Monday, June 29, 2009

Happy Birthday Wade!

Here's hoping your day is fantastic!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Creating Jesus 20: A ritual shift

Paul is quite clear that Jesus' death was a cosmic event that defeated the powers who crucified him. Since he was an embodied angel, his death had more significance than that of an ordinary man dying, even more than a martyr. Paul knows the tradition that God is a great Judge and lawmaker. Whoever breaks his law is subject to the penalty of death. Since everyone had broken the law, everyone receives the death penalty.

The solution Paul develops begins with the martyr's death which atones for the sins of Israel. But with Paul, we discover this is universalized. The Gentiles have been grafted onto the tree. The atonement is efficacious. It is not something earned by righteous behavior. It is a benevolent act accomplished by God through a divine being Jesus, the one who was equal with God but emptied himself to be born in the likeness of a man (Phil 2:5-7). This benevolent act was part of a plan that God had put into place to defeat Satan and his army of angels that had been battling against the archangels since the beginning of time. The defeat of these cosmic powers and authorities began when they crucified Jesus (1 Cor 2:6-7; Col 2:15; Eph 6:12; cf. 1 Cor 15:23-28). This is what Ephesians is about (although we can argue if Paul wrote it or someone else).

This cosmic understanding of Jesus' death as the beginning of the defeat of the demonic powers that rule the world meant that there had to be a ritual shift too. So baptism wasn't just about cleansing from sins. It became about dying with Jesus. Paul reasoned that if at baptism you were cleansed and received the holy spirit by invoking Jesus' Name, the spirit one received must be Jesus' own spirit. Because the person was possessed by the Christ, the person became Jesus participating in his death and its atonement and provisionally resurrected as Jesus was.

This shift is also evidenced in the performance of the eucharist. It could no longer be a Messianic party with joy and celebration in anticipation of paradise. It became about ingesting a sacrificial meal, about reacting the death of Jesus as a sacrifice for all gathered.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Creating Jesus 19: A complementary soteriology

The christology known to Antiochean sources especially is what I call "embodiment" christology. What this means is that Jesus was perceived as a full human being possessed by a spirit or angel from the womb. The important point is that he is a full human being, with his own psyche (=soul) and physical body. The spirit or angel is an extra something that he has from conception or quickening. Jesus functions as a container or vessel for the resident angel.

The rest of the Jerusalem paradigm survives intact. He still dies and is exalted to heaven where he is (re)-installed. As this great angel YHWH he will be revealed in the heavens, descending with a cry of command, the archangel's call. He will usher in God's kingdom after he destroys its enemies. He will sit in judgment. This tradition is carried on as late as the testimony of the Ebionites who taught that Christ was created like one of the archangels and was appointed by God to rule over the future age (Epiph., Pan. 30.16.2-4). This is also evidence that some of the Jerusalem sources were aware of this tradition, although it is impossible for me to tell if they picked it up after the paradigm was developed in Antioch, or were responsible for creating it in the first place and passing it on to Antioch.

What kind of soteriology is set into place when this christology is developed? Consider again the Jerusalem paradigm where Jesus' transformation into a glorified, divine being happened as the result of his righteous actions and piety, as a reward for upright behavior and obedience. It meant that anyone could imitate him and expect a similar reward - gradual transformation and eventual resurrection and divine body-status-immortality.

This soteriology could only work if Jesus was just like you and me. But what happened once he was an embodied angel from birth? A son of God from conception? Jesus didn't have to work for his divinity. He had already in the womb.

The road to salvation had no choice but to shift. It had to engage the power of the divine Jesus rather than the human Jesus. Redemption had to happen because of a divine action rather than a human action that could be imitated and repeated. This meant a fuller engagement with martyrological interpretations of Jesus' death which were already existing anyway. This is what Mark is about. So the efficacy of his death for sin atonement of sins of Israel was drawn out and universalized.

This doesn't mean that the behavioral soteriology from Jerusalem vanished or was replaced by the divine redemptive action. No. It survives and fuses with the sacrificial so that the sacrificial emerges dominant while the behavioral recedes into the background. It caused trouble though. Consider it. If a divine action redeemed the human being, then what was the benefit of good behavior? Paul has to face this trouble and he tries to explain it in Romans 12-13, where he says that good behavior is the outcome of a person's redemption and transformation, rather than the cause.

More on Paul in the next post in this very long series.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Creating Jesus 18: What Justin reflects

I know that many of my readers have concerns about what, if anything, second century texts can tell us about Christian origins. To limit ourselves to texts authored in the first century does not serve any of us well, especially when the ancient mindset was traditionalist and memorial. They worked to pass on in writing the oral and written traditions they had received from others before them. This doesn't mean that these traditions were passed on without development or shifts, but it does mean that we need to mine the second century materials for what they have passed on.

Justin Martyr is a case in point. He is teaching in Rome in the mid-second century. And his work assumes the Antiochean paradigm that we had located in the earlier materials. He knows Jesus as the YHWH Angel and that this Angel embodied as Jesus through the virgin womb. Jesus is the Son, the Angel of YHWH, who speaks from the burning bush, visits with Abraham, wrestles with Jacob, appears to Joshua. He writes, "Therefore, neither Abraham, nor Issac, nor Jacob, nor amy man saw the Father...but only him who, according to his [God's] will, is both God, his son, and Angel, from the fact that he ministers to his purpose. Whom he also has willed to be born through the virgin, and who once became fire for that conversation with Moses in the bush" (Dial. 127,4).

The Angel YHWH embodied the man Jesus, from the time of conception or quickening in the virgin womb.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Check out Andrew Bernhard's new blog dedicated to the extra-canonical gospels. Hooray!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Creating Jesus 17: A divine fetus

When the early Christian Jews concluded that the appearances of the YHWH Angel prior to Jesus' birth must also have been Jesus somehow, this gave Jesus a pre-existence and it shifted the paradigm. No longer was he a normal human being born of normal human parents. Somehow this great Angel had been embodied either at Jesus' conception or his quickening. In other words, a human fetus was possessed by this Angel, rather than a human man at his baptism. The Christians shifted his possession to the earliest moment possible. The idea that an angel can possess a human being is possible because the ancient people understood "spirits" and "angels" to be equivalents. This is also the case with the word "powers." The angel was a spirit who like a demon could possess a human being.

The virgin birth stories are related to this shift. The story of womb-possession is very prominent in Luke's gospel, which parallels John the Baptist's conception with Jesus'. John the Baptist was "filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). Jesus' conception is understood similarly, as the Holy Spirit, the Power of the Most High, coming upon Mary so that her child would be the holy Son of God. Keep in mind that angels are sons of God. And prophets are called and consecrated (which means a descent of the Holy Spirit into them!) from before they came into the womb of their mothers (see Jer 1:5; Isa 49:1; cf. Gal 1:15).

In Matthew, the relationship of Jesus to the Holy Spirit is framed in terms of agency. Mary is found "having [a fetus] in her womb FROM the Holy Spirit" (1:18). This is another shift in this christological pattern. It moves the concept of a divine fetus to divine parentage rather than spirit possession. This shift may have been popular with Hellenistic audiences familiar with stories of gods siring heroes.

I think it is significant that since these two authors think that the embodiment of the Spirit happened to the fetus in the womb, both Matthew and Luke independently shift the Markan baptism account of possession of the Spirit "in" Jesus (eis: Mark 1:10) to "upon" him (epi: Matt 3:16; Luke 3:22). Since he has had the Spirit in him since the womb, the baptism is reconceived as an outward anointing of the Spirit.

Next post we will look at Justin Martyr who preserves this paradigm in its entirety.

Review of The Thirteenth Apostle

Grant Adamson has published his review of The Thirteenth Apostle in the current issue of BYU Studies 48, no. 1 (2009) pp. 186-188. My thanks to Bruce Martin for sending it to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A new website on early Christianity

Robert Oerter asked me to share a link to his new website called Early Christian Religion. Take a look.

Creating Jesus 16: The Virgin Birth

We already discussed how the first memories of Jesus were that of a human son. Paul knows the tradition that "God sent forth his son" and he was "born of woman" (Gal 4:4).

Scholars question whether or not the actual father was Joseph because of the way the traditions in Matthew and Luke are recorded. They suggest that Mary's pregnancy happened outside of wedlock, although within her betrothal period and Joseph seems surprised, needing a vision from an angel to convince him to marry Mary.

Of course this is very much a hot button topic, since Mary has become in the religious tradition the Queen of Heaven and Holy Mother, perpetual Virgin, and so on.

For my own reasoning, I don't trust any of the information given in the virgin birth stories, not even the references to Mary's pregnancy outside of wedlock. These references all appear to me to be part of a growing story to portray Mary as non-sexual, a virgin whom Joseph didn't even touch, so that she can properly birth a god. Paul doesn't yet know this, only that God's son was "born of woman." This phrase is idiomatic and means something like "born a human being." His reference to "son" may be a reference to his status as Angel, since angels were known in the tradition to be sons of God.

What I do know is that the genealogies which both Matthew and Luke preserve (despite their very different versions of Jesus' virgin birth) trace Jesus through Joseph's line. The early teachings from Jerusalem also agree that Joseph is Jesus' real dad. So the earliest traditions appear to me to be that Joseph was Jesus' father. This gets overlaid with the virgin birth stories when they develop.

More to come...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Creating Jesus 15: On to Antioch

We are not done with our discussion of early Christology and its development. What we have covered so far is what appears to have been the earliest Christological paradigm. It certainly isn't Nicene! In fact, we are a long way from Nicaea. I am willing to post my thoughts on the subject up to Nicaea, but that is a long haul. So let's concentrate on the foundational biblical materials and the first layer of paradigms.

You can imagine that certain questions must have arisen almost immediately in regard to the Jerusalem paradigm and the exaltation of Jesus as the YHWH Angel. Everytime the community would read or listen to stories from their scriptures about the YHWH Angel, they must have wondered how these stories about the Angel were connected to Jesus. It is impossible for me to determine who first raised these questions, but what I do know is that their answers were already known to Paul at the time he became a primary leader and missionary of the Antiochean church. So the Antiochean Christians were definitely discussing it, and had even developed liturgies based on their answers. It is a dominant paradigm in western Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and becomes the dominant meta-paradigm in Rome and the West. It is not unknown to some of the sources associated with Jerusalem, so whatever was going on, it was communicated between Jerusalem and Antioch.

What was the reasoning? It probably went something like this: if Jesus had been exalted at his death, becoming the YHWH Angel, he must have been the YHWH Angel in scriptures like Gen 16:7, 22:15, Ex 3:2-14, 23:20-21 too. This means that Jesus must have existed as the YHWH Angel before his earthly advent. So it must be that this YHWH Angel descended from heaven and somehow embodied Jesus at Jesus' conception or birth.

This is what the much-debated Phil hymn is all about (2:5-7). Jesus had been in the form of God and did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. This is a reference to the YHWH Angel who is God's manifestation or equivalent. This divine being empties himself and is born in the likeness of men.

Next time we will discuss the virgin birth.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Creating Jesus 14: Jerusalem soteriology

When you have a possession christology in which Jesus is a full human being with human parents, who is a righteous man filled by God with the Holy Spirit, so righteous that he is resurrected from the dead and exalted to the Name Above All Names, the way salvation works for everyone else corresponds. So texts with associations with early Jerusalem understand the path of salvation in a very particular way, a way that I can only describe as "imitative." Since Jesus started out as a human being like everyone else, that meant other human beings could imitate him and receive the same rewards.

This is the earliest soteriological teaching I have been able to reconstruct from the literature:
1. baptism by invoking the Name which cleansed the initiate of past sins so that his or her soul could receive the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had at his baptism. Anointing to receive the Holy Spirit appears to have been a later addition to the ceremony (cf. Acts 8:14-17).

2. righteous living in imitation of Jesus and putting into action his teachings about Torah. The Holy Spirit aided the person to meet this end. There was no penance for post-baptismal sin, no way to atone for it. Your goal was to perfect yourself with the help of the Holy Spirit (the same spirit that had been Jesus' - thus the language of Christ's spirit in Paul) who indwelled you (cf. Matt 5:48; James 1:4; Didache 1-6; Barn 18-21). This path of piety was faith. Faith wasn't belief. It was living your life in accordance with God's will which had been communicated through Jesus.

3. eucharist was a thanksgiving meal, a joyous party, celebrating the imminent return of Jesus as the Judge, and anticipating being part of the banquet that would take place at that time. The meal may have had a covenantal aspect where the Christian Jews affirmed that they were the New Israel through the death of the Righteous One, Jesus (1 Cor 11:25-26; Luke 22:14-18).

4. at death or the eschaton, whichever occurred first, the faithful would be resurrected and rewarded in heaven with glorified bodies and exaltation (i.e. thrones, crowns, white robes, Name, etc).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Revised Version of 13th Apostle NOW available

I've been watching Amazon and it looks like the revised version of 13th Apostle is now in stock. So if you have pre-ordered it, I imagine that it will come clambering into your mailbox very soon.

This is not a paperback release of the first edition. I revised this book substantially, including two new chapters - one on Judas and astrology (my paper from the Codex Judas Congress) and another on Judas and ancient magic (I cover the magic gem that I think is related to the ideology put forth in the Gospel of Judas). I also have a new preface, covering what has been happening with the Gospel of Judas since its initial release, and I added a section on Thomasine church in the chapter on early Christianity.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Creating Jesus 13: The Jerusalem Paradigm

We now have all the pieces of the earliest christological musings in place, and we can talk about the first paradigm as it was developed by the first Christian Jews in Jerusalem. All that has gone on before in the twelve previous posts should not be taken to be linear development - i.e. first this happened, then that happened. Rather these strands of tradition came together in complexes that brought with them a number of associations and connections that become attached to Jesus simply because they were part of the complex.

There is a chicken and egg effect here. The first Christian Jews turn to these Jewish tradition complexes to understand Jesus' death, explain the visions they said they were having of the afterlife Jesus, and to reflect upon and remember his life. Then these complexes haul along associations that then serve to reinterpret who Jesus was, and so the reframing of a Jewish rabbi with messianic leanings as the Mosaic messianic Prophet, the Righteous One, the resurrected martyr, the exalted Angel YHWH-KAVOD who can intercede on our behalf formed in the teachings of the foundational movement.

What happens, as far as I can tell, is that the christology which forms gets tied to the soteriological teachings of the group. They go hand in hand. In the case of the Jerusalem paradigm, what you end up with is the christological teaching that Jesus was a complete human being born to human parents. Mary and Joseph are understood to be his biological parents (just as Matthew's and Luke's genealogies relate and the Ebionites later taught). At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended, and it took up residence in him, possessing him as it did all the prophets of old. As God's Prophet, Jesus called people to repentance, taught people how to interpret correctly and follow the Laws so that they could live righteously and be prepared for the coming of God's judgment. Ultimately he was rejected. He suffered a terrible death as was foretold in the scripture, a death that atoned for the past sins of Israel. The Holy Spirit left him at his death. But because he was a righteous man and faithful to God, God rewarded him with resurrection from the dead, transforming him into an angelic body and exalting him to God's right hand as the principal YHWH Angel, vested with the powerful Name and enthroned. In this capacity, he will return to judge the living and the dead.

As a result of this teaching, the doctrine of the second coming was born, as well as the divinization of Jesus. Jesus was not divine during his lifetime, any more than any other prophet. He was a human being possessed by the Holy Spirit, exalted to divinity after his death.

In the next post, I will take up how this christology affected the group's soteriology and ritual practice. Then on to Antioch!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Creating Jesus 12: The Glory of the Lord

Jesus was not conceived to be exalted to the status of any angel of any rank. He was conceived to be the Angel of the Lord who bore the Name YHWH. This conception did not stand alone. The YHWH Angel was read alongside the GLORY by the early Jews and Christians. There are a number of passages in Jewish scriptures which describe YHWH as a bodily manifested god. His manifestation is called in Hebrew "the KAVOD of YHWH" which literally means "the weightiness of YHWH." It was translated by the ancients into Greek with the word "DOKSA" which means "reputation, honor, glory." When it refers to one's external appearance, it means that it is a splendid or glorious appearance. In English it is translated "GLORY." This figure is described by Ezekiel as humanlike, radiant, and enthroned. It acts as YHWH, and he interacts with it as YHWH. This manifestation of YHWH, the KAVOD, is also called in the literature the "IMAGE" of God and the "FORM" of God.

Of course those of my readers who know the Christian literature will realize that this application to Jesus was made very early in the tradition. He has the NAME of YHWH, he is the FORM of YHWH, he is the IMAGE of YHWH, he is the GLORY of YHWH. He has not only been identified with the ANGEL YHWH, but also the KAVOD, identified with the seated figure in Ezekiel's vision and the YHWH of HOSTS seen by ISAIAH.

As I said in my last post on the subject, this is the key to understanding the development of early Christology. Once the identification was made between Jesus, the YHWH Angel, and the KAVOD, there was no turning back. The Christian Jews had begun to understand Jesus as equivalent with YHWH.

As far as worship, it appears that our earliest sources tell us that they were calling upon Jesus' NAME in intercessory ways, including healings. Now there is ample (and I mean ample) evidence in Jewish literature and magical objects from the period that show that there were Jews who were calling upon angels to intercede for them and to facilitate healings. The magical evidence from amulets and gems shows that the use of the angels' names were considered to be very powerful indeed.

Many scholars in the past have tried to explain away this evidence and to impose modern rabbinic and christian orthodoxy on the past in order to state that the Jews were not really venerating angels or practicising angel intercession because we all know they were monotheists. This is anachronistic and apologetic. The evidence both in the literature and the physical objects matches. The late second century rabbis generally disapproved and tried to stamp it out and write down their oral traditions in such a way that their ancestors would appear to be monotheists. But what the rabbis were doing was creating monotheism themselves, perhaps in response to the rise of Christianity from the Jewish sources, and I might add, the rise of Gnostic systems from these same sources which also relied upon the YHWH Angel and KAVOD traditions to develop the Demiurge.

In my opinion, the academic discussion is usually backwards. The discussion should not be how monotheistic Jews could or couldn't have worshiped Jesus.

The discussion should be along these lines: what must Judaism have looked like at the time of Jesus to allow his Jewish followers to conceive of him as YHWH and begin praying to him and using his NAME for intercession?

The impulse to divinize Jesus was an impulse within Judaism, and the later Rabbis knew this and reworked the traditions to try to shut it down and create a post-temple Judaism, which was a revival of the type of Judaism embraced by the group of post-exilic priests who put together the pentateuch and tried to rewrite their old polytheistic ancestral traditions along monotheistic lines. It didn't work in post-exilic Judaism mainly because the YHWH Angel and KAVOD traditions survived, allowing for exegetical interpretations to develop in which GOD remains hidden while he operates through his manifestation, his equivalent enthroned in heaven.