Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Questions and Answers About the Real Messiah

I have been answering the questions from a seminary student about my book the Real Messiah and publishing my answers at my blog. Here is the second in the series which will eventually (I am told) come out as an article somewhere:

Q: Do you have historical evidence that they were together at Mount Gerizin?

A: No absolutely not. There is again absolutely no historical evidence for Marcus Agrippa being anywhere near Mount Gerizim. There is no explicit evidence that Jesus was betrayed at Gerizim either. But then again, the Samaritans are like cats and dogs and teenagers - they are utterly predictable. There are clear hints in the gospel too.

I mean, there is a beauty about Judaism and Samaritanism that you never get with Christianity. It's logical and rational. It's like mathematics (albeit simple mathematics you might teach in kindergarten).

The Samaritans fixate on two things - Moses and Mount Gerizim. The 'one who is to come' is going to be intimately connected with BOTH of these concepts or the Samaritans are going to exit the room as fast as a fat lady crossing the street for free ice cream samples.

The fact is that there was such a thing as 'Samaritan Christianity.' Justin, a native of Nablus (Neapolis) makes that explicit. There was a widespread - even universal conversion - to this otherwise unknown faith. Yet, as I noted before, even though we have little in the way of DIRECT testimonies about the faith, we still know what its arguments WOULD HAVE TO HAVE BEEN.

The messiah (or whatever term was employed back then) was like Moses. He would have made an appearance at Mount Gerizim. I would even go one step further and argue that that manifestation would have to have occurred AT or AROUND THE TIME of a Jubilee but that's another story we can develop at another time.

The point is that an American can't imagine what it is like to have a rational religion, a faith that unfolds along predictable lines. Let's face it, religion here is pretty wacky. I received an invitation in my mailbox from a local evangelical church trying to 'reach out' to young people last year by offering a program called 'Porn and Pancakes' (apparently attempting to have families struggling with pornography addictions come out and have pancakes together).

I don't know if the religion of Christianity was ever meant for this kind of thing but then again we live in a country where new is better than old. Even the conservatives here really aren't 'old fashioned.'

So when I tell you that you kind of know what 'Samaritan Christianity' would look like even without seeing it up close, the closest example I can give is that Jews would never have accepted a religion which promoted someone like Jesus as the messiah. I tell that to evangelicals and they start launching into all kinds of histrionics but the facts are the facts.

Jesus wasn't a Jewish messiah. All the stuff that we have learned to accept from Irenaeus of Rome has nothing to do with the original expectation of Christianity which would have developed naturally from Jewish sources. Jesus might have been representative of anointed high priest or a prophet but not THE messiah.

How do I know this? Because unlike Christianity the Jewish religion develops as a kind of a kindergarten mathematical equation. It's all laid out and it has been all laid out for thousands of years.

You might dispute whether or not this 'works for you' as a non-Jew but all of that is immaterial. It's like arguing with the definition of a word in the Oxford Dictionary.

So when we get back to the problem of Samaritan Christianity we all know there was such a thing. We have a clear pattern emerging in the writings of the Church Fathers that the heretics were developing out of something we can define as 'Samaritan Christianity.' At the same time our Samaritan sources point out these same kinds of sects as being present in their national faith just after the beginning of the Common Era.

And then we have the writings of Josephus mentioning an important messianic 'event' happening around the time that Christianity was first developing. I happen to see some general patterns which emerge from a comparison between Josephus's account, related pseudepigraphal accounts preserved in Christian sources and other traditions not generally consulted in reconstructing events in the period.

So let's start from the very beginning.

My claim that the Gerizim had some role in the original arrest narratives of lost Christian faiths begins with the reconciliation of three ideas:

(a) the two conflicting explanations for Pilate being summoned to Rome immediately after the Passion
(b) the identification of Gerizim as the place of Jesus's arrest in Justin Martyr's apology and 
(c) the traditional identification within Samaritan sources of Mark (Marqe) the son of Titus as the one like Moses (viz. 'the messiah' although the term is not used by Samaritans).

Given that the Alexandrian tradition (and indeed ALL Christian sources outside of the Montanist faith) identified the resurrection as having occurred on Sunday, March 25th this can only mean that the historical date of the Passion was 37 CE. Again this is simple mathematics. There is no 'interpretation' here and it doesn't matter that these same sources tell us it is either 30, 31, 32 CE.

The events of the Passion conformed to the festival of Passover which only allows for the 37 CE.

The next step is to see that given that 37 CE was connected with the Samaritan Jubilee and both Jewish and Samaritan cultures connected the appearance of the one like Moses/messiah with the cycle of Jubilees the fact that Josephus references Pilate putting down a Samaritan messianic gathering at the foot of Mount Gerizim at the same basic time as the arrest of Jesus should convince to give the event a second look.

The fact however that Justin makes anomalous references to the arrest narrative which can only explain that he knew a tradition that Jesus was arrested at mount Gerizim.

Here we have the beginning of a highly circumstantial argument that the gospels of Samaritan Christianity developed an understanding that the arrest of Jesus coincided with Pilate's assault against a messianic gathering at the foot of Mount Gerizim.

This understanding also fits within a context where - strangely - TWO explanations of why Pilate was summoned to Rome arriving sometime after Tiberius's death in March 16, 37 CE. There is Josephus's report which says only that he attacked a gathering of messianic Samaritans at the foot of Gerizim and then was summoned to Rome. There are Christian traditions which say that it was his assault against Christians and Jesus in particular.

Now there can be little reason to doubt the fact that Pilate was summoned to Rome AFTER the Passover of 37 CE. Pilate voyage cannot be placed BEFORE 37 CE for it did not take months or YEARS to get from Jerusalem to Rome. The scenario I present in the Real Messiah is that Pilate arrested, tried, executed and buried Jesus before being relieved of his position by Vitellius the governor of Syria. The existing accounts of Josephus only say that Vitellius came to Jerusalem during the celebration of Passover which is a week long festival (owing to the lumping together of Passover and the feast of the Unleavened Bread).

We should note again that while Josephus just says that Tiberius was summoned to Rome over his mishandling of the Samaritan messianic gathering and that by the time he arrived Tiberius was already dead, Christian tradition says that he was summoned to Rome because of his arrest and execution of Jesus. It is difficult to reconcile these two explanation unless someone or indeed - many 'someones' because the tradition is so strong - 'mistook' the Samaritan messianic gathering for the Gethsamene narrative.

Whatever it was that Pilate said to the Roman senate a version of that apology became the basis for an anti-Christian text called Acts of Pilate, which was prescribed for reading in schools under the emperor Maximinus during the Diocletianic Persecution. Justin - who early makes reference to the betrayal occurring on Gerizim also makes reference to "Letters of Pilate" which are usually connected with this general 'Acts of Pilate' tradition.

Given all of this then while I have no direct evidence for Marcus Agrippa being present at the Passion or at Mount Gerizim or any place at all in 37 CE other than imprisoned and ultimately released by the new Emperor Gaius (in Jerusalem according to my reading of an Embassy to Gaius) the fact that (a) the Samaritans did end up recognizing a 'Marcus the son of Titus' as the one like Moses and (b) we have no other information about Samaritan messianic gatherings where a first century figure like Marcus (Marqe) could have emerged from, I identified the gathering mentioned in Josephus as the context out of which Agrippa's messiahood was first recognized.

The realities are that (i) a Samaritan messianic claimant could only be assumed to have been recognized as the messiah in one of two years (if the assumption that Marcus the SON of Titus was one and the same with Marcus Agrippa the FRIEND of Titus) - viz. either 37 or 86 CE (the only two Jubilees that occur within Agrippa's lifespan).

If Marqe is identified to live in the second century the dates are even more limited. The next Jubilee period occurs in 135 which is traditionally assigned to be the end of the Bar Kochba revolt. There is no possibility for a Samaritan messianic claimant in that period. Similarly 184 CE falls in the Commodian period which was a period of great persecution for the Samaritans. Most of their books were burned in the period. Such a period is completely at odds with the writings of Marqe (which had to be written in a golden age of peace and tranquility from internal evidence).

As Montgomery notes the only known golden age for the Samaritans occurred under Herodian rule. The Samaritans viewed the Herodians very positively. It is noteworthy that the only biographical certainty that the Samaritans retained about Marqe is that he wasn't a high priest. He came from a family with connections to the high priesthood. He was very well educated, knew Greek and whose writings bear close resemblance to Philo (Broadie A Samaritan Philosophy). To this end he, myself and many others are disposed to place Marqe in the first century (for these and many other reasons).

I actually think that Marcus Agrippa's original grave site (which has strangely never been located) must have originally been located in Samaria. I will talk more about this in another post.

For the moment at least let me just close by saying that if Samaritan Christianity is acknowledge to have existed in some form it would have been utterly impossible for them to have accepted the Passion narrative as it is now. Samaritans could never have accepted a tradition which (a) promoted a Zionist agenda (or if you will one which promoted the sanctity of Mount Zion and Jerusalem quite simply because both places are not mentioned in the Torah). and (b) a tradition which did not reference Mount Gerizim and the Samaritan tradition generally.

For all these reasons I find it difficult to believe that the betrayal sequence DID NOT happen at Mount Gerizim. I am not saying again that WE HAVE TO BELIEVE that this represents the historical facts of 'what happened at the Passion' but rather it is an attempt to speculate what must have been in the original 'gospel to the Samaritans' which might have caused "almost all the Samaritans and a few even of other nations" (First Apology 26) to abandon the beliefs of their ancestors and go over to this new formulation.

This may be speculation but it is hardly unfounded speculation. We know again that Samaritan Christianity existed at one time and was quite significant. It is our duty I think to try and find some manner to explain what a Samaritan gospel might look like and what narrative it might have contained.

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