Jesus Myth Part II - Follow-up,
Commentary, and Expansion
- February 5, 2007
I have received a considerable amount of feedback and questions in relation
to my Jesus myth article,
Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ. In this article I will
address those questions and expand on some of the information put forward in the
I would first like to provide some background on this subject and address
some broader concerns.
I am certainly not the first person to propose that the Jesus of the Gospels
never existed but that instead he originated from "myth". The idea
in modern scholarship that Jesus Christ is entirely fictitious seems to have
begun its development in earnest in the 18th century and became quite prominent in
the 19th century, only to later recede in the 20th century.
Many of the early proponents of the idea that Jesus never existed were
students and professors of comparative religion, who saw in the Jesus story
reflections of sun worship and "pagan" mythology. Some of these observations
had some merit, but much of the early criticism of the story dwelled heavily
on non-Jewish parallels, some of which were poorly established or based on
poor understandings of the so-called pagan beliefs. In 1875 Kersey
Graves published The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, which has
been heavily criticized and has many factual errors. In this work Graves
compared the story of Jesus to the supposed stories of sixteen other
saviors. The problem here is that Graves got many of his facts wrong.
In 1909 the German philosopher Arthur Drews published
The Christ Myth, which was a much more scholarly work that became quite
popular and well known, even in America. That same year John E. Remsberg
published a review of the scholarship on the
issue of the nature of Christ among skeptical scholars of the time, from which the
follow text is taken:
The conceptions regarding the nature and character of Christ, and the
value of the Christian Scriptures as historical evidence, are many,
chief of which are the following:
1. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ is a historical character,
supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which
purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but
2. Conservative Rationalists, like Renan, and the Unitarians, believe
that Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these
narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements, which they regard as
myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life.
3. Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which
Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so
legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of
4. Other Freethinkers believe that Jesus Christ is a pure myth --
that he never had an existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an
imaginary solar deity.
The first of these conceptions must be rejected because the existence
of such a being is impossible, and because the Bible narratives which
support it are incredible. The second cannot be accepted because,
outside of these incredible narratives, there is no evidence to confirm
it. One of the two last is the only true and rational conception of the
Jesus Christ is a myth. But what do we understand by the term myth?
Falsehood, fable, and myth, are usually considered synonymous terms. But
a falsehood, a fable, and a myth, while they may all be fictions and
equally untrue, are not the same. A falsehood is the expression of an
untruth intended to deceive. A fable is an avowed or implied fiction
usually intended to instruct or entertain. A myth is a falsehood, a
fable, or an erroneous opinion, which eventually becomes an established
belief. While a falsehood and a fable are intentional and immediate
expressions of fiction, a myth is, in most cases, an unconscious and
gradual development of one.
It is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a historical
from a philosophical myth. Hence the non-agreement of Freethinkers in
regard to the nature of the Christ myth. Is Christ a historical or a
philosophical myth? Does an analysis of his alleged history disclose the
deification of a man, or merely the personification of an idea?
The hypothesis that Christ is a philosophical myth, based, like the
preceding one, upon the Messianic idea, is thus presented by T. B.
"Never was there an example of a word becoming a believed person,
under this law of materialization, more plainly and evolutionally than
the 'Messiah' and 'Son of Man' of the Hebrew prophecies.... The Christ,
'Jesus,' was no man, for the reason that he was prophesied and
visionated into this world and life to do a work that it would be
utterly absurd to suppose a man could ever do. The Romans had killed,
and could easily kill, every man who had tried to resist their
oppression. Now the God Yahweh by his 'eternally begotten son,'
spiritized as the 'Son of Man,' that is the 'Soul of the State,' as
Shakespeare makes Ulysses say it, must, in order to be of any avail
appear with supernatural powers. He was the personified people, Israel;
he had been crucified alive, in their subjection and massacre even to
the death and Hades. But by supernatural power he, the Israel, would
rise again and bring the final judgment backed by the infinite power of
the nation's Father, Yahweh. It was only a Spirit-God who could do this
-- nothing less could be originated, or thought of, or provided, for
such a superhuman purpose. A person, a man, a reformer, a weak edition
of Socrates, or Savonarola or Bruno! How absurd! The human heart in its
despair by its imagination, brought a God into the world to do a God's
work. 'No man,' said Napoleon; 'nor a God,' says Science, except the
idea. Such it was that finally united the millions of Asia, Africa,
Europe, and America, in a dream so intoxicating that it dares not to be
awakened though the dawn of Science is here."
Mr. Wakeman argues that the silence of history for one hundred years
after the alleged appearance of Christ can be explained only upon this
hypothesis of an ideal Christ. To this the advocate of the historical
myth may, I think, very properly reply: History, for the most part,
takes cognizance only of noted men and important events; and while this
silence precludes the existence of the supernatural Christ of
Christians, and even that of the human Jesus of Renan, it does not
necessarily preclude the existence of an obscure religious teacher and
an insignificant sect which subsequently, by a chain of fortuitous
circumstances, became the mightiest among the religions of the world.
While all Freethinkers are agreed that the Christ of the New
Testament is a myth they are not, as we have seen, and perhaps never
will be, fully agreed as to the nature of this myth. Some believe that
he is a historical myth; others that he is a pure myth. Some believe
that Jesus, a real person, was the germ of this Christ whom subsequent
generations gradually evolved; others contend that the man Jesus, as
well as the Christ, is wholly a creation of the human imagination.
The Christ; A Critical Review and Analysis of His Existence; John E.
For a variety of reasons, investigation into the subject of Jesus as myth
faded into obscurity in the West during much of the 20th century, probably
having a lot to do with the World Wars, the Great Depression and the Cold
War, but in recent years the subject has risen in popularity again.
With the rise of the Internet there has been a further growth of "Jesus
Myth" proposals by various people, sometimes based on poor research,
resulting in a vast array of claims about the non-existence of Jesus and
claims about various other "pagan" figures that the story of Jesus is
supposedly copied from. Unfortunately there is a lot of poor "scholarship"
on this subject, both on the Internet and in print. That does not, however,
mean that there is not also good scholarship on this subject, but one does
have to be very careful and check sources when claims are made, which is why
I have used as many direct quotes as possible and relied largely on my own
arguments to lay out the information as plainly, directly, and clearly as
possible. No one has all of the answers on this subject and I do not think that
there is any single authoritative or complete work on this subject at the
moment; it is still a subject very much in its infancy.
What is evident, however, is that there is something very wrong with the
traditional explanation for the rise of the Christian religion, the origin
of the Gospels, and the so-called "evidence" for a "flesh and blood" Jesus.
At this moment there seems to be a lot of emphasis on supposed "pagan"
origins of the Jesus story, with books such as The Jesus Mysteries: Was
the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy and
websites such as
POCM (The Pagan Origins of the Jesus Myth), as well as many others.
The problem with these resources, however, is that they are often poorly
researched and/or stretch the facts, especially when making claims about
so-called "pagan" gods and heroes, often going to pains to make their
stories appear more similar to the Jesus story than they really are.
The Jesus Mysteries, for example, has been heavily criticized along
This does not to say that some of these resources don't make some valid
points or that everything they say is wrong or that there are no "pagan"
influences on the Jesus story, but many of these resources are very
problematic in the quality of their work.
In contrast to this we also have work by those such as Early Doherty, G.A.
Wells, and Robert M. Price which tend to be less bombastic and of higher
My personal view is that the Jesus story is highly "Jewish" in nature and
that the best place to look for understanding the origins of the Jesus story
is Jewish literature and Jewish belief. This issue is complicated however,
because the reality is that there was no clear distinction between Jewish
and non-Jewish culture in the Mediterranean at the time, this view is
largely a later idea. The Jewish worldview and Jewish literature
absorbed influences from surrounding cultures throughout history, especially
during the few hundreds years prior to the advent of Christianity, so
drawing clear distinctions between "Jewish" and "non-Jewish"
ideas really breaks down at a certain level. There is a difference, however,
between the influence of ideas that diffused into Jewish culture from the Greeks over
time and claiming that the story of Jesus is simply a copy of the story of
Mithras or Dionysus.
My analysis and my understanding of the Jesus story tends to look more
towards Jewish sources and Jewish relevancy, whereas the analysis of some
others tends to look more towards so-called "pagan" sources and relevancy
for interpreting the Jesus story, which I feel is a wrong approach. This is
not to say that Hellenistic influences were not significant, they defiantly
were, nor do I exclude analysis of other parallels, but this has to do with
where the emphasis is put and how elements are interpreted. As a result, my
interpretation of the Jesus story tends to be more in line with the
traditional Christian interpretation of the story than some of the people
who also propose that Jesus never existed.
Having said all that, we can now move on to further analysis and some of the
questions that were raised by the first article.
Most of the questions raised had to do with Paul's view of Jesus. My claim,
and the claim of those like Earl Doherty and Arthur Drews, is that Paul (and
others) not only had no knowledge of a historical Jesus, but indeed had
views of Jesus that are incompatible with there ever having been a
Jesus. Other questions were related to the claim that the Gospel of Mark was
intended to be allegorical, and there was a concern that my argument was an
argument from absence.
My original article did not formulate an argument as much as it laid out
various pieces of information. My argument is this:
- There is no evidence that confirms that Jesus Christ did exist. (The
intention of this argument is not to argue from absence, but rather to
simply show that the possibilities are open to further explanation. In
addition, yes, this absence of information is also relevant and does
produce an argument from absence, but this absence cannot by itself be
evidence that some "Jesus" did not exist.)
- Both the pre-Gospel view of Jesus Christ and the Gospel story of
Jesus Christ have precedents in earlier Jewish literature and beliefs.
(This is a point that is itself a part of Christian belief.)
- The details of the life of Jesus as relayed in the Gospels can be
accounted for via existing literature and beliefs, i.e. sources other
than someone's real life. (This again is largely in line with Christian
beliefs and can be shown to be true beyond question.)
- The earliest writings about Jesus that we have are incompatible with
the existence of a historical figure. (This is a contentious claim, and
one that draws the most scrutiny)
- There are theological reasons that explain how a non-historical
Jesus Christ would have been historicized, these being developments
around the eucharist ritual and a belief that real suffering and a real
blood sacrifice were needed create a "new covenant" or to take away
sins. (This again makes use of the Christian understanding of the Jesus
- There was widespread disagreement as to the nature and existence of
Jesus from the time of the writing of the Gospels. (I contend that we
have no evidence of disagreement about the nature of Jesus before the
Gospels because A. the movement was so small and B. there was no view of
Jesus as a historical figure in the first place)
- The earliest defenders of an earthly flesh and blood historical Jesus came along in
the 2nd century, and even at that time none of them were able to provide
proof for the existence of Jesus, instead they relied on theological
reasoning and scriptures to support their claims, eventually winning out
through political force not the validity of their claims.
- That Jesus did not exist, but rather developed from stories and
beliefs, is the best explanation for these points and many other details
of the Jesus story and early Christian history.
Support for these points was made in the prior article and will not
necessarily be addressed again here. As you can see, however, this is not an
argument from absence, but an argument that makes positive claims.
One difficulty in making this case is that there is no defined historical
view of Jesus Christ in the first place. Many people, it seems, both
Christians and non-Christians, are content to hold on to a greatly
diminished historical Jesus who becomes undetectable to history, while
others continue to argue for Jesus Christ as the Son of God as described in
the Gospels. Very different arguments are needed to address these differing
views. A good example of this is the case of the "empty tomb". Believers in
the traditional Christian story put forward the fact that there is no
evidence of veneration of a tomb of Jesus as evidence that Jesus really was
the Son of God and really was resurrected, thus there was no body in the
tomb to venerate, thus explaining why we have no evidence for early
veneration of the location of Jesus' burial. This is difficult for people
who believe in a real historical Jesus who was just a man to explain,
because they then have to explain why a real person who inspired the Gospels
wouldn't have had the location of his burial venerated. The explanation that
there was no Jesus in the first place, however, solves all these problems,
but has to be presented differently to address the two different sets of
The range of views about Jesus can perhaps be presented on a spectrum as
This spectrum can be defined in more detail along the following lines,
knowing that every particular view of Jesus is not represented in this
- The Gospels are inerrant and absolutely historically true. Jesus is
the Son of God who was predicted by the Hebrew scriptures, who came to
earth in human form, was born of a virgin, preached, and was crucified
by Pilate, then rose from the dead and now sits on the right hand of
God. The Gospels are historical eyewitness accounts or based on solid
- The Gospels are generally true but somewhat exaggerated accounts of
a real Jesus who had a following of people who thought he was the Son of
God. He wasn't born of a virgin and didn't walk on water or perform
miracles or rise from the dead, but the Gospels reflect his true
teachings and the basic events of his life, and he was crucified by
Pilate. The Gospels come from eye witness accounts mixed with a little
- The Gospels are generally true but somewhat exaggerated accounts of
a real Jesus who was influential in the region. He may or may not have
really been crucified by Pilate. He was later mythologized and elevated
in status. The Gospels come from eye witness accounts mixed with legend.
- The Gospels are mostly fabricated stories inspired by a real Jesus.
The Gospels come almost entirely from legends and scriptures, but are
still loosely based on the actions of a real Jesus whom we don't know
very much about.
- The Gospels are mostly fabricated stories inspired by a real a
person or persons from a spectrum of time, perhaps from events as far
back as 200 years before the supposed life of Jesus. Over time stories
were put together that cobbled various political events and persons into
a single "Jesus Christ" figure. The events and teachings in the Gospels
are mythologized, but based on real-life events that took place over
time and were done by a person or various people. The Gospels come
almost entirely from legends and scriptures, but are still based on the
actions of some real people, without which the story of Jesus would
never have come into existence.
- The Gospels are completely fabricated stories based on scripture,
legends, and the mystical beliefs of existing Jewish cults. There is no
human figure at the center of the Gospel stories at all. The Gospels
were generally written in the same manner that most scholars claim,
during the late 1st century to early 2nd century, but there is no person
at the core of them, whether all of the writers themselves knew it or
- The Gospels are completely fabricated stories based on pagan myths
about figures such as Dionysus and Mithras. The Gospels were written by
directly mixing Jewish and non-Jewish religions and beliefs into stories that borrow from both traditions. The meaning of the
Gospels has been largely lost and generally has little to do with
- The Gospels are completely fabricated stories that were
intentionally crafted to deceive people, and there is no historical
person at their core. The Gospels were really written anywhere from the
2nd century to the 4th century and much of early Christian history has
been fabricated. The writers of the Gospels knew that there was no Jesus
and the whole crafting of the religion was part of a political tool by
Roman Emperors or others of a similar kind.
What I argue for is position 6, with perhaps minor influences from positions 5
and 7, though I would say that any anecdotes that may have been applied to
Jesus are completely secondary to the mythical character and that they had
no influence on the existence of the story itself, perhaps only adding to an
already existing character that originated in the mythical realm. In other
words, perhaps some anecdotes were attached to the myth, but not the other
way around. An example of this might be the possible use of anecdotes about
Jesus son of Ananus by the Gospel writers, though this would have had no
bearing on the Jesus Christ of Paul.
A significant part of the positive evidence against the existence of Jesus is
actually the early Christian writings themselves, especially the writings of
Paul. Because of that I would like to address the writings and beliefs of
Paul again and in further detail, addressing questions that have been raised
about the first article in the process.
Of Angels, Heaven, Visions, Sacrifices, Passion, and Ecstasy
It is critically important to understand the worldviews that existed at the time
and place that Paul began his preaching. I think that not understanding how
people thought at that time, and how Paul likely thought, is one of the
biggest stumbling blocks that people have to understanding how a "mythical"
Jesus would have been conceived.
Today most people have a very "supernatural" concept of heaven, as perhaps
some place that exists outside of space and time which you can not
physically find in our universe. Most people today have this view of heaven
because of the fact that we have been into outer space, we have powerful
telescopes that look out into the stars, we have photographs of Earth taken
from the moon, etc. We know that "heaven" doesn't exist up in the
clouds, but that wasn't the case during Paul's time among people like Paul
and his followers. To these people heaven was a real physical place that
existed just beyond the clouds and, in theory, if you could climb a high
enough mountain you could probably throw rocks into heaven whence you might
risk hitting an angel and getting him mad at you. If you were either really
lucky or really unfortunate an angel might fly down to earth on his wings and pick
you up and literally take you up past the clouds into heaven where you could
walk around and spy on various beings.
Heaven, Hades, and Tartarus were just as real to these people as the sea
floor and the moon are to us today. People, from Greek materialists to
Platonic philosophers to religious fanatics, believed that images from the
heavens and of gods, angels, and demons could literally be, and were,
projected to people on earth. The idea of "supernatural" really did not
exist at this time as we know it today. To these people everything was
natural. Even Greek materialists who rejected religion believed that the
visions that people saw in dreams, ideas crafted in people's imaginations,
and the unexplained phenomenon that people experienced such as
hallucinations, all stemmed from real beings and that if you had a dream
about a demon with horns or someone claimed to have seen an angel with
wings, then these things had to have really existed and their images were
bring projected to that person.
Spirits, or souls, to these people was very real. Some viewed the soul as
material and others viewed it as immaterial, but though there were distinctions between
"material" and "immaterial" worlds, neither the material nor the immaterial
worlds were viewed as "supernatural" or "unnatural", this was simply how the
world operated and worked and existed. The modern concept of "supernatural"
didn't really develop until after Newton and others had defined "natural
laws" that governed how the world works. Then the idea of "supernatural"
became anything that was conceived to violate these laws, but prior to the
definition of these laws there was no significant distinction between
"natural' and "supernatural".
The image below is a diagram showing early Jewish cosmology. This is the
cosmology of Genesis, where the earth was flat and covered by a dome which
protected the earth and the sky from the waters outside the earth, which was
where rain came from. The heaven of God and the angels physically existed
just outside the ocean of heaven.
By the 1st century CE, however, cosmology in the region had changed. There were in fact many different views of cosmology, from a spherical earth
floating in a purely material infinite universe, to a flat earth still held
up by pillars and covered by a dome, but we know that a popular view among
Hellenistic Jews at that time was a view similar to the one pictured below:
In some Jewish stories of the era we are presented with a seven layer
heaven, in others a five layer heaven, and by Paul and other Christians we
hear of a three layer heaven. This diagram, from a Christian fundamentalist,
probably closely represents the view of heaven that Paul literally believed
in. As far as Paul was concerned the clouds were the midway point between
the heavens and earth. As far as Paul was concerned these heavens were
populated by many different beings, including angels and demons, and people
could literally travel to these heavens and people on earth could literally
have visions of events taking place in these heavens.
Plato tells us something of this in the 4th century BCE. Plato's cosmology
would later go on to influence many people and cultures throughout the
region and his views (or views similar to his) on afterlife, in various
altered forms, were prevalent throughout the Mediterranean among both Jews
and non-Jews by the 1st century.
These things being thus constituted, when the dead arrive at the
place to which their demon leads them severally, first of all they are
judged, as well those who have lived well and piously, as those who have
not. And those who appear to have passed a middle kind of life,
proceeding to Acheron, and embarking in the vessels they have, on these
arrive at the lake, and there dwell; and when they are purified, and
have suffered punishment for the iniquities they may have committed,
they are set free, and each receives the reward of his good deeds,
according to his deserts. But those who appear to be incurable, through
the magnitude of their offenses, either from having committed many and
great sacrileges, or many unjust and lawless murders, or other similar
crimes, these a suitable destiny hurls into Tartarus, whence they never
come forth. But those who appear to have been guilty of curable yet
great offenses--such as those who, through anger, have committed any
violence against father or mother, and have lived the remainder of their
life in a state of penitence, or they who have become homicides in a
similar manner--these must, of necessity, fall into Tartarus. But after
they have fallen, and have been there for a year, the wave casts them
forth, the homicides into Cocytus, but the parricides and matricides
into Pyriphlegethon. But when, being borne along, they arrive at the
Acherusian lake, there they cry out to and invoke, some those whom they
slew, others those whom they injured, and, invoking them, they entreat
and implore them to suffer them to go out into the lake, and to receive
them, and if they persuade them, they go out, and are freed from their
sufferings, but if not, they are borne back to Tartarus, and thence
again to the rivers. And they do not cease from suffering this until
they have persuaded those whom they have injured, for this sentence was
imposed on them by the judges. But those who are found to have
lived an eminently holy life, these are they who, being freed and set at
large from these regions in the earth as from a prison, arrive at the
pure abode above, and dwell on the upper parts of the earth.
And among these, they who have sufficiently purified themselves by
philosophy shall live without bodies, throughout all future time, and
shall arrive at habitations yet more beautiful than these which it is
neither easy to describe, nor at present is there sufficient time for
- PHÆDO; Plato, 4th century BCE
From the 2nd century BCE through the 2nd century CE we find Jewish
apocalyptic and messianic writings that discuss visions of heaven,
prophecies of the future, coming saviors, atonement sacrifices, wars in the
heavens, retributions of God, and many of other things. It is important
to note here that the term apocalypse is popularly misunderstood today to
mean "end of the world", but the term apocalypse really means "lifting of
the veil", or revelation, typically applied to claimed literal visions,
which in Jewish literature during this time were often visions of the end of
the world. The New Testament book called Revelation, or Apocalypse of
John, is one such writing and is specifically about Jesus Christ, but
there were many similar writings about other figures as well, and these
writings provide us with the worldview of the time and place of Paul's
Important writings from this period, both Jewish and Christian, include
The Book of Daniel, Martyrdom of Isaiah, The Book of Enoch,
Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Apocalypse of Elijah,
Assumption of Moses, Testament of Isaac, Apocalypse of
Adam, Apocalypse of John (The Book of Revelation),
Apocalypse of Sedrach, Word and Revelation of Esdras, and
Here are some critical sections from a few of these works. First we will
look at The Book of Daniel, which is the only apocalyptic writing
that is a part of the "Old Testament". It was also included in the
1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a
dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the
dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven
stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the
sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion
and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off,
and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like
a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 5 Another beast
appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one
side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, ‘Arise,
devour many bodies!’ 6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like
a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four
heads; and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the visions
by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong.
It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and
stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the
beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 8 I was considering the
horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to
make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the
roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth
9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the
horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its
body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest
of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were
prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night
I saw one like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then
someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, 16
and I heard a human voice by the Ulai, calling, ‘Gabriel, help this man
understand the vision.’ 17 So he came near where I stood; and when he
came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me,
‘Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.’
20 While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the
sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord
my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— 21 while I was
speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision,
came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He
came and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and
understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went
out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.
So consider the word and understand the vision:
24 ‘Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to
finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for
iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and
prophet, and to anoint a most holy one. 25 Know therefore and
understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild
Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be
seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with
streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 After the sixty-two
weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the
troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the
sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end
there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 He shall make a strong
covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make
sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination
that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.’
2 At that time I, Daniel, had been mourning for three weeks. 3 I had
eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not
anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks. 4On the twenty-fourth
day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river
(that is, the Tigris), 5 I looked up and saw a man clothed in
linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was
like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his
arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his
words like the roar of a multitude. 7 I, Daniel, alone saw the vision;
the people who were with me did not see the vision, though a great
trembling fell upon them, and they fled and hid themselves. 8
So I was left alone to see this great vision.
15 While he was speaking these words to me, I turned my face towards
the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one in human form touched my
lips, and I opened my mouth to speak, and said to the one who stood
before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision such pains have come
upon me that I retain no strength.
1 ‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your
people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as
has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that
time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in
the book. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth
shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting
contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the
dome, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever
and ever. 4But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed
until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and
forth, and evil shall increase.’
5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others appeared, one standing on
this bank of the stream and one on the other. 6 One of them said
to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream, ‘How long shall it be
until the end of these wonders?’ 7 The man clothed in linen, who was
upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand towards heaven. And I
heard him swear by the one who lives for ever that it would be for a
time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the
power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be
accomplished. 8 I heard but could not understand; so I said,
‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’ 9 He said, ‘Go
your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until
the time of the end. 10 Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined,
but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall
understand, but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time
that the regular burnt-offering is taken away and the abomination that
desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety
days. 12 Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three
hundred and thirty-five days. 13 But you, go your way, and rest;
you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.’
In the quotation above I have mostly included the story elements that relate
most to the writings of Paul and the Jesus story, though there are also many
story elements which I did not include that have no relevance to the Jesus story. The revelations of
Daniel related to a military conflict and military leader of the Jews.
The Book of Daniel is set in the 6th century BCE, but it was actually
composed in the 2nd century BCE and it was not actually written by someone
named Daniel, just as The Book of Enoch was not written by Enoch.
Unlike the later ideas of Paul, The Book of Daniel is a highly
nationalistic work, intended purely for a Jewish audience.
The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible has this to say about The
Book of Daniel:
The book as a whole is usually described as an apocalypse, a genre in
which revelation is mediated in a narrative framework to a human
recipient through otherworldly beings and that discloses a heavenly
world and a coming judgment. Apocalypses often use conventions such as
pseudonymity and employ a variety of literary forms.
We can now look at The Book of Enoch, written shortly after The
Book of Daniel, and not included in the Septuagint or the Old
1 The word of the blessing of Enoch, how he blessed the elect and the
righteous, who were to exist in the time of trouble; rejecting all the
wicked and ungodly. Enoch, a righteous man, who was with God,
answered and spoke, while his eyes were open, and while he saw a holy
vision in the heavens. This the angels showed me.
2 From them I heard all things, and understood what I saw; that which
will not take place in this generation, but in a generation which is to
succeed at a distant period, on account of the elect.
3 Upon their account I spoke and conversed with him, who will go
forth from his habitation, the Holy and Mighty One, the God of the world:
4 Who will hereafter tread upon Mount Sinai; appear with his
hosts; and be manifested in the strength of his power from heaven.
5 All shall be afraid, and the Watchers be terrified.
6 Great fear and trembling shall seize them, even to the ends of the
earth. The lofty mountains shall be troubled, and the exalted hills
depressed, melting like a honeycomb in the flame. The earth
shall be immerged, and all things which are in it perish; while judgment
shall come upon all, even upon all the righteous:
7 But to them shall he give peace: he shall preserve the elect, and
towards them exercise clemency.
8 Then shall all belong to God; be happy and blessed; and the splendor
of the Godhead shall illuminate them.
1 It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days,
that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.
2 And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they
became enamored of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for
ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.
3 Then their leader Samyaza said to them; I fear that you may perhaps be
indisposed to the performance of this enterprise;
4 And that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.
5 But they answered him and said; We all swear;
6 And bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our
intention, but execute our projected undertaking.
7 Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual
execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon
Ardis, which is the top of mount Armon.
8 That mountain therefore was called Armon, because they had sworn upon
it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations.
9 These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader,
Urakabarameel, Akibeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Saraknyal, Asael,
Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael,
Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the
remainder were all with them.
10 Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to
approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery,
incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.
11 And the women conceiving brought forth giants,
12 Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which
the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them;
13 When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them;
14 And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their
flesh one after another, and to drink their blood.
15 Then the earth reproved the unrighteous.
1 Then Michael and Gabriel, Raphael, Suryal, and Uriel, looked down
from heaven, and saw the quantity of blood which was shed on earth, and
all the iniquity which was done upon it, and said one to another, It is
the voice of their cries;
2 The earth deprived of her children has cried even to the gate of
3 And now to you, O you holy one of heaven, the souls of men complain,
saying, Obtain Justice for us with the Most High. Then they said to
their Lord, the King, You are Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings.
The throne of your glory is for ever and ever, and for ever and ever is
your name sanctified and glorified. You are blessed and glorified.
6 Again the Lord said to Raphael, Bind Azazyel hand and foot; cast
him into darkness; and opening the desert which is in Dudael, cast him
7 Throw upon him hurled and pointed stones, covering him with darkness;
8 There shall he remain for ever; cover his face, that he may not see
9 And in the great day of judgment let him be cast into the
10 Restore the earth, which the angels have corrupted; and announce life
to it, that I may revive it.
11 All the sons of men shall not perish in consequence of every secret,
by which the Watchers have destroyed, and which they have taught, their
12 All the earth has been corrupted by the effects of the teaching of
Azazyel. To him therefore ascribe the whole crime.
13 To Gabriel also the Lord said, Go to the biters, to the reprobates,
to the children of fornication; and destroy the children of fornication,
the offspring of the Watchers, from among men; bring them forth, and
excite them one against another. Let them perish by mutual slaughter;
for length of days shall not be theirs.
14 They shall all entreat you, but their fathers shall not obtain their
wishes respecting them; for they shall hope for eternal life, and that
they may live, each of them, five hundred years.
15 To Michael likewise the Lord said, Go and announce his crime to
Samyaza, and to the others who are with him, who have been
associated with women, that they might be polluted with all their
impurity. And when all their sons shall be slain, when they
shall see the perdition of their beloved, bind them for seventy
generations underneath the earth, even to the day of judgment,
and of consummation, until the judgment, the effect of which will last
for ever, be completed.
16 Then shall they be taken away into the lowest depths of the
fire in torments; and in confinement shall they be shut up for ever.
17 Immediately after this shall he, together with them, burn and perish;
they shall be bound until the consummation of many generations.
18 Destroy all the souls addicted to dalliance, and the offspring of the
Watchers, for they have tyrannized over mankind.
19 Let every oppressor perish from the face of the earth;
20 Let every evil work be destroyed;
21 The plant of righteousness and of rectitude appear, and its produce
become a blessing.
22 Righteousness and rectitude shall be forever planted with delight.
23 And then shall all the saints give thanks, and live until they have
begotten a thousand children, while the whole period of their youth, and
their sabbaths shall be completed in peace. In those days all the earth
shall be cultivated in righteousness; it shall be wholly planted with
trees, and filled with benediction; every tree of delight shall be
planted in it.
24 In it shall vines be planted; and the vine which shall be planted in
it shall yield fruit to satiety; every seed, which shall be sown in it,
shall produce for one measure a thousand; and one measure of olives
shall produce ten presses of oil.
25 Purify the earth from all oppression, from all injustice,
from all crime, from all impiety, and from all the pollution which is
committed upon it. Exterminate them from the earth.
26 Then shall all the children of men be righteous, and all
nations shall pay me divine honors, and bless me; and all shall adore
27 The earth shall be cleansed from all corruption, from every
crime, from all punishment, and from all suffering; neither will I again
send a deluge upon it from generation to generation for ever.
28 In those days I will open the treasures of blessing which are
in heaven, that I may cause them to descend upon earth, and upon all the
works and labor of man.
29 Peace and equity shall associate with the sons of men all the
days of the world, in every generation of it.
1 Thus the Lord commanded the kings, the princes, the
exalted, and those who dwell on earth, saying, Open your eyes, and lift
up your horns, if you are capable of comprehending the Elect One.
2 The Lord of spirits sat upon the throne of his glory.
3 And the spirit of righteousness was poured out over him.
4 The word of his mouth shall destroy all the sinners and all
the ungodly, who shall perish at his presence.
5 In that day shall all the kings, the princes, the exalted, and
those who possess the earth, stand up, behold, and perceive, that he is
sitting on the throne of his glory; that before him the saints shall be
judged in righteousness;
6 And that nothing, which shall be spoken before him, shall be spoken in
7 Trouble shall come upon them, as upon a woman in travail, whose labor
is severe, when her child comes to the mouth of the womb, and she finds
it difficult to bring forth.
8 One portion of them shall look upon another. They shall be astonished,
and shall humble their countenance;
9 And trouble shall seize them, when they shall behold this Son of woman
sitting upon the throne of his glory.
10 Then shall the kings, the princes, and all who possess the
earth, glorify him who has dominion over all things, him who was
concealed; for from the beginning the Son of man existed in secret, whom
the Most High preserved in the presence of his power, and revealed to
11 He shall sow the congregation of the saints, and of the elect; and
all the elect shall stand before him in that day.
12 All the kings, the princes, the exalted, and those who rule
over all the earth, shall fall down on their faces before him, and shall
13 They shall fix their hopes on this Son of man, shall pray to
him, and petition him for mercy.
14 Then shall the Lord of spirits hasten to expel them from his
presence. Their faces shall be full of confusion, and their faces shall
darkness cover. The angels shall take them to punishment, that vengeance
may be inflicted on those who have oppressed his children and his elect.
And they shall become an example to the saints and to his elect. Through
them shall these be made joyful; for the anger of the Lord of spirits
shall rest upon them.
15 Then the sword of the Lord of spirits shall be drunk with their
blood; but the saints and elect shall be safe in that day; nor the face
of the sinners and the ungodly shall they thenceforwards behold.
16 The Lord of spirits shall remain over them:
17 And with this Son of man shall they dwell, eat, lie down, and
rise up, for ever and ever.
1 Afterwards my spirit was concealed, ascending into the
heavens. I beheld the sons of the holy angels treading on flaming fire,
whose garments and robes were white, and whose countenances were
transparent as crystal.
2 I saw two rivers of fire glittering like the hyacinth.
3 Then I fell on my face before the Lord of spirits.
4 And Michael, one of the archangels, took me by my right hand, raised
me up, and brought me out to where was every secret of mercy and secret
5 He showed me all the hidden things of the extremities of
heaven, all the receptacles of the stars, and the splendours of all,
from whence they went forth before the face of the holy.
6 And he concealed the spirit of Enoch in the heaven of heavens.
7 There I beheld, in the midst of that light, a building raised with
stones of ice;
8 And in the midst of these stone vibrations of living fire. My spirit
saw around the circle of this flaming habitation, on one of its
extremities, that there were rivers full of living fire, which
9 Then the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and Ophanin surrounded it: these are
those who never sleep, but watch the throne of his glory.
10 And I beheld angels innumerable, thousands of thousands, and
myriads and myriads, who surrounded that habitation.
11 Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Phanuel and the holy angels who were in
the heavens above, went in and out of it. Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel
went out of that habitation, and holy angels innumerable.
12 With them was the Ancient of days, whose head was white as wool, and
pure, and his robe was indescribable.
13 Then I fell upon my face, while all my flesh was dissolved,
and my spirit became changed.
14 I cried out with a loud voice, with a powerful spirit, blessing,
glorifying, and exalting.
15 And those blessings, which proceeded from my mouth, became acceptable
in the presence of the Ancient of days.
16 The Ancient of days came with Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and
Phanuel, with thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads, which
would not be numbered.
17 Then that angel came to me, and with his voice saluted me, saying,
You are the Son of man, who art born for righteousness, and
righteousness has rested upon you.
18 The righteousness of the Ancient of days shall not forsake you.
19 He said, On you shall he confer peace in the name of the
existing world; for from thence has peace gone forth since the world was
20 And thus shall it happen to you for ever and ever.
21 All who shall exist, and who shall walk in your path of
righteousness, shall not forsake you for ever.
22 With you shall be their habitations, with you their lot; nor from you
shall they be separated for ever and ever.
23 And thus shall length of days be with the Son of man.
24 Peace shall be to the righteous; and the path of integrity shall the
righteous pursue, in the name of the Lord of spirits, for ever and ever.
The Book of Enoch, 2nd - 1st century BCE
There are several important sections here that
we will come back to as we discuss the writings of Paul.
We can now look at Apocalypse of Zephaniah, written some time in
either the 1st century BCE or the 1st century CE:
And a spirit took me and brought me up into the fifth heaven.
And I saw angels who are called "lords." And the diadem was set
upon them in the Holy Spirit, and the throne of each of them was
sevenfold more [brilliant] than the light of the rising sun. [And they
were dwelling in the temples of salvation and singing hymns to the
I saw a soul which five thousand angels punished and guarded. They
took it to the East and they brought it to the West. They beat its …
they gave it a hundred … lashes for each one daily. I was afraid and I
cast myself upon my face so that my joints dissolved. The angel helped
me. He said unto me, "Be strong, O one who will triumph, and prevail so
that thou wilt triumph over the accuser and thou wilt come up from
Hades." And after I arose I said, "Who is this whom they are punishing?"
He said unto me, "This is a soul which was found in its lawlessness."
And before it attained to repenting it was visited, and taken out of its
body. Truly, I, Zephaniah, saw these things in my vision.
But I went with the angel of the Lord, and I looked in front of me
and I saw gates. Then when I approached them I discovered that they were
bronze gates. The angel touched them and they opened before him. I
entered with him and found its whole square like a beautiful city, and I
walked in its midst. Then the angel of the Lord transformed himself
beside me in that place.
Now I looked at them, and I discovered that they were bronze gates
and bronze bolts and iron bars. Now my mouth was shut therein. I beheld
the bronze gates in front of me as fire was being cast forth for about
Then I arose and stood, and I saw a great angel standing before me
with his face shining like the rays of the sun in its glory since his
face is like that which is perfected in its glory. And he was girded as
if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which
is melted in a fire. And when I saw him, I rejoiced, for I thought that
the Lord Almighty had come to visit me. I fell upon my face, and I
worshiped him. He said to me, "Take heed. Worship me not. I am not the
Lord Almighty, but am the great angel, Eremiel, who is over the abyss
and Hades, the one in which all of the souls are imprisoned from the end
of the Flood, which came upon the earth, until this day."
Then the great angel came to me with the golden trumpet in his hand,
and he blew it up unto heaven. Heaven opened from the place where the
sun rises to where it sets, from the north to the south. I saw the sea
which I had seen at the bottom of Hades. Its waves came up to the
clouds. I saw all the souls sinking in it. I saw some whose hands were
bound to their neck, with their hands and feet being fettered. I said,
"Who are these?" He said unto me, "These are the ones who were bribed
and they were given gold and silver until the souls of men were led
astray." And I saw others covered with mats of fire. I said, "Who are
these?" He said unto me, "These are the ones who give money at interest,
and they receive interest for interest." And I also saw some blind ones
crying out. And I was amazed when I saw all these works of God. I said,
"Who are these?" He said unto me, These are catechumens who heard the
word of God, but they were not perfected in the work which they heard."
And I said unto him, "Then have they not repentance here?" He said,
"Yes," I said, "How long?" He said unto me, "Until the day when the Lord
will judge." And I saw others with their hair on them. I said, "Then
there is hair and body in this place?" He said, "Yes, the Lord gives
body and hair to them as he desires.
And again the great angel cometh forth with the golden trumpet in his
hand blowing over the earth. They hear [it] from the place of the
sunrise to the place of the sunset and from the southern regions to the
northern regions. And again he blows [it] up unto heaven and its sound
is heard. I said, "O Lord, why left thou me not until I saw them all?"
He said unto me, "I have not authority to show them unto thee
until the Lord Almighty riseth up in his wrath to destroy the earth and
the heavens. They will see and be disturbed, and they will all cry out,
saying, ‘All flesh which is ascribed to Thee we will give unto Thee on
the day of the Lord.’ Who will stand in His presence when He riseth in
His wrath [to destroy] the earth [and the heavens] Every tree which
groweth upon the earth will be plucked up with its roots and fall down.
And every high tower and the birds which fly will fall...
Apocalypse of Zephaniah, ~1st century BCE
As you can see, here we have a story about Zephaniah being taken up to the
fifth heaven, which probably was seen as the upper most heaven by the
writer, where the writer talks of seeing angels who are called "lords", basically rulers. The writer also swears that what he is saying is true and
that he really saw all these things. In the end we are told of the coming
destruction of the world by the Lord.
We can now move on to The Martyrdom of Isaiah, which not only
features various heavenly powers directing events on earth, but also the
prophet Isaiah who predicts his own death and is then killed according to
his own prediction in a scene in which he is mocked and tormented.
1. AND it came to pass in the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah
king of Judah that he called Manasseh his son. Now he was his only one.
2. And he called him into the presence of Isaiah the son of Amoz
the prophet, and into the presence of Josab the son of Isaiah, in order
to deliver unto him the words of righteousness which the king himself
3. And of the eternal judgments and torments of Gehenna, and of
the prince of this world, and of his angels, and his authorities and his
4. And the words of the faith of the Beloved which he himself had seen
in the fifteenth year of his reign during his illness.
5. And he delivered unto him the written words which Samnas the scribe
had written, and also those which Isaiah, the son of Amoz, had given to
him, and also to the prophets, that they might write and store
up with him what he himself had seen in the king's house regarding the
judgment of the angels, and the destruction of this world, and regarding
the garments of the saints and their going forth, and regarding their
transformation and the persecution and ascension of the Beloved.
6. In the twentieth year of the reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah had seen the
words of this prophecy and had delivered them to Josab his son. And
whilst he (Hezekiah) gave commands, Josab the son of Isaiah standing by.
7. Isaiah said to Hezekiah the king, but not in the presence of Manasseh
only did he say unto him: `As the Lord liveth, and the Spirit which
speaketh in me liveth, all these commands and these words will be made
of none effect by Manasseh thy son, and through the agency of his hands
I shall depart mid the torture of my body.
8. And Sammael Malchira will serve Manasseh, and execute all his desire,
and he will become a follower of Beliar rather than of me:
9. And many in Jerusalem and in Judea he will cause to abandon
the true faith, and Beliar will dwell in Manasseh, and by his hands I
shall be sawn asunder.'
10. And when Hezekiah heard these words he wept very bitterly, and rent
his garments, and placed earth upon his head, and fell on his face.
11. And Isaiah said unto him: "The counsel of Sammael against Manasseh
is consummated: nought will avail thee."
12. And on that day Hezekiah resolved in his heart to slay Manasseh his
13. And Isaiah said to Hezekiah: "The Beloved hath made of none effect
thy design, and the purpose of thy heart will not be accomplished, for
with this calling have I been called and I shall inherit the heritage of
7. And, when Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was
being perpetrated in Jerusalem and the worship of Satan and his
wantonness, he withdrew from Jerusalem and settled in Bethlehem
6. And Belchira accused Isaiah and the prophets who were with him,
saying: 'Isaiah and those who are with him prophesy against Jerusalem
and against the cities of Judah that they shall be laid waste and
[against the children of Judah and] Benjamin also that they shall go
into captivity, and also against thee, O lord the king, that thou shalt
go [bound] with hooks and iron chains':
7. But they prophesy falsely against Israel and Judah.
8. And Isaiah himself hath said: 'I see more than Moses the prophet.'
9. But Moses said: 'No man can see God and live'; and Isaiah hath said:
'I have seen God and behold I live.'
10. Know, therefore, O king, that he is lying. And Jerusalem also he
hath called Sodom, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem he hath
declared to be the people of Gomorrah. And he brought many accusations
against Isaiah and the prophets before Manasseh.
11. But Beliar dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and in the heart
of the princes of Judah and Benjamin and of the eunuchs and of
the councilors of the king.
2. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, Belchira stood up,
accusing him, and all the false prophets stood up, laughing and
rejoicing because of Isaiah.
3. And Belchira, with the aid of Mechembechus, stood up before
Isaiah, [laughing] deriding;
4. And Belchira said to Isaiah: 'Say, "I have lied in all that I have
spoken, and likewise the ways of Manasseh are good and right.
5. And the ways also of Belchira and of his associates are good."
6. And this he said to him when he began to be sawn in sunder.
7. But Isaiah was [absorbed] in a vision of the Lord, and though his
eyes were open, he saw them (not).
8. And Belchira spoke thus to Isaiah: "Say what I say unto thee and I
will turn their hearts, and I will compel Manasseh and the princes of
Judah and the people and all Jerusalem to reverence thee.
9. And Isaiah answered and said: "So far as I have utterance [I say]:
Damned and accused be thou and all they powers and all thy house.
10. For thou canst not take [from me] aught save the skin of my body."
11. And they seized and sawed in sunder Isaiah, the son of Amoz, with a
12. And Manasseh and Belchira and the false prophets and the princes and
the people [and] all stood looking on.
13. And to the prophets who were with him he said before he had been
sawn in sunder: "Go ye to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for for me only
hath God mingled the cup."
14. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, he neither cried
aloud nor wept, but his lips spoke with the Holy Spirit until he was
sawn in twain.
The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, ~2nd century BCE
Of special note here is "the prince of this world, his angels, and
authorities and his powers," which refers to "Satan" and the heavenly
and earthly powers that he follow him. Scholars universally recognize
The Martyrdom of Isaiah as a fiction, but the characters in the
Martyrdom of Isaiah, king Hezekiah and his son, etc., are historical or
pseudo-historical, i.e. the author of The Martyrdom of Isaiah would
have believed that they were historical even if they are not. In The
Martyrdom of Isaiah we see a pseudo-historical story that involves all
of the same elements that the later Jesus story includes.
With all of this we have some idea of the cosmology and beliefs that existed
among Hellenistic Jews during the 1st century. The writings above are very
representative of the beliefs of the time and place in which Paul preached
and wrote, and what we find in the letters of Paul is the same language and
the same beliefs and the same types of claims that we find in these prior
The only thing new and different in the writings of Paul is the name Jesus
and claim of crucifixion, as opposed to being sawn in half or hung or
tortured by various other means, as took place in the many other stories
that preceded the story of Jesus.
Shortly prior to the story of "Jesus Christ" we already have Jewish stories
outside of the "Old Testament" that include the following:
- The titles or designations Son of God, Son of Man, Prince of Peace, Anointed
One, King of Kings, etc.
- The Elect (many people and/or angels who will be justified)
- Heavenly powers who fight among themselves in heaven and through the
manipulation of events on earth
- Heroes who predict their own death
- Passion narratives
- Promises of immortality
- Descriptions of resurrections
- The coming end of the world
- The coming creation of a new righteous world
- Angels interacting with people on earth
- People having visions (or claiming to have had them) and testifying
to their truth
- People claiming to have witnessed amazing events on earth and
testifying to their truth
Of Paul and his Jesus
All that I and others such as Earl Doherty propose, indeed demand, is that
the writings of Paul and other early Christians be interpreted according to
their own culture, which is
exactly how all works by any author should be interpreted for historical
understanding. In the middle of an era of apocalyptic literature and
beliefs, Paul was an apocalyptic preacher. Paul's "Jesus" is his "Enoch" or
Earl Doherty argues strongly that Paul did not believe in an earthly Jesus
at all, and that the crucifixion described by Paul took place in the
heavens. I don't think that the case needs to be made that strongly, nor
does it matter if Paul thought of the crucifixion as having taken place on
earth or not. The events in The Martyrdom of Isaiah are described
as having taken place on earth, yet they are no more historical than the
heavenly events in the The Book of Enoch. Paul defiantly thought of
Jesus as real, the question is what did "real" mean to Paul?
The bigger point is that what Paul describes and believed-in is no different
from the other apocalyptic stories of his time, whether they are set on
earth or in heaven, as Paul's claims themselves seem to be set in both
realms or are made in such vague ways that the distinction becomes almost
meaningless or was left up to the believer. Even if aspects of Paul's story
are earthy, they are not historical, i.e. they are not set in real history,
they are just set in an abstract earthly realm.
2 Corinthians 12:
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will
go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who
fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body
or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether
in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up
to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not
permitted to tell.
"A man" in this case is Paul. Paul is making a claim about his own ascension
to heaven some 14 years prior, which, if this letter was written around 52
CE as it is traditionally dated, means that he would be claiming that this
happened around 38 CE. But did Paul really have these visions, or is he just
making these claims up as part of an apocalyptic tradition to claim
apostolistic authority? Either Paul really had visions and out of body
experiences or he exaggerated or he presented these claims as theological
devices. Regardless, this story, whether based on real visions or
fabricated ones, is set in the realm multi-leveled heavens.
The issue of how Paul uses "visions" is important however. We absolutely
know that during this time and place people used claims of visions as a
means to tell stories, as a means to lend weight to what they were saying,
as a means to claim authority, etc., but do we believe that when Zephaniah
and others tell us of their visions that they really had literal
visions, or do we understand this as a theological and literary device?
The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible has the following note about 2
12.2 Person, Paul himself, who in vv. 2-4 is describing one
ecstatic experience. Third heaven, i.e., where Paradise is
located. Heavenly journeys were a popular means of claiming divine
authentication and were apparently used by Paul's opponents for this
So what exactly is Paul doing when he talks about "visions"? Is Paul talking
about real hallucinations, is he talking about real dreams, is he talking
about real things that he and others imagined, or are all of the visions
that Paul talks about, applied to himself and others, just theological and
literary devices used to establish authority? The same question can of
course be asked of The Apocalypse of John, a.k.a. Revelation.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his
servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his
angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that
is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the
one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear
it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to
come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus
Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and
the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6
and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and
Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it
8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who
was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom
and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of
Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10
On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud
voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and
send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum,
Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when
I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was
someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet
and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white
like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His
feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the
sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and
out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the
sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed
his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the
Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever
and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
The Apocalypse of John of course builds on themes in The Book
of Daniel and The Book of Enoch, as well as others. Are we to
believe that the visions of John were literal visions? He really
hallucinated all of these things, saw them before his very eyes? Very few
scholars will support this position. Almost all scholars, aside from
fundamentalists basically, agree that this John didn't literally "see" an
angel or literally "see" any of the things that he talks about here, but
rather he used the claim of visions in the same tradition of other similar
works, as a theological and literary device.
Medieval image depicting the revelations of John and Paul
Why then, if it is easy for scholars to agree that the "visions" described
in The Book of Daniel, The Book of Enoch, Revelation,
and dozens of other apocalyptic writings of the time were nothing more than
theological devices, do people insist on viewing Paul's "visions" as
anything other than these exact same types of devices? The Apocalypse of
John, like the letters of Paul, is also a letter of correspondence.
14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely
zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me
apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in
me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but
I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Paul is again talking about visions and divine revelations here, presumably
being called to Jesus when he was young, as this passage would indicate. I
must note here that the story about Paul being converted by a vision on the
road to Damascus comes from Acts of the Apostles, written by the
author of Luke, probably in the early 2nd century, and there is nothing in
any of Paul's letter to support this story. It is also notable that Paul
says God's Son was revealed "in" him, though many translations
change the "in" to "to", the Greek says "in".
Below we see Paul's account of the coming of Jesus at the end of the world.
1 Thessalonians 4:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who
have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no
hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen
asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will
by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the
Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with
the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in
Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be
caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air;
and so we will be with the Lord for ever.
Not only is it more than apparent through all of Paul's writings that Jesus
and God are two totally separate entities as we see here, i.e. that Jesus is
not God, but here we see Paul describing a literal descent from a
literal heaven above the clouds. All of this relates directly to the
concepts in the other apocalyptic literature. In The Book of Enoch,
for example, "the Son of man" is not God, God is separate from the savior,
and that is also how Paul described Jesus. Paul, like the others of his time
and place, described heaven as a real literal place above the clouds, with
the coming of the savior described in the same way as it is described in
earlier apocalyptic literature.
18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends
on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of
transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.
20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely
not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then
righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture
declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what
was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given
to those who believe.
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law,
locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in
charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now
that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all
of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with
Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor
female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to
Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
We note here that Paul is again talking about real angels as having played a
real role in human history, and also that Paul says "faith" has
come, not Jesus, and that "you", the people who have faith in Christ, then became the
1 Corinthians 4:
9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end
of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We
have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as
to men. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in
Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are
1 Corinthians 6:
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the
ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know
that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world,
are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know
that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this
life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as
judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame
you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge
a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law
against another—and this in front of unbelievers!
1 Corinthians 12:
6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off;
and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off,
she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he
is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For
man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man
created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and
because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on
The importance of these passages is in establishing Paul's worldview. Here
he says that women aught to cover their heads, "because of the angels." This
refers to the types of ideas about angels that we find in The Book of Enoch,
where angels are described as coming down and consorting with women. Paul
imagines that after the coming of Christ people will sit in judgment of
angels, presumably of the lower heavens. Paul certainly was immersed in the
types of beliefs that we find in the apocalyptic stories of his time.
In Romans 8 we are told again of rulers and powers, similar to those in 1
Corinthians 2, as well as other apocalyptic writings:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is
against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for
all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who
justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who
was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for
us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or
distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who
loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor
powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord.
Here Paul lists out the potential things which might try to separate
followers from Christ, and he lists out angels, rulers, and powers. This
passage comes from the NRSV, but the NIV lists "neither angels nor
demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers", with a
footnote on the word demons reading "Or heavenly rulers". The
"powers" here are agreed by everyone to be "heavenly" beings.
In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul refers to Beliar, the evil heavenly power also
referred to in The Martyrdom of Isaiah and other Jewish mythology.
2 Corinthians 6:
14 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there
between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there
between light and darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have
with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever?
16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the
temple of the living God;
2 Thessalonians, which may not have been an authentic letter of Paul, gives us
another look at Jesus and his angels:
2 Thessalonians 1:
5 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you
will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are
suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble
you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in
blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not
know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They
will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the
presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he
comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all
those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our
testimony to you.
Once again we are immersed in the world of apocalyptic stories, with claims
similar to those found in Apocalypse Of Zephaniah.
Pauline passages that establish the historical existence of Jesus?
Having seen that Paul wrote very much in the spirit of the other apocalyptic
writers of his time and before, let us now tackle some of the passages which
people have raised questions about, and which some people believe support
Paul's view of Jesus as a historical person.
The first comes from 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul states that he and others
have "seen" the resurrected Jesus:
1 Corinthians 15:
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had
received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the
scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the
third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to
Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred
brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have
fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8
Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am
what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the
contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the
grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we
proclaim and so you have come to believe.
This is a highly cherished passage in the writings of Paul, precisely
because of its rarity. This is one of the very few passages that seems to
tie Jesus into history and solidly into the Gospel tradition, leading
Christians to view it as evidence of a continuous line of knowledge of the
resurrection, but there are several problems with this view.
Firstly I will say that the authenticity of this passage is debated, though
I will not state that it is inauthentic and move on. Nevertheless, Robert M.
Price has put forward a case for interpolation in
Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation. A
major clue that at least parts of this passage are not original to Paul is
that this is the only instance in all of the Pauline letters where the term
"the Twelve" is used.
Having said that, however, assuming that the passage is authentic it still
does not establish a historical view of Jesus, and I would argue that the
passage actually undermines a "secular historical" view of Jesus, i.e.
a view of Jesus as a
Firstly, the passage says that Jesus died, was buried, and raised, "in
accordance with the scriptures." The scriptures that are talked about
here of course have nothing to do with the New Testament, those scriptures
had not yet been written (unless this is a poor post-Gospel interpolation).
What is being talked about here is old scriptures, and thus these events are
being relayed on a scriptural basis: "These things happened because the
scriptures say so."
The claimed appearances here are, once again, devices used to establish
authority and authenticity. We know that Paul never saw a physical Jesus,
yet here within this account of appearances we have Paul, whom Jesus appeared
to just as he appeared to all the others. There is some confusion around the
phrase "as to someone untimely born", but this is a means of Paul
calling himself the least of the apostles, and it was a term used to
describe a hideous person, relating more to birth defects, etc. It could
perhaps also be read as "Last of all, as to a poor wretch, he appeared also
to me." Paul often referred to himself in a self-demeaning manner.
We know that "Jesus' appearance" to Paul can't be describing a
materially real event,
yet Paul's vision, while last, is still of the same nature as all the others.
This is where we get into differences between arguments that are addressed
to different notions of Jesus. If one takes the position that Jesus is the
"Son of God", then the visions can be explained as literal events that these
people really witnessed. All of these people, and somehow even Paul, "saw"
the resurrected Jesus. To this we have to ask why the emphasis was put on
the scriptures, why the "500 brothers" are not a part of later traditions,
and how it is that Paul was a witness to this when as a literal event it
contradicts his other statements about the nature of his knowledge of Jesus?
If one takes the position that Jesus was not really the Son of God, but was
just a mortal person around whom legends developed, then this passage is
even more problematic. If Jesus existed but didn't really rise from
the dead, then how is this passage explained? If Paul and these others are
talking about a real person, then why do we have stories about Jesus
appearing to so many people so early in the tradition? What are these claims
of Paul's if Jesus didn't really rise from the dead, just lies or
Again the "Jesus as myth" position gives a cleaner explanation of the
passage, in which the nature of Jesus and the character of all of Jesus'
"appearances" are consistent, both among each each other and among different
events, such as Paul's trip "up to the third heaven". Paul's trip
to heaven, the revelations of Jesus to Paul, the visions of Jesus'
crucifixion and resurrection (both to Paul and others), and the visions of
others such as John, are all cut from the same cloth - they are all the exact
same type of apocalyptic devices that are employed in stories such as
The Book of Enoch and Apocalypse of Zephaniah, etc.
The thing about the apocalyptic writings is that they represented a type of
truth as far as the writers were concerned. They weren't "lies" per se, it
was just a means of a telling a "spiritually true" story, and that's all
that Paul was doing in his letters as well. One of the problems with the
idea that the story of Jesus Christ started with a man is explaining how you
get from a mortal man who didn't really perform any miracles or rise from
the dead to the writings of Paul a short time later in which there is little
trace of a mortal Jesus, instead only a transcendent being whose attributes are
divine and the firm conviction with which Paul and others held to those
I would argue that the writers of the pre-Christian apocalypses believed in
the truth and reality of their stories just as much as Paul and other early
Christians believed in theirs. There is no doubt that Paul believed very
strongly in "Jesus Christ" and viewed Jesus as very real, but Paul also
believed very strongly in the existence of angels, whom he also considered
real, and a three level heaven above the clouds, and he spoke about these
things with just as much fervor and conviction and "knowledge" as he did
about Jesus. Why would we make a distinction between the angels that Paul
talked about and Jesus? This would be like making a distinction between the
angels in The Book of Enoch and Enoch himself, claiming that Enoch
was literally real, but the angels were just symbolic or figurative.
We also do see in The Book of Enoch an example of a heavenly
"death" and transformation, leading up to the revelation of the Son of man.
13 Then I fell upon my face, while all my flesh was
dissolved, and my spirit became changed.
14 I cried out with a loud voice, with a powerful spirit, blessing,
glorifying, and exalting.
15 And those blessings, which proceeded from my mouth, became acceptable
in the presence of the Ancient of days.
16 The Ancient of days came with Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and
Phanuel, with thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads, which
would not be numbered.
17 Then that angel came to me, and with his voice saluted me,
saying, You are the Son of man, who art born for righteousness, and
righteousness has rested upon you.
- The Book of Enoch, Chapter 70
The Jesus of Paul and pre-Gospel Christians is part of a cast of characters, and
that cast of characters only includes God and the angels and other heavenly
beings. Nothing from Paul
or other early epistle writers sets Jesus among a cast of people, that only
happens in the Gospels and later writings, where the apostles
mentioned by Paul are turned into disciples of Jesus himself. The
Jesus of Paul is an eternal heavenly being, who has always existed, and if
he ever did come down to earth in Paul's mind he never put him in any
earthly setting or related him to any other people or places.
1 Corinthians 10:
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our
forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through
the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in
the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same
spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied
them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not
pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
1 Corinthians 15:
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is
sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in
dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in
power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is
written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a
life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the
natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust
of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so
are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also
are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness
of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from
50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit
the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Here Paul says that Christ was with the Israelites as they fled from Egypt,
and he states that the first Adam was from the earth and the last Adam,
Christ, is from heaven. He is a man, but a man from heaven.
But there are still objections to all of this, still passages that are
presumed to present trouble for this reading.
Chief among the passages of Paul that are believed to establish Paul's view
of Jesus as a historical person is the passage that refers to James as "the
Lord's brother" or "brother of the Lord".
11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not
something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor
was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how
intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I
was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was
extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who
set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to
reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I
did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those
who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and
later returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get
acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none
of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you
before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
This seems pretty cut a dry, Paul says that he met James,
who was "the Lord's brother", and we know that Paul called Jesus "the Lord",
so this must mean that Paul met the literal brother of Jesus, right? Not so
Many people, including Earl Doherty and Arthur Drews,
have pointed out that the term brother or brothers was regularly applied to
apostles and members of the church in general and conclude that this is how
it was being used here as well.
The 500 brothers mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, as well
as "brothers" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9, are examples that are often
cited to show Paul's use of brothers of the Lord in ways that clearly don't
mean literal relatives.
1 Corinthians 9:
5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do
the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and
Some people even try to argue that this mention of
brothers in 1 Corinthians 9 means relatives, but this really wouldn't make
sense, for why would literal brothers of Jesus even be a part of this issue,
especially since in later accounts where literal brothers of Jesus are
discussed they have nothing to do with him or his movement. Indeed Jesus'
family is portrayed as being rejected by him in the Gospels.
There is also a similar usage of brothers in Philippians.
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has
really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear
throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in
chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers
in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more
courageously and fearlessly.
The issues go well beyond this, however. Who is James and
what role does James play? Paul goes on to tell us in Galatians that James
is considered one of the pillars of the Christian community.
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized
the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles,
and they to the Jews.
So, here we have James, Peter, and John, who are reputed
in Paul's time to be the most important members of the movement. What other
sources tell us about these key figures? What other sources would lead us to
think that Jesus had a brother named James and that his brother is an
important figure in the Christian community? Actually, none of the other
early Christian sources would lead us to this conclusion, and indeed they
all lead to a different conclusion.
There are only two Gospels that name the supposed
brothers of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, which
simply copies from Mark. The Gospel of Mark only mentions literal brothers
of Jesus one time, and then they disappear from the narrative.
1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his
disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were amazed.
"Where did this man get these
things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that
he even does miracles! 3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this
Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?
Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in
his own house is a prophet without honor." 5 He could not do any
miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
This is where the author of Mark introduces Jesus'
family, and they are never mentioned again in the Gospel after that, not
even his mother Mary. Indeed Jesus totally rejects his family in the Gospel
Mark does make many mentions of an important James
though, and that is James son of Zebedee, who is counted among the disciples
of Jesus. In fact, James son of Zebedee is among the very first disciples
that are introduced in the Gospel of Mark.
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his
brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18
At once they left their nets and followed him.
19 When he had
gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John
in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and
they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and
First we are introduced to Simon, who is renamed Peter,
and then we have James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Throughout the Gospel
of Mark and the other synoptic Gospels, Peter, James, and John are the most
important disciples, who go everywhere with Jesus.
36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be
afraid; just believe."
37 He did not let anyone follow him
except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they
came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with
people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, "Why
all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." 40
But they laughed at him.
These are the three disciples that are with Jesus at the
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and
led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There
he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white,
whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared
before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark also tells of discontent among the
apostles towards James and his brother John.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher,"
they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."
"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
37 They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your
left in your glory."
38 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus
said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I
am baptized with?"
39 "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup
I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to
sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to
those for whom they have been prepared."
41 When the ten heard
about this, they became indignant with James and John.
If we take the Gospel of Mark as an allegorical fiction,
then of course none of these things really happened. Instead, this is most
likely a setup by the author for the later event of the crucifixion, where
the author places criminals at the left and right hand of Jesus. This is
similar to the setup where Simon Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus proclaims
that his followers should "take up their cross and follow me,"
while later in the story a stranger named Simon from Cyrene is the one who
carries his cross.
Nevertheless, Peter, John, and James are presumably real
people that were mentioned by Paul several times. The Gospel of Mark is
built on some tradition, and may indeed be built on Pauline tradition, which
would explain why the other apostles are poorly portrayed in the Gospel of
Mark. The Gospel of Mark is a story with meaning that does reflect
traditions and does talk about the real Christian community. Peter, James,
and John probably were real people, who really went by those names, and who
really were Christian apostles and community leaders. Much of what we are
told about them in Christian sources, however, is probably just legend, but
they probably were real people and this Gospel probably does reflect real
relationships among the apostles.
It would not make sense for the writer of Mark to spend
so much effort building up the character of James son of Zebedee if this
person were not a pillar of the Christian community. In all of the synoptic
Gospels, James, John, and Peter are the three main disciples, and Paul tells
us that the three main people considered to be pillars of the Christian
community during his time were James, John, and Peter as well, but Christian
tradition holds that the James that Paul was talking about was the literal
brother of Jesus. Given that the Gospels were all written after the works of
Paul, and that the Gospels serve as a backdrop for the Christian movement,
and that the Gospels establish the positions of the major Christian leaders,
it would not make any sense for the Gospels to totally ignore James the
literal brother of Jesus while playing up this other James son of Zebedee
who is an apostle, if James the brother of Jesus is who became a leader of
the Christian community.
There is much more to this case however. The Gospels make
it clear that James son of Zebedee is the partner of Peter.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away
from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were
astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.
It is important to note that the author of the Gospel of
Luke never names any siblings of Jesus. He mentions brothers of
Jesus one time but the names of the brothers are omitted.
19 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not
able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, "Your
mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."
replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put
it into practice."
In the Gospel of Luke the rejection of Jesus' family is
absolute, the author doesn't even bother to name his siblings. The point is
made clear that his mother and brothers do not hear or practice God's word.
The author of the Gospel of Luke is also the author of
Acts of the Apostles, which supposedly describes what happened
after Jesus died. In Acts of the Apostles it is absolutely clear
that the James who is a prominent leader is not a literal brother of Jesus.
Parts of Acts are written in a first person style, but it is doubtful
that the author of Acts was actually present for any of this. Acts was
probably written some time between 90 and 130 CE, using a combination of the
letters of Paul and other sources. The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible
has this to say about the authorship of Acts:
... The author remains anonymous, although he will be referred to as
"Luke" in deference to tradition. From indications within the two
volumes [Luke and Acts], it appears that Luke may be a gentile Christian
who has received a good education and has made careful study of Jewish
...The sections of Acts written in the first-person plural ("we") often
prompt the suggestion that Luke had a journal (his own or that of one of
Paul's companions), but the use of first-personal plural may simply be a
The parts of Acts that are written in the first-person
plural may or may not actually be real first hand accounts, but what is
certain is that the introduction of Acts is definitely not a first hand
account, and the introduction of Acts is the only place that mentions
literal "brothers" of Jesus. This is in a scene closely following the
ascension of Jesus into heaven.
Let's look at this introduction and the mention of Jesus'
brothers more closely:
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of
Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they
went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present
were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas,
Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and
Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and
Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (a group numbering about
a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had
to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth
of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested
Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."
This part of Acts is either completely made up by the
author or is the author's retelling of tradition, but this is not even a
potential eyewitness account as it is not one of the sections that includes
the "we" passages, which begin after the 12th chapter of Acts. The author
lists the names of the apostles starting with those who are considered
"pillars" of the Christian movement. The first three apostles he lists are
Peter, John, and James. The James that he lists among the first three is the
James who is considered a pillar. We see these same names listed by Paul in
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized
the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles,
and they to the Jews.
After the author of Acts lists
the apostles, he then says that they joined Mary and the brothers of Jesus.
Mary and the brothers are clearly a different group of people, whom the
apostles are said to have joined with. This is the one and only mention of
literal brothers of Jesus in Acts, and between both the Gospel of Luke and
Acts the author never provides any names for any of the supposed brothers of
Jesus. A "James brother of Jesus" is never introduced. However, things do
get tricky in Acts of the Apostles. It is also important to note
that there was a second James listed among the apostles as well, James son
In Acts of the Apostles the travels of Paul are
discussed as well as the actions of Peter, James, and the other supposed
apostles. The term "the brothers" is used several times to talk about some
group of people, which seems to include James. However, in Acts 12 the text
says that James son of Zebedee was killed, and this is where much confusion
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (a group
numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago
through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for
those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from
Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea.
Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and
close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell
at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he
said, "I am only a man myself."
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to
the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the
brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw
that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This
happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he
put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four
soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw
him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to
be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison.
"Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and
then he left for another place.
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and
Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among
the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke
up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how
God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for
himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us
warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and
all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported
in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
15 After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the
disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of
Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the
20When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You
see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them
are zealous for the law.
We can see here several instances of the use of "the
brothers," as well as the references to James and a discussion of Paul
meeting James in Jerusalem in Acts 21. Nowhere in Acts does the author state
that any James is a brother of Jesus, and in the passage that describes
Paul's meeting with James, the author says that Paul met with the brothers,
though clearly not literal brothers of Jesus.
We have two problems here though. First of all, James son
of Zebedee was supposedly killed in Acts 12, and second of all, this isn't
the first mention of Paul meeting the apostles in Jerusalem in the book of
Acts. The first mention in Acts of Paul (also called Saul) meeting the
apostles occurs in Acts 9.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of
God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the
man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And
hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22
Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in
Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
23 After many days had
gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their
plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to
kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a
basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples,
but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a
disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.
He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord
had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the
name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about
freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill
him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to
Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church
throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was
strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers,
living in the fear of the Lord.
Though there are elements of the story in Acts that don't
correspond to the writings of Paul, the basic timing works out. The first
meeting between Paul and the apostles occurs in Acts before the supposed
death of James son of Zebedee, and this presumably corresponds to Paul's
first meeting with Peter and James in Galatians 1. The details of these
accounts are different, but the basic timing can be viewed as compatible.
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace,
was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among
the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into
Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three
years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed
with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James,
the Lord's brother. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and
Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea
that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, 'The one who formerly
was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to
destroy.' 24 And they glorified God because of me.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with
Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up in response
to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private
meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among
the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not
run, in vain.
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized
the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles,
and they to the Jews.
From Paul's letters it shows that he met with Peter and James at some
early point, and then he went back to Jerusalem 14 years later and met with
the apostles again. Nowhere in Paul's letters does Paul indicate that the
James he met the first time is different from the James that he met the
second time, and at any rate, he mentions that the apostle James was "the
Lord's brother" when discussing the first meeting. Paul also never says
anything about James dying. Acts says that Paul first met the disciples in
Damascus, which contradicts what the letters of Paul say. It's certain that
Acts is not totally accurate, and that the author of Acts made a few things
up or based some story elements on traditions that were made up. The book of
Acts is where the Gospel story was merged with the apostolistic reality, and
as can be expected when blending fact with fiction, inconsistencies arose.
This is all the more interesting in Acts because there is a clear
differentiation between Acts 1-12 and the later chapters, which contain a
more historical story line.
We know one thing for sure though, which is that as far
as the author of Acts was concerned, "James" was not a literal brother of
Jesus, because a brother of Jesus named James is never mentioned by the
author of Acts in either of his works. He wouldn't just introduce an unknown
character out of the blue that is supposed to be the real life brother of
Jesus without even stating that the person was the brother of Jesus. In
Christian tradition, and in most Bibles that have footnotes, the mentions of
James after the supposed killing of James son of Zebedee are referenced as
the brother of Jesus via footnotes that tie this James to the passage from
Paul in Galatians that says "the Lord's brother". Clearly, though, this is
not legitimate as nothing within Acts itself makes this association. So,
what are the possible answers to who this James is?
There are several possibilities. The first possibility is
that the James mentioned after the supposed death of James son of Zebedee is
James son of Alphaeus who was also listed as an apostle who was among them
during this incident. This would mean that Paul possibly met with James son
of Zebedee in Galatians 1 and James son of Alphaeus in Galatians 2.
The second possibility is that
the author of Acts somehow got his sources confused and he accidentally
recorded the killing of the wrong James, or he put this incident at the
wrong place in the time line and in fact Peter and James were not put in
prison until later. This could be the case, in which case the killing of
"James" in other accounts, such as the accounts of Hegesippus and Josephus,
which we looked at in Part I, could be describing the same incident that is
described in Acts 12, though Acts 12 is out of order.
This is not unlikely actually,
because Acts is considered to exist in two distinct parts, chapters 1
through 12 and chapters 13-28, which are thought to be derived from two
different sources that were combined together. In fact there could be
overlap with these sections, and thus what is described in Acts 21 could
actually have occurred at the same time as what is in Acts 9. These could
well be two different descriptions, from two different sources, of the same
events, in which case both of the meetings of Paul with James as described
in Acts would be talking about James son of Zebedee, and the killing of
James son of Zebedee in Acts 12 would likely have occurred in the 60s CE.
If that is the case then the
other mentions of the the killing of James, possibly by Josephus and
Hegesippus, are really talking about the killing of James son of Zebedee,
who was called "James the Just" and "the brother of the Lord". James son of
Zebedee would perhaps have had those titles because he was some outstanding
A third option is that Acts
12:2 is a later interpolation, inserted into the text in order to blot James
son of Zebedee out of the history.
In both the writings of Paul
and in the Gospels conflict between James son of Zebedee and the others is
shown. There was some kind of tension between the brothers of Zebedee and
the rest of the apostles. It appears, according to the writings of Paul,
that James and John Zebedee held to a more Jewish version of the faith and
did not embrace the Gentile apostleship.
In the 1st century, however,
James son of Zebedee was considered a pillar of the Christian community, but
perhaps later Christians sought to exclude him from the tradition and sever
ties to his sect.
There is support for Acts 12:2
being an interpolation within the text itself, because there is no
discussion of the death of James, and the narrative goes on as if nothing
happened. Indeed if you take that one sentence out no one would ever suspect
that the James being talked about in later chapters was no longer James son
If this James really were killed at this point in the
Acts narrative, and this narrative were true, then there would have been no
reason for the Gospels to have played up the role of James son of Zebedee in
the first place. The playing up of his role in the Gospels was presumably
done because of this person's later leadership. This was a means of
establishing who the leaders were, by tying them into important roles in the
narrative. So much effort was put into establishing the trio of Peter,
James, and John in the Gospels, while the brothers of Jesus had one line
written about them in each Gospel, which only stated that Jesus rejected
them, yet we are to then believe that the James mentioned among the Peter,
James, and John of later importance refers to a different James than the one
referred to in the Gospels and Acts? This clearly makes no sense.
There is even further support for the idea that James the
pillar whom Paul met was not a literal brother of Jesus and was perhaps
James son of Zebedee.
One of the few other early mentions of James comes from the Gospel of Thomas, which does not mention any literal brothers of
Jesus, nor does it ascribe a brotherly status to James.
12 The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us.
Who will be our leader?"
Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James
the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
- Gospel of Thomas
This seems like an odd thing to have Jesus say if "James
the Just" is the brother of Jesus, as this would have been the perfect place
to have Jesus say "Turn to my brother James the Just," etc. Not only would
it be odd not to call James his brother here, but it's also odd to give the
reason, "for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." This is
quite a strange thing to say in any account, ascribing the entire creation
of the universe to the grandeur of this one man.
This leads to other questions. In the synoptic Gospels we
have James son of Zebedee, along with his brother John, portrayed as one the
the three most important disciples and the one perhaps closest to Jesus. In
the Gospel of Thomas we have Jesus saying that "James the Just" is the one
"for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
What, then, do we have in the Gospel of John? In the
Gospel of John, James and John son of Zebedee are never named, but we do
have an unnamed "beloved disciple". Who is the beloved disciple, and why
does he remain unnamed? This question has puzzled scholars for centuries,
but the answer may well be that James son of Zebedee is the "beloved
disciple" in the Gospel of John precisely because by the time that the
Gospel of John was written James son of Zebedee had become a pariah, thus he
was not mentioned by name. His sect, by that time, may have been rejected by
those who viewed the Jesus Christ movement as a Gentile movement, while
James' sect had been a more Jewish oriented group.
Traditionally John son of Zebedee has been considered the
"beloved disciple" and author of the Gospel of John, but scholars today
recognize that this is not not likely to be the case. But why would this
Gospel have been ascribed to John in the first place? One of the main
reasons is that neither John nor James, two people considered to be the most
important apostles, are mentioned in the Gospel of John. How could one
explain the fact that two of the most important apostles aren't in the last
Gospel? The explanation that gained favor was that this Gospel was written
by John son of Zebedee himself, which is why he never mentioned himself,
supposedly out of humility.
This is all highly unlikely however. The more reasonable
explanation is that James and John Zebedee were not mentioned because they
were out of favor at that time in the community in which this Gospel was
However, with the beloved disciple the author of John may
have been stating that there was someone who played an important role in the
early church, who was viewed by the early community as one of the greatest
apostles, but this person was now anathema, the one "whose name we dare not
speak", James son of Zebedee.
Let's look at the Gospel of John to get a better
understanding of the "beloved disciple".
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them
he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was
reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple
and said, "Ask him which one he means."
25 Leaning back against Jesus,
he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary
the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his
mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to
his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple,
"Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into
These are the only clear references to the beloved disciple in what is
believed to be the original text. There is another reference to "the
disciple whom Jesus loved" in John 21, but John 21 was probably added
to the text later by a different author, and thus may not clearly play into
the same theme.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the
Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord,"
he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and
jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat,
towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a
hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals
there with fish on it, and some bread.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
"Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John,
do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take
care of my sheep."
17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?"
He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
18 Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth,
when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;
but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else
will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said
this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was
following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at
the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") 21 When
Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to
you? You must follow me." 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the
brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he
would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I
return, what is that to you?"
The addition of John 21 was probably done in order to
establish Peter as the rightful leader of the Christian community and to tie
the Church to the traditions in his name. It's not clear that the later
author had the same intentions as the earlier author with the usage of the
the beloved disciple. Since John son of Zebedee has traditionally been
identified as the beloved disciple, hence the reason that this is called the
Gospel of John, it is likely that the author who added John 21 believed that
the beloved disciple was John himself.
However, the unnamed disciple in the Gospel of John would
seem to be James son of Zebedee, as James was the one given
prominence in the synoptics and the one who is named as the most important
in the Gospel of Thomas. All of this comes together not only to make perfect
sense, but to explain many things that are unexplainable via the traditional
Peter, James and John sons of Zebedee were clearly the
central apostles in the early Christian movement. Later on, as the Peterine
and Pauline sects broke away and became dominant, James and his Jewish sect
became anathema, and this would be why, by the time the Gospel of John was
being written, the names of James and John were not mentioned, instead James
was called "the disciple whom Jesus loved" to indicate that this
was talking about an important person who nevertheless was to remain
Additional support for this comes from the so-called
Gospel of the Hebrews, which is no longer extant, but which we know of
from several early Christian writers that commented on it. This so-called
Gospel was written in Hebrew. We do not know everything that this writing
said or when it was written, but we know it was probably written in the late
1st century or early 2nd century. The first people who comment on it are 2nd
century writers. In this Gospel the disciple James is featured as the most
important disciple of Jesus, and this James is called by the title "James
The Gospel called according to the Hebrews which was recently translated
by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen frequently uses, records after
the resurrection of the Savior:
And when the Lord had given the linen
cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and
appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not
eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until
he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly
thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it
added: he took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it to
James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son
of man is risen from among them that sleep.
- Jerome; On Illustrious Men, 4th
This quotation comes from the 4th century Catholic theologian Jerome, the
translator of the Vulgate. Jerome believed that "James the Just" was a
cousin of Jesus, not his brother, presumably because later Catholic doctrine
denied that Jesus had brothers.
All of the Gospels say that the only people at the Last Supper were the
disciples, there was no one else there. In addition, other quotes from the
Gospel of the Hebrews show that the term brother was employed in the mouth
of Jesus to mean companions, not real brothers.
As we have read in the Hebrew Gospel, the Lord says to his disciples:
And never be ye joyful, save when ye behold your brother with
- Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians, 4th
This is obviously an instance from the same text where brother is used to
refer to a companion, not a relative. The usage of brother in passage about
James the Just can be read in this manner as well, and indeed this makes
None of the Gospels or early traditions say that any brothers of Jesus
were at the Last Supper, they all say that only the disciples were there.
That this James was said to have been at the Last Supper indicates that this
James was being called a disciple, and thus the James mentioned in the
Hebrew Gospel must be one of the two James' who were said to be disciples,
almost certainly James son of Zebedee, as he was portrayed as by far the
more important of the two James'.
This is one more indication that James son of Zebedee was a real person
who was a leader of a Jewish oriented sect of Christ worshipers, who in
later Jewish-Christian tradition was being portrayed in important roles in
relation to Jesus. This also tells us of a tradition where Jesus appeared to
James the Just after his supposed resurrection, similar to the potentially
interpolated passage in 1 Corinthians 15.
This is another example of the politics that were taking
place among early Gospel writers. In this presumably Jewish oriented
Gospel, James is the star of the story. In the Gospel of John, a late
Gentile oriented Gospel, Peter is the star of the Gospel. The author of Mark
appears to have been opposed to all the apostles, and was perhaps of a
Pauline sect. The writers of these Gospels use placement of key figures in
their narratives as a way to portray them as more or less favored than
others, in attempts to portray them as the rightful heirs of the movement.
What is most important about this Hebrew Gospel, however,
is that it is one of the most clear identifications of "James the Just". All
of the early comments that we have about "James", "James the Just", "James,
the Lord's Brother", etc., are vague and don't specify exactly who is being
talked about, and this indeed is a large part of the problem. In this one
case, however, the James being called "James the Just" is also said,
indirectly, to have been present at "the Last Supper". This clearly
indicates that whoever wrote this Gospel is associating "James the Just"
with one of the core "disciples", and among these so-called disciples "James
son of Zebedee" is the one that makes the most sense for this to be talking
This Hebrew Gospel is believed to have also been written
after the destruction of Judea, and may in some way be associated with the
Gospel of Matthew, though what is known of it is largely different from
Matthew. Whoever wrote this Gospel was, like everyone else, writing a story,
probably based, either directly or indirectly, on the Gospel of Mark, and
was weaving a narrative that put the figures they favored in positive
positions within the story. It is not that any of these Gospels are true, it is that certain traditions became established, and
certain narrative elements. One of those narrative elements was that only
the so-called disciples were with Jesus during the Last Supper. Obviously,
if Jesus never existed then no one was there and there was no Last Supper,
but this deals with who was said to be there, and no one aside from the
disciples was put in this setting in any of the narratives, therefore this makes it clear that the person this
author was calling "James the Just" was not a literal brother of Jesus, he
was almost certainly "James son of Zebedee".
This not only supports the view that "James the Just" was
probably "James son of Zebedee", but also demonstrates that some factions of
Christians were trying to elevate the status of James by associating him
with impotent roles in Gospel narratives. It is apparent that political
maneuvering was taking place.
Later, in the second century, the rewriting of history
took place and James son of Zebedee was replaced in the Christian tradition
with a fictitious "James brother of Jesus", not necessarily intentionally by
all those involved, but perhaps unintentionally out of real ignorance and
confusion over the term "the Lord's brother" by later Christians.
If this is the case, then the reason that Paul called
James "the Lord's brother" in
Galatians is because James was seen as such a major pillar of the community,
whom people called a "brother of the Lord", which was a title similar to
"the Just". Paul's "the Lord's brother" was just a version of "James the
Just", as mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas, both of which were talking
about James son of Zebedee. This would also why the author of the Gospel of
John put Mary at the crucifixion scene and had Jesus say to Mary in John
19:26-27 that this disciple was now "her son".
This would be the author of John's way of saying that
this is the apostle who was called "the Lord's brother", a.k.a. "James the
Just", a.k.a. James son of Zebedee, a real person and the real leader of the
early Judean church. Indeed the 2nd century Christian scholar Origen alluded
to as much himself.
Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a
brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by
blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue
- Against Celsus; Origen
So, the answer to the issue of
whether or not Paul met a literal brother of Jesus, which would tie Jesus
into history, is no, Paul did not meet a literal brother of Jesus, he most
likely met James son of Zebedee, who was a pillar of the Jewish sect of
Christ worshipers. This James was only later considered to be a literal
brother of Jesus. It was probably the early Christian chronicler Hegesippus,
in the late 2nd century, who recorded
the first concrete association of James the Just as the literal brother of
Jesus, helping to cement this view into Church tradition.
James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in
conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just,
from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the
name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no
wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came
upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the
bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not
wear any woolen garment, but fine linen only. ... Therefore, in
consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and
Oblias, which signifies in Greek Defense of the People, and Justice, in
accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.
- Commentaries on the Acts of the Church;
When Hegesippus says
"the Lord's brother" here he is taking this from tradition, but here it is
clearly meant as the "literal brother of Jesus", and by this time he himself
probably really believed that was who this James was. From the 3rd century
on it was assumed that the James who was an early church leader was a
literal "brother of the Lord".
In further support of this
there is also the Epistle of James, which is traditionally associated with
"James the Just", supposedly the literal brother of Jesus, but the letter
itself does not say that the author is a brother of Jesus.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes
scattered among the nations: Greetings.
Why would this greeting not
say "James, a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ," if this person was indeed
his brother? Nothing in the letter indicates that this James is a brother of
Jesus. It's hardly believable that a literal brother of Jesus would not
indicate such in a letter authored by him, or that if this letter is
pseudonomous the person writing in the name of James, presumably to lend
authority to the writing, would not have indicated that James was the
brother of Jesus if James being the brother of Jesus was indeed a part of
the tradition at that time.
So, against the claim that the
James Paul described meeting in Galatians 1 was a literal brother of Jesus,
we have the fact that none of the other early Christian writings indicate
that the important figure who was called James was a brother of Jesus, nor
do any brothers of Jesus play important roles in any of the Gospels. Even if
the "beloved disciple" is not James son of Zebedee, it is clear that the
author of Acts did not consider any James that he talked about to be a
family member of Jesus. While Acts is a flawed and legendary writing, it is
inconceivable that something so substantial would be overlooked by the
author. The whole point of Acts was to clarify the authority of the major
apostles and community leaders. That the author of Acts would have left out
the fact that one of the community leaders was a literal brother of Jesus
simply makes no sense. If the author of Acts believed that any of the "Jameses"
that he mentioned were literal brothers of Jesus, then he would have stated
so in his writing, so it is clear that even by the time Acts was written the
belief that James was a family member of Jesus was not yet established.
Regardless of who the second James in Acts was, it clearly wasn't "the
brother of Jesus".
Unless all of the writers
between Paul and the late 2nd century, those being the the writers of the
Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles, didn't realize or simply forgot that James
was a literal brother of Jesus, then it's clear that the James who was an
important apostle and played an important role in the community was not a
literal brother of Jesus, and thus Paul did not describe meeting a literal
brother of Jesus in Galatians 1:19.
Another statement that is cited by those seeking to refute Doherty's claim
that Paul viewed Jesus as a purely heavenly being is a passage from
Galatians 4 which states that, "God sent his Son, born of a woman".
First of all I don't think it's particularly important whether or not Paul
viewed Jesus as purely heavenly or not, but secondly this is by no means a
literal statement by Paul, as he is in the middle of allegorical statements which he himself says
are allegorical, and thirdly this is part of a special pleading to a group
of people who clearly have had problems with Paul's teachings and he is
trying to appeal to them on a new and different level that he feels is more
acceptable to them.
First let's look at the passage in question.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under
the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our
disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by
faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a
disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God
through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.
1 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better
than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they
remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3
So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental
spirits of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to
redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption
as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of
his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer
a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir of God through
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings
that by nature are not gods. 9 Now, however, that you have come to know
God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the
weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to
them again? 10 You are observing special days, and months, and seasons,
and years. 11 I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.
12 Brothers, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you
are. You have done me no wrong. 13 You know that it was because of a
physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; 14 though
my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but
welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What has become of
the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you
would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become
your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for
no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of
them. 18 It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times,
and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom
I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 I
wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am
perplexed about you.
21 Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not
listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one
by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. 23 One, the child of the
slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free
woman, was born through the promise. 24 Now this is an allegory:
these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount
Sinai, bearing children for slavery. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in
Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery
with her children. 26 But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem
above; she is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is
"Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
28 Now you, my brothers, are children of the promise, like
Isaac. 29 But just as at that time the child who was born according to
the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so
it is now also. 30 But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave
and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance
with the child of the free woman." 31 So then, brothers, we are
children, not of the slave but of the free woman.
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married."
Here Paul is writing to a group of Greeks whom he had previously visited and
preached to. This group of people was apparently continuing to celebrate old
rites and were falling away from Paul's teachings and were no longer
believing in Jesus Christ, as Paul discussed in an earlier section in
Galatians 3. Paul then stated that there are no longer distinctions between
Jews and Greeks, and that thus the Jewish god's promise to Abraham now
applied to everyone.
Then Paul goes on to tell an allegorical story about two women who give
birth to children, and Paul says that these women represent covenants, and
the woman of the promise, "corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is
free, and she is our mother." The woman that Paul is talking about is
an allegorical woman, not a real woman, and in fact this passage provides
further evidence that Paul's Jesus was not a historical person. Paul says
that the Son of God was born under the law, but the law is in heaven, he is
talking about the heavenly covenant.
If Paul were talking about a real woman here, and Jesus' earthly birth, then
why does he give no details about the matter? Why not say that he was born
to Mary or that he was born in Bethlehem, or anything else? He clearly isn't
giving a historical account of anything, but his lack of detail, here and
throughout his writings, works against the claim that Paul had knowledge of
a historical Jesus. Furthermore, if Paul is describing Jesus' birth in an
allegorical way, corresponding to "the Jerusalem above", this only
further undermines the notion that Paul could have viewed Jesus as having
been born on earth.
In addition to all this, with all of Paul's discussion of the law in
Galatians 3 he never once says "Jesus said..." or "Jesus made it known
that..." or "Jesus abolished the law....", etc., Paul goes into theological
discussions based on the scriptures about law and faith and covenants,
developing his own explanation for why the law had been abolished. This is
one of many examples where we would expect Paul to have used the teachings
of Jesus to make his point if there had been a Jesus who had teachings to cite.
Paul doesn't do this however; in all of Paul's discussion about the law and
faith and salvation and covenants, etc., he never presents words of Jesus or
presents Jesus as the person who made these things known, instead Christ
plays a cosmological role in a heavenly drama that brings about salvation
through faith, as relayed through scriptural allegories and revelations.
As discussed in the
original article, both the authentic letters of Paul and the
pseudo-Pauline letters contain many statements, dozens of them, that run
counter to the notion of a historical Jesus, statements which make no sense
at all if Jesus had just been on earth. In addition to this the letters of
Paul are silent on any details that could tie Jesus into history. The one
and only statement that could debatably tie Jesus to a person is the passage
from Galatians 1:19 about "the Lord's brother", and this passage
has been thoroughly address here. Against this one statement we have dozens of
contradictory statements and a strikingly large silence on other historical facts,
such as who Jesus' parents were, where he was born, when he was born, who
killed him, where he was killed, when he was killed, or even teachings and
deeds of his. Paul says nothing about any miracles of Jesus, no healing
stories, no turning of water into wine, no walking on water, no empty tomb, etc.,
What we have from Paul and the other early epistle writers is a heavenly
Jesus, whose attributes are no different from the Son of man mentioned in
The Book of Enoch or other such apocalyptic Jewish stories.
The Gospel of Mark as Allegory
In addition to the questions about Paul's view of Jesus, I also received
question's about the Gospel of Mark being written as an allegory. The
question, basically, is that if Mark is an allegory, then what is it an
allegory about and what do the various characters and story elements
represent. I will admit that I can't explain the allegorical meaning of
every detail of the story, but I think that enough can be explained to show
that the story makes more sense as an intended allegory than an intended
First it has to be recognized that the Jewish scriptures are filled with
stories of rebirth, starting over, entering into new periods, etc. This is
seen with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Flood of Noah, The
Exodus story, and, of course, with the story of Jesus.
Jesus is the new Moses, the twelve apostles are the twelve tries of
Israel, whom Jesus tries to prove himself to but they never get it, Pontius
Pilate represents "the Nations", i.e. all of the non-Jews, and the women who
flee Jesus' empty tomb at the original ending of Mark represent the Jews who
have lost faith.
I was asked to interpret various scenes from Mark as non-historical, and
out of those I chose to interpret the exorcism of Legion, from Mark 5, which
I will present here:
1 They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the
Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man
out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the
tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for
he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he
wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the
strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the
mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When
he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he
shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus,
Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ 8 For
he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9 Then
Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion;
for we are many.’ 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the
country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding;
12 and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us
enter them.’ 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came
out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand,
rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to
Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind,
the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who
had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.
17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he
was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons
begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to
him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done
for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ 20 And he went away and began
to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and
everyone was amazed.
The allegorical reading of this is pretty straight forward. "Legion",
as the character himself says, represents the many "unclean" Jews
who have become corrupted by the culture and are unhappy because of it. They
are trapped in their rage. Basically you can see this as similar to
representations of modern urban youth or drugged up hippies in the 60s, etc.
"We are many", who are lost and unhappy with our condition.
The demons begged "send us among the pigs," i.e. the
pigs are filthy animals and the demons are after all unclean spirits. That
the demons wanted to go into unclean animals shows how unclean Legion (the
lost people of Israel) was,
he was "less clean" than the pigs.
The people, of course, reject Jesus, and I pointed out in the original
article, this is a point in the case building against them.
Jesus does not let the man go with him, instead telling the man to tell
others about his experience. This is a call to evangelism by the author.
This is one of many examples of how the Gospel of Mark makes much more sense
as allegory than it does as history, and in ways that make it apparent that
the author himself intended the story as allegory. How anyone could honestly
say that this passage should be treated as history rather than allegory I am
not sure, but the whole of the Gospel of Mark is like this. The author of
Luke attempted to transform the allegorical Mark into history, for the
author of Luke was, in his mind, writing history and probably interpreted
Mark itself as history.
See also the more recent article on this subject:
The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory
It's a fact that the story of Jesus is based on myth
Whether one wants to believe in the existence of some real person within the
story of Jesus or not, it really cannot be said that the story of Jesus is
not based on mythology, i.e. that mythology is at the core of the story.
That mythology is Jewish mythology, but mythology nonetheless.
During the last few hundred years liberal Christians and secular historians
have increasingly dismissed the obviously mythical elements of the Jesus
story, viewing them as secondary to some real historical figure. These
Christians and historians have often dismissed things such as the claims of
the coming end of the world, the many miracles of Jesus, and the
resurrection. The problem, however, is that these are the real story
elements around which the rest of the story is built. These are the
central elements. This is the core of the story.
Modern Christians have also adopted the view that people will "go to heaven"
now after they die, but nowhere in the New Testament is this
supported at all, in fact the opposite is the case. In all of the New
Testament writings the people who are saved by Jesus will go to heaven
after the coming (or second coming) of Jesus, i.e. the end of the
world. In all of the New Testament, aside basically from 2 Peter, the latest
book of the Bible, claims of the imminent end of the world are central to
the whole story. No one goes to heaven in the New Testament except Jesus,
the angels, and the souls of the people from before the flood, everyone else
in trapped in the earth or Hades and waiting for the end of the world, upon
which time those who believed in Jesus will be resurrected and taken into
the New Jerusalem. So, modern Christianity has really completely warped the
entire religion and doesn't even pay attention to the scriptures. A part of
this warping is the historization of Jesus and the dismissal of the
obviously mythical origins of the whole story.
Even if there were some human Jesus within the Jesus story, that human Jesus
is not the core, nor do we have any evidence of his existence, nor is there
any need for his existence to explain the development of the religion, and
indeed the early stages of the story defy his existence.
The core of the Jesus story is the Son of man, who has been hidden from the
beginning of time, who will be revealed when the end of the ages is near,
and who will serve as the judge of men and angels when the earth is
destroyed and the New Jerusalem of heaven comes as the place of inhabitance
for the righteous men of all nations where death will be abolished and the
righteous live with the Son of man for ever and ever. That is who Christ is
and that is who Jesus is, and that figure is a purely mythical character
that existed long before the emergence of the specific story of Jesus, whose
story is not fundamentally different from a dozen or so other stories from
the same time and place, other than the specific name of the savior and the
method of his death.
Why was the mode of death
crucifixion in the early Jesus story? Because this was the mode of death
suffered by the people under the occupation of Rome from which they sought
deliverance (He is suffering what we are suffering in order to take our
Why was the name Jesus used? Possibly because Yeshua son of Nun was the name
of the supposed successor of Moses, about whom popular stories were still
being written. Possibly this was related to the widely circulating
publication of Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, though we know about
the the life of this Jesus and it has nothing in common with the Jesus story
other than him being considered a wise person. Possibly because of the
meaning of the name, which means "Yahweh saves". Or, possibly because the
name Jesus was one of the most common names and thus "Jesus Christ" was seen
as an "Everyman" name, like G.I. Joe or John Doe, i.e. "Joe Messiah". Jesus
was, after all, supposed to be taking on the sins of "every man".
Every act and saying of the Jesus character has precedents in the Hebrew
scriptures and non-scriptural writings, either directly or indirectly. This
fact is indeed at the core of traditional and conservative Christian belief,
yet this very obvious fact is somehow ignored by liberal Christians and
13 As I watched in the night
I saw one like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power
and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect
from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
To shy away from the obvious roots of the Jesus myth within Jewish mythology
is to deny that the ancient Jews had mythology. To deny that mythology is at
the core of the Jesus story is to deny the obvious fact that most of the
Jesus story existed long before the supposed time of Jesus. To claim that in
spite of the preceding mythology the Jesus story may still "be true" or be
"based on reality" is to claim that the preceding mythology is not
mythology, but in fact literally true and real prophesy.
What we have here is a case where the two best explanations for the Jesus
story are the traditional Christian explanation, (that Jesus was the Son of
God, did all of the things the scriptures claim him to have done, and that
his entire existence was prophesied and his life was an on-going fulfillment
of prophecies) and the explanation that the story of Jesus is mythology
based on prior scriptures and apocalyptic stories that were popular in the
region at the time and certainly believed by people as true.
The explanation that actually makes the least sense is the idea that the
story of Jesus is based on some mortal person, for which there is no
evidence, and the details of whose life we cannot discern for the fact that
every detail of the life of Jesus comes from prior scriptures and stories.
The story fits perfectly into the Jewish mythology of the time and place and
the only real defense of this story as being based on reality is the claim
that, in this case, the pages of the story books really did come to life.
I think that much of the discussion about "pagan" parallels to the Jesus
story has mostly served to distract from the real mythological roots of the
story and to discredit a field that contains many legitimate observations
The core problem for the Jesus story is this:
- If Jesus was the Son of God and the Biblical accounts are accurate,
then why is Jesus so glaringly absent from the other historical accounts
of the time?
- If Jesus wasn't the Son of God but rather just a person, then how did nothing more than a "marginal Jew" become
elevated to the status of God so shortly after his death and earthly
That Jesus began as the mythical Son of God in the first place solves
both of these problems and is more in line with both the facts and the traditional Christian story.