wise man Yanbushad in Babylon, which they associated with the death of Tammuz.
Dumuzi also had an epithet, “Great Mother Dragon of Heaven”, which he must have inherited from his grandmother Nammu, the mother of all the gods. Dumuzi was said to have guarded the gates of heaven similar to how St. Peter is popularly illustrated as guarding the pearly gates. Alongside Dumuzi was another deity associated with life and death, Ningishzida, whose symbol was the caduceus, two snakes wrapped around a rod. The snake in the Garden of Eden convinced Adam to eat from the fruit of wisdom. Sethian Gnostics identified the snake in the garden with the secret wisdom that Jesus bestowed. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Pre-Sumerian idols from the Ubaid period (6500-3800 BCE) also appear to have worshipped deities with snake-like heads.
The fertility goddess that plays the wife/mother role to the dying-and-rising god in the ancient Indo-European mythologies have many indications of being the oldest archaeologically-attested deity on earth by over 30,000 years. The goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Ahsherah, Astarte, Cybele, Aphrodite, Venus, Magna Mater, Frigg, and Eostre (Easter) all appear to descend from an ancient fertility goddess whose figurines have been discovered all across Europe and Asia, dating back as far as 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, the most of which is the Venus of Willendorf. No male figurine goes back so far. It has been suggested that the reason for this might be because before civilization and marriage, children were raised by their mother, but after the institution of marriage, the father acted more as a role model, translating into a heavenly father figure. The relationship between these goddesses and the ancient Venus figurines have been detailed by scholars such as mythologist Joseph Campbell, anthropologist James George Frazer, archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, and historian and anthropologist Raphael Patai. Unfortunately, scholarly investigations into the dying-and-rising god's relationship with the ancient fertility goddess hit a backlash as some scholars began to unravel some of Frazer's and Gimbutas' more liberal interpretations. In many cases, there definitely was an overstep, such as some mother goddess advocates retrojecting the egalitarianism inherent in the mystery religions back into the older goddess traditions and painting the ancient past as a non-violent utopia when all evidence points to it being more violent. Probably the biggest scholarly setback was when more modern scholars took an axe to many of the interpretations by Gimbutas and archaeologist James Mellaart connecting the Mother Goddess to artifacts found at 9,500-year-old proto-city settlement Catal-Hoyuk in Anatolia. Following these setbacks, scholars began to take far more skeptical interpretations regarding the Venus figurines, suggesting that they were nothing more than an ancient form of pornography or self-portraits designed by pregnant women.
None of these misinterpretations change the fact that these Venus figurines maintain a cultural homogeny, showing the same physical details, such as faceless heads, tiny hands holding oversized breasts, pregnant stomachs, pinprick feet, over thousands of years. These same characteristics then ended up as common motifs for later goddesses in oldest civilizations of the Middle East, which continued to portray their goddesses holding their breasts. In Armenian mythology, the goddess of love and fertility was Astghik, literally “East Star” i.e. Easter, from the Proto-Indo-European word *hzster. The Armenians themselves identified Astghik with Inanna/Ishtar and Aphrodite, both of whom were identified with the planet Venus. Frigg, the mother of the dying-and-rising god Baldr, is likewise identified with Venus, such that the weekday named after her, Friday, was known in the Romance Languages as the “Day of Venus.” Considering the astounding ages and distances apart the artifacts are, there is plenty of room to question how abstract or symbolic or mystical the feminine principle was meant to play in human society, but the complete lack of equivalent male artifacts proves that there was some kind of cultural homogeny based on the Mother Principle already present at the very dawn of homo sapien existence.
In the Sumerian myth Inanna's Descent to the Underworld, dated between 1900 and 1600 BCE, Dumuzi's wife Inanna, the Queen of Heaven, wrongly tried to conquer the netherworld as well, which was ruled by her sister Ereshkigal, the Sumerian version of the Greek goddess Persephone. To get to the underworld, Inanna had to bypass seven celestial gates that symbolized the seven conjunctions Venus makes with the waning moon. To pass each of the seven gates, she was forced to remove more and more of her jewelry and clothing until she finally met her sister in the underworld naked, after which Ereshkigal instantly killed her and hung her on a stake. Inanna as Venus, like Jesus, stayed “dead” for three days, and was then “resurrected” when she rose from the horizon, representing the three days that Venus disappears between the appearance of the morning and evening star. According to the myth, Dumuzi's father Enki resurrected Inanna with the plant and water of life, but the gods demanded that Inanna provide a substitute for the netherworld. Seeing that Dumuzi was not mourning her death, she chose him as her substitute in a fit of anger but then quickly regretted it. Thus, Inanna may have been the first dying-and-rising deity and it may be that Dumuzi simply inherited this motif from her, but in most later representations of the myth it was only the young shepherd god and not his lover/wife who acted as the dying-and-rising god.
When Inanna chose Dumuzi as her substitute, the demons first tried to apprehend him while he is beneath his apple tree. Dumuzi tries to escape him, which is common motif in these myths, but he is eventually taken as a substitute into the Underworld Inanna then convinced her sister Ereshkigal to allow Dumuzi to return half the year, symbolizing the changing of the seasons just as does in the Greek myth of the dying-and-rising god Adonis, and before him Persephone. A depiction of Dumuzi's resurrection shows him rising out from the ground from beneath the same Tree of Life where he was killed. Both Jewish and Christian tradition from various apocryphal texts holds that Golgotha, the location where Jesus was crucified, was also the same location where Adam died, and that the name “Place of the Skull” referred to Adam's skull. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Dumuzi rising from the dead beneath the Tree of Life with his wife Inanna beside him
The fall and rise of the evening/morning star is likewise attributed to a Canaanite myth regarding two sons of El the Bull, Dusk and Dawn, or Shalem and Shahar, both of whom represented Venus. Shalem represented the falling evening star while his twin or half-brother Shahar represented the rising morning star. The city of Jerusalem, which was settled by 3500 BCE and known as Rusalimum by 2000 BCE, is believed by most scholars to have been named after Shalem. His brother Shahar appears to have been used to symbolize Jerusalem's great rival, Babylon. This may have to do with the fact that Jerusalem marked the end of the western side of the Fertile Crescent and Babylon marked the end of the eastern side. Given the geographical locations these morning star deities embodied, it is probably not surprising that the morning star came to be used as a symbol for both Jesus and Lucifer. Revelation 22:16 says: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to attest these things to you for the sake of the churches. I am the sprig from the root of David and the bright star of the morning.” 2 Peter 1:19 says: “We also have the prophetic message... as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Yet Isaiah 14:12 associates the king of Babylon with Helel, son of Shahar, and it is this first name, the name of Shahar's son, that was translated into Latin as the only Biblical reference to Lucifer: “How did you come to fall from the heavens, Daystar, son of Dawn [Helel, son of Shahar]? How did you come to be thrown to the ground, conqueror of nations? You who used to think to yourself: I shall scale the heavens; higher than the stars of God I shall set my throne. I shall sit on the Mount of Assembly [Zaphon] far away to the north. I shall climb high above the clouds, I shall rival the Most High [El Elyon].'”
Considering the context of Isaiah's political mythologizing, Shahar (or possibly Helel) must have been considered equivalent to the head of the Babylonian pantheon, Bel Marduk. Like Dumuzi, Marduk was called the son of Enki, and was believed to have been born in Kuara, the same town near Enki's city where the Uruk king Dumuzi the Fisherman was from. In the Canaanite Ba'al Cycle, the storm/war god Ba'al Hadad gets his sister Anat to threaten El the Bull for the right to build a palace like El's on Mount Zaphon on the Anatolian and Syrian border, the same mountain that “Lucifer” wanted to build his palace on. Hadad also had some qualities he shared with Dumuzi/Tammuz, such as dying and rising again, and having a sister who aided him similar to how Geshtinanna aided Dumuzi, but in every other respect he was like the other dragon-slaying storm/war gods, propagandizing the idea of nation-building through war and combat.
Tammuz was worshipped outside the Jerusalem Temple, so it makes sense that Shahar's brother (Jeru-)Shalem would be equivalent to Tammuz. Tacitus said that some people in his time believed that the Jerusalem priesthood had come from the Anatolian/Greek dying-and-rising god Dionysus, saying, “their priests used to perform their chants to the flute and drums, crowned with ivy, and a golden vine was discovered in the Temple...” The first-century CE Middle Platonist, Plutarch, who was himself initiated into the mysteries of Apollo, equated Yahweh with Bacchus, the Roman name for Dionysus, because the wine god's famed pine cone wand (thyrsus) and tambourines (timbrels) were displayed on the Jerusalem Temple. Tammuz was likewise represented as carrying a thyrsus. In his play, The Bacchai, Euripides portrayed the followers of Dionysus as being rescued by having their chains magically fall off just as the chains magically fall off of Peter in Acts 12:7. Dionysus also tells the unbeliever Pentheus that he should sacrifice to him “rather than kick against his spurs in anger”, just as the risen Jesus appears to Paul in Acts 26:14 saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” The last sentence can also be found in an Epistle of Ignatius. Incorporating the scattered pieces of mythological evidence together, the various motifs found in the dying-and-rising god mythology appear to have already been established at Jerusalem's founding, and this dying-and-rising god Tammuz/Yahweh/Shalem was believed to have an evil twin or half-brother of Marduk/Shahar in Babylon whose son became known as Lucifer.
Tammuz and Asherah worshippers also erected feminine devotional poles called Asherahs, which were supposed to represent the Tree of Life under which Dumuzi had been slain and resurrected. If some of these poles were not themselves shaped like crucifixes, they certainly were their functional equivalent. Both the cross and crucifix have been identified as religious symbols from Hittite cylinder seals discovered in Turkey dating to the second and third millennium BCE By the second century CE, they became associated with the worship of the dying-and-rising gods Dionysus, Orpheus and Emperor Hadrian's lost lover, Antinous. According to the Hebrew Bible, the only two good kings of Judah out of the whole batch listed in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Hezekiah and Josiah, were the two who actively destroyed the Asherah poles and forced everyone to sacrifice to Yahweh at the Jerusalem Temple alone. This provided a model for which the Jerusalem Temple would be considered the only legitimate location for the surrounding people to sacrifice. Centralizing the worship of all Judeans was meant to consolidate the money and authority within the Judean capital to better resist being conquered by the Babylonian and Assyrian empires. The rising nationalism eventually caused the worship of Yahweh as a dying-and-rising shepherd god to be pushed underground in favor of the worship of Yahweh as the storm/war god, only to return in the form of the more universalized Gnostic form.
In 1 Corinthians 2:6, “Paul” says that Jesus was killed by the “archons of this aeon”, a strangely ambiguous term that could either mean “earthly rulers of this millennium” or “elemental demons from this emanation”, either term of which begs for a non-existent elaboration. These kinds of spiritual terms were used by Gnostics, many of whom were linked to Paul. The more mundane interpretation that the powers refer to the Romans seems to be contradicted by Romans 13:1, which says that everyone should subject themselves to the governing authorities because “the authorities that exist have been established by God”, an amazingly congenial belief for someone who supposedly believed the Son of God had recently been executed under Roman authority. Besides that, it is definitely an overly grandiose way to refer to Pontius Pilate or Herod, neither of whom he had ever referenced by name, other than to give a provide a greeting to a relative of his with the highly suspicious name of Herodion (Rom. 16:11). In 1 Corinthians 2:24, he says that Jews and Greeks are both called to “Christ the power of God and the sophia of God”, and in 2:6, “We do, however, speak a message of sophia among the mature, but not the sophia of this aeon or of the archons of this aeon, who are coming to nothing.” Whereas Gnostic sects generally claimed to have secret wisdom imparted only to the higher ranks of the mystery religions, the Apostolic Church of Irenaeus criticized the idea, saying that if secret teachings had really existed then the church in Rome would have known about it.
The idea that Wisdom was corrupted as it entered the material world has a correlation in Gnostic thought. In Gnostic mythology, the Sophia is said to have descended through seven planetary spheres to the earth in a similar fashion to Inanna's descent through seven gates to the underworld. In both cases, the material world as we know it is created through some great error of the feminine principle equivalent to Eve or Pandora. To the Gnostics, Wisdom's error is what caused the world to become imperfect by giving birth to an imperfect Creator, the Demiurge. Dumuzi, like Jesus, ends up as the spiritual scapegoat, suffering for hers sins but eventually being freed.
Country Shepherd vs. City Farmer, Savior vs. Creator
Many of the Gnostics concepts regarding the multiple emanations from the primordial Monad can be read as interpretations of polytheistic and henotheistic myths from Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Greece. Even the seemingly radical Gnostic concept that the earth was created by one of the lower gods has a striking precedent in Mesopotamian mythology in which the Creator of the world was not always the king of the gods but started off as a lowly young god who fought his way to the head of the pantheon. In nearly all of the Mesopotamian, Anatolian and Greco-Roman creation myths, the heaven god, Anu (Uranus), fathered the god of time and air, Enlil (Chronos), and this secondary god in turn fathered Ba'al (Zeus), the nationalistic storm/war god. Although Anu and Enlil were gods from the Sumerian and Akkadian eras when the deity acted as a kind of mascot for the city, Ba'al gained popularity during the times of the Amorite Empires, and so became the avatar of the empire and an icon of the imperial borders of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Moabites, Ammonites, Hurrians, Hittites, and Greeks, each of whom put a storm/war with a different name at the head of their pantheon. A verse from the Song of Moses, an older poem inserted into the Dead Sea Scroll and Septuaigint version of Deuteronomy 32, implicates this same Trinitarian theogony, describing Yahweh as a nationalistic Ba'al of Israel, saying: “When  El Elyon (“God Highest”) gave the nations their inheritance... he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of  Elohim (“Gods”). For  Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob (Israel) his allotted inheritance.” This verse validates an earlier polytheistic belief that each state had its own storm/war god and that all of them were sons of Elohim/Enlil, who in turn was the son of the highest god, the god of heaven god, Anu/El Elyon. Hesiod's three-god Cosmogony structure was based on the Hurrian and Hittite creation myth, Kingship in Heaven. The basic outline of the three-god structure also matches well with Mesopotamian history: the Sumerian heaven god Anu was the most important god during the Uruk period but was then overshadowed by the Semitic air god Enlil after the Akkadian Empire, and then Enlil was replaced by the Amorite storm god Ba'als like Marduk and Ashur with the first Babylonian and Assyrian Empires. Realizing that the text clearly identified Yahweh as the son of Elohim, rather than a proper name for Elohim (and El Elyon), the editors of the Masoretic version of the Hebrew Bible changed the term “sons of Elohim” to “sons of Israel”.
Just as the outliers of society equated Yahweh with Tammuz/Adonis as Yahweh Adonai by the outliers of society, the Davidic royal family equated Yahweh with the storm/war god as “Yahweh of Armies” (typically translated in the Bible as “the LORD of Hosts”). Although Yahweh was eventually transformed into the more monotheistic concept of God found throughout most of the Hebrew Bible, some books like Psalms and Isaiah portrays Yahweh as one of the nationalistic, cloud-riding and dragon-slaying storm/war gods like Ninurta, Marduk, Ashur, Ba'al Hadad, Vahagn, Teshub, and Zeus. The similarity between each of the storm/war god creation myths impresses the idea that it was a trope for the Ba'al to civilize nature by defeating the chaos monster and, in many cases, absorb all the titles of the other gods to become the king of the gods. Ba'al worship was not monotheistic but henotheistic, meaning he was to to be worshipped above all the other gods, as in the henotheistic statement in the First Commandment from Exodus 20:22, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. The name Ba'al means “Lord” or “husband”, symbolizing the young warrior male, as opposed to El, who was seen more as inactive father-judge figure. The Ba'alam, as a collective, were equivalent to the younger Greek Olympian gods, the Indo-Iranian Asura, the Zoroastrian Ahura, and the Norse Aesir, all of whom were associated more with the sky/heavens, stormclouds, war and nationalism. In contrast, the Elohim, who were originally made up of deities like Enlil/Chronos, Enki/Prometheus and Tammuz/Adonis, can likewise be linked to the more nature-based fertility pantheons of the Greek Titans, the Indo-Iranian Deva, the Zoroastiran Daeva, and the Norse Vanir.
Being equated with Ba'al, Yahweh was paired with Anat, the consort of Hadad. An archive of papyrus written in the 500s-400s BCE on Elephanitine island in Egypt pairs the “Virgin Anath” with Yahweh as Anat-Yahu. An Assyiran treaty from 677 BCE pairs Anat-Bethel with a god named Beth-El. Many scholars believe that Beth-El was an aspect of the god El represented by the holy stone kept in the town of Beth-El, the same stone that Genesis called Jacob's stone, the same stone that Yeshu stole the Name of Yahweh from in the earlier version of the Toledot in order to gain his powers of healing.
In the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, Bel Marduk slew the great Mother-Principle, Tiamat, splitting her in two and using her carcass to create the world. Marduk then sacrificed Tiamat's young lover, Kingu, in order to use the god's blood mixed with earth to create humans. Although Tammuz is never mentioned by name in any myths related to Marduk, the young Kingu, or “unskilled laborer”, can be linked thematically to the young shepherd, so that he appears to represent the dying-and-rising god and young lover of the mother goddess whose blood sacrifice is made for the good of mankind. In Sumerian myth, Tiamat is known as Enki's and Anu's mother Nammu, but after the Amorite Empires like Babylon were formed, there was a more hostile outlook towards Inanna and towards the gods with a snake/dragon totem. The stories of the Garden of Eden in Genesis and Yahweh slaying the multi-headed dragon Leviathan in Isaiah, Psalms and Revelation reflects this anti-serpent theme. The Canaanite storm god Ba’al Hadad and his sister Anat likewise slew the multi-headed dragon Lotan, just as the storm god Zeus defeated the serpentine Typhon, and Apollo and his twin sister Artemis shot down Python soon after they were born as the dragon chased their mother down while she was pregnant with them, just as the Red Dragon does to the pregnant “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” in Revelation 12.
In an earlier Sumerian creation myth, it was Dumuzi's father, En-Ki or “Lord-Earth”, who molded humans out of clay of the earth, just as the Greek Titan Prometheus and Yahweh in the Book of Genesis was said to have done. Ninmah, or “Lady-Greatness”, helped Enki form them and then shared in designating the roles of each of them, finding jobs for those made handicapped when Enki fashioned them while drunk. Another Sumerian myth details how Dumuzi's wife Inanna, taking the role of Eve, got Enki drunk and convinced him to give her the hidden me's, secrets of cultural of civilization emblematic of the Fruit of Knowledge, so that she could take them from Enki's city, Eridu, to her own city of Uruk, which would become the Sumerian capital in Gilgamesh's time. In Greek mythology, Prometheus accidentally allows the first woman, Pandora to unleash all of the evil upon the world by opening up a jar, and just as the snake is punished by Yahweh for bringing the wisdom of civilization to man, Prometheus too challenges Zeus' omnipotence by providing humans with the divine spark of fire that put man on the road to civilization. And like Satan, he was eternally punished for it by being tied to a stone and tortured daily by a bird pecking at his organs on Mt. Caucasus. In another Sumerian story, Enki created an Eden-like Garden of Immortality, but then became sick after eating a poisoned fruit. His lover, the goddess Ninmah, healed his body by giving birth to some healing goddesses. One of them is called Ninti, which in Sumerian means both “Lady of Life” and “Lady of the Rib”. The double-meaning of the word is only in Sumerian, not Hebrew, yet it provides original mythological context for why the Lady of Life was born from a rib.
The theological connections between the death of Adam, the resurrection of the Savior, and everlasting life, as in, for example, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), are believed by most Biblical scholars to be ad hoc inventions by first century CE proselytizers like Paul, but there are actually ancient mythological precedents for the creed. The Myth of Adapa, found on tablets from fourteenth century BCE Egypt and Assyria, is a variation of the Eden story, depicting Adapa, the Sumerian version of Adam, not as the first man but as the first of the Seven Sage-Priests of Enki. In the story, Adapa went out on a boat and drowned. Enki (under his Semitic name Ea) then helped him prepare to get through heaven's gate and through the judgment of the king of Heaven, Anu. The god of wisdom told Adapa to make sure that when he sees Dumuzi and a similar god named Ningishzida at the gates of heaven that he lets them know that he mourned their deaths. In doing this, Enki promised that Dumuzi and Ningishzida would advocate to Anu on Adapa's behalf, similar to 1 John 1:21: “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One”. Although Adapa was honored by Anu with the Bread and Water of Eternal Life, he refused the gift because Enki/Ea had told him that he would be given the Bread and Water of Death. Thus, both Adam and Adapa were both denied eternal life by following the instructions of the wise god, “Lord Earth”, but were provided with the chance of eternal life of the soul through the advocation of the Living Son. Thus, the Christian interpretation of Adam's Fall, long believed to be a post-Jesus appendium to the Jewish one, is proven to have a correlation older than Genesis.
The earliest dying-and-rising gods, from Dumuzi to Attis to Adonis to Dionsysus, came from cults that were typically associated with an older or more prestigious goddess, such as Inanna, Cybele or Aphrodite, and these cults themselves were largely controlled by women. In fact, many Dumuzi, Adonis and Attis cults would only allow young boys to join if they castrated themselves, leading to several myths that the dying-and-rising gods had died due to being castrated, either by themselves or by others. Later Eleusinian and Dionysian mystery religions as well as Gnostics and Marcionites allowed men and women to join freely as equals. Archaeological evidence linking Yahweh to the Inanna's Canaanite counterpart, Asherah, has led some Near East archaeologists like William G. Dever, author of Did God Have a Wife?, to believe that she was originally the wife of Yahweh before a “Yahweh-Only” cult decided to do away with her, giving her the name, Ashtoreth, “Lady of Shame”, and using the language of adultery to describe Hebrews who turned their hearts to other gods.
Several ancient inscriptions suggesting Yahweh and Asherah were married have been discovered by archaeology, including one on a jar next to a picture of three dwarf-like lion gods, found on the border of Sinai, the same place where the name of Yahweh was said to have been first been revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:13). The inscription reads “Yahweh... and his Asherah” and next to it are the inscription of three dwarf-like lion gods that look identical to an Egyptian god of sex and childbirth, Bes. Amulets depicting Bes have turned up in many Christian graves in Egypt and there is a Coptic magical papyrus that equates Christ with Bes. The god Bes was also associated with Ptah, and both Bes and Ptah were associated with the Greek volcano god Hephaestus, known to the Romans as Vulcan(o).. Judging by the description of the rumbling mountain Sinai, with its pillar of smoke and magical fire that does not burn itself out, Sigmund Freud suspected that Yahweh was originally a volcano god. In his book Moses and Monotheism, Freud surmised that the volcano god was later harmonized with the monotheistic/henotheistic Aten cult of the original Moses, an Egyptian priest. Hephaestus' fall from Mount Olympus also mirrors the story of Satan falling from heaven. As mentioned earlier, Judah's totem animal was also the lion, and in Sethite and Ophite Gnosticism, the Demiurge was named Yaldabaoth and depicted as a serpent with a lion's head.
Sinai jar drawing from 700s BCE reading “Yahweh... and his Asherah”
Although Hephaestus was well known for his wife Aphrodite cheating on him with Ares, the god of war, two variants of the myth have Hephaestus fighting with Tamoza, or Tammuz, over the love of Aphrodite instead. In one version, Hephaestus kills Tamoza but in the other version, Tamoza kills Hephaestus only to be killed by a boar afterwards, just like Adonis. This conflict between Hephaestus and Tammuz over the love of Aphrodite may symbolize a conflict over the character of the same god. Since both characterizations of the same god had the same wife, a later interpretation turned it into a conflict between two gods over which one should be paired with Inanna/Asherah/Aphrodite. According to the myth Dumuzi and Enkimdu, Dumuzi the Shepherd fights with Enkimdu the farmer over Inanna's love and eventually wins it. Enkimdu can likewise be equated to Enkidu, the companion of Gilgamesh who sadly dies in the epic, and also probably correlates to the king who ruled immediately before Gilgamesh, “Dumuzi the Fisherman”. Inanna's choice of Dumuzi over Enkimdu perhaps symbolizes the fact that women preferred the local country shepherd version of the god to the city farmer version of the god, as that is how it is portrayed in the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Eventually, the temple cult of the more patriarchal city version of the deity dropped goddess worship all together and became a monotheistic Yahweh-Only cult. Likewise, Hephaestus was said to have caught Aphrodite sleeping with Ares, caught them in an invisible net, humiliated her by showing the rest of the Olympian gods, and then demanded the bride-price back from her father. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Yahweh-Only cult in the Hebrew Bible used the same language of infidelity to describe the Judeans who did not drop Asherah worship. The Judeans were said to be cheating on Yahweh when they went and “lusted” after other gods, “for Yahweh, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous El” (Ex. 34:14).
Through Mesopotamian mythology, the conflict between the city dweller with its farmland and the nomadic shepherds is a constant theme. Cain, whose name could mean “posession”, “spear” or “smith”, is the first city-builder. Abel, whose name could mean “breath”, “vanity” or “son”, is the first shepherd. The Sumerian myth, The Dispute Between Emesh and Enten, is an earlier version of the Cain and Abel story. Emesh and Enten were the Sumerian names for Summer and Winter. Just like in the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers, a farmer and a shepherd, compete for their father's love through different sacrifices. In the Bible, Cain becomes jealous of Abel because Yahweh prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. But in the Sumerian version, Enlil chooses the farmer Enten over his shepherd brother Emesh, probably because the Sumerians were a city-dwelling people and the early Hebrews were nomadic shepherds. The mythical founder of Rome, Romulus, and his brother Remus, are both shepherds and city-builders, and in the Roman version, one brother does kill the other. The Norse dying-and-rising god Baldr is likewise killed by his brother Hodr, who is sometimes portrayed as being as blind as the Demiurge. In another version of the myth, Baldr and Hodr fight over the goddess Nanna just as Dumuzi and Enkimdu fight over the goddess Inanna. Hephaestus and Tamoza killing each other over Aphrodite likewise represents the Cain and Abel conflict between the city smith god and the nomadic shepherd god.
The authors of the Hebrew Bible were not the only ones who disliked the cult of the dying-and-rising god. Despite the massive popularity of Tammuz, his name does not show up on any Mesopotamian king names other than the two instances on the Sumerian king list, and even these examples are somewhat problematic. “Dumuzi the Shepherd” ruled from the city of Bad-Tibira, “Fortress of the Smiths”, the second city said to have had kingship after it was lost from Enki's city of Eridu, the first city. Although Bad-Tibira's temple was originally built for Dumuzi, it was later rededicated to Dumuzi's son Lulal, indicating a possible reform. “Dumuzi the Fisherman”, if we can reliably connect him to Enkidu, is portrayed in the earliest Sumerian texts as being a loyal “slave” to the next king in line, Gilgamesh, and he famously renounces his old way of “beastial” life in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Dionysus worship was also considered “beastial” and was outlawed in Greek prehistory by the Theban King Pentheus, according to Euripides and Ovid, and the Roman Republic tried to reform the Dionysian religion 186 BCE, an echo of how Christianity was outlawed in the third century by the Emperor Diocletian and then reformed in the next century by Constantine. But even before that Christianity was reformed to fall in line with a more conservative version of Christianity by the creator of the Biblical canon, Irenaeus, in the 170s-180s CE.
Celsus, the second-century anti-Christian philosopher who said Jesus was the son of Panthera, described Christianity as “a religion of slaves, women, and little children.” The cults of Tammuz and Dionysus were also particularly popular with women as well as slaves, non-citizens, and other social outliers, but they were loathed by the more conservative segments of society. Julia, the daughter of Augustus Caesar, defied her conservative father by crowning the head of Marsyas, a minister for Dionysus who was most portrayed as being hung on a tree. Many of the early Apostolic Church Fathers starting with Irenaeus complained about the fact that other heretical Christian sects like the Montanists, the Marcionites, the Marcosians and the Valentinians viewed women as equal and allowed them to prophesize just as men did. Both Marcion of the Marcionites and Mark of the Marcosians are characterized as evil tempters seducing fickle young virgin mistresses with crazy notions of gender equality. In fact, despite the fact that Celsus was writing an anti-Christian polemic and Irenaeus was writing an anti-Gnostic polemic, it is clear that the two are attacking the same group of believers for the same reasons at about the same time, as Stephan Huller has pointed out. But rather than accept Gnosticism as the default version of Christianity, Irenaeus sought to reform by reinventing its history. It is from the late second-century Apostolic tradition of Irenaeus that we get the epistle of 2 Timothy forbidding women to teach or assume authority over men when. It was around this same time period that a painting of Paul and his disciple Thecla were drawn in a cave outside Ephesus, as John Dominic Crossan and Professor of Religion Jonathan L. Reed have pointed out. Thecla's fingers were pointing up as a sign of divine authority, but the hand as well as her eyes were scratched out. Given that the image of Paul was left untouched, it was almost certainly done by a patriarchal sect of Christianity that replaced the earlier Thecla-friendly group, outlining the historical patriarchal change as proto-feminist Gnostics were replaced by patriarchal presbyters from Irenaeus' Apostolic Church. This antagonism towards female participation of religion began with the Babylonians and their god slaying Tiamat and has continued up to today. However, there is strong archaeological evidence that religion began with the goddess and stayed that way for tens of thousands of years, which would explain why the earliest creation myths start with the mother principle.
The popular saint Thecla was originally accepted as a teacher but later her image was vandalized
Although it is common to think of the vast majority of religions in Eurasia as a single pagan belief structure, there were in fact a lot of different kinds of belief structures. Throughout most of human existence there appears to have been a lone mother goddess representing the figure who raised them as children, but at some point, a younger male god or demi-god, either her son or a lover, appeared alongside her. The mother principle was referred to as a “virgin” despite simultaneously championing the concepts of fertility and motherhood to the point where the virgin birth became a common motif in mythology. This was perhaps so the secondary, younger god would not be seen as more authoritative as the mother goddess. However, when cities were built and marriage was instituted, fathers became more instrumental role models so that older male gods began to enter into the picture, although the pantheon were all still considered to be children of the mother principle. Polytheism became accepted after the first cities adopted a single god as their mascot. But then after the Amorite invasions of Mesopotamia and the rise of Babylonian and Assyrian empires, the concept of the mother principle was dropped. A more patriarchal father figure, Apsu, falsely assumed to be just as ancient as Tiamat/Nammu, was invented to subvert history. The divine Lord and Husband, warrior of the storm clouds, became the head of the pantheon as the importance of the warrior class necessary for conscripted armies increased. Once a goddess was “married off” to a Ba'al in Mesopotamian mythology, her character tended to fade into a meaningless abstraction of her husband. These henotheistic creation stories acknowledged three main gods representing 1) heaven/sky, 2) air/spirit/time, and 3) storm/war. Although in most creation myths the second god was always a villainous or cowardly father-figure replaced by the young king god, the Armenians included a triad of good gods. Finally, the editors of the Hebrew Bible denied all other gods altogether and combined the trinity of El Shaddai, Elohim and Yahweh into the same monotheistic deity. Yet the concept of the Trinity continued on in Valentinian circles anf eventually found its way into the Apostolic Church canon.
Enoch and Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
As we have seen, the story elements from Genesis of the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, the idea that divine wisdom mistakenly being provided to humans through the first woman, the theology of a divine redeemer who will allow those who sympthaize with his death into heaven, and the flood myth were incorporated into the first 10 chapters of Genesis. The Hebrew Bible itself was combined together from literature at various times and places, and scholars that accept the Documentary Hypothesis see the Torah and other books in the Hebrew Bible as belonging to four main hypothetical sources.
In 605 BCE, the Neo-Babylonians (Chaldeans) conquered Judah and Jerusalem’s elites were exiled to Babylon. The noble families of Judah were kept in exile until the Persian king Cyrus, the first “Messiah”, freed them in 539 BCE and gave them leave to build the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Alexander the Great then defeated the Persians and the empire was divided among four of his generals following his death. A dynastic conflict arose between the Seleucid Empire whose capital was centered in Syria and the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt, with Jerusalem in the middle of the fight. The city of Jerusalem soon began taking on more and more Greek culture, becoming “Hellenized” and cosmopolitan until a conflict rose between the Hellenized city Judeans in Jerusalem and the traditional agrarian Judeans from the surrounding countryside. The Seleucid kings, starting with the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes, took the side of the Hellenists and outlawed the Torah laws on circumcision, the kosher diet, and keeping the Sabbath. He also managed to set up altars to Greek gods. The Maccabees then rebelled and managed to form the Hasmonean kingdom, the same kingdom that Mara Bar Serapion said fell shortly after the nameless wise king was slain.
It is during this Hellenistic time period, the fourth century to the first century BCE, that apocalyptic literature like the books of Enoch and Daniel were written. The First Book of Enoch is a massive, heavily-layered compilation of stories based heavily on the ancient story of Adapa, acting as a kind of ret-con prequel to the Hebrew Bible. Like Adapa, Enoch is said to have been born a man but was taken up to see heaven, or in Enoch's case, the Seven Heavens. Adapa himself was also known as Uan, or Oannes, which correlates to the Biblical name Enosh. Although the current canonical version of Genesis makes Enosh and Enoch to be two different names used by three different people, a comparison of the Canite and Sethian genealogies provides a naming pattern that indicates the two names were originally equivalent. The Book of Daniel was a spiritual sister-text to the Book of Daniel, using much of the same terminology but not anywhere near the same amount of details and lists as the canonical text. Both Enoch and Daniel introduce concepts such as the angelology, fallen angels, “Satans”, the End of Days, rejection of Second Temple sacrifice, secret wisdom and the personification of Wisdom, acting as a theological bridge when the same themes are explored in Christian scripture. Enoch is given the title “Son of Man”, making him equivalent to Jesus. The Son of Man is paired up with the “Lord of Spirits”, or Holy Spirit, and the “Ancient of Days” to form a kind of Trinity. Enki, or Prometheus, is recast once again as Azazel, one of the chief fallen angels, who corrupts mankind through his angelic wisdom, such as teaching men how to make weapons and women how to apply cosmetics. The Books of Enoch represents a pre-Christian form of Christianity.
The Book of Enoch reimagines the story of Adapa being taken up and learning the ways of heaven, and receiving a visitor’s perspective of a tour of the Seven Heavens, not unlike Dante’s tour of the Nine Spheres of Paradiso. The theme of the man going up to heaven goes back to Sumerian times, starting with the myth of king Etana. Moses actually already fits this theme as well as he, Aaron, and 72 elders were flown up to eat and drink with the Elohi of Israel in Exodus 24:9, but 1 Enoch raises the Enoch above Moses to chief of the archangels and second only to God. Jewish apocalyptic literature like Enoch and Daniel fostered a tradition of holy men using meditation to rise up and visit heaven just as Enoch did. In 2 Corinthians 12, a mysterious man that the author “Paul” supposedly knew, typically assumed by scholars to be Paul cryptically talking about himself, is said to have traveled to the Third Heaven. As shown by theologian James M. Scott, both the Enochian and Pauline literature wants to subvert the Laws of Moses by appealing to an earlier, more universal revelation that provides salvation to all mankind. The early first century/late second century Hellenistic rabbinic philosopher, Elisha ben Abuyah, who the Toledot identifies as Paul, was also said to have made a similar ascension to Paradisio and learned of a second-only-to-god archangel scribe named Metatron equivalent to Enoch. Legends of another cloud-walker confirms this ancient link between Enochian planar travel and Christianity: none other than Yeshu's teacher, Joshua ben Perachiah!
The Book of Enoch was considered canonical by Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Tertullian, and was cited in Jude 1:9, but was ultimately rejected from the canon in 364 CE in the Council of Laodicea. The Book of Enoch claims to be written by Enoch himself, one of the lesser-known Biblical patriarchs from the pre-flood era of Genesis. It fits the “lost book” genre, implicitly claiming to have been lost for over a thousand years only to be “rediscovered” in the author's own day. Yet, interestingly enough, because the texts were not canonized, they actually did become a book lost to those outside of Africa for over a thousand years! The book was first “rediscovered” in Ethiopia in the 1800s, where it had been a canonical text of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church since the 300s CE and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church since the 400s CE. It was simply ignored by the ascendant churches in Europe. The Book of Enoch was then discovered again in the mid-1900s in the library of Dead Sea Scrolls found in Judean desert caves near the fallen city of Qumran. The majority of Dead Sea Scroll scholars identified the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls to be a sect of apocalyptic and ascetic Jewish mystics called the Essenes, although the scroll authors referred to themselves as the “Sons of Zadok” or the “Sons of Light”. Zadok was the high priest who anointed Solomon as king and his descendants were said by Ezekiel to be the only priests allowed to minister to the Jerusalem Temple.
One of the most important historical figures in the Dead Sea Scroll community was Melchi-Zedek, the first known “Zadokite” king of Jerusalem. Although he was mentioned very sparsely in Genesis and Psalms, the Second Book of Enoch has an exaltation dedicated to him, and the Dead Sea Scroll community identified him as the atoner for sin who would execute judgement on the wicked to the Dead Sea Scroll community. Some Bible verses were even quoted using the name Melchi-Zedek in place of God, such as the phrase “the year of Yahweh's favor” being changed to “the year of Melchi-Zedek's favor” in Isaiah 61:2, or “Elohim stands in the council of El” being changed to “Melchi-Zedek stands in the council of El” in Psalm 82:1. The spiritual successor to this Zadokite line was known as the Teacher of Righteousness, or Moreh ha Zedek, who founded the Zadokite community sometime in the first or second century BCE.
The “Sons of Zadok” believed in an apocalyptic end and there would be not one but two Messiahs, a kingly Messiah based on David and a priestly Messiah based on Aaron that would herald in the new era. From what little can be gleaned from the scrolls, the Teacher of Righteousness was not identified with either of these Messiahs. The Epistle to the Hebrews, Ch. 7-8, also identifies Jesus as belonging to the Priestly Order of Melchi-Zedek, and that he had offered a “New Covenant” by sacrificing himself for their sins. The Book of Enoch and the Epistle to the Hebrews use the same terminology for the Messiah: divine “Son of Man”, first born before the creation, the “reflection of God's glory” and superior to the angels. Both texts also speak about the Messiah taking part in a final battle of End Times and sitting on a throne of glory. The Dead Sea Scrolls likewise speaks of a “New Covenant” and associated it with the same covenant Ezekiel made when he marked everyone who was not a Tammuz worshipper with a T on their forehead. Despite the fact that the name of Tammuz had been subconsciously abandoned, the mystic proto-Christian themes of death, resurrection, martyrdom and salvation were still prevalent in “New Covenant” theology.
Onias III, the Messiah of Daniel
The story of Jesus as presented in the first three Synoptic gospels is the story of a first century messenger of brotherly love and apocalyptic prophet sent on a mission to overthrow the corrupt temple priesthood. Backed by the will of the people but countered by the elders and teachers of law in a world subjugated by Roman oppression, he is ultimately betrayed by greed from within his own ranks. His body, like the Jerusalem Temple after him, is destroyed. From the loss of Jerusalem's most holy precinct came the cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. Yet within a divine mystery the body of the faith rose again.
Since the general timeline of the Hebrew Bible tapers off long before the Roman era, and the Greek era before it, this is the focal point where most scholars begin to try to get an idea about who Jesus was and what he was trying to do. The century that came before the time of Jesus was particularly instrumental in understanding the historical context of the intertwined evolution of Judaism and Christianity yet is largely overlooked because of the historical setting established by the gospels.
Both Josephus and the authors of the Books of Maccabees describe the first century BCE as a time in which a fierce tug of war took place between the Judeans and the Seleucids over the rights to the Jerusalem Temple, which was a major source of economic income and political legitimacy. Which ancient priestly family had the divine right to the administer the Jerusalem Temple was a popular topic in the Hebrew Bible, but due the fact that the Bible was compiled from a library of diverse texts, which themselves were edited together from different diverse source texts, the Old Testament says contradicting things about who is allowed to make sacrifices and where they should be sacrificing. Some early sources say that sacrifices should only be done by members of the Tribe of Levi, the only one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel not to receive a division of land.
The Book of Leviticus makes it clear that sacrifices are to be performed only in the Jerusalem Temple and only by high priests descended from Moses' brother Aaron. Aaron was supposedly a Levite himself but he more likely represents priests of the infamous Israelite king Jeroboam, from the north. Jeroboam constructed golden calves in the Israelite cities of Bethel and Dan, just as Aaron was said to have been the one to fashion the golden calf during the Exodus. Aaron and Jeroboam also fathered two children with the same names, Nadab and Abihu/Abi-Yah. After the Assyrian Empire conquered Jeroboam's land of Israel, many of the Israelites fled south to Jerusalem and then got into a conflict with the local priests regarding traditional authority and so wrote themselves into the Levite genealogy.
A third perspective is provided by the Book of Ezekiel, which says that “Adonai Yahweh” gave the order that the Zadokites were the only priests who were allowed to minister the Jerusalem Temple. The Book of Chronicles claims the Zadokites were also descendants of Levi and Aaron, but the fact that the name Melchi-Zedek appears as the theophoric name of a Jebusite high priest in Genesis 14:18 points to the possibility that the name was associated with Jerusalem before the stories of Aaron or David were known. Another king in Joshua 10:1, named Adoni-Zedek, ruled Jerusalem back when it was called Shalim. The word Adonai, meaning “Lord”, is linguistically related to Adoni-Zedek and the Greek dying-and-rising god Adonis. The fifth-century church father Jerome said that the Bethlehem cave in which Jesus was born in had been rededicated to Adonis-Tammuz to try and erase the memory of Jesus, but given the ancient historical legacy that Tammuz has with the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area, it is more likely the church fathers who attempted to cover up the more original dedication. Anat, the Semitic equivalent to Tammuz's sister Gesthinanna, was being worshipped alongside Yahweh as Anat-Yahu on the Egyptian island of Elephantine. The name is also associated with a deity named Bethel, named after the city in Israel, during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE.
In the early second century BCE, there was a cultural divide between traditionalist Jews who favored Jewish religion and culture and Hellenistic Jews who favored Greek philosophy and culture. At this time the Jerusalem Temple was being ministered by a dynasty of priests that Josephus calls the Oniads, named after a third or fourth century BCE Zadokite priest Onias, or Honi. Some of these high priests also added the title “ha Zedek” or “the Righteous”, to their names. When the Oniad high priest Simon II died in 175 BCE, a struggle ensued between his two sons. The first son, Jason, was a pro-Seleucid Hellenist. The second son, Onias III, was a “pious”, pro-Ptolemy traditionalist. Jason secured his authority over the Temple by bribing the next Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Syrian king forced Onias III to abdicate, causing one of the greatest controversies of the time period.
In 172 BCE, Jason had a Greek-style gymnasium built in Jerusalem, which further polarized the cultural divide. According to Josephus, many Hellenistic Judeans who competed naked in the gymnasium even underwent surgery to hide the fact that they had been circumcised. But then another contender for the Temple named Menalaus outbid Jason for the priestly rights and ousted him, then reportedly paid the bribe using funds from the Temple. Onias III, who Josephus claims was beloved by both Jews and Greeks, protested this move and was subsequently forced to flee to the holy sanctuary of Daphne, near Antioch, which was probably dedicated to Apollo. Afraid that a formal complaint to the Seleucid king would be lodged, Menalaus was able to convince the king's lieutenant Andonicus to lure Onias III out of the sanctuary so that the former high priest could be executed without violating its holiness. The theme parallels Jesus being lured out of the garden of Gethsemane on the sacred Mt. Olives and being identified by the traitor Judas before surrendering, saying, “Am I leading a rebellion…?” According to Josephus, “As a result, not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man.”
The death of Onias III was such a massive historical event that the author of the Book of Daniel prophesized that the End Times would occur shortly after his death, very similar to how the death of Jesus was believed to be harbinger of the apocalypse. Daniel 9:26 reads:
And after the sixty-two weeks an Anointed One put to death without his . . . city and sanctuary ruined by a prince who is to come. The end of that prince will be catastrophe and, until the end, there will be war and all the devastation decreed. He will strike a firm alliance with many people for the space of a week; and for the space of one half-week he will put a stop to sacrifice and oblation, and on the wing of the Temple will be the appalling abomination until the end, until the doom assigned to the devastator.' -Daniel 9:26-27
The “abomination of desolation” here refers to the erection of the Zeus statue in Jerusalem Temple in 168 BCE, but the Synoptic gospels would later co-opt the term to refer to the destruction of the Temple by Emperor Titus in 73 CE, a sign of the End Times for the Roman era.
Onias III is also the slaughtered lamb many scholars believe is being referred to in Enoch:
And I saw in the vision how the ravens flew upon those lambs, and took one of those lambs, and dashed the sheep in pieces and that tearing the sheep in pieces, and devoured them. -1 Enoch 9:8
According to Josephus' earlier work, War of the Jews, Onias III was said to have fled Jerusalem to Alexandria in order to escape the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but in Josephus' later work, Antiquities of the Jews, it was his son Onias IV who escaped to Egypt. The situation was somewhat similar to the Talmud providing contradicting statements that Yeshoshua ben Perachiah and his nephew Yeshu went to Alexandria to escape either the persecutions of John Hyrcanus or his son Alexander Jannaeus a generation later. The famous German Biblical scholars Julius Welhausen and Juden Willrich considered the betrayal of Onias III to be only a myth, but it would have been hard for the author of Daniel to have invented the death of the high priest if he was a contemporary to events that he described.
Around 145 BCE, Ptolemy VI Philometer allowed Onias to build a temple in the City of Lions, Leontopolis. Since the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy forbade a Jewish temple to be built anywhere except Jerusalem, this temple was the only known Jewish temple at the time. The only other one known before it was one built on the Egyptian island of Elaphantine which had been destroyed by the 300s BCE. Alexandrian Jews such as Phlio would often make sacrifices at the Egyptian temple but would still travel to Jerusalem to fulfill their Passover duties there. The temple was destroyed under the order of Vespasian in 73 shortly before the Jerusalem temple's own fall. It could possibly have been Onias IV or another Oniad who took the leadership role of Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran Community.
In 168 BCE, Jason led a thousand men to overthrow Menalaus. This action led king Antiochus IV Epiphanes to violently conquer the city to reinstate him. After being reinstated, Menalaus took the side of the Jewish Hellenists and outlawed all the traditional Jewish laws and customs on pain of death. The statue to Zeus mentioned in Daniel, the “abomination of desolation” was erected within the holy precinct of the Temple and Jews were ordered to worship him.
The next year there was a Judean rebellion against the Seleucids led by a traditionalist named Judah, who took the name Maccabee, which means “the Hammer”. He started destroying foreign altars and idols across the countryside, evading and sniping on Seleucids using guerrilla tactics before conquering Jerusalem and rededicating the Temple. (This rededication is the event that is commemorated by Hanukkah.) Antiochus IV Epiphanes sent a general to put down the revolt while he dealt with the Parthians in the East, but after Antiochus died of disease, the general negotiated a deal that gave them semi-autonomy. This peace settlement with the Maccabees established the seeds of what would be called the Hasmonean Dynasty of Judah, the antecedent to the Herodians.
Although Judah was killed in battle against the Seleucid ruler Demetrius I Soter, his brother Jonathan Apphus, which means “the Diplomat”, took his place and made an alliance with the Romans. According to certain letters of questionable authenticity, Jonathan exchanged friendly correspondence with the Spartans in Greece as well. This correspondence is paralleled by apparently pseudographical letters cited by 1 Maccabees and Josephus that purport a blood kinship between Onias III and the Spartans, although the Spartan king mentioned by Josephus lived during the time of Onias I. The Jerusalem court of law, the Sanhedrin, which was said to have been formed under king Alexander Janneus, later reformed into a council of sages headed by a Nasi and was referred to in some ancient sources as the Gerousia, the Spartan Council of Elders. Some scholars have suggested that the Judeans had established the council due to the influence of Plato and the Spartans.
Jonathan also managed to secure the office of high priest of the Jerusalem Temple from Demetrius' rival, Alexander Balas, a title that made him the official leader of his people. Thus he could no longer be attacked by the Hellenists without repercussions. The office of high priest introduced an important source of income for the newly fledged Jewish dynasty and there is no indication that they felt the need to bring the Onias family back into the fold to validate the acquisition. After Jonathan was betrayed and killed by an ally of Balas, the title of high priest went to his brother Simon. Simon managed to get the Roman Republic to recognize his legitimacy, allowing him to found the Hasmonean rulership dynasty of Judea. Yet he apparently still suffered legitimacy issues to such a degree that he had to make a compromise with another Judean group recognizing that the present priesthood order would have to be a temporary situation. The first book of Maccabees describes how a great assembly was called in 141 BCE that decided “to the effect that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls Community Rule makes a reference to this compromise phrase in Maccabees as well, saying: “They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law... until there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” Another verse from the Community Rule interprets Isaiah 40:3, “In the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for Eloheinu [our-God]”, as a reference to themselves. The Synoptic gospels use the same verse as a reference to John the Baptist, although they change the interpretation following the idea that John the Baptist was meant to be the precursor to Jesus and the apostles. Although 1 Maccabees does not provide an explanation for why the legitimacy of Simon was tested, the language it uses implies that the “Sons of Zadok” and their allies believed that a more legitimate priestly Messiah was to come. Why Simon was considered illegitimate is not fully known. Maybe they did not believe the Hasmoneans came from Aaron, or maybe they wanted a Zadokite, or maybe they were like Rabbinic Jews today in that they did not want politics interfering with their religious beliefs and that everything would be perfect at some point in the future. A time limit had been placed on the legitimacy of Hasmonean rule.
The Four Jewish “Philosophies” According to Josephus
Although the exact details are still a mystery, the Jewish traditionalists around this time appear to have split into three or four different parties at this time. Josephus calls the four groups “philosophies”, but scholars tend to think he is just using that term to appeal to Greco-Romans who were used to many different Greek philosophies. The four groups are the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and an unnamed “fourth philosophy” made up of rebels like the Zealots and Sicarii. Here is a description of each of these four sects:
1) The first group, the Sadducees, are generally believed to have come from the Greek form of the word Zadok. They represented the nobility, power and wealth of the political class. According to Josephus, they were worldlier and focused only on the written law of the Bible, taking the more literal approach to Biblical interpretation, including the injunction of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. They generally took a more hardline approach to questions of purity, they did not look forward to a coming Messiah, and they did not believe in the resurrection of the soul. Josephus and Origen both say that the Sadducees followed only the laws of Moses, which parallels the canon of the Samaritan Bible, comprising the five books of the Torah, Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Samaritan Bible has been dated by some scholars to the Hasmonean period, around the same time that John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerizim. Some scholars believe the Torah is earlier than the rest of the Hebrew Bible, but the problem is that the story does not really reach a conclusion at Deuteronomy. As Richard Friedman's The Hidden Book in the Bible and The Bible With Sources, shows, even the earliest source, J, starts with Adam and Eve and ends with king Solomon. Since the five Books of Moses focus more on the priestly line of Aaron, who the Hasmoneans drew legitimacy from, and not David, who which they were criticized for, and since the Book of Leviticus can be read as a technical manual for priests, it would make some sense for Hyrcanus to separate the Books of Moses and canonize them alone.
2) The second group, the Pharisees, separated themselves from the Hasmonean politics, and so the word Pharisee is generally believed to come from the Aramaic word Perisha, meaning “to separate”. However, an alternative explanation from the British Biblical scholar T.W. Manson and Iranian linguist Mary Boyce is that it comes from the word Parsah, meaning Persian. Manson suggested that the name was originally used as a pejorative against the group but was later then adopted by the group themselves. Regardless of the etymology, the Pharisees do appear to have inherited more traditions from Zoroastrian Persia, such as as a stronger emphasis on angels as soldiers of Light and a stronger faith in future judgement.
According to rabbinic tradition, Pharisees adopted an oral tradition alongside the Hebrew Bible and deriving their honor system from learning rather than through bloodlines. A common Pharisee saying was that an educated memzer should be ranked higher than an ignorant high priest. This turns out to be a rather ironic adage given the emphasis on Yeshu's memzer status in the Talmud and Toledot. Just as the Synoptic gospels portray them, the Pharisees generally avoided close association with the ignorant and vulgar classes, but in contrast the gospel Jesus says it was the not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.
Although the first three gospels focus almost exclusively on the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, there is one Synoptic episode in which the Pharisees side with Jesus against the Sadducees on the subject of whether there was an afterlife:
Some Sadducees -- those who argue that there is no resurrection -- approached him and they put this question to him, 'Master, Moses prescribed for us, if a man's married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers; the first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since she had been married to all seven?'
Jesus replied, 'The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are children of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him everyone is alive.' Some scribes then spoke up. They said, 'Well put, Master.' They did not dare to ask him any more questions. -Luke 20:34-40
In the context that the Synoptic gospels have framed the pericope, Jesus appears to be resolving a riddle by the Sadducees meant to attack the logic of an afterlife by introducing the complication of multiple marriages has on eternity. Jesus appears to resolve the contradiction by pronouncing that there are no marital commitments by souls just as there are none by the angels. But if you take the pericope in bold out of the context of the setup provided, the saying actually reads more like the “children of the resurrection” are different from “the children of this world” because they do not take wives and husbands while in this world. In other words, it is a defense of the celibate lifestyle as a means to gaining the afterlife. Apocryphal scripture such as the Acts of Paul and Thecla likewise warns that only celibates could enter Paradise. So it appears the one story in which Jesus interacts with the Sadducees appears to have been constructed around an earlier, more general Jesus saying to change its original anti-marriage meaning into a very specific answer to a trick question regarding the state of marriage in the afterlife. The editors of Mark and Matthew have reworded the pericope in those versions of the gospels so that it is even harder to discern the original ascetic meaning.
During the first century CE, the Pharisees themselves were said to have broken into the schools of Shammai and Hillel, although some scholars have suggested that the House of Shammai actually represents the first Pharisees and was then written back into first century BCE history by Josephus. The Shammai represented hardline Pharisees who courted the Zealots and hated the Sadducees. Hillel represented the more peaceful and conciliatory side of the Pharisees. The Gospel of Luke attempted to associate Christianity with the Hillel school by making Paul the student of Hillel's famous grandson Gamaliel. Another episode in Luke even features Gamaliel defending Christianity, saying, “Let them go! For if their present case or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Rabbinic legend says that a Gentile asked Hillel to explain everything about the Laws of Moses while standing on one foot. Hillel famously summed up the Torah as being one and the same with the Golden Rule: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law; the rest is commentary— go study.” Several books from the New Testament echo this summation. The Gospel of Matthew says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”. The Epistle of James says, “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, you are doing right”. A third example found in the Pauline Epistle to the Galatians reads “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”.
The youngest disciple of Hillel was Johanan ben Zakai. Although the Gospel of John claims that Jesus was referred to as rabbi in the 30s CE, Jewish tradition holds that Johanan ben Zakai was the first Jewish teacher to be called rabbi in the late first century CE. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus as called rabbi by a disciple named Nicodemus, who may have been a representation of the heretical Nicolatians from Ephesus, a sect related to the Jewish-Gnostic Cerinthians and Carpocratians. Johanan ben Zakai's student, Joshua ben Hananiah, was said to have opposed asceticism and Jewish Christianity, basically equating the two, and became the ambassador of Jerusalem to Hadrian.
Joshua ben Hananiah's student Akiva was instrumental in drawing up the Jewish canon and the formation of the earliest parts of the Talmud. Akiva also acknowledged the early second century CE Simon bar Kokhba as the foretold Messiah. Akiva was later executed by the Romans, supposedly for refusing to obey Hadrian's prohibition against the Torah. Much like Jesus in the gospels, he was said to have remained quiet while the Romans tortured him but gave out a climatic cry just before his death. Even Akiva's death cry was identical to a Jesus saying: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be His Name for ever and ever. And thou shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might.” Although the “Love your God” and “Love your neighbor” verses come from different books and different contexts of the Torah, Akiva combined those as the two most important laws. The Synoptic gospels likewise portray Jesus as not only combining those two laws a century before Akiva did, but even telling it to one of the teachers of the law. Mark's gospel even added a monotheistic qualifier:
“The most important one”, answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.” The Gospel of Mark even has the teacher repeat the statement back to him so that Jesus can praise him as “not far from the kingdom of God”
This pronouncement causes all of the other teachers trying to trap him to back off. The Gospel of Luke then has the “expert in the law” ask who his neighbor is and Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan story itself parallels Akiva going against longstanding Jewish tradition and advocating the breaking of bread and eventual intermarriage with the Samaritans. By having Jesus tell this story to the “expert in the law”, it implies that Akiva must have gotten the idea from Jesus. Another parallel between Akiva and Christianity is that Akiva said that man was not created, as Genesis puts it, “like one of us” by Elohim, but rather from the image of the heavenly Adam, a teaching that had become an important pillar in the theology of Philo, the Pauline epistles, Clementine Literature and Gnosticism.
History was rewritten to make way for new developments. Although the hardline Shammai school had originally been the more popular version of the Pharisee sect before Simon's Bar Kokhba Revolt was put down in 135 CE by Hadrian, the subsequent military loss caused Hillel to become the primary school of thought in rabbinic Judaism, with a descendant of Hillel always heading the Sanhedrin. The Synoptic gospels thus tried to appropriate the teachings of the Hillel sectarians, showing that while the proto-Mark gospels had a long prehistory in the first century, the primary milieu of the canonical gospels as we have them today is the second century. Jesus was retrofitted back into the first century CE so that he cannot only found not only Christianity but rabbinic Judaism as well.
3) The third group, the Essenes, lived together in ascetic communes, working solely by manual labor while abstaining from marriage and all sensual pleasures. They devoted their time to study and devotion in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven. Like ancient Christians, they condemned slavery, refused to swear or offer sacrifice, and followed the solar calendar of the Egyptians instead of the lunar calendar of the Pharisees. Also like Christians, the Essenes adapted scripture with such far-reaching subjective allegory, that their readings were more akin to secret decipherment by word association than interpretation. The Jewish term pesher is often used for this kind of revelatory extraction hidden far behind common understanding of the words. The Essenes, also like ancient Christians, constantly travelled but did not keep extra cloaks or shoes, and when they went on a journey they brought nothing but arms. Although Mark, Matthew and John only mention a single sword being used in the Garden of Gethsemene, it may yet have been implied by saying that Jesus took control of the Temple courtyard. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says:
He said to them, 'When I sent you out without purse or haversack or sandals, were you short of anything?'
'No, nothing,' they said. He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and the same with a haversack; if you have no sword, sell your cloak and buy one, because I tell you these words of scripture are destined to be fulfilled in me: He was counted as one of the rebellious. Yes, what it says about me is even now reaching its fulfilment.'
They said, 'Lord, here are two swords.' He said to them, 'That is enough!'” -Luke 22:35-38
Once again, Luke's context has softened the original radical meaning of the text. By adding “two swords are enough”, the editor implies the swords are just for self-defense. But without the addition, the message is clear that Jesus demanded they should procure as many swords as possible in preparation to take control over the Jerusalem Temple.
The Essenes were moderate in emotion, in eating and drinking, and zealous to offer aid to the distressed, but would slay any Gentile talking about God or the Law unless he agreed to be circumcised. Their mystical monastic order was compared to the esoteric mathematical cult of the Apollo-worshipping Pythagoreans while their temperament, discipline and radical ethics were compared to the virtue-focused Greek philosophy of the Stoics. In fact, Greek Stoicism was wildly popular during the time and many ideas in both the gospels and the Pauline epistles are similar to Stoic maxims such as taking pleasure in being criticized for doing good deeds and the desire for universal brotherhood.
While the Sadducees denied there was such a thing as destiny, and the Pharisees believed in a mixture of fate and free will, the Essenes were said to have believed there was nothing that befell man that had not already been ordained. Like the Pharisees, they believed in a coming Messiah and an afterlife, but more specifically they believed that the good would be physically resurrected on earth, as described in the more Essene-like parts of the New Testament, while the wicked would be eternally punished. Like Christians, they had a strong emphasis on martyrdom, believing it ensured the salvation of the soul. Both the Pharisees and the Essenes were branches of a pre-Maccabee group known as the Hasidim, and as pointed out by the Jewish Encyclopedia, “the line of distinction between Pharisees (“Perushim”) and Essenes was never very clearly drawn”, which may explain why the Rabbinic tradition in the Talmud and Toledot was trying so desperately to delineate “good teachers” like Joshua ben Perachiah from nearly identical “bad teachers” like Yeshu.
Although a small minority of scholars, such as archaeologist Robert Eisenman, believe the “Sons of Zadok” of Qumran should be identified with their common namesake, the Sadducees, all of the major cultural parallels between the Essenes and the Qumran commune have given the majority of scholars good reasons to believe the Qumran community were Essenes. Many scholars instead identify the Sadducees with an enemy group mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls called Manasseh, after an “evil” Judean king who allowed foreign gods into the Jerusalem Temple during the first temple era. Although Jewish sectarian history might have been easier to understand if the Sadducees and the Essenes had each other's names, it should hardly be surprising if these were simply two different groups with identical hereditary claims to legitimacy, one Zadokite-Sadducee and the other Zadokite-Essene. However, considering the alliance Alexander Jannaeus made with the Zadokite Oniads, it could possibly represent a similar quasi-alliance between the Hasmoneans and the Essenes. Eisenman has even suggested that the Hasmoneans funded the Qumran community.
Although most scholars have been reluctant to connect the Essenes to Jesus, there is generally more approval in associating them with John the Baptist, especially due to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Synoptic gospel version of John the Baptist use the same revelatory reading from the Book of Isaiah about “preparing the way” for the Lord. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia:
John the Baptist seems to have belonged to the Essenes, but in appealing to sinners to be regenerated by baptism, he inaugurated a new movement, which led to the rise of Christianity. The silence of the New Testament about the Essenes is perhaps the best proof that they furnished the new sect with its main elements both as regards personnel and views. The similarity in many respects between Christianity and Essenism is striking: There were the same communism (Acts iv. 34-35); the same belief in baptism or bathing, and in the power of prophecy; the same aversion to marriage, enhanced by firmer belief in the Messianic advent; the same system of organization, and the same rules for the traveling brethren delegated to charity-work (see Apostle and Apostleship); and, above all, the same love-feasts or brotherly meals (comp. Agape; Didascalia). Also, between the ethical and the apocalyptic teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles and the teachings of the Essenes of the time, as given in Philo, in Hippolytus, and in the Ethiopic and Slavonic Books of Enoch, as well as in the rabbinic literature, the resemblance is such that the influence of the latter upon the former can scarcely be denied. Nevertheless, the attitude of Jesus and his disciples is altogether anti-Essene, a denunciation and disavowal of Essene rigor and asceticism; but, singularly enough, while the Roman war appealed to men of action such as the Zealots, men of a more peaceful and visionary nature, who had previously become Essenes, were more and more attracted by Christianity, and thereby gave the Church its otherworldly character; while Judaism took a more practical and worldly view of things, and allowed Essenism to live only in tradition and secret lore (see Clementina; Ebionites; Gnosticism).
However, there is also a tradition handed down from Mandaeism that John the Baptist was originally a Gnostic teacher. In the apocryphal Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, Simon Magus was originally the most esteemed student of John, but that a lesser student Dositheus installed himself as ruler while Simon Magus was in Egypt by spreading false reports of Simon's death. Both Simon Magus and Dositheus would come to be known as founders of Samaritan Docetic sects, with Simon often being called by church fathers as the fountainhead of Gnostic heresies. The gospel motif of Jesus being a pupil of John the Baptist is often considered indisputably historical because the Criterion of Embarrassment suggests that a Christian would never invent a subordinate relationship for their master, but that assumes the earliest gospel was meant to be read as history and not fiction. It is like saying no Christian would disparage John the Baptist by making Simon Magus his pupil. The idea of following an impoverished teacher out into the desert appears to have been a pretty common literary motif of the time. Josephus himself claims that at sixteen he followed a Baptist-like mentor figure named Banus out into the desert. Thus, the various stories about master-student relationships could be meant to be read symbolically as a chronology of sectarian influence.
4) The “fourth philosophy”, according to Josephus, were those of the nationalist rebels making war against Rome, the Zealot freedom fighters and the Sicarii assassins. The prime example of this fourth group is Judas of Galilee, the rebel who most likely inspired the character of Judas Iscariot. The failure of Judas the Galilean's Zealot revolt in 70 CE that brought about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, which is heavily linked symbolically with the death of Jesus in the gospels, caused the gardener traitor of the Toledot story to be reimagined as Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jerusalem for the desire of money and power.
However, the category itself was possibly just a way for Josephus to differentiate the majority of the Jews from the enemies of Rome. The Jewish Encyclopedia splits the Essenes between “rigorous Zealots” and “mild-tempered devotees of the Law”. The “mild-tempered” Essenes included the Therapeutæ of Alexandria, were wandering philosopher-healers, itinerant “physicians of the soul” who “professed an art of healing superior to that practiced in the cities”. They also accepted women as equals into their ranks, and took on a mystical tradition similar to the Pythogreans in Greece. The healing and exorcist traditions parallel that found the Alexandrian group that produced the magic bowl with the Chrst engraving and those described in the Synoptic gospels. The equality given to women also matches well with what we know about heretical Jesus groups like the Montanists, the Marcosians and the Marcionites. The pre-Chrisitian Nazarenes (or Nazoraeans) probably inherited the same healing and exorcist traditions.
The four groups as Josephus describes them can perhaps best be summarized by the scale of their political and social engagement. The Sadducees tried to work with the Hasmoneans and then the Herodians. The Pharisees more generally separated themselves from politics but still amassed social influence and sacrificed at the Temple. The Essenes and Therapeutæ withdrew from the Jerusalem Temple into their own cloisters and communities and did charity work. Lastly, the Zealot rebels tried to violently overthrow contemporary Roman society in order to establish their own purified form of religion.
To compare the sectarian divide to modern geo-political sectarianism, the Sadducees were like the Saudis in that they were the most dominant sect and so pushed for the status quo, and had strong ties with the West. The Pharisees were more like the Shia in that they had a stronger emphasis on martyrdom and stronger ties to Persia and the East. The Zealots and Sicarii had an even more emphatic and violent emphasis on apocalyptic war and martyrdom, just as al-Qaida zealots are the more violent and apocalyptic form of Wahabi Isalmism. Both the Sadducees and the “Sons of Zadok” in Qumran were Zadokite, but the Qumran group saw the priests installed in Jerusalem as illegitimate priests, similar to how the Saudis and al-Qaida are both Sunni, but al-Qaida sees the Saudi leadership as illegitimate.
The four sects of Judaism were broken into pieces at the end of several costly wars with Rome throughout multiple centuries. Slowly over the centuries, these pieces were reassembled into new belief systems that reacted to these defeats and were then mixed with broken pieces of the Greek philosophies of Cynicism, Stoicism, Neo-Pythagoreanism and Middle Platonism. Some of these traditions were copied and reused, with some wisdom sayings being attributed to different teachers, as in the case of Jesus and Hillel. These pieces were then reassembled into many different parts that were slowly recombined over the centuries, following a predictable pattern of larger groups swallowing up smaller groups, until Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism formed congruently in the early third century. Christianity was not exactly like Essene sect that it preceded, just as Rabbinic Judaism was not exactly the same as the Pharisee sect, but there is a genetic relationship. No one person but an ongoing process over centuries of time, based largely on social alliances predetermined by location, is responsible for the evolution of Judeo-Christian sectarianism.
Alexander Jannaeus Allies With the Oniads
The first time that Josephus mentions the divergence between the Sadduccees and Pharisees is during the second century BCE. Simon Maccabee was betrayed by his Seleucid brother-in-law Ptolemy at a banquet, so that he and his two eldest sons were executed in 135 BCE. The next year, Simon's third son John took charge of the Maccabee leadership. According to Josephus, John was said to have been raised as a Pharisee, but later converted to become a Sadducee. Josephus gives John the Hellenistic epithet Hyrcanus, not found in 1 & 2 Maccabees, perhaps insinuating a drift of the Maccabee family towards Hellenism. John Hyrcanus raised a mercenary army and conquered the neighboring Idumeans, the Biblical Edomites said to have been descended from Jacob/Israel's twin brother Esau. He also defeated the northern Samaritans of Israel, destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim, and forced the Idumeans and Samaritans to convert to Judaism. The Pharisees opposed these forced conversions, and just as the story of the Good Samaritan suggests, they did not think of the Samaritans as fellow Jews.
According to Josephus, the supposed reason John converted to the Sadducee sect was due to a fight he got into with one particular Pharisee rabble rouser. The Pharisee told John that because John's mother had been kidnapped by the Seleucids during a period of time shortly before his birth, he should renounce his role as high priest due to his questionable heritage. But the story may have just been invented to provide the Pharisees older and more definitive roots. This event supposedly instigated the major conflict between John and the Pharisees. According to the Talmud, the escape of Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu to Egypt happened either during this repression or during the reign of his son Alexander Jannaeus.
Josephus says that as John Hyrcanus neared the end of his life, he feared that his death would trigger a civil war between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Hasmoneans took their authority from the priesthood, but for all practical matters, they were kings as well. Nevertheless, to keep from accepting a title many thought only the line of David could fill, the Hasmoneans avoided referring to themselves as kings, but instead used the title of ethnarch. As a compromise to the Pharisees, he decided to leave the secular title of ethnarch to his wife, whose brother was a Pharisee. At the same time he would will the priesthood to his Sadducee son Aristobulus. But after John died, Aristobulus and his brother Antigonus imprisoned their mother and other three brothers and even straved their mother to death. Through this violent coup, Aristobulus inherited both titles, but he discarded the title of ethnarch and replaced it with the title of king. For the first time in reported history, there was a Jewish king-priest.
It was not long after Aristobulus took the unprecedented title that he became deathly ill. Josephus claims that a man named Judas the Essene prophesized the death of Aristobulus. Shortly after that Aristobulus' wife Salome tricked her husband into killing Antigonus just before Aristobulus himself died. Alexander Jannaeus was released from prison, married Salome, and claimed the title of king-priest for himself.
Alexandedr Jannaeus then made an alliance with an Egyptian king Ptolemy Lathyros, who had been banished to Cyprus by his own mother Cleopatra III. The alliance was a ruse, though, as Alexander Jannaeus managed to take command of several territories from Lathyros before betraying him to Lathyros' mother. Cleopatra III sent two Egyptian generals, Halikas and Ananias, to help defeat the rebel and secure an alliance that prevented Cleopatra III of Egypt from invading Judea. Josephus referred to Halikas and Ananias as “sons of Onias”. Thus, it appears that the same Alexander Jannaeus who the Nazoraeans claimed had passed kingship to Yeshu had an alliance with the Oniads, the same dynasty that produced the slain Messiah in the apocalypse in the Book of Daniel.
Alexander Jannaeus also conquered the Gaza strip but was then ambushed by Obodas I, king of the Nabataeans, an Arabic kingdom in southern Jordan. Alexander barely escaped the battle only to face outrage at his loss on the battlefield when he returned to Jerusalem. According to Josephus, his enemies rebelled against him and invited a Seleucid king Demetrius III Eucaerus to invade the country on their behalf. The Dead Sea Scrolls calls these people the “Seekers After Smooth Things” or “Givers of Smooth Interpretations”. However, once the Seleucid king actually invaded and started to succeed too much for their liking, the people supposedly switched sides again and went back to Alexander Jannaeus and helped him beat back the Seleucid king. The Dead Sea Scrolls also refer to the “Lion of Wrath” taking vengeance on the “Seekers After Smooth Things”, which is interpreted to be a reference to Alexander Jannaeus taking vengeance on the rebels who invited the Seleucid invasion.
Josephus goes on to say that Alexander Jannaeus showed support for the Sadducees during the Feast of Tabernacles by pouring water libation on his feet instead of the altar. This act was a great insult to the Pharisees and they pelted him with fruit and call him a memzer. This action initiated a violent reaction that spiraled into a civil war that supposedly killed 50,000 Judeans. Several sources say he crucified 800 Pharisees in Jerusalem, forcing the crucified men to watch their wives and children slain before their eyes while Alexander Jannaeus watched and ate with his concubines. This repression is the second of the two contradicting references from the Talmud that Joshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu escaped to Egypt, and it is this one that is corroborated by the Toledot, Mara Bar Serapion and the Nazoraeans of Epiphanius.
Both Alexander Jannaeus and Tigranes II the Great, the Armenian “King of Kings”, decided to adopt stars on the coins they minted around this time, possibly because Halley's comet appeared in the night sky during their reign in 87 BCE. Tigranes II would go on to build one of the greatest armies of the era and used it to defeat Cleopatra Selene, Lathyros' wife, and put an end to 250 years of Seleucid rule. The surrounding kingdoms feared that the Armenian Empire might end up conquering the world, but those expectations were dashed when they were defeated by the Romans. Nevertheless, the concept that the “end of history” would be preceded by a comet is very likely to have inspired the story of the Bethlehem Star foretelling the birth of Jesus. The Book of Revelation even gives Tigranes' old title “King of Kings” to Jesus.
Star emblem on coins of Tigranes II and Alexander Jannaeus
As Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nazoraeans, the Talmud and the Toledot all indicate, the death of Alexander Jannaeus was a major turning point in Jewish history. The Maccabee rebellion had just been to expel the Seleucids and enforce the practice their ancestral religion, but the Hasmonean dynasty had become the imperial force they had fought against, spreading Judaism by the sword and conquering neighboring lands to provide a united front against foreign domination. The reigns of leadership were expected by the Nazoraeans to pass from the Hasmonian Sadducees to Yeshu, but the crown was instead handed to Salome Alexandra and the Pharisees. Alexander Jannaeus had recently performed a mass crucifixion of their sect. Although the Pharisees had defined themselves as separatists from the prevailing Hasmonean political power, they must have still been reeling from such a massive blow of murderous repression, and then were suddenly handed a way to learn what it meant to have the power behind the throne.
The Passover Scapegoat
There is mysterious contradiction inherent in the preceding attempt at a historical reconstruction of the relationship between Yeshu and the Hasmonean dynasty. If Alexander Jannaeus had forced Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu to flee Jerusalem for their lives, why would the Nazoraeans referenced by Epiphanius believe that Alexander would have placed the crown on his head? Had he made so many enemies that he would have preferred some of them to his wife? Was this just a wishful fantasy invented by the Nazoraeans or Epiphanius? When Yeshoshua ben Perachiah returned to Jerusalem following Alexander's death, he was re-elected as Nasi of the Sanhedrin, while Queen Salome Alexandra's brother, Simeon ben Shetach, took the office of vice president. After Yehoshua ben Perachiah died, the presidency was passed to Simeon and the vice presidency to a man named Yehudah ben Tabbai, who is credited as the teacher of Yeshu instead of uncle Yehoshua in an alternative version of the passage from the Babylonian Talmud. Since this was such a pivotal moment in Jewish history, perhaps the Nazoraeans believed that their sect would have become the majority power instead of the Pharisees if only Yeshu had taken control of the throne instead of his uncle. Yehoshua ben Perachiah came from the same Egyptian tradition that produced the “Chrst the Magician” cup, but Simeon ben Shetach would eventually take Hasmonean rule into a highly repressive state that executed witches and magicians. It is hard to say how Yehoshua ben Perachiah shares in both the exorcist/magician tradition of Alexandria and the anti-magic Pharisee tradition of Jerusalem, but later Egyptian magicians used his name in their exorcist healing and later rabbis decided to portray it as Yeshu breaking away from a “rehabilitated” Pharisee who criticized his nephew for his heathen ways.
There is a story in the Talmud that provides an example of Simeon Ben Shetach's repressiveness towards one of the Oniads. The story imparts that during a drought, many looked for a holy man to convince God to bring the much-needed rains. So the esteemed rainmaking hermit Honi the Circle Drawer went out into the wilderness and abstained from food and water, just as Jesus did at the beginning of Synoptic gospels. Honi drew a circle in the sand and refused to leave it until God answered his prayers, very similar to what Jesus does in the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ. Rain was an important aspect to survival and fertility and signified divine favor throughout ancient times. One of the few non-healing miracles that Jesus performed in the Synoptic gospels, aside from the Splitting of the Loaves and the Transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, was controlling the weather, which was used in the Synoptic gospels as an allegory about weathering the storm of religious oppression. In an ironic twist of fate, Honi's prayers do bring the rains, but then the rains fail to cease and Jerusalem became flooded. Simeon ben Shetach sent a message threatening him, saying:
Had you not been Honi I would have pronounced a ban against you! But what shall I do to you? You importune God and he performs your will, like a son that importunes his father He performs His will. Of you the Scripture says, ‘Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice.’
In the longer version of the story from the Babylonian Talmud, Simeon ben Shetach adds that had the drought been as bad as the one in the time of Elijah and king Ahab, God would not have granted Honi’s wish and Honi would have used God’s name in vain. The Babylonian Talmud also records a prayer that proclaimed Honi to be the savior of a wicked generation, and even an atoner of sin. It also claims that Honi the Circle Drawer fulfilled the prophetic midrash exegesis on a verse from Job, which said, “By your prayer you have saved a generation bent over by sin; ‘He delivers the unclean’”.
From these Talmudic references, it would appear that there was some contention between Honi the Circle Drawer and Simeon ben Shetach. Interestingly enough, Simeon ben Shetach is also Yeshu's primary nemesis in the Toledot.
Ancient law scholar David Daube argues that the conflict between Honi and Simeon was between charismatic vs. institutionalized religions, comparing it to the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees/Sadducees in the gospels. The theological authority of Honi's charismatic religion was legitimized on the basis of his own persona and the philosophical or ethical order he himself ordained while Simeon represented a less personal, more bureaucratic form of religion based on a strict adherence to the letter of the law. This contrast also matches how the Synoptic gospels describe Jesus as “teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes”. Judaic Studies scholar W.S. Green also finds that Honi's charismatic character has been “rabbinized”. John Dominic Crossan, however, sees Honi not as a charismatic Hasid but a magician who operated outside established religion, and that the portrayals of piety in the Talmud are later hagiographic reinterpretations.
According to JewishEncyclopedia.Com, Honi the Circle Drawer was an Essene of high repute, and according to tradition, a descendant of Moses. He was said to have had many pupils, yet no halakah guidelines following his traditions have been preserved. The Talmud contains some legendary material about two of his grandchildren, Hilkiah, the son of his son, and Hanan ha Nechba, the son of his daughter.
But by far the most interesting thing about Honi was that he played the central part in the most historically important event in Jewish history during the Hellenistic era: the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple to the Romans. That tragedy was marked by yet another division in the Hasmonean family, once again pitting an Aristobulus against his mother and brother. Josephus says a conflict arose between the Sadducee Aristobulus II and his Pharisee mother, Salome Alexandra and his older brother Hycranus II. Knowing that his mother was old and going to die soon, Aristobulus used his armies to capture Salome's fortresses to prevent the Pharisees from retaining power after her death. Although Hyrcanus II had initially been disinterested in politics, he took up his mother's cause after her death and tried to win back the kingdom by allying with Antipater the Idumean, the son of the general who took charge of Idumea for Alexander Jannaeus and father to Herod the Great. Antipater convinced Hyrcanus II to trade the twelve Arabian cities his father had conquered to king Aretas of Arabia in return for 50,000 men who entered Jerusalem and put Aristobulus II to siege in the Jerusalem Temple. Josephus describes it this way:
So Aretas united the forces of the Arabians and of the Jews together, and pressed on the siege vigorously. As this happened at the time when the feast of unleavened bread was celebrated, which we call the passover, the principal men among the Jews left the country, and fled into Egypt. Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous [Zaddik] man be was, and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain. This man had hid himself, because he saw that this sedition would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp, and desired, that as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations on Aristobulus and those of his faction. And when, upon his refusal, and the excuses that he made, he was still by the multitude compelled to speak, he stood up in the midst of them, and said, "O God, the King of the whole world! since those that stand now with me are thy people, and those that are besieged are also thy priests, I beseech thee, that thou wilt neither hearken to the prayers of those against these, nor bring to effect what these pray against those." Whereupon such wicked Jews as stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death.
After the story of Honi's death, Josephus says that Hyrcanus II tricked Aristobulus into paying him for the necessary sacrifice for Passover and then betrayed him and refused to give him anything, causing the Passover covenant to be broken. Josephus says that the Hyrcanus' betrayal was punished by God by famine, although the full story itself is framed as the punishment for the murder of Onias. Josephus or an editor was perhaps harmonizing two different traditions regarding the cause for the famine.
The image of Honi being brought to the Temple and being offered a chance to regain some power, or at least survive being killed, may possibly contain the faint echo of the Temptation of Satan snippets from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The three temptations that Satan gives to Jesus are:
1) Make bread out of stones to cure his hunger while fasting in the desert.
2) Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and expect angels to catch him.
3) Bow down to the devil and be rewarded with the kingdoms of the world.
These three temptations ado not really reflect the general life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels. #1) Jesus does not fast anymore after this and defends his disciples for not fasting. #2) There is no adequate explanation for why Jesus would want to jump off the pinnacle of the Temple since the only time he would have been in such a position was when he successfully took authority over the Temple courts where the sacrifice animals were sold. And, #3) As a Galilean peasant he was hardly ever going to be provided a legitimate chance to be rewarded with any political power. In contrast, these three temptations apply fairly well to Honi the Circle Drawer. #1) Honi's entire identity is based on his fasting in the desert. #2) Honi was captured and brought to Hyrcanus' military camp, which at that time was besieging the Temple. This could possibly provide a context for Honi being tempted to jump and fly away like a magician, either from the pinnacle of the Temple or from a siege tower adjacent to the Temple, where he might have been expected to give such a speech. #3) As the possible heir to a dynasty that had a long historical claim to the rights of the Jerusalem Temple, the creator of the Temptation tradition could far more easily imagine Honi being provided some material reward for allying with Hyrcanus II and providing the military propaganda against Aristobulus II that was demanded of him. The theme of Honi begging God not to listen to either the curses prayed by Hyrcanus or Aristobulus brings to mind the magnanimous death-prayer from Jesus in Luke, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Like John the Baptist, the Temptation story tells the story of what the church used to be in the past while the stories of Jesus after the introduction were used to explain what the church was in the present.
The story that Josephus provides for Honi the Circle Drawer is everything that the Testimonium Flavian forgery on Jesus is not in terms of what we would expect from the founder of an important Jewish sect. Honi's birthright to the Onias dynasty (and/or Yeshu's reported familial relationship to queen Helene) provides a realistic context in which his kidnapping would be worth its value in military siege propaganda, and why there would be a large numbers of Jews and non-Jews alike would care so deeply regarding his death. It is pretty surprising that so few people have pointed out the similarities between Honi the Circle Drawer and Jesus, both caught between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, begging before for God to have mercy on the very people who are actively persecuting him. Both of them are executed as a scapegoat on Passover in Jerusalem shortly before a Roman army marched its way in and brought destruction to Jerusalem, profaning and/or destroying the temple. As Eisenman points out, Honi's death must have been the central prospect on the mind of the evangelists who wrote that Israel had stoned “all” of its prophets and Holy Ones. Both Matthew and Luke talk about a long list of martyrs spanning from Abel to Zechariah, but if one excludes those two examples and the apocryphal story of Isaiah's martyrdom, the Honis are really the only other historical figures martyred by Jews in Jewish scripture.
Eisenman connects the Zaddik, the “Righteous” epithet used by Onias, to a tradition found in the Kabbalah and in the Meideval Zohar, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Christian scripture that from Noah to the Honi family, there had always been a “Righteous One”. That Messianic figure was traditionally identified as the “pillar of the world”, a true copy of the heavenly ideal and incarnation of the world's Covenant of Peace. Eisenman argues that after Jesus died in the first century CE, that honor went to his brother, James the Just. In the Epistle to the Galatians, James “the brother of the Lord” is called a pillar. According to Epiphanius, James was a rain-maker as well. The Epistle of James likewise compares the coming Judgment Day to a much-needed rain (5:7). While James and the Ebionites continued the Oniad tradition in which the Zaddik epithet was inherited by a new Pillar of the Earth, Hellenistic Christians instead focused solely on one Messiah. In one of the few instances in which Jesus is provided a historical, earthly background in any of the epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews says:
During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death, and, winning a hearing by his reverence, he learnt obedience, Son though he was, through his sufferings; when he had been perfected, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation and was acclaimed by God with the title of high priest of the order of Melchizedek. -Hebrews, 5:7-10
Do not be led astray by all sorts of strange doctrines: it is better to rely on grace for inner strength than on food, which has done no good to those who concentrate on it. We have our own altar from which those who serve the Tent have no right to eat. The bodies of the animals whose blood is taken into the sanctuary by the high priest for the rite of expiation are burnt outside the camp, and so Jesus too suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with his own blood. -Hebrews 13:9-11
The scene described in Hebrews 5:7-10 is usually interpreted as a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane. Although the description from this verse does provide an adequate description of the passion of the Gethsemane scene, it does seem a little out of place considering the great number of gospel traditions that one could choose from if the writer knew the entire biography of the historical Jesus but had decided in advance to only write one or two things about him. Given that this is one of the very few times that Jesus is given a historical context in an epistle, it does not meet the expectations of what we would think a generic description of what the gospel Jesus should be. In contrast to this, it fits in perfectly with the generic description provided by Josephus about Honi the Circle Drawer, as this was the typical activity of a Circle Drawer, praying to God to save himself and his people from drought by providing rain.
In the final Passion story that concludes the first three gospels, Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by a crowd of people put their clothes and branches out for the donkey to walk on. In contrast to the Synoptic tradition, the Gospel of John instead says that he went to Jerusalem “not publicly, but in secret” (7:10), something very out of place for the aggressive personality and untouchable physical nature of his being as displayed in the fourth gospel, but well-suited to the description from Josephus of Honi.
John 13:2-7 also has a bizarre setup where it starts talking about how the devil had caused Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus, but then digresses into a story of about Jesus washing Peter's feet. The setup verse is actually the only time Judas' father is ever identified by name, and a strange place to bringing up that seemingly unrelated fact given that the story that proceeds after the setup is actually about a disciple with the same name as his father. Jesus offers to wash the feet of “Simon Peter”, saying “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
John 13:2-7 also appears to be somewhat like the story of the Good Samaritan in that it addresses the superiority of helping those in need over that of ritual purity such as baptism. Peter misunderstands the water as a baptismal rite and so asks that if Jesus was going to wash him then wash all of him, but instead uses it as an example of how followers of Jesus should instead be following the more spiritual obligation of helping one another by washing each other's feet. Yet aside from the main thrust of the story, there is yet another strange tangent when Jesus alludes to knowing “who was going to betray” him. Given the context of the pericope, the implication would seem to be that the traitor was the same person whose feet he had just washed. The final gospel editor, possibly Irenaeus or a predecessor of his, assures the reader that Jesus was talking about Judas, not Simon, but it leaves open the question of why Judas is mentioned in this episode at all.
The best explanation is that the story was originally about Honi washing the feet of Simeon ben Shetach shortly before Simeon betrayed Honi and had him executed. That would explain the need to give Judas the epithet “son of Simon” as a way to put down the objections of anyone who knew the original version of the story. It would then be easy to say that the editors of the other version of John's gospel were just confused because Judas' father was named Simeon. Since Hyrcanus II was on the side of the Pharisees, Simeon Ben Stetah would probably had been involved in Honi's death as well. Both Honi and Yeshu are portrayed as being threatened with a ban from Simeon Ben Shetach, but only in the Toledot does he go through with it. In fact, if we work under the assumption that the original readers of the gospels knew the name Simon as an enemy or traitor of Yeshu, then the fact that Jesus named the fictional disciple Simon after the nonfictional apostle Cephas may have been meant to be an insulting historical correlation. This would insinuate that like Simon ben Shetach, Cephas sold out to the “Judaizers” just as the Epistle to the Galatians and the Toledot describe.
Josephus does not directly identify this Onias as a descendent of the earlier Onias priestly family, but the reference to his “righteousness” hints at a Zadokite connection. Although the Talmud and Toledot both agree that Yeshu was stoned to death and hung on Passover, they do contradict themselves on where he was at the time. The Talmud says that he was hung in the city of Lud, or Lydda, near Tel Aviv. The Toledot puts his death in Jerusalem. Another chronological problem is that Josephus dates the death of Honi after the death of Salome whereas the Toledot satirically portrays the queen as being tricked by the disappearance of Yeshu's body. The most likely explanation for this is that the epilogue was expanded by one of the Jewish satirists and was not part of the original proto-gospel that the Toledot was lampooning.
The Talmud does not relate any story about Honi being stoned to death for refusing to curse the high priest, but there is a story that implies he died under a tree. Honi meets a man planting a carob tree who tells him it took 70 years to grow the tree and that even though he would not reap the benefit of it, he would do it for his children just as his forefathers had done it for him. After Honi was stoned to death, he would have been hung on a tree as part of Biblical law, and so Honi falling asleep alongside the carob tree must be symbolic of that death. Although most translations of the Toledot Yeshu describe Yeshu being hung on an impossibly large cabbage stalk, the Strassburg Manuscript version of the Toledot instead says that he was hung on a carob tree.
The Talmud says that Honi fell asleep under the carob tree while contemplating Psalm 126: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed”. The Psalm referred to the 70 years of captivity in Babylon and the dream-like state of being free and returning to Zion. Honi himself then slept 70 years and woke up to find the carob tree fully grown and the man's grandson living nearby. Realizing how long it had been since he slept, he went to the study hall and heard the sages there saying “The laws are as clear as they were in the days of Honi. For when Honi entered the beit madrash [study hall], any question that the sages had, he would solve.” But when Honi announced who he was, the sages didn't believe him. Honi was so distraught that he was unrecognizable that he asked God to give him death. The conclusion of the story implies that the sages did not recognize Honi but instead just erected a rose-colored ideal of him that most likely resembled themselves. In reality, the laws were probably never clear because Honi was not an interpreter of Torah Law. He was a charismatic rainmaker. The “Rip Van Winkle” element of the story has parallels in later Christian stories and Qu'ran such as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The story perhaps has more of an unwitting point than even its authors understood as even 2,000 years later, most of the followers of Jesus and the modern “sages” of today are unable to recognize the original Messiah that fostered the inspiration for the gospel myth.
Pompey conquered Jerusalem for Hyrcanus II but then committed a sacrilege by entering the sacred inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies. Josephus looked on the bright side and praised Pompey for not stealing the treasures within, leaving it for Caesar's ally Crassus to later pilfer. Pompey restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus II and allowed them to cleanse the temple and make offerings. The Romans then took control over the kingdom and knocked the walls of Jerusalem down. After Caesar and Pompey became rivals, Caesar released Aristobulus II from captivity and put him in command of two legions to take Syria. However, one of Pompey’s men lucked into poisoning Aristobulus before he left.
Pompey was then assassinated in Egypt, and Antipater the Idumean switched Hyrcanus' allegiance to Julius Caesar. Caesar later found himself in a bad situation fighting Pompey’s forces in Alexandria. When Caesar's ally in Anatolia, Mithridates of Pergamus, came to Caesar's aid with extra troops, he was blocked by Egyptian Jews. Antipater led an army into Egypt and saved Mithradates. According to Josephus, the two then ran into Jews from the “country of Onias”. Strangely, Josephus says nothing about their relationship to the Onias that Antipater had executed. Not only did Antipater convince them to let their armies through, he even managed to get supplies and some soldiers from Memphis as well. Antipater showed his worth in battle, earning great wealth as well as many physical scars over his body. When the war was over, Caesar gave Hyrcanus II the title of high priest and ethnarch but it was Antipater who became chief minister of Judea, formally ending the Hasmonean Dynasty and beginning the one that would be named after his son, Herod.
Brutus and Cassius then assassinated Caesar and popular opinion forced Cassius to flee to Syria, which in turn gave Antipater no choice but to side with him against Octavius Caesar, Lepidus, and Mark Antony. Antipater even went so far as to collect emergency taxes on the Jews and helped Cassius enslave defaulters in order to save the Roman Republic from the imperial Second Triumvirate. Soon afterwards, Antipater was poisoned, and his son Herod became king. Herod convinced Octavius and Mark Antony that his father had been forced to help Cassius and he was made tetrarch of Galilee in 42 BCE. Although Herod claimed to follow the Jewish religion, this was highly controversial since the cultural affinity of his Idumean family was Hellenistic. Both Justin and the Talmud attest to legends that Herod was not even half Jewish but a pure-blooded Philistine.
The son of Aristobulus II, Antigonus, rebelled against Herod twice. During the first rebellion in the year 40 BCE, Hyracnus II went to negotiate a peace treaty with him, was captured, and had his ears mutilated. This was done so that he could no longer be high priest since Biblical law prohibited anyone with a physical defect to offer food at the altar. According to Josephus, Antigonus bit them off personally. The theme is paralleled by the gospel story of one of Jesus’ followers cutting off the ear of the servant to the high priest, Caiphas, the first-century CE equivalent of Hyrcanus II. Consider if the story of the priestly ear being cut off was well known among the earliest gospel readers, it would inspire an acidic innuendo to the oft-repeated catchphrase expressed by Jesus, “Let those who have ears hear...”
During the second rebellion, Herod fled to Rome and managed to convince the Senate to elect him “King of the Jews”. With Roman troops provided by Mark Antony and money lent from Cleopatra, Herod returned with from Rome, defeating and executing Antigonus in 37 CE. One of the first things Herod did upon installing himself as king was ordering the execution of 45 Sadducees of the Sanhedrin for their support of Antigonus. Herod then used the money confiscated from them to pay Mark Antony. He took away the secular powers of the Sanhedrin and made it a religious court only. He also broke the tradition of the title of priest being a permanent position determined by family, making it an office to be conferred and purchased. This eventually led to the position being phased out every year or so by wealthy Sadducee priestly families.
With Antigonus, Aristobulus III, and Hyrcanus II gone, the Hasmonean dynasty came to an end and Herod became the sole ruler of Judea for 34 years, with power, stability, and prestige unlike anything since the time of Alexander the Great. Herod also oversaw momentous building projects that would secure his fame. Not the least of these was the massive rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, which doubled as a massive jobs program that drove a large part of the economy. But most Pharisees and Essenes saw themselves as being under the yoke of an Edomite or a Philistine, who was himself a puppet of Rome. Mara Bar Serapion had said that the abolishment of the Hasmonean kingdom had been precipitated by the execution of the “wise king”, just as Epiphanius said that “the succession of the princes from Judah, who reigned until the Christ Himself, ceased.”
The Talmud contains stories of both Honi and Yeshu because it has inherited two different traditions on the same person: a “Good Honi” tradition and a “Bad Yeshu” tradition. The “Good Honi” tradition tried to save the legacy of the charismatic rainmaker by harmonizing him within a rabbinic context. The “Bad Yeshu” tradition tried to villainize him as a magician and an idolater while trying also to save the legacy of his teacher, Yehoshua ben Perachiah. Yehoshua ben Perachiah was likewise posthumously converted him to a good rabbi even though he appears to have come from the same charismatic tradition as Yeshu. After the Oniad dynasty died out, its legacy was absorbed not only by Christianity but also Rabbinic Judaism. The apocryphal book, 2 Maccabees, was written from the perspective of the Hasmonians who kept the Temple rights away from the Oniads and yet like Josephus, even this text has nothing but good things to say about Onias III, even appearing to cover for his use of violence. Clearly there was a very strong desire to appeal to Oniad sympathizers as there were multiple bids to maintain a respectful acknowledgement of their Zadokite legacy even if they did not want the Oniads to resume the stewardship of the Temple rights.
There is an episode in the Synoptic gospels that implies that Jesus had not just an assumed right but a particular undisclosed legal right to the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus is asked by the Jerusalem Temple priests what right he has in stopping the sacrifices. Rather than answering them, Jesus asks them in turn if the baptisms by John were human or divine. The priests refuse to answer out of fear of displeasing the crowd, so Jesus in turn refuses to answer them as well. The interaction implies a secret authority given to Jesus regarding the Temple. Jesus then tells the Story of the Wicked Tenants, an allegory in which the evil landlords temporarily take control of the vineyard of a king and out of greed they decide to kill each of the king's messengers, culminating in the murder of the king's son. In this parable, God is the king, Jesus is the son and the vineyard is the Temple. But following the parable’s logic, why would a peasant have inheritance rights over the Temple? Were the high priests really supposed to just recognize some Galilean newcomer as the Son of God by the miracles they never themselves witnessed? How does “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies” hold up against Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers? How would any non-Essene Jew who read the gospel react to the idea of a Galilean peasant preventing the sale of sacrificial animals deemed necessary to fulfill the Torah laws?
The answer is that following the Dead Sea Scrolls tradition of Qumran, which decried the Jerusalem priesthood as illegitimate, the fictional peasant Jesus of the gospels was imbued with the Holy Spirit of the Onias dynasty. The evangelist wanted the reader to understand that God had allowed the Jerusalem Temple to be destroyed because the chief priests had conspired to murder the last heir of the original legitimate Zadokite priesthood. Shortly after Honi's death, Pompey completed his conquest of Jerusalem. When the fictional Jesus was betrayed by a man with the same name as the Messianic leader who founded the Zealot rebellion and then crucified, it was meant to foreshadow the fall of Jerusalem to Titus in 70 CE and his mass crucifixion of its inhabitants, just as the death of Honi the Circle Drawer had foreshadowed the fall of Jerusalem to Pompey in 63 BCE.
The Christ Myth Theory
What is it about the first century CE Jesus that makes him a historical person? How does he compare to other legendary figures? The afore-mentioned author of Did God Have a Wife?, William G. Dever, who wrote that Yahweh had originally been connected to Asherah in a polytheistic setting, nevertheless wrote another book called What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It?, in whch he complained about the overly skeptical nature of progressive analytical movements like the Copenhagen School towards Biblical history. In it he accused Hebrew Bible minimalists like Thomas Thompson of “erasing history” in their “assault” on Ancient Israel. Dever added anecdotally that a similar assault was happening on New Testament scholarship. Dever has stated that “the overwhelming scholarly consensus today is that Moses is a mythical figure”, although it is possible there was a “Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C.” One of the reasons many scholars have discounted Moses is because there are traditions in the Bible that describe the Exodus without referencing Moses. Biblical archaeology has completely discounted the conquest story passed down in the Book of Joshua and now agree that the vast majority of Israelites were actually the same people as their hated enemy, the Canaanites, and that the Yahweh religion appears to have migrated in, as suggested by Friedman, either by Levites coming from Egypt or Arabian Midianites from the Trans-Jordan, as posited by Dever.
So according to scholarly consensus, Moses is a legend and Jesus is a historical figure. Yet Moses was referenced by the Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera (300s-200s BCE), the Egyptian priest Manetho (200s BCE), The Jewish-Egyptian historian Artapanus of Alexandria (200s-100s BCE), the Greek Lysimachus (100s BCE), the Roman historian Pompeius Trogus (0s BCE), the Greek geographer and historian Strabo, Nero's tutor the Egyptian priest Chaeremon (0s CE), Tacitus (100s CE). A great deal of the material contradicts what is in the Torah. Many of the accounts say that the Egyptians forcefully ejected the Hebrews out of Egypt because they were the ones who were plagued. All of these historical references are still around a milennium away from their supposed events and the names given for the Egyptian king are not ones that are identifiable with the known kings, but a historian wanting to write a biography based on secular records at least has a lot more to work with. The combined information of Mara Bar Serapion, Celsus, Tacitus and Lucian of Samosata do not amount to very much. Sigmund Freud suggested that Moses was a conglomeration of two different historical figures, one who was a priest of the monotheistic or henotheistic god Aten who led a group of slaves out of Egypt but was then killed, and another Moses who worshipped Yahweh as a volcano demon. One could say that anyone who took part in an event that inspired even part of the story could be considered a historical Moses if not the historical Moses. But then the same be said of Jesus, as many scholars believe that a story from Philo of rioters dressing up and mocking a madman named Carabas as well as a story from Josephus of a man named Jesus ben Ananias who prophesized the doom of Jerusalem, was tortured by Romans and then killed during the siege, may have also contributed to some of the elements of the gospels stories. If both figures can so easily be labelled a combination of myth and history, then why is there so much more certainty for the historicity of Jesus?
The Quest for the Historical Jesus has been ignored by the vast majority of Biblical Literalists because the gospel Jesus is the historical Jesus to them, but those who would like to make common cause with non-Christians in forming the basis for a common secular record of Jesus are more often Biblical scholars than historians. A lot of Biblical scholars in general start with a Literalist bias and work their way through education towards acceptance that there are contradictions, so when outsiders, many of them in the atheist movement, came to the field with the idea that Jesus may not have existed -- the Christ Myth theory -- they are largely dismissed as amateurs and cranks. But in fact, Biblical scholars almost never spend more than a few paragraphs actually trying to prove that a historical Jesus actually existed. Rather, they dedicate all of their effort into trying to figure out what exactly he said as opposed to what other people put in his mouth. Those who criticize the Christ Myth Theory and the “mythicists” who believe it typically cite an overwhelming consensus among scholars that a historical Jesus existed rather than the actual hard evidence. The vast majority of Biblical scholars either go to one extreme and never cite the Talmud references, presumably assuming they are historically worthless and so not worth mentioning, or go to the other extreme of assuming without debate that Yeshu is the gospel Jesus without explaining the chronological problems, thus leaving the reader to assume that the Talmud corroborates the historicity of the first century CE Jesus. The few attempts that have been made to criticize the Christ Myth Theory often descend into confusion. The premier example of poor scholarship is Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?, which was far more error-prone than the misquoted authors attempted to correct.
More importantly, the “consensus” of Biblical scholarship's understanding of Jesus is an illusion. Just as there are many different sects of Christianity and many different religions adopted by different people based largely on the bias of location, so too are there many different yet brilliant paradigms of the historical Jesus, each one pulling into its own orbit whoever has the time and energy to read those particular theories. There is Jesus the apocalyptic prophet, Jesus the Zealot, the “Liberal Jesus”, the “Kerygmatic Jesus”, Jesus the Cynic sage, Jesus the “New Perspective” Jew, and of course, the Biblical Literalist Jesus. The so-called “consensus” works the way that the believer can claim a consensus over the unbeliever: by counting all the different theories, whether it be of God or the historical Jesus, as being equal or at least equivalent to one another. A famous quote from atheist author Richard Dawkins is that “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Likewise, Biblical scholars are atheists about most of the historical Jesuses that scholars have ever believed in. Mythicists just go one Jesus further.
There are many different forms of mythicism. Although the most popular forms of the Christ Myth Theory focus mostly on the dying-and-rising god aspects that Christianity has inherited, there is really no reason why the same conclusion could not have been reached following the connection Crossan, Mack and many of the Jesus Seminar scholars made between the sagely wisdom sayings. These sayings of Jesus coming from Cynic and Stoic philosophy that are found in the Synoptic gospels and the Pauline epistles were first canonized by the Marcionites, who were themselves accused of adding Stoic philosophy into the scripture. This would indicate that some of the earliest Christian beliefs had a Hellenistic origin. That is how Bruno Bauer, the first mythicist, came to his conclusion that Jesus never existed. By the same token, believing that the dying-and-rising god mystery religions were the primary influence on Christianity, as postulated by Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle and Freke and Gandy's The Jesus Mysteries, does not necessarily prove there was no historical Jesus. The famed twentieth-century liberal Biblical scholar Rudolf Bultmann accepted the influence of the mystery religions and yet he said those who denied the historical Jesus were crazy. But it is really the kerygma of the Apostolic tradition that Jesus was a historical person, as opposed to the Docetic view that he was a man from the sky, that coerces an intolerance against the possibility.
In that sense, the Christ Myth Theory is not so much a rationale as a conclusion. The various rationales that are used to justify the conclusion are not really radical in themselves. The controversy of the Christ Myth Theory is its conclusion that there was no one founding figure that created Christianity, because as ever-evolving memetic structures, it is always possible that a religion can simultaneously have many founders and no founder. The structure of how religion forms and spreads is sound enough that we can take away any historical person, even the cornerstone, and it can still stand.
If the Nazoraeans, who believed Jesus was the rightful Judaean king following Alexander Jannaeus, are not the earliest example of the Nazarene sect that fathered Christianity, then who were? If one were to write a history about the foundation of Christianity without a historical Jesus, where would it begin? Some say Paul, but he suffers from the exact same problems as Jesus. No one talks about him until the late second century. Even Justin mentioned Marcion but not Paul. The general picture provided by the Marcionite canon that Chrestianity was founded by a single itinerant preacher almost single-handedly sailing from city to city across all the Roman provinces and then preaching on the streets is not only improbable, but also strikingly close to what Marcion himself was believed to have done. As described earlier, all of the Pauline epistles appear to be pseudographical. Just as with Jesus, there is nothing to prove he was historically relevant until a full century after he was said to have lived.
The Toledot corroborates the narrative hinted at in the Epistle to the Galatians that Peter, Paul and James were not just factions in the same religious sect but different religious sects in the same religion, in stark contrast to the harmonious Golden Age of the Apostles pseudo-history described in Acts. In mentioning them, the Toledot hides the names of Paul and James using placeholder labels, probably to ensure that their real names remain forgotten. Paul (or Peregrinus) was referred to as the Hellenistic rabbi Elijahu ben Abuyah. James was referred to as Nestorius, named after a later Assyrian heretic who was against calling Mary the “Mother of God”. The Jewish Life of Jesus confirms that James contended against Paul and adds that James tried to bring back circumcision among Christians. It even accused James of getting women to side with him by outlawing divorce. In both versions of the Toledot, Simon Cephas is identified with the fifth-century Christian Simon Stylites, although it is uncertain whether the association with another Christian figure named Simon 300 years later was meant as satire or honest confusion. The Toledot's description of Peter as a man caught between the Jewish and Christian worlds, just as he is portrayed in Galatians, definitely shines through. Cephas is threatened by a mysterious “Ancient of Christians” who tells him that all of Israel will be destroyed unless he converts to their religion. According to the Jewish Life of Jesus, the threat worked and Cephas pretended to convert to Christianity for the sake of his people. His later writings were nevertheless said to have been sent to the late second century Babylonian rabbi Nathan ha-Babli for inclusion in Jewish worship, indicating that he remained an important figure in rabbinic Judaism. This early Jewish perspective of Cephas is entirely consistent with Mark's allegorical depiction of Peter being caught by authorities while following Jesus and being forced to deny Jesus three times.
Most of the named apostles and church fathers, with the important exception of the fictional twin of Jesus, Judas Thomas, were probably real people, but they are not necessary to explain Christianity. There are no historical witnesses to validate any of the personas from the gospels. Even the earliest epistles are completely silent on the vast majority of the characters introduced, with the exception of James, John and Cephas/Peter. Even if we were to assume James was the literal brother of Jesus, we would have nothing other than the all-too-generic Epistle of James to interview him with. Even if there was a Paul who really met the literal brother of Jesus, it would have done him no good since he openly boasted that nothing that James said was added to the message he had received directly from God. The four gospels are often described by non-scholars as four different witnesses. While different witnesses would use different words to describe the same events, the gospels use the same words to describe very different events, because they were changed to reflect the theology of the various Jesus sects that used them. Nothing from scripture offers a direct witness. The Epistles describe Jesus alternatively as a dying-and-rising god or a desert-praying charismatic slain by Jewish rather than Roman authorities. No historical works that mention Jesus offer any knowledge independent from those gospels. All the dates given to scripture — canonical and apocryphal — are hypothetical. If there was a historical first century CE Jesus, then he has been completely cut off from any verification system. As analysis moves forward identifying gospel stories as Old Testament rewrites and allegories invented to justify later Church doctrine, the light that is cast upon the historical Jesus only makes him dimmer.
The Four Core Identities of the Historical Jesus
The identity of Jesus gradually moved from being a first century BCE “wise king” to being a first century CE peasant who instigated a brief revolt against the Temple priests and paid for it with his life. Epiphanius said that the Nazoraeans believed that Jesus was from the first century BCE. We get the impression from him and Irenaeus that most of the other heretical Jesus sects after them believed in a first century CE Jesus, and yet when we look at claims in 1 Thessalonians, parts of the Gospel of Peter, Burkettt's Sanhedrin Trial Source describing Jews executing Jesus without the assistance of the Romans, Mara Bar Serapion's dating of the wise king, the numerological allegory referencing Yeshu's five disciples in Mark, the reference to two sets of twelve prophets of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, and the vestiges of Judas being associated with a garden or field in the last three gospels, it becomes clear that some of these Jesus sects may have simply employed a literary Jesus while hinting at his connection to the historical Yeshu. The historical Yeshu may have been kept a secret as a part of an inner mystery or a conceit to hide the origin of the religion from Romans who associated the earlier Messianic figure with political insurrection as opposed to the sectarian conflict against Pharisees as portrayed in the gospels.
The first gospels were made up of oracular sayings that gave no historical context to when Jesus lived. The first known sayings gospel identified by Eusebius, supposedly using a source from an Anatolian bishop in the 140s, was named after a disciple of Yeshu. Eventually these sayings gospel were constructed into narrative gospels in which Yeshu was portrayed as a first century Galilean peasant, but whether this story was originally meant to be read as fiction or history is unknown. The gospels were rewritten and reinterpreted over and over again into many different versions of the sayings gospels and Proto-Marks. As time went on, new Jesus sects compiled all of their old sources in such a complicated fashion that all three Synoptic evangelists were switching back and forth between four or more now-lost sources. Although these literary models were always relegated to anonymous sectarians in the first century, the latent story elements in the gospels better fit the Christological conflicts of the second century in which each Jesus sect constructed a gospel that was to be used as their particular theological platform.
Mark was written by the Adoptionists to downplay the importance of the most popular Jesus teachers of his time, Peter, James, and John, emphasizing that the first would be last and the last would be first. The Ebionites then constructed a more Jewish gospel that made Jesus defend the Laws of Moses. It was adopted first by the Cerinthians and then the Peterine Christian Church in Antioch. In trying to adapt itself to the conflict between the Ebionites and the Marcionites, the Antioch Church also edited a version of Luke similar to Marcionite Gospel of the Lord, as well as adopted Marcionite epistles credited to Paul, then added Hellenistic interpretations of the Jewish scripture to meet the Ebionites half way. After that, a presbyter of the Ephesian Church took an Antioch version of Luke and an Antioch version of the Acts of the Apostles and edited them into two-part letter, making it the first gospel to provide a statement of the author's intent to write a history to correct some of the misconceptions of the past. Another presbyter from the Ephesian tradition, Irenaeus, also cited epistles written in the names of Paul and John that propagated a historical interpretation of the gospels. The Cerinthian Signs Gospel was rewritten into a Valentinian Gnostic gospel and then rewritten again into a more literal Apostolic gospel. Irenaeus then combined it with the Adoptionist Mark, Peterine Matthew and Apostolic Luke-Acts into the first four-gospel canon.
Other sects like Justin's follower Tatian continued to combine the gospels into a single gospel harmony but Irenaeus' decision to keep the four gospels separated as different perspectives allowed converts from heretical sects to read a version of the gospel they were most familiar with. Although most of the later Coptic sects constructed spiritualized literary gospels that were meant to be taken symbolically, the interpretation of reading the gospels as history persisted with the Apostolic Church until Constantine chose it to represent all of Christianity. It is Irenaeus' historical interpretation, where the gospels were named after apparently random apostles, two disciples and two non-disciples, that prevailed. The gospels were to be treated as different perspectives of the same historical event instead of reading them as fictional narratives with contradicting theologies. This was established by a massive library of falsified texts forged under the name of various historical building blocks during the time of Irenaeus. Like all of the dying-and-rising god mystery religions than had preceded it, Christianity needed to be reformed to make it more monogamous, more monarchial, and more monotheistic. Irenaeus defined what books the Biblical canon would consist of and how they were interpreted. It was this new historical interpretation of the gospels that would provide the context for the history of Christianity as remembered by the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
Religious leaders of the past can be and were invented. There is plenty of room for doubt when Epiphanius says that Cerinthians were founded by Cerinthus and the Merinthians were founded by Merinthus and the Ebioniotes were founded by Ebion. The Five, the Twelve, the Seven, the Four, Paul, James the Just, all of these figures have become literary constructs even if they once represented real people. There is a massive host of pseudographical documents masquerading as ancient Christian correspondence and scholars still puzzle over where their true origins come from. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Papias of Heirapolis, are all just names put to scripture. Most of the early epistles Barnabas, are surprisingly disinterested in the historical details behind Jesus. They make almost no mention of any gospel personalities or events. Dig a little deeper into whom any of these figures and there are nothing but contradictions and mythology and more questions. Take away all of the epistles of dubious origin and there is little left to work with in the first- and second-century CE that would separate it from how we understand the first century BCE.
A comprehensive list of first- and second-century references to a Jesus who lived in the early first century would include James, Jude, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Josephus, Tacitus, Theophilus, the author of Shepherd of Hermas, the author of the Didakhe, Barnabas, Polycarp, Papias, Justin, and Irenaeus. Although James is called “brother of the Lord”, the epistle ascribed to him makes no such claim and the lack of a defense from the Epistle to the Galatians as to why Jesus' brother should not have had more authority than Paul implies that the author did not think an explanation was needed. The author of the Epistle of Jude also claims to be the “brother of James”, which should also make him the brother of Jesus, yet he too makes no such claim, referring to himself as a “servant of Jesus”. Two references to a historical Jesus are ascribed to Paul: the first from 1 Thessalonians says that Jesus was killed by Jews, not Romans, and the second, from 1 Timothy, is generally accepted as a late second century forgery. The author of Hebrews says Jesus was executed outside the city but fails to say when. Given the fictional nature of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, it is difficult to know whether the original authors meant them to be read as fiction or biography. Luke-Acts and the Gospel of John both claim that Jesus was a historical Person, yet both authors had no problem using their own fictional creations. Assuming Luke-Acts was addressed to Theophilus of Antioch, that would mean the earliest uncontested historical biography of Jesus as a first century CE peasant was written sometime in the 170s, just 30 years before Tertullian wrote gave witness to a Toledot story of a gardener hiding the body of Yeshu in De Spectaculis and some 50 years before the Talmud was compiled. The condemnation of Docetists or Gnostics who did not believe Jesus had come “in the flesh” in the epistles of John suggest that the epistle itself was written (or forged) for the sole purpose of discrediting the interpretation that the gospels were fiction. The first epistle ascribed to Peter says only that Jesus suffered and second is a defense against the idea that the gospels were just “cleverly invented stories”. The second epistle, written by a different author, tries to corroborate that interpretation that Peter was a literal disciple of Jesus who physically witnessed his miracles. The epistles ascribed to Clement of Rome imply that Jesus was a symbol for the Church. The epistles of Ignatius also make the case for a first century CE historical Jesus, but it tells an unlikely story of Roman soldiers allowing correspondence to his followers as he is being dragged across the empire to be executed in Rome, indicating they are late forgeries, probably created during Irenaeus' time in connection with the “ignited” Peregrinus. The overly short Testimonium Flavian of Josephus is shown to be a forgery due to a reference in the next paragraph citing the paragraph preceding the Testimonium and the lack of references by Christian apologists familiar with Josephus. Evidence that Tacitus originally wrote of “Chrestians” suggests that the next line referencing “Christ” may have been a later addition. Even assuming the uninformative passage mentioning Christ is authentic, it may have ultimately derived from the opinion of neophytes uninitiated into the deeper mysteries of Chrestianity or even Tacitus' own rationalist interpretation of the opening line in the Marcionite version of the Gospel of Luke, which said that Jesus came down from heaven in the time of Tiberius. Theophilus taught a “Christianity without Christ” indistinguishable from Diaspora Judaism. The author of the Shepherd of Hermas exceeds even Theophilus in vagueness by only saying that someone was once inhabited by the spirit of God somewhere. The author of the Didakhe gives the name Jesus Christ but reveals nothing more than that he was a servant of God. The Epistle of Barnabas refers to Jesus only as a spirit who rose from the dead. Polycarp was most likely a Valentinian or Marcionite teacher whose entire biography appears to be a fictional combination of Peregrinus the Cynic and Polemon the Sophist, forged in the time of Ireaneus.
That leaves Papias, Justin and Irenaeus as the most definitive voices for a historical first century CE Jesus. Papias was “a very stupid man”, who, judging by his story about Judas becoming a bloated monster, would believe anything. Justin's belief in a historical Jesus appears to be based on a supposed Memoir of the Apostles that was actually a gospel combining Synoptic sources. But even Justin seems to acknowledge that faith that Jesus existed was equivalent to faith in Jesus being the Messiah. The literary traditions of Polycarp, Papias, and Justin appear to have come to us through Irenaeus. Stephan Huller suggests that Irenaeus ran a forgery mill that retooled the writings of Polycarp and Justin into Irenaeus' own theology.
Gathering together all the various ancient sources that could possibly be referencing Jesus, I would divide the data the into four core historical identities:
1) Exorcist / Magician (Chrst cup, Talmud, Toledot, Synoptic gospels)
2) Apocalyptic Prophet (Q2, gospels)
3) Cynic Sage (Q1, Thomas, Synoptic gospels, Mara)
4) Martyr / Passover Scapegoat (Tammuz, Mara, gospels, epistles, Talmud, Toledot, Honi)
1) Exorcist / Magician
In the book Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God?, Morton Smith describes Jesus as a polytheist who enacted magic spells for healings and exorcisms in opposition to the scribes who followed the Torah law. Later higher class friends would attempt to rehabilitate such legendary figures by differentiating them from magicians by calling them “divine men”. A prime example from Smith is Apollonarius of Tyana, who was called a “divine man” by his defenders and a magician by Christians, just as Christians called Jesus a “divine man” while Celsus and the Talmud referred to Jesus as a magician. Although Jesus performs exorcisms and magical feats in all of the gospels, this aspect of him is best emphasized in the Gospel of Mark. Many other scholars emphasizing other aspects of Jesus' historical identity nevertheless believe Jesus performed some kind of shamanistic rites that meant to provide psychological healing. John Dominic Crossan associates the increased necessity for such ancient therapists with the sociological stress that comes from being a peasant repressed by a foreign imperial occupation.
Jesus as Magician is backed by the best historical evidence there is, archaeological evidence. Written evidence handed down to us by sectarian winners can always be censored, edited or forged, but the Chrst cup attests to the oldest Christian or Chrestian tradition that Chrst was a magician. Despite the fact that the cup does not bear Jesus' name, the Talmud and Toledot associate him with Yehoshua ben Perachiah, whose name was used on similar magic cups. This is a strong indication that the exorcist tradition of Jesus originates from Alexandria. Even if there was a first century CE Jesus, he would most likely have inherited this tradition from Egypt. The story of Yeshu escaping to Egypt may have been a fictional attempt to prove that Yeshu was using foreign magic. If that is the case, then the mini-stories in Matthew and Luke of Jesus making a short trip there as a baby would have been a way to accept some details as much-needed historical background for Jesus while changing enough of it to head off any accusations of Jesus learning anything while he was there.
The Toledot also includes a story about Jesus and Judas flying at each other in a magician's duel, a trope found in myths going back to Sumerian times. During the fight, Judas defiles Jesus, causing the spell to abort and Jesus falls to the ground. The same kind of magic contest is described in apocryphal Acts of Peter as being utilized by Simon Magus until it is broken when Simon Peter dispels it with his anti-magic praying, causing Simon to fall. The Synoptic gospels also continue the tradition depicting Jesus as an exorcist and using folk magic for curing people. The mysteriously unexplained fall that kills Judas in Acts of the Apostles may have originally been the ending cut from a similar magician story in which Judas fell. Simon Magus also has an association with John the Baptist and an alternative date to the first century BCE, indicating that these roots stretch back to before the first century CE.
Honi the Circle Drawer is believed to have been the same kind of charismatic healer, providing magical rites that some Jewish elders believed constituted death according to the Law of Moses. This may be why a split mythological narrative of “good Honi” and “bad Yeshu” was necessary. The split presumably allowed Jews who inherited traditions favorable to the Oniads and anti-Nazarenes to reside in the same rabbinic circles.
2) Apocalyptic Prophet
The majority of Biblical scholars, including Albert Schweitzer, Paula Freriksen and Bart Ehrman, believe Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Most scholars may also agree that Jesus was an exorcist, gave sage advice, and was executed in Jerusalem on Passover as well, but they consider this to be the aspect that defined him. If Jesus had not wrongly claimed that he knew that the world was going to be ending sometime soon, no one would have given up their lives to spread his apocalyptic message and Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. All four gospels have apocalypticism in them, but Matthew, whose earlier versions sere used by Jewish sects like the Ebionites and Cerinthians, emphasizes the End Times in his parables the most. Most of the epistles have apocalypticism. The Book of Revelation is an apocalypse. Bart Ehrman has put forth the argument that if John the Baptist was an apocalypticist before Jesus and Paul was an apocalypticist after Jesus, then Jesus must have been an apocalypticist too. But while nearly every book in the New Testament has apocalyptic material in it, only the gospels portray Jesus himself as an apocalyptic prophet, and in the Gospel of Thomas, it is noticeably absent.
Jewish apocalypticism was nothing new. It had really started with the Book of Isaiah, promising that people would return from the dead, Israel and Judah would become one nation again, and the world would turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance. The details of the eschatology developed further as it moved from the earlier Hebrew scrolls of Isaiah 24-27 and Zecharaiah 9-14 to the later Aramaic books of Daniel 7-12 and Enoch 91-93. The prophecies took on the Proto-Christian structure of the New Testament apocalypse, predicting the end of the world shortly after the death of the Messiah, Onias III. The story of a dying Messiah causing the End of the World had already been done before. As an apocalyptic prophet, Jesus would have just been fulfilling a pre-established role that had already been set up for him by previous Messiahs and previous scripture, thus robbing him of being anything historically unique or relevant to our own time.
Following that model, Christianity would just be a reiteration of a strand of Jewish theology that happened to expand into its own sect and then its own religion. The name of Jesus would have had to have competed with the names of other Messianic figures like Simon Magus, Dositheus, Athronges, or Apollonius of Tyre, and it is quite surprising that his was the one that won out. This Jesus would have only had a small number of followers, who by word of mouth had to have managed to gain enough believers to become a self-sustaining phenomenon that would eventually multiply and spread to encompass nearly one-third of the world. As an old saying puts it: “Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.” But in this model, Christianity would have had a very steep mountain to climb as people would be less inclined to be interested in the belief system as the cult moved away from the local circles of people who originally knew him or knew of him.
Unlike the peasant from the tiny unimportant village of Nazareth, the Oniads did not run a grassroots campaign to become famous and beloved around the world through their own actions alone. Being part of a much larger tradition that borrowed much of its legitimacy from the pre-Herodian Temple in Jerusalem would have meant that there would have been a much larger incentive for Jews to pass down the stories of Onias III and Honi the Circle Drawer. As heir to an important priestly dynasty, Onias III would have inherited historical credentials as a birth privilege, which before the printing press was invented, was one of the necessary prerequisites for becoming famous.
There is nothing from the Talmud or Josephus to suggest that Onias III or Honi the Circle Drawer were apocalyptic prophets themselves. Daniel and probably 1 Enoch used the tragedy of Onias III's assassination towards their own apocalyptic scripture. The Jewish apocalyptic tradition of the Christian era most strongly represents itself in the Books of Daniel, 1 & 2 Enoch, Maccabees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Epistles of James and Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews, Epiphanius' account of the Nazoraeans, and the version of the Gospel of Matthew used by the Ebionites. Laying out all of the evidence from each of these sources we can the evolution of Messianic expectation, from: (A.) a large demographic of Jews who believed the apocalypse would be coming shortly after the death of the second century BCE Messiah Onias III, moving to (B.) a large demographic of Jews believing that Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans shortly after the death of the first century BCE Messianic “wise king” Yeshu, to (C.) a large demographic of Jews believing that Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans again because of the death of the wise peasant Messiah Jesus. From a demographic perspective, it makes sense that a sect focused primarily on apocalypticism would eventually ret-con their backstory to maintain relevance, eventually replacing Onias III, Honi the Circle Drawer, and the perhaps also the Teacher of Righteousness with the gospel Jesus. The continued acceptance of apocalypticism allowed them to funnel in last straggling believers in a future Messianic kingdom from the decline of Judaism's “third party”, Essenism. Once apocalypticism gave way to historicism, the last adaption of the Jesus story became the official one. Certainly, a long-held belief system that is continuously updated is more realistic than the idea of a small fellowship of fishermen expanding into a major world religion.
3) Cynic Sage
John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar believe the core documents that the gospels originated from are the Cynic wisdom sayings from the Synoptic gospels, especially sayings corroborated by the Gospel of Thomas since the Coptic text is considered by them to be the most primitive form of the gospel. Although Gnostic sayings were added to Thomas, there is no sign of an apocalyptic Jesus in the sayings source. If the historical Jesus was a first century apocalyptic prophet, then any talk about turning the other cheek, assuming those words could accurately be traced back to him, would have only been some temporary guidelines to follow for the short period of time left and not an actual philosophy to live by for many generations to come. But these wisdom sayings were hardly meant as temporary guidelines. The “turn the other cheek” saying from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is actually made in direct contrast to the laws of Moses, done in a way that implies these rules are the better way, not that they are special circumstantial rules for the End Times.
John Dominic Crossan hypothesizes that Jesus expanded on John the Baptist's apocalypticism and changed the message from a future kingdom of God to a present kingdom of God that was “among you” (Luke 17:21). John Kloppenborg and Crossan also point to various signs in the Q source that the Cynic sayings formed the earliest layer, Q1, and the apocalyptic sayings formed the secondary layer, Q2. The Gospel of Thomas contains Cynic wisdom sayings as well as Gnostic anti-materialism sayings but no apocalyptic sayings. The Gospel of Thomas is believed by many scholars to have been revised by Sethian Gnostics from an earlier sayings source dedicated to James. It is possible the apocalyptic sayings were edited out, and which tradition is earlier in the Q source does not necessarily prove one tradition started before the other one did anyway, but the lack of apocalypticism in Thomas provides Crossan and the Jesus Seminar scholars a legitimate reason for identifying Jesus as a Cynic sage. Regardless of the origins of the traditions, the Cynic wisdom sayings are mutually exclusive to the apocalyptic sayings attributed to Jesus because the present kingdom of God did not foresee a world ending tomorrow. As the Cynic Jesus proclaimed: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17-20-21).
Mark, Matthew and Luke all contain elements from each of the three traditions referenced so far. Matthew, originally representing the Ebionites, better emphasized the future kingdom of Jewish apocalyptic tradition, and Luke, originally representing the Marcionites, best emphasized the present kingdom of the Cynic Sage tradition. The same Cynic tradition expressed by the Synoptic Jesus could also be found in the “when I am weak, I am strong” theology of the Marcionite Apostle Paul. While most Biblical scholars interpreted Paul as inheriting the theology from Jesus, most mythicists instead believed that the evangelists writing about Jesus were instead putting Paul's message in Jesus' mouth. Tertullian accused Marcion of mixing the Stoicism of Athens with the Christianity of Jerusalem, but never managed to explain how Marcion could have added a philosophical theme to Luke if all he did was cut parts out of the gospel. The future kingdom was best underscored in Jewish sects like the Ebionitess who used an earlier version of Matthew. The present kingdom was most pronounced in the Marcionites using a prototype of Luke. So the conflict between the two traditions attributed to Jesus in first century may have actually been a part of the conflict between the Marcionites and the Ebionites in the second century. This is why the Epistle to the Galatians presented a story of Paul fighting with James in Antioch a century earlier.
Stephan Huller makes the case that the Cynic-inspired Sermon on the Mount in the otherwise Jewish-flavored Gospel of Matthew are based on an earlier Marcionite source called the Marcionite Antithesis. This source sought to contrast the laws of the Demiurge with the traditions of Jesus from the Unknown God. The Gospel of Matthew tried to harmonize Jesus with the Torah by editing the Marcionite lines from Matthew 5:18, changing them from saying that Jesus' words would not pass until heaven and earth disappeared (~Luke 21:33) to saying that the Law would not pass even if heaven and earth disappeared. The same verse regarding the Law is in Luke 16:17, and in fact, many of the differences between the Marcionite and canonical versions of Luke involve information giving Jesus a stronger connections to Jerusalem, John the Baptist and Judaism. After the conflict between the Ebionites and Marcionites, many later Jesus sects like the Cerinthians, the Antioch Church of Peter and the Apostolic Church had to discover different ways to harmonize the two traditions together.
One of the more arbitrary-sounding details provided from Mark and Matthew is the story of the names of Jesus' brothers and the reference to his sisters, which comes from a tradition in which Jesus is teaching "wisdom" in the synagogue. But Jesus' “brothers” listed each have names matching first century CE Messianic and zealot-like figures from Galilee. The reason the story lists the names is to make the point that Jesus is no more famous than his “brothers” in his unnamed hometown, which indicates that the names are probably symbolic as well. The two genealogies in Matthew and Luke are rightly dismissed by scholars out of hand. The biographical details of Honi are by comparison, more arbitrary and realistic than the biographical details listed for Jesus in the gospels. Honi had named grandchildren. References to Honi's family have no noticeable symbolic meaning. His tomb is located today in Hatzor HaGlilit in northern Israel.
There are significant holes in the historical layout of the Cynic Sage tradition. The Greek philosophical themes of Cynicism and Stoicism present in the Greek-written Synoptic gospels are completely missing from the Hebrew and Aramaic traditions of the Talmud and the Toledot. They are also not discernible from within the Jewish Gnostic Signs Gospel that makes up the core of John's gospel. There is no Cynic Sage tradition in Revelation. The complete failure of any of the epistles to identify Jesus as a wisdom sage has likewise lead mythicists to believe that the gospels themselves are the original source behind the idea that Jesus was a teacher. However, there is still one source completely independent of priesthoods and scripture that provides literary corroboration for Jesus as a wisdom-spouting sage. Mara bar Serapion refers to Jesus as the “wise king”, which identifies him simultaneously with the true king of the Nazoraeans and with a person known for his philosophical sayings. Of course, this may only mean that Mara had become familiar with Cynic sayings attributed to Yeshu before they were re-attributed to the first century CE Jesus. But it does provide a reasonable amount of evidence that the identity of Jesus as Cynic Sage was accepted by literary circles beyond the mystery cults dedicated to him.
The Cynic wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus do not have the same pedigree as Mara. They may have come from a Galilean sage or they could have been generic Cynic wisdom sayings that were later attributed to Jesus. There is just no way to tell. Maybe this first century CE sage was named Jesus and his name was then retroactively applied to Honi, or maybe the Toledot Yeshu's explanation that Yeshu's name came from the desire to purge his real one from history is true.
4) Martyr / Passover Scapegoat
The martyr role is the most important aspect of Jesus. Regardless of whether he was a historical figure or not, the fact that Jesus' deified form took the role of the young dying-and-rising god who provides everlasting life through the consumption of his body and blood in the form of bread and wine was very likely an important aspect of easing various people throughout history into conversion. Whether in Babylon, Jerusalem, Greece or Rome, the counter-cultural mystery religions of the divine shepherd scapegoat were always despised, outlawed and reformed by the urban authorities, but they were immensely popular with the rural class, and as demonstrated by the Nabataean myth of Yanbushad and Tammuz, the dying-and-rising myth was naturally syncretic.
Regardless of how true to history the other three aspects of the gospel Jesus were, Jesus as the Passover Scapegoat would have been the most important aspect about Jesus to an outside historian writing about him. If a first-century Jesus had really marched into Jerusalem among fanfare and had managed to stop the sacrifices in a temple the size of six football stadiums filled with hundreds of thousands of people, as the gospels claim he did, Jesus definitely should have expected more than a few cameo appearances in Josephus or Tacitus. The martyr aspect of Jesus is found not only in the epistles and gospels but also the Talmud, the Toledot and Mara Bar Serapion.
Before there was Jesus, any mention of the Messiah would have brought up memories of Onias III, the wrongfully-slain Messiah in Daniel, and Honi the Circle Drawer, the Nameless King whose rightful inheritance was stolen from him by Simeon ben Shetach and the Pharisees. The next famous Messiah was the second-century rebel Simon bar Kokhba. The three temptations and washing of Simon's feet better emphasize the details of the Passover death of Honi than they do the biography of the gospel Jesus. The story of Jesus splitting the loaves marks adherance to the older Messianic tradition from the first century BCE while the reference to Simon (of Cyrene), father of Rufus, “carrying the cross” acknowledges the Bar Kokhba Revolt of the second century CE.
The Gospel of Mark in fact repeatedly implies that Jesus is a secret Messiah who was known only to the people of the Galilean villages he visited while the vast majority of humanity did not understand the importance of what was going on, being instead transfixed on the famous and powerful people of their own period. Mark constantly reminds his readers that the last will be first and the first will be last and then ends with a peasant dying and rising as the Son of God. It underscores that the gospel belongs to long tradition of contrived “secret” texts, like in Daniel and 2 Enoch (also known as Secrets of Enoch). Daniel and Enoch were secret messengers whose autobiography had been lost in time when actually the writings were just a fictional indulgence. In contrast, Messianic figures such as Cyrus, Onias III, Honi the Circle Drawer, and Simon bar Kokhba all are said to have interacted with the important people in their lifetime.
If on one hand, the concepts of the Davidic Messiah and the High Priest of Melchi-Zedek came from pre-Christian Zadokite and Essene theology and on the other hand, the concepts of the Son of God and divine Redeemer came from the ancient dying-and-rising god mystery religions, then how much of Christianity can we really attribute to an uneducated Galilean peasant? Even if there was a man who started a movement in the first century CE, his name was Jesus, he was an apocalypticist and/or Cynic sage, and he really was crucified under Pontius Pilate, would he still be the founder of Christianity if he was just following in the footsteps of Onias III and Honi the Circle Drawer and the vast majority of religious traditions and popular interest actually derived from them? Even a historical death would not have fully been his alone because the only reason we would have known about it apart from the thousands of other crucified Jews is because the specific cultic interest in the Messianic figures who were executed before him.
Jesus is supposed to be the most historically important pre-industrial person in existence yet nothing he did made much of a difference for over a century. History was certainly changed after Jesus was killed, but if historians do not talk about the actions of a famous person during their own lifetime, then it is the story of the person and not the person himself that changed history and is thus historically important. The story of Jesus was fractured into many gospels among many different sects so that neither church historians nor modern scholarship could put the pieces back together again to agree on exactly which version is closest to the truth. The historical Jesus could not possibly have been the pivotal influence on history in the same way that the fictional Jesus has been because if none of the ideas about Christianity came from the historical Jesus then it does not really matter whether he existed or not. If there is no information about Jesus the Person outside of Jesus the Story, notwithstanding the wonderfully imaginative and completely reasonable paradigms that the many various Biblical scholars have postulated according to their own individual illuminative genius, the Quest for the Historical Jesus is always going to be a speculative endeavor, as fascinating and engrossing as that avocation may be.
The Apostolic sect that ended up being endorsed by Constantine was just one amongst many and it was they who immediately began to repress those who disagreed with them, even before the bishops left the councils. Critical information about Moses may have been over a thousand years old, but we can at least trust it wasn't censored. Judging by who provided the first known canon that came down to us, the Apostolic sect appears to have been founded in the 170s-180s by Irenaeus. Although he, Papias, and Justin interpreted the gospels as biographies, the Docetic and Gnostic sects believed Jesus had come down from heaven and believed that the gospels were meant to be symbolic fictions. Adoptionists believed Jesus was inhabited by the Christ upon his baptism, but considering how vague and unimportant a concept this appears to have been for Theophilus and the author of Hermas, it could very well been a simple allegory describing the spirit of Onias III or Honi the Circle Drawer inhabiting a fictional character. In contrast to Jesus, Onias III and Honi the Circle Drawer actually affected the historical events in their own day so that Josephus and the Talmudic authors were still talking about what they did hundreds of years later. Many if not most Biblical scholars profess that the reason Jesus is not talked about very much in his own century is because he was not important historically until later. Yeshu made history. Jesus, whether he was real or not, was used by history.
The difference between the peasant martyr of the first century CE and the Oniad martyr from the first century BCE is that not only can we be far more certain that the righteous high priest martyr existed, but we can also be far more sure of the cultural legacy that the Zadokite priesthood brought to Christianity. Aside from the cultural parallels such as the Essene-like pesher interpretations of Old Testament scripture, the unique details of Honi's death seriously throws into question the only historical event that can be reasonably associated with a first century CE Jesus. Honi's story may have inspired the gospel but the gospel could not have inspired Honi's story. It is possible that the whole Josephus story about Honi being stoned to death in Jerusalem is also completely fictional, but given the Rip Van Winkle story provided in the Talmud, the Toledot story of Yeshu, the quote from Mara Bar Serapion, and the Nazoraean quote from Epiphanius, there appears to be some adequate historical evidence that he was killed by the scribes of his time after which his body was hung according to Jewish law.
Honi the Circle Drawer is the first person to be identified in history as the Jerusalem Passover scapegoat, so the very concept of the Christian martyr really goes back to him, not Jesus. Of course his hanging does not disprove a later crucifixion. History does repeat itself. It could have happened again, but then which version mattered the most to cementing its historical legacy? Which one carried the idea through to the natural evolution from Nazarene to Christian? One had links to the original priestly family that controlled the Temple and literary connections to the historical legacy in Qumran. The other was an anonymous group of peasants with no political connections and no sociological explanation for why large numbers of people would have joined that little group instead of the People's Front of Judea, the Judean People's Front, or any other token rebel groups that got better coverage and more authenetic criticism from Josephus than Jesus did. Was it the story of this one villager's crucifixion among the hundreds that lined the roads outside Jerusalem that inspired magicians in an Egyptian city over 300 miles away to be dedicating magic bowls to him within 20 years of his death? The connection between Alexander Jannaeus, Simeon ben Shetach, and the Zadokite background of the Oniads linking them to the Order of Melchi-Zedek, correlated by the Epistle to the Heberews, Epiphanius' description of the Nazoraeans, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmudic writings proves beyond a doubt that the background of Christianity goes back further than a Galilean Jew from a tiny hamlet who was “nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change”, or according to another theory, that the Romans should just get out, or maybe that the world was about to end.
The history of religion is not made up of the biographies of people but the evolution of ideas. If there was an illiterate peasant who contributed to what would become Christianity, it could not have been more than the Cynic wisdom sayings and just another name to go on the list of martyrs. The delayed-blast popularity bomb that led to Jesusism was not set off by him nor could he have been the conduit from which the Zadokite concept of the “New Covenant” or the Order of Melchi-Zedek or any other high theological concept flowed through. There were no first-century disciples of Jesus to carry on such a tradition and no one would have been listening to them if there were. Jesus simply would not have been the fountainhead from which Christianity received its cultural legacy because everything about Jesus and Christianity was already there before Jesus was born, even his crucifixion on a “tree”. That legacy flows from the “Sons of Zadok”, the Oniads and the Nazoraeans. It was then taken up as a mystery religion after which many other Hellenistic traditions became woven into its fabric as well, until finally the historical Honi became confused with the first century CE “reboot” of the first century BCE myth.
Dever complained that revisionism erases history. Mythicism certainly recategorizes a lot of it. But whereas the Christ Myth Theory crucifies the historical Jesus of the first century CE, the Talmud, the Toledot, Mara Bar Serapion, the legends of the Nazoraeans, and the stories of the Honi family roll the tombstone away to reveal an older founder, one that helped define what it meant to be a first century BCE Jew. These alternative sources work in defiance of the Apostolic Church's attempt to reinterpret Yeshu from the second century framework of the canonical authors who by imperial selection became the authorities of who Jesus is and what Christianity means today. Irenaeus, Constantine, Eusebius, our hidden framers, the architects of our fate, force-fed mankind a falsified history in order to maintain a consolidated cultural unity, and called it a brotherhood founded by an allegory. That is why it does not really matter whether Jesus of Nazareth existed or didn't exist. The true founder of the “New Covenant”, Christianity and Chrestianity, the charismatic magician working Egyptian healing techniques, the high priest in the Order of Melchi-Zedek who was executed by Jewish elders on Passover in Jerusalem, is Honi the Circle Drawer. A Passover martyrdom of someone considered to be the true heir to the Jerusalem Temple is not something likely to have happened twice in two centuries. If the stories of Onias III being lured out of a sacred grove and Honi the Circle Drawer’s Passover execution had been found on a stone tablet in modern times instead of hidden in plain sight in Josephus and the Talmud, would there still be so little acknowledgment of these parallels in the scholarly world? If Honi woke up from his slumber beneath the carob tree today and started complaining about copyright infringement, would Biblical scholars be just as confident as the sages were in the study hall that they know the real teachings passed down by their master?