The point of the presumed earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, was not to highlight the ministry of an eccentric 1st century Judean rabbi; rather, it was to demonstrate the power of the Spirit which descended onto Jesus in the form of a dove after he was baptized.
When we isolate the earliest Christian sects, which in my mind were the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians (AH i.25-26), we see, despite significant theological differences, they all centered around this theme – the Spirit descended onto Jesus. It had not been with him for his entire life, as the canonical Gospels of Matthew and Luke would imply. The Spirit encapsulation was a new and temporary phenomenon in Jesus’s life.
The fact that these groups all used scaled-down versions of the Gospel of Matthew (ie a Proto-Synoptic Gospel), which lacked the virgin birth and resurrection, makes it even more clear that the focal point of the story was the baptism, and the powers it afforded Jesus. This proto-synoptic Gospel probably resembled Mark as much as it did Matthew; when you compare church father Irenaeus’s characterization of Cerinthus in Against Heresies i.26.1 and his description about what sort of people were using the Gospel of Mark in AH iii.11.7, the theologies seem like an exact match. It was later church fathers, notably Epiphanius, who made the explicit case that Cerinthus used Matthew, making Cerinthus parallel to Paul’s Cephas in Galatians – a wrong-headed follower of James who came to reject the practice of eating with (and like) the uncircumcised Gentiles. According to Epiphanius, it was Cerinthus who looked to be an mimicked the Cephas in Galatians 2 when he opposed Peter’s eating with the uncircumcised in Acts 11:1-3.
The author’s intention that Jesus was an ordinary person could not have been more clear than in Mark 3:21, when Jesus’s family considered locking him up because they thought he was out of his mind for casting out demons. Of course, any parent of a son who was implanted by the seed of God should expect a fair amount of demon-casting. By revealing Jesus Christ’s family’s intention to lock him up, Mark alerted his readers that these scenes were unanticipated by Jesus’s most inner circle.
The big question, which I suppose will never be answered satisfactorily in the mainstream is this: given that the focal point of the earliest Synoptic Gospel was the Spirit, rather than the attributes of the man who encapsulated the Spirit, doesn’t it make more sense that the man in the story was simply a metaphor for any Christian who received the Spirit via baptism? Rather than a specific person who was active in the 30s?
There is an old saying: Jesus was either lord, liar, or lunatic. Of course, this is faulty logic in the form of a false choice. A more reasonable option is that Jesus was a legend. The fact that Christianity’s earliest origins seem to have been as a mystery religion (Paul and Justin Martyr explicitly say so) should make us hesitant to believe any of the earliest Christians, because the main point of a mystery religion was to hide or obfuscate internal workings from the outside world.
As the saying goes, there is often some truth hiding in deception. But does that mean Jesus Christ existed?
Given what seems an almost slavish dependence on the works of Josephus (notably Mark’s references to Theudas, the Egyptian, and Jesus ben Ananias), coupled with the fact that many stories in the Gospel are re-tellings of Old Testament (Septuagint) stories, I am inclined to think that Jesus was a composite of a variety of Judean leaders, including the most obvious ones in Josephus’s history, and was constructed by Diaspora Nasarene Jews, who were concerned about restoring the version of Judaism (keeping the old way) which was a fixture in Solomon’s temple, and which would have included incense burning, bread making, and wine consumption for the Queen of Heaven.
Why the virgin birth?
There was a schism between Diaspora and Judean Nasarenes at the time the Nasar were evolving into Christians. One of the rifts was between the Paulinists and the Jamesians.
Revelation 12 was probably the core of the Nasarene philosophy (along with 2 Esdras 9-10). The point of it was that the Queen of Heaven, the celestial mother of all Nasarenes (Rev 12:17), gives birth to a male Spirit, and it would be that male Spirit’s manifestation on Earth which would restore the Queen to the temple. Any Christian would have been the brother or sister of any other Christian because they were all sons and daughters of the most high and the Queen of Heaven.
The earliest James followers, presumably the Ebionites, did not believe in the virgin birth. Yet Paul claimed to have been born from a miscarriage (1 Corin 15:8), which matched a prophesy in the Gospel of Thomas, which told the disciples to be on a lookout for one not born of a woman, despite being told earlier to follow James.
It was the Nazarenes, who resembled the Ebionites, except they believed in the virgin birth and resurrection, who used an altered version of the Gospel of Matthew which contained the virgin birth – this Nazarene Gospel probably looked very similar to extant Matthew.
Matthew’s virgin birth has correlation with the Infancy Gospel of James; again, James is key. My speculation is that it was James’s followers, the later Ebionites (who the earliest versions believed was the true recipient of the Christ Spirit) who injected the virgin birth into their tradition. Given the fact that there was increasing hostility between the Paulinists and the Jamesians, as evidenced in Galatians, the Epistle of James, The Shepherd of Hermas, The Gospel of Matthew [as contrasted with Mark and Paul’s Epistles], and others, there was probably a political need to hijack and rewrite various traditions to highlight preferred historical leaders, and to demote adversaries.
This would also explain the mid-2nd century’s increasing polemics against those who did not believe Jesus came to earth “in the flesh”, found notably in Polycarp’s epistle, the Pastorals, Tertullian, and other Heresiologists. I believe this phantom spirit characterization of the Docetists, by the emerging Catholic pre-Orthodoxy, was at least partially a mischaracterization. Rather, I believe the victims of the Heresiologists’ attacks, notably Marcion, probably had views which resembled Elxai, a leader of Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, who believed the Mother Spirit and Christ-Spirit were 96 mile tall figures in the sky, and the transference of those Spirits into humans was an invisible process preceded by baptism.
27 thoughts on “Jesus Or The Christ?”
I like this argument. I have not studied these issues any where near the depth that you have, but this seems to be the only narrative that holds water. There were perfectly human urges to embellish that are still current in humans that were operating then, too. So, you start from one place and then many people, wanting to be “special,” modify the story … to make it “better.”
I try to make my theory fit the facts as well as I can. I agree that there’s really only one theory that does, but the periphery is very interesting to me.
“Matthew’s virgin birth has correlation with the Infancy Gospel of James; again, James is key. My speculation is that it was James’s followers, the later Ebionites (who the earliest versions believed was the true recipient of the Christ Spirit) who injected the virgin birth into their tradition.”
I think both Luke and Matthew used the Infancy Gospel. But it looks like Mary’s nativity is what inspired Jesus’s nativity in Luke.
I have nothing more than speculation on Luke, but I see the virgin birth in Luke as a later interpolation, like in Matthew, only in Luke, it was put in by an emerging Catholic Orthodoxy…hijacked from the Marcionites (although I do not believe Marcion used Luke himself). Again, nothing but speculation, but it’s all rooted in my assumption that those people who Irenaeus claimed were using the gospels (AH 3.11.7) were the people who actually wrote them…
You may have differing views but I still think that Marcion’s “Gospel of the Lord” is the proto-Luke that the Church Fathers edited when Marcion passed away around 165 AD/CE.I think that Marcion also wrote what seemingly precursor to our canonical Mark given the similarities between the three synoptics.
who believed the Mother Spirit and Christ-Spirit were 96 mile tall figures in the sky, and the transference of those Spirits into humans was an invisible process preceded by baptism.
Uhm Gospel of Peter?
Elxai believed the 96 mile tall spirits were the Christ and (the mother) Spirit, according to Epiphanius, and I believe Hippolytus, too – I can’t remember if Hippolytus said they were masculine and feminine. My speculation is that this view is compatible with the Ebionite/Cerinthian view that the Spirit descends on Jesus. Margaret Barker makes the case that it was the mother spirit who was talking to Jesus after he got baptized – “you are my son and with you I am well pleased”.
RE Marcion…I believe Luke was a Marcionite (AKA Carpocratian) Gospel…I wouldn’t even put up too much of a fight that the proto-Luke preceded Mark. I just have doubts Marcion, based on characterizations of him, used the Gospel himself. I’m not certain about that (or if Marcion even existed! Stephan Huller makes a decent case that Marcion was the Carpocratian Marcellina).
Having the virgin birth apply to the Paraclete and then to Christ may reveal what was going in terms of group politics at the time, if it be understood that the Paul figure was indeed claiming to be the Paraclete. The G-Thomas would have to be a witness to a tradition in which Christ wasn’t believed to himself the product of a virgin birth. Yet the PE-James, which is apart of this same tradition, is clearly motivated in trying to apply this concept to him.
What I believe occurred was that, after Peregrinus — who had been claiming to be the Paraclete — had been annexed from the Jamesian sect, the virgin birth was reconceptualized so as to apply to Christ. But certain adherents did not agree with this thinking and broke of to form the Ebionites, those who kept the original idea of a mother of Jesus but not a miraculous/virgin birth.
This goes along with my theory that our idea of Jesus in the Gospels is a mix of the first century Stadios figure, and the second century Paraclete figure.
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Like Steve, I really haven’t looked too much into this, but it is thoroughly fascinating to swim in your thoughts (and the history) on the matter.
Hey Tim. After reading a aVridar article, I want to ask if you ever wrote already something about the two-source hypothesis?
Not really…honestly, I’m probably not a good source on it. I generally agree with Marcan priority, but I do not believe that Matthew read Mark and rewrote it; rather, I think they both started with a common text (which included reference to Simon of Cyrene, among other things). As far as whether Q existed, I don’t know. But Matthew’s hostility to Paul, in light of Mark’s seemingly pro-Paul stance, seems to have been fodder for the Mark/Matthew divergence (this is Matthew before virgin birth and resurrection were added). The fact that Mark consumers believed Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete, and the fact that Matthew omitted the fact that Simon of Cyrene was returning from the country (or the field) tells me that the real contention between Matthew and Mark was whether Simon of Cyrene was planting seeds in the field (ie was the Paraclete); Matthew’s hostile treatment toward the lone wolf in Mark 9:38-40 makes me think that that passage in Mark was foreshadowing Simon of Cyrene…who I think was Paul.
I think it’s a similar story between Matthew and Luke, and I think the Carpocratians and Marcionites (and Cerinthians and Ebionites) probably were involved in some sort of schism which caused the texts to diverge…probably prior to the virgin birth being added to either. The fact that “the very last penny” passage is in both Matthew and Luke is pretty telling, considering how the Carpocratians (who I think were quasi-Marcionites – AH i.25) interpreted this passage.
Hermann Dettering writes about various apocalyptic texts which were feeding into the earliest gospels, but honestly, it goes above my head at times.
Tim, there’s an interesting discussion going on which I (and others, I’m certain) would love your input and expertise. The commenter in question is Tim Oneil
Tim O’Neil is anything but interesting.
For a second when I was reading him, I thought he was James Mcgrath…
Thanks for jumping in Tim. I’m watching that exchange with great enthusiasm.
He’s an abrassive dickhead, excuse my language
He still thinks the Testimonium Flavianum has a historical core? I just want to face palm. 🤦🏻♂️
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Let him know. He’s a gem 🙂
There’s already an overwhelming evidence against the authenticity of the TF. Dr. Gary J. Goldberg made an excellent case that the entire TF theme is based on the Emmaus passage (Luke 24:13-35). Since there’s a strong evidence that Luke is largely based from the mid-second century “Gospel of the Lord” by Marcion, then the TF could not be dated earlier than year 170-185 CE. Ken Olson from Harvard University Center of Hellenic Studies made a case that the language used in the TF comes from Eusebius and not Josephus. Finally, Dr. Paul Hopper from Carnegie Mellon University published a peer reviewed paper that specifically analyzed the original Greek and the language used in the TF doesn’t match up with the rest of Josephus’s writings but it’s a
The mere fact that the likes of Justin Martyr or Irenaeus made no notice of the TF is already a red flag. Tim O’Neil made several references to the James passage but as Earl Doherty has shown in his book “The Jesus Puzzle”, the phrase “who was called the Christ” is actually from Matthew 1:16. It’s possible that “James, the brother of Jesus” is real but has nothing to do with Jesus of the gospels. The Greek word for brother is αδελφος which is a common term used in mystery religions during initiation. Chances are, James and this Jesus are not actual biological brothers but brothers in faith.
He does reek like Christian apologist James McGrath; a notorious archnemesis of Richard Carrier.
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Like to pick your brains, if I may.
Relating to Nazareth and the gospels.
The gospels were written outside of Judea – yes?
It seems clear that from Luke’s description of Nazareth he obviously never visited the area.
As the gospels contain the first known reference to Nazareth, what do you think was the source of Luke’s geographic description?
Also, if there is merit that the title Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional attribution and / or mistranslation of Jesus the Nazorite or Jesus the Nazorean etc would this make the place fiction also? ( as there is no mention of the place throughout pre christian literature)
And, finally, a question that is frustrating the Gehenna out of me …. As there was no pre-Christian/gospel mention of Nazareth anywhere, how was the identification of the site established?
Enjoyed the post, by the way, and thanks for popping over to my spot and engaging O’Neill.
I believe Nazarene comes from the Hebrew Nasar – see Epiphanius’s description of the Nasaraenes…I think he’s being mostly honest about what their particular bent was. They believed Moses’s teachings had been corrupted. They are referenced in Rev 12:17 – Nasar is Hebrew for keep, guard or preserve. The woman in Revelation 12 is the clue to what exactly the Nasar were “keeping” – reverence, incense burning, wine consumption, and bread making in honor of the Queen of Heaven, who had the crown of stars in her hair.
So I do think that the earliest pre-Christian traditions did come out of Judea, but it was various iterations of the Nasar (including the sect which eventually became the Mandaeans) throughout the Diaspora who really gave rise, in isolation from one another, very similar ideas about who the anointed was.
2 Kings 22
King Josiah, Deuteronomic Reform
Elxai (as described by Epiphanius and Hippolytus)
Ebionites, Cerinthus (Against Heresies i.26)
2 Esdras 9-10
1 Corin 3:16
Queen of Heaven
Fair enough, but if there was no mention of Nazareth in any pre-Christian literature how did they ( christians) know the location of the site?
It could be due to the mountain near the so-called Nazareth. The Notzrim were keepers in the hills and mountains, so there may have been a word merge or a play on words happening here…which was very common in both Greek and Hebrew. This location was also a couple miles from the birthplaces of Jonah and Elisha, both characters that fed into the construction of the Gospel Jesus…
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Thanks, Tim … appreciate you trying to help me out.
Just to clear this up in my mind , because there are bits that still won’t gel for me. No aspersions being cast on you here, of course.
The term Jesus of Nazareth is actually a misnomer as Nazareth is a false /corrupt interpretation of Nasar ( or similar) referring to a sect, Yes?
It could be due to the mountain near the so-called Nazareth
Do we know if there is any evidence that this correlation may have been drawn by early Christians?
@Arkenaten If I may jump in. I think there’s could have been a Nazareth as a place but not demonstrably huge and sizable as described in the Gospels. Our gospels describes Nazareth as a busy city or “Πολης”but as archaeological evidence suggest, there’s no coin, pottery, or anything that would prove like it is as described in the four gospels. No mentions in the OT, no mentions from Philo of Alexandria, Flavius Josephus, etc.
As it turns out, the instances where it says “Jesus of Nazareth” in the Gospels is an English mistranslation among many mistranslations. Example of which is Mark 16:6 says in Greek “Μη εκθαυβεισθε Ιησουν ζητειτε τον Ναζαρηνον” which literally translates “Do not be terrified Jesus you seek the Nazarene”. As it turns out being a Nazarene/Nazoraios could either mean an inhabitant of Nazareth or a member of a mystery cult “Nazarite” or “nazirite” as found in the OT, which means it’s not a place but a cult to which Samson said to belong. Since I think that Jesus Christ in the NT is a composite of both real people and mythical characters, the gospel writers did this to anchor him to history.Some earlier non-canon gospels that came before the canonical ones like the Protoevangelium, G-Thomas, and G-Peter made no mentions of Nazareth either. Oddly enough, not even Justin Martyr made any mentions of Nazareth in his First and Second Apologies. The only time Nazareth was even mention is in his Dialogue with Trypho chapter 78 but this reeks an interpolation made by Christian scribes later on. Justin Martyr is know for his scrupulousness in citing the OT but he’s quite sloppy when citing the NT. He doesn’t name the gospel he cites and in chapter 78 of Dial.with Trypho, it looks like Justin was actually quoting from the Protoevangelion but somehow, Christian scribes who preserved his works later inserted the word “Nazareth” probably to silence critics of the Christian dogma.
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Thanks very much much for the input. Always nice to ready about yet another piece of the puzzle.
I’ve been interested been curious about this for quite some time.I am aware of most of the History surround the total lack of pre-gospel written evidence.
My main concern is the ”blank spot” that arises from misinterpretation of the text Jesus the Nazarene/Nazoraios etc and how believers/Christians established the location of this so-called Nazareth.
Obviously the claims surrounding Mary’s dwelling and Mary’s well are all nonsense but even so, how was the location of the place first decided upon?
The Orthodox and the Catholics have separate claims over where ”Mary” lived – apparently
All there is are the gospels that conjure up an erroneously named town based upon an etymological error claimed to be somewhere in Galilea.
What dd they do, throw a stick and where it landed announce: ”That’ll do!”
*Sorry for the typos.