10th Anniversary “Jesus Dynasty” Tour to Israel Announced

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The Launch of The Jesus Dynasty in April 2006

I am officially announcing today a special 10th Anniversary “Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” tour to Israel in 2016. The dates are March 4-13. As many will remember, The Jesus Dynasty was published in April 2006 and became an New York Times best-seller, now translated into over 20 languages.

TaborTour

“Experiencing the Jesus Dynasty” is a tour like no other tour. There are places and sites that are included on nearly every other Holy Land tour that we will not visit. On the other hand we will see and experience the ancient Land of Israel in ways no other tour includes. Our emphasis will be on newly discovered archaeological sites that shed light on our understanding of the historical Jesus and allow us to read our gospels sources in
refreshing new ways. Those who have been to Israel with me before will quickly recognize from the itinerary that this tour shaped with a different perspective than those I have done in the past–so we welcome “repeat” travelers!

The emphasis of this tour is historical rather than theological and like The Jesus Dynasty, it will appeal to Christians, Jews, and those of no particular religious persuasion who simply want to have a better understanding of the historical figure of Jesus in his own time and place.

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This tour is limited to only 45 participants in order to allow a maximum of personal
interaction with one another and with me. Each person will receive a copy of The Jesus Dynasty personally inscribed with a dedication noting the special occasion of this
tour.

Participants will also take part in a rare private evening “Conversation” with Simcha
Jacobovici, Emmy-award winning Israeli filmmaker, hearing firsthand the latest updates
on the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and the James ossuary.

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The full itinerary, pricing options, registration forms, and other details are linked here. Arrangements are being organized via Blossoming Rose, as in the past, but with a completely different line-up of hotels and bus tour services shaped to our needs. I suspect from the positive response I got when I mentioned the possibility of this tour a few months ago that this one will fill up quickly.

John Schütz, Revered Scholar of Paul, has Died

I just heard via Jack Sasson the sad news of Prof. John Howard Schütz’s passing. John was professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was severely brain damaged in a bicycle accident in 1985, at the prime of his career.  He received his MA and PhD at Yale Divinity School and spent a year in Germany in the late 1950s as a Fulbright Scholar. He also spent a sabbatical year at Oxford University at Jesus College in 1972-73.  After that, he published his first book, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority, which was initially published by Cambridge and subsequently by Westminster John Knox Press. He was in the process of writing a second major scholarly book when he had his accident. John’s scholarly contributions before his accident were many and he was one of the most insightful and brilliant scholars I have ever known. His emphasis on the social world of Paul was one that informed the scholarship of so many of us in the 1970s through the “Social World of Early Christianity” SBL sessions inspired by Wayne Meeks, Abraham Malherbe, and others.

John Schutz

I  first knew of John Schütz as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s through his book Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority that was a very important influence on my own work on Paul, subsequently published as my dissertation, Things Unutterable (University Press of America, 1986). I first met John face-to-face in 1985 after moving to the College of William and Mary as a young visiting Assistant Professor of New Testament. I regularly attended an informal South East regional group we called SCRAM (Study of the Culture and Religion of the Ancient Mediterranean) that would meet at various locations once or twice a year–Chapel Hill, William and Mary, Duke, etc. It was a wonderful group with the likes of Robert Wilken, Tom McCollough, Dale Martin, Tom Finn, Bart Ehrman, David Halperin, Robert Gregg, Elizabeth Clark, and many others sharing recent research and socializing together. When I took the position here at UNC Charlotte I continued to be a committed part of the SCRAM gatherings. The group sadly and gradually faded out and John’s accident was a huge blow to all of us.

Schutz

Just after I published my latest book Paul and Jesus in 2012 I had an email from John’s daughter, Amy Kelso, who is an attorney with UNC Charlotte. She had read about the book and thought her father might enjoy reading it. I shipped her an inscribed copy and she gave it to him that Christmas. Amy told me at the time that John’s short term memory was gone but remarkably, his long term-memory remained and she thought he would enjoy reading my book in “spurts.” John spent his last years in a retirement community with his wife who remained his sole caregiver these many decades.

I am sad to learn of John’s passing. All who knew him will understand the great respect and affection I had for him as a human being and an amazing scholar.

A Hebrew Gospel of Matthew: Even Bohan

Any number of our early Christian sources record that the Gospel of Matthew was originally composed in Hebrew. We have fragmentary quotations of various versions thereof from writers like Jerome, but we also have three separate manuscripts of Matthew in Hebrew that have survived, the most valuable of which is Even Bohan [EB], also know as “Shem Tov” [ST]. George Howard, who published a critical text and translation of this work in 1995, argued that it was not merely a Hebrew translation of our Greek Matthew–but that it showed evidence of an independent origin. I found his arguments, as well as his responses to his critics, quite convincing, which you can find linked here. Here are some of my rough notes on the Hebrew Matthew of Even Bohan with bibliographical sources for further reading and study.

The 14th century polemical treatise Even Bohan [see Isaiah 28:16] was written by Rabbi Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut [Ibn Shaprut], a Castilian Jewish physician who later lived in Aragon. The 12th/ 13th book of this work contains a Hebrew version of the complete text of Matthew. EB completed in 1380 CE, revised in 1385 & 1400. This is not to be confused with the Sebastian Münster (1537; dedicated to Henry VIII under title The Torah of the Messiah); or Jean du Tillet (1555) versions of Hebrew Matthew. In 1690 Richard Simon mistakenly identified Shem-Tob’s Matthew with the versions of Münster and du Tillet.

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Tim Hegg has graciously provided all of us information on all these texts of Hebrew Matthew including a PDF version of the Hebrew text of Even Bohan, see here.

George Howard’s edition based on nine manuscripts of Shem Tov dating from 15th to 17th centuries; namely British Library Add no. 26964 for chapters 1:1-23:22; and JTS Ms. 2426 for 23:23-end.

Shem-Tov’s text is basically Biblical Hebrew (Vav Consecutive predominates) with a mixture of Mishnaic Hebrew and later rabbinic vocabulary and idiom. In addition the text reflects considerable revision to make it conform more closely to the standard Greek and Latin Gospel texts. The underlying text, however, reflects its original Hebrew composition, and it is the most unusual text of Matthew extant in that it contains a plethora of readings not found in any other codices of Matthew. It appears to have been preserved by the Jews, independent from the Christian community.

It sometimes agrees in odd ways with Codex Sinaiticus. It contains some striking readings in common with the Gospel of John, but in disagreement with the other Gospels. It is very likely that the author of John polemized against the portrait of John the Baptizer that he found in as text such as ST’ Hebrew Matthew. He might well have then known a Shem-Tov type Matthean text. ST also often agrees with the Lukan version of Q. ST also contains 22 agreements with the Gospel of Thomas.

N.b. Sinaiticus, Q, and Thomas were all lost in antiquity but found in modern times-making the parallels with ST all the more remarkable.

The Pseudo-Clementine writings (Recognitions and Homilies) when quoting or referring to Matthew occasionally agree with ST Hebrew Matthew against the canonical Greek versions.

E.g., puns that make sense in Hebrew: Matt 7:6: “Do not throw your pearls before swine [chazir], lest they trample them under foot and turn [yichazru] to attack you.”

Lack of Trinitarian formula for baptism in Matt 28:19-20 is unique but seems to be in codices that Eusebius found in Caesarea: he quotes (H.E. 3.5.2): “They went on their way to all the nations teaching their message in the power of Christ for he had said to them, ‘Go make disciples of all the nations in my name.’”
ST reads: “You go and teach them to carry out all the things that I have commanded you forever.”

Howard argues that Shem Tov did not create the Hebrew Matthew himself (e.g., translating from the Latin) but had an existing Hebrew text to work with-as he sometimes comments on its scribal errors and strange readings. Matt 11:11 is a good case in point, as the Greek, Latin, and all other Matthean witnesses contain the qualifying phrase: “nonetheless, the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Shem Tov comments on the unique Hebrew version he is following, and how its lack of such a phrase implies that John is greater than Jesus. If he were translating from the Latin, Greek, or any other version such a comment would be meaningless.

Papias (Eusebius, H.E. 3.39.16)
“Matthew collected the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.”

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.1
“Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews n their own dialect while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church.”

Origen (Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4)
“As having learnt by tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are unquestionable in the Church of God under heaven, that first was written according to Matthew, who was once a tax collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for those who from Judaism came to believe, composed as it was in the Hebrew language.”

Eusebius, H.E. 3.24.6
“Matthew had first preached to Hebrews, and when he was on the point of going to others he transmitted in writing in his native language the Gospel according to himself, and thus supplied by writing the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent.”

Epiphanius (ca. 315-403), bishop of Salamis, refers to a gospel used by the Ebionites (Panarion 30. 13.1-30.22.4). He says it is Matthew, called “According to the Hebrews” by them, but says it is corrupt and mutilated. He says Matthew issued his Gospel in Hebrew letters. He quotes from this Ebionite Gospel seven times. These quotations appear to come not from Matthew but from some harmonized account of the canonical Gospels.

Jerome also asserts that Matthew wrote in the Hebrew language (Epist. 20.5), and he refers to a Hebrew Matthew and a Gospel of the Hebrews-unclear if they are the same. He also quotes from the Gospel used by the Nazoreans and the Ebionites, which he says he has recently translated from Hebrew to Greek (in Matth. 12.13).

We have quotations from such a source from Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Origen, Didymus, Clement of Alexandria.

None of these surviving quotations seem to have any relationship to our current version of Shem Tov’s Even Bohan.


Theological Motifs of Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew
Ø Preaching to the Gentiles is not mentioned, and is even called the work of the “anti-Christ” in Matt 24:14-15: “And this gospel will be preached in all the earth for a witness concerning me to all the nations and then the end will come. This is the Anti-Christ and this is the abomination which desolates which was spoken of by Daniel as standing in the holy place. Let the one who reads understand.”

Ø ST never identifies Jesus as the Christ; e.g. 1:1 “these are the generations of Jesus…”; 1:18 “The birth of Jesus was in this way . . .” etc.

Ø John the Baptizer plays an exalted role: Matt 11:11 “Truly, I say to you, among all those born of women men has risen greater than John the Baptizer.” Phrase “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” is missing. In the Lucan parallel (7:28), mss. 5, 475* and 1080* also omit the qualification. The same reading is inferred in the Pseudo-Clementine Writings, Rec 1.60.1-3, where one of the disciples of John argues that his teacher is greater than Jesus, Moses, and all men and thus the Christ. Also, in Rec 1.63.1 Peter taught the disciples of John not to allow John to be a stumbling-block to them. Matt 11:13 “For all the prophets and the law spoke concerning [al] John” in contrast to the Greek: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” Matt 17:11 “Indeed Elijah will come and will save all the world” in contrast to the Greek: “Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things.” Matt 21:32 “Because John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him. But violent men and harlots believed him and you saw it and did not turn in repentance. Also afterward you did not repent to believe him. To the one who has ears to hear let him hear in disgrace.” These words are directed to his disciples (v. 28), not to the chief priests and elders as in the Synoptic Greek tradition. The kind of polemic found in the Gospel of John appears to be directed toward an evaluation of John the Baptizer such as that found in ST Matthew. Similar reflective evidence is found in Luke-Acts and the Pseudo-Clementines (noted above). John 1:7-8-He is a witness to the light, but is not the light 1:15, 30-He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me 1:20-I am not the Christ; nor Elijah 1:26-27-Not worthy to untie his sandals 3:30-He must increase but I must decrease 10:41-John did not sign; Jesus did many (20:30) Indeed Bultman argued that the Prologue was a hymn of the Baptist community, now recast to refer to Jesus (Gospel of John: A Commentary, 17-18). Luke-Acts 3:20-22 John is in prison-then only is baptism of Jesus mentioned!  Luke drops Mark’s moving account of the death of John (Mark 6//Luke 9). Acts 18:25-Apollos knows only baptism of John. Acts 19:1-7-Twelve from Ephesus that only know of John’s baptism


Bibliographic Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew
Howard, George. The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press; Louvain: Peeters, 1988.

Reviewed by William L Petersen (then at UND) JBL 108:4 (1989): 722-726. Peterson argues that the Dutch Liége Harmony (copied ca. 1280), contains many parallesl to ST, thus showing it is not so “primitive” after all in its unique readings. ST is derived from medieval traditions allied with the Vetus Latina, Vetus Syra, and Diatessaron.

__________. Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. 2nd edition. GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.

Petersen, William. “The Vorlage of Shem-Tob’s ‘Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 44 (1998): 490-512.

Howard, George. “A Primitive Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Tol’doth Yeshu,” NTS 34 (1988): 60-70.

__________. “A Note on the Short Ending of Matthew,” Harvard Theologial Review 81 (1988): 117-20.

__________. “A Note on Codex Sinaiticus and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” Novum Testamentum 34 (1992): 46-47.

__________. “A Note on Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and the Gospel of John.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47 (1992): 117-26.

__________. “The Pseudo-Clementine Writings and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 40 (1994): 622-28.

__________. “Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew and Early Jewish Christianity.” JSNT 70 (1998): 3-20.

Horbury, William. “The Hebrew Text of Matthew in Shem Tob Ibn Shaprut’s Even Bohan,” in W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Gospels according to St. Matthew. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), pp. 729-38.

Shedinger, R. F. “The Textual Relationship between P45 and Shem-Tob’s Hebrew Matthew.” NTS 43 (1997): 58-71.Notes on Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew
The 14th century polemical treatise Even Bochan [Isaiah 28:16] written by Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben-Shaprut Ibn Shaprut], a Castilian Jewish physician, living later in Aragon. 12th/ 13th book contains a Hebrew version of the complete text of Matthew. EB completed in 1380 CE, revised in 1385 & 1400. This is not to be confused with the Sebastian Münster (1537; dedicated to Henry VIII under title The Torah of the Messiah); or Jean du Tillet (1555) versions of Hebrew Matthew. In 1690 Richard Simon mistakenly identified Shem-Tob’s Matthew with the version sof Münster and du Tillet.

Howard’s edition based on nine manuscripts of ST dating from 15th to 17th centuries; namely British Library Add no. 26964 for chapters 1:1-23:22; and JTS Ms. 2426 for 23:23-end.

Fabulous TV Segment on our Mt Zion Excavation in Jerusalem!

Here is a fabulous TV segment on our Mount Zion excavation offering a wonderful overview of our team and accomplishments with interviews and plans for the future! Please watch, share, and spread it for us–and join us in 2016 if you can (bookmark digmountzion.uncc.edu for updates and forthcoming details). Thanks to Stephen Ward and his team for this fine production.

 

 

 

1st Century Mikveh with Mystical Inscriptions Discovered in Jerusalem!

Breaking news!

Graffiti on 1st Century CE Mikveh plastered walls. Courtesy Shai Halevy, IAA.

Graffiti on 1st Century CE Mikveh plastered walls. Courtesy Shai Halevy, IAA.

The word is out as of today and I am writing this on the plane flying back from Jerusalem. A first century CE mikveh or ritual bath was recently uncovered just south of the Old City and east of Hebron road in the Arnona neighborhood of Talpiot. Back in late June Shimon Gibson and I had been invited by the IAA to visit this newly discovered site. We spoke with the excavators and were able to examine the inscriptions firsthand–but we were not permitted to speak of the details publically until the story was officially released today. Here are two links with videos and photos, one in HaArtez the other from Arutz Sheva.

Talpiot Mikveh

I find it somewhere between amusing and predictable that we are already getting speculation by the various experts evaluating the “significance” of these inscriptions asserting that they are nonsense, “secular,” or have no meaning at all. I have been working on these symbols in the mikveh now for the past month and I can assure you they have to do with mystical ideas of rebirth and the heavenly world that we can document precisely in Jerusalem during this period. Folks need to get out their copies of some of the publications of  Goodenough, Testa, Saller, and Bagatti on Jewish/Christian symbols to put this find in its proper context. For example, here is a plastered wall of a Jerusalem tomb I will not identify, lest it get defaced, but notice the striking similarities in motif and symbolism–and remember this is a tomb not a mikveh.

Bethphage Graffiti

 

We also have similar symbols in the Talpiot patio tomb, not far from the Jesus tomb, as well as within the Dominus Flevit necropolis on the Mt of Olives. This mikveh is just down the ridge from the Talpiot tombs and dates to the same period.

I will write more on this topic in the days to come.

Essays on John the Baptist: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (6)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

From an historical-critical point of view, what do we know about John the Baptist and how do we know it? Given the plethora of ancient sources, both independent and secondary, what appear to be the “indisputable” facts about John the Baptist, his life, career, mission, practices, and teachings. Show how our various sources can be critically examined to sift through redundant, contradictory, or even superfluous materials to arrive at something reasonably “settled” from an historical point of view. From your point of view do you find the approach of the “Jesus Seminar” as reflected by Tatum to be validated or questioned in terms of historical methodology, and why? Some of the major sources you should consider are: Q, Mark, Luke-Acts, Matthew, Thomas, Josephus (Greek and Slavonic), Pseudo-Clementines, Shem-Tov Matthew, later Gospels (Ebionite, Nazoreans, and Hebrews in quoted fragments, Infancy Gospel of James), and Mandean traditions…

Throughout the course of this semester we have examined biblical, independent, and secondary sources relating to John the Baptist and the world surrounding him during the early first century of the Common Era. Each ancient source contributes its own distinct view and piece of the historical puzzle of recreating the life, mission, and teachings of John. As the end of the course is near, we now need to look back from a historical-critical point of view to see what can be known about John the Baptist and how we know it. Some of these major sources include Q, Mark, Matthew, Thomas, Josephus, Pseudo-Clementines, Infancy Gospel of James, Shem-Tov Matthew, and later gospels of the Ebionites, Nazoreans, and Hebrews. Each one presents its own unique depiction of John and events surrounding his life and will be examined closely. Starting with biblical material, the Lukan version of Q should be examined first. In 7:24-26, Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people concerning John and asking what it is they went out to the wilderness to see? He asks the same question three times and finally says John is “more that a prophet.” Jesus also tells the crowd in 7:28 that “among those born of women none is greater that John.” From Q, it is learned John “came eating no bread and drinking no wine.” In 16:16, it states “The law and prophets were until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed.” A possible original teaching by John the Baptist may be found in 16:18 (although not formally considered part of Q) and it reads, “anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Finally, from Q scholars are presented with a prayer, by Jesus, which John taught his disciples – “Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come. Give us each our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”

John & Jesus

 

Mark also presents various traditions on John the Baptist. From Mark, one learns John appears and is baptizing in the wilderness (1:4). An important commentary on John’s clothes is contained in 1:6 where it describes garments of “camel’s hair with a leather girdle around his waist.” It goes on to state he ate locusts and wild honey. Scholars are also able to retrieve from Mark traditions of his baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river, Herod’s arrest and execution of John because of Herodias, and that John’s disciples fast while those of Jesus do not (2:18).

Matthew too contains biblical material concerning John. Here is found references to John’s clothing of camel hair and a leather girdle and to his dietary habits of eating locusts and wild honey. John’s baptism is explained as a baptism of repentance (3:11) and that he baptizes Jesus (3:13). Found in 11:9-12, Jesus is addressing a crowd, telling them John is indeed more than a prophet, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John, and the law and prophets were until John. Matthew also portrays John coming neither eating nor drinking (11:18). From Matthew, one learns of John’s arrest (14:3), his objection to Herod’s adultery (14:4), and his death at the request of Herodias (14:5-13). Finally, in 17:12, Jesus is speaking with the inner three concerning Elijah’s coming and says “Elijah has already come,” referring to John.

The last biblical material on John comes from Luke-Acts. From this material it is known that John is six months older that Jesus and their mothers (Mary and Elizabeth) are related, cousins perhaps. In Luke 1:80 it is revealed John grew up in the wilderness from childhood and remained there “until the day of his manifestation to Israel.” Luke 1:15 explains John as being given a Nazirite vow (while still a child) and as a requirement of that vow “he shall drink no wine or strong drink.” John’s baptism is for repentance and appears to be the only one taught in Alexandria and known to Apollos until his meeting with Paul (Acts 18:24-19:1).

Knowledge of John and his role in the early “Christian” movement would not be possible by a study of biblical material alone. Continuing the search, we find a wealth of independent and secondary sources that contain numerous references to John the Baptist. First on this list is the Gospel of Thomas, which like Q is a sayings gospel containing 114 sayings of Jesus. It was discovered in 1945 near Nag Hammadi, Egypt where it is believed they remained buried since the 4th century. Only one in the entire gospel explicitly reefers to John. In 46:1-2 it reads, “Jesus said ‘From Adam to John the Baptist, among those born of women, no one is so much greater than John the Baptist that his eyes should not be averted’.” Thomas 52:1-2 is not specifically about John the Baptist, yet may be read as referring to him indirectly. It states, “his disciples said to him (Jesus) ‘Twenty-four prophets have spoken in Israel and they all spoke of you.’ He said to them ‘you have disregarded the living one who is in your presence, and have spoken of the dead’.”

Next comes the respected Jewish historian Josephus. There are two copies of his work: one Greek and the other Slavonic, each adding information to this evolving story. First, in the Greek version we find a reference to John in Antiquities of the Jews – written in the 90’s while Domitian is in power. This work is a little more liberal with information than the earlier Jewish War and as such might be the reason John is mentioned. King Herod’s army had a battle with the neighboring King Aretas and Herod suffered a military defeat. Josephus records that some of the Jews thought the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as a punishment of what he did against John. Herod feared John’s influence over the people and as a result had John sent out to Macherus where he was eventually beheaded.

Recorded in the Slavonic version of Josephus we find that John would not allow wine or intoxicating drink anywhere near him. Also, that his lips “knew no bread,” so much so that he did not even eat the unleavened bread traditional at the Passover feast. It is recorded John put animal’s hair upon his body wherever it was not covered by his own hair. John dipped or cleansed the people who came to him in the waters of the Jordan. Slavonic Josephus also records that John ate only natural things: locusts and wild honey.

The group of writings known as the Pseudo-Clementines claim to be the work of Clement (of Rome). Possibly written in the early 3rd century, the works, valuable for our purposes, record a discussion between Peter and Clement regarding Jewish sects and the disciples of John the Baptist. The first of two references records in 1.54.8, “Now the pure disciples of John separated themselves greatly from the people and spoke to their teacher as if he were concealed.” Could this be an early reference to the Mandeans? The second reference comes from 1.60.1-4 where the disciples of John are talking with the disciples of Jesus and saying, “He (John) is the Christ and not Jesus…just as Jesus spoke concerning him, namely that he is greater that any prophet who had ever been.” They also say John is greater than Moses and Jesus and therefore he is the Christ.

Another interesting source to be considered is Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew. Written in the 14th century, a treaties written by Shem-Tov contains a Hebrew version of the complete text of Matthew. It contains several differences from the Greek copy of Matthew regarding John the Baptist. In 11:11 Jesus says, “among all those born of women none has risen greater than John the Baptist.” Shem-Tov’s version ends the sentence here without adding the phrase concerning those least in the kingdom being greater than he. Recorded in 11:13 it states, “For all the prophets and the law spoke concerning John” unlike the Greek version’s “law prophesied until John.” There exist other early Christian literature classified as “gospels” which need to be examined in addition to the earlier gospels (Q, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, and Thomas). These later gospels were probably written during the 2nd century C.E. and appear to be somewhat dependent (literally) upon the earlier Gospels. The first of these is the Gospel of the Ebionites. Epiphanius quotes passages of the Gospel of the Ebionites (sect of Greek speaking Jewish-Christians) in his work Heresies and is the reason scholars are able to have the three fragments concerning John today. In 30.13.6, the reader is made aware that John was baptizing for repentance in the Jordan River during the days of King Herod of Judea. The names of John’s parents are mentioned here as being Zechariah (a priest) and Elizabeth. The next fragment, 30.13-4-5, records John wearing a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist and that he are wild honey and manna with oil (not locusts as in other writings). In the third and final fragment, 30.13.7-8, Jesus comes and is baptized by John. Next is the Gospel of the Nazoreans, which was probably written for Jewish-Christians, and scholars have a fragment of this work as recorded by Jerome in his work Against Pelagius. It is recorded that “John the Baptist baptized for the remission of sins” and he baptized Jesus (3.2). Jerome also records, in his Commentary of Isaiah, a quote from the Gospel of the Hebrews. Though John the Baptist is not specifically referenced, Jesus’ baptism is and that event is generally held that John is the one who performed the duty. The Gospel of the Hebrews has the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus as he emerges from the water as if he were the perfect human (human to Divine: late called “Adoptionism”). Last of these later gospels is the Infancy Gospel of James of Protoevangelium of James, which claims to have been written by Jesus’ brother James. This was probably done so to give the work some creditability because James was the leader of the Jerusalem Church after the death of Jesus, although he is doubted as having actually written it himself. Two passages in this work deal directly with John the Baptist. In the first, 22:5-9, the name of John’s mother is given as Elizabeth and it tells of how she hid John from Herod as he was slaughtering infants (for fear he too would be killed). In the second passage, 23:1-9, John’s father’s name is recorded as Zechariah and it is told Herod had Zechariah killed for not revealing where his son had been hidden.

Taking a step back for a moment, we can now see the magnitude John plays in the history of the early “Christian” movement. An examination of the references to him, accompanied by their respective authors has just been presented. However, a question must be posed at this stage, what does this all mean? Armed with this knowledge, what can we say about John (what are the facts, how do we know them, and in what way are they presented)? Looking individually at the major source materials with a critical bye makes any reader question the accuracy of any one account, yet taken as a whole, the materials, texts, and traditions all push certain motifs and facts surrounding the life of John the Baptist. Although each text, source material, of tradition presents its own version of the occurrences surrounding John, we are able to extract the core meaning from such sources and can confirm their validity by cross-checking these with other known reliable sources. Certain aspects about John, his life, career, mission, practices, and teachings are held to be “true” with reasonable certainty, indisputable if you will. Scholars know the John was born in Israel to a mother and father named Zechariah and Elizabeth. He is living in the wilderness for most of his life. John is baptizing people who come to him in the Jordan River for the remission of sins/repentance. Jesus came and received his baptism from John in the Jordan River. John’s clothes consisted of a garment made of animal’s hair, most likely camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist and his diet consisted of wild honey and something else (manna or locusts/ekris or akris). We know that John came neither eating bread nor drinking wine (or intoxicating drink). It is also known that John objected to Herod’s taking of Philip’s wife and viewed it as an act of adultery. In reaction, Herod had John arrested and imprisoned (most conceivably at the desert fortress Macherus) and eventually ordered John beheaded. Scholars know John the Baptist was held in high regard by the people of Israel during his time and thereafter evident by the large numbers of people flocking to him in the wilderness, by John having disciples of his own, and by Jesus himself claiming that “among those born of women none has risen greater that John the Baptist.” John taught repentance and baptism as preparation for the time of God which was near. He accepted sinners into his ministry, taught that people should care for the poor, and spread the word of the coming kingdom of God. John taught devotion to God and rejection of world as displayed by his clothing, diet, and wilderness lifestyle. John also had devoted followers/disciples who viewed him as the Christ after his death and survive today as modern-day Mandeans living mostly in Iraq and Iran. It is only through the consolidation and consideration of all ancient sources: New Testament, Gnostic scriptures, traditions, church historians, independent and secondary materials (complementary and contradictory) that scholars can discover the original, historically accurate picture of John as a member, believer, and righteous leader of the early “Christian”/baptismal movement. Looking at the approach taken by the Jesus Seminar, it could be argued that their methods are questionable in terms of historical methodology. The Jesus Seminar claims to have considered all the available historical evidence related to John the Baptist and Tatum’s book is a summary of the seminars deliberations and votes to bring readers a concise sketch of the historical figure of John the Baptist. Their inclusion of Josephus, Pseudo-Clementines, and other early Christian gospels is commendable, yet their assessment and interpretation of such sources in constructing a historically accurate portrait of John may be suspect. It would appear the members of the Jesus Seminar have an underlying motive or agenda in their deliberations and votes. They appear to accept very little as “true” facts (i.e. there was a person named Jesus – 96% agree, John baptized Jesus – 91% agree, etc.). What the Jesus Seminar agrees on as fact (not much apparently) comes almost exclusively from the New Testament. Instances in which material is sketchy or comes from independent and secondary sources, the Jesus Seminar exclude it as fiction. Examples include John and Jesus being related – 5% agree, Mary and Elizabeth are related – 3% agree, Herodias’ daughter asked for John’s head of a platter – 24% agree. The Jesus Seminar’s approach quite possibly began with good and noble intentions but the methods they employed and the results of their study are flawed in terms of historical methodology.

Essays on John the Baptist: How Matthew Recasts His Markan Source (5)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Matthew, in combining Q and Mark, and including his edited version of the John the Baptist materials, becomes our first synthesizer of the “two source” tradition in this regard. First, how well do these two sources fit together? Are they essentially compatible or incompatible? Second, how does Matthew skillfully edit and/or modify, either Q or Mark, to reflect his own approach and understanding of John the Baptizer? What appear to be his concerns in this regard?

Matthew incorporates the Mark and Q material without any major problems. These two sources are complementary to each other, with Q laying the foundation portrait of John through his sayings, teachings, role and Mark coming in with additional material concerning John’s life and importance to the people, building upon that foundation a more complete composite of the historical figure. For the purposes of Matthew’s objective, Mark and Q are like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle; although separate works, they come together easily and are indeed compatible/complementary to each other. Matthew does have an objective he is pushing throughout his material and it is readily apparent to even an unskilled observer. As an overall blanket statement, it could be said that Matthew “sanitizes” Mark. He is pushing the notion that Jesus must increase and John must decrease. Whenever there arises a problem in conflict with this, Matthew tends to eliminate such problems and offers explanations/clarifications in some instances, more on that in a bit.

John-the-Baptist-with-Jesus

 

Matthew generally leaves the material, as it is when nothing bothers his intentions, but opts to rewrite when a conflict arises. His utilization of the Q source (teachings) usually stay the same, however he shortens Mark (stories). However, Matthew does keep many of the same elements of Mark and Q, most notably the clothes and food, baptizing, arrest of John, and fasting are all the same. Now on to some specific examples of the differences. Matthew 3:3 is using the same basic quote as Mark attributed to Isaiah and the difference here is Matthew is only quoting Isaiah and not a combination of that and Malachi. Here he is removing the appearance of ignorance. Matthew 3:7 has John calling only the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers.” In Q, everyone is called this – clearly Matthews intention is to slam the other religious sects of Judaism (as he does later in Ch. 23). One of the major differences Matthew has is in his explanation of the baptism of Jesus by John. Chapter 3:13-17 records this event and Matthew adds his own little twists. First, he feels the need to explain why Jesus would need to be baptized (for he is without sin right?). Jesus comes saying (Mt. 3:15) “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In 3:17, the voice from heaven came making a public announcement, as opposed to the private disclosure in Mark saying, “this is my beloved Son.” Matthew 11:12-13 differs from Q (Lk. 16:16) in that Q has John bringing the new covenant and here it only has the prophets prophesizing up until him and not “since then the good news of the kingdom is preached” as in Lk. 16:16. Matthew 11:18-19 tells the reader that John came neither eating nor drinking, differing from Q (Lk. 7:31-34) where one is told what he did not come eating (bread) of drinking (wine). In Matthew 14, the death of John is shortened but has no emphasis change. Another major difference in Matthew is that in 17:9-13, he does have Jesus saying John is Elijah already come but drops the Mk. 9:13 comment “as it is written of him.” The final major difference is that he completely drops Luke 3:10-14 “maybe Q” from his writings. This is certainly an important teaching of John and one of the only solid examples of such and there exists no trace of it anywhere in Matthew. Throughout all of Matthew’s skillful edits/modifications, it would appear that his concerns are that his Lord Jesus must be set above all others, including John the Baptist. In this regard, he does not include the birth of John, he has nothing about the suffering of John, and shortens the John material to give the reader less of it as to emphasize Jesus. Matthew shortens Mark’s stories (sanitizes Mark) and keeps Q’s teachings pretty much the same. He shortens, edits, eliminates problems, and explains an conflict that would make Jesus appear less.

 

Tabor & Trible Team up at St Olaf Biblical Archaeology Society Seminar

It is not too late to join us July 19th through 25th…Full details are here.

The BAS Summer Vacation Seminar at St. Olaf is back by popular demand! This year, the tranquil campus of St. Olaf College will welcome two exciting scholars giving 20 dynamic lectures to our enthusiastic participants. Dr. Phyllis Trible of Union Theological Seminary and Dr. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, will present what promises to be one of our most unique programs yet.

The program is truly amazing. Just think–to pack so much into a week, with time to “hang out” and interact in the evenings and at meals is an opportunity not to be missed. Come have a seat with us in this beautiful setting and let’s dialogue on these important topics.

StOlaf

The program looks fantastic. I am doing “Trajectories through Earliest Christianity” and Phyllis Trible is doing “Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters” as only she can do them. Here is the breakdown:

Tabor: Trajectories through Earliest Christianity
In his lecture program, Professor Tabor examines some of the most intriguing enigmas, mysteries, and controversies in early Christianity

  1. Re-humanizing the Mythological/Theological Miriam, Mother of Jesus
  2. Miriam the Magdalene: Wife, mother, Consort, or Literary Fiction?
  3. Identifying the Mysterious Disciple Whom Jesus Loved
  4. A Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus – Was Schweitzer Right?
  5. John the Baptizer—An Alternative Messiah in the Time of Jesus?
  6. Why the “End of the Age” Should Have Come in 70 CE
  7. Did the Apostle Paul Repudiate Judaism?
  8. The Q Source Hypothesis after 100 Years – What Can We Definitely Say?
  9. Understanding the Earliest View of the Resurrection of Jesus
  10. What Kind of a Jew was Jesus?

Trible: Treks through the Tanakh with Biblical Characters
The ten lectures will explore literary, theological, and feminist perspectives on Biblical narratives with particular attention to select characters. The characters, by lecture, include the following:

  1. God the Creator
  2. Eve
  3. Adam
  4. Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham
  5. Ishmael and Isaac
  6. Jacob
  7. Miriam
  8. Elijah and Jezebel
  9. Jonah
  10. God Wrathful and Merciful