Monday, November 19, 2012

The Question of Authority

All of religion comes down to one question - "on what authority are you doing these things?"  Contemporary Christians typically assume that because Jesus was 'nice guy' or something that it 'makes sense' that he could violate the Sabbath whenever he wanted.  I am chuckling to myself as I write this but this sort of stupidity is at the heart of a most significant problem in the gospel - the question of authority.  It is true of course that someone of Jewish heritage can do whatever they want at least theoretically.  For instance, I have a Jewish mother and non-observant.  There must have been similar examples in the Common Era.  It is difficult to imagine that the so-called 'Hellenized Jews' of antiquity were all strictly observant folks.  Nevertheless the examples of Jesus in the gospel narrative plainly goading the Pharisees with flagrant examples of transgression add a punctuation mark to our original question - on what authority was Jesus doing these things.

The answer that Jesus seems to give in the gospel of course is - by the authority of my Father in heaven.  There is some debate about what 'baptizing in the name of the Father' means.  But clearly 'doing something in the name of someone' necessarily means that you are supposing to be invoking his authority.  The rabbinic literature is filled with appeals to the name of various rabbis from previous generations.  The parallel reference to 'the name of the Father' by Jesus especially in the Gospel of John - i.e. 'I am come in the name of my Father' - necessarily amount to an appeal to his authority.

Since there is a consistent understanding in our early Alexandrian sources that the Father was previously unknown to the Patriarchs and prophets of the Jewish faith, this authority has to be regarded as a complete novelty.  The evasiveness of Jesus with respect to the question of authority doesn't make any sense historically speaking if we are to assume that he was appealing to the same god who established the very commandments he was abrogating.  The most obvious example of course is the inviolability of the Sabbath.  It is simply irrational to conceive of a scenario where it 'makes sense' that Jesus was sneaking around being evasive about his authority - 'neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things' - all the way doing things which have severe consequences according to the law established by Moses.

Of course there are two additional bits of information which are deserving of our attention.  The first is the traditional belief in Judaism, shared apparently by Aquila, that God only gave the ten utterances from Sinai - the rest of the laws coming from the authority of Moses.  The second is Jews in Alexandria clearly believed that there were two powers in heaven - a belief which was transferred to Marcionitism and early Christianity in Egypt.  It is at least theoretically possible - and even likely - that when you put these two bits of information together that we could have a scenario where a group developed from the 'two powers in heaven' doctrine could hold that one power gave Moses the authority to establish 'additional laws' to the Ten Commandments owing to the 'hardness of heart' of the ancient Israelites.

Under such a scenario, the Father in heaven was still unknown to the Patriarchs but was revealed in Jesus who - we must remember - was an ignored but not unknown divine 'partner' of the god who gave additional laws to Moses.  According to this understanding the Marcionites were not antinomian if 'the Law' was strictly defined as the Ten Commandments.  The coming of Jesus then as we have already noted in previous posts was the embodiment of redemption or liberation from the 'additional law' established on the authority of Moses according to the just god.  The redemption - a 'purchase' from the covenant of circumcision (a thing which Aquila reminds us was not essential enough to be part of the Ten Commandments), a transfer from one power to the other as acknowledged by Philo's interpretation of Jacob's prayer at Bethel - i.e. 'let the Lord be my God.'

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