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.

 

Essays on John the Baptist: Mark our Earliest Narrative Source (4)

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:

Leaving aside the Q portrait of John, what emerges in the Markan narrative regarding the figure of John the Baptizer? In other words, what does “Mark as Mark” contribute to the tradition?

Mark contains many notable additions to the Q portrait of John. This gospel was written around 70 C.E. and has the tendency not to tell the reader secrets, instead letting them figure things out for themselves. Mark 1:2-3 is crediting Isaiah with a prophecy that isn’t entirely his own. Instead, it is a combination of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. “Behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Mark is utilizing a Qumran (pesher) style of combining texts to get his message across to the reader. He does this as an introduction to John (like Q he begins with John the Baptist). From Mark, scholars are able to add to their professional portrait of John and one of the first examples is Mark 1:6. It reads, “now John was clothed with camel’s hair and had a leather girdle around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” Mark is describing some of the physical characteristics of John’s daily life in the wilderness of Judea. Scholars learn what he wore while “preparing the way” and what he ate (since it is already know that he neither ate nor drank) “locusts and wild honey.” As a side note, locust in Greek is akris and manna is ekris (only one letter difference) – it is possible that the Greek was translated incorrectly and John ate manna (honey wafer) instead of locusts (see the Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs or Pancakes?). Mark 1:9 also adds to the portrait that John in the Jordan baptized Jesus of Nazareth. After Jesus came out of the water, he saw the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, Mark 1:10-11. Here, Mark is relaying to the reader that this is more of a personal disclosure to Jesus in that only Jesus saw the spirit and the voice said, “thou art my beloved son.” Mark has Jesus in 1:14 coming onto the scene after John was arrested – almost signaling that since the main person/teacher (John) is removed from the scene, now one must come to take up the movement. Mark contains a wonderful story of John’s capture and subsequent death by the hands of King Herod. Mark 6:14 introduces the plot in that Jesus has been preaching and casting out demons and when Herod heard of it, some said, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead.”

Beheading Reubens

Then in Mark 6:16-29 the fate of John is told in detail – this is a very important addition to our running portrait of John the Baptist. Josephus records that Herod seized John and most likely took him to his palace/fortress Machaerus. While there, Herodias’ daughter danced seductively for Herod and in return he promised her anything, up to half of his kingdom. She asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter at the instruction of her mother (presumably because of his rejection of Herod and Herodias’ relationship). To stay true to his word, Herod sent a soldier to behead John and brought it in on a platter as requested. The reader is also made aware that after this had taken place, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Another interesting addition Mark makes is Mark 8:27-30. Jesus and his disciples were heading to the village of Caesarea Philippi and he asked them “who do men say that I am?” Their first answer was “John the Baptizer.” Presented here is a strong indication of the importance John had in his time that the disciples and general public would say that Jesus was John the Baptist. John had done many great things in the desert (preaching, baptizing, etc.) and when Jesus comes along doing similar actions, the people begin to think John has come back from the dead in another form. Some scholars have even suggested that John and Jesus looked similar physically. From these reports, the general public, disciples, and even King Herod feel that John the Baptist has come back from his execution and if Jesus and John did in fact look similar, it would make sense that such reports would begin to circulate. Mark 9:9-13 details a conversation between Jesus and his disciples regarding the scribes recording that Elijah must come first. Jesus says to them (Mk. 9:12) that “Elijah does come first to restore all things” and then poses a question (Mk. 9:12) “how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” He is alluding to Daniel 7:13 “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven,” yet the Son of man is not suffering in that text. He then goes on to say in Mark 9:13, “but I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him”(Zechariah 13:7). Jesus is clearly hinting here that John is Elijah return but as it is written of him? Scholars are not sure what this is in reference to, but there are four suffering servant hymns – Isaiah 42, 49, 50,53. Jesus may not be referring to a specific line of text, but a combination of these Isaiah hymns to form a “corporate role” so to speak for any servant of God, here John. Mark is showing the reader the importance John not only held to his disciples, but the high regard that Jesus himself held John to be. Finally in Mark 11:27-33, the chief priests, scribes, and elders confront Jesus asking “by what authority are you doing these things or who gave you this authority?” It is as if John is the benchmark test against which all things are measured and if you cannot speak to that, then Jesus will not speak to you. Mark is giving the information as he received it. He is not pushing an objective per se, it appears as though he presents the material fairly – showing the events in John’s life and portraying the events in Jesus’ life without editing either for a specific purpose. From Mark (as discussed above), scholars have learned a great deal relating to John’s clothing, his diet, disciples, and the manner in which he met his death. Also, readers are shown the importance in which John was held to his own disciples, the public at large, to Herod, and even to Jesus. From Mark, scholars are able to draw a fairly detailed and complete profile of who the historical figure of John the Baptist was.

Essays on John the Baptist: The Q Source (3)

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:

Discuss the portrait (role, teachings, significance, etc.) of John the Baptizer that emerges from the Q Source (Lukan version), including the possibility that Lukan material such as 3:10-14 and 7:29-30 (and maybe even more), may well have been part of the original Q text (included by Luke but excluded by Matthew). Ask yourself: if all I knew was the John of Q, what kind of John would emerge?

The Q source is widely held to be the material common to Luke and Matthew, but not found in Mark. Scholars believe that is was a collection of the sayings of Jesus around the time of 50 C.E. Basing the discussion on the Lukan version of Q, a very distinctive portrait of John the Baptist emerges within the text. It is clear that John plays an important role from the beginning as the Q material begins with him instead of Jesus. In Luke 3:7-9 John is speaking to the multitudes, calling them a “brood of vipers,” and somewhat chastising them for not being more involved in the movement and with their own lives. This is the most solid Q example scholars have because it is word for word with Matthew in Greek. For such a document to start with John the Baptist instead of Jesus has strong implications and definitely displays the significance and importance John held to the author/people of the time. John is out in the wilderness of Judea baptizing all that come to him. Q even has John saying in Luke 3:16-17 that he baptizes people with water yet there is one greater than he who will come and baptize the multitudes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus is considered the leading figure of Christianity, well it was based on him, but nevertheless John is considered one of the major players in the movement and considered significant by the author of Q.

Brueghel JtB

 

In Luke 7:18-23, one finds John sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “he who is to come or shall we look for another?” Jesus heals a few people and then sends John’s disciples back to tell “John what you have seen and heard.” To begin with, John is on the scene before Jesus ever arrives into the picture plus John has his own disciples. He is an important leader of a community of followers in the wilderness, preparing the way of YHVH, and is doing so with his own set of followers independent of Jesus. By Luke 7:24-26 one sees the importance John holds in a question Jesus asks to the crowds about John. This is the main statement scholars have regarding John the Baptist. Jesus spoke to the crowds concerning John asking, “what did you go out into the wilderness to behold?” From this simple question, there are three answers offered; a reed shaken in the wind, a man clothed in soft raiment, and a prophet. After two failures, the people give the answer Jesus was looking for in their third response. “A prophet, yes, I tell you, and more that a prophet.”

Being a prophet is the highest rank one can obtain in Judaism, so for Jesus to say John is more than a prophet has strong implications as to his status within the religious community. It shows that even Jesus is of the opinion that John is someone special, doing what the LORD has commanded him to do, and that the people should listen to and heed his words carefully for he is “more than a prophet.” Adding to this is Jesus’ statement in Luke 7:27 where he is referring to John as the one spoken about in Malachi 3, saying this is he (John) of whom it is written, “behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way before thee.” Luke 7:28 contains one of the most important statements about John spoken by Jesus. “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater that John.” This simple statement adds considerably to the portrait of John in the Q source. Here is Jesus, considered to be the son of man, speaking of John as the greatest of all those born of women. Being born from Mary, this puts Jesus into that group as well.

The Q source also adds to John’s profile by explaining what not eating and drinking mean. In Luke 7:31-34, it states that John has come eating no bread and drinking no wine. This shows the reader that John was a vegetarian and abstained from wine, unlike the Son of man and others who are considered gluttons and wine bibbers. Also an important addition to the role John plays is Luke 16:16 where it reads “the law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” Here is an excellent verse showing the status John was afforded. Reading this, one notices that it is John who has brought a new covenant to the land of Israel and not Jesus. In addition, Luke 11:2-4 has Jesus’ disciples coming up to him asking to be taught the prayer John taught his own disciples. Here we have Jesus’ own disciples asking him not for his own prayer, but the one John taught his disciples and Jesus begins “when you pray, say…” Preserved here is quite possibly the very prayer John taught his disciples and it is of such importance that the disciples of Jesus wish to learn it too. There are a handful of teachings throughout Luke that are attributed to Jesus but are without any context. Scholars have suggested that these could very well be the original teachings of the Baptist. Some of these teachings are like blessed are the poor (6:20), be merciful (6:32), a blind man can not lead the blind (6:39), do not be anxious about your life (12:22), and no servant can serve two masters (16:13). It can and has been argued that these could have come from John. He and Jesus have geographic connections – Wadi el Yabis and the Jordan River. Family wise their mothers are related, both baptize, and both have disciples. Both carry very thematic teachings like care for the poor, repent and baptize, accept sinners, and the coming kingdom. It could be that these were the original teachings of John and are attributed to Jesus because he picked them up when he picked up the Baptist movement when John was arrested and imprisoned by Herod. Luke 3:10-14 is what scholars label as “maybe Q” – at least entertained as being a possible part of Q but not exactly fitting the definition. It is the only major teaching of John scholars can ascribe to him without doubt. This teaching contains many of the same themes as the various other teachings as stated above, attributed to Jesus but without any context. Here one can see John is telling the people if “you have two costs, give one away,” that sinners (tax collectors) are welcome in the kingdom also, and not to take money under false pretenses. Luke 7:29-30 is also with the “maybe Q” group of texts. Although set in parenthesizes, these too sound familiar to 3:10-14 above in that sinners (tax collectors) are accepted because they had been baptized by John and that the Pharisees and the lawyers had rejected God’s purpose since they rejected the baptism of John. Given such evidence, one can draw the conclusion that such teachings could be from the original Q source and that the various other out of context teaching running throughout Luke 6, 11, and 12, which are attributed to Jesus, could actually be those of John the Baptist.

Essays on John the Baptist: Messianic Expectations (2)

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:

In the 1st centuries BCE Messianic expectations among various forms of Palestinian Judaism were apparently widespread and complex. Both the John the Baptizer movement and the Jesus movement develop out of these contexts. Other than the New Testament materials, our best textual evidence of the ways in which such apocalyptic groups were casting their messianic hopes and dreams is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and related apocalyptic literature. Using Qumran as your main example, what composite picture emerges of the ways in which such groups appropriated the Messianic materials of the Hebrew Bible (as covered in question 1 above)?

The Qumran group has been emphasized as a breakaway movement of priests from the Essenes. They moved to the desert and set up a community along the shores of the Dead Sea, possibly following the doctrine of separation and preparing the way in the wilderness philosophy set forward in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. Fortunately, scholars have been able to recover some writings of this community dubbed “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” One important piece of this puzzle of their views on apocalypticism and messianic material is the Community Rule (1QS). Column VIII instructs its members to separate from ungodly men and go into the wilderness to prepare the way of Him. Column IX states, “this is the time for the preparation of the way in the wilderness.” Both these phrases reflect the groups awaiting of a coming messiah and following the words of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Most interesting is Column IX of the Community Rule. It read, “…there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” Presented here is an idea of three figures (similar to Exodus17, I Samuel, and Zechariah 4, 6). Here the Prophet is unmistakably the “prophet like Moses” figure in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Messiahs in this context is plural and it specifically states two of them (of Aaron and Israel). This reverts back to the notion of a priestly messiah (Exodus 40:13) representing Aaron on one side of the Adon and of a kingly messiah (I Samuel 10) representing Israel/Judah/David on the other.

4Q521

The Damascus Document is another valuable document allowing scholars to analyze and interpret the Qumran ideologies. From this text, unlike the Community Rule where one had not shown up yet, it appears the group came to believe they experienced the Adon/Prophet like Moses but not the two messiah’s. He is referred to as the Teacher of Righteousness as seen in Column VI of version A “until he comes who shall teach righteousness.” Column VII again visits the groups mentality of there being two messiah’s. It makes reference to the star (interpreter of the Torah) as the priestly messiah, coming from Damascus (Isaiah 9:1-2) and the scepter as a kingly messiah figure. This wording would suggest they were studying Numbers 24:17 and picked up the language of star and scepter. Version B of the Damascus Document is thought to come later as it mentions in Column VIII the “gathering in” or death of the Teacher of the community. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are documents also found in the Qumran material. They are said to be, although seriously doubted by scholars, the last words of Simeon and Dan. This Qumran two messiah tradition is visible in Column VII when it speaks of Israel submitting to Levi and through Judah (priest and king) because it is from them salvation will come. Plural messiah are implied here. One of the most fascinating finds was a copy of Malachi from Qumran that differs from modern day texts. In chapter 3, the text is talking of God sending a messenger to prepare the way and in verse 2 states, “but who can endure them, they come.” Present day texts state “who can endure the day of his coming.” Here we have a first century BCE text not affected by time or translation, showing a plural messiah tradition. What can be said of the Qumran group at this point? They appropriated messianic materials of the Hebrew Bible in such a way as to transform their way of life. First by moving to the desert and preparing the way Isaiah 40:3 for the coming messiahs. Relying on Exodus, and Zechariah, they formed ideas of the three figures: Adon, Priest(Aaron), and King (Israel) and wrote about them in community documents while awaiting their arrival. With the arrival of the teacher (died in 50 BCE), they thought this was it by sadly saw no messiah’s. However, after the teacher’s death, hope stayed alive for another century or so until the group finally disappeared without their prophecies or hopes coming true.

Essays on John the Baptist: Redemptive Figures (1)

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:

Discuss the complex of traditions found in the Hebrew Bible concerning the expectation of messianic or redemptive figures, whether Prophet/Teacher, Priest, or Davidic King/Ruler. Briefly cover the origins of the basic idea of “anointed figures,” in ancient Israel, then examine the main texts, images, concepts, and ideas, related to the arrival and mission of specific redemptive/messianic agents.

To discuss the basic idea of “anointed figures” (Messiah, Christ/Christos), one must first examine how or with what such figures are anointed. Oil, we are told, is the substance chosen to do the deed so to speak. Exodus 30:22 is our introduction to how God (YHVH) instructed Moses to make this “messiahing” oil from cinnamon, cassia, spices, etc. and how to anoint an individual, thus making them a Messiah. Psalm 45:7 also refers to this by recording God has anointed you with the “oil of gladness.” From the instruction of Moses, this ritual has come to symbolize the making of an ordinary individual into a public figure, one set apart from the others for having been chosen and gone through the rite of passage. Incorporated into this theory or idea of having importance to become anointed, the anointer must be greater than the anointed.

john-the-baptist

 

Numerous examples can be found to support this: Exodus 40:13 Moses anoints Aaron making him the first messiah in the biblical traditions (priestly), I Samuel 10 shows how Samuel anointed Saul, and I Kings 1:39 Zadok anoints Solomon. Again we can see the importance placed by the Israelites on this ritual of taking oil and actually pouring it onto the head of another to anoint him. Isaiah 61:1 talks about the spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. Another reference surprisingly appears in Sirach 45:15 addressing the occasion of Moses anointing Aaron as the first messiah with the holy oil. However, it is not only this ritual the people are interested in, it is the person. Throughout the Old Testament, one can find examples of the Hebrews looking for and believing in an “anointed” individual. They see him as coming or arriving on the scene and having a mission from God to carry out. Although they look for the anointed, this does not necessarily imply it is one individual. However, a text may not present multiple messiahs but individuals looking at texts with an idea or notion of two and sometimes three messiahs may apply such a concept. In the middle appears the Teacher/Adon, with a Kingly and Priestly messiah on his right and left side. One indication of this comes in Exodus 17:8-12. Moses is pictured in the middle with Aaron (a Levite) on one side and Hur (Judah) on the other. Looking back to the anointing of Aaron, since he was from the tribe of Levi, he is considered the represent the priestly christ or messiah. Traditions in I Samuel show the tribe of Judah represented by Saul, David, and later Solomon is the other half of the equation being a kingly messiah. Zechariah also contains a three-figure scenario in which one may see three messiah-like figures. Zechariah 4:2-4, 13 has a lampstand of gold centered (Adon) and is flanked by two olive trees on opposing sides. Psalm 80 reinforces the position of the right hand in verse 17, “let your hand be upon the one at your right hand.” To highlight the priestly messiah theme, one must turn to Psalm 110:4, “you are a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (one who blesses Abraham in Genesis 14). With the arrival of one or both Messiah figures, the texts explain a mission he/they are to engage in to save the Israelite race from the evil doers. Isaiah 9:1-7 is a good example of events to come upon his/their arrival. The beginning is signaled through the arrival of a child, appearing as a light in the land beyond the Jordan (Gentile territory). Once in power, this occupant of the “throne of David” (Isaiah 11:1) will bring endless peace, establish and uphold justice, and authority will rest on his shoulders. Isaiah 11 continues explaining the rule of the Messiah, this shoot out of the stump of Jesse. He shall judge the poor and meek, bring peace so the calf will lie with the wolf, and wolf with the lamb. Most endearing to the people in Isaiah 11:10-16 when the messiah will restore all the lost tribes of Israel from Assyria to Egypt, from Elam to Hamath. Part of the messiah’s mission too is to occupy the “throne of David,” ruling Judah (Jeremiah 22:30). Their Messiah will come with the clouds and to him is given dominion and glory and kingship that all nations should serve him (Daniel 7:13-14). Although the term “messiah” or “Davidic messiah” is never used in the Hebrew Bible, the most complete portrait of a Davidic Messiah can be found in Isaiah 2, 9, 11, and Micah 5.

Extra:  Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs?

Waiting for the Messiahs–One, Two, or Three?

Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Or the Prophet? Or Elijah?

One of the ideas I explore and develop in my 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty, was the notion of two Messiahs. I had no idea it would become sensational–much less controversial. It actually became headline news, with a cover story in USNews & World Report and special segments on ABC’s Good Morning America, 20/20, and Nightline!

Jews and Christians today have come to focus on the appearance of a single Messiah–a descendant of the lineage of David who is to reign as king in a messianic kingdom over the entire earth. These expectations are based on a dozen or more texts in the Hebrew Prophets that predict the reign of such a future scion of David (Isaiah 11, Micah 5, Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Lucas Cranach John & Jesus

 

One of the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith as formulated by the great Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 CE), known by the acronym “the Rambam,” states:

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay I will wait daily for his coming. ((The Koren Siddur, trans. and commentary by Rabbi Sir JonathanSacks, p. 204))

The Messiah expected is the Davidic King and this affirmation is sung daily in the Yigdal, a song based on the Ramban’s Thirteen Principles. One of the petitions of the Amidah, which is the heart and soul of Jewish daily prayer, beging: “May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower.” ((The Shemoneh Esreh, The Koren Siddur, p. 124))

Christians affirm that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified but raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, is this Davidic Messiah or King and that he will return in glory “with the clouds of heaven” in a Second Coming to establish his reign over all the earth.

SideBar: One question early Christians had to face, in declaring Jesus to be the King Messiah, was who anointed Jesus? Traditionally this was to be done by a Prophet. John the Baptist might be a candidate but we have no record of any such ceremony. Luke has Jesus “anointed of the Spirit,” picking up on Isaiah 61, rather than the traditional anointing with oil. Ebionites declared that Jesus was made “Son of God,” a term used for the Davidic messiahs, at his baptism by the Voice from heaven. But there is another surprising possibility some have suggested–more on that in a future post.

What few realize is that this expectation of a single Davidic Messiah had not so solidified in the time of Jesus. In text after text, in a diverse variety of of expectations reflected in a scattered range of primary texts from the period we read about any number of redemptive figures. In terms of “Messiahs,” what we find most commonly is not one but two Messiahs who are to usher in the Kingdom of God. One is to be a kingly figure of the royal line of David, but at his side will be a priestly figure, also a Messiah, of the lineage of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. The word “messiah” refers to one who is “anointed” or appointed. In ancient Israel both the kings and the priests were anointed with oil and were thus called “Messiahs.”  The verb mashach means to “smear with oil,” and a Moshiach or “Messiah” in English is one so smeared or “anointed” as we say in English. Technically speaking the “first” messiah was Aaron, brother of Moses, anointed with oil by his brother Moses in a formal ceremony that made him the Priest of Israel (Exodus 29:7). The first anointed king was Saul, anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1). When Saul lost favor with God David was likewise anointed by Samuel as king (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4). Both priest and king were accordingly “messiahs” or anointed ones. This means that the notion of two messiahs was the norm in ancient Israel and this norm, of the dual messiahs was, of course, the one that was projected into the future once the nation begin to be dismantled by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions in the 8th-6th centuries BCE.

Zechariah, the 6th century BC Hebrew prophet, foretold of a man called “the Branch” who would bear royal honor and sit on his throne, but he adds, “There shall be a priest by his throne with peaceful understanding between the two of them” (Zechariah 6:13). Here is a clear picture of the Davidic King and his counselor, the anointed Priest. Zechariah refers in another vision to “two sons of fresh oil” (i.e., “anointed ones” or “messiahs”) who “stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” He likens them in his vision to two “olive branches” that stand before the Menorah, the seven-branched oil lamp that symbolized God’s Spirit and presence (Zechariah 4).

This ideal vision of two messiahs became a model for many Jewish groups that were oriented toward apocalyptic thinking in the 2nd to 1st centuries BC. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, dating from the 2nd century BC puts things succinctly: “For the Lord will raise up from Levi someone as high priest and from Judah someone as king.” (Testament of Simon 7. 2). Throughout this influential work there is an emphasis that salvation for Israel will come jointly from the tribe of Levi and from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of King David. The Priest Messiah receives more attention than the King Messiah and in many ways he stands superior to the Davidic figure. In fact, the patriarch Judah himself declares, “For to me the Lord gave the kingship and to him the priesthood, and he set the kingship under the priesthood” (Testament of Judah 21:1-2). The book of Jubilees, coming from about the same period, pronounces a perpetual blessing upon Levi as the progenitor of the priests, and Judah as the father of the “prince” who will rule over the Israel and the nations (Jubilees 31). It seems, based on these texts, that the notion of “Two Messiahs” was the ideal structure of Jewish leadership. It is for this reason that the Maccabeans or Hashmoneans, in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, who could claim only the Levitical priestly bloodline, were never really able to effectively establish themselves in the eyes of the populace as “kings,” despite massive political and military power. Ingrained in the Jewish imagination the ideal future in which both a Priest and a King would rule together.

John the Baptizer identified himself as the “messenger” who was to prepare the Way based on a prophecy from the book of Malachi. The version we read in our modern Bibles today is as follows:

“Behold I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1-2).

This translation is based on the standard Hebrew text (Masoretic), the oldest copy of which dates to the 9th century AD. We now have a version of this very passage from Malachi found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll dates to the 1st century BC, so it is a thousand years older than our standard Hebrew text. Notice carefully the differences in the pronouns:

“Therefore behold I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. And they will suddenly come to his temple, the Lord whom you seek and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire; behold he himself comes, says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure them when they come?” ((See Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), p. 477.))

This ancient version of Malachi has two figures that are to come jointly—a messenger of the covenant who prepares the Way, but also one called “the Lord whom you seek.” The word translated “Lord” (‘adon) is not the Hebrew name for God—Yahweh, but a word that means a “master” or ruler of some type. It may well be that Jesus and John the Baptizer were familiar with this version of Malachi with the plural pronouns, and identified themselves accordingly. This was certainly the understanding of the sectarian community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In one of the oldest founding documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Community Rule, the community is expecting the coming of a prophet they called the Teacher, but also the “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” They imagined a future in which the Priest Messiah would preside over a “Messianic banquet,” with the King Messiah of Israel, whom they call the “Prince of the congregation,” or the “Branch of David,” as his companion. There are many references in the Dead Sea Scrolls to their fervent expectation that these two Messiahs would appear. As important as the “Branch of David” was to be, they nonetheless had the most extravagant hopes for the coming priest. In a text called the Testament of Levi we read the following:

“He will atone for the sons of his generation and he will be sent to all the sons of his people. His word is like a word of heaven and his teaching is according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine, and his fire will blaze in all the corners of the earth. Then darkness will disappear from the earth and deep darkness from the dry land” (4Q541).

This amazing text seems to match the high view in which Jesus held his teacher John the Baptizer where he says that “among those born of women there is none greater than John” and that he was not just a “prophet” but “much more than a Prophet” (Luke 7:26-30) ((In my view the qualification “but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John,” is a later gloss by gospel editors, shocked by the implications that Jesus was here putting John even ahead of himself.)) It is the very opposite of the theological overlay that our New Testament gospels in their final edited forms project in their effort to make Jesus greater than John. It certainly supports the historical probability that Jesus did view John as his teacher as well as the priestly Messiah of Aaron of whom the prophets had spoken. For those reasons Jesus would have deferred to John’s leadership and direction, a point completely lost in our gospels other than in the collection of Jesus’ earliest teachings that many scholars call Q.

The Dead Sea Scroll community waited a long time for the fulfillment of these central expectations. They had retreated to the Judean desert sometime in the 2nd century BC in response to the prophetic Voice they heard through the prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi. They became convinced that “this was the time” of the preparation of “the Way.” They were the community of the “Last Days” responding to Isaiah’s call to prepare the Way in the desert (Isaiah 40:3). Sometime in the 1st century BCE an influential figure arose among them who had great spiritual and interpretive gifts. They refer to him in the Scrolls as the “Teacher of Righteousness.” We don’t know his name but many events of his life, and even some of his writings, are preserved in the Scrolls. Michael Wise’s wonderful treatment of both the leader and the group, with the provocative title, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ is one I highly recommend. The community saw him as a type of “Prophet like Moses” who had called them into a “new covenant.” They viewed themselves as a remnant group of faithful Israelites who had turned from their sins and separated themselves from the ungodly society around them. They considered the religious establishment of their day, whether Pharisee or Sadducee, to be hopelessly corrupt and compromised. They lived by the strictest interpretation of the laws of the Torah and firmly believed they were living in the “last days.” They believed that their Teacher had given them the definitive inspired interpretation of all the secrets of their prophetic writings.

When their teacher was killed, probably sometime in the mid-1st century BCE, they were convinced the final countdown had begun and that the two Messiahs would soon appear. There are some texts that speak of a final period of “forty years,” following the death of their Teacher. The forty years passed but there is no record in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the two Messiahs ever appeared. It was as if all their hopes and expectations were stopped in time and put on hold. For more on these disappointed hopes see my paper “Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return“). A small group of their community still lived at the settlement we know as Qumran in the 1st century CE, and if they are indeed the people we know as the Essenes, they were scattered in communities all through the land of Palestine. They did not die out despite the failure of their original expectations. It is likely that they were partly responsible for keeping alive the hope of the coming of the two Messiahs.

Given these deeply rooted hopes and expectations among these Messianic Jews one can scarcely imagine the excitement and fervor that John the Baptist and Jesus would have stirred as they prepared their next moves in the spring of 27 CE. John as a priest from the tribe of Levi and Jesus as a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah must have stirred the hopes of thousands who had come to expect the arrival of the two Messiahs as a sure sign of the end. Even Herod Antipas soon felt the sting of John the Baptizers’ blistering message of repentance. Christians are prone to imagine a “meek and lowly” Jesus who seldom raised his voice but the evidence will show that he learned well from his teacher and that like John the Baptizer, Jesus’ radical message divided households and villages and shook the religious and political establishment.

I have prepared a special handout titled “Two Messiahs-The Evidence,” for classes and lectures that pulls together all the primary sources and fills out more details.  You are welcome to download this, print it out, and use it for your own study.

The Jesus Dynasty: Seven Major Themes

In April, 2006 I published The Jesus Dynasty.  Now in paperback it has continued to sell moderately but steadily. I wrote it as a popular summary of my own personal lifelong “quest” for the historical Jesus. It is written in a style accessible to the non-spet and many readers find that it pulls them into the story in an engaging fashion. It also has extensive references and notes. It received an enormous amount of media attention when it was released and has also been translated into more than a twenty foreign languages. It is also available in all major e-book formats (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) as well as an CD Audio version ready by yours truly, see links here.

The following is a summary of some of the main substantive points made in the book that advance our understanding of Jesus and early Christianity. If you have not read it it maybe well be that these themes will grab your attention. I know of no other book on the historical Jesus that includes these wider parameters in trying to understand Jesus as a human being in his own time and place.

1. The Material Evidence
One of the unique features of The Jesus Dynasty is the way in which archaeological discoveries inform and offer a new interpretive context to the unfolding Jesus story. Whether one is considering the location of the family tomb of Jesus, the splendor of the Roman city of Sepphoris, just north of Nazareth, the site of the Suba “John the Baptist” cave, or the location of the sites of the Last Supper, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, Jesus is put in a time and place that becomes real to us through the material evidence that survives.

2. The Historical Mary
Much has been said about the “historical Jesus” but little attention has been given to Mary his mother. She is shrouded in legend, interpreted by theology, and the focus of personal devotion and piety. But what does history actually tell us? She is an unwed mother, a young Jewish woman, Miriam, mother of seven children, eventually widowed, struggling to survive in a troubled time, courageous and full of vision for her gifted children. So much of what Jesus and his brother James became has to trace back to her strong influence.

3. Jesus and John the Baptist
The relationship between Jesus and his kinsman John is a much neglected aspect of the Jesus story. John has been marginalized and minimized as the precursor of Jesus, introducing him and then quietly moving off the stage. John was in fact the most important influence in Jesus’ life. Their mothers were close. They likely knew one another growing up. Jesus looked to John as mentor and teacher and they joined ranks in their shared vision for Israel’s prophetic future as the two Messiahs, conducting a preaching campaign that rocked the nation back on its heels and drew the attention of the Roman authorities. John’s unexpected death was a vital factor in his own developing understanding of the role he and John were destined to play in the course of history, ultimately leading him to the cross.

4. Messianic Self-Identity
Jesus’ own Messianic self-identity, from an historical point of view, was a complex mix of his own royal pedigree, his reading of biblical prophetic texts, and unfolding events. He came to see that his destiny required him to confront the authorities in Jerusalem, and like John, face opposition and perhaps even death. He found himself in the sacred texts of Scripture, and at the same time he began to act out in his own life and career the series of events that would lead up to his death. His was no “Passover plot,” but a giving of the self for a cause in hope and trust that God would somehow honor his faith and fulfill the promises of the Kingdom.

5. On Earth, not in Heaven
The vision of the kingdom of God shared by John, Jesus, and their early followers was a spiritual one, but on earth not in heaven. Like the Hebrew Prophets they looked for a time in which peace would come to all nations and righteous and justice would emanate from Jerusalem as the new spiritual capital of a restored Israel, a beacon light to the world. The entire world would turn from idolatry to worship of the one true Creator God. The two Messiahs were to inaugurate that new era and their deaths would serve for the redemption of the world.

6. James and the Brothers as Successors of Jesus
Although recent studies have moved a long way toward rehabilitating the memory and importance of James, the brother of Jesus, his vital role as the “beloved disciple” and pillar of the Church has been largely lost and forgotten. A recovery of the “historical James” is not only possible, but it is perhaps our best method for getting back to the historical Jesus as well. The towering influence of James was based both on his pedigree, as a descendant of the royal line of King David, and also upon his remarkable faith and strong character, exhibited for over thirty years following the death of his brother. That Simon took charge of things after James’s death indicates that this dynastic aspect of early Christianity has been largely lost and forgotten through the legendary dominance of Paul and Peter. An understanding of the Jesus Dynasty is our clearest entrée to really understanding both the faith and the message of Jesus and his earliest followers.

7. Recovering the Original Gospel
Paul’s gospel message is the formative influence within the entire New Testament and thus forms the foundation of what became world Christianity.  In contract, the original message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and James is a singular one that was gradually, forgotten, suppressed, and marginalized in a Gentile Church that largely lost its Jewish roots and origins. That message can be recovered in both the New Testament and other ancient sources through a careful sifting of textual evidence and a commitment to recover the lost treasures of earliest Christianity. Throughout the book John the Baptist, Jesus, and James are put in the thoroughly Jewish 1st century contexts in which they are most clearly understood historically.

Selected Excerpts from The Jesus Dynasty

The Jesus Dynasty was published in April 2006 (Simon & Schuster). It was a New York Times Best Seller, featured on ABC’s Nightline and 20/20 and the cover of USNews & World Report. It has been translated into 22 languages. Here are some key excerpts with further links, media and otherwise, to the book below. It is available in print, e-formats, and audio, see JesusDynasty.com

 

Jesus Dynasty Hardcover

The New Testament gospels:

“[The New Testament gospels present] a tangled tale of political intrigue and religious power plays with stakes destined to shape the future of the world’s largest religion.” (p. 81)

“[A]lthough our New Testament gospels contain historical material, the theological editing is a factor that the discerning reader must constantly keep in mind.” (p. 139)

The birth of Jesus:

“[The gospel of] Matthew implies that Isaiah’s prophecy was ‘fulfilled’ by the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus—but the original text clearly carries no such meaning.” (p. 46)

“The assumption of the historian is that all human beings have both a biological mother and father, and that Jesus is no exception. That leaves two possibilities—either Joseph or some other unnamed man was the father of Jesus.” (p. 59)

More than one messiah:

“The English word ‘messiah’ comes from the Hebrew word moshiach, which simply means ‘an anointed one.’ The equivalent Greek word, christos, also means ‘annointed’ and form that we have derived our more familiar term ‘Christ,’ meaning Messiah…. Most people are surprised to learn that the very first Messiah in the Bible was Aaron. He was ‘annointed’ as a priest by his brother Moses and is referred to in the Hebrew text as a ‘mosiach’ or ‘messiah’ (Exodus 40:12-15).” (p. 58)

“Christians and Jews subsequently have come to focus on the Messiah—a single figure of David’s line who was to rule as King in the last days. And yet, in the Dead Sea Scrolls we encounter a devoutly religious community, usually identified with the Essenes, who expected the coming of three figures—a prophet like Moses and the messiahs of Aaron and of Israel.” (p. 57)

“This ideal vision of Two Messiahs became a model for many Jewish groups that were oriented toward apocalyptic thinking in the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C.” (p. 143)

The family of Jesus:

“That Jesus has four brothers and at least two sisters is a ‘given’ in [the gospel of] Mark, our earliest gospel record. He names the brothers rather matter-of-factly: James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.” (p. 73)

The historical Mary:

“The later Christian dogma that Mary was a perpetual virgin, that she never had children other than Jesus and never had sexual relations with any man lies at the hart of the issue. No one in the early church even imagined such an idea, since the family of Jesus played such a visible and pivotal role in his life and that of his early followers. It all has to do with Mary being totally removed from her 1st-century Jewish culture and context in the interest of an emerging view of the time that human sexuality was degraded and unholy at worst, and a necessary evil to somehow be struggled against at best.” (p. 74)

“There is good reason to suppose that Joseph died early, whether because he was substantially older than Mary or for some other unknown cause…. According to the Torah, or Law of Moses, the oldest surviving unmarried brother was obligated to marry his deceased brother’s widow and bear a child in his name so that his dead brother’s ‘name’ or lineage would not perish. This is called a ‘Levirate marriage’ or yibbum in Hebrew, and it is required in the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).” (p. 76)

“Given this information, a rather different but historically consistent picture begins to emerge. Jesus was born of an unknown father, but was not the son of Joseph. Joseph died without children, so according to Jewish law ‘Clophas’ or ‘Alphaeus’ became his ‘replacer,’ and married his widow, Mary, mother of Jesus.” (p. 80)

The “lost” childhood of Jesus:

“We have extraordinarily good historical records from the reign of Herod the Great. It is inconceivable that such a ‘slaughter of the infants’ would go unrecorded by the Jewish historian Josephus or other contemporary Roman historians. Matthew’s account is clearly theological, written to justify later views of Jesus’ exalted status.” (p. 88)

“A good trivia question would be ‘What was Jesus’ vocation?’ Everyone knows he was a carpenter, or at least the son of a carpenter…. The Greek word tekton is a more generic term referring to a ‘builder.’ It can include one who works with wood, but in its 1st-century Galilean context it more likely refers to a stoneworker.” (p. 89)

Jesus as a Galilean Jew:

“Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian…. To understand Jesus in his own time and place we have to understand his deep commitment to the ancestral faith of his fathers.” (p. 108)

“…[Jesus] is not ‘liberal’ with regard to Jewish observances in any modern sense of the term. What he did not accept were certain oral traditions and interpretations that some rabbinic teachers had added to the biblical commandments.” (p. 115)

“As we shall see, Jesus held Herod Antipas and all he stood for in utter contempt…. It was Herod who had brutally murdered his kinsman and teacher John the Baptizer, and Jesus had witnessed firsthand how Herod’s aspirations for wealth and power had unjustly oppressed the lives of his countrymen.” (p. 106)

His relationship with John the Baptizer:

“Jesus near his thirtieth birthday joined the crowds that were streaming out to hear John. He traveled from Nazareth down to the Jordan, along this very route, to be baptized by John in the Jordan River (Mark 1:9). By such a response he was publicly joining and endorsing the revival movement John had sparked…. [F]rom the time of Jesus’ baptism he was ready to take his destined place alongside John as a full partner in the baptizing movement.” (p. 127)

“The great embarrassment that the Christians faced was that it was well known that John had baptized Jesus—not the other way around! Jesus had come to John and joined his movement—which in the context of ancient Judaism meant that Jesus was a disciple of John and John was the rabbi or teacher of Jesus.” (p. 133)

“There [in a Hebrew version of the gospel of Matthew untouched by the Greek copyists] Jesus’ astounding testimony to John’s greatness stands unedited and unqualified: ‘Among those born of women there is none greater than John.’” (p. 134)

The twelve apostles:

“When he told them, ‘Let’s leave the nets and go fish for people,’ they did not blindly drop everything in some mesmerized state of devotion to his irresistible bidding as is so often portrayed. These disciples had worked with him and lived with him for months the previous year in Judea when they were baptizing huge crowds of people.” (p. 158)

“This is perhaps the best-kept secret in the entire New Testament. Jesus’ own brothers were among the so-called ‘Twelve Apostles.’ This means they were the muted participants in all those many references to the ‘Twelve.’ They were with Jesus at the ‘last Supper’ and when he died he turned his movement over to his brother James, the eldest, and put his mother into James’s care. James is none other than the mysterious ‘beloved disciple’ of the gospel of John.” (p. 163)

Apocalyptic vision:

This arrival of the ‘Son of Man,’ which Christians later took as a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus, was coded language from the book of Daniel. It does not refer to Jesus’ arriving, since he was standing with them when he said it, predicting the effect of their vital mission…. The phrase ‘son of man’ in the dream vision of Daniel 7 stood collectively for the faithful people of Israel who would receive rule from their Messiah.” (p. 164)

The final week in Jerusalem—the Temple and the Last Supper:

“Jesus’ activities that day [in the temple] were not intended to change things or to spark a revolution. Like his ride down the Mount of Olives on the foal of the donkey, he intended to signal something—namely that the imminent overthrow of the corrupt Temple system was at hand and the vision of the Prophets would be fulfilled.” (p. 194)

“Later Christian tradition put Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on Thursday evening and his crucifixion on Friday. We now know that its one day off. Jesus’ last meal was Wednesday night, and he was crucified on Thursday, the 14th day of the Hebrew month Nisan. The Passover meal itself was eaten Thursday night, at sundown, as the 15th of Nisan began. Jesus never ate that Passover meal. He had died at 3 p.m. on Thursday.” (p. 197)

“At every Jewish meal, bread is broken, wine is shared, and blessings are said over each—but the idea of eating human flesh and drinking blood, even symbolically, is completely alien to Judaism…. This general sensitivity to the very idea of ‘drinking blood’ precludes the likelihood that Jesus would have used such symbols.” (p. 200-201)

Jesus’ trial and death by crucifixion:

“Scholars are agreed that little in the accounts of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is historically credible. They have been completely shaped by a later Christian theological tradition that sought to put the blame for Jesus’ death wholly upon the Jewish people while exonerating the Romans as sympathetic to Jesus, with Pilate doing all he possibly could to save Jesus’ life.” (p. 213)

“If Jesus did come to anticipate his suffering at the hands of his enemies, I am convinced that he expected that he would be saved from death, delivered from the ‘mouth of the lion’ as the Psalmist had predicted (Psalm 22:21).” (p. 179)

The resurrection of Jesus:

“As shocking as it may sound, the original manuscripts of the gospel of Mark report no appearances of the resurrected Jesus at all!” (p. 228)

“Paul seems to be willing to use the term ‘resurrection’ to refer to something akin to an apparition or vision. And when he does mention Jesus’ body he says it was a ‘spiritual’ body. But a ‘spiritual body’ and an ‘embodied spirit’ could be seen as very much the same phenomenon.” (p. 230)

“In this context, it is easy to see why the Tomb of the Shroud, the James Ossuary, and the Talpiot tomb discovered in 1980 spark such heated controversy. At the heart of the storm is the unspoken possibility that the tomb might contain the remains of Jesus himself. Neither Christianity or Judaism welcomes that proposition.” (p. 235)

Jesus’ successors and legacy:

“Although the followers of Jesus reshaped themselves under the new leadership of James, and eventually returned to Jerusalem, there might well have been a period in which they retreated to Galilee in order to sort things out, and that is just what these gospel traditions appear to reflect. If that was the case then the more idealized account of the Jesus movement in the early chapters of the book of Acts is Luke’s attempt to recast things in a more triumphant way.” (p. 238)

“There are two completely separate and distinct ‘Christianities’ embedded in the New Testament. One is quite familiar and became the version of the Christian faith known to billions over the past two millennia. Its main proponent was the apostle Paul. The other has been largely forgotten and by the turn of the 1st century A.D. had been effectively marginalized and suppressed by the other.” (p. 259)

“The Nazarene movement, led by James, Peter, and John, was by any historical definition a Messianic Movement within Judaism. Even the term ‘Jewish-Christianity,’ though perhaps useful as a description of the original followers of Jesus, is really a misnomer since they never considered themselves anything but faithful Jews. In that sense early Christianity is Jewish.” (p. 264)

“I would go so far as to say that the New Testament itself is primarily a literary legacy of the apostle Paul.” (p. 270)

“There is no evidence that James worshipped his brother or considered him divine.” (p. 280)

“…[W]hat we can know, with some certainty, is that the royal family of Jesus, including the children and grandchildren of his brothers and sisters, were honored by the early Christians well into the 2nd century A.D., while at the same time they were watched and hunted down by the highest levels of the Roman government in Palestine.” (p. 290)

Academic Endorsements of The Jesus Dynasty

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Critical but well done review in Slate by Richard Wrightman Fox.

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Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting: New & On-line

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This looks really interesting and worth checking out. You can access the first issue here, download individual articles, and participate in a forum.

Introducing,
the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (JJMJS) – 

FREELY AVAILABLE ONLINE FROM OCTOBER 20! 

JJMJS is a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed online journal, published in cooperation with Eisenbrauns. 

A rich variety of Jewish and Christian traditions and identities mutually shaped one another in the centuries-long course of Roman Late Antiquity. A no less rich variety of scholarly approaches – from the history of Christian Origins to that of the late empire, from archaeology to Dead Sea Scrolls, from Rabbinics to Patristics – has in recent years converged upon this period, the better to understand its religious and social dynamics. JJMJS seeks to facilitate and to encourage such scholarly investigations across disciplinary boundaries, and to make the results of cutting-edge research available to a worldwide audience.

JJMJS is free of charge with complete open access. The journal is published in cooperation with Eisenbrauns and will be available in hard copy, which can be ordered from Eisenbrauns.