What Happened to the Jerusalem Pillars?

In my paper for my Intro to New Testament class, I raised the follow:

Though prominently the disagreements between Paul and the so-called Jerusalem Pillars; what is noteworthy is that Paul seems to have, as well as earn, authority despite the fact that he did not know Jesus personally (and according to tradition, the Jerusalem Pillars did, though Paul does not explicitly suggest this).  One has to wonder about the implications of this, whereby Paul has authority and continues to gain authority even after his death—particularly through these so-called gnostic communities—and yet none of the Jerusalem Pillars’ works survive (presuming they wrote something down in the first place).

This for me draws out an important issue. Just what happened to the Jerusalem Pillars?  Did they die during the First Jewish War?  Did they leave and go to Rome?  Syria?  Alexandria?  And why is it that we have Paul and not the Pillar’s works (if any were written)?  Paul must have received some correspondence, I would think, given that he went to Jerusalem on someone’s wishes.  And I find it hard to believe that none of the Pillars were literate (given that they seemed to hold some “rabbinical” position in the church there).

Are there any theories out there?  Any constructions that might be based in some grounding?

The Young Man in Mark 14.52 and 16.5 Through the Lens of 2 Corinthians 5

As the semester progresses I’m finding that I am looking anew at older ideas I’ve read or had myself on various passages in the New Testament.  Two such instances happened last week while analyzing the Gospel of Mark.  The young man who runs off from Jesus naked has played a pivotal role in the Biblioblogging community lately (what with the Jesus Blog bringing up Smith’s discovery–fake or not–which has some implications on the subject).  But for me it brings up an important matter I have neglected, but at some point want to publish on: Mark’s literary indebtedness to the Pauline epistles.

One such correlation between Mark and Paul is this rebirth of the body.  In 2 Cor 5, Paul writes (emphasis added, NRSV):

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off  we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

It seems to me, and in agreement with Carrier, that Paul’s theological belief in an afterlife includes, to a large degree, getting a new and better body.  Not our same body, which is destroyed (καταλυθῇ), but a new and better body, built by God.

This is very interesting.  These are themes that Mark seems to pick up upon and even seems to make note of while describing certain events in Jesus’ life–namely the young man who appears prior to Jesus’ death and then following his resurrection.

While re-reading over Mark 14 and 16, I became more convinced of this play on the narrative elements.  In 14.51-2, Mark writes (NRSV):

A certain young man (νεανίσκος τις) was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked (ὁ δὲ καταλιπὼν τὴν σινδόνα γυμνὸς ἔφυγεν).

It is interesting that Mark makes such a specific notation of the youth’s attire.  I think the emphasis on the linen cloth is important (I’ll tie this all together later) and I don’t think this is the last time we see this young man.

Mark only uses νεανίσκον in two places in his Gospel.  The first is in 14.50-53 above.  The second is in 16.5:

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man (νεανίσκον) dressed in a white robe (περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν) sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

I find it fascinating that the only other time that a young man is mentioned is in connection with (a) clothing and (b) prior to Jesus’ death and after his resurrection (while he is in his earthly body and when he gains his new and better body, respectively).  Of course I am in agreement, along with most scholars, that the young boy here represents Jesus sitting at the right side of God (which may echo back to Mark 12.36); but in my humble opinion, I do believe this is the same young man in both instances above, used by Mark as a literary analog to portray Paul’s two-body theology.

Now, maybe it is not a direct borrowing, but Mark seems to agree with this to an extent (notice he never says the tomb is empty, as Matthew does–and makes a big spectacle of it in fact being empty).  I believe that the reason why this young man is portrayed as an angel in Matthew is because Matthew did not agree with this theological function–he seems to be keen on the same body being doctrine (i.e., that one’s physical body–the current one we inhabit–will rise) as more important (or just more correct).

You Can’t Convince Everyone: Diglotting Reviews My Chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’

I’m very grateful to Kevin Brown of Diglotting for reviewing my chapter.  He summarizes my article nicely here:

The key thrust of Verenna’s essay is that “Paul did not believe his Jesus was ever historical in the first place” (132), mentioning in an accompanying footnote that he isn’t necessarily arguing against the historicity of Jesus, but only that one cannot find such a historical figure using Paul’s epistles. He sets out using “a method formed from analyzing intertextuality” (132), with the intent of showing that “what Paul is interpreting, what he is expressing, is not an earthly figure, but an allegorical one” (133). Thus, this essay is “an attempt to look past modern interpretations of Paul, which are far too focused on discovering what he has to say about an assumed historical entity – Jesus – and less about discovering how Paul’s initial audience would have understood his meaning” (135).

via Review of Is This Not the Carpenter? (Part II) « Diglotting.

But to be clear, the statement “Paul did not believe his Jesus was ever historical in the first place” is slightly tongue-in-cheek.  My overall point is to (1) demonstrate that the way Paul is currently interpreted is through a Gospel lens rather than on his own accord and (2) show that Paul cannot be used as a witness to a historical Jesus and that current attempts to do so take for granted (a) Paul’s mystic language as a function towards (b) explaining his esoteric theology to other initiates.

Understandably Kevin dislikes my copious amounts of footnotes (but in order to conserve space, I had to relegate a lot to footnotes).  He also doesn’t find any of my interpretations particularly convincing.   Though he finds my attempts ‘spirited’.

I’d also like to draw attention to our discussion in the comments.  It has ended (I conceded him the last word) but it was an enjoyable exchange and Kevin Brown makes for a well-informed and challenging sparring partner.

Review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Part 1 | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

Aaron Adair takes a look at my chapter and James Crossley’s chapter for Part 1 of his review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’!  Here is a snippet:

To mix it up, Tom’s chapter has an opposing conclusion as the previous chapter in the volume by Mogens Mueller who calls Paul the oldest witness to the historical Jesus. So there is dialogue to be had just from this volume. I would also point to the complimentary work from Gerd Luedemann in Sources of the Jesus Tradition who also considers the value of Paul in knowing anything about the historical Jesus (or even his existence). I should point out that Tom does not argue that Jesus didn’t exist, just that for Paul Jesus was a mythical being known through revelation and scripture. That’s a more modest proposal, but it certainly will affect the probability of historicity. How that plays out will need further argument.

Nonetheless, I think Paul scholars need to seriously consider the approach Tom has brought to the letters; it seems very fruitful, and it will probably help uncover more about the intellectual context of the first Christians than previous methods. Maybe it means we loose sight of the ‘real’ Jesus, but we should not bias our results to make sure our favorite historical figure turns out as expected.

Moving on to James’ chapter on the Gospel of John, it has what first got me as a clever title. When he says he will defend a “traditional view”, it made me realize there was a bit of a pun here, since James is actually talking about the traditional view of G.John not being useful to understanding the historical Jesus. In many ways the chapter is an examination of the efforts of Richard Bauckham about eyewitness testimony and the Gospels. James also gets to the heart of the push for making John part of the quest for Jesus, that there appears to be a drive for having our miraculous cake and eating it too. The chapter is useful for summarizing Bauckham’s main points, especially about getting the ‘gist’ of a story from witnesses (something that also seems to come up recently in Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus).

via Review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ Part 1 | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars.

Go there to read the rest.

UPDATE: See Part 2 here.

New Header Image and Updated ‘Mystery’

Because of my love for the Gnostics (and ancient mystery religions in general) I have thought it useful to update my blog header image and the ‘Of the Muses’ (upper-left column) information.

I will not give out the passage of the Greek text (though many of you students of intertextuality and mimesis will pick up on it right away, I hope), but the link in my ‘Of the Muses’ reference is to 11Q13.  See if you can pick up on all the mysteries. In the words of Paul, I suspect that only the mature (the τελείοις) will understand.

As Paul wrote:

No, we declare God’s wisdom a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor 2.7)

Symbolically, then, why not include some in my blog header?  I can’t think of a reason.  Kudos to those who find it.

Some Clarifications on Heb. 2:17

I wanted to make this post separate of my apology to James, mainly because I feel that apologies should stand alone as they are, without dirtying them with lots of explanations and whatnot.  I hold firm to my apology to James and am glad to hear he accepted it, but now I must press on with some clarifications on my last few posts (also I have not been using accents with the Greek because I don’t feel like formatting the font of the Greek to Times New Roman in HTML so it shows nicer–its just too hot to put out much effort today).

(1) The problem I ran into with the Greek in Heb. 2:17 is that it’s rather ambiguous.  Grammatically, there is nothing wrong, per se, if the phrase κατα παντα were rendered as strengthening the verb οφειλω rather than ομοιοω.  And even some of the colleagues I talked to suggested that it was ambiguous, at best.  Even in the Latin Vulgate it is ambiguous (to which Tom Bolin remarks, ‘ambiguity=exegetical goldmine’, and he’s right).

(2) But Richard Carrier pointed me towards 1 Clement 38.4, where the similarly phrased ‘οφειλομεν κατα παντα ευχαριστειν αυτω’ can be found, and in context it renders similarly to how one might translate Heb. 2:17.  This, for me, cemented the translation.  One can render it as the KJV has it rendered, which is fine, but the meaning is the same as it is rendered in the NIV.  (Thanks also to Stephen Carlson for his help as well)

(3) The issue I realized I was having with James’ translation wasn’t so much with the formation of the phrase ‘in all things’, but with how that phrase was twisted to essentially ignore ‘in the likeness of his brethren’.  How James would have us interpret that phrase is to assume that Jesus was completely man but something else.  The issue with that, quite plainly, is that would imply that the author believed Jesus to be both, which is something you don’t start seeing in the Christian community until much later (the idea of Jesus being both God and man in a Creedal sense, which would have been completely foreign to the author of Hebrews, assuming he was writing in the first century).

(4) James wants to interpret this passage in a literal manner (i.e., that Jesus was a high priest to humanity), but this is, once more, an example of a historian anachronistically applying his rationalist mind to a text written for reasons unknown to us almost 2,000 years ago.  Instead, interpreting the priestliness of Jesus as an allegory, along with the illusion of his humanity, fits nicely within the allegorical context of the chapter itself, defined by his sacrifice and his defiance of death.  Indeed, this passage creates a intertextual parallel with the atonement leitmotif from Lev. 16, wherein he represents (as Tim Widowfield points out elsewhere) the sacrificial lamb, the second of the two–the other being humanity, whom he has taken a complete likeness to (and this is supported by the verb ομοιωθηναι, which represents it as though Jesus were wearing a costume), but had not become.

(5) As my 4th point implies, my original post to James (here) was not concerned with the rendering of ‘in all things’, but about James’ interpretation of ‘in the likeness of’.  As of now, that criticism still stands, regardless of the (rightful) inclusion of the phrase ‘in all things’.

Heb. 2:17 and οφειλω κατα παντα τοις αδελφοις ομοιωθηναι

It seems I owe James McGrath and apology.  (I’m sorry, James!) In an earlier post, I stated that words he had bolded in a translation did not appear in the text.  In fact they do appear in the Greek, but they can be read in a different order than how James’ translation had placed them and I hadn’t thought to consider the word order when I made the comment.  In my ignorance, I made a lapse. So I hope he can forgive that mistake on my part.

Though that is settled, I still have a contention with the way James is interpreting the text.  Heb. 2:17, even with the appropriate strengthening of ομοιωθηναι, should be read as ‘He had to be made in the likeness of his brothers in all respects.’   But reading ‘in all respects’ to mean ‘in every conceivable respect’ makes little sense given the context, since this sort of thinking implies a sort of Nicene creed (trinitarianism).  It is a bit anachronistic to presume that the author of Hebrews was thinking of Jesus as a human.  Indeed, not only is it anachronistic in the sense that such thinking is from late antiquity, but also stems from our position in history, looking back through three quests for the historical, earthly Jesus, long after the figure and character of Jesus has been ‘humanized’.  Even though I had been wrong about the word order in the translation, I was not wrong about its meaning, nor about its usefulness (since it still reads ‘in the likeness’, denoting that the author of Hebrews still saw Jesus as an a figure giving the illusion of a human).

I’m also a bit surprised that James used Hebrews as part of his treatise against Doherty on Paul, since Hebrews was not written by Paul and its dating and authorship are unknown (though the date is tentatively set during the early Christian period, mid-late first century).

That being said, I offer James my apologies once again, but stress that, as I’ve done before, he be more cautious with his wording in his polemics.


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