Category Archives: Knowable historical Jesus

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 excerpts from Paul’s letters isn’t trivial. However, authenticity turns out to be less of a 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 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. Their collapse is disgraceful, especially for a reader who’s willing to overlook that the male disciples had long since run away.

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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Another Jesus for Josephus’ James

Godard's Destruction of Jerusalem

Jerusalem with Jesus ben Ananus, upper right

In Book 20 of his Antiquities, Josephus briefly mentions a man named James who was unlawfully condemned to death in 62 CE, about eight years before the Roman sack of Jerusalem. Josephus says that this James’ brother was named Jesus. In all extant source manuscripts of the Antiquities, that Jesus is said to be “called Christ.” If Josephus wrote that description, then he’d have left us compelling evidence that a historical Jesus of Galilee really existed.

Modern scholars generally accept that Josephus did describe James’ brother as “Jesus called Christ,” largely because Origen wrote that that’s what he’d read in Antiquities. Origen also remembers reading a lot more about this James there, about his character and about God’s pay-back to Jerusalem for the injustice of his death. In fact, however, Josephus tells us almost nothing else about James, not even whether his death sentence was actually carried out, much less claiming divine retribution for it.

Given that Origen misrecalls so much so vividly, what weight should be placed on his recollection of the few words which allegedly identified James’ brother? Two other Jesuses appear in the story that includes the trial incident, a story which makes perfect sense if James’ brother were either of those Jesuses (link).

This post recalls still another Jesus who appeared in Josephus’ first book, The Jewish War. This Jesus is familiar to many because of remarkable parallels between his story and the Gospels’ passion. Let us  consider the merits of his candidacy to be the brother of Antiquities’ James. Whether or not he was James’ brother, the tragedy of Jesus ben Ananus still contributes to our understanding of how Origen’s memory so badly scrambled and improved what Josephus wrote about James and his trial.

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Historians and probability: Is Bayes a blunder?

Greek mosaic of a Christian fish symbolProfessor James F. McGrath (Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana) blogs as Religion Prof at Patheos. In a recent post (link), McGrath reviews another blogger’s review of Richard Carrier’s work concerning Saint Paul’s mention of James as “the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19). McGrath alleges

In essence, Carrier’s approach commits the same blunder that undergraduate students sometimes do before coming to grips with how historians work.

Your obedient servant holds no brief from Dr. Carrier, but the essence of Carrier’s approach is that Bayesian methods can and should be applied to historical questions. I agree with that essence (link).

This post considers whether Professor McGrath has identified some hidden incompatibility between “common sense reduced to calculation,” as Laplace described Bayesian techniques, and normative post-graduate history.

Let’s hope not.

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Mark dramatized “If Paul had met Jesus”

Paul and Jesus are said to be contemporary figures. Nevertheless, Paul’s surviving writings never say whether he ever met the natural Jesus. In a usual “argument from silence,” scholars generally conclude that Paul probably didn’t meet Jesus, assuming that Paul would have said so if he had. Furthermore, Paul strongly suggests that his first-ever meeting with any associate of Jesus (although Paul doesn’t identify them as such) occurred years after his conversion (Galatians 1:17-18). The absence of Paul as a character in any of the canonical Gospels reinforces the impression that he never met Jesus.

Mark wrote his Gospel approximately one or two decades after Paul’s letters. A major theme of Mark is the breathtaking variety of human reactions to Jesus’ earthly ministry of wisdom, signs and wonders.

A literary problem arises from the gap between when Mark was writing and when his story is set. Both Paul’s churches and the disciples’ disciples are presumably contending for prominence within the second-generation movement, but Paul has no role in the story Mark is writing. Peter, James, John and the other “inner circle” disciples who traveled with Jesus dominate Mark by default. Mark has no simple way to include both “sides” of the subsequent drama playing out around him.

The principal finding of this post is that Mark found a solution to maintain the timeliness of his story. He represented a hypothetical “Paul’s” reaction to the natural Jesus using the character of an unnamed scribe at verses 12:28-34. This character more readily understands and appreciates Jesus’ message than the probably mostly younger and less educated disciples. However, the scribe declines to join Jesus. If he did join the movement later on, he may well have required some additional sign first, just as Paul himself did.

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The longer ending of GMark, III: Verses 8 to 14 cohere

portrait of Mark

Mark – moody loner with a pen?

The previous post in this series discussed how Mark twice used a literary device, the “Markan hand grenade,” to continue his story beyond a satisfactory stopping place. The apparent third use of that device at verse 16:8 supports the hypothesis that an “authentic” performance of Mark may include the verse but needn’t end there.

Suppose Mark doesn’t end at 16:8. If Mark‘s true ending is simply lost, then there is nothing concrete to discuss. Of what is available to us, no argument is made here against the scholarly consensus that 16:15-20 is inauthentic, for reasons presented in the series’ first post. There is no constituency for the Freer Logion or the so-called “Shorter Ending,” either. That leaves only verses 16:9-14 to search for a satisfactory ending.

As argued in the first post of the series, 16:9-14 form a recognizable unit of Markan composition, a “build of three.” The finding of this post is that the seven verses 8 to 14 form a compound unit, grenade then build, that executes a purposeful and coherent development of the story beyond the rousing announcement that Jesus has left the tomb. Therefore, verse 14 is an admissible, even attractive, candidate for Mark‘s authentic ending.

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