Giuseppe wrote: ↑
Sat Oct 05, 2019 7:28 am
of the origin of the crucifixion, one very interesting:
Ben has talked about the crucifixion as a servile supplicium
by definition, since this form of death was applied to slaves in primis
The translation of the Jewish word ébed
(=servant), by the Greek word παῖς
(child, young slave, Latin: puer
) inspired the idea that the Messiah had to be of very humble condition.
He was the son (παῖς) of God, hence the slave of God (still a παῖς !), hence he had to die as a slave: i.e. crucified
I appreciate all the contributions to this thread, from among which the above contribution has turned out to be especially illuminating to me; I originally thought that Isaiah 53 would not belong to the list in the OP because it did not specify a crucifixion (as opposed to any other kind of suffering and/or death), but juxtaposing my own observation about crucifixion being the servile supplicium
alongside this important passage is like playing trump in a card game.
I honestly do not know whether an historical Jesus existed or not. But I have long been trying to imagine ways in which a purely mythical or legendary Jesus might lie at the root of Christianity, and one thing which has often held me up has been the crucifixion: why that
particular form of death? I can readily admit (and did so in the OP) that some miscellaneous vision or insight could easily account for it, but the issue has always been whether it is the best
way to account for it. An historical crucifixion with which Christians were stuck (and which Christians had to make the best of) always seemed to provide at least a slight advantage in trying to trace possible developmental trajectories. But that may no longer be the case for me.
What I am going to suggest will look a bit complicated at first, I am sure. It will not necessarily look like the most efficient way of accounting for a purely mythical crucifixion. But a second look will, I think, be most helpful in that regard, because (as I have mentioned before) Christianity was never simple. Being based upon particular streams of Jewish and related interpretations of the Hebrew (and Old Greek) scriptures, it always had a very complex set of traditions to draw from. And the seemingly complicated yet deceptively simple trajectory I am suggesting here and now can be sourced from that set of traditions and in the early Christian record. What I hope to show is that, given a particular set of ideas which are well attested, a crucified Messiah can be viewed as a very logical, almost inevitable consequence of those ideas.
First, we have the generational prophecy, of which I have written
much before. For many years Jewish prophets and teachers from the Twelve through Jubilees to Qumran foretold, based upon scriptural exegesis, the coming of "the last generation," a single generation of human beings who would witness God's final plan for Israel and for the world actually happening in real time. Calculations based upon Daniel 9.24-27 (the seventy weeks) led to various Jewish sects believing that they
were now living in that last generation, that "this generation" would not die out before the prophesied events came to pass. This belief, extremely well attested across our earliest Christian literature, is important in this context because of the pressure it had to have exerted upon certain predicted events: if the end is nigh, then certain prophecies either are going to be fulfilled very soon or have already been fulfilled.
Second, we have the network of scriptural passages which fleshed out the details of what was supposed to happen in the end times. This network of passages began with simple seeds in the Pentateuch, adopted historical patterns in the Prophets and the Writings, and became an entire bundle of predictive expectations of various kinds by the time Christianity was ready to blossom. The scriptures at issue built upon each other (both intracanonically and extracanonically) and promised, in general, that God would restore Israel's fortunes in the holy land; the details could vary, but the overall promise was quite secure. The most important of these passages for my purposes here and now are:
Isaiah 52.13-53.12: 52.13 Behold, my servant [ὁ παῖς μου] shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14 As many were astonished at him — his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men — 15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. 53.1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; 11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant [εὖ δουλεύοντα], make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Zechariah 12.10-14: 10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. 11 In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; 13 the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; 14 all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves.”
Zechariah 14.5: 5 “You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him!”
Daniel 7.13-14: 13 “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Daniel 9.24-27: 24 “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
Wisdom of Solomon 2.12-20: 12 “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. 13 He professes to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child/servant [παῖδα] of the Lord. 14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; 15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. 16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. 17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18 for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19 Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. 20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”
With the possible
exception of that passage from the Wisdom of Solomon, Christians read these prophetic texts together as part of a script or a plan for the end times, each passage being read in light of the others. The rabbis read these same texts in many of the same ways, as it happens. What follows is a sampling of Christian texts interpreting the above passages (and others):
Matthew 24.30-31: 30 And then the sign of the Son of Man (= Daniel 7.13) will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn (= Zechariah 12.10-14), and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (= Daniel 7.13-14). 31 And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other (= Isaiah 27.13 and many more).
Mark 13.26-27: 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory (= Daniel 7.13-14). 27 And then He will send forth the angels (= Zechariah 14.5?), and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven (= Isaiah 27.13 and many more).
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18: 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the advent of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven (= Zechariah 14.5) with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds (= Daniel 7.13) to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Revelation 1.7: 7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds (= Daniel 7.13), and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him (= Zechariah 12.10); and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him (= Zechariah 12.10-14). So it is to be. Amen.
Didache 16.3-8: 3 For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; 4 for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world deceiver as Son of God, and he shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. 5 Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. 6 And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first the sign of an extension in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and third the resurrection of the dead — 7 yet not of all, but as it is said, “The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him” (= Zechariah 14.5). 8 Then shall the world see (= Zechariah 12.10) the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven (= Daniel 7.13).
Third, a shift from expecting the arrival of Yahweh (= "the Lord" in the LXX/OG) to expecting the arrival of a Messiah figure (= "the" Son of Man from Daniel 7.13-14) can be traced across these texts. I have much to say about the metamorphosis of "one like a son of man" to "the Son of Man" and related topics, but those observations will have to wait. For now, my claim (which I can support) is that certain texts which can
most easily be read as predicting the advent of the Lord God actually were
read in some circles as predicting the advent of a Messiah figure. And this shift is crucial, because now the texts are pointing to a Messiah figure who has undergone a few things.
For example, we have Daniel 9.26, right in the middle of the supremely important prophecy of the seventy weeks, predicting that an Anointed One (= a Messiah) would be cut off and have nothing. Since early sectarians were applying the seventy weeks to their own time, this Anointed One could hardly be Onias III or any such historical figure in their
eyes. Or, as another example, we have Giuseppe's insight (above) concerning what the Suffering Servant's being "cut off from the land of the living" in Isaiah 53.8 might imply. If the prophets foretold that an Anointed One would be cut off toward the end of the seventy weeks and that God's own Suffering Servant would be cut off from the land of the living, then when was this supposed to happen
? The advent in glory, with the holy ones, is when the tribes of the land would look upon the one "whom they have pierced," according to Zechariah 12.10, so this piercing must come before
the advent in glory, according to the combined prophetic narrative most naturally gleaned from these (and other) passages.
But, once the generational prophecy has been put into play, the clock is ticking
. The longer "the last generation" continues to go on living, the more pressure there would be for at least some
of the preliminary events from the prophetic timetable to be viewed as having already happened. I believe this is what we see, for example, in the case of John the Baptist being called Elijah; since Malachi 3.1; 4.5-6 had predicted that Elijah would arrive before the Day of the Lord, and since "the last generation" was already underway, it became expedient to claim that Elijah had indeed already arrived in the shape of John the Baptist. Now that this preliminary expectation has been taken care of, the "real deal" is now all that much closer
. And I think that the same pressure would have applied to that other
preliminary expectation, the suffering of the Messiah. It would become almost imperative at some point to claim that the Messiah had already suffered precisely in order to continue to claim that the last generation was already underway. Confirmation of how natural this division of eschatological expectations into two such phases would have been comes from how the rabbis treated these same passages: first there would come the Messiah ben Joseph, who would die in battle (against Gog), and then there would come the Messiah ben David. The passages about suffering (Isaiah 53.1-12 and Zechariah 12.10, for example) were commonly applied to the former, while the passages about conquering were commonly applied to the latter. That Christians should divide the timetable up into these two phases (later described explicitly as the "two advents") is not at all unexpected; given their own particular and well attested set of concerns, they should
have, and they did
. I have also argued
that Jesus was viewed (through Galilean eyes) as the Messiah ben Joseph before coming to be viewed (through Judean eyes) as the Messiah ben David, so everything dovetails neatly on that score, as well.
So why crucifixion? Because the set of scriptural passages which Christians drew upon predicted that a Messiah figure (= "the" Son of Man = the Suffering Servant) would suffer and die, and because the "servant's/slave's death" (the servile supplicium
), the most shameful death of the era, was crucifixion. That Isaiah 53.1-12 can plausibly be read as describing a shameful death is supported from Wisdom of Solomon 2.12-20, which is a conscious interpretation of Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Christians were not off on a rail in interpreting Isaiah in this manner. Once one admits that a shameful death is in view, crucifixion looms large as the commonly agreed most
shameful death culturally available at the time. Christians may well have been stuck with a crucifixion and had to make the best of it, but it could have been a crucifixion inferred or even practically forced upon them from the Hebrew scriptures rather than from an historical incident.
What this all means for me, at least, is that a purely legendary or mythical crucified Messiah seems like a potentially quite natural (as opposed to merely possible) consequence of (A) the time pressure applied by the generational prophecy and (B) an intuitive way of reading the prophecies concerning the last generation. I am not necessarily claiming that this mythicist trajectory is automatically better than all available historicist ones; there may yet be good historicist arguments from other angles. But for me a sine qua non
of a solid mythicist argument is a natural way to understand the crucifixion, and my past efforts in this area have all required the acceptance of too many things which are actually unknown; by contrast, the trajectory suggested here is supported by actual Christian and Jewish texts all along the way.
I want to add that I am not (yet?) distinguishing between a crucifixion before
death and a crucifixion after
Herodotus, Histories 3.125.1-4: 1 But Polycrates would listen to no advice. He sailed to meet Oroetes, with a great retinue of followers, among whom was Democedes, son of Calliphon, a man of Croton and the most skillful physician of his time. 2 But no sooner had Polycrates come to Magnesia than he was horribly murdered in a way unworthy of him and of his aims; for, except for the sovereigns of Syracuse, no sovereign of Greek race is fit to be compared with Polycrates for magnificence. 3 Having killed him [ἀποκτείνας] in some way not fit to be told, Oroetes then crucified [ἀνεσταύρωσε] him; as for those who had accompanied him, he let the Samians go, telling them to thank him that they were free; those who were not Samians, or were servants of Polycrates' followers, he kept for slaves. 4 And Polycrates hanging in the air fulfilled his daughter's vision in every detail; for he was washed by Zeus when it rained, and he was anointed by Helios as he exuded sweat from his body.
Xenophon, Anabasis 3.1.17: 17 "And yet if we submit and fall into the king's hands, what do we imagine our fate is to be? Even in the case of his own brother, and, yet more, when he was already dead [τεθνηκότος ἤδη], this man cut off his head and his hand and crucified [ἀνεσταύρωσεν] them; as for ourselves, then, who have no one to intercede for us, and who took the field against him with the intention of making him a slave rather than a king and of killing him if we could, what fate may we expect to suffer?"
Either option would be considered the height of disgrace. In other words, it is not necessarily
certain that all Christians or even that the earliest Christians imagined death implemented by
crucifixion; it could hypothetically have been some other kind of death followed by