Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The God That Doesn't Exist [Part Three]

There is much to dislike about the 'establishment' in Biblical scholarship.  I have my issues with identifying the culture of the 'Old Testament' with 'Judaism' given that evidence from Qumran suggests that in some form, Samaritanism was likely the original Hebrew culture.  Yet Biblical scholarship hits rock bottom with the study of early Christianity.  The real difficulty is that the beliefs of the orthodox tradition are implausible and utterly reactionary.  The study of early Christianity began (and in many respects still continues) with people who believe in the system.  As such the 'first principles' - i.e. that Jesus was a man, that he was Jewish, that he was crucified and was resurrected (or at least 'believed to be crucified and resurrected') are rarely challenged in any meaningful way.

The problem of course is that the Marcionites - a tradition that most scholars acknowledge the first New Testament canons - rejected the idea of Jesus the man.  It is utterly amazing to me that scholars can take such interest in the Marcionite canon but ignore the obvious implications of Marcionite belief.  Indeed even with respect to 'mythicism' - the atheist school of thought which attempts to disprove Christianity by proving the 'mythical' origins of Jesus - there is more of the same ignorance.

The place to begin any study of early Christianity is to somehow 'figure out' the Marcionite paradigm.  Indeed most studies of the tradition simply appropriate the established 'truths' of the orthodox tradition in a less dogmatic form.  For instance, instead of questioning what the Marcionites believed about Jesus we have to endure study after study that delves into various aspects of Jesus's alleged 'Jewishness.'  Yet what about the manner in which the original Christians emphasized Jesus's divinity?  Surely a divinity isn't specifically Jewish.  Even the Jews didn't imagine their God to be 'Jewish' - so why should we?

The place to begin and end any study into the 'Jesus' of earliest Christianity is the name ישו.  At least now we start from a level playing field.  There is absolutely no convincing evidence to suggest that ישו is a contraction of Joshua.  This claim arises because scholars are ever eager to 'straighten' the crooked path which leads us to the origins of Christianity.  You can't just sweep ישו under the table.  In my mind the decisive clue as to the origin of the term comes from the 'full name' of the Christian god which appears in most rabbinic traditions - ישו הנוצרי.

The term notzrim is a well established Aramaic term denoting Christians from the rabbinic literature. While scholars again which to simply assimilate it with 'Nazarene' - or even worse 'of Nazareth' (!) - as I have noted many times here נוצרים as notsarim (root YOD-tsade-resh, nif‘al participle). I believe this deserves serious consideration.  All we have to do is look at the nun-tsade-resh, qal, participle and see that the likely meaning of notsarim is “those with a new yetser."

To this end the obvious place to begin the search for the origins of the name ישו is related to the term יש which as a noun means 'substance' or 'being' equivalent to the Greek term οὐσία.  Indeed we see evidence for the use of יש as οὐσία in the Syriac creeds of the earliest period.  The point then is that given that the Syrian Christians see ישו as 'substance' which transforms their yetzer and the fact that we know that the Marcionite likely only shared the sacraments of transformation with their orthodox neighbors without any reference to the concept of 'Jesus the man' it is difficult to see why ישו would mean anything other than 'His substance' in early Christianity.

But then we face the stumbling block of the survival terminology in Jewish Aramaic and Middle Hebrew.  Indeed יש no longer even appears in Samaritan Aramaic ...

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