Part VI of VI (click here for Part I)
A Jewish Messiah in a pagan world
There was once a time scholars argued that the gospels were non-Judaic, influenced by Hellenized Greek thought through and through, particularly John's dualistic theology, with some unjustifiable accusations that his deep theological ideas were perhaps taken from Hellenized authors such as Philo, or had pre-Christian Gnostic influences consisting of ideas totally alien to a second Temple Jewish contemporary. Yet with recent archeological discoveries in Israel that remarkably correlate with the gospel's detailed descriptions of ancient Judea (discussed here: The Jesus-myth Myth, A Judaic myth?; and here: The Ghost Writers, John), in addition to the gospel's philosophical and linguistic style and similarities with other Jewish literature of that era, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the cultural parallels found between these scrolls and the New Testament showed that the two groups, though distinct, were both similarly rooted in first century Judaism.
It's interesting to note the slow and gradual, somewhat painful shift from Judaism to Christianity that occurred over the first few decades of the Judeo-Christian movement. Many of the early Christians, including some of the apostles, who began to evangelize in Judea shortly after the proclaimed resurrection considered Christianity an extension of Judaism. In other words, they thought the Christian faith was simply meant to be a supplement to their culture and heritage. They still prayed, made their devotions and even preached in the Jewish Temple as they had done before (see Acts 2:46, 3:1-3, 5:24-25, 5:42, 21:18-26). Indeed, this was a rather difficult transition for even Peter to make (Acts 10:9-23), because the general thinking was that this Judeo-Christian faith was to be exclusively delivered to the "house of Jacob" first and foremost (Acts 3:25-26, 11:19).
Though Paul was considered the "apostle to the Gentiles," even he was under this conditional mindset (Romans 1:16), preaching almost exclusively in the synagogues in and around Judea (see Acts 13:1-5, 13:15-17, 13:46, 14:1, 15:1-21, 17:1, 17:10, 17:16-17, 18:4, 18:5-19). In fact, Paul was officially commissioned by the first church at Jerusalem to minister to the Gentles (Acts 15:22-23). Gentiles at first were not entirely excluded, but their conversion was met with quite a bit of skepticism and controversy at first, and when Gentile converts began to multiply, it was a rather thorny issue on how to officially include them into the Judaic fold (Acts 10, ). Some argued that they had to first become Jewish proselytes in order to make their conversion official. The fear with some of the early Jewish Christians seems to have been that without requiring them to convert to Judaism, this would inevitably destroy the distinctiveness of Israel and Jewish identity, which was fixated to Judaism and the messianic promises of old.
It was perhaps towards the mid-first century through much contention and debate that not only were non-Jews considered just as adequate for the Christian conversion, but that Judaic practice was to be completely severed from Christianity, and this was especially emphasized by Paul in some of his letters (more on that in a bit). Though the apostles eventually came to somewhat of a formal compromise over this issue (Acts 15:1-35), this strife between some of the other more devout Jewish Christians continued unfazed. This certainly would be expected, since it was no small task for a second Temple Jew to tell converts it was okay to abandon Judaism, elements of their own heritage that had been an integral part of their religious faith, identity and culture all their lives and the lives of their ancestors, in addition to the fact that the original concepts of Messiah was also deeply entrenched in their Jewish theological and ideological roots.
In light of these facts, and the fact that these were turbulent times between Jews and Gentiles -- the days of rebellious radical Jewish factions and guerrilla skirmishes leading up the ultimate war and Diaspora that ensued -- it's understandable why there was contention and friction in the early movement about these issues. As we briefly noted, this conflict is also consistent with the type of Messiah they were expecting to appear on the stages of history, which was portrayed in pre-Christian Jewish literature as a Jewish king, Son of David who would destroy Rome, establish the nation of Israel's political preeminence, and who they believed would somehow augment the Torah (Jewish law), not abandon it, and that it would be broadcasted worldwide through God's restored chosen people -- the Jews and the nation of Israel (see Isaiah 42:1-6; Jeremiah 31:31-34). The point to all this is that the content in the gospels, some of it I touched on briefly, doesn't at all give us the impression that it actually post-dates these historical circumstances, but instead, the content matches these pre-70 circumstances and is what we would expect to find within pre-70 works.
It's interesting to note that all four gospel authors always identify the country of Jesus as Israel and not "Palestine" -- the proper term Romans and Greeks used to identify Judea. This is a bit of a incongruity after the Jewish Diaspora of 70 CE. If the gospels were written in this aftermath, the question is why the gospel authors felt the need to continue vividly extrapolating Jesus as the Messiah of Israel throughout the gospels, extrapolating titles such as "rabbi," "King of the Jews," Son of David, and "the seed of Abraham," or references to "father Abraham" prevalent in Luke (, , 16:30)? Why did Luke, who undoubtedly wrote his work to Gentiles, feel the need to display Jesus' genealogy, tracing it back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, proving that Jesus was indeed the promised "King of the House of Jacob" if he was writing years or decades after the Diaspora? Why would Luke highlight speeches that signified Israel's victory over their enemies years after Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Roman legions (see Luke 1:32-35; 1:68-79)? Why did the gospel writers point out messianic prophecies from the Old Testament ad nauseam -- many of these prophecies being snippets from monologues of prophetic passages that expressed a messianic hope and promise of conquering the enemies of Israel, gathering the Jewish tribes, and ruling as the victorious political king in Israel (see our discussion here: The Messianic Matrix)?
Why does the gospel of Mark, who also unquestionably wrote to non-Aramaic speaking Gentiles, exude a pro-Judaism theme that showed a clear favoritism towards the mosaic law (see 1:44, , ) if it was written to the Greeks after the Diaspora, particularly after Judaism had been wiped out in the very same area? Why did Jesus promise the disciples that they would sit on thrones at the end of the age and specifically judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30)? Why did Jesus say in the gospel of John (4:22): "For salvation is from the Jews;" or instruct his disciples in the gospel of Matthew (10:5-7): "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"? Why did Jesus portray Gentiles metaphorically as "dogs" in the gospel of Mark (7:25-30), a rather overt way of assuming Israel's priority over other nations and peoples? In other words, if we didn't know that Luke and Mark specifically wrote to Gentiles, we would have a sound basis to argue that they wrote to first century Jews. The gospels are clearly orientated around a Jewish theme and this matches what we would find within pre-70 circumstances, when the movement was still centered in the land of Judea, or they were extremely genuine historians transcribing accurate traditions handed down to them by their Jewish predecessors.
Additional Judaic elements
The term Son of Man has been another very difficult enigmatic thorn for a post-70 argument. The four gospels identified Jesus as "Son of Man" more than eighty times combined, yet no other canon New Testament writer used the term other than the author of Revelations who used it twice. Neither Paul nor any other epistle writer used it once in their letters. There have been no shortage of theories offered by scholars for the use of this title, but one thing that is plainly agreeable and indisputable, whether it was taken from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel and Psalms and used to describe Jesus as a lowly humble servant of God; or from the book of Daniel and the apocryphal book of Enoch to describe Jesus as an apocalyptic supreme ruler, it is unquestionably Semitic (it's no accident that it is used more times in Matthew who was unquestionably writing to Jewish Christians), with its origins undoubtedly rooted in Aramaic expressions (discussed in more detail here: The Evangelists, Son of... da man). This would make sense if the gospel works are actually the primitive New Testament works and written at a time the church was still run by Jewish apostles and much more orientated around a Jewish culture. How this can be and why the exclusive term was used so extensively in works that were supposedly written long after 70 CE is a virtual historical anachronism.
I also gave many other stark examples of this Semitism that saturate the gospels from the virgin birth to the Last Supper to the resurrection in another article (here: Virgin Birth: The myth that never was, The Jewish gospels). Much of Jesus' focus related in some way or another to the Jewish religion, and just about every one of Jesus' debates or contentions with the religious leaders had something to do in regards to Judaism and the Mosaic law with nothing in regards to issues that had become subsequently hot topics in the early church that we find in the epistles -- i.e circumcision, Jewish-Gentile unity, faith or works, keeping the Mosaic law vs. Grace, church organization and leadership, women in the church, etc. Jesus stated things like, "if you want to enter into life keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23); "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than a single dot of the law to pass away" (Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:16); or that his followers must keep the law even better than the scribes and Pharisees if they want to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20).
The fact that the predominant theme throughout the gospel works still focused on Judaism is what we would expect to find of pre-70 works. However, it becomes difficult to explain this in the context of a post-70 era, when the predominant theme we would expect to have been emphasized was a non-Judaic one specifically designed for non-Judaic communities after a war that had wiped out Judaism in many parts of the empire. This is especially problematic if we are to consider the highly critical viewpoint of form and redaction criticism, or that they were editing and reshaping the traditions around the communities that were current at the time.
The Anti-Semitic Texts?
Within each gospel record, more in some than others but generally weighty in all four, there seems to be a noticeable hostility towards the Jews, in contrast to somewhat of an empathy towards the Romans. It should first be noted that the tension between Judaism and Christianity in the first century was never about race, it was about theology, and amateur historians naturally make the all too common mistake of viewing first century Judean history within the same hyper-sensitive, politically correct guidelines that we moderns are familiar with today, which naturally produces misconstrued interpretations. Political and theological rifts between Jewish sects were very common in this era, with polemics expressed in the Qumran scrolls against certain "wicked" Jewish priests, the bloody conflicts between the Pharisees and Sadducees during the time of John Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannai, or between the zealots and peace advocates in the days before and after the outbreak of the Jewish war. Antisemitism certainly can't be argued of the Old Testament, which was unquestionably authored by Jews, yet these texts contain some of the nastiest insults and reproaches leveled against the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Can a Jew be accused of antisemitism of another Jew? Perhaps it would be relevant here to spend some time shattering this fallacious argument against the gospels with a brief run-down of the facts. As I have pointed out quite extensively already, a complete shift has occurred in the scholarly world away from the 19-20th century view of the New Testament being immersed in Hellenistic paganism to a Jewish view of the New Testament, especially the gospels, which has become the predominant view in how scholars assess the New Testament thanks to modern Israeli archeology, such as the Qumran scrolls. Martin Hengel stated...
"Along with these Jewish foundations of the new, messianic movement, one must note that the great majority of the New testament authors were Jewish Christians who for the most part either came from the Palestinian homeland or had some connection to it on account of their education and the groups to which they belonged."
The author of the gospel of Matthew was Jewish beyond a doubt, and John was most likely Jewish with an even greater probability that he was an actual Judean citizen (discussed here: Meet the Ghost Writers, John). There's no shortage of scholars that have compared Judeo-Christianity to the Qumran community, a community irrefutably rooted in Judaism, by finding stark correlations in both their literature. Though some have tried to seize these correlations and attempted to argue a direct association, this has been patently debunked, as there are about as many dissimilarities as there are similarities. Instead, scholars argue that the two groups, being of the same era and culture, shared a common Jewish heritage that is expressly identified throughout the New Testament, particularly with Paul and John. Craig Evans describes the gospels as being "Jewish to the core." One could justifiably argue that the writers were anti-Jewish establishment, but anti-Jewish in light of this data... not a chance. Of course, aside from this data, one could easily see instances in the gospels that would give way to these antisemitic notions; such incidents as:
This seems to be in contrast in how Jesus interacts with Gentiles, such as:
These pro-Gentile/Roman instances are often argued by those who argue in favor of the gospels dating post-70 CE as obvious antisemitic bias or perhaps some device by which the gospel authors used to absolve Roman guilt during the shift of Christian missionary activities from Judea towards
Nonetheless, it's a bit unfair and inaccurate to readily assume the earlier canon gospels are influenced by this for many reasons, not the least of which what we previously established about the content in the gospels and its direct connection to the first century Judaic heritage. Moreover, the assumption that this was not only based on racial prejudice, but a sentiment shared by all Christian Gentiles, and the insinuation that all four gospel authors collectively shared this prejudice even though their own savior was a Jew makes this argument a bit absurd. The third reason is assuming the writers were Gentile, which is flat out erroneous at least in the case of the gospel of Matthew and most likely the gospel of John. But, with those few points aside, for the sake of argument, a pro-Roman device might seem a little more of a tenable proposal on the surface, as opposed to outright antisemitism, but it overlooks other logical factors that explain this.
We could just as easily assume that these discourses between Jesus and the religious authorities actually took place. It was certainly nothing novel for Jewish prophets to level some of the most vicious condemnations against their own people. In fact, if we weren't sure the Old Testmane scriptures were written by Jews, it's a sure thing, scholars would conclude that they were written by antisemitic enemies of the Jews, as there are volumes of some of the nastiest rebukes against Jerusalem and Israel littered throughout the Jewish scriptures. If we simply ignore this, we could also argue that this wasn't necessarily a conscious device per se, but was more of a natural knee-jerk reaction during the mid-first century when Judeo-Christians were the minority, co-exiting with a conservative Judaic community where prejudice, persecution and ostracization by their zealous contemporaries were issues Jewish Christians faced at the time, something we see evident in the letters of the apostles, especially in Paul's earliest letters (see 1 Corinthians 4:12-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; Galatians 4:29, 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 2 Timothy 3:11-12).
This was the case until about the 60s CE when the pressure and hostility drastically came from the imperial government, particularly under Emperor Nero. Can we really assume that the gospel authors shared this collective pro-Roman attitude if they were writing during the time, or shortly after, the Christian terror by Nero was taking place, which had also taken the lives of the two most prominent first century figures of the church, Peter and Paul? Among the many assumptions, this alone seems a bit hard to swallow. An alternative argument would seem more sensible; that either the passionate discourses were written down as they actually happened without being deliberately used as some device, or were being told when evangelism was still primarily centered in Judea and where opposition, hostility and pressure was still evident in these Jewish communities, especially from the Jewish authorities, thus subconscious and even conscious defensive instincts mixed into the traditions as they were told and then transcribed to texts. An intentional pro-Roman device to lure or appease Gentile converts at a time Emperor Nero was on a anti-Christian rampage, or a natural reaction to opposition Judeo-Christians were facing prior to the rise of Nero from Jewish communities at the time? I'll leave it up to you to weigh the logic between those two arguments.
In any event, when we look at this deeper along with the details previously noted, the evidence continually mounts against the former argument. Oddly, the "Jewish hostility" reflects in both the gospel of Matthew and John the most, including unique scenes and added rhetoric not found in the other gospels. The fact that the writers were both Jewish themselves (Matthew beyond a doubt), and the fact that Matthew actually goes out of his way to confirm the Jewishness of Jesus born directly out of the tribe of Judah, the more logical conclusion is that these heated verbal engagements between Jesus and the religious authorities are accurate history, and the other works actually "tone down" the rhetoric compared to Matthew and John's work.
Mark, Luke and John (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-51; John 19:38) also point out that Joseph of Arimathea who took Jesus down from the cross and buried him in his own tomb was himself a pious Jew and a possible member of the Sanhedrin or at least a Jewish official of some capacity. John (3:1, 19:38-39) points out that Nicodemus, a prominent Sanhedrin member as well, assisted him. All the women who had followed Jesus and who arrived at the tomb to prepare the body for reburial were Jewish, and Luke even details that some of the women in their circle were of Herod's household (Luke 8:1-3, 24:10-11). If they were freely embellishing and redacting episodes to make the traditions more pro-Roman/Gentile, Joseph and Nicodemus might have been Gentiles or members of the Roman order itself. The supposition that the blame was shifted away from Pilate doesn't really do justice as support for any pro-Gentile device since Pilate didn't exactly have a glowing reputation with anyone, Jew or Gentile, as described by other writers such as Philo and Josephus. Lastly, to argue that the authors intentionally dressed up the gospels as pro-Roman/Gentile friendly on one hand, yet left stark passages that were disparaging to Gentiles on the other is further incongruous to this theory. Examples…
John "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews."
Matthew 10:5-7 "These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of
Mark -30 "Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race [slur for Greek]. And she kept asking him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he was saying to her, Let the children [the Jews] be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." [also Matthew 15:22-26].
Mark 33:34 "...saying, 'Behold, we are going up to
John "Then they [Jews] led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium [dwelling of the Roman governor], and it was early; and they themselves [Jews] did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover."
Matthew 6:7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words."
John "So Pilate said to them, 'Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.' The Jews said to him, 'We are not permitted to put anyone to death."
It is simply implausible for a antisemitic argument to be made against the gospels except in the imaginations of those who try and propagate it. Yet if any hostility towards the Jewish community is evidence of some outside influence (as opposed to traditions that were based on historical events and factual discourse exchanges), then it makes more sense to assume that the outside influence was the hostility and ostracization from their peers within the Jewish communities around them, specifically the Jewish authority and priesthood within the mid-first century, as opposed to some collective effort to make the gospels more appealing to the Roman Empire (guilty itself of some of the most vicious persecution) in the decades that ensued.
Post-70 CE review:
♦ Using vaticinium ex eventu (prophecy after the event) to explain knowledge of the Temple's destruction and the war, which implies a post-70 retrospect, simply breaks down as support for a post-70 premise and in most cases actually has the reverse effect (discussed in Part 2).
♦ Advanced post-70 CE Christology in the gospels does not fly at all, not even in the case of John. Paul expressed theology in the 50-60's that is far more developed than the three synoptics, in addition to Pauline theology that is an obvious extension of the content in those works. Much of Paul's content is also identical to John's content (discussed in Part 4).
♦ The argument about Paul's so-called ignorance about the gospels is an argument from silence, which stands against evidence to the contrary. Paul not only confirmed Jesus was his contemporary, but strangely said very little about Jesus' life and teachings. Not only can we logically assume the reason for this is the same reason he did not directly reference the gospels, but logically conclude that his deep theology was an extension of the content found in the gospels (discussed in Part 5).
Not only do all three of the primary post-70 foundations (vaticinium ex eventu, advanced Christology, Paul's gospel silence) fall apart at the seams with a slew of reasonable doubt, but all that is left for us in a post-70 context are top-heavy fillers that can be toppled quite easily, as I have previously shown in another article (discussed here: Inside Look at the Post-70 View).
Pre-70 CE review:
♦ Though the actual history of Christianity between 70 CE to the mid-second century is a bit sketchy, Eusebius records that most of the Christians fled to Pella of Macedonia during the war. Even before the Jewish dispersion, however, a Christian ecclesiastical structure began to emerge consisting of bishops, and though the church at Jerusalem thrived even after the turn of the century, the authority shifted more towards churches at Rome, Antioch and Alexandria. Thus, we might make an educated assessment that the movement shifted into the hands of the Gentiles at this point between 70 CE and the turn of the first century. One thing that is clear during this period, however, is that the Jewish environment and culture had been radically altered. As was discussed earlier, Christianity obviously sprouted from this environment, within a Semitic matrix, and we clearly see this firmly saturated throughout the gospels, including Acts, almost to the point of imposition to a Gentile emerging church. Since these factors seem to starkly conflict what we might expect the priority of the church post-70 to have been, it makes it difficult to argue that the gospel traditions developed this way or that these written traditions were conceived in this aftermath; yet makes perfect sense in the mid-first century where the key apostolic authorities of the church were still directly tied to Judaism, when the church was still centered at Jerusalem, and when Christian evangelism was still immersed in a Judaic culture.
♦ The pre-70 scenario fits together like a historical glove, putting to rest post-70 difficulties, such as:
♦ If we disregard the cumulative evidence in this series of articles, E above is the smoking gun in support of a pre-70 argument because Acts could not have been composed no later than the early 60's and is supported by evidence that is extremely implausible to get past.
This places Luke's gospel, composed prior, no later than this period. Moreover, if we are to accept the common belief that Mark was the primitive work, then it too is pushed even earlier, unless it was written in close proximity, but certainly not later than the 60's. Since there is little doubt Matthew and Luke didn't know the work of the other existed, Matthew cannot date too far out of proximity of Luke. With the evidence I put fourth in this series of articles, a 40-62 CE date for at least the three synoptics -- Mark, Matthew and Luke (including Acts in this equation) -- is much more plausible within the scope of this cumulative evidence.
James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus, p.18, 49-50; 2008.
James C. VanderKam, Peter W. Flint, The meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls, pp.321, 330-341; 2002.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea scrolls and Christian origins, pp.4-11, 31-38; 2000.
John M. G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon, p.65-67; 2004.
Daniel B. Wallace, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline: Hellenistic Thought (www.bible.org).
Leon Morris, The Dead Sea Scrolls and St. John’s Gospel (www.biblicalstudies.org.uk).
2. A. J. B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, pp.15-17; 2002.
Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp.298-303; 2005.
3. Martin Hengel, Charles Kingsley Barrett, Conflicts and challenges in early Christianity, p.4; 1999.
4. J. A. Overman, Matthew’s Gospel and Formative Judaism: The Social World of the Matthean Community; 1990.
A. J. Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community; 1994.
D. C. Sim, The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community; 1998.
Also see Gospel of Matthew: Contemporary_scholarship.
Daniel B. Wallace, Matthew: Introduction, Argument, and Outline: #3 Internal Evidence (www.bible.org).
Michael L. White, Who Was Matthew Writing For? (www.pbs.org).
Marilyn Mellowes, The Gospel of Matthew (www.pbs.org).
Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, book 6, chap. 17 (www.newadvent.org).
5. James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus, p.18, 49-50; 2008.Craig A. Evans, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewishness of the Gospels, html, pdf (www.craigaevans.com).
James C. VanderKam, Peter W. Flint, The meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls, pp.321, 330-341; 2002.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The
John M. G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon, p.65-66; 2004.
6. Fitzmyer, ibid., pp.26-27.
VanderKam, Flint, ibid., pp.326-330, 330.
7. Evans, ibid., p. 2.
8. Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p.70; 2001.
9. The Gospel of Peter, I:1-2 (www.gnosis.org).
10. Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, chap. 5 (www.newadvent.org).
Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, chap 12 (www.newadvent.org).
12. Eusebius, Church History, book 3, chap. 5:3 (www.newadvent.org).
Jerome, Illustrious men, chap. 1, 15, 16 (www.newadvent.org).