Brothers III: Like Paul

Paul sends a letter

The previous installment (link) concluded that Paul would plausibly have referred to some distinguished fellow apostles as the brothers of the Lord, whether or not there were any kin or former disciples of Jesus for Paul to describe that way. Paul habitually used fraternal language. He often called attention to distinctions among the early apostles. He may have meant that these brothers were former intimates of a historical Jesus, but he may instead have meant they were “like Jesus” in other ways.

Perhaps they were models of good behavior for their followers, or willing victims of persecution, or senior apostles who’d been personally chosen by the risen Jesus. The diverse potential meanings for a phrase typical of Paul’s prose style set a low ceiling on our justifiable confidence that Paul reported meeting an intimate of Jesus (Galatians 1:19) and that he knew of others (1 Corinthians 9:5).

The brothers of the Lord sounds harmonious with “Jesus’ brother,” but it’s not discordant with other meanings, either. “Bayesian thinking” reminds us to consider how the phrase would sound under other assumptions than what first pops into our heads.

This installment looks at the context of the specific occasions when Paul used the phrase. Both times, he was making an argument, trying to persuade his readers. In Galatians, Paul defends the independence of his preaching from that of the Jerusalem church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul seeks a church-paid stipend comparable with other apostles’ spousal allowance.

Context helps refine our estimate of Paul’s intentions for the brothers of the Lord. In the stipend argument, for Paul to invite comparison with Jesus’ intimates would clash with his rhetorical goals. In contrast, if he meant and was understood to mean non-intimates of Jesus, then positioning himself among prestigious churchmen could harmonize sweetly with those goals.

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Brothers II: Like Jesus

George Polya

The previous installment (link) concluded that Paul’s accepted use of the phrase the brother(s) of the Lord ought not to dispel all uncertainty about the historical existence of Jesus. However, so long as it is possible that the phrase was genuinely Paul’s and that it referred to a relationship among two or more living people, then what scholarship receives as Paul’s writing, if it bears at all, counts in support of a historical Jesus and against hypotheses where he is entirely fictional or mythological.

How strong should that bearing reasonably be? This second post about these brothers is informed by “Bayesian reasoning,” but here fielded without numbers, in a style which incorporates the ideas of George Polya about qualitative plausible thinking and assessment of evidence.

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Brothers, Paul’s and James’

Papyrus 46 page

P46’s page with Galatians 1:19

Paul refers twice to “the brothers of the Lord.” At Galatians 1:18-19 (link), Paul meets James,

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter, and stayed with him fifteen days. But of the other apostles I saw no one except James, the Lord’s brother.

and at 1 Corinthians 9:5-6 (link) Paul designates a group using the same Greek phrase in the plural,

Have we no right to take along a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or have only Barnabas and I no right to not work?

Religion professor James McGrath, whose ideas on historical reasoning the Uncertaintist discussed last year (link), thinks Galatians 1:19 “ought to settle the matter” that Jesus was a real historical person (link).

It makes sense that if Paul met one of Jesus’ brothers and knew of others, then Paul’s Jesus was an earthly human being. Moreover, these brothers participate in church affairs. Their activity would help explain what Paul thought a living Jesus had contributed to Christian origins, a topic otherwise missing from Paul’s writings.

But no so fast. As with Josephus’ supposed mention of James (link), authenticating two brief excerpts from Paul’s letters isn’t trivial. However, although uncertain, authenticity is a less urgent concern for Paul’s the brother of the Lord than for Josephus’ the brother of Jesus called Christ.

Looking past authenticity, to lay the two phrases side by side reveals different levels of discourse. Far from a plain matter-of-fact phrasing, Paul identifies Jesus solely by a purely religious construction. That being so, how confident can anyone be that Paul isn’t also designating James and the others by another figurative religious construction?

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More on where GMark really ends

Previously, the Uncertaintist has explored whether an authentic performance of the Gospel of Mark should end at verse 16:8, as is the current consensus of biblical scholars. Canonical Mark runs another dozen ancient verses, through 16:20. The Uncertaintist finds an admissible candidate for an authentic ending midway between those two proposals, at verse 16:14.

The major thread of the argument in favor of that candidacy held:

that verses 16:9-14 were probably written by a different author than 15-20, and whoever wrote verses 15-20 probably didn’t write the rest of Mark (link);

that 16:7 is a natural stopping place, and 16:8 is an example of a literary device which Mark used twice before to continue his story past a satisfying “curtain line” (link);

that verses 16:8-14 tell a coherent story whose themes and style are similar with the rest of the gospel (link).

That last post included discussion of why, if Mark had once continued past 16:8, would so many ancient manuscripts end at 16:8? If an editor were cutting back, then why not cut back to the rousing verse 16:7, a natural, satisfying ending place, a curtain line?

By keeping verse 16:8, Mark seems to support the exclusion of women from top positions in the Christian church. Verse 16:8 depicts three women who fail to carry out a critical religious mission because of their emotional and physical weakness.

The current post considers the storytelling technique behind verse 16:9’s crisp contradiction and defanging of the immediately preceding verse. The post goes on to examine why verses 16:9-14 would have been particularly vulnerable to removal based on dogma and doctrine.

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Was the Barnstable church lady a bootlegger?

2017 story image

There was a loose end left over from last year’s Hallowe’en story (click on its image at left). Records attest that Elizabeth Lewis Blachford (1712-1790) of Barnstable Massachusetts, lived a virtuous life centered on her farm, family and church. However, some writers claim that in 1773 she was fined for selling distilled liquor without a license. Had she really?

It turns out that it isn’t easy after all these years to say one way or the other whether the alter ego of the folktale witch Liza Tower Hill was a convicted petty criminal. But if Mrs. Blachford was fined, then her neighbors – the same neighbors who delighted in telling nasty tales about her – helped her pay.

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The many makeovers of Boston’s best known ghost

Pirate Anne Bonney helping to shape the spirit’s spirit

The tragedy of the Lady in Black who haunts the fortress on George’s Island in Boston harbor is so closely linked with New England’s celebrated popular historian Edward Rowe Snow (1902-1982) that some people think he invented the story himself. Here’s how Snow told it for a Boston television show in 1970 (video link).

The Lady in Black is perhaps New England’s most unusual ghost story. It all began in the Civil War in 1861 when a young Confederate captain, [was] captured and taken to Fort Warren, where he was lodged in the Corridor of Dungeons.

His wife found out, landed at this fort on a rainy night, came up, whistled to him, he answered and a rope was lowered and she was taken into the fort at one of the long musketry embrasures here.

They met. They planned not to escape from the fort, but to capture the fort, turn the guns of the fort against Bos[ton, to change] the entire course of the war. But it was not to be, because they were detected, and in the battle which followed, her husband was mortally wounded.

After his funeral, she was told that she must be executed as a spy. And they gave her a final request, and she asked that she be given a lady’s dress to wear. They gave her the lady’s dress, and wearing it, she was swung out into eternity.

And after that, after she was buried by the side of her husband, seven weeks went by, and then the first ghost-like [ events] came. A group of officers, after a fresh snow storm, were crossing the beautiful parade grounds. They got about halfway across, and the leader, looking down into the snow, noticed tracks of a lady’s slipper, going nowhere.

Cue some ominous music. We can be sure that that version of the story is made up. How?

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