Jesus, No, but Joshua’s a Different Story

A Pagan Almanac for August 1 & 2, 2012

Lunar Cycle: August 1 — Fourth day of the full Moon
August 2 – Fifth day of the full Moon (astronomical full Moon)

Rome: August 1, Kalends, sacred to Juno

Athens: Hekatombaion 14
Hekatombaion 15, sacred to Selene

Martyred on August 1 in
1595: Volkart Dirxsen and his daughter, Utrecht
1623: Thomas Greave of Fife
1664: Josine Labynes, Heestert

They died in our name. Let us remember theirs.

William Blake wrote:
The Beggar’s Rags, fluttering in air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.

Happy Lughnasad!
___________________________________________________________________________

I just love Star’s blogs. She is a serious and original thinker, and her blogs usually set me thinking too. Now, I certainly understand her saying, “I reject Jesus Christ!” A major problem with most churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, is that they give him a very bad rep.

Growing up Catholic in the early 1950s, I (and most other Catholics) thought of him only as the Lord of Glory somewhere in the sky, or at least somewhere else, from where he certainly would never interfere with my life. We never even talked to him, only to his mother, a good Jewish girl. She could guilt-trip him, right? So when I needed to find a reliable source of spiritual strength in order save my life at 36, I needed to find a very different concept.

The official high-Christology concept of Jesus Christ seems pretty useless to me. And that concept has no historical basis. It is essentially a fantasy generated by Paul and his followers. I once dismissed the idea that Paul had invented a version of Christian faith different from Peter’s, but now, given the research by Jeffrey Buetz, I am fairly well convinced that is what happened. So what was Peter’s concept? He sincerely believed that he had seen his friend, Rabbi Joshua the Nazarene, after the Romans had murdered him. His belief is a historical fact; my doctoral studies convinced me that there is no other way to explain how the Way of the Nazarenes (their original name for it) got started. Whether Peter’s belief was actually true is an entirely different discussion. However, Peter’s experience is nowhere described in the gospel or Acts, and there were other versions of what happened. The first edition of John’s gospel apparently said, in its version of the legend of the empty tomb, that Mary was the only one who saw him. The Gospel of the Hebrews said that his brother James was the first. Paul knows the story about James, but ignores Mary. The witnesses, if that’s what they were, contradict one another. Also, the gospels do not say that the body they saw was the one that the Romans had tortured to death. Look at how that body appears and disappears in John 20. Like an eidetic image.

I am sure that Rabbi Joshua was a real person. The idea that he was only a myth ignores the evidence almost as much as the silly story that the disciples stole the body. He was an observant Jew, as were all the Nazarenes. He was a Rabbi of the House of Hillel. The great Hans Kueng spent the first hundred pages of his Christ Sein demonstrating that the ethics Joshua taught were precisely those of Hillel, whom he even quotes. His followers believed he was a “true prophet” inspired by God, that he was the son of Joseph, not a supernatural being, and that he was married to Mary, whom he nicknamed Magdala, meaning “magnificent” or perhaps “tower of strength.” Aside from the nickname (whose meaning was confirmed by Andrew Smith, son of my student John Smith in St. Rose, and their Rabbi), all that information is in the Gospel of Philip, which is the most profound of all the Nag Hammadi documents and is neither more nor less historically trustworthy than the four canonical gospels are. The actual faith community he inspired existed for centuries; the Church Fathers covered up that fact by giving that community many different names, as if they were tiny, separate little sects.

I have argued in a previous blog that the sexual pathology that has infected official Christianity since the first century is a heresy that arose among the Paulines. It is logically impossible for it to have been taught by Rabbi Joshua, who apparently believed in the sacredness of our sexuality, as I now interpret the evidence. What that means, guys, is that the life-affirming, pro-sexual teaching of the actual Rabbi Joshua IS compatible with the kinds of theologies most people in the Craft movement subscribe to. I explore that possibility very speculatively in my novel Goddess Murder (available as an e-book on Kindle, of course). If you forget everything the churches have said about him and read the Gospel According to Mark as a short novel (which it is) about a gifted faith healer, you may see that he’s actually a very interesting guy, and definitely a real human being. If he weren’t a real human being, there would be no point to the story, would there?

I think that, if he hadn’t been killed by the Romans, he would be remembered as one of the great Tannaim, the Rabbis whose sayings were collected in the Mishnah, the core document of the Talmud. His wit and insight are striking if what he said is translated in terms of what he meant into modern English. For example, “That you eat right does not give you the right to badmouth people.” Or “Don’t blame the women because you feel horny.” Or, “Take care of family first, then worry about God.” Despite the appalling antagonism and polemics, he is even quoted with approval in the Talmud, e.g., in Gittin, for saying, “The son and the daughter shall inherit equally.” Oh, gee, why wasn’t that included in the gospels? Couldn’t have been because of misogyny, could it?

The historical evidence is that the Nazarene community was absolutely egalitarian for many decades. One can see this also in the fact that Paul appointed women as administrators with the powers of a bishop (an office not invented until about the year 90) for some of the communities he founded. What’s more, Rabbi Joshua gave an explicit commandment that women should be ordained. It’s right there in Luke 10. Oh, you’ve never noticed? That’s because the Greek has been mistranslated. I will be doing a blog specifically about that issue in the near future.

  • http://twitter.com/Panmankey Jason Mankey

    Most scholars date things like the Gospel of Philip much later than they do the four canonical gospels.  Mark was probably in circulation by the year 70 CE, most of the more “gnostic” material dates to the third century.  I’ve also never come across as anyone in academia using Phillip as a resource material when reconstructing the life of Jesus.  

    Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus is scoffed at by many scholars, though I wouldn’t discount it entirely, it’s certainly possible, but it’s far from the party line. I do agree with you that early Christianity had far more gender equality that we usually give it credit for.  Paul is often looked at as having “woman problems” but most of those problems occur in forgeries written in Paul’s name.  It’s certain that he would have had no problem with women spreading his gospel.  I’m not sure I’d ever think of Jesus as sexually liberated, especially if he was a follower (or even influenced) by John the Baptist.  The Essenes were not a liberated bunch.  

    I’m going to disagree with you on Jesus appearing in the Mishnah.  John the Baptist didn’t make that collection, and I doubt Jesus was much different from his (alleged) cousin.  Much like the Baptist, Jesus was probably an apocalyptic preacher, and most likely existed on the margins of Jewish society.  Jesus was most certainly anti-establishment, an ‘Occupy” type preacher speaking up for the poor and against the corrupt priests of the Temple Complex in Jerusalem.  

    • Aidan Kelly

      Well, the dating of noncanonical documents is heavily influenced by apologetics, since the conservatves always want to date them as late as possible to justify their exclusion. But at this point there are several of the documents that can be dated to the crucial period of 50-110 CE, and many of the later documents incorporate much earlier materials. I’m saying the party line is intellectually dishonest. Phillip is no more or less reliable than John or Mark as a historical source.

      At this point I think that the concept of Mary as his wife is parsimonious. I’m planning a blog or two to go over that argument. And please do review my earlier blog on “The Logical Consequnces of the First Commandment.” I think my reasoning is sound; I’m saying that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth.

       I said he might have been included in the Mishnah IF he hadn’t been killed, and of course the Roman thugs offed him just for being a nuisance to their quislings. The few quotes from him are scattered throughout the Gemara. His arguments about interpretation of the Law were the House of Hillel arguing against the House of Shammai, as Rabbi Harvey Falk argued in his “Jesus the Pharisee,” which is simultaneously one of the most brilliant and most badly written books I’ve ever encountered.

      • KateGladstone

        Aidan — I’d love to see the Gemara’s scattered Jesus quotes … Can you please assemble and post them?

        • Aidan Kelly

          Yeah, that would be fun, but it’s not going to get a high priority. I have a binder somewhere full of copies of pages from the Talmud relevant to the New Testament, but I haven’t looked at it years, and I doubt it’s actually complete.

  • Sophia Catherine

    Thank you. I was waiting for someone to write about the person rather than the (much later) religion. Will be attempting to do something similar on my blog later.

    • Aidan Kelly

      Good. I’d be happy to be a helpful resource for you.

  • WhiteBirch

    I mostly read Star vehemently rejecting as a counterpoint to the common (evangelical at least) demand that everyone accept Christ. I read it as an especially emphatic “I am not Christian! I am not uneducated about Christianity! I am not confused about what Christianity means! I simply don’t want any part of it!” I like your explanation of all less church-ified Jesus, but I didn’t really interpret Star as talking about the person of Jesus in the first place, but rather unambiguously cutting ties with the church based on him in language they might actually understand.

  • http://mamadar.wordpress.com/ Mam Adar

    I just finished reading Goddess Murder last night and was very impressed by it. I hope you’ll continue to make your work available on Kindle.

    • Aidan Kelly

      Yes, I will. Thank you.

  • Richard Speights

    “The first edition of John’s gospel apparently said, in its
    version of the legend of the empty tomb, that Mary was the only one who saw
    him. The Gospel of the Hebrews said
    that his brother James was the first. Paul
    knows the story about James, but ignores Mary. The witnesses, if that’s what they were, contradict one another.”

    I’m fairly familiar with Hebrews, and I can’t recall the
    writer of this book making any claim that James was the first to the tomb after
    the resurrection (It’s assumed Paul wrote Hebrews, but nobody is certain). I’m searching the book of Hebrews with
    Biblegateway.com, and the name James doesn’t even come up. Can someone tell me what the writer of this
    essay is talking about?

    And the writer of this essay talks about several
    editions of John’s gospel. Where does
    that information for that come from?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aidan-Kelly/607751097 Aidan Kelly

      First, I’m referring to the Gospel of the Hebrews, not the Epistle to the Hebrews; we only have fragments of it, but what we have is well covered in the Hennecke-Schneemelcher Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha. The fact that the Jn we have is its second edition is standard information covered in any good introduction to New Testament Studies–but not the version of the field taught by Evangelicals, of course. Do keep on with your studies.

      • Richard Speights

        I looked into this matter.
        Here’s what I found:

        There are a number of false gospels floating around, the
        gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary, and Judas (there may be more besides these and
        the Hebrews gospel). All these
        testimonies stray wildly from the four gospels in the bible, which all agree
        with one another. I am more informed
        about the gospel of Thomas and the gospel of Peter, the first a work of
        Gnosticism, the second, the gospel of Peter, refers to a magical cross emerging
        from the tomb following Jesus and speaking to God, undermining its credibility
        at a glace. I was not, however, aware
        of this gospel of Hebrews. However, as
        it is apparently disputed and in disagreement with the four gospels in the
        bible, it is no better off than the others I mentioned earlier. The four in the bible agree with each
        other. The writing of the other works
        postdate the four in the bible, and are, therefore, irrevocably suspect—eyewitnesses
        could not have written them, for all eyewitnesses were dead by the time of
        their writing.

        As to the second edition of John: There are
        people claiming not just two versions but three versions of John. Their “proof” is no more than an
        interpretation or John’s gospel through the examination of his writing style
        and content. If this is their proof,
        then they have no proof at all.

        (Thanks for pointing this out. This second/third edition of John thing had
        somehow slipped under my radar. It is
        good to know about these matters, like knowing some people believe in fairies
        and magic and whatnot; nonetheless, knowing about fairies and magic doesn’t
        mean I buy into the magical fairy belief system whatsoever. Furthermore, I am not that interested in
        studying material written by design to undermine the gospels through hearsay
        evidence and speculation. If one has
        evidence of contradiction, bring it on—however, speculative conclusions haven’t
        the weight of conclusive evidence leading to factual knowledge.).

        If the gospels in
        the bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the inspired word of God (God
        breathed), this does not challenge the fact that later men would write their
        own versions of these things for whatever reasons motivated them. We see this all the time in secular history. A ship called Frances Spaight sank around
        the mid 1800s. There were eyewitness
        accounts of this incident. Later, Jack
        London wrote a story about this sinking in his short story, The Francis
        Spaight. As much as I like Jack
        London, I would no more go to his story for my history of the sinking of that
        ship than I would go to gospels written after the fact to gain knowledge of
        Jesus’s ministry.

        In addition, the
        fact that men later wrote their own versions of gospels does not undermine the
        authenticity of the original four in the bible. In that they disagree with the first four, which all agree with
        one another, is strong evidence they were written by men who did not witness
        Jesus’s ministry but who were promoting whatever heretical doctrine that
        tickled their fancies. Look
        around. We see the same thing today, as
        over two thousand denominations teach their own versions of God’s truth, all
        differing really rather radically from one another.

        Do the four
        gospels in the bible disagree on who came to the tomb? No.
        If two witnesses mention two different people at an event, neither one
        mentioning both, this is no evidence of falseness in their testimony. A witness will tell his story according to
        the details he determines pertinent.
        Nonetheless, if each of the gospels had exactly the same account as all
        the others, then the world would have rejected them as contrived. None of the gospel writers say the women
        coming to the tomb were the only women there.
        They wrote about whomever they deemed important to mention for their
        telling of unfolding events. But I
        wouldn’t go to a false gospel (Hebrews) to challenge the gospel’s account of
        those things.

        Look, if you don’t
        want to believe in the Christ, then don’t believe in Him. God gave you freewill. The choice is yours, although, as in all of
        life, our choices lead either to good results or bad results. Nonetheless, the choice is truly yours.

        But, honestly, you
        rail against Him as if you actually believe Him real while attempting to
        convince yourself otherwise. In the
        end, those who reject the Jesus the Christ will answer for themselves at
        Judgment Day. That’s on them. Those who lead others away from the Christ
        will answer for themselves and for all who followed them. This is the most important thing to know
        before one teaches against God’s Son. (Mark
        9:42)

        As in any field of
        study, I am not swayed by idealism born of speculation and hearsay. I shall stick with the four gospels in the
        bible and mind the voice from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am
        well pleased. Hear Him.” (Matt 17:5). Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and the only way
        to God, the Father, is through him.
        (John 10:9)

        And as for
        my studies, I will keep up my studies, but only in trustworthy source materials
        sans intellectual pride, which leads to thinking other than what Jesus
        taught. ““Blessed are the poor in
        spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
        (Matt 5:3 NKJ)

        • Aidan Kelly

          Hi, Richard,

          Thank you for a very civilized argument. The problem here is that we have very different theological assumptions. I can rationally accept that Jesus was a prophet anointed and empowered by God far beyond what has ever been done for anyone else, but I do not believe he was a pre-existent supernatural being, and neither do most of the theologians I have talked shop with. The Bible is a profound, beautiful(in parts), and very important collection of ancient writings, but it is a fallible document written by fallible human beings. And I think you know as well as I do that most people who say they believe in the truth of the Bible have never bothered to read it–or, unfortunately, are simply unable to understand it. Do look at the blog of my friend John Morehead. He is an evangelical Christian also, but his dialog is quite different from yours, and I think catches more flies.

          Still, like you, I profoundly hope that the Spirit touches more and more hearts in the world.

          Aidan

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    “If he weren’t a real human being, there would be no point to the story, would there?”

    I agree with a huge amount of what you’ve written, Aidan, but I can’t in any manner agree with this.

    Is there no point to the story of Herakles because he isn’t based on an historical figure? Or Cú Chulainn? Or any of the other great mythological heroes? I’d say there most certainly is.

    Is there “greater” impact and therefore need to strongly consider Antinous’ story, because we know he was a real human being? While I’m certainly far more biased in this arena than most people, I’d also say there isn’t–and, most of modern Paganism (and a good bit of ancient polytheism) doesn’t think so, either.

    I’ve heard this argument from many Christians over the years: if the life of Jesus is even in the least bit more metaphorical than it is literal, then there’s no point in believing any of this. What a failure of the human mythic imagination, I think…something which polytheists have tended to be pretty good at, I’ve always thought.

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  • KateGladstone

    Aidan — You write:

    “I think that, if he hadn’t been killed by the Romans, he [Jesus] would be remembered as one of the great Tannaim”

    However, many who ARE remembered as great Tannaim — Rabbi Akiba, for one — WERE killed by the Romans. Why were they, but not he, remembered as great Tannaim?

    • anitra

      That’s an interesting question, and I think what it’s really querying is the fork of Judaism and Christianity in the first century.

      However central the mythology of Jesus’s death became for Christianity, I doubt it was the determining factor. I expect the real difference is that no one was trying to convert the gentiles in Akiva’s name without circumcising them first.


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