Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Myth of Jesus [Chapter Two Part Two]

So the question before me was - how do you reconcile the idea of Jews developing the idea of a god coming down to visit people on earth?  The truth is that this subject has a very tangled history in Judaism.  Most of the sages since the destruction of the Jewish temple seem to go out of their way to put obstacles in front of it.  Many modern scholars suggest that at least part of the obstructionism of the leading Jewish authorities has something to do with the presence of Christianity lurking in the background.  In other words, before the advent of the new religion, Judaism undoubtedly acknowledged that a divine figure had visited the Jewish people many times during their history.  Now strangely because of the Jesus religion, official Judaism made the whole idea seem preposterous. 

Indeed we get a sense of the emerging divide in the works of an important Christian Church Father from the middle of the second century.  Justin Martyr as he is called, was undoubtedly a Samaritan convert to Christianity.  One of his debates with a Jew named Trypho is preserved for us in a mostly corrupt state.  As is well known there are clear signs that this text among others were doctored in the late second century to make its view conform to the emerging orthodoxy.  Nevertheless the core argument of Justin's original text shines through despite the adulteration.

Justin repeatedly makes the case that Jesus throughout the Old Testament.  In other words, when Jacob wrestled with an angel that was Jesus.  When Moses spoke to a man in the burning bush that was Jesus.  So too do we almost inevitable discover Jesus in the gospel whenever the word 'man' or 'angel' or God is spoken in the plural. Now because Justin's material now also speaks of familiar notions of Jesus being 'born to a virgin' and repeatedly stresses his humanity the idea that he was alive since the beginning of time doesn't seem that unusual. 

Yet what goes unnoticed in academic discussions of this phenomenon is that the Marcionites also seem to take a deep interest in these Bible passages.  The question naturally emerges - was 'high Christianity' little more than a development of a pre-existent expectation of a divine visitation among the Jews of the first century.  In other words, instead of our familiar notion of the gospel as a 'biography' of an otherwise unremarkable Jewish prophet named Jesus, it might have developed from a completely different genre - i.e. the apocalyptic narrative which we frequently encounter in the Jewish pseudepigrapha.

The gospel then would have a great deal in common with the Book of Enoch, a Jewish work written two centuries before the beginning of Christianity. The abundance of manuscripts of 1 Enoch at Qumran indicates that it, too, was an influential and popular book there. The patriarch Enoch is granted access to the 'tablets of the heaven and . . . the writing of the holy ones.' He, in turn, hands on to future generations books that contain 'wisdom which is beyond their thought.' The main content of the heavenly wisdom revealed to Enoch is the restoration of creation at the coming divine visitation when 'the roots of iniquity will be cut off. The vindication of the righteous in the end-time will usher in an age of perfect wisdom: 'When wisdom is given to the chosen, they will all live, and will no longer do wrong.'

Because we are trained from birth to understand Jesus as the central human figure around whom Christianity develop we inevitably can't get a handle on Marcionitism.  For according to the Marcionite understanding, Jesus was wholly divine.  His coming down from heaven properly corresponds to the Enochian divine visitation and Paul - rather than Jesus - is modern Enoch, a man who is ultimately made divine by means of initiation into the divine mysteries by the god who holds the position of mediator between the heavenly Father and the rest of humanity.  

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