Friday, October 22, 2010

The Origin of the Torah and the Origin of the Gospel

There is one idea that stands behind all my writings. I don't know if the reader can grasp what that concept might be so I will make it plainly manifest. We don't have a workable model for the origins of the gospel and I think that someone has to develop a proper model to explain the development of that literary creation.

Some people spend their lives trying to meet the right girl (she doesn't exist, trust me). Others want to become millionaires (I have never met a happy rich person). I happen to think that I am better qualified than anyone else out there to make sense of the gospel phenomenon.

I have met and befriended a great number of great scholars. They are all very knowledgeable. But insight doesn't necessarily come from just absorbing more information than the guy sitting in the next cubicle.

I think most scholars lack imagination. Imagination is often viewed with contempt by 'serious academics.' When someone says uses the adjective 'imaginative' to describe a theory it often has a negative connotation - something akin to, sounds like the guy had the idea while smoking one too many doobies.

But imagination is very important in problem-solving. You have to be able to look at problems in more than one way. One would think that all experts in the field in New Testament and Patristic scholarship would also happen to be good problem solvers but again this isn't necessarily the case.

I think a lot of good work has been done to lay the ground work for a paradigm shift in the way we view the origins of the gospel. But in the end, it is going to take courage to abandon the habits we inherited from the Church. It's much easier to engage other colleagues in the field if you are talking about 'Paul' and 'Luke' and 'John' than if you posit a whole new way of thinking about the problem of Christian origins.

The truth is I don't know how to define who I am writing these for or what purpose they ultimately serve. When I was young I truly believed that I could accomplish everything in one lifetime. I thought if I just pressed forward and learned as much as I could I would be able to demolish all the lies and misrepresentations that there were in the world.

It is amazing what twenty years of experience will do for you. Now the study of early Christianity is little more than a habit - like trying to grow the biggest pumpkin in history for an ambitious farmer in Kansas.

Irenaeus told us that God sent one message through four winds into four evangelists in order to explain the origins gospel.   No one ever called out the implausibility of Irenaeus's explanation.  Instead these men just throw their hands in the air and fret, asking 'but where do we go if we just abandon the fourfaced gospel?'

I happen to think that the gospel originated in much the same way as the Torah.  No I don't mean that story about a guy who rebelled from Egyptian authority and led a bunch of people around in the desert until coming down from a mountain with a shiny face.  I mean that the gospel was developed in a way similar to the other story of how the Torah came to be. 

It was written by Ezra.

Ezra is viewed in the early literature as nothing short of being a second Moses.  The Torah was forgotten, but Ezra restored it (Suk. 20a). But for its sins, Israel in the time of Ezra would have witnessed miracles as in the time of Joshua (Ber. 4a).

The precendent of Ezra still weighs heavily over Christians in the second century.  Irenaeus fully accepts the idea that he was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he managed to recreate the Torah from scratch.  Yet if we go one step further,the circumstances of Ezra writing the new Law of Israel while advancing the agenda of an Imperial power cannot have escaped Jews and Christians living in the time of the introduction of the gospel. 

The facts remains thatt the Persians adopted a number of measures which were designed to stabilize their empire and enhance its profitability.  The book of Ezra and Nehemiah illustrate the application of some of these measures in the province of Yehud.  In doing so, it incorporates imperial decrees, and a lengthy memoir attributed to a Persian official. It never focuses on the drawbacks, and where negative consequences are mentioned, they are never portrayed in such a way as to attach blame to the Persians.

To be sure, this is sometimes, perhaps, because Persian policy was congruent  with, or even facilitated reforms based on, a Jewish religious ideology to which Ezra-Nehemiah is sympathetic. At certain points, though, most notably in Ezra  the desire to exculpate Persia goes beyond any simple sharing of aims. In its response to Persian policy, therefore, Ezra-Nehemiah appears to approve of the complicated historical relationship between the empire and the returning Jews, with all the mutual benefit and interdependence which it involved.  The work even goes on to demonstrate the approval of the Persian authorities themselves. 

I cannot help but feel that the circumstances surrounding the original gospel bear a great many parallels to the age of Ezra.  Almost everyone thinks that the gospel was written around the time of the destruction of the Jewish temple (c. 70).  A new Torah was needed with the end of the sacrificial system at Jerusalem.  Why is it so absurd that Mark was working with the Roman Empire in the same way that Ezra aided the contemporary Persian rulers?  This understanding brings all the necessary pieces together.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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