My Favorite Lecture Ever 3

My Favorite Lecture Ever 3 August 17, 2005

We’ve had a look at what Aponarius, the Greek librarian had to say about the Gospels and now it is time to turn to Simon the Judean.

2.2 Simon, the Judean: Haggadic Biography

Simon declared immediately that, though he had never seen a book of the length of these books dedicated solely to one individual — reminding everyone that in his Jewish tradition history books were about the nation and community and not individuals alone, he did think that “gospel” could have emerged from Jewish soil. In particular, he said, there were two or three precedents that could have coalesced to form this kind of literature.

First, he said, we have a fair share of lives of religious heroes, both in the Torah and in our other books. He mentioned the Moses stories and the Elisha stories from the Torah and the Early Prophets. He apparently thought that Diaspora Jews, including those living in Alexandria, got the same impression from their Septuagint. Further, he must have mentioned 1 and 2 Maccabees, some apocalyptic writings, and some of the Qumran documents (especially 1QHodayot) because traces of each appears in the Gospels. But, he said, none of these is so devoted to the life of one individual but are rather more concerned with a major movement (and here there was some discussion of the Maccabees, whose memory lives just after the destruction of Jerusalem from 66-73 AD). He mentioned that concentration of one individual tends to spring from a person’s prayers — as in Psalms and 1QHodayot.

Second, Simon continued, though the lives give some basis for the Gospels, it was the opinion of the son of the prominent Jew, Philo, whose name was Alexandros, that the gospels sounded like midrashic embellishments of a certain Jesus of Nazaret. He apparently informed Eleazar the Galilean that, though no real parallels exist for such a midrashic undertaking, that kind of thinking was not at all impossible for Jewish writing. When Aponarius asked Simon if that meant that the entire work was fiction, and therefore they should change their views to Greek Fictions, and classify the books along with Plutarch’s Lives, Simon said that was too strong of a reaction. He suggested, rather, that though the books were basically historical, certain portions would have been been embellished with stories spun from whole cloth out of scriptural citations. In fact, he said that he was impressed with such a notion when he read the story about Jesus coming out of Egypt in the beginning of one of the Gospels, but he couldn’t remember which one.

Third, he continued, not only would we think these books to be embellished lives, we also think that haggadah is present. By this, he said, we mean the telling of stories to impress upon readers a point or an opinion. In fact, at times haggadic stories are nothing more than fables. Thus, we would think that some of the material is haggadic as well.

Their suggestion, then, was that the gospels are a life of Jesus that has been overladen with legendary and haggadic materials, some of which are derived from exegesis of Jewish scriptures. But, Simon added, we tend to think that these books are from some people who must think that Jesus, of whom I had never heard until now, was either God or the greatest human who ever lived. But, it is clear to us at least, that he was not God (since we believe in one God) and that he was not great since God cursed him through allowing his crucifixion.

At this point I observed there was some consensus: the gospels were some kind of life of Jesus. But, each argued that the themes of hte Gospels were shaped in such a way to lead the reader to adoration and instruction.

Tomorrow, part 4: Plotinus, the Roman.

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  • Nice, I’m going to link your blog to mine. I look forward to reading more of this in the future.

  • Thank you for resurrecting this lecture! I’m enjoying it immensely, and it will be helpful for me in the future as a good entry point for my own students into the nature of the Gospels.Peace,Michael Pahl

  • Kirk and Michael,Thanks to both of you. I can’t believe how much fun I’m having doing it this way. It’s not much fun just typing in something written years ago, but it has been fun to think about. I’d make some changes now, but just tinkering here and there is all I’d do.