Jesus Or The Christ?

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 the uncircumcised.  According to Epiphanius, it was Cerinthus who looked to be an exact match to Paul’s version of Cephas when he opposed Peter’s eating with the uncircumcised in Acts 11:1-3.

Jesus’s ordinary nature 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.

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.

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 matched 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.

Jesus And The Paraclete Walk Into A Bar

The most compelling reason to assume Jesus Christ existed is because so many people believe he did, and apparently did so by the mid-2nd century; however, to paraphrase part of Frank Zindler‘s question to Bart Ehrman at the Ehrman/Price Mythicist Milwaukee debate, “if the Docetists had won the wars of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, we might be debating something else, such as whether there was a historical tooth fairy”.

Zindler’s point was more loaded than the casual observer might appreciate, as the Docetists believed Jesus Christ did not actually appear on earth in the flesh; rather, they believed he was an apparition.  More bluntly, if secular historians were trying to discern the probability that someone (who was not Jesus Christ) existed, and whose historical attributes included those the Docetists gave to Jesus Christ, it would not be at all unreasonable to assume that person did not exist.

A careful historian would not rule out the apparition legend’s existence simply because of this strange attribute, but if this character were not the God and savior in the minds of billions of people worldwide, there would be much less hostility surrounding the debate, particularly towards those who have the audacity to reject this character’s historicity.

My conclusion about Jesus Christ’s historicity is similar to others who reject it, although the strategy I use is probably different.  I assume Jesus Christ was a composite of many historical and non-historical figures.

My particular interest as of late has been to elaborate and speculate on the religious and political underpinnings of the group which gave rise to Christianity: the Nasarenes.  My assumptions are largely based on the works of Margaret Barker, who makes the case that Christianity emerged from a version of Judaism which was less concerned about Mosaic law, and more concerned with Wisdom as spiritually propagated by a feminine angel and the wife of the most high, known to her incense-burning worshipers as the Queen of Heaven.

The speculation of this detail provides remarkable explanatory power.  For instance, the story in Revelation 12, where a woman, clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet bounces back and forth between heaven and earth, escapes the clutches of a celestial dragon who previously ignited a war in heaven, and gave birth to a son who was taken up to heaven by God.  Revelation 12 closes by assuring its readers that those who revere the woman and her son are the true keepers of the law (Rev 12:17); this is a clear allusion to the Nasarenes – the Hebrew term for keep, guard, or preserve is Nasar.  In this context, it is no wonder Christianity and Judaism’s primary schism (aside from the obvious) related to their propping up of Moses.  If Moses’ law was not the centerpiece of Judaism, then what was their ethical and spiritual center?  For the Nasar, it was a spiritually derived wisdom sent from another realm by the Queen.

Church father Epiphanius of Salamis gives insight into the Nasar in his Panarion, where he describes them as a Jewish mystery cult (in other words), living amongst the Jews, practicing their customs, but rejecting the Pentateuch, and believing they have the true teachings of Moses.  Put another way, to the Nasar, Moses’ teachings were inferior to the spiritual wisdom of the Queen, whose days as a centerpiece of Orthodox Judaism, according to 2 Kings, ended with Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE.

The Nasar show up again elsewhere in Epiphanius’s writings, when he describes an Elxai, who lead a collection of Essenes, Ebionites, Nazarenes, and Nasarenes, and whose chief concern appears to be 96-mile tall masculine and feminine Spirits in the sky – the male Spirit was the Christ.

It is my contention that Elxai has much explanatory power when parsing the curiosities of several Christian sects that early church father Irenaeus first described around 185CE, notably the Ebionites.  Many Christian scholars have no trouble presuming that it was the Ebionites who preceded Pauline Christianity, and had in their ranks, among others, James, and those men from Galatians 2, who convinced Cephas to stop eating with the uncircumcised.

Put generically, these Ebionites saw Jesus Christ as less supernatural than Paul did.  But it is in the specifics where the dots begin to align.  Like a similar group of early Christians known as the Cerinthians, the Ebionites believed that a Spirit from heaven descended upon Jesus like a dove after his baptism.  This is detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, which is no surprise, considering that the Cerinthians and Ebionites are both associated with various (perhaps proto) versions of the sans virgin birth Gospel of Matthew; my suspicion is that it was some symbiosis between these groups which resulted in the proto-Synoptic Gospel’s creation.

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An obvious link between Elxai and the Ebionites already exists via Epiphanius, who wrote that Elxai’s followers included some Ebionites.  But consider the parallels between Elxai’s view, which had 96 mile tall Spirits in the sky, and the Ebionite view, which had the Christ Spirit descending onto the ordinary man Jesus.  The two views are entirely compatible.  In other words, Elxai’s Spirits were sending out signals of themselves to the elect, which we might presume, given the immediately preceding event in the Gospels, were the people who received baptism.

Since we already concede that the Ebionites preceded Paul (he even admits this – Galatians 1:17), and were therefore the earlier Christians, it strikes me that the Gospel story of Jesus was nothing more than an allegory to explain what could happen to those Nasarenes who received proper spiritual initiation:  they would gain magical abilities, their spiritual senses would increase to the point of being able to detect and purge demons within the temple and the synagogues, and they would have deeper insight into the realm of the unknown God.  They would become the Christ.

A reason the specific timeframe was selected for the Gospel story, 40 years prior to the temple’s destruction, was to indicate that the Christ Spirit, which should substitute for the temple, and which would be encapsulated by a human being, had been on earth prior to the temple being destroyed.  This could explain why Jesus cursed the fig tree, even though it was entirely expected that it would not bear fruit during that time of year – this was an allusion to the temple’s spiritual deficiency:  the temple no longer housed the Christ – that job was now assumed by the carrier of the Christ Spirit: Jesus.  Given the fact that the Gospel of Mark generally dates to around 70CE, perhaps one reason for this timeframe would be to give “spiritual proof” that the writers of Mark had received this Spirit after Jesus died, and were therefore, the true inheritors of the Spirit, which later became known as the Paraclete.

The temple’s spiritual deficiency is detectable in Paul’s writings, as well.  For instance, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  He also said that he was “once again in the pains of his childbirth until the Christ is formed within” his followers (Galatians 4:19).  I think it clear that, to Paul, the Christ was likewise the Spirit of the temple, and therefore, the physical temple was not necessary (although it is nearly universally assumed, I do not believe it is clear whether Paul was writing before the temple was destroyed).  This Pauline trope of recalling his own childbirth is remarkably similar to a notion which existed in a sect, very similar to the Ebionites and Cerinthians, which Irenaeus described as the Carpocratians in Against Heresies i.25:

They also hold that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men, with the exception that he differed from them in this respect, that inasmuch as his soul was steadfast and pure, he perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God. On this account, a power descended upon him from the Father, that by means of it he might escape from the creators of the world

In the next sentence about the Carpocratians, Irenaeus explains

They further declare, that the soul of Jesus, although educated in the practices of the Jews, regarded these with contempt, and that for this reason he was endowed with faculties, by means of which he destroyed those passions which dwelt in men as a punishment [for their sins].

If we reconsider the lens through which we look at these claims, consider an intriguing speculation:  Paul (or whoever wrote Paul) saw himself as Jesus Christ.  These attributes the Carpocratians assigned to Jesus Christ are just as much a match to Paul as they are to Jesus!  Irenaeus even makes allusion to the Carpocratians using Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

One common Pauline passage used to support Jesus Christ’s historicity (and that Paul must have considered Jesus a human, as well) is Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive our adoption as sons.…

Does this passage really reflect Paul’s views on a human Jesus?  Or is this passage a reference to Paul himself receiving ownership of the Spirit?  Paul was genomenon (manifested/born) from a woman, as is evidenced by his miscarried birth (1 Corin 15:8)  He was also born under the law, in the tribe of Benjamin, as he writes in his letters.  Indeed, this passage reads equivalently when the reader assumes that Paul is talking about himself.

The flip side of this story comes in 1 Corinthians 15 7-8

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one born from a miscarriage (ektroma)

Once again, Paul’s insight into his own abnormal birth (a miscarriage) is directly linked to the Carpocratians, who believed the Spirit-encapsulator would remember details prior to their birth.  The Carpocratians also believed in reincarnation and in the transmigration of souls.  In my estimation, the odds are that Paul’s stories were contributed to by multiple members of the community who saw themselves simultaneously as reincarnations of Paul and the encapsulators of the Christ-Spirit.  I have made the case in another post that a character who shows up in Mark’s Gospel (a gospel which is sympathetic to Paul), named Simon of Cyrene, that character plucked from the field in Mark 15 (the field was synonymous with the New Jerusalem where the Queen of Heaven’s spirit would reside), was one such iteration of Paul (who was the Paraclete – the heretical sect known as the Basilideans believed Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete).  The Gospel of Matthew, which is explicitly hostile to Paul’s theological system, omits the reference to Simon coming from the field, but leaves him in the story.  As I have argued, the whole point of Simon of Cyrene showing up late in Mark’s Gospel was to close up the loose end Mark put into 9:38-40, where an unnamed demon-caster was doing Jesus’s work for him.  In contrast, Matthew writes that demon-casting will not get anyone priority in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:22), particularly if that person instructs his followers not to follow Moses’s law (Matthew 5:19).

Recall my reference to Frank Zindler’s question at the Price-Ehrman debate.  Zindler referenced the Docetists.  Right or not, the name we tend to associate with Docetism was Marcion, that ship merchant who preserved Paul’s corpus, but rejected other apostolic traditions, such as those of Peter, James, and John.  Marcion was also evidently responsible for the first multi-text canon, which was composed entirely of Paul’s letters.

One rightly wonders:  why would Marcion do that?  What could possibly trigger an early Christian to accept Paul at the expense of apostles who supposedly accompanied Jesus?!?

One solution to this oddity is that Marcion knew the other apostolic traditions were fake, and that the Gospels were allegory.  Perhaps this was part of it.  But how does Marcion fit into the model I have described so far?

In my model, Marcion must have believed Paul was the Paraclete who received the Christ Spirit.  In that sense, the Christ was an apparition: it was not material.  The man who encapsulated it was material, just like in the Cerinthian and Ebionite systems.  Though this assumption deviates from Irenaeus’s and Tertullian’s characterization of Marcion, it strikes me as more economical.

The recipient of the Christ spirit was only half the story.  Recall that Elxai had 2 spirits:  the masculine and the feminine.  One theme that emerges in many of the heretical sects described by early church fathers, is that there was often a prominent female.  For instance, the Carpocratians, whose theology match Paul’s views in not inconsequential ways, had a Marcellina.  The supposed “father of all heretics”, Simon Magus, had a female companion named Helen, who was supposedly a reincarnation of Helen of Troy.  The Montanists, that sect which was obsessed with the “New Jerusalem”, which was located in Central Turkey, had Prisca.  Even Jesus had Mary Magdelaine!  In Against Heresies i.13, Irenaeus notes that Marcus the Magician, who had a penchant to turn water into wine, also had a female companion who was originally the wife of an Asian deacon.

Among other things, this Marcus declared:

…the infinitely exalted Tetrad descended upon him from the invisible and indescribable places in the form of a woman (for the world could not have been borne it coming in its male form), and expounded to him alone its own nature, and the origin of all things…

Irenaeus rejected Marcus, and deemed him a heretic.  My assumption is that Marcus represented the earlier version of Christianity.  The woman who descended was the Queen of Heaven, and along with the Christ, acted as a proxy between the highest heaven/God and the Earth, and (as in the Gospel of Mark and Matthew), the spirit descends on the elect.

Even Paul’s adversary in the earliest days of Christianity, James, seems linked to these more mystical concerns, including the inclusion of the female Paraclete.  Consider the Naassenes, an early Christian group, described by Hippolytus.  The Naassenes revered James, but (unlike the Ebionites) had a tremendous amount of Gnostic influence; in fact, Hippolytus referred to them as the first so-called Gnostics.

According to Hippolytus, the Naassenes claimed to be disciples of Mariamne, who was a disciple of James.  Consider an alternate reading:  The Naassenes were followers of James who saw Mariamne as the Earthly encapsulator of the Queen’s spirit.  Another way of looking at this is that, according to the Gospels, Mary was the name of Jesus’s mother and companion.  Did Mary Magdelaine become James’ follower after Jesus died?  Or was Mary Magdelaine James’ companion the whole time, and the Gospel story assigns to Jesus Christ a collection of attributes from various Paracletes throughout Nasarene history, including James and Paul?  In this light, it is interesting that no such explicit link to a Mary exists in the Paul sects.  In my model, this is because the story of Mary receiving the feminine Spirit came from the Jamesian side of Christianity, not the Pauline side.  And the name of the earliest Jamesian Christians who believed in the virgin birth:  the Nazarenes.

A fragment from the Naassene sermon is below.  One of the details I have noticed since drawing this connection between the Queen of Heaven and early Christianity is how many of these pre-Orthodox references to the mother there are – something which decreased post-Orthodoxy.

From thee, father, through thee, mother, the two immortal names.

Recall my earlier speculation that Paul saw himself, rather than some Judean minister, as the (current) vehicle of the Christ.  Perhaps what we have with the Naassenes is a sect who saw James as Jesus the Christ.  That would explain Paul’s strange statement in 2 Corinthians 11:4

For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough

This notion reemerges in several early Christian texts, not just Paul’s writings, which has the Christ appearing to James prior to appearing to Paul (1 Corin 15:7-8), but also in the Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus tells his followers to go first to James, but to be on the lookout for a potential leader who was “not born of a woman” – this tradition, in my view, was Paul’s motivation to claim he was born from a miscarriage, and also explains references to his recalled child birth pains.  The similar naming between the Naassenes and Nasarenes might be explained by the Hebrew translation into Syriac (although the traditional assumption is that it comes from the Hebrew naas, which means snake).

Deceptive Naming In Early Christianity

One need not step too far outside of the mainstream to recognize that the earliest Christians often had more than one name.  One famous example is that of Cephas and Peter (or Simon Peter).  Then there is the infamous Saul, and his Damascan conversion where he subsequently decided to rename himself Paul.  In highlighting Paul’s pre-Christian name, Acts’ author intended to link Paul’s pre-Christian persona with the Herodian Saulus; however, despite the fact that Saul’s conversion story is part of the unquestionable Christian tradition, this conversion trajectory seems untrue, and little more than a passive aggressive swipe at the real Paul, whose most serious crimes seem to be his sanctimony toward other Christian leaders, especially when they did not recognize his authority (Gal 2:6).

There are various accepted solutions for why this multi-naming occurred, the most common one being that Jews often had both Hebrew and Roman names.  This is economical enough, but I think there was another agenda which compelled it.

The primary motivation for inventing new characters was to rework the Orthodoxy.  Consider the case where an early prominent leader espoused views which were popular during his time, but the religion’s evolution rendered such views obsolete.  In this case, the early hero becomes a heretic.  An easy solution is to invent a fictional boogie man, make him the antagonist of the original hero, and offload the hero’s less-desirable attributes onto the invention.

A modulation of this strategy is to rework former leaders whose theological descendants lost influence.  This seems to be the case for the Apostle Paul, whose followers, within a few decades (and I suspect from the beginning), were advocating a multi-tiered Gnosticism derived from Paul’s (still extant!) writings.

Paul and Simon Magus

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One such manifestation can be found in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, which clearly merged the Apostle Paul and Simon Magus.  FC Baur recognized this reworking more than 100 years ago in his comparison of Paul’s run-in with Cephas in Galatians 2 and Simon Magus in Acts of the Apostles 8.  The scenarios, aside from geography, are remarkably similar.  When factoring in details from the Pseudo-Clementines, it is hard to conclude Simon Magus was anything other than a reworking of Paul.

Paul and Simon of Cyrene

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I argued in a previous post (The Apostle Paul Was Simon of Cyrene) that Paul was intended to be Simon of Cyrene – Jesus Christ’s cross-bearer, and that this would have been dramatically depicted, as referenced in Galatians 3:1; coupled with a linking between Paul and Simon the magician in Acts 8, along with the presence of the Cypriot magician in Acts 13 (who was also named Simon), I believe Paul’s real alter-name was indeed Simon.  The fact that Cephas was renamed Simon-Peter is striking, considering the Toledoth Yeshu claims that Paul and Simon Peter were the same person.  Coupled with the fact that Paul’s adversaries, the Ebionites (Irenaeus, Against Heresies i.26.2), were consumers of Matthew, and given the less kind treatment of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew than in Mark (specifically that Matthew’s Simon was not returning from “the field” – which was code for planting Seeds for the New Jerusalem – a clear reference to the unnamed demon-caster in Mark 9:38-40), it seems clear that Matthew’s consumers begrudgingly admitted Simon into their story, while they simultaneously downplayed his importance.

James and Stephen

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As Hans-Joachim Schoeps surmised, the martyred Saint Stephen appears to be a “deckfigur fur Jakobus” – a duplication of the Jerusalem Christian leader James, and a re-telling of his stoning.  Robert Eisenman advocates this position.  One wonders if Stephen really existed at all – perhaps he was an early leader who lacked enough memorable attributes, so he benefited from a post-mortem Jamesian merger.

Cephas and Cerinthus

In Galatians 2, Cephas seems moderate, which is blasphemy in Paul’s opinion – a needless appeal to the center, which was a victory for those “men from James” – the Ebionites.  Paul does not miss the opportunity to poison the well for the Galatians: Cephas and others were low-life hypocrites for their refusal to eat with the uncircumcised.  One parallel is in Irenaeus’s description of the Cerinthians and Ebionites – the Cerinthians are implicitly contrasted with the Ebionites in AH i.26, as having more hierarchy in heaven; yet the Ebionites and Cerinthus agree about Jesus’s attributes.  But Irenaeus explicitly stated that the Ebionites hated Paul, which makes the Cerinthians roughly centered between the Ebionites and the Paulinists (notably the Marcionites).  Epiphanius of Salamis makes this Cerinthian offloading more obvious when he references Peter’s equivalence to Paul, in his advocacy of eating unclean meat with the uncircumcised men in Acts 11.  In this scenario, Epiphanius reports that, playing the role of Cephas in Peter’s new-found Orthodoxy was Cerinthus.  See also:  From Cerinthus to Cephas to Peter

Mary and The Queen of Heaven

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There are enough Marys throughout the Gospels to keep readers guessing; however, the most blatantly deceptive reworking of unrealistic myth into realistic myth comes from the (near) universally acknowledged assumption that the woman clothed in the sun in Revelation 12 is actually a flowery reworking of Mary.  It is not.  The woman in Revelation 12 is the Queen of Heaven, and her followers received a shout-out in Revelation 12:17 – they were the Nasar – the keepers of the law which preceded Mosaic law.

Jesus and The Paraclete

This inclination to steal attributes from one person in order to benefit someone else did not end with the church’s apostolic inventions.  Jesus himself benefited from this.  In my estimation, Jesus was invented to metaphorically describe how those baptized and initiated into the Christian mystery could benefit from the reception of the Spirit (the Spirit rendered, even in the absence of the temple – 1 Corin 3:16); this of course meant that one must be prepared to be martyred – a universal concern in the earliest Christian texts (Ignatius of Antioch, etc).  The later addition of the virgin birth comes directly from the tradition found in the Gospel of Thomas – current generation Christians should follow James (probably the same James in Jerusalem who was killed by Ananus ben Ananus), but a subsequent generation would find one “not born from a woman” – this explains Paul’s fixation with details of his own childbirth, and that he was born from ektroma – a miscarriage.  See also:  Paul and the Paraclete

Jesus Christ and 1st Century Messianic Claimants

There were a series of messianic claimants in 1st century Judea, notably Theudas and the Egyptian. I have made the case in other posts that Theudas was the inspiration for John the Baptist; however, Jesus did get something from Theudas – his advocacy of transferring his follower’s possessions prior to following him (Mark 10:21, Matthew 19:21).  The Egyptian also had obvious qualities that trickled into the Gospels, notably that he took his followers to the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:3, Matthew 24:3), and that he claimed he could knock down the temple’s walls (Mark 14:58, Matthew 27:40, John 2:19).  The fact that Paul is linked to the Egyptian in Acts of the Apostles, and that Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 7:17) claimed Theudas was a student of Paul (I surmise Clement erred; rather, Paul was a student of Theudas – in other words, Paul was a student of John the Baptist!), creates a clear correlation between the Gospel’s fiction and discernible historical fact.

Jesus Christ and Jesus ben Ananias

Jesus Christ also received a few attributes from Jesus ben Ananias, who Josephus described as a “rude peasant.”  Jesus ben Ananias floundered around Jerusalem for years, claiming “woe to Jerusalem”.  One rarely noticed feature in Jesus ben Ananias’ lament was his quote “a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.”  The reference to the bridegroom and the bride has Johannine characteristics, notably from John 3:29.  In my opinion, the earlier iteration of this wedding concern can be found in 2 Esdras 10, where the bridegroom was the Christ, who represented the temple:  “And as for what she said to you, that her son came into his wedding chamber and died and that misfortune happened to her, this is the destruction that happened to Jerusalem”.  According to Josephus, Jesus ben Ananias was killed by a talent-sized boulder, the same sort of boulder that fell from the sky in Revelation 16:21.

Inventing Jesus

The short answer for why Jesus inherited seemingly later attributes such as the virgin birth is because some of those attributes were reserved for leaders in Christian communities.  Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.”

The modern reader is inclined to assume Jesus was talking about himself in the Gospel of Thomas, but he was actually talking about the Paraclete – the person who would inherit the Spirit and take up Jesus’s cross after he died.

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This misdirection was an example of what I have come to refer to as a “head fake” – these head fakes were common in early Christian writings.  For example, the Gospel of Mark contains such a head fake:  the reader (or audience member – Gal 3:1) consumes a story centered around Jesus; meanwhile, a lone-wolf messiah mentioned in Mark 9:38 was working in parallel to cast out demons despite the fact that only Jesus and those with his authority (Mark 6:7) were supposed to possess such ability.  As I have argued in previous posts, this lone wolf was Simon of Cyrene, who showed up in Mark 15 to inherit the Christ Spirit from Jesus prior to his crucifixion; this explains why Basilides and other early Mark consumers believed Simon of Cyrene played the role as future cross-bearer, which would have been synonymous with the later-named Paraclete.  It also explains why the seemingly earliest Christians, the Ebionites and Cerinthians, were adoptionists (believed the Spirit descended onto Jesus after his baptism), and why inklings of this story still survive in modern Islam.

Those attributes which a later version of Jesus inherited in extant versions of Matthew and Luke are given as inklings in Paul’s (authentic) writings.  For example, Galatians 4:4 implements a “head fake”, while telling how Paul imagined himself:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, constructed (genomenon) from a woman, born under the law,

This notion of construction Paul alluded to in Gal 4:4 (genomenon) is presumed to be about Jesus, but I think Paul was referring to himself.  Paul’s phrasing gives insight into abnormal attributes of his own birth in that he was constructed, rather than the typical term used for born, something like egennēthēsan.  Paul makes a similar reference to his awkward birth in 1 Corin 8:

Last of all, as to one born of a miscarriage (ektroma), he appeared also to me.

There are other odd Pauline childbirth passages, notably Galatians 4:19, where Paul tells his readers that he is once again feeling pains from child birth:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you

Paul claimed to possess attributes which were prophesied in early Christian texts (notably the Gospel of Thomas); references to this Paraclete transference concern manifest in various Christian texts including the Acts of John when John granted his spirit to a young man (I speculate this young man was intended to be Polycarp, who tradition remembers as taking John’s torch, passing it to Irenaeus, and subsequently giving rise to Catholic Orthodoxy):

And yet holding the young man by the hand he said: I say unto thee, child, go and raise the dead thyself, saying nothing but this only: John the servant of God saith to thee, Arise. And the young man went to his kinsman and said this only…and entered in unto John, bringing him alive. And John, when he saw him that was raised, said: Now that thou art raised, thou dost not truly live, neither art partaker or heir of the true life

References to the transient spirit are also found in Acts of the Apostles, such as Acts 8 when the arch-heretic Simon Magus attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter.

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What I have described here is a framework which is agnostic to the matter of whether Jesus existed; yet the inclination, based on Jesus Christ’s presence, is to presume he did exist.  Yet, along with notable historical silence, specifically the fact that Josephus did not notice Jesus despite noticing other messianic figures with similar stature and followings as Jesus (specifically Theudas and the Egyptian), there is a passage in 2 Esdras 9-10 which leads me to believe the Jesus figure was entirely fictional.

In 2 Esdras 9-10, Ezra encounters a grieving woman with ashes in her hair whose son had recently died.  This encounter occurs in a field (Mark also makes reference to a field from which Simon of Cyrene emerged prior to carrying Jesus Christ’s cross).  At the end of this encounter, the woman transformed into the new Jerusalem, which was in “the field”.  An angel accompanying Ezra later reveals that the woman was the Spirit of Zion, and her dead son was Solomon’s temple.

The emerging formulation was that the new Jerusalem would be in “the field”; an expansion of this motif was that seeds must be planted in the field.  This might help to explain such references throughout Christian texts (mustard seeds, Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener, etc).

The earliest Ebionite and Cerinthian Christians believed that human encapsulation of the Spirit/Christ was impermanent and transferable.  A diverse group of early Christians, including Ebionites, believed that the Spirit and the Christ were feminine/masculine polarities which were 96 mile tall beacons in the sky (see Elxai in Hippolytus and Epiphanius).  In these theologies, the Christ was never intended to be human.  Rather, the Christ was the gift which God gave to humanity, which people who had undergone proper initiation (baptism, etc) could receive.

The fact that a transferable Spirit is detectable in extant Christian literature, notably Acts and the Gospel of Mark, is not inconsequential; it is an artifact of this earlier Christianity.

My conclusion is that Jesus was a literary device: a representation of what the Christ (or the Spirit of the temple), who inherited authority from the mother Spirit, would have wanted his followers to do.

Those later attributes, originally reserved for the Paraclete, but later assigned to Jesus himself, injected humanity, via literature, into an otherwise metaphorical spirit.  The most likely reason later redactors chose to give those attributes to Jesus was so that existing power hierarchies could be preserved without undue influence from an outsider claiming to be the Paraclete, as was the case with Mani the Manichean, found throughout Manichean literature:

Let us worship the spirit of the Paraclete (comforter).
Let us bless our Lord Jesus who has sent us the Spirit of Truth…Honor and Victory to our Lord Mani, the Spirit of Truth, that cometh from the Father and has revealed to us the Beginning, the Middle, and the End.

An earlier Christianity is detectable throughout the literature.  For instance, we see the Christ receiving authority from his mother in the Gospel of John; later, Jesus turned over his mother to the disciple:

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,“Woman, here is your son,”  and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”

Another reference to Jesus’s “true mother” can be found in the Gospel of Thomas saying 101:

Whoever does not hate [their father] and mother as I do cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not love father and mother as I do cannot be my disciple.  For my mother [For my mother is of this world*], but my true mother *gave me life*

*Note:  This is my speculative interpolation – actual text is lost

The Gospel of Thomas makes reference to Jesus’s “true mother” who gave him life.  He distinguishes his true mother from his earthly mother.  The paradox Jesus creates, where a person must simultaneously hate and love their mother and father, is well-explained when one recognizes that Jesus was referring to hating their earthly father and mother, while loving their celestial father and mother.  In this case, it was his celestial mother who provides life.

There is an equation between the Spirit and the temple in Paul in 1 Corin 3:16-17

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple

Paul again equates this temple Spirit as an item which lives within Christian hearts in 1 Corin 6:19:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

 

This a religion obsessed with secret messages from God which manifested as two distinct spirits – the feminine mother/city Spirit and the masculine temple Spirit Christ.  Early Christianity was concerned with the temple, and how that temple could deliver messages to adherents, even if the temple is no longer on Earth.  One consequential aspect of this religion, along with several other parallel Jewish-sourced religions of the day, was an increasing antipathy towards Jewish (Pentateuch) scripture.

It was from this emerging antipathy, coupled with the aftermath of bar Kokhba, where most Jews were expelled from Judea, that many early Christians were motivated to create a “New Jerusalem” which is indicated in Revelation 21.  To the once popular (later heretical) group known as the Montanists, the New Jerusalem was in Central Turkey.

My speculation is that the pre-existing theology which gave rise to Christianity was the Nasaraene movement.

We learn from Epiphanius that the Nasaraeans rejected the Pentateuch, believed they had secret writings from Moses, yet who lived among Jews and practiced their customs.

In Hebrew, Nasar means to keep, guard, or preserve; therefore, any references to such preservation in Christian literature is likely a reference to this group of “keepers”.  We find such a reference in Revelation 12:17

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who *keep* God’s commands and hold fast their testimony…

As I have described in earlier posts the woman mentioned in Revelation 12 was The Queen of Heaven.  In Revelation, she gave birth to the son, who was taken up to heaven and later came to purge evil from the earth.  Here, we have a paradigm which is better explained as metaphorical prophesy, rather than post-Jesus poetic fiction.

Prior to King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE, where his high priest claimed to have found a (still extant) book of the law which purports to have been written by Moses, described in 2 Kings 22-23, temple worshipers burned incense for the Queen, and she was represented as the Asherah, which was a sacred tree or pole, a likely reference to the tree of life found in Genesis (remember, Jesus’s celestial mother gave him life in the Gospel of Thomas), and perhaps manifested in Kabbalah as the Sephirot.

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The Queen of Heaven, along with the older faith which produced her, is detectable in Jeremiah 44

But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”

Consider the late 1st/early 2nd century quasi-Christian Elxai, and his Nasaraene, Ebionite, Essene, and Nazarene followers.  A likely speculation is that all four of these groups were doing roughly the same thing:  practicing a religion which had evolved from this pre-Deuteronomic Judaism.

Cerinthus, an early Christian who much-resembled the Ebionites, was linked to Revelation, via several disparate groups evidently claiming Cerinthus wrote Revelation.  Therefore, another likely speculation is that Cerinthus was, like the Ebionites and Essenes, a member in this Nasaraene conglomeration.

Following King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform, the Queen and all other references to heavenly hierarchy and Monolatrism were thrown out of the temple, burned, and otherwise destroyed.  Within a few decades, Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II and Jews were expelled from Judea.

Though the 2nd Jewish temple was rebuilt in the late 6th century BCE, there were probably many who worshiped the Queen of Heaven who saw the Queen-less temple as illegitimate.  Scribal re-workings which purged the Queen from scripture would have made the Queen’s adherents likewise untrusting of the new Jewish Orthodoxy.

 

In 70CE, the 2nd temple was destroyed, and not long after, Jews were expelled from Judea.  Theological solutions for Christians and Nasaraeans in a temple-less world manifested in 2 notions:

  1. New Jerusalem (which represented the Queen/mother/city)
  2. The Spirit of the Temple (which represented the Christ/son)

The New Jerusalem is found in Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2.  This New Jerusalem was the place in which the Spirit of the Queen of Heaven could live, as was alluded in 2 Esdras 10.  It would have been necessary because the Queen’s followers needed a place to welcome their queen, and because Jews were no longer welcome in the original Jerusalem.

If Jesus did not exist, why did people think he did?

There likely were people who resembled Jesus a great deal; further, those people might very well have been leaders within the Nasaraene communities.  For example, there was a James, who in the mid-60s was stoned to death at the hands of an unpopular high priest named Hanan ben Hanan; James’ death caused such an uproar that the people of Jerusalem pleaded with the recently-appointed Roman governor Albinus to punish Hanan.

There was also a prophet named Theudas who took his followers to the Jordan River, claimed he could divide the river (note the Moses reference), implored his followers to sell or take their possessions, and was beheaded and had his remains flaunted around Jerusalem.  Theudas’s resemblance to John the Baptist is significant, and his death preceded James’ death by about 20 years.

A few years after Theudas’ death, following increased tensions between religious movements in Judea and the Roman authorities, there was an Egyptian who took his followers to the Mount of Olives and who claimed he could knock down the wall of the temple.  The local governor made war against him and his followers, but the Egyptian escaped, and was not heard from again.  This Egyptian bears striking resemblance to both Jesus and Paul – Acts of the Apostles even links Paul to the Egyptian in Acts 21:31.

If the prerequisite for leadership in Nasaraene communities was a claim to the Spirit, the likely result would have been many people claiming to have inherited the spirit, and thus possess the appropriate attributes to be the Christ.

The solution for an evolving, maturing church with increasingly defined power hierarchy was to merge these early attributes into a single person which became Jesus Christ.

 

Theudas and The Egyptian

A detectable detail within the Theudas problem is that it becomes clear that Acts of the Apostles was relying on Josephus’ Antiquities to construct its own narrative.  Yet, there is a remarkable detail about this messianic claimant in Acts of the Apostles 5:36 that is missing from Antiquities.  Acts makes reference to Theudas’ four hundred followers.  That detail is not found in Josephus.

Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.

There is, however, a corollary to these “four hundred” in Antiquities book XX:

Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons…and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight

Josephus describes the Egyptian as a messianic insurgent who took his followers to the Mount of Olives, and who claimed “at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down”.  After the Roman procurator Felix ordered the attack on the Egyptian and his followers, the Egyptian disappeared, and was not heard from again.

This is in striking parallel to Jesus in Matthew 24

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

This reference to the temple’s destruction is also in John 2:19, when Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”.

Consider this subset of Judean chronology:

44-46CE:  Procurator Cuspius Fadus orders his men to attack Theudas’ followers near the Jordan River.  Beheads Theudas and parades his remains around Jerusalem

48-52:  Procurator Ventidius Cumanus quells a Galilean attack against Samaritans (the Samaritans bribed Cumanus) after the Samaritans had attacked Galileans on their trips to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals.  Several Galileans were crucified, while others were publicly shamed in front of the most eminent citizens of Jerusalem, who poured ashes on their heads

52-58:  Procurator Antonius Felix quells the Egyptian’s uprising

Judean procurators were contending with uprisings and revolts that were led by charismatic messianic insurgents.  Acts 5:36 either confuses or equates Theudas with the Egyptian; any reader who was familiar with the unrest in the area at the time would have noticed this.

Consider what Acts does later in Acts 21, when a Roman commander makes an accusation against Paul

As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

“Do you speak Greek?” he replied.  “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?”

Acts never has Paul explicitly deny the commander’s accusation; rather, Paul simply says he is a Jew from Tarsus.  This strikes me as an intentional swipe against Paul by an author who was begrudgingly admitting Paul into the Orthodoxy.  The point was to cast Paul as roughly equivalent to the Egyptian, and (just as importantly), the Egyptian as equivalent to Theudas.

The fact that both were treated with veiled hostility in Acts is not inconsequential; my speculation is that Christianity’s Jesus-on-Earth story was a reformulation of these two characters (along with others) and their resistance against the day’s status quo; it might have even been the case that these two messianic claimants were proto-Christian (Nasaraene) leaders.

In a previous post (Theudas and His Problem), I made reference to a claim made by Clement of Alexandria

Likewise they allege that Valentinus was a hearer of Theudas. And he was the pupil of Paul. For Marcion, who arose in the same age with them, lived as an old man with the younger [heretics]. And after him Simon heard for a little the preaching of Peter

The proposal I made in Theudas and His Problem was that Clement made multiple errors in his above chronology.  The most glaring error was that Marcion preceded Simon Magus – a detail which seems unlikely.  But the other error I speculate is that Clement erred about Paul’s relationship to Theudas; specifically, Paul was a hearer of Theudas, rather than Theudas being a hearer of Paul.  I have also argued that Theudas was the actual historical character underlying John the Baptist; thus, the Egyptian was the historical character underlying Jesus (and perhaps Paul!).

If this is true, this provides a compelling explanation for where Paul came from, and the religious and political atmosphere which gave rise to his ministry, specifically that Judea, under increasingly brutal Roman procuratorships, featured violent pushback and social shaming against vigilantism.  Theudas’s ministry preceded an increase in state-sanctioned crucifixions and sanctimonious finger-wagging by the elders and well-offs, which culminated in an uprising which featured the temple-busting Egyptian at the Mount of Olives.

This solution also provides some explanation for why later Paulinists, including the Marcionites and Valentinians were so staunchly deviant of the Orthodoxy, and had such Gnostic underpinnings – this movement (probably a Nasaraene movement), born out of a rejection of law-centric Jewish Orthodoxy following the Deuteronomic reform, continued to suffer persecution by Roman and Jewish actors.  This is als in-line with the later John-the-Baptist successors, the Mandaeans, who were also, rejected Moses, and whose initiated priests were known as Nazoreans (nasuraiia).

Last Updated: 20170428