(Ed. Note: This is the 24d post in Frank Zindler’s Speaking Frankly About Jesus blog which is dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. This is part P of a mini series debunking “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus“.)
Lies: So short in stating, so long in negating!
We have seen that in Judaism, the word “Lord” was a substitute for YHWH, the secret name of the main Israelite god. In Aramaic/Hebrew the word for Lord was adonai; in Greek it was kyrios. Thus, at least in Jewish Christianity, “Jesus is Lord” meant “Jesus is Yahweh.” I think, however, that that was not the case in the proto-Christian thread of tradition that underlies the Pauline literature and probably the Docetic and Gnostic literature as well. In that earliest recoverable stratum of tradition relating to Christianity, “Lord” appears to have been an epithet of the Heavenly Christ, the Savior who came to earth “in the likeness of men” to initiate the elect into the mysteries of how to return to their original home in the sky. (Don’t forget: in ancient times “heaven” was just above the clouds—a physical location, not a fifth-dimensional Never-Never Land.)
In my chapter “Bart Ehrman and the Crucified Messiah” in the book Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth, I demonstrate quite rigorously that the word “Christ,” now spelled with the vowel “i” (Christos in Greek) originally was spelled Chreistos or Chrēstos in Greek. In that form, a “Heavenly Christ” would have had nothing to do with Jewish messiahs. It was only in the late first century when the great vowel shift known as itacism or iotacism changed the pronunciation of many vowels and diphthongs into /i/ or /ī/ that the title now spelled Christos could be derived from the Greek verb chriō and could come to mean “anointed, smeared with oil”—and thus become the equivalent of the Hebrew meshiach, Messiah. Only after this phonetic evolution, along with various theological developments in Judaising threads of religious tradition, could the slogan “Jesus is Lord/Yahweh” come to be. In fact, in Docetic and Gnostic forms of Christianity, “Jesus” most emphatically was not Yahweh!
To return to our question concerning the nature of a “Brother of the Lord,” it would appear that a person bearing such a title was a member of a brotherhood—a fraternity—that was in some way peculiarly committed to the service of Yahweh. It is likely that the title could have applied equally to communities of monks trying jointly to understand the mysteries of the deity, affiliations of freedom fighters seeking to purge “the Holy Land” of pagans and pagan influence, or even brotherhoods-of-one—solitary eremites starving themselves into hypoglycemic hallucinations of “the Lord.” It is also likely that the title “The Brother of the Lord” was reserved for individuals who had attained a certain rank—perhaps that of leader—in such fraternities.
There is evidence that just such a fraternity was one of the sodalities involved in the ecclesiastical coalescence that became Christianity. James the Just—the “brother of the Lord” referred to in Galatians 1:19—would appear to have been its leader. That this does not refer to blood relationship—is clear from examination of the Pauline corpus and early Christian literature such as Origen’s Contra Celsum. Earl Doherty [The Jesus Puzzle, p. 335] sums up the evidence nicely:
“Compare also 1 Corinthians 9:5. Here is a literal translation: “Have we not the right to take along a sister (adelphēn), a wife, as do the rest of the apostles and the brothers (adelphoi) of the Lord and Cephas?” Look at the word “sister.” No one would say that Paul is referring to his own or anyone else’s sibling. He means a fellow-believer of the female sex, and he seems to use it in apposition to (descriptive of) the word “wife” or “a Christian wife.”
“This, too, should cast light on the meaning of adelphos, both here and elsewhere. It refers to a fellow-believer in the Lord. The more archaic rendering as brethren of the Lord” conveys exactly this connotation: a community of like-minded believers, not “siblings” of each other or anyone else. Thus, a “brother of the Lord,” whether referring to James or the 500, means a follower of this divine figure, and in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul would be referring to some of these members of the Jerusalem sect.”
I should note, though, that there might yet be a still more primitive meaning for “Brother of the Lord” in the Jerusalem context of James the Just. “The Lord” might not yet be a devotee of the Heavenly Christ; he might be a fully Jewish “Brother of Yahweh.” Or, it even would have applied equally well to initiates who belonged to one of the mystery cults. I can’t decide.
To return to the evidence that the Josephus reference to James the Brother of Jesus in Book 20 of Antiquities of the Jews is a forgery: If one looks to the larger context of the James-and-Jesus passage, there is the further likelihood that the entire story about Ananus “beating Albinus to the draw” by convening the Sanhedrin and executing James and the rest likewise is a Jewish proto-Christian fabrication. There are problems in this section of Josephus’ text that are difficult or impossible to resolve.
First of all, Ananus the son of Ananus here is said to have ruled for only three months before being deposed by King Agrippa. Josephus earlier discussed this Ananus in chapters 3-5 of Book 4 of his Wars of the Jews. Nowhere is there a hint that he ruled only three months as high priest! To the contrary, he is high priest right up to his slaughter by the zealots and Idumeans shortly before the fall of Jerusalem. Far from being the nasty evildoer of Antiquities Book 20, Ananus the son of Ananus in the Wars is described as follows:
“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation slain in the midst of the city He was on other accounts a venerable, and very just man; and besides the grandeur of that nobility, and dignity, and honour of which he was possessed, he had been a lover of a kind of parity, even with regard to the meanest of the people; he was a prodigious lover of liberty, and an admirer of democracy in government; and did ever prefer the public welfare before his own advantage, and preferred peace above all things…”
As if this were not incompatible enough with the picture of Ananus the son of Ananus in the disputed quotation from Josephus, there is a chronological incompatibility as well! Unless there were two different high-priest father-and-son pairs named Ananus, the Ananus who executed James has been placed (by an interpolator?) into the wrong time slot. Far from ruling at the very end of high-priest history, which ceased with the destruction of the Temple of Yahweh in 70 CE, the Ananus of our disputed passage is put in and out of office at the time that Lucceius Albinus assumed the post of procurator of Judaea—in 62 CE! It is impossible to believe that Josephus could have written both accounts.
The nasty-Ananus passage has other features lacking in verisimilitude that make it sound more like a religious folktale than Josephan history. Albinus is already on the way to Jerusalem from Alexandria (remember Philo of Alexandria, who Jenkins says wouldn’t have known what was going in in faraway Jerusalem?) when Jewish envoys meet him, tell him what Ananus has done, and then instruct the new procurator as to what his rights and duties are! They tell him it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble the Sanhedrin without his consent—as if he himself would not know that. (Of course readers could not be expected to know that, and so the author of our tale needed to find a way to convey the information.) This implausibile impertinence is followed by Albinus—already on the road to Jerusalem—writing an angry letter to Ananus threatening punishment unles he cease and desist. Why the letter should have gotten to Jerusalem significantly earlier than Albinus did is unexplained. Then, although the letter was allegedly sent to Ananus, King Agrippa is represented as having taken action against Ananus. Unless Albinus also sent Agrippa a pigeon-post epistle, it is hard to understand why the king should have done anything at all before the arrival of Albinus. This is yet another fairy-tale feature of our story. Finally, when Albinus does get to Jerusalem, there is no mention of his following up in the matter of Ananus:
“When Albinus reached the city of Jerusalem, he bent every effort and made every provision to ensure peace in the land by exterminating most of the sicarii. Now the high priest Ananias [three manuscripts read Ananus!] daily advanced greatly in reputation and was splendidly rewarded by the goodwill and esteem of the citizens…”
I will not tire my readers by further evidence that all of the references to James and Jesus in the writings of Josephus are forgeries; the fact is clear enough by now. It must always be remembered that Christianity, like most if not all religions, could not exist were it not for fraud and dishonesty—both as the midwives of its birth and as the wet-nurses for its growth and progress. Readers may wish to download Joseph Wheless’ classic Forgery in Christianity, a classic statement of my case:
Next time: I will have a flashback to reexamine Philip Jenkins’ citation of Bart Ehrman’s new book, Jesus Before the Gospels. What I’ve discovered by reading that book hopefully will amuse you.
Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist.
(Photo credit: Eric Lin via Flikr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/phonescoop/214501602/)
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