The Nasarene Delivery

A curious aspects of the Mandaeans, a small Mesopotamian religious sect which reveres John the Baptist, who it juxtaposes against Jesus the Nazarene, is that they call themselves Nasurai.

Found within their religious texts are pointers to Christian traditions. For example, the Mandaean Book of John re-tells the story of Jesus’s baptism by John. The Mandaean version remembers what is presumably the earliest version of the story, where the Dove descends on Jesus during the baptism ritual, implanting him with the Holy Spirit.

Although this adoptionistic formula is preserved in the modern canon, the Christology of it deviates from Orthodoxy. Jesus’s real claim to fame, according to modern dogma, is not that he was Joe Nobody before baptism, special enough to receive this mysterious Spirit. Rather, Jesus was predetermined to be the messiah, implanted in Mary by God.

We can track the evolution from Holy Spirit adoptionism to virgin birth via the various beliefs of scattered Valentinian sects, particularly in Italy, who believed Jesus was born from Mary as through a pipe, never physically touching her. This rings as a subsequent evolution from the Eastern Valentinian traditions, who believed that the Christ entered Jesus’ psychic body at the time of baptism.

For the Mandaeans, this Holy Spirit was the Earthly malevolent Spirit Ruha. Thus we have a rethinking, but significant relevance for what adoptionism means in the Mandaean system. The general idea, which given its popularity and dispersion must have been the original one, is that Spirits live in people, animals, buildings, and land. This idea originated in Judaism, particularly as Apocalyptic literature became more popular.

In the Gospels, Jesus suceeds John. We can infer that Jesus attracted John’s followers after he was delivered up to Herod. We see evidence of some contention between the John and Jesus sects in Mark 2:18-20. In particular, the contention seems to surround who is the bridegroom – John or Jesus.

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

The term delivered (παρεδόθη) caught my eye this morning. Paul uses a version of it in 1 Cor 11:23 (παρεδίδετο). The term Paul uses is usually mistranslated as betrayed (“on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…”). The term is often translated to handed over or delivered, rather than betrayed.

Versions of the term are used throughout the New Testament, but one place I recently noticed its use was in Matthew 4:12. Interestingly enough, this term is not used in the earlier Gospel, Mark, with regard to John. Given Matthew’s closer proximity to Judaism than Mark, I wonder if Matthew remembers something Mark omits by making reference to this term with regards to John.

If that is the case, we might consider reasons why Matthew’s Gospel diverges from Mark, and the motivation behind it. Matthew, even the prototype versions we might presume existed before embellishments about the virgin birth, family lineage, ministry, and resurrection, has a very different idea about Jesus than Mark does. As I have stated in previous posts, and various scholars have detailed from time to time, Mark is a Gospel which canonized Paul.

When we factor in the Mandaean parallels, specifically that they are an extension of the Nasarenes, as well as espousing a similar adoptionism which mirrors the earlier Christian theology, it seems the Christian canon is a bastardization of earlier Nasarene traditions which placed emphasis on this delivery. In other words, the true prophet is handed over to the authorities.

In previous posts, I have argued that John and Jesus are fictional representations of real history described by Josephus. John is Theudas and Jesus is the Egyptian.

In Josephus’s history, the Egyptian causes a riot after claiming he could knock down the temple walls; he escapes, and was never heard from again. A Roman commander mistakes Paul for the Egyptian in Acts 21:38.

Theudas was not so lucky. The Judean procurator sent a band of soldiers to collect his head after he ministered around the Jordan River and performed water rituals of some sort. These events occurred 15 to 25 years after the Gospel timeline.

We are told by Clement of Alexandria that Paul and Theudas had a student/teacher relationship. This is of course problematic for the timeline we get from Josephus; however, if we invert the relationship, we find that Theudas being a teacher of Paul is much more plausible. Clement goes on to write that Theudas was a teacher of Valentinus, who held a high position in the 2nd century Christian “church.”

Given the contention between subsequent Mandaean and Christian traditions, I wonder if this relationship between Paul, Theudas, and Valentinus represents the rift within the Nasarene religion which gave rise to the subsequent divergences within Christianity. If we follow these speculations, we have one tradition where the prophet is handed over, and another where he escapes – tricking the rulers who are pursuing him. Both tropes spring up in subsequent flavors of Christianity, particularly in Gnosticism.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

17 thoughts on “The Nasarene Delivery”

  1. Don’t forget that one of the earliest versions of the John the Baptist story is the probable interpolation found in Antiquities. Even assuming this to be an interpolation, we know it had to be mid 2nd century if not earlier. The interesting thing about this probable interpolation is that it would imply someone cared far more about John the Baptist’s historicity than they did about Jesus.
    Who were these people who ‘maintained’ Josephus’s works not long after his death? I would consider they may have considered themselves as the ones who had inherited this task from Flavius Josephus himself? When Antiquities was first published, the distinction between Christian, Mandean and Jew was yet to evolve, so it would not be impossible that the disciples of Josephus could have been early adopters of Mandaeanism – yet not a particularly gnostic version of the movement going by the story they have inserted. (Perhaps it would be worthwhile looking at the John the Baptist story in Antiquities for gnostic imagery to determine whether this story has shared ancestry with other Mandaean traditions)

    If the historical Jesus never made it into this early revision, then it was not because the story had yet to exist. The Yeshu story I suspect was a Samaritan story that would not have had much appeal to the Jewish Christian/Mandaeans at this stage. However the Yeshu story would have been reworked, taking in parts of the Egyptian legend, John’s the Baptist’s supposed teachings and the Judas the Galilean legend, then transplanted into the time of Pontious Pilate perhaps to accommodate the Judas legend more (although whether Judas did survive into his middle ages to be crucified under Pilate is speculative – all that matters would be that some may have believed this including Tacitus!)

    I am also aware that John the Baptist is not found in the Talmud, which does mean this tradition is a divergence from the “orthodox Judaism” narrative. I do believe it is a contributing strand to Christianity, and perhaps the only one that actually has a connection to Judea. It might be supposed that the only thing the Gospel writers knew about Judea was from Josephus, however in the John the Baptist stories there might be something that is connected to Essenes who did survive the war and were able to tell their story.

    I would not discount that this early 2nd century Mandaean/Christian group are not gnostic, after all, baptism has gnostic meaning, but it could be that the complex cosmology of the Mandaean gospels is a later development that came in response to their rejection of the gospels that stole some of their ideas and attributed them to Yeshu.

    One contradiction to consider is that if these early Christian/Mandaeans were the Nazarenes and they do not revere the Yeshu legend, then this is contradicted by the Toledot which claims the later followers of Yeshu were Nazarenes.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree the JTB passage is an interpolation, but I suspect we’re at least 20 years from that idea being taken seriously in academia. Lots of people, even straight up mythicists, are ok with the passage. I wrote a while back that I think it’s an interpolation, and I feel more strongly about that now.

      You raise a good point about who was maintaining Josephus in this gap period. I think it was fairly popular, but I believe the only surviving manuscripts are in Latin…the (original) Greek has been lost, so someone dropped the ball there, I suppose.

      The question of how Judaism and Gnosticism intersected is indeed complicated. When we remove rigid concerns about Judean Judaism existing in a theological vacuum, it becomes easy to understand how these ideas interacted with one another…certainly Judaism was spreading out, but clearly Judaism was getting input from external ideas, too.

      I’ll have to re-read the JTB passage in Josehpus and look for Gnostic hints.

      “One contradiction to consider is that if these early Christian/Mandaeans were the Nazarenes and they do not revere the Yeshu legend, then this is contradicted by the Toledot which claims the later followers of Yeshu were Nazarenes.”
      We see some evidence from the pseudo-Clementines and the interaction between Simon Magus and Dositheus that there was a power grab in the John the Baptist sect…at least according to Christian tradition. My own sense is that Simon Magus was a merging of the magician Simon (Atomus) that Josephus described, and Dositheus was an anagram for Theudas…perhaps this story was a rethinking of earlier tradition. Dositheus died in a cave, according to later tradition, which suggests another link to JTB.

      I’ll have to look closer at the Toledot Yeshu in those terms. It is later than other writings about the Nazarenes/Nasarenes, so it could be that the impression of the writer was that the Nazarenes had never been heard of until after the Jesus integration…

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    2. The other contradiction that keeps troubling me is that the writer of Paul’s epistles talks about the “jews wanting signs” with the implication that the Jesus he preaches about did not perform signs and miracles. And yet the book or Mark has plenty of miracles and signs. If the book of Mark is based on the traditions around Paul, did it ignore this aspect of “Paul’s” christology.
      I suppose that the Paul epistles may be more linked with the Mandaeans who believed in a psuedo gnostic christ who would descend (my speculation). “Paul’s” epistles are the next evolutionary step which suppose this event did occur and there would be a short time before the world got purified by fire. However, the problem is that in all of the epistles, the writer fails to acknowledge JTB or give him any prominence as I would expect if “Paul’s” writer is from the Mandaean tradition.
      The gospel of Mark then gives both JTB prominence, and elevates Paul and draws upon the Yeshu story with signs and miracles.
      It is more like the “Paul” epistles just don’t fit into either – yet the Gospel of Mark unifies them all?

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    3. John the Baptist has no historical significance, it is a plain euhermerization and multi-layered Judaization of the preacher (keryx) of the (allegorical) baptism described in the Hermetic works. To spread the baptism among judaizers, it was necessary to fake a scriptural background, which was easy to find in Eliah of the Book of Kings.

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  2. Hey Tim. I want to ask, do you think Christianity emerged not in Judea but from other places with one of them is Syria more especially Antioch? In Matthew 4:24, it was said that Jesus’s teachings and miracles reached as far as Syria. Many scholars over the years have sais that the “κρατιστος θεοφιλος” in the Lukan prologue was actually Theophilus the bishop of Antioch c. 180 AD/CE. Do you think the authors of Matthew had something in front of them and instead, take that text about a preacher from Syria and flipped it over to make it seem like Jesus’s miracles has spread all through Syria? I think it’s quite unlikely that it’s in Judea where Christianity has started not because we have no non-Christian source from the 1st century but rather, the gospels themselves allude that the Jesus character came from other places and just used Judea as a place. This is like how the late Stan Lee (d. 2018) used NY to place the story of the fictional Spider-Man.

    Also, so you think Gnosticism itself started earlier than the common era? I’ve read somewhere (I forgot where) that Gnosticism didn’t start as a Christian heresy but rather a Jewish heresy because of failed messianism.

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      1. Thanks for that. This is why I think Syria played a major role in the development of Christianity. Isn’t odd that most of Christianity’s primary sources did not come from Judea but from the outside. I think it was Bob Price or Robert Eisenmann who said that the road to Damascus in Acts (which is in Syria) is not historical but rather allegorical.

        It’s just that, why do the Church Fathers have to recycle Paul when they’re busy sanitizing the works of Marcion after he passed away?

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    1. “Hey Tim. I want to ask, do you think Christianity emerged not in Judea but from other places with one of them is Syria more especially Antioch”
      I think there were heterodoxical groups in Judea in the first century. We don’t know much about them, but I assume people Josephus described, such as Theudas, the Egyptian, and James were a part of such movements…not sure how much interconnection we can derive beyond that.
      It’s very clear Christians and Nasarenes were drawn to areas between Syria and Roman Asia (Turkey), but it’s hard to know when the specific cutoff happens where Christians became something recognizable as Christian…although it seems likely based on various accounts that this happened around Antioch.

      RE: Theophilus. It’s my assumption too that the recipient of Luke/Acts was Theophilus of Antioch. Apologists of course hate such a proposition because it puts Luke into the late 2nd century. Personally, I don’t believe the prologue of Luke/Acts had the same author as the bulk – I’m more inclined to believe the emerging Orthodoxy redacted and repurposed the Marcionite/Carpocratian Gospel. That’s what this big mess looks like to me, anyway..

      “so you think Gnosticism itself started earlier than the common era?”
      John D Turner proposes that the Sethian Christians were a merger between Christians and “Barbeloites”. I suspect it probably was something like that, and these various middle Platonic philosophies, scattered between Egypt and Roman Asia were influencing the more established religions…even Judaism.

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      1. I wish I could find where I read it but it says that major tenets of Gnostics even the spirit/phantom savior was a Jewish heresy.

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  3. Have you seen this? This looks interesting. https://www.thedailybeast.com/are-the-gospels-finished-works?via=twitter_page

    In Gospels Before Book, Matthew Larsen, a member of the Society of Fellows at Princeton, examines ancient writing and “publishing” practices. Most scholars believe that the four New Testament Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were written between 70-120 A.D. Larsen discovered that prior to the second century people didn’t talk about the Gospels as “Gospels” or books. In fact, he says, “the very idea that there are four separate, finished, and fully authored books called the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is one of the “more significant ideological invention[s]” of the late second century…

    There’s no better example of Larsen’s hypothesis than the Gospel of Mark. Mark, as we know it, is considered by historians to be the earliest Gospel, and is often criticized for its poor literary style. Ancient Christian readers, Larsen shows, seemed to have seen Mark more as a collection of notes (like those described by Pliny) than a fully formed book.The second-century bishop Irenaeus, for example, describes the “publication” of the Gospels of Matthew and John for specific audiences but does not seem to have viewed Mark in the same way. Another second-century writer, Papias, also envisions Mark as a kind of note taker, writing that Mark wrote down everything the apostle Peter had remembered but did not make “an orderly arrangement” of them. “Early readers,” Larsen told The Daily Beast “often regarded the Gospels in general and the Gospel according to Mark in particular not as books published by singular author-figures but as unfinished, unpolished, and open textual traditions that not ascribed to authorial figures.”

    I haven’t read the book. It was just tweeted by Dr. Candida Moss. It’s nice that a mainstream academic scholar is confirming what earlier scholars have said about the gospels especially Mark. I wonder if Larsen included the fact that the gospel writers have Josephus in front of them? Let’s assume that Papias is indeed correct that Mark wrote everything what Peter said, why did Matthew come up with his own gospel that seems to correct Mark?

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    1. Let’s assume that Papias is indeed correct that Mark wrote everything what Peter said, why did Matthew come up with his own gospel that seems to correct Mark?

      Nvm this one. While I do agree that Mark (just like every other gospel) is a collection of notes, I wonder what are the earlier documents Mark could’ve used to flesh out the current canonical gospel that Larsen included in his thesis? Could he be talking about the alleged Ur-Lukas or the hypothetical Q, which even secular scholars don’t agree in its existence. I wonder if this would challenge the current two-source hypothesis.

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  4. The convoluted dogma here is a sign of desperate re-imaging or maybe re-imagining. The whole idea of Jesus being a Messiah is wrongheaded. According to Christians Jesus did not come to earth to lead the Jews out of Roman domination. For that one would need a messiah, but for Jesus mission that was totally unnecessary. But the Jesus fans were doing everything in their power to make their story hang together with Jesus having enough medals on his chest to appear as a North Korean dictator.

    The promised messiah was of the House of David, which Jesus could not be if fathered by the Holy Ghost. None of these “facts” mattered to these purveyors of fake good news.” So, trying to make sense of all of this is an astonishingly difficult task, and I am glad you are trying as you are teaching me things I did not know. Thanks!

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