Secret of the Savior? Book Makes Some Bizarre Claims

A commenter by the name of Sid Martin left me a note about a forthcoming book he is writing (self-publishing?) on the Gos. Mark which looks to be absolutely dreadful.  Here is the ‘about the book’ section quoted in full:

This book unearths the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Mark is a myth about the history of salvation. Jesus is a process, not a person, the process of God saving, which is what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a symbol of salvation. God is the savior. Jesus is the savior, not incarnate, but personified. That is the secret of the savior. The Gospel of Mark is an allegory of the history of Israel from

the Essenic point of view. Jesus is a serial composite character. Jesus first is Joshua, then David, then the Teacher of Righteousness, who founded the Essenes. There is not just one historical Jesus, there are many historical Jesuses. Be prepared for an exciting adventure in literary archeology. What we are doing is no less than unearthing the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Nearly everyone agrees that Mark was the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke are rewrites of Mark. They preserve the basic story in Mark and repeat much of Mark nearly word for word. The story of Jesus is to a remarkable degree dependent on the Gospel of Mark. The Myth of the Messiah in Mark — that is where the story of Jesus really came from. Let’s see how Mark made the whole thing up.

via Secret of the Savior – Home Page.

If you’re not completely sold on the idea that this book will be a huge mistake, read his chapter summary.  What’s more is that he attempts to link in some arguments I’m sympathetic with (i.e., syncretism, early Christianity, intertextuality) but the way he presents his case shows his utter ignorance of these concepts and how they are applied to New Testament.

For example, in his above overview, he writes that the Gos. Mark is “the history of Israel from the Essenic point of view.”  And he attempts to present various reasons for this claim, including some rather bizarre presumptions like:

“Mark has “Jesus” confront the Pharisees over their differences with the  Essenes.”

But Jesus never mentions the Essenes.  In fact the Essenes don’t show up at all in the New Testament.  It is also narrowed thinking to think that Essenes were the only sect who took full ritual baths before eating–there were potentially hundreds of Jewish sects in the region during the Roman period and we only know of about thirty.  The Therapeutae, mentioned by Philo, were so similar to the Essenes discussed in Josephus and Pliny the Elder that some have argued that they are one and the same, the difference being that one allows for marriage while the other does not.  The same could be said of the Pharisees.  In fact, it may have been that the Essenes were a splinter sect from the Pharisees and thus some would have found them to be indistinguishable from each other—another reason why they have no mention in the New Testament.  These points all make Martin’s whole argument here a little moot.

But there is more.  There is always more when a dilettante attempts to write about a subject about which they are unfamiliar.  The fact is we don’t know for sure if the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually written by Essenes or some other sectarian group (in fact it is becoming more accustomed to call the Dead Sea Scrolls ‘sectarian’ rather than ‘Essenic’ writings).  Indeed, all our contemporary accounts of their sect, and those written about them later by Christian theologian Hippolytus, for example, suggest that the Essenes were not confined to one region but to many regions—in every town there were communities of Essenes to be found.  Lawrence Schiffman takes it a step further and argues that the sect at Qumran weren’t Essenes at all, but Zadokites, a sect similar to the Sadduccees.  Further complicating matters, archaeological evidence at Qumran have contradicted certain laws and customs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making some scholars question whether or not the scrolls were composed at the site or somewhere else, implying that someone or a group of people just hid the scrolls at the site after the fall of the temple.

Additionally, it may be true that these are not a single collection of sectarian texts but a library of texts which contain content from all sorts of perspectives, which may be why we find competing eschatologies in the scrolls (the place of wisdom vs. the place of law in a community, for example) along with competing messianic expectations (heavenly messiahs vs. Davidic messiahs vs. two messiahs vs. just one messiah).  Granted, these may represent the changing of theological positions over time, but that alone does not explain away these discrepancies.

I don’t see any sort of engagement with any of these issues in Martin’s book and I suspect that in the actual text we will not see any either.  And this is a central part of his thesis!  Imagine what one can find when examining his supporting claims; like his woeful understanding of the healing of the Canaanite woman in Mark 5 as part of a continuing motif of the reversal of the status of the poor and unclean (he falsely labels the woman a “Jerusalem”—not sure where he picks this up from).  The woman is bleeding—not as a result of Herod’s bloody reign, as Martin falsely suggests—as a result of a motif contra Lev. 15.25, which suggests that she is unclean and unable to be touched.  When she falls upon Jesus in faith and is purged of her uncleanliness, it is again a part of the larger play on a series of healings of the unclean, the poor, and destitute through faith and works, so central to the message of Mark 5.  God giveth these sufferings and God taketh away, as it were, through the faith of his followers.

The point in all this is simple: if you aren’t going to deal with the complexities of the scholarship of your subject, then don’t write a controversial book on it.  If you don’t know the subject well enough, don’t write on it.  You’ll confuse people, mislead them, and make the work for real historians more difficult.

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4 Responses

  1. Yep, that sounds positively awful.

    on your commentary:

    Lawrence Schiffman takes it a step further and argues that the sect at Qumran weren’t Essenes at all, but Zadokites, a sect similar to the Sadduccees.

    I highly recommend Beyond the Essene Hypothesis by Gabriele Boccaccini. I have read on the order of a dozen books proposing this or that solution to the relationship of sectarian scrolls to the site of Qumran, and Boccaccini’s was the one that made everything (well, lots of things) fall into place for me.

    Specifically as regards Schiffman’s ideas (which he’s been writing about online quite a bit recently), I can confidently say he is way off base with this Sadduccee identification. The self-identification as “the Sons of Zadok” in the scrolls should be seen as an assertion of equivalent antiquity with the establishment priestly party at Jerusalem, the Sadduccees. The sect that wrote e.g. The Community Rule and 4Q396 (commonly MMT or Torah Precepts) simply could not have been Sadduccee in the sense in which that term was understood starting in the Hasmonean period. The schism is deeper and older than that, and it cuts to the very core of how Temple worship should be conducted. They were a rival priestly group to the self-identified Zadokites, but calling themselves the Sons of Zadok was a challenge to the rivals, not a signifier of identity with them: we should be regarded as the true inheritors of the priesthood. Also, there can be no identification of the sectarian group with Pharisees either, because we’re clearly dealing with a breakaway group of priests, and the scrolls are extremely condemnatory of Pharisee halakhah.

    Boccaccini sees the Qumran community as a sectarian splinter group from a broader movement known as the Essenes, and the common thread of Essenism as a reverence for the Enochian literature (portions of 1 Enoch, Jubilees, the Temple Scroll, et al), over and above, or in parallel with, what is now regarded as canonical Scripture. He makes the case that this tradition had Mesopotamian, exilic, roots no less than Torah and the Primary History, and that the two were intermingled after a certain point and then a schism in the Hasmonean period caused Essenism to finally be irreconcilable with the Sadduccee party. The Qumran sect was then an ultra-extreme splinter-sect that broke away from “mainstream” Essenism even after that. Some of the evidence that is most convincing, and which also convinced me that the scrolls found at Qumran were not just a more or less randomly assembled “library” from Jerusalem, is not just what was found of the Enochian texts, but what was not. The later-composed parts of 1 Enoch are completely absent, but the earlier parts are found in multiple copies: so, The Book of the Watchers is there, but not the Parables; crucially, portions of what was later assembled into The Epistle are found, but not the later elements or the composite redaction. This fits the splinter-sect hypothesis, as after the schism the Yahad of the Scrolls started on their own literary trajectory and lost interest in the later developments of the tradition that had fostered their own.

    However you come out on the idea, I’m sure you would appreciate the book.

    –C.J. O’Brien

  2. I have Boccaccini’s book and I think it is great. I am not sold on the idea that the scrolls were written by one sectarian group, however. A lot doesn’t add up for me. I think it is still a possibility, however. But I don’t think it was the Essenes, if that turned out to be the case. Boccaccini’s argument is likely in that regard. But at this point, like I said, not sold on the argument yet.

  3. I wasn’t convinced of the single sectarian group either, until I read it. The specifics of the textual argument surrounding the redaction of the Epistle of Enoch and the larger argument from the silence of the later Enochic writings are what clinched it for me. Those are facts in need of explanation regardless, and they should be taken into account by anyone who purports to have a theory about the identity of the Essenes or the origins of the sectarian writings found at Qumran.

    He doesn’t argue that it wasn’t the Essenes, really, so I’m not sure what you are saying is likely in that regard. He argues that the whole concept of what the Essenes were has been led astray by the discrepancies in the ancient literary sources and a conflation of what were actually a broader movement and a smaller breakaway group. But he is comfortable with identifying his broader category of Enochic Judaism with the Essenes described by Philo and Josephus.

    A while back I asked James Tabor why he thinks Boccaccini’s hypothesis isn’t more influential, and he didn’t reply. He said he had read it, too, but he didn’t seem strong on getting the thesis. Do you have any thoughts as to why it doesn’t get more play among scholars of the scrolls? It’s so elegant and cuts through so much that is vague and/or controversial in more widely read treatments that I get annoyed every time I read something relevant that doesn’t engage with it, even if only to challenge it.

  4. [...] of interest, Tom Verenna tackles some bizarre pseudoscholarly Essenic mythicism. And of related interest is Anthony Le [...]

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