Saturday, 20 September 2014

The new, critical, actual history of early Christianity

I showed previously how Eusebius, the ancient "historian" of the early Church, had to resort to legends and left great lacunae in his story of the rise of Christianity, because the Catholic Church lacked any real records or traditions from the First Century.  The New Testament book of Acts of the Apostles and the legends written up by Eusebius combined to produce an entirely legendary picture of the earliest period of the rising religion.

Now let's see how the puzzle-pieces of a new, alternative, critical view of Christianity's first century might fit together.  I think the reality looked something like the following outline.  Some parts of the story are based on direct evidence, in which case I have linked to books and articles, or explained the evidence myself.  Other parts have to be imagined as necessary steps in order for the rest of the story that is in evidence to have taken place.  I have put these essential but only circumstantially supported speculations in italics.

Pre-30

Various Jewish strains of Messiah-belief are apparent in Daniel, Zechariah, Philo, and later sources concerning a heavenly Son of God, Logos, End-Times figure, with the name Jesus attached to some versions.  Some thinking Jews, in the face of repeated failure to overthrow the Roman occupation by force and repeatedly prey to false military messiahs such as those recorded by Josephus, seek a new interpretation of Messianism whereby the sins of the nation will be cleansed and the defeat of their enemies begun.

See Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus for these pre-existing background ideas, among many other things.

As an example, the Septuagint (ancient Greek) version of Zechariah 6 discusses "Joshua [i.e. "Jesus" in Greek] the son of Jehozadak [= "Yahweh the righteous"], the high priest" who "shall build the temple of Yahweh; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on his throne; and he shall be a priest on his throne".  When Philo discusses this passage, he says of this Jesus figure that he is: "an incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image" and goes on to say: "For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father".  Thus Philo, an Alexandrian Jew of the same age as the supposedly historical Jesus, already and independently conceived of a heavenly figure named Jesus, a son of God made in the divine image, who would be a ruler and high priest.  This proves that the heavenly Jesus had been imagined without any reference to any Jesus of Nazareth, and it disproves the common idea that Jesus must have started as a man and been progressively deified.  The actual process was the direct opposite.

Circa 30 (?)

One version of this Jesus-Christ (= "Joshua Messiah") belief coalesces around the "Pillars" Peter, James and John, when they think to decrypt Old Testament prophecies so as to find messages from heaven concerning his descent, crucifixion and resurrection in the heavenly realms.  Their essential faith is that Jesus died a sacrificial death, crucified by evil demons in the lower heavens, in propitiation of the justice of God towards the sins of the nation, thereby substituting his ultimate sacrifice for the Jews' feeble efforts to satisfy God through the Temple cult.

Again, see Carrier's new book or start with his essay outlining his arguments for the Jesus Myth theory, on which I collected introductory readings here.  Also see his presentation on where Jesus came from, here (pdf).  In particular, see the chapter in Carrier's book dealing with the New Testament book called Hebrews, where he shows that this is the theology it preaches: this is probably the original Christianity, Judaism reformed and transformed by the sacrifice of the son of God.

Circa 45-50 (?)

Simon Magus (a.k.a. Simon of Samaria) announces a new understanding of Jesus belief, whereby the old dispensation of the Torah is not divine, but is instead the oppressive creation of intermediary ruling demons who created the Earth and trapped our spirits in material bodies.  His essential faith is that through baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus, thereby freeing us from death and thus from the power of the legislating demon powers who rule the Earth.  His creed is based on the "Vision of Isaiah".  His movement also produces the original of the Gospel according to Mark as an allegorical expression of their belief and an attack on the Petrine Jewish Christian movement.  GMark is written in the form of a historical fiction as a midrash (a form of scriptual pastiche) on the OT prophecies revered by Christians, especially those from the Psalms, Isaiah, and the later prophets.  Simon writes the originals of the Pauline epistles, including the letter to the Galatians which cautions his flock against listening to the Jewish Christians who want to impose Jewish cultic requirements on them.

See Hermann Detering's The Fabricated Paul (online) and Roger Parvus' ongoing series of articles on "A Simonian Origin for Christianity" for the theory of the identity of Paul and Simon Magus.  See Robert Price's article here or his Incredible Shrinking Son of Man for the scriptural basis of the Gospel stories.

Circa 60-70 (?)

Simon Magus' writings are edited and interpolated by a Proto-Orthodox writer who names him Paul so as to critique Simon and make him appear to promote orthodox belief in the divinity of the Torah.  This Proto-Orthodoxy is a new development, combining the belief of the Jewish Christians in the divinity of the Law with the belief of the Simonians in Christians' freedom from the Law.  Whereas the Simonians held themselves released from the Law imposed by the demonic world-rulers, and their punishment of death, through participation in Jesus' resurrection which nullified the power of the demons over them, the new Proto-Orthodoxy held that Jesus had taken the punishment of the Law on himself, atoning for human sins, and freeing humanity from the Law through substitutionary fulfillment.

Gnosticism thrives as ideas about Jesus and other heavenly emissaries are mixed and matched with all manner of Jewish, Greek and Egyptian esoterica.

See Parvus' articles for the interpolation of orthodoxy into the Pauline epistles.

Circa 80-120

Somehow, whether due to the loss of traditions in post-70 Judea, or to its efficiency as a meme, or to its utility to the Proto-Orthodox in establishing their apostolic bona fides, the surface allegory of GMark is spread as if it were a historical report: the belief arises and proliferates that Jesus of Nazareth was the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

There is no definitive evidence of the replacement of the Heavenly Jesus by the Historical Jesus as the dominant christological belief, although there are suggestive items in both the NT and in the letters attributed to Ignatius where orthodox writers seem to criticise and reject others who deny the reality of the incarnation.  It is arguable however whether it is mythicists or docetists they have in mind.  Consider Trallians 9: "Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead."  Whether or not this is valid evidence for the thesis, if we accept that the original Jesus was heavenly, and the later Jesus was human, then there must have been a period of change-over, even if the best evidence is lost.

Once the proliferation of the Markan tale occurs, Orthodoxy now comprises a combination of beliefs in a Historical Jesus and in the divinity of the prior Torah dispensation.  There is a great loss of documents from the first-century, not preserved by what came to be the Church with a capital C.  Therefore, despite its claims to apostolic tradition and historical precedence, when Eusebius much later comes to write the history of the early Church he is virtually unable to find any documentary records.  During this period, Matthew is written as a Jewish-Christian revision of GMark, promoting the fulfillment of the Torah, rather than its rejection.  The original of GLuke is also written, based on both GMark and GMatthew.  What became the Catholic Church has no particular importance among the welter of competing Christianities across the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds at this point.

Also during this period, Marcion emerges as a critic of Proto-Orthodoxy, claiming that Paul's epistles have been systematically Judaised by the followers of the Petrine group of apostles who failed to understand Jesus' radical anti-Law message.  He is the first to collect and publish a book containing both a Gospel and a selection of Pauline letters.  Marcion is not able however to get his hands on copies of the Pauline originals; he uses a version of GLuke different from ours.  Marcion and some Gnostic groups take the Historical Jesus for granted but reject the God of the Jews as a demonic demiurge who created the material world in order to trap spirits in bodies: they thus reject the fleshly incarnation of Jesus and espouse docetism, the belief that Jesus only appeared to have a fleshly body.  (This is a speculation of how docetism arose, fitting it into the general pattern, rather than a process seen in direct evidence.)

See Joseph Tyson's Marcion and Luke-Acts, especially chapter 2 on Marcion, online here.  For the welter of competing Christianities in this early period, see Walter Bauer's Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, online here.

Circa 120-140

In the face of the rise of Marcion's Church, a Proto-Orthodox writer or writers (Polycarp?) interpolates GLuke with anti-Marcionite passages, and composes Acts to turn Marcion's anti-Petrine Paul into Peter's faithful orthodox colleague.  The NT is published, containing Gospels, Acts, the interpolated and forged Paulines, and some new, orthodox Pastoral epistles, along with Revelation.  From this edition onwards, decisions about which writings to include are made on grounds of their orthodox character, rather than their historical authenticity.  The Proto-Orthodox also claim the writings of the Apellean (a branch of Marcionism) celebrity Peregrinus as those of one of their own, Ignatius of Antioch; the original Gospel of John may be Apellean in character.

See Tyson again on the anti-Marcionite editing of GLuke and composition of Acts.  See David Trobisch's The First Edition of the New Testament for the creation of the orthodox New Testament.  For the principles actuating the selection of the canon, see Carrier's summary of the formation of the canon.

Post-140

Proto-Orthodoxy continues its struggle with Marcionism, whose followers are said to be widespread across the Empire.  With the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313, the Catholic Church is able to bring coercive force to bear on its rivals, who are now labelled by the Church's heresiologists as heretics who have distorted the original, apostolic doctrine delivered by Jesus to the Twelve Disciples of the Gospels and the Paul of Acts.  In fact, the Catholic Church, having forgotten the original non-historical character of Jesus, and having adopted and manipulated texts produced by its opponents, and having forged others, has no real claim to historical precedence or apostolic tradition.

5 comments:

  1. I think circa 60-70 CE is too early for the proto-orthodox attempt to create a synthesis of the beliefs of the Christian Jews in Jerusalem and of Simonian Christians. For one thing, I don’t see any clear sign of proto-orthodoxy until around the time of Justin. (I think 1 Clement and the original version of the Ignatian letters both date to around 140). Justin is regarded as the first proto-orthodox anti-heretical writer. If proto-orthodoxy was in existence before his time, I think he would have acknowledged and used the anti-heretical work of the heroes who went before him. He doesn’t.

    Moreover, Justin doesn’t mention a Paul or quote his letters. This is hard to explain if, as you propose, Simon’s letters had been interpolated by the proto-orthodox circa 60-70. If the proto-orthodox had sanitized Simon and his letters seventy to eighty years before Justin arrived on the scene, I expect Justin would have had no problem referring to Paul or his letters. If he was not on board with this, I suspect it is because the attempt to co-opt Simon and his letters was something that had happened recently (circa 130 CE). Justin knew about it and either did not approve or was waiting to see if the attempt was going to be successful. Success was not a sure thing, especially since Justin’s contemporaries Cerdo and Marcion were alerting Christians that the Pauline collection in circulation was one that had been tampered with.

    So while I agree that proto-orthodoxy aimed to create an acceptable Christianity by combining the 1st century beliefs of Christian Jews and Simonian Christians, I think they only undertook that project in the 2nd century, around 130 CE.

    Another area of disagreement: I doubt that Simon believed that “through baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus.” Assuming some degree of continuity between the pre-Christian beliefs expressed in his Apophasis Megale and his later Christian beliefs, I think it more likely that he held men’s spirits to already be some kind of extension of the highest God. Those extensions could perish unless God intervenes to make them permanent, and that is where the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the reception of heavenly robes becomes necessary.

    I think baptism, on the other hand, was a practice of the Jerusalem church. It was originally a baptism of repentance for sins, as preached by John the Baptist. When the proto-orthodox created their 2nd century synthesis they made a place for baptism but they turned it into the means of effecting participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. For the proto-orthodox, Christ had to have a real body in order to really expiate the sins that men have committed, including those that were violations of the God’s Torah. Christians, through baptism, are incorporated into Christ and thereby benefit from his expiation of sins.

    Roger Parvus

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    1. Hi Roger.

      I appreciate your reasons for a late dating of the Proto-Orthodox interpolation Paul.

      On the other hand, there are factors which would suggest an early dating:

      (i) The authentic epistles have arguably not been interpolated with Historical Jesus material, which would argue for a date before that development.

      (ii) It is highly arguable, as you said before, that "the only public version of [the collection of Paul's letters] in circulation in Marcion’s time was one that had already been systematically interpolated by a proto-orthodox Christian. Marcion had learned and was convinced that the letters had been interpolated, but I don’t think he ever obtained an undoctored copy." If Marcion operated around 125-50, then the interpolation of the letters must have occurred so long before that there were no longer originals available. If this is so, it raises the further question of how Proto-Orthodoxy was able to deny access to the Simonian originals in a period when it did not wield enough power to censor and destroy them.

      We seem to have a dating dilemma.

      Regarding baptism in Simonianism, my reason for thinking it might have been important to them is that it seems to be part of the original layer of soteriology in the Epistles. There, baptism into mystical communion with the death and resurrection of Christ equated to one's own death and resurrection, thereby freeing one from the dominion of law and punishment, called Sin. What I notice in the passages that explain this soteriology, is that they do not contain any substitutionary atonement or fulfillment thinking, which is peculiar to orthodoxy. E.g. Romans 6 and 7:

      "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."

      "Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? ... Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God."

      If these passages are not original, then (i) why do they not contain any atonement soteriology, and (ii) how otherwise did Christ's death and resurrection effect his followers' release from Sin?

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    3. Hi Roger.

      I use a pseudonym elsewhere on the internet. It's from a Borges short story.

      I'll copy your comment here then respond:

      I agree that “the authentic epistles have arguably not been interpolated with Historical Jesus material, which would argue for a date before that development.” But this may simply indicate that the first written gospel to feature a public ministry for Jesus was written later than the date most mainstream scholars ascribe to it. In my Vridar series (A Simonian Origin for Christianity) I will argue that GMark was written toward the end of the range of dates that have historically been proposed for it, i.e., around 130 CE. I think the public ministry of its Jesus is a reworked version of an earlier Simonian allegory about Simon’s ministry. That allegory could have been written as early as the 70s or 80s CE and still not have been used by the later Pauline interpolator if he regarded it as an obviously illegitimate Simonian addition to the Vision of Isaiah’s gospel.

      Regarding an undoctored version of the Pauline letters: Marcion and his followers appear to have tried to restore the Paulines to their pristine condition. That they kept trying to do that apparently means they didn’t have and couldn’t obtain an undoctored copy. The question then is: “Why not?” If the Pauline letters were Simonian in origin, I see one good possibility: The Simonians either were or became a secretive sect. According to Hippolytus, the Simonians were unwilling to even pronounce the name of their founder. Now, one downside to being a secretive sect is that it can’t discuss or defend its writings without revealing its secrets. And often secretive sects don’t care to defend their writings to outsiders anyway. What is important to them is that their own members know the truth. Part of the fun is that the sect knows things that everyone else doesn’t! (There is the possibility too that the Simonians had died out as a sect by the time Marcion came onto the scene. The extant record mentions no successor to Menander who could have died before the end of the first century. If, as I suspect, he compiled the collection of letters, did an undoctored copy survive when his sect petered out?)

      Last, regarding the many and various soteriologies in the Pauline letters: I will be trying to untangle these in upcoming installments of my Vridar series. I have very limited time available to pursue my hobby, and since many of my theories are a bit complicated and interlocking, I have pretty much limited myself to a single venue: Neil Godfrey’s blog site.

      Roger Parvus

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    4. OK. Wow. So a very late date of editing and canonisation. I look forward hugely to reading your case!

      Interesting possibility re Simonian secrecy. Although you would think that if the Catholics could get hold of the letters, then all the more so could groups much more sympathetic to Simonian thought.

      Best wishes and thanks again for publishing your fascinating ideas.

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