(This is the 3rd Part of the series of Q&A''s, conducted for a popular internet Forum by Dennis Walker, whose penetrating questions are underlined in italics. The first 4 paragraphs on "the living and dying God" at the end of Part 2 will be repeated in brackets for clarity sake and that of the reader)
Do you see the Pauline redeemer myth in Gentile environs? Could this idea of the Messiah dying be thought of as a "Jewish" idea?
[Well clearly, the idea of a “living and dying God” who is going to be resurrected in the here and now is a non-Judaic idea. Moreover, the idea of an almost God-like Messiah again has no connection with Palestine at all, nor an actual immediate “resurrection” and not one “at the End of Time” as it were – and this for all “the Righteous” not just “the Messiah”! – which is nowhere envisioned. All these are non-Jewish and Hellenistic, if one prefers, or even Egyptian.
Of course, you can hark back, as documents like the Gospels do, to Daniel 7:13’s apocalyptic presentation of “one like a son of man coming on the clouds”, but this is meant to evoke the coming of the Heavenly Host in apocalyptic vengeance and Glory, as the War Scroll from Qumran – much as the Letter of James – in key passages definitively evokes and describes it.
Still, the general Gospel or New Testament presentation and ‘Christianity’’s to follow is based on an improper and even probably a reversal of the meaning originally in Daniel. Daniel avers in straight-forward Aramaic that he “saw one like a son of man riding on the clouds” – an obvious impossibility even for him, since “men” don’t ride on the clouds; but the point was that whoever or whatever was “riding on the clouds” was “like a son of man,” i. e., had the appearance of “a son of man” even though he wasn’t, meaning that, in our English, he looked like a man. There was no such thing as ‘the Son of Man” – this being an obvious figment of the New Testament artificers’ imaginations.
“Son of man” in Hebrew even to this day is the way one expresses ‘being a man’ and this is particularly the case in the Israel of today where people often say, “be a Ben-Adam”, meaning “be a son of Adam” – “Adam” and “Man” being the same word, that is, “be a man”! So, again, even here the fact is that there is no such thing as an expression or persona like “the Son of Man”. This, in itself, is a complete non-sequitur, a misunderstanding of the original Hebrew or Aramaic and probably a purposeful obfuscation of the original. At the very least, it was written by people in a more Hellenistic or non-Judaic environment who had no idea what they were talking about.]
But in the Bible also, Prophets use the term to refer to themselves, the most notable of whom being Ezekiel, who is constantly using the allusion “son of man” to refer to himself – probably to distinguish himself from an angel, e. g., “Son of man, prophesy against the nations,” “prophesy against the peoples”, etc. Here, he is undoubtedly addressing himself – so the whole idea of “the Son of Man”, wherever it occurs, is a complete misnomer and shows the reader that we are in a completely non-Jewish, alien environment.
To go back to the idea of a “living and dying” or, to be more precise in this case, a “dying and living Messiah” – however you want to look at this – it, too, by the same token, is completely at odds with any conceptuality that might have been known or understood in Palestine/Judea at this time and, of course as you correctly imply, has everything to do with how these sorts of god-like figures were seen elsewhere in the Mediterranean world outside of Palestine.
One can see views of the same conceptuality in the tomb paintings of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and the descriptions there of how to enter the environment of the gods. In ancient Egyptian mythology and folklore, for instance, it runs through the whole “Book of the Dead” a good ten or fifteen centuries earlier – instructions for how to become a “living and dying god”, i.e., to get past the guardians, or more to the point, a “dying and living god”. The same is true in the Hellenistic Roman world where figures like Alexander – probably influenced by this embodiment of earlier Egyptian practice and ideology – start to claim that they are descendants, not of their own fathers, but of much more important supernatural deities like Zeus or Apollo.
This, then, becomes transferred to the Roman Emperors in succession to him, who seem to feel they have to make the same kind of claims – particularly someone like Augustus, with whom it seems really to have begun, has to start to claim that he is “the son of a Jupiter” or whomever (sometimes even the Hebrew “Jove”), since he wasn''t really the son of Julius Caesar or anyone like that; and then this idea of being “the Son of God” or divine starts to permeate the whole Julio-Claudian line and the Emperors in that line up to the time of the fall of the Temple.
Each member had to, in turn, declare himself “the Son of God” or some such phenomena or be declared as such; so obviously, if you were going to compete in the Greco-Roman world with these sorts of conceptualities, the Messiah-type person you were trying to disseminate throughout it had to incorporate many of these qualities. This sort of material had already been circulating in the Horus/Isis/Osiris theology – also from Egypt – and it was widespread in the Mithra and other Greek Mystery Religion materials that someone like Paul, familiar with that part of the world – now called “Asia Minor” (but then just “Asia”) – would have known.
The claims put forth on his behalf have him coming from Tarsus in Southern Asia Minor or Northern Syria – however you want to put it – and there was an ‘Herodian’ regime in that region then; but in my work, as many know, I have definitively identified Paul clearly as an ‘Herodian’ (and have done, almost from the start) – which family had, in any event, already spread its influence under Roman sponsorship into these areas as just noted.
Paul''s ‘Herodian’ roots are most apparent in Acts 23:16-22, picturing his and his “aunt”’s connections to the highest ruling circles of Jerusalem when his “nephew” (probably one Julius Archelaus) warns one of these ubiquitous “Centurions” and the Roman “Chief Captain of the Citadel” of a plot by Nazirite oath-taking Jewish ‘Zealots’ to kill Paul. Nor is this to mention the Roman citizenship, he so proudly “boasts” of, and how he gets a letter from the High Priests, at such a comparatively young age, both to lead riots in Jerusalem and/or chase alleged “Christians” to Damascus ( Acts 8:3-9:2).
But the most telling example comes at the end of Romans when he sends greetings – if you want to credit these – to some “kinsmen”, in particular, one he refers to in 16:11 as “my kinsman Herodion”, meaning “the littlest" or "youngest Herod” – not a very common name. In the passage just preceding this in 16:10, he also sends greetings to “those in the household of Aristobulus” and, though the reader may not appreciate it, this is probably the infamous Herodias’ nephew and Salome’s second husband by that name, both of whom had been exiled or retired to Rome and probably, too, Paul’s first or second cousins. They were the probable parents of this telltale “youngest” or “littlest Herod”, he so congenially greets in Romans 16:11.
I give the complete relevant genealogies in my James the Brother of Jesus (1997-98) and New Testament Code (2006) books, so your readers can judge for themselves but, once again, I think I was probably one of – if not the – first to identify Paul as an Herodian.
Of course, both the sociology and theology of his approach could also have led to the same conclusion – not least, his claim to be of the "Tribe of Benjamin" (Philippians 3:5, etc.), an extremely archaizing one saved for groups like the "Herodians" and in his case of course, as he says, implying being “a Hebrew" but not necessarily “a Jew” per se – a claim he never really makes for himself in any explicit way in his writings outside of Acts. This is also the way “Edomite”/“Idumaean” (how the Talmud denotes “Herodians”) genealogies are set forth – also in terms of “Benjamin” – both biblically and in Josephus. Nor is this to mention his continuous claim of wishing to build a Community “where there is neither Greek nor Jew” or for “both Greeks and Jews” (Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, etc.) – probably the “Herodian” Program for the Eastern Mediterranean.
So, yes, “living and dying Redeemer myths” of this kind are not found at Qumran but, rather, starting with the Pauline corpus – where authentic – and down through the rest of the New Testament which has to be seen as being, for the most part, written or compiled after the fall of the Temple. After this, they turn into the "Christianity" we are all so familiar with. As for Palestine proper, as the Scrolls anyhow like some gigantesque time capsule make clear – whether considered Maccabean or later Herodian, still neither edited or redacted – these kinds of Hellenistic/Roman conceptualities just were not present in a native Palestinian milieu.
Your reconstruction of the person of James seems to undercut the possibility that the Jesus of the gospels existed as such. You''ve also said we really have no independent information for Jesus as we do for James. James emerges as the revered Zaddik and preeminent leader. Some believed the destruction of Jerusalem was tied to James'' demise. Is there anything to suggest that Jesus even existed as a real figure in first century Judea?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I do not say there was no Jesus in Palestine or Judea of the First Century. Even the idea of “James the brother of Jesus” or that he had a brother named “James” (“Jacob” in the Anglo/Greek via the Hebrew) or that James was the brother of someone or something important and it was not just a honorific title of some kind, points to the fact of an actual “Jesus” character of some sort in Palestine. That''s why I say in my James the Brother of Jesus (Penguin, 1998) and elsewhere that perhaps “the best proof that there ever was a Jesus was the fact of his brother James” (in this sense, the fact that Paul only calls James and his other brothers, “the brother” or “brothers of the Lord” – not “of Jesus” – is a little disquieting).
Of course, the partisans and artisans of the so-called “James ossuary” have understood this very well and that is why they are so intent on proving the authenticity, both of the ossuary itself and the content of its inscription; because, clearly, if someone is going to be called “the brother of” of someone, that person must have been very important indeed. By the same token, the recent “James Ossuary trial” is misunderstood or possibly even misrepresented by those trying to draw some final conclusions from it.
They are quick to jump on the fact that the forgery charges against its owners were dismissed or, at least, declared “unproven”. For them, this “proves” something when, in fact, it proves nothing at all – only that there was insufficient proof against those being so charged which was obviously going to be the outcome of “the trial” from the beginning, not only because it took so long, but because to get “sufficient proof” in such matters is next to impossible. At the same time, these same ‘partisans’ conveniently ignore the fact that a lesser charge was upheld – a not insignificant footnote.
Still nothing about these proceedings, positive or negative, says anything about the authenticity of the inscription itself and, in particular, the second “brother of Jesus” part, rare enough in any case and seemingly in a different hand, though some deny this and that is the problem. Rather, it just throws the whole matter back into the realm of uncertainty.
That is why I have said these kinds of matters have to be determined on the basis of “the internal evidence”, such as it is, not “the external” because “internal evidence” – though dependent on insight and a proper historiography – is more accurate. Evidence of this kind, of course, was just not considered because Courts for the most part do not consider it and, just as ‘the scholarship’ on this subject generally, prefer “the external” – which, in this instance, was just not sufficient enough to say anything of certainty.
But to go back to the struggle over the "Jesus" issue again. Again, another good witness to the fact that there was an “Historical Jesus” of some sort is Paul''s information, though it is clear Paul was not an eye-witness to anything (although how he could have missed such a thing is hard to imagine). Nevertheless, he does insist in some places that someone “was crucified” at some point (1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:8, Galatians 3:1, 6:14, et. al.) – in fact, the fact that there was a "crucifixion" of some kind seems to be the only secure information he has about the person whom he ends up denoting “Christ Jesus” – whatever he meant by that.
Of course, the number of "crucifixions" in this Period, especially as the time of the Uprising against Rome approached, were – to coin a Gospel phraseology – “legion”. So, one is not particularly arguing with the fact of whether an individual who was a brother of another individual we call “James” or “Jacob” and came to an unhappy end, "crucifixion", an end that was usually reserved for people who had committed some heinous crime or other – “heinous” according to the Roman definition which usually meant seditious, subversive, or insurrectionary activity of some kind – because, from the time of the Spartacus Uprising (c. 80-70 BC, also alluded to by Josephus), “crucifixion” was an exemplary punishment telling the population, "you see, this horrific fate is what is going to happen to you if you step out of line in some fashion or other". But, as everyone knows, “crucifixion” (i.e., what the Scrolls and the New Testament both call “hanging on a tree”) is a punishment strictly forbidden by Jewish Law and this is true even in the Scrolls which, in several documents, give indication of outright disapproval of this kind of execution.
No, what I am saying and have been saying is that the picture we have of this “Jesus” in Scripture, which we are all so enamored of and honor to such an extent, is unreliable, inaccurate, retrospective, and partly, if not wholly, fictitious as well. In fact, I have been insisting that this picture – and “picture” is the right word for it – is really the reversal of what had to have happened in Palestine at this time. Otherwise, there could be no real reason for such a demise other than the ones I set forth above – the Romans did not normally make mistakes! – except perhaps if the Jews were lying to or fooling them in some way.
This, of course, is the implication of the picture that has come down to us and everyone knows this; and this is the problem that has haunted the Jews over some twenty centuries of their history (and some like the author would say, still), playing a role in the horrific Holocaust in our own century that even Pope John XXIII (a quasi-witness), much to his credit, had to acknowledge. So this is how fearful and terrifying such misrepresentations, mythologizing, and fictionalizing can become.
So no, all I''ve tried to do is to rescue “the Historical Jesus” from this kind of obfuscation and I think, to some extent, I have succeeded though it is hard for people to realize that the picture they so cherish and love is a literary one and not entirely a historical one, largely in line with Pauline theology and dialectic and that of other teachers, which later turned into the “Christianity” we know.
Nor is it without interest, that there actually was an(other) individual crucified by Pontius Pilate in this Period (25-35 CE) – confirmed by Josephus – a “Joshua Redivivus”-type, i.e., a “Joshua-come-back-to life” (one of the claims he seems to have been making for himself which the writer, anyhow, is willing to credit), the Samaritan “Redeemer” figure known as “the Taheb” who, in this sense – as Joshua, whom the Samaritans so idealized, was like them a descendant of Joseph – really was a“Jesus ben Joseph” (“Jesus” and “Joshua” being equivalent names).
Curiously enough, there was another individual too in this 40-50 CE Period – the Period of Helen and Paul’s famine-relief efforts, referred to in Part 2 above and by Josephus, who connected him to “the Famine” and weirdly called him “Theudas” (cf. Acts 5:28 and 11:28ff.). Moreover, Josephus pictures this person as attempting a “Joshua Redivivus”-type miracle too – this time parting and crossing the Jordan in reverse (presumably to escape “the Famine”); but unlike “the Taheb” preceding him (not to mention Jesus), he was only John the Baptist-like (and as in Acts 12:2, “James the brother of John”) “beheaded”! Let’s leave things there, shall we? If the reader wants to know more about these people, he or she can consult my books which, for that reason, have very good indexes.
So, to repeat, we are not denying the existence of “the Historical Jesus”. On the contrary, we are saying that who and whatever he was had to be a reflection or replica of and not dissimilar to his closest living relatives, associates, and successors, i.e., individuals such as James – if we entertain the “brother” relationship as genuine, which I do.
As for the fall of Jerusalem, it is clear from Josephus and the other early Church Fathers who saw the still-extant version of a different and seemingly original and earlier Josephus in the libraries of the Middle East, particularly Caesarea – people like Hegesippus, Origen, Clement, and others – who averred that, in the copy they saw, Josephus said that the Jews considered the fall of Jerusalem to be connected to the removal of James the Zaddik (“James the Just” as he was called in later sources). In fact, later theologians like Constantine’s Eusebius, Jerome, and Epiphanius in the next several centuries rail against them (and Josephus) for having admitted this.
Other documents, such as Proverbs and its derivative literature, including the Zohar, make it clear that “the world depended on” or “was sustained by the existence of the Righteous”/“Righteous One” – in Jewish tradition, “ten Just Men” based on Abraham arguing with God over Lot’s fate (Genesis 18:22-33 – in Kabbalah and the Zohar augmented via gematria to thirty-six or more).
“The Righteous Teacher” at Qumran or in the Dead Sea Scrolls was clearly just such “a Zaddik” or “Righteous One”. This is what it means to be a “Righteous Teacher” or “Teacher of Righteousness” – you had to have a doctrine of "Righteousness". In fact at Qumran, every passage where “the Righteous Teacher” is mentioned, the underlying biblical text being analyzed – if one inspects them closely – is a “Zaddik” one. This is startling.
Furthermore, it makes sense that the Jews who were sympathetic to an individual like James (obviously from his cognomen, “the Just” or “Righteous One”) would have reckoned the fall of Jerusalem to be in some way connected to his death or, more appropriately, his removal (i.e., as Proverbs and the Zohar would have it and Paul seems to understand in Galatians 2:9 in some manner, “for this is the Pillar that upholds the World”); because the two events occurred in such close proximity or succession to one another. As I have argued in almost all my work, the idea of ascribing the fall of Jerusalem to an event that happened perhaps forty year before that fall is only convincing to unschooled and generally somewhat naive audiences who knew nothing about the history of Palestine – such as the kind that existed outside its borders and still is in wide existence today (but now all over the world).
This is another example of how events from the lives of others – in this case Jesus’ seeming closest relative, follower, and even successor – are retrospectively absorbed in the portrait of the life and death of that person the Gospels designate as their “Jesus”. This does not mean that there was no such person as "Jesus" per se, as you asked. It only means that, according to the documents we have, which are so overwritten, retrospective, and highly mythologized or, if one prefers, Hellenized; there is almost no way of getting through to the really core factual information concerning him.
What kind of feedback have you got from younger scholars? Are people more open to your ideas in recent years?
I get quite a lot of feedback and appreciation from younger scholars, but there are also very many who are afraid to identify themselves too closely with my works. The reason for this should be clear. There is no mileage in it, only trouble. They have seen how I have been treated by many members of the Establishment, so they correctly conclude that what awaits them is not unsimilar treatment or worse. Notwithstanding, because of those that have demonstrated their appreciation, I have had the good fortune to get my ideas out in a few books – not to mention, even a number of rip-offs – which have had pretty good circulation.
I have found a lot of admirers and a lot of imitators in fact too. As they say, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, though one would appreciate a few footnotes every now and then even from them. There are even imitators who don''t admit that they''re imitators. Actually – and I think I can take some of the credit for this – James has become a central focus of almost all modern theological debate and consciousness (one case in point – “the James Ossuary”, which surfaced shortly after my James book was reviewed in The Jerusalem Post – cf. A. Auswaks: “James vs. Paul”, 4/27/97). One caveat to this – ‘scholars’ don''t like associating any of these things with the Dead Sea Scrolls. They prefer keeping it only within the context of “early Christianity” as they call it.
There are even some people who, initially starting to write a decade or so after me and, if not borrowing, at least utilized many of the very same ideas I utilized. One recently devoted a whole book to “Jesus”’ existence, a subject I think we covered to some extent above. In arguing with a third person, who seems to have particularly annoyed him; he seems to have felt he could score ‘knock-out’ blows by accusing him of “building” on the “wildly speculative and widely discredited views of Robert Eisenmann in his book James, the Brother of Jesus” (thus – at least he is poetic enough to use the two adverbs “wildly” and “widely”. How flattering!).
Never mind that by making such a remark – even if casually and only in a footnote at the end of his book, which is where it is buried – he really only “discredits” himself (if one wishes to express oneself in such a manner), not me. Still, this is both typical and representative. Not only is he unable to spell my name correctly, but he even reproduces the title of my book inaccurately: it’s James the Brother of Jesus not James, the Brother of Jesus – a minor point but still illustrative (was this the work of a research assistant?).
Still, this is the problem in this field – aside from the self-evident carelessness, I wonder where, for instance, have my views been so “widely discredited” and by whom – him? And in what way and how are they “wildly speculative”? Moreover, if they are so “wildly speculative”, why does he utilize so many of them across the spectrum of his works especially where the person of “James” is concerned (of course, without accreditation)?
Of course too, like so many others, he is really only talking about my views relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls, so he might better have referred to my Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians (1996), The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (1992), etc., if he has read any of them.
Even more to the point, he obviously has not taken the time to read through and digest my works with any diligence, so his ideas on my ideas are themselves hardly to be “credited” (again, if one chooses to use such language); but by lumping them together in this manner, he and others like him mislead the public while at the same time demonstrating how little of my work they have actually read or absorbed themselves and not refracted or reflected second or third-hand. Of course too, it is painfully obvious that he knows little about the Scrolls, nor has read through them with anything like the thoroughness or meticulousness they require.
The sources he (or his research assistant) does recommend in the same footnote (the only one as far as I can discern on this subject in the whole book) are ‘the usual suspects’ (if one can speak this way), all, of course, being basically part of the same “Establishment consensus” and having the same rather routine or run-of-the-mill views – none very original. But for his part, he rather recommends them as “sober” and “authoritative” evaluations “of what scholars think about the Scrolls and their contents”, then going on to speak about how “justly acclaimed” they are – all in the same footnote.
Still, since people involved in this kind of subject matter are mainly theological writers approaching the subject as secular academic scholars (Jew or Christian, it matters not) – many trying either to make “the Historical Jesus” more palatable to their constituencies or rescue him, as far as possible, from those trying to gainsay his existence completely, while at the same time trying to appear to absorb at least the trappings of their ‘doubting Thomas’ approaches – not to mention, make a little money in today’s tough publishing market where the ''airport book'' is the one that usually flourishes.
Since most like him have never made a serious study of the Scrolls themselves, they rely – as just illustrated – on the hearsay evidence or comments of people whom they consider have; and are, therefore, dependent upon the same rank-and-file of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars we have been dealing with since they (the Scrolls) were discovered in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s and 60s.
Unfortunately, the “consensus” centering around Establishment thinking on the Dead Sea Scrolls has since re-formed, as if the struggle over their release and interpretation over the last quarter of a century had never occurred; and, once again, we have people who are marginalized if they do not adhere to the Establishment or ‘consensus’ line, which is the gist of a gratuitous comment like the one above even if only in a footnote (nay, even in a footnote).
This is what frightens younger scholars, just as it did their forebears, peers, and predecessors. Since they are in fear of their sponsors and dissertation directors, they hesitate to take any really independent and/or controversial positions. I have heard even over the years of someone being told by their Harvard-trained and, therefore, ‘consensus’-minded and ''Establishment'' thesis advisor to change his or her thesis to reflect this. If such persons wanted to continue in the field, they were obliged to do so and, therefore, over time, not a few singularly qualified persons have even left it – and this not surprisingly.
So the support has really come from the turned-on non-professional, the private aficionado, the person who makes it a personal exercise to follow all these matters and gain these critical expertises even if not in but outside the university. And, with the influence and effectiveness of the Internet, they have been very successful and become very widespread.
Therefore, as I have said, I have found a lot of my ideas, at worst parroted, but at best reflected there and absorbed by large numbers of such internet-savvy and self-publishing savants in their attempts to rewrite this historical situation regarding Christian origins and the nature and authenticity of the story of "Jesus" – people, for instance, like those who take part in and participate in on-line discussions such as the Forum, whose representative initially posed these questions. I am very honored by this and very pleased and most gratified by it.
It''s hard to expect any greater success than that and I don''t – particularly when one who is said to have written such ponderous book as some insist I have done. I am the first to acknowledge that they are both dense and heavy-weight (i.e., not for the light-of-heart, though it might have been useful for persons characterizing my works in such manner to have actually read them!). Still, without treatments of this kind, the ideas they incorporate, regarding both the Scrolls and Early Christianity, in Palestine could not have stood up to either scholarly or lay criticism as well as they have – and they have, as your participants well know (even if some others do not).
It was necessary to argue the case fully and in detail, meticulously if you prefer, and beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt (though now we are coming out with some compressed versions of my work – cf: James the Brother of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls I and II, the Amazon link for which I provide below); so the scholarly community – except for the kind of superficial and ‘slapdash’ aside such as that noted above – could hardly ‘lay a glove’ on them, as it were. As for the lay community, they had to have all the sources at their disposal so they could argue with the ‘credentialed scholars’, so-to-speak, who so often tried to ‘pull rank on them’ or ‘pooh-pooh them''.
This I have attempted to do in my work and this, I think I have been moderately successful in accomplishing. So, I am quite glad to have found even the kind of relative openness to my ideas that I have found widespread across the internet and among dedicated aficionados like those you involve, if not the greater university community itself – who, in any event and as I said, rarely if ever read my works either in part or in their entirety.
Thank you for the opportunity of contributing to and participating in your web discussions. Keep up the good work, as they say, and don''t allow yourselves to be defeated or discouraged by any hostile "academicians" or so-called "scholars". These, in the end, will always be the hardest either to influence or bring over to the kind of thinking you represent, since they have the most to lose by either acknowledging or entertaining it – largely because they would be seen as somewhat ridiculous by their peers if they were to deny the whole thrust of their previous academic work and training.
We must leave them like this, but should not expect any different from them or be discouraged in any way by them. You are the final judge of these things and you have sufficient information and data now at your fingertips to make your own final, intelligent, and incisive determinations and judgments which will hopefully be full of probing new insight.