Review of Is This Not the Carpenter? (Part II)

Title: ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus

Editors: Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna

Bibliographic info: viii + 266 + 13

Cover: Hard

Publisher: Equinox, 2012

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to Equinox for the review copy!

Read Part I of the review.

The second section of this book, Paul and Early Christianity: Historical and Exegetical Investigations, is comprised of three chapters. I was intending on writing out lengthy reviews of each chapter but, due to tiredness, I have instead opted to only do so for the third essay, though I will provide a very brief summary of the other two chapters.

The first chapter in this section is from Robert Price and is called “Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?” In it he discusses Marcion’s connection to the Gospels and the relationship between the Gospels and Paul’s epistles. The next chapter, the seventh of the book, is by Mogens Müller. It is titled “Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus.” As the title suggests, he believes that the writings of Paul can be used to support the case for a historical Jesus. Here is a nice quotable snippet:

Paul is the oldest witness to the transformation of the historical person, that is, Jesus of Nazareth, into a heavenly saviour, although this transformation occurred in such a way that Jesus, as a historical person of the past, has nearly disappeared. (118)

Thomas Verenna is the author of the eighth chapter, “Born under the Law: Intertextuality and the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus in Paul’s Epistles. Before I get into the arguments provided in this chapter, I have to get something off of my chest. Footnotes! While I am a footnote enthusiast there is such a thing as too many footnotes. Many of the footnotes in this essay were simply too long and/or superfluous. For instance, footnote #11 takes up about a third of a page and is simply on the use of the word “Christian” as a designation for Paul or anyone in the first century. My favorite is footnote #38 which begins with “I would like to briefly comment on this section…” and then continues to take up about half a page!

The key thrust of Verenna’s essay is that “Paul did not believe his Jesus was ever historical in the first place” (132), mentioning in an accompanying footnote that he isn’t necessarily arguing against the historicity of Jesus, but only that one cannot find such a historical figure using Paul’s epistles. He sets out using “a method formed from analyzing intertextuality” (132), with the intent of showing that “what Paul is interpreting, what he is expressing, is not an earthly figure, but an allegorical one” (133). Thus, this essay is “an attempt to look past modern interpretations of Paul, which are far too focused on discovering what he has to say about an assumed historical entity – Jesus – and less about discovering how Paul’s initial audience would have understood his meaning” (135).

Verenna first discusses the crucifixion of Jesus in the (genuine) Pauline epistles, with his contention being that there “is little doubt; Paul knew of a crucifixion, though he never suggests it happened on earth” (140). At one point in this section he says:

In Sumerian mythology, there is a tale of Inanna’s descent into the underworld, her crucifixion and death, her resurrection and ascension; after this ascension she appears to local deities … It is well known that this story had already permeated Jewish society long before Christianity; Ezek. 8:14 states that women were mourning for Tammuz at the north gate. Tammuz was the one God who refused to bow down at first in front of Inanna after she had arisen and ascended. As a result, she banished him to the nether world. (141-42)

I am curious as to how one can say that Inanna was “crucified”, as all that I can find on this story is that after she was killed, her body was hung on some type of hook (and it sounds like all this occurred in the underworld). The translation Verenna quotes says that “the corpse was hung from a stake”, but I can’t see how this is a legit reason to say that Inanna was crucified (unless one has a pretty loose definition of the term). The only reasoning I can see behind the use of “crucified” is similar to that found when parallelomaniacs fabricate parallels between Jesus and other deities in order to give the reader the “oh my Gawd!” factor when they discover that early Christianity wasn’t without its antecedents. Also, are we meant to think, based on this single verse in the Hebrew Bible, that the story of the “crucifixion” and “ascension” of Inanna had “permeated” Jewish society before Christianity came along? Seems almost like a sly attempt of trying to sneak in some parallelomania whilst maintaining plausible deniability. This discussion of Inanna, however, is accompanied by a (lengthy) footnote in which the author adds the disclaimer that he is neither advocating “parallelism” nor the idea that Paul had access to this Inanna narrative. So what was the point of brining up Inanna? He explains:

The purpose of this exercise is to bring to light the fact that a story about a crucified God who rose from the dead and ascended does predate the Passion narrative and Paul’s crucified savior. When scholars rely upon the probability of the historicity of the crucifixion because they cannot understand how a Jew in antiquity would worship a crucified Messiah, they are really only showing how little they understand the socio-cultural landscape of the ancient world. (143)

Apart from rejecting the notion that the story of Inanna is about a “crucified God” who existed before Christ, I nevertheless agree that it is a good example, and one of many which could be pointed to, showing the prevalence of a dying-and-raising/death-and-rebirth motif in Paul’s cultural milieu. But surely that is nothing strange or amazing, right? I thought this was pretty uncontroversial stuff. Heck, isn’t this motif perpetually present in the cycle of nature (i.e. the death of winter and rebirth of spring)? Regardless, if one wants to attempt to show how the concept of a dying-and-rising god was not unknown in Paul’s day, one could do it in a manner which doesn’t smack of parallelomania.

Verenna continues by saying that “Paul’s crucifixion account did not come from a historical event, but from the Hebrew Bible” (144), specifically singling out Psalm 22. But I didn’t see a case being made arguing that the Hebrew Bible was the source for Paul concocting his Jesus. Instead, the logic seemingly was that if Paul used the Hebrew Bible to speak of Jesus then Paul must have created him, i.e., correlation must equal causation.

Verenna then turns to building a case in order to support the idea that Paul never envisaged Jesus’ crucifixion as being an actual historical event. He discusses how Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ in a spiritual sense (e.g. Gal. 2.20) and that when taken in conjunction with Paul’s “esoteric language” in 1 Cor. 2.6-8 (which apparently implies that Paul is talking about a “mystery rite”), we can safely arrive at the conclusion that Paul always meant a spiritual sense when he talked about the crucifixion. The main point in his argument for this is that the archons (“rulers”), whom Paul says are responsible for crucifying Jesus (1 Cor. 2.8), are in fact spiritual beings, not actual people (e.g. Pontius Pilate). He also sees the archons as being the same as the stoicheia (“elemental spirits”) in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2.

Concerning 1 Cor. 2.8, Verenna notes that the only other place Paul uses archon (Rom. 13.3) is to denote earthly rulers. But he believes that Paul is using it here in 1 Cor. 2.8 to speak of spiritual beings due to it being used in the phrase “the rulers (archōntes) of this age (aiōnos).” But if one looks at how aiōn is used elsewhere in surrounding chapters, one sees that it is referring to the earthly realm (“the debater of this aiōn” 1.20;  “wisdom of this aiōn” 2.6; “he is wise in this aiōn” 3.18). Another thing is that the plural, archōntes, is a typical Greek expression for ruling authorities, examples of which are seen in Acts 3.17 and 13.27. Lastly, the context of 1 Cor. 2.8 makes it pretty clear that Paul is speaking of earthly rulers. In 1 Corinthians 1-2 Paul is discussing the folly of man’s wisdom (read 1.20–2.8 with an eye for the use of the word “wise”). A reference to spiritual rulers would be out of place here, but a reference to earthly rulers makes perfect sense; it is as if Paul is saying, “Human wisdom is useless and dumb. Heck, look at the so-called wisdom of our own rulers! They crucified the Lord of glory! Their wisdom is worthless!” Oddly enough, I don’t remember Verenna referencing any of the scholarly literature that has been published specifically on 1 Cor. 2.8, nor even general commentaries on 1 Corinthians.

At one point Verenna mentions a text discovered at Nag Hammadi, called Hypostasis of the Archons, which apparently “[lends] more credibility to the argument that this was a common understanding of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians” (149), and “that at least some early Christians knew of this interpretation” of Paul’s understanding of the archontic rulers as spiritual entities, not earthly people. The Hypostasis of the Archons is, however, simply too late to be of any use for interpreting Paul’s epistles, not to mention that Paul wasn’t Gnostic (though I think Verenna labels him as such).

After the discussion on the crucifixion, Verenna turns to the allegory of the two women in Galatians 4. I found it hard to wrap my mind around this one. He says that “[t]he law is the spiritual custodian of the flesh, a teacher which Paul feels leads one to life. It is through this custodian, the spirit, per Paul, that we are also saved” (152). Paul feels that the law leads one to life? Paul equates the spirit with the law? It is through the law that we are saved? Huh?

While correctly noting that Gal. 4.21-31 is an allegory (which is pretty obvious as that is what Paul himself says), Verenna says that the phrase “born of a woman” (Gal. 4.4), which is in reference to Jesus, is also just an allegory, with the “woman” being a reference to Sarah, “the Jerusalem above” of verse 26. I really don’t get the logic behind this one. Assuming Verenna’s allegorical reading of 4.4 is correct, this would mean that when Paul says Jesus was “born of woman, born under the law” (4.4), the “woman” Jesus is born under would have to be Hagar, not Sarah! (because Hagar is figurative for Mount Sinai, i.e. the law!; see verse 24).

Turning to another issue, Verenna again uses allegory (not an intertextual method drawing upon emulation/imitation) to discuss Paul calling Jesus the “the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1.3).  He says that the reader has two options:

(1) we are left to believe that either David was literally Jesus’ father (the Greek is […] literally ‘of the seed/sperm of David’), which would mean that Jesus’ mother was impregnated by one of David’s celestial ‘seeds’ or that (2) Paul means this allegorically. (152-53)

What about option (3): Paul is not using an allegory but believed Jesus to be descended from the house of David. While Verenna does mention that Paul doesn’t say “from the seed of Joseph, descendant of David” (153), he forgets to mention that Paul was Jewish and so saying “seed of David” doesn’t necessitate that Jesus would have had to been the result of a Mary and David hookup. Also, in footnote 55 Verenna says [in regards to my third option]: “In fact, to interpret this passage in that manner is to read Paul through the lenses of the Gospel genealogies” (153). Huh?! Or maybe it is simply interpreting Paul through ideas current in Second Temple Judaism, e.g., the belief of a coming Davidic messiah. The promises regarding the Davidic dynasty (e.g.  2 Sam 7; cf. 4QFlor) and other references to a Davidic “prince” (e.g. Ezek. 34.23, 37.24), as well as a multitude of other passages (e.g. Ps. of Sol. 17), show that there was a prevalent hope within streams of Judaism during Paul’s time which expected and hoped for an eschatological messiah who would come from the lineage of David. The argument for an allegorical reading here in Rom. 1.3 is worse than the one presented for Gal. 4.4.

Verenna also discusses Paul’s references to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11) and to “James, the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1.19). In regards to the latter, Verenna relies upon the (pretty lame) argument that “brother” here refers to the practice of believers calling each  other that. Instead of admitting the simple and obvious truth that Paul is referring to James as the physical brother of Jesus, Verenna instead opts to speculate that “[t]he use of the language [adelphos] may be similar to a type of rank in the mystery religions of the day” (157). Unfortunately, he also opted to ignore why Paul would have singled out James as being a figurative “brother” when speaking of him in conjunction with two other figurative brothers, Peter and John.

An overarching drawback I found with this essay (apart from the footnotes!) is that when I finished reading it, I had no idea what the “method formed from intertextuality” even was. The author does talk a little bit about “imitation” and “emulation” towards the beginning, though didn’t really seem to offer a definition of what these concepts are. The closest I could find was when he said: “Emulation, in this study, means establishing intertextuality” (137). By the time I got to the end of the chapter, I still hadn’t figured out how imitation and emulation had been used as a heuristic device to demonstrate that Paul didn’t believe Jesus to be historical. It seemed to me that the author was simply arguing that since Paul spoke about Jesus in a manner which employed the Hebrew Bible, coupled together with Paul speaking of Jesus in allegorical and spiritual fashion, that this must led one to the conclusion that Paul only envisaged Jesus as a fictional character.

It was a spirited attempt by Verenna to prove that Paul didn’t believe in a historical Jesus, but ultimately it was utterly unsuccessful.

Read Part II

30 responses

  1. Pingback: Blog Posts Of Note: Week of September 30, 2012 |

  2. I don’t want to get into the habit of replying to reviews because I don’t want it to come across as though my chapter doesn’t speak for itself, but there are some trends I’m noticing that I’d like to address.

    First, the footnotes. It may seem like I went overboard, maybe I could have done with less, but remember that I’m challenging a consensus position. Doing my due diligence is important–not everyone who will read my paper will recognize that ‘Christian’ is a second century designation–some may argue it is a first century term, and some will argue that there are historical implications to when one might place this term. So while it might not be necessary in all instances, including a note here and there to demonstrate my particular position on certain issues may help explain some of my other arguments better to the reader.

    On your comment about intertextuality in my paper. I had originally written a 40 page (in a word document) submission–including a full discussion of terms. It was decided that something would have to be cut (40 pages, as you can imagine, is quite a lot). I simply didn’t have the space to adequate define the terms to a degree I was comfortable with but, generally, my audience will have a grasp of the terms being used (hopefully) and if not I included a laundry list of sources to consult and I made it clear in a note that intertextuality would be defined in its normal fashion in the paper (rather than breaking it down into other sub-parts, etc…cf. n.21-3). I did go into some minor detail about how intertextuality, as it related to emulation, was used by other ancient authors as well. So I did not leave it as vague as one might think (again, I would hope that those who would read my chapter would have a better grasp of the topic, and if not, I provided some resource information for just such a purpose).

    Admittedly, my arguments on Paul’s ‘brother of the lord’ claims are somewhat lacking in counter-argument, but my main goal was to draw attention to the function of how Paul’s use of ‘brother’ does not necessarily mean ‘biological brother’ but, rather, has other uses and often we see Paul use these other forms more directly.

    As for Paul’s use of αρχον and αιων in his letters; you say he uses it in an earthly sense, but that is precisely what I am disagreeing with: ‘the wise of this age’, ‘age’ for Paul is spiritual age. Like one might say ‘Heroic age’ or ‘biblical age’, rather than say ‘Iron Age’ or ‘Bronze Age’, etc… This represents, as far as my reading goes, a heavenly age–and this is a very common belief in the second temple period (as I demonstrated in my chapter). You are welcome to disagree with me, of course. This is just a conversation starter, not the end of the discussion. And I draw upon other early Christian (and contemporary) accounts in order to beef up my arguments (i.e., Josephus, Philo, other pastorals, etc…). All of this is part of Paul’s cultic language which I also discuss in great detail. My argument in this section, after all, is that Paul’s language is a major instrument in understanding his theological goals and his language is highly cultic (re: mystery religion), where he speaks of the initiated, and the mysteries, and hints at various rites–quite like what we see in other mytsery traditions eluded to by Josephus and Philo. This is not new. What I’m bringing to the table is a rereading of Paul’s theological Jesus in light of these esoteric traditions (as I state on pg. 135-6).

    On Gal. 4.4, I could have been more clear. My argument is that the law of the earthly Jerusalem, of Hagar, is the old law. Jesus, as the custodian of a new age, brings a new law–the law from the Jerusalem above (of Sarah). And just because someone is born into the law of one woman (Hagar), does not mean they cannot be adopted by the new law (under Sarah). He is explicitly (in my interpretation) differentiating between earthly and heavenly, that Jesus is of the latter, not the former. And this is why this passage ‘born under a woman’ cannot be taken as a reference to Jesus’ ‘humanity’.

    Finally, on your Davidic messiah, I’m sorry to say, that this is where you are mistaken. Such claims about a ‘Davidic messiah’ have been largely refuted (in the sense that this is the only type of messiah expected in the second temple period). See pg. 141 for details. Also, more recently, I addressed these claims against Ehrman on Bible and Interpretation and I invite you to read it:

    http://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/Response.pdf

    I definitely appreciate a great deal of your criticisms, as a good portion of it is very constructive. I may write on this subject more fully for future projects (though I have been told I should save this for a dissertation in a few years time). And at that point I will take your points into consideration.

    • Admittedly, my arguments on Paul’s ‘brother of the lord’ claims are somewhat lacking in counter-argument, but my main goal was to draw attention to the function of how Paul’s use of ‘brother’ does not necessarily mean ‘biological brother’ but, rather, has other uses and often we see Paul use these other forms more directly.

      Yes, Paul used the term “brother” in a sense other than one indicating a biological relationship, but to argue that it means something akin to a spiritual brother in Galatians 1.19 just doesn’t make sense, as it would have Paul singling out James as a spiritual “brother” when he is spoken of in combination with two other spiritual “brothers”. If one then posits that Paul was using some other meaning to the word “brother” in Gal. 1.19, such as your speculation that it may be “similar to a type of rank in the mystery religions of the day”, then that only just goes to show that the Paul-did-not-think-Jesus-was-a-historical-person position can only be maintained by ignoring the basic meaning of adelphos (for which there is no reason to reject it) and instead resort to conjuring up speculative interpretations as support. It is hard to take an argument like this seriously, especially when it is offered up in such a pithy manner, with no obvious ground of justification, except for what seems like the premise that a historical Jesus must not be found.

      • “It is hard to take an argument like this seriously, especially when it is offered up in such a pithy manner, with no obvious ground of justification, except for what seems like the premise that a historical Jesus must not be found.”

        Actually, contrary to this, my point is very sound in that Luke–who was using Paul’s own letters *and* Josephus to form his narrative seems to have not understood this James to be a literal brother of Paul. I think that is very telling. I do believe that Paul meant ‘brother’ in this sense the way he *always* uses brother to refer to other members of his initiated community. It is a designation of initiation, we see that throughout ancient Jewish and Pagan mystery traditions, and I don’t believe for a second that you can just say “that only just goes to show that the Paul-did-not-think-Jesus-was-a-historical-person position can only be maintained by ignoring the basic meaning of adelphos” because the basic meaning is not ‘a single meaning, biological brother’. It has other meanings and uses. Paul is speaking through a multiplicity of traditions, not a single one. To presume his meaning is ‘brother’ (biologically’ is to interpret the text, in my opinion, in a narrowed manner that once more tries to insert a historical person into a letter where he is not needed.

        Could I have made the case stronger? Certainly. But what I said is important enough that it warrants more than a dismissal and a contrary statement, I think.

    • As for Paul’s use of αρχον and αιων in his letters; you say he uses it in an earthly sense, but that is precisely what I am disagreeing with: ‘the wise of this age’, ‘age’ for Paul is spiritual age. Like one might say ‘Heroic age’ or ‘biblical age’, rather than say ‘Iron Age’ or ‘Bronze Age’, etc… […]And I draw upon other early Christian (and contemporary) accounts in order to beef up my arguments (i.e., Josephus, Philo, other pastorals, etc…).

      But you ignore the most pertinent data, which is the immediate context of the verse. Paul uses aiōn in those verses (1 Cor. 1.20, 2.6, 3.18) in reference to earthly people, not spiritual. Paul is disparaging human wisdom in the immediate context of 1.18-2.13. When he says, “the debater of this age” (1.20) and “he is wise in this age” (3.18), it is plain that the “debater” and the “wise” of this age are in reference to humans. So likewise, in 2.8, when Paul says “none of the rulers of this age”, the “rulers” are also in reference to humans; a reference to spiritual beings is out of place.

      • So your argument is that Paul means ‘earthly rulers’, but that doesn’t fit the context. Jesus wasn’t crucified ‘by the rulers of this age’ but supposedly by a procurator or, depending on the version, the Sanhedrin (who I doubt Paul would call ‘rulers’, but priestly judges). And αρχον really delineates–in the Jewish sense–a group of nine rulers from independent Jewish communities in the Diaspora–not the Sanhedrin (who had their own title–συνέδριον). Why use ‘age’ at all, anyway? Seems out of place. Instead, as I’ve provided ample support for in the footnotes, that there is a reason why such a context is heavenly and Paul is quite clear about this in my humble opinion. So I am not at all convinced that Paul is talking about a earthly governing body. The only way to interpret Paul as meaning ‘earthly ruler’ is to read it through the lens of the Gospels. In fact in the notation on James the Just, Josephus specifically calls the Sanhedrin by name (he doesn’t call them αρχοντων) and we only start seeing the two connected after the Gospel narratives have started to circulate. You don’t have to agree, of course. But I don’t find the current trend of arguing that Paul meant ‘earthly rulers’ compelling in the least, especially since both instances were used in the second temple period–what matters is how Paul is using it, and not how later Christian tradition interpreted it.

        As for using ‘age’, I think you may be confusing two different things. ‘Age’ may be used to supplement ‘earthly people’ in 1.20 and 3.18 (certainly not in 2.6, however!) but that does not take away from the function of ‘age’. Paul is not suggesting ‘the next few years’ or ‘group of years’ or ‘selection of days’, he is referring to the specific spiritual age in which they live. The belief in multiple ‘spiritual ages’ is nothing new; we see evidence of these in numerical predictions and calenders from the Dead Sea and also in the pseudepigrapha (in fact I cite Enoch as an example of this exact tradition–of a chosen one being hidden from the powers until revealed to the elect). And I provided evidence from contemporary Christian accounts also using the words in this heavenly manner (not to mention other sources).

        The question isn’t ‘who does Paul attach ‘age’ to in this context’, but what he means by ‘archon’ specifically in connection with how he is using it when he talks about those who ‘crucified’ Jesus. My interpretation of heavenly beings is not fringe, either. I was sure to cite some secondary source material (from credible work on the subject). The argument that Paul meant ‘earthly ruler’ here is just weak and only distracts the reader by removing this verse from Paul’s intended meaning and audience into a modern, contemporary one. My goal was to bring back Paul’s beliefs (which have in a sense been hijacked and idealized by patristics theology); certain theological interpretations have taken for granted how we read, as Thomas Bolin wrote, “Paul’s religious beliefs which… [once] anchor[ed] him firmly in his 1st Century Greco-Roman context, rather than the all too often depiction of a post-Reformation theologian anachronistically traveling the roads of the Pax Romana.”

    • Finally, on your Davidic messiah, I’m sorry to say, that this is where you are mistaken. Such claims about a ‘Davidic messiah’ have been largely refuted (in the sense that this is the only type of messiah expected in the second temple period). See pg. 141 for details.

      I was not arguing that the expectation for a Davidic Messiah was “the only type of messiah expected in the second temple period.” I said that there was a “hope within streams of Judaism” for such a figure, not that there was some sort of normative expectation for a Davidic Messiah throughout all of Judaism. Far from it. It is clear that Jewish expectations were not always focused on a Davidic Messiah, and that there was room for a plurality of persons who would play an eschatological role, with some people having no expectation at all of a messianic figure of Davidic descent. There were the Samaritans, for instance, who did not have a hope for a Davidic Messiah, but rather placed emphasis elsewhere when it came to their eschatology, such as the Balaam oracles (this is not surprising, though, considering that the hope for a Davidic Messiah was largely contingent upon the reception of the Psalms and the Former and Latter Prophets as scripture). Then there is the author of the Similitudes in 1 Enoch, for whom eschatological personages were vital, yet for whom a hope for a Davidic Messiah was unimportant. Nevertheless, there are texts which show there was an expectation, amongst some, for a messianic figure of Davidic descent. Are you saying that this has been refuted? I would assume that you are not, because it hasn’t been refuted.

  3. Addendum: I completely recognize that not everyone will be convinced by my position. In fact I’m hoping that I’ll start to see some published rebuttals of my paper at some point. One of my favorite things in academia is the discussion itself. I am just thrilled that people are taking what I’m writing seriously, to the point that they are engaging it–even if that means they disagree with the conclusion. =) Though it was also nice to see so many others who really enjoyed my paper. I suspect that the views of my chapter will be split between those who liked the paper and found it compelling and useful and those who disagreed with it, but nonetheless found it interesting. I am also certain there will be those who just hate everything about it.

  4. Sorry, one last thing. On the notion of crucifixion, the roman practice of crucifixion is so named from the Latin crux, which is the tree or pole by which someone was impaled. In the Gospel narratives, the Greek word σταυρόω, or to ‘impale’ (literally). This is how it relates to the story of Innana, in that she is impaled on a hook and in three days rises from the dead (and the underworld). The stories are not identical (and I state that clearly), but clearly the motifs are related to some degree wherein my point stands.

    • Yes, but when you say in your chapter about how Innana is a “crucified God”, the people who read that are not thinking, “Well, the word crucified is from the Greek stauros, meaning impaled”. No, they are thinking of what the word “crucified” actually means to us today, i.e., being executed by being nailed up on a piece of wood. Perhaps it is just me and I am being nitpicky, but it seems disingenuous to say that Innana is a “crucified God.”

      • I didn’t say ‘crucified god’, my words were:

        “In Sumerian mythology, there is a tale Inanna’s descent into the underworld, her crucifixion and death, her resurrection and ascension.” and then I went on to quote the relevant text so there would be no confusion about what I meant, *and* I footnoted my clarifications. So I’m not so sure why you take issue with this. Seems like a nitpick to me and perhaps not a really useful one. =)

  5. Thanks again for this excellent conversation. It was fun! I will withdraw now and concede you the last word, as this is your blog. =)

  6. Tom,

    “So your argument is that Paul means ‘earthly rulers’, but that doesn’t fit the context. Jesus wasn’t crucified ‘by the rulers of this age’ but supposedly by a procurator or, depending on the version, the Sanhedrin (who I doubt Paul would call ‘rulers’, but priestly judges).”

    Yes, he was crucified under a military procurator and/or the Jewish religious leadership, both of which Paul could legitimately call archontes.

    “Why use ‘age’ at all, anyway? Seems out of place. Instead, as I’ve provided ample support for in the footnotes, that there is a reason why such a context is heavenly and Paul is quite clear about this in my humble opinion.”

    But why use ‘age’ in 1:20 and elsewhere? He is speaking of humans, so why use it there. The use of ‘age’ doesn’t necessitate that Paul is speaking of spiritual beings.

    “But I don’t find the current trend of arguing that Paul meant ‘earthly rulers’ compelling in the least, especially since both instances were used in the second temple period–what matters is how Paul is using it, and not how later Christian tradition interpreted it.”

    Yes, one must not depend upon later Christian tradition. But I am not doing that (and weren’t you doing that by pointing to the deutero-Pauline epistles and the even later Hypostasis of the Archons?) Considering the only other instance of Paul using archontes is in reference to human leaders, and considering the context of Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 1-2, I think it is much more likely that he is speaking of human leaders in 1 Cor 2.8.

    “As for using ‘age’, I think you may be confusing two different things. ‘Age’ may be used to supplement ‘earthly people’ in 1.20 and 3.18 (certainly not in 2.6, however!) but that does not take away from the function of ‘age’. Paul is not suggesting ‘the next few years’ or ‘group of years’ or ‘selection of days’, he is referring to the specific spiritual age in which they live. The belief in multiple ‘spiritual ages’ is nothing new; we see evidence of these in numerical predictions and calenders from the Dead Sea and also in the pseudepigrapha (in fact I cite Enoch as an example of this exact tradition–of a chosen one being hidden from the powers until revealed to the elect). And I provided evidence from contemporary Christian accounts also using the words in this heavenly manner (not to mention other sources).”

    I am not saying that Paul is using “age” as referring to a specific period of time. I am saying that since in the immediate context it is being used in conjunction with humans, it is logical to think that he is doing the same thing in 1 Cor 2.8. Saying “the archontes of this age” in no way necessitates that the archontes be spiritual beings, anymore so than saying “where is the debater in this age” (1.20) necessitates that Paul is talking about a debater who is a spiritual being.

    “The question isn’t ‘who does Paul attach ‘age’ to in this context’, but what he means by ‘archon’ specifically in connection with how he is using it when he talks about those who ‘crucified’ Jesus.”

    Yes, but you simply cannot assume that Paul using archontes with aion can not be referring to humans. Pointing to late Gnostic literature is simply not relevant to understanding Paul, though the deutero-Paulines are relevant. But the most relevant data to interpreting what Paul means by using archontes with aion is Paul’s use of those terms and the literary context of the verse in which they occur. And they both, in my opinion, lend strong credence to the idea that Paul is referring to humans, not spiritual entities.

    “My interpretation of heavenly beings is not fringe, either.”

    I know, 1 Cor 2.8 has had more than its fair share of literature published on it, some of which agrees with me and some which agrees with you. That is why I was surprised that I didn’t see you reference any of it, or interact with any of the arguments that have been put forth against your own position.

    • Ah, okay, I see where you’re at now. I’m at pg. 142, where *I’m discussing the context of the passage and then quote the passage*. So I stand corrected. Still, my point about this not really being a useful nitpick stands. 😉

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  8. Unfortunately, he also opted to ignore why Paul would have singled out James as being a figurative “brother” when speaking of him in conjunction with two other figurative brothers, Peter and John.

    The obvious answer to this question has always seemed to me to be that there was at least one other man named “James” who was known to the Galatians to have been part of the Jerusalem community at the time of Paul’s first visit. For example, suppose Paul had written “I saw none of the other apostles–only James the Just.” No one would infer from that that Paul thought of Peter as being unjust. They would recognize that this was simply a way to designate which James it was that Paul met. Similarly, when Paul designates this particular James as “the brother of the Lord,” it might not necessarily mean that anyone else in the community was any less a brother of the Lord in Paul’s eyes. It may have simply been the accepted designation of this particular James.

    An alternative, which I realize is complete speculation, is that there was another James in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s visit who subsequently had a falling out with the community. Paul might simply have used “the brother of the Lord” to indicate to the Galatians that he met “James the believer” rather than “James the apostate.”

    Like Tom, I am struck by the fact that Luke doesn’t designate this James as Jesus’ brother and even drops Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James. Perhaps he knew that Paul’s reference in Galatians might have created some confusion on the point.

    Given the lack of anything else in Paul’s epistles which indicates his understanding that anyone he knew had been acquainted with the earthly Jesus, it is hard for me to view Galatians 1:19 as dispositive.

    • Lets assume that Paul was fond of calling believers “brothers of the Lord” (“of” not “in”), if all Christians can be so named, then why single out one James in particular as being a “brother of the Lord”? I’m sure there was more than one James known to the Galatians. After all, James (or more properly Jacob) was a very common Jewish name, after the patriarch. So is Paul saying here in Galatians, “James, the Christian one,…”? That is still leaving it pretty ambiguous as to who he is referring to. On the other hand, the biological meaning of “brother of the Lord” leaves no such ambiguity, and it also makes best sense of 1 Cor. 9.5.

      In regards to Luke: He may simply have had an agenda in omitting that James was the brother of the Lord. Perhaps he was wanting to downplay the role and authority of James, and not give him any additional power over Paul to the reader. Also, Luke wrote much later than Paul, so if they disagree on whether James is the brother of the Lord (not that an omission automatically means they disagreed), then I think the earlier source (Paul) should be given more credence.

      Perhaps there was some influential non-Christian James known to the Galatians. But there is no evidence of this! But there is evidence, found in the fairly widespread and consistent understanding in early church tradition, that Jesus had a biological brother named James. This is legit reasoning to conclude that in Galatians Paul is referring to the actual relative of Jesus named James. The mythicist argument of Galatians 1.19 ignores this and instead relies upon unfounded speculation. But this is essentially Jesus mythicism in a nutshell.

      • Lets assume that Paul was fond of calling believers “brothers of the Lord” (“of” not “in”), if all Christians can be so named, then why single out one James in particular as being a “brother of the Lord”?

        What I am suggesting is that a designation like this may not be so much a singling out as a convenient way of distinguishing someone with a common name. For example, the synoptic gospels all include Simon the Zealot. Can we conclude that this Simon is being singled out for his zealousness among all the apostles or that Simon Peter lacked the quality of zealousness? It’s possible, but I wonder whether it isn’t also possible that in a culture that lacked surnames, designations like this got attached somewhat arbitrarily because they were useful for distinguishing people with common names.

        Now I do not doubt that there may have been some personal quality that made “the Zealot” seem like an appropriate moniker for this particular Simon, but I wouldn’t think that we have enough information to conclude that he was being singled out for his zealousness. By the same token, I agree that it’s possible that James acquired the designation “brother of the Lord” because he was in fact the unique biological brother of Jesus, however, I don’t think that we have enough information to eliminate the possibility that it was some other figurative quality of brotherliness that caused the name to be hung on him.

        I agree that Luke’s failure to identify James as Jesus’ brother doesn’t automatically mean that he disagreed with Paul, however, I do think that we would have to say that they are inconsistent on the point. There is no information in Matthew or Mark—or Josephus for that matter—that would indicate that Jesus’ brother James was a leader among the Christians in Jerusalem. It seems to me that there was always some confusion about exactly who this guy was.

  9. Pingback: Around the Blogosphere (10.12.2012) | Near Emmaus

  10. Pingback: Mythicism and a Suffering Messiah « Diglotting

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  12. Kevin, you win the internet today. Ralphyboy is intent on
    finding every mention of Tom on the net and trying to destroy him.
    That image, however, is priceless.

  13. Pingback: I’m Being Harassed and Threatened by Ralph Ellis | The Musings of Thomas Verenna

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