Astonishing Ben. Very likeableBen C. Smith wrote: ↑Thu Nov 26, 2020 6:19 pmOkay, well, this is my best current guess.
Situated at the fuzzy juncture between the Essenes, a few baptismal sects in the Jordan valley, and the rebel groups Josephus nominates as a kind of Fourth Philosophy, there was a sect known as the Naṣoraeans (נוצרים), a coalition group premised on the idea, gaining ground at the time in Palestine, that the last generation, long prophesied, had finally begun; the kingdom of God was about to be consummated on earth.
The sect was rooted unambiguously in traditions based both upon the Law and upon the Prophets, but unique times call for unique measures, and those old traditions were developed in new directions around the core ideas implied by the arrival of the last generation. One of those core ideas was the Mosaic wish that all of the people of God could be prophets (Numbers 11.26-30), converted expressly by Joel into an eschatological prediction (Joel 2.28-32, 3.1-5 Masoretic). The growing class of prophets in the movement came to regard themselves as sent by God, just like Isaiah and others (Isaiah 6.8; Jeremiah 7.25); hence the concept of the apostle, or "sent one," essentially a prophet sent by God. These prophets, many of them itinerant, delivered by inspiration from the Spirit of God what they called Words of Yahweh = Words of the Lord; they were also themselves sometimes known as Brethren of Yahweh = Brethren of the Lord, which led later adherents to the sect to believe that they were physical brothers of the Joshua Messiah. While these prophets were speaking by the Spirit, they were to be treated as the Lord himself (Galatians 4.12-14; Didache 4.1; 11.1-4).
At some point, a Naṣoraean named Simon Caiaphas/Cephas had a vision which confirmed to him that one of the milestones of the eschatological calendar had been achieved: the descendant of Joseph and Ephraim, through Joshua son of Nun, had been slain as predicted in the scriptures. It is very difficult to determine the timeline for when and how exactly the legend of Messiah ben Joseph developed, but the rabbinical interpretations of the key prooftexts for the concept (Genesis 49.22-26; Deuteronomy 33.13-17; Isaiah 42.1–4; 49.1–6; 50.4–7; 52.13–53.12; Zechariah 12.6-14; et alia) confirm the Naṣoraean interpretations of those same passages, and some rebels, such as Theudas (Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.1-2 §97-104) and the Egyptian (Josephus, Wars 2.13.5-6 §261-265; Antiquities 20.8.6 §167-172), were imitating Joshua in their quest to bring the kingdom of God to fruition (and the dominion of the Romans to a close). It is also very difficult to determine whether the figure Simon Caiaphas/Cephas had in mind was an actual human being who had been slain ("that man, unbeknownst to you, was actually the Messiah ben Joseph") or was merely the assertion of the vision ("the Messiah ben Joseph has been slain; believe it, and spread the word"). In either case, the key characteristic of the figure was his obscurity: nobody knew at the time what was happening, and the only reason anybody knew even later was because of the visions. The psychological motivation for such a claim is clear enough: the more milestones that can be checked off, the closer the Day of Judgment.
Other Naṣoraeans had visions which confirmed that of Simon, and thus the foundations were laid for stories to grow about the recent career of an obscure Messiah figure. His name was not Jesus/Yehoshua/Yeshua during his lifetime, for that is the name he was given upon his exaltation (Philippians 2.5-11; Hebrews 1.1-4; Odes of Solomon 39.8; Origen, Homilies on Joshua 1.1). Guesses were made on all sides as to his human identity, including John the Baptist (Mark 6.14-16; 8.27-28), a certain ben Stada in the Talmud, and Jesus son of Ananus (Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 §300-309), this last of whom managed unwittingly to contribute a few details to the passion narrative.
Paul, not originally a Naṣoraean, either first converted to the sect and then had a vision or first had a vision and then converted to the sect. As mentioned, unique times call for unique measures, and Paul became the most famous of those for whom the measure taken was to preach the gospel — the good tidings that the eschaton was at hand, the last generation already being underway — to the Gentiles, since plenty of scriptural prophecies had predicted blessings upon them, as well. His desire was for the Naṣoraean leaders, whom he calls Pillars and names as Cephas, James, and John, to approve of his mission so as not to actively hinder him. Their reaction, however, was mixed, mainly because the Pauline notion that, on account of the prophesied eschaton having arrived, Gentiles could become full participants in the blessings of the chosen people without following dietary restrictions or being circumcised, was considered novel and strange.
Thus far, Naṣoraean texts had been an afterthought consisting mainly of set pieces: eucharistic prayers, a baptismal liturgy, catechismal materials, mission instructions, an eschatological scenario, hymns and odes, a rudimentary liturgical calendar, and other such traditional items transmitted mainly in oral form and supplemented in writing as needed; also, stories about the career and especially, at first, the execution of the Joshua Messiah were being told, based on the Hebrew scriptures and on notions of verisimilitude, though they were not yet nearly as numerous as they would later become. Also, sayings which had originally been uttered by a prophet or an apostle as a Word of the Lord started to be attributed to the Lord Joshua/Jesus. Paul wrote epistles to his Gentile congregations, but they, too, were considered to be occasional in nature. The beating heart of the movement, both for the Naṣoraeans and for their Gentile counterparts, was the core of shared rituals and traditions and preaching and teaching patterns which sometimes found their way into those listed set pieces, which church orders like the Didache would later collect. Paul himself probably edited a collection of four of his own epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians: the Hauptbriefe), supplemented with passages he thought he ought to have thought to write at the time, during his own lifetime.
Disaster befell the Naṣoraeans. Jerusalem fell to the Romans, and the Temple was destroyed. The movement would never fully recover, especially since its role, however marginal, in the rebellion leading up to the events of 70 was viewed as suspect in some circles. The sect did continue to spread in small ways in Syria and to the East, but the numbers remained small. One notable offshoot in that direction was the Mandaean sect. The Gentile congregations founded by Paul and by other enterprising Naṣoraeans and Naṣoraean sympathizers, however, flourished, and their numbers continued to grow in the West. Called Christians by now, Christ being the proprietary translation for Messiah, they resembled those Greco-Roman mystery cults which claimed, whether truthfully or not, roots in faraway lands. The roots of Christianity did indeed grow from exotic Palestinian soil, but the connections were slender, especially since ambassadors like Paul had emphasized that Gentiles did not need to adopt Jewish cultural markers or customs. Greek Christians did not even get the name of their Semitic forbears right: they called them Nazoraeans or Nazarenes, evidently misunderstanding the term Naṣoraean as a reference to the Nazirite vow. But the core of the catechism and ritual which Christians still celebrated in their meetings derived from Naṣoraean materials, which is why a text like the Didache bears so many connections to so many different Christian writings (all four gospels, the Pauline epistles, the Johannine epistles, the Acts, the epistle of Barnabas, 1 Peter, and more): it collected materials which predated all of those writings and fed into the congregations which produced them.
(I want to insert a bit about how I think our focus is often mistaken in approaching these Christian texts, especially with respect to their genres. It seems to me that we tend to think of gospels, acts, epistles, and maybe even apocalypses as the beating heart of the movement right from the start; but I think that such texts would have been considered peripheral at the time. They came to loom large once canonicity became a main factor, obviously; by that time they were triumphant; but in the early going I think that the rites and rituals, the catechismal materials, the mission instructions, the prayers, the hymns and odes, and the other set pieces I have listed were more important to the average Christian. The gospels were written at least in part precisely in order to explain the origins of those set pieces and of the Christian religion overall; we can see this purpose most clearly in the etiological narrative of the Last Supper, a quasi-historical explanation for one of the main sacraments current in the church. The epistles were written mainly to help maintain order and good sense in the congregations. The acts were written in order to fill in the history of the movement from the point at which the gospels leave off, a purpose similar to that for which the gospels were written, yet one even more relevant to Christian congregations around the Mediterranean. All of these texts originally bolstered the local congregation as a meeting, worshiping, functioning instance of the movement as a whole. To the average early Christian, these texts were nice to know, but their main concerns were what transpired with other local members of the church at the meetings and meals and such. I have stated this very forthrightly, and if you think that maybe I have overstated it, I certainly understand; I just do not think it is a conceptualization that ought to be missed.)
The Messiah ben Joseph was principally a Northern hero, and his more famous Southern counterpart, the Messiah ben David, very quickly came to dominate the ideological landscape, especially after the humiliation of the rebels exemplified by the Galilean fighters, touted by Josephus as mighty warriors, whom Rome had defeated. Unlike the rabbis, Christians came to hold that all of the relevant Messiah texts from the Hebrew scriptures applied to only one figure, their own Jesus Christ; the rabbis, of course, divided the same basic list of texts up into two piles: one for the Messiah ben Joseph and the other for the Messiah ben David. Jesus Christ could not literally be the scion both of Joseph and of David, so the more influential David won that rigged fight, and Jesus had to remain the scion of Joseph merely in the figurative sense later implied by the likes of Tertullian. At the same time, it was emphasized that Jesus, the descendant of David, had not yet fulfilled his more Davidic role; that role remained for him at a future time, so no need to worry about us Christians, O Roman overlords; we will be good little citizens (Romans 13.1-7; 1 Peter 2.13-24), unlike those rebels who made trouble for you in Palestine.
It is at this stage that the more exotic views of Jesus Christ as a mystical Messiah (descending through the heavens one layer at a time and then reascending after having disarmed the authorities, and so on) become very popular, a spiritualizing reaction to the misunderstandings made possible by a Messiah filling the shoes of Joshua. The exotic views were always available from the wide range of messianic expectation and expression of the era, and they may have been applied to the Joshua Messiah earlier, but it is now that they really shine, since they replace an earthly focus on a tangible kingdom of God centered on Jerusalem with a heavenly focus better suited for living at peace with the Romans.
Unlike the Semitic side of the movement, which retained its principally oral transmission of materials for two or three centuries after the fall of Jerusalem, the Greek side of the movement began to add a plethora of texts to the tradition. Notably, a man named Mark wrote a text which would become the basis for what would eventually be known as a gospel; in this text Mark collected existing stories about the Joshua Messiah, created stories of his own, and tied them all together into a literary work modeled after the narrative books of the Hebrew scriptures; the first half of this work consisted of stories whose arrangement could be interpreted as almost random, aside from the baptism coming first, while the second half consisted of the passion narrative, which must necessarily proceed in a certain manner for the most part. The passion narrative was probably based upon a developing liturgical tradition designed to commemorate the death of Jesus. It included a reinterpretation of the Eucharist, which originated as just a slight modification of the Birkat HaMinim, but which now served to remind the participant of Jesus' death. The Naṣoraean version of this narrativization of a central ritual had led to the story of the feeding of the five thousand, in which the Eucharist plays a prominent role in salvation history, but death does not make an appearance.
At the same time, epistles of Paul not included in the Hauptbriefe (some of them genuine, others spurious) were being brought together in longer collections. One of these collections contained epistles addressed to seven different congregations; another contained ten epistles arranged in what was probably intended to be a chronological sequence. Pseudepigraphical epistles were also being penned after the fashion of the Pauline correspondence in the names of dead Naṣoraean luminaries: James, Cephas (known to the Greeks by a punning nickname, Peter), and Jude. The Johannine epistles, on the other hand, were not pseudepigraphical; they were written by a strange man known as John the Elder in Asia Minor.
As the purported last generation of humankind proceeded to die off, one by one, those original predictions about the last generation having been born had to be reinterpreted and modified. The motif of the unknown hour made an appearance. So did the notion that things actually had already happened, even the eschatological resurrection from the dead, but in a purely spiritual sense. Analogies exist with other groups who have made bounded predictions, such as the Millerites.
The text which Mark wrote, which I term proto-Mark for convenience, already included a few mild mitigations of the original prediction. This text was also controversial in some ways. Some questioned why a text was needed at all if there were still people around who could pass on information orally. (Their culture and ours are at odds on this point.) Others did not care for how Mark had treated various topics. Still others were convinced, based on some of that oral information, that Mark had not gotten the order of events right. This controversy resulted in a new edition of Mark (one close in content and sequence to our canonical version up to 16.8). It also resulted in the composition of at least two derivative texts: the gospel of Matthew and the gospel according to the Hebrews. Both of these texts hinted at having been penned by a fellow named Matthew or Matthias, and that distinction was claimed for both within the bubble of information passed alongside the average text circulating in antiquity. Who was Matthew/Matthias, really, and why did it matter to attribute gospel texts to him? I am not sure. He is said to have composed the Logia in Hebrew, and he may well have written something in Hebrew to spark such fame, but I am not at all sure that any of what he wrote, if he did, wound up in the Greek texts said to be translations of his work. (This entire matter is still very much a softer spot even than usual, if that were possible, for my reconstruction.)
The gospel of the Hebrews was based at least in part on proto-Mark; the gospel of Matthew was based at least in part both on Mark and on the gospel of the Hebrews (the latter of which may actually serve as at least some portion of the hypothetical text we call Q). Papias, in Asia Minor, knew all three of these texts, but he preferred the testimony of wandering Christians who could give him information about famous figures from that first generation. One text which Papias may not have known was a gospel based upon Mark, the gospel of the Hebrews, and possibly Matthew; this text was probably penned at about the same time as Papias was writing his Exegeses in five books, and I will call it proto-Luke. Its textual history tracks a time of great controversy in early Christianity concerning how Jewish, so to speak, the Greek manifestation of the movement was supposed to be. A gap began to widen between those who thought that the Greek congregations ought to basically cut ties with all things Judaic and those who thought that Christianity was the rightful heir of Judaism, almost in the sense that the rabbis claimed for themselves.
Proto-Luke was by no means devoid of Judaic influence, but passages were added to it which enhanced the Judaism already in place, thus creating something much like our canonical Luke. Acts was published as a companion to Luke within this general time frame, as well. Marcion became aware both of proto-Luke and of Luke and became concerned that the Christian movement was going in an unacceptably Judaic direction. He republished the originally anonymous proto-Luke, along with the Pauline collection mentioned above which consisted of ten epistles, as a way of drawing a line in the sand against Judaization. Both he and his followers became more and more vehement on this point until a breaking point was reached. One of the Pastoral epistles of Paul may have been penned against Marcion (1 Timothy 6.20).
Other controversies stemmed from similar issues concerning the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, most notably, perhaps, the idea that the Jewish God himself, the Demiurge, was not the God of Jesus. Such gnostic ideas may already have existed for a long time, but they were now being attributed to the newer wave of religious figures being revered: the Twelve Apostles and their peers, both male and female, on top of the older wave: the Patriarchs, mainly.
The gospel of John was penned at some point between proto-Luke and Justin Martyr. I still have many issues to pursue in this regard. It was, at least in part, an encapsulation of the oral traditions of Asia Minor, especially Ephesus, which city is the real powerhouse behind what we think of as Christianity. Before Rome exerted its primacy, before Alexandria exerted its intellectual influence, there was Ephesus. (Before Ephesus there was Antioch, and before Antioch Jerusalem, but neither of those cities would have meant as much to the West as to the East without the mutually uneasy influences of John the Elder and Paul the Apostle in Ephesus.)
The apocalypse of John was published along the way, as well, though it seems to have been structured upon an earlier apocalyptic text. And Christian texts began to be churned out left and right, many of them being attributed to apostolic figures. Epistles had always been susceptible to overt pseudepigraphy, but gospels for the most part had been written more subtly, eschewing forthright authorial claims within the texts themselves in favor of more covert indicators. But no more. Gospels such as that of Peter and that of the Ebionites (internally attributed to Matthew and possibly based upon the gospel of the Hebrews, thus explaining both its late features and some of its seemingly early features), as well as the protevangelia of James and of Thomas and a slew of others, were circulated. Apologies and harmonistic treatments were also coming very much into fashion, and many of these gospel texts were, in fact, harmonies disguised as gospels, a trend culminating in the Diatessaron.
I will leave off the reconstruction here, having arrived at the doorstep of Justin Martyr.
Usually within a year or two of having posted a wide ranging reconstruction like this one, I find myself agreeing with only around half of it. So, you know, caveat lector.
I felt bad for you when I read that LOL. Not very comfyto the Gentiles, since plenty of scriptural prophecies had predicted blessings upon them, as well
Other than that, a fine story. A bumpy ride is what it was, nascent Christianity, and I really appreciate how you give Paul a place outside Christianity