Was Jesus’ Water to Wine Miracle a Trick?

Someone sent me a link in an email today asking what I thought about this as a possible point of reference for Jesus’ miracle.

watertowineNo, I do not think this is at all relevant to Jesus’ miracle.  I think anyone who draws connections between this and Jesus are grasping at straws and nothing more.  It goes back to the same point I’ve made with conspiracy theorists: they will try to put two-and-two together regardless of how absurd an idea it is.

The fact is that Jesus’ water-to-wine miracle, like his feeding of the 5000, are imitations of the multiplication stories in the Elijah/Elisha miracle cycles.  In fact, I would say that all seven major miracles in John present Jesus was Elijah/Elisha; the miracles are either (1) healing the sick, (2) raising the dead, (3) water-related, (4) or multiplication/feeding.  All of these can be traced back to the Elijah/Elisha narratives when broken down into their basic motifs.  There is no need to draw into it any additional context or add any bizarre outside influences in an attempt to historicize this event.

Roger Aus, in fact, takes a useful approach and suggests that the wedding narrative in John derives from Esther 1, and surprisingly there are some interesting connections.  He argues this rather thoroughly in his Water Into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist: Early Jewish-Christian Interpretation of Esther 1 in John 2:1-11 and Mark 6:17-29 (Brown Judaic Studies, 1988).  It is well worth the read.

So no, I do not believe this is at all related to Hero of Alexandria.  It is just another example of John’s dependency upon ancient Jewish literature–like every other Gospel author.  All attempts to link the two (John and Hero) are tentative and unhelpful, at best.


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).

C-logging: Variants and Manuscripts (Or Textual Criticism vs Literary Criticism)

In my previous post I discussed some of the difficulties of Textual Criticism, but I probably could have spent more time on an example.  The opportunity came up in class tonight.

Since the professor was out sick, she assigned some work for us to do on the accompanying message board on a Rutgers-run website meant to give an additional resource for classes.  One of the students responded to my criticisms but either because I wasn’t clear or they misunderstood, presumed I was suggesting that TC is a flawed analysis.  I responded in this manner:


I am not so sure I’d say that TC is a flawed analysis.  It depends on the question, doesn’t it?  If I wanted to demonstrate that the many differences between manuscripts make it difficult to compile an ‘authoritative New Testament’ (that is, a New Testament that is the closest to the original), TC is the perfect method to use.  But if I wanted to explain why these differences exist, TC is not helpful.

For example, in Matt. 3.15, some manuscripts contain an additional sentence.  The original:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

In some manuscripts, the text goes:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented; and when he was baptized a huge light shone from the water so that all who were near were frightened.

So why the addition?  Was it original?  Well this addition is found in some of the Old Latin manuscripts.  So someone arguing from a TC perspective might argue that this is probably not original.  In fact they might say that, since Luke and John do not repeat this particular incident, chances are good that this is an addition only found in the Latin, and not original to the Greek.  It certainly doesn’t seem to appear in any of our early Greek manuscripts.  But does that ipso facto mean that it wasn’t part of an original composition?

Well, who can say for sure.  But this is why I prefer literary criticism to textual criticism.  In my humble opinion, I think that it fits the context of Matthew quite well.  Matthew’s Gospel contains many elements of light vs. dark (cf. Matt 5.13-16, 10.27, 24.29, etc…); this dualism is seen most specifically in Matt 4 and in Matt 24:

Matt 4.14-16: So that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Matt 24.29: Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The themes are clear, from beginning to end.  Matthew is playing with this dualism up until the passion narrative, where at the time of the death of Jesus, there was a darkness over the land (Matt 27.45).  This is intentional, mind you.  Matthew is drawing upon motifs found commonly in the Hebrew Bible.  The thematic elements of Matt 24 are found in Zechariah 14.7:

And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

And the author of Matthew ties this all together when the angel appears to the women outside the tomb in Matt 28.  His appearance “is like lightening”.  Indeed, Zechariah writes of this period of time that “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”  (14.5) And in Matthew is the only appearance of the holy ones rising from the graves (located, actually, on the Mount of Olives…mentioned in Zech 14.4):

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. (Matt 27.52)

Now, I could belabor the point and make a paper out of this.  But my argument here is that TC, while very useful at certain things, is not useful entirely–that is, I don’t think it is very effective in and of itself.  It lacks that exegetical function that is so valuable to literary theory.  By my argument, the variant containing Jesus being baptized, with a light coming up from below, just adds to the same motifs found throughout Matthew.  I don’t know if it was present in an original–I am skeptical that an “original” existed at all (perhaps there were many originals and not just a single Matthew.  After all, the name ‘Matthew’ is just a designation we give to this collection of variants!).  The Textual Critic like Ehrman might wholly dismiss this variant simply because it isn’t present in some early Greek manuscripts.  But, I’m not so sure.  Even if it had been a later addition, it certainly adds another flavor to the narrative, don’t you think?

Clogging: Blogging About My ‘Introduction to the New Testament’ Class (Week 2)

So this semester, I am taking an Introduction to New Testament course.  This is a 200 level course and I’m pretty excited about it so far (if only because I predict an easy ‘A’).  While I anticipate a good grade (I’ve been studying the subject independently for years now and have published on the subject), I have an excellent professor–who is both clever and attentive to the details–and am guaranteed to learn much from her as the course progresses throughout the semester.

The one gripe I have–of course there is always one, right?–is that we are using Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (5th Edition).  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent ‘introduction’ book in some respects, especially when dealing with Textual Criticism.  For the average student in the class who is only taking the course for kicks, because they think it will reinforce their beliefs, or because they need it as a prerequisite for another course, I imagine it works out just fine as it covers the mainstream view nicely.  But it has some factual errors and glosses over too many important details that I feel are rather important.   On the plus side, my professor recognizes the books shortcomings.

Anyway, some important subject matter before going forward.

One of the really fantastic things about this class is that it really gives me a new take on exactly what it is that the general person knows about the Bible.  As someone who has been involved in academia for going on five years now and who is intricately involved in the Biblioblogging community, it is easy to lose sight over the little things–for example, there are many who still get hung up on how to define ‘manuscript’ or ‘variant’ (something I see as common knowledge).  Even New Testament terms like ‘Textual Criticism’ are old hat for me.  So being *in a class* and listening to conversations from fellow students (many of whom have not been as involved as I have) is a really important learning experience for me.

Since I am blogging through the class, I should state some general practices of the blog here for the reader so they know where I stand.  First, I will not be giving away any test or quiz information about the course (sorry to all the students who will be taking the same class in the years to come).  Second, all opinions expressed herein are mine alone.  All feedback and comments are welcome, so long as you follow the comment policy.

Now, some thoughts on this past week’s readings and conversations.  We started off by reading about Textual Criticism and the state of our current textual evidence.  Nothing here is necessarily new to me, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it.

Textual Criticism (briefly defined):

  • Textual Criticism is the academic process of analyzing the thousands of variant manuscripts in an attempt to locate the most recent context based upon our manuscript attestation.

Bulleted list of some benefits and problems with Textual Criticism:

    1. Textual Criticism (TC) plays a big part in our conversations over the next few weeks.  It’s very important and, in my mind, supports our understanding of the manner in which the transmission and reception of the New Testament texts occurred throughout the early Christian centuries.  But there are some factors that limit TC as a firm and (always) useful methodology.
      • We don’t have the autographa.  So one has to ask: How accurate are our manuscripts? How can we even begin to answer this question?
      • Without the autographa, we have no direct knowledge of what the original texts might have said–or how much was added or removed, or how ‘controversial’ it might have been compared to our accepted textual representation.
      • All the current Bible’s are the products of scholarly reconstruction.  In other words, the Bible we now possess (or more accurately, the version of the Bible you use) is not ‘the original word of god’ but the result of scholars picking and choosing (voting is often involved) on which particular variant is accepted into the volume.  Some variants disagree on rather important details (i.e., whether or not Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ in Lk 23.34–some ancient manuscripts omit this and many believe this was a later addition to the Gos. of Luke; or it may have been removed and then later re-added, but who knows for sure?).  So this process can–with the example given in class of Paul writes (or is portrayed to have written) “women must be silent in church”, it’s inclusion or removal from a version can produce an edition of the New Testament that is more suitable for a feminist or more suitable for a misogynist (it is crazy how extremely dichotomous the texts can be, the implications of how this might impact exegesis notwithstanding).
    1. TC also takes much for granted (i.e., it doesn’t analyze the reasons why a text might have been altered in a specific way, or if it does, it neglects imitatio or reception criticism).  The function of the text is lost.  For example, the very definition of ‘variant’ presumes a standard by which all other manuscripts have deviated–it implies, essentially, that a variant is ‘wrong’.  This, in my humble opinion, is not how ancient texts should be read.  “Right” and “wrong”, “standard” and “deviated” are terms that are not helpful, and perhaps should not applied anachronistically.  That isn’t to say that anyone in particular is making such an argument (though some do), simply that such language has the context to evoke these sorts of thoughts about the manuscripts.  Besides, it is the function of the text that is most relevant to the conversation, since we do not have any of the originals–all we have are the representations of copies of originals and at best that can only give us an understanding of what later Christians valued (certainly not the first ‘Christians’).  We can only refer to the books of the New Testament as ‘the version we now have’; this limits our understanding of the history of Early Christianity (to the point where one has to question if we have any evidence of the period at all).
      • This also means that using this method to date texts is essentially useless.  While we can see how the texts we have were altered and transmitted, what we don’t have is a grounding for the composition of the texts (since, again, we don’t have the originals).  How were these texts composed, when, and with what narrative constructions in mind?  Was this originally a vocal/oral narrative?  If so, how much had that original performance changed in its telling prior to someone writing it down?  What was added between its performance form and its written form?  Did it start as just a passion play or did it evolve into that?  Did the original narrative contain  an infancy or birth narrative that is now lost from our version of Mark (probably not, but who knows)?  Without answers to these questions, all dating is tentative and even textually it is impossible to know how late or early our Gospels are (though there are many tentative arguments).
      • As an example to the above, Mark 13 is used often to date Mark after (or before, depending on your particular theological beliefs) the fall of the Temple since he “predicts” the fall (the argument goes: Mark must have written this in after the destruction of the Temple, after 70 CE, to give Jesus credibility as a prophet).  But parts of Mark 13 have already been altered in the manuscript evidence (e.g., 13.14), and our earliest copy of this passage comes to us via the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, dated to the 4th Century (so far as I’m aware).  between the time the Gospel of Mark is alleged to have been written to the time we have our earliest extant attestation to this verse, we have roughly 250 years or more.  To put that into context, that is almost as long as we have had the Declaration of Independence (approx. 237 years).  Between that time there had existed hundreds of competing theologies, vying for a chance to win out over the others.  Establishing ones theological framework using texts seemed to have been a common motif during this period, and what better way than to have your variant having a Jesus portrayed as foretelling events.  I’m not saying this is certain, or even probable, but it is likely and with no means to compare it to an original how can one use this as a definitive dating of the composition of a Markan Gospel?  Certainly we can say, “After 70 CE is when this variant of the text originated” but can we really say that ‘Mark composed his Gospel immediately after 70CE’?  I’m not so sure.    Even if this fragment were original to the text, there may be a relative function to it (i.e., Jesus may not be predicting the fall of the current Temple but repeating an ancient motif relating to Solomon’s Temple–a thematic element commonly found in the Hebrew Bible).  Again, this may be why using TC to date may simply be a waste of one’s time.

Awesome moment of the week: The professor used a stack of paper to demonstrate the variants and where most of the manuscripts fall in a timeline.  She set up an impromptu timeline on a desk representing the first four centuries in the Common Era.  Using the paper she immediately “discarded” about 90% of it.  What she had left she leafed out mostly after the 3rd Century CE and then tore up some sheets and spread a few here and there throughout the second and third centuries.  The visual aid was brilliant and clever and I’m sure that anyone in the class who had questions about the manuscript attestation had them solved with this one demonstration.  It was very nicely done.

Addendum: ‘Clogging’ = ‘Course Logging’ or ‘Class Logging’.

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.

Lena Einhorn on the Figure of Jesus and ‘the Egyptian’

Philip Davies sent along Lena Einhorn’s paper from SBL and I thought I’d share it with my readers.  Dr. Einhorn has been known to me since 2008 when an earlier version of this paper came across my desk, submitted to Thomas Thompson and I to review for inclusion into our volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’.  While we both enjoyed the paper, we did not see it as a good fit for the volume as a whole.  I am pleased to see that Dr. Einhorn has vetted the paper a great deal and fleshed out some of the concepts a little more and has, in fact, produced quite a compelling paper.  Here is a snippet:

One of the limitations facing historical Jesus studies has been that the New Testament is the only source of first century texts in which Jesus unequivocally is described. This is in spite of the fact that the period in other respects is fairly well documented. Flavius Josephus wrote De bello Judaico and Antiquitates Judaicae in the 70s and the 90s C.E., respectively. Both works describe personalities mentioned in the Gospels: Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas, Quirinius, etc. Josephus also describes several Jewish messianic leaders of the first century: Simon, Athronges, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, ‘The Egyptian’, Menahem, etc. But excepting Testimonium Flavianum (A.J. 18.63-64) – by most scholars considered at least a partial later Christian interpolation – Jesus from Nazareth is not visible in the works of Josephus. Nor was he, according to Photius, described in the now lost works of another first century local historian, Justus of Tiberias. Only from the second century do we begin to see more unequivocal extra-biblical references to Jesus.

The fact that the Gospels describe Jesus as someone with a large following, and one whose trial involved two high priests, the tetrarch of Galilee, and the prefect of Iudaea, heightens the discrepancy between sources.

Jesus-and-the-Egyptian-Prophet-12.11.25.pdf (application/pdf Object)

I must admit I had not considered the role of the robbers in the Gospel narratives as particularly odd until I read her paper.   I am not entirely convinced of her argument (that Jesus and the Egyptian are the same), since I feel that many of the similarities come from a familiarity between some of the Gospel authors an Josephus (that is to say, they imitated Josephus).  But in my humble opinion it is definitely worth a read and should be discussed in greater detail by the community.  The concept behind the robbers in both Josephus and the Gospels does have its own implications that have been missed by many an analysis on the subject.

A Little Doodle to Help You Understand the Nativity

Here is a fun little doodle I drew up today.

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Also, I’m refraining from making any comments on the historicity of these narratives (suffice it to say, these events probably never happened).

For additional details, however, check out the following:

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