Forget the Myth of Jesus

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
Secret Alias
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Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by Secret Alias »

Why should anyone believe Acts? I am not saying Jesus never existed. I am not saying Paul never existed. Why, given that Luke seems intermeshed into the "package" of (a) the alleged Pauline gospel (b) the alleged Pauline history and (c) the alleged Pauline letters should we believe Luke's version of Paul? What makes Luke so reliable?
StephenGoranson
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by StephenGoranson »

This OP is not clearly presented.
How reliable or not Acts may or may not be--or partially so--are not specified nor presented.
Is this a yes or no question?
The recommendation to "forget' Acts is unearned, Plus bizarre.
Even were it somehow (how?) pure myth, there could stlll be historical questions as to why.
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Peter Kirby
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by Peter Kirby »

StephenGoranson wrote: Fri Feb 02, 2024 1:59 pm The recommendation to "forget' Acts is unearned, Plus bizarre.
The OP does not have a recommendation to forget Acts.

The title is "forget the myth of Jesus" (which I take in the colloquial sense... not as a recommendation either).

The question was "Why should anyone believe Acts?"

I agree that it could be more specific, but for the sake of discussion, I would interpret the question as asking if there is _anything_ narrated in Acts that _should_ be viewed as historical events in the sense that it's rationally justified to do so. And if so, how much? And what bits? And... why?

The OP isn't very clear (I agree), but any answer can be as specific as the person replying wants it to be, I would suppose, which would make this more than a yes or no question.
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spin
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by spin »

In passing here are the Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts:
  1. The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
  2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
  3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
  4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
  5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
  6. Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
  7. Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
  8. The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
  9. Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
  10. Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
Westar

If the above is accurate, we cannot use Acts to gain any understanding of Paul. In fact, we must shed all post-Pauline literature to avoid introducing false understanding of what Paul says. That means Acts, gospels and any other anachronistic content. We must glean from Paul what he might mean before relating him to later Christian literature.

Scholars have come to reject the Pastorals, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as not being part of the Pauline canon. But there is more to go in shedding orthodox expansion of Paul's oeuvre.

Can we really accept Peter being inserted in Gal 2:7-8 with its talk of two gospels, one to the circumcised and one to those not? Can we believe Paul included a brief account of the last supper dependent on the gospel of Luke which was written after Mark and thus after the Jewish War? What about the belittling of Paul, eg as an abortion, to accommodate him into the ranks of the orthodox apostles - Paul who was chosen before birth?

We need to come to terms with Paul from his background, not from orthodox retrospect.
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Peter Kirby
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by Peter Kirby »

spin wrote: Fri Feb 02, 2024 3:48 pm In passing here are the Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts:
  1. The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
  2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
  3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
  4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
  5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
  6. Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
  7. Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
  8. The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
  9. Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
  10. Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
Westar

If the above is accurate, we cannot use Acts to gain any understanding of Paul. In fact, we must shed all post-Pauline literature to avoid introducing false understanding of what Paul says. That means Acts, gospels and any other anachronistic content. We must glean from Paul what he might mean before relating him to later Christian literature.

Scholars have come to reject the Pastorals, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as not being part of the Pauline canon. But there is more to go in shedding orthodox expansion of Paul's oeuvre.

Can we really accept Peter being inserted in Gal 2:7-8 with its talk of two gospels, one to the circumcised and one to those not? Can we believe Paul included a brief account of the last supper dependent on the gospel of Luke which was written after Mark and thus after the Jewish War? What about the belittling of Paul, eg as an abortion, to accommodate him into the ranks of the orthodox apostles - Paul who was chosen before birth?

We need to come to terms with Paul from his background, not from orthodox retrospect.
Thanks for this, spin! It's nice to see you around.
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by neilgodfrey »

Spin introduced the "Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts". It is worth taking a look at the basis of that Seminar's conclusions.
Why Does This Study Make Such
a Severe Break with Previous Scholarship?


Many of our colleagues in New Testament studies will disagree with our conclusions, primarily because we have departed so radi­cally from previous interpretations of Acts. We reached these con­clusions, however, because we developed a different set of working hypotheses, as outlined in the Introduction. Our conclusions are based on our view that Acts was written in the early second cen­tury and that it used the letters of Paul as a primary source. Much of the previous scholarship had assumed that Acts was written in ca. 85 ce, did not use the letters of Paul, and could possibly have had access to eyewitness sources. With a methodology based on these presuppositions, previous scholarship often found Acts to be a mostly reliable historical resource. In contrast, our presupposi­tions tend to rule out all previous methods for analyzing Acts as history. Once one understands Acts as a second-century document, the methodology and the burden of proof completely change. From this perspective, we now consider Acts to be unreliable unless proven otherwise.

The Acts Seminar, therefore, is the product of a paradigm shift that is taking place in scholarship. No longer can scholarly consen­sus assume a first-century date for Acts. The arguments for dating Acts in the second century are substantial and compelling. What we have accomplished in the Acts Seminar project is a complete and systematic re-reading of Acts according to the new paradigm.

Smith, Dennis Edwin. Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, 2013 p. 329
I would like to suggest that a shorter route to the same conclusion was possible, or at least one that did not rely entirely upon identifying the letters of Paul as sources.

We have no independent evidence to help us identify the author or provenance of Acts. Our most secure starting point is the late second century references pointing us to our earliest documented awareness of Acts (i.e. Irenaeus).

Countless studies have long pointed to various sources for the individual narratives of Acts -- these have ranged from adaptions of episodes in the Gospel of Luke (e.g. the trials of Jesus alongside the trials or hearings of Paul); adaptations even of characters within Acts (e.g. the duplication of Peter's experiences in those of Paul); the adaptations of the healings in the Gospel of Mark to those in Acts (e.g. the healing of the bedridden); the adaptations of Maccabean literature (e.g. details of Paul's conversion); adaptations of "OT stories (e.g. Pentecost/Babel).... a long bibliography of detailed episodes could be compiled.

Moreover, on top of such suggestive hints of sources for specific incidents, one can cite studies examining the grand overview of Acts also being adapted from grand overviews of the founding myth of Rome and epics of Homer (e.g. Bonz, MacDonald).

Further, once we begin with this most secure starting point (second century provenance on the basis of independent witness) we further have additional independent factors making a contribution to our reading: anti-Marcionism becomes relevant and interpretable in Acts once we move it to this time period (Tyson).

In other words, by beginning with the time bracket where we have our most secure independent supports, and taking into account the many evident sources for episodes in Acts (GMark, GLuke, 2 Maccabees, Genesis, contest with a Marcionite Paul, along with its patent repetition and mirroring of Peter in the later chapters of Paul) and taking note of our ignorance of the identity of the author of Acts (notwithstanding -- or because of -- the prologue and "we passages") and its provenance, along with observations about its blended fictional-epic-historiographical genre, we have few grounds for accepting any of the contents of Acts as historical.

Contrast other Greco-Roman historiographical writings in which the authors generally make some effort to assure readers/auditors of the authenticity of what they are reading/hearing by reference to appeals to quite specific incidences of eyewitness reports or specific authorial declarations of authenticity. Acts is a poor comparison.
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by andrewcriddle »

spin wrote: Fri Feb 02, 2024 3:48 pm In passing here are the Westar Institute Acts Seminar findings on the book of Acts:
  1. The use of Acts as a source for history has long needed critical reassessment.
  2. Acts was written in the early decades of the second century.
  3. The author of Acts used the letters of Paul as sources.
  4. Except for the letters of Paul, no other historically reliable source can be identified for Acts.
  5. Acts can no longer be considered an independent source for the life and mission of Paul.
  6. Contrary to Acts 1-7, Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.
  7. Acts constructs its story on the model of epic and related literature.
  8. The author of Acts created names for characters as storytelling devices.
  9. Acts constructs its story to fit ideological goals.
  10. Acts is a primary historical source for second century Christianity.
Westar

If the above is accurate, we cannot use Acts to gain any understanding of Paul. In fact, we must shed all post-Pauline literature to avoid introducing false understanding of what Paul says. That means Acts, gospels and any other anachronistic content. We must glean from Paul what he might mean before relating him to later Christian literature.

Scholars have come to reject the Pastorals, Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians as not being part of the Pauline canon. But there is more to go in shedding orthodox expansion of Paul's oeuvre.

Can we really accept Peter being inserted in Gal 2:7-8 with its talk of two gospels, one to the circumcised and one to those not? Can we believe Paul included a brief account of the last supper dependent on the gospel of Luke which was written after Mark and thus after the Jewish War? What about the belittling of Paul, eg as an abortion, to accommodate him into the ranks of the orthodox apostles - Paul who was chosen before birth?

We need to come to terms with Paul from his background, not from orthodox retrospect.
a/ I think the importance of Jerusalem as an early center of Christianity can be argued from the letters of Paul e.g. Galatians. (I am not really interested in discussing whether Galatians etc have been interpolated to support later orthodoxy.)
b/ I think the 'we' passages in Acts are probably an independent source for Paul.
c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.

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spin
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by spin »

andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Feb 03, 2024 4:19 am a/ I think the importance of Jerusalem as an early center of Christianity can be argued from the letters of Paul e.g. Galatians. (I am not really interested in discussing whether Galatians etc have been interpolated to support later orthodoxy.)
Acts seems to have been written to create an importance of Jerusalem to Christianity in contrast to the gospels of Mk and Mt which end pointing to Galilee. Paul's Jerusalem is the home of Jewish messianists who show no knowledge of Jesus nor his teachings. (We know about such messianists from the strange story of Apollos proselytizing, knowing only the baptism of John in Acts 18:24ff.)

Do you know what assemblies in Christ were in Judea (Gal 1:22)?
andrewcriddle wrote:b/ I think the 'we' passages in Acts are probably an independent source for Paul.
What is that probability really based on? Can it be distinguished from retrojection?
andrewcriddle wrote:c/ Acts may date from the very beginning of the second century, but this would not prima-facie make it of no historical value for mid first century events. IMO Acts is too familiar with the social world of the first century to be later than the death of Trajan.
While I'm looking for a radical analysis of Paul in his context free of post-Pauline anachronism, how can you show any relevance of Acts to the times it purports to deal with?
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by Secret Alias »

I love the discussion so much I don't want to distract from it. My only observation (which is more of a marginal note) is that we have "Luke" and his "remembrance" which only seems to have been specifically referenced by Clement of Alexandria in Book 1 of the Stromata (I take Irenaeus's references to Luke to be after Clement's because he makes reference to Clement's reference in Book 2's dealing with those who use Luke to demonstrate Jesus's ministry was only a year - I think it is 2.22) in 193 - 195 CE. Yes I know there are references to "Lukan material" that are older than that. But if we accept the premise of Irenaeus's critique of Marcionism, i.e. that he will argue from those portions of Luke which Marcion retains, there must by nature have been a witness to so-called "Lukan material" that was not Luke or not identified as "Luke." As such attestations of Lukan readings or "Lukan material" are not strong indicators for the origin of Luke. The first datable reference to Luke is Clement of Alexandria's Stromata Book 1 and Irenaeus's rejection of Clement's argument in Book 2 of Adversus Haereses necessarily date to the end of the second century. To that end, given that Irenaeus attests to the existence of a parallel non-Lukan (at least from the Marcionite perspective) in existence around the time he criticized Clement's interpretation of Luke, there are at least 3 different witnesses to or interpretations of "Lukan material" (assuming of course that Clement was not a Marcionite), (a) "Lukan material" isn't necessarily unique to Luke and (b) Luke was specifically employed by Irenaeus to combat heresy. How do we know that our Luke was a specific form of "Lukan material" molded or shaped to combat groups that Irenaeus and other orthodox at Rome didn't like or wanted to marginalize? Already at the beginning of Luke there is the clear sense that the author is writing against a background of "other narratives" which in some way were either inaccurate. I would take it as an indication that "Luke" read Papias and constructed the gospel to counter many of the limitations of Mark (something I see carried over into Tertullian's Book 3 and Book 4). I guess I am wondering how reliable we should assume an obviously "polemic" or "polemical" writer like "Luke" to be given that his gospel is obviously written either in opposition or used in opposition to earlier groups? How does that bode well for his historical narrative Acts? The writing seems to be from a much later period than assumed by most observers. Rather than late second century, "Luke" could have been written as late as the end of the second century for all we know.
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Re: Forget the Myth of Jesus

Post by Secret Alias »

Further to my last post, if you had never heard of the Protocols of Zion, one of the key indicators that it was fake was that it only seems to be used by people wanting to disparage Jews. If you found New York Times articles for instance relying on this source's "history" that might offset some of the concern that it was also used for the purpose of demonizing Jews. In the case of Luke the earliest clear attestations are of Clement using it as part of an argument regarding a contemporary interest in Daniel's 70 weeks terminating in the reign of Septimius Severus (Eusebius HE 6.6.7 connects his use of Luke indirectly to the disturbance raised by a certain Judas) and then Irenaeus arguing against Clement's interpretation AH 2.10.2, 2 12.1 and especially 2.22 (in other words to counter the rabble rousing of Clement and perhaps Judas), as part of a systematic refutation of Marcion including a reference to Irenaeus's plans for a work which seems to resemble Tertullian's Adversus Haereses (i.e. arguing from the portion of Luke which Marcion retained that Marcion's exegesis is unsupportable) and then a lengthy argument in Book 3, 3.15,16 that no one can lay claim to Paulism or Pauline Christianity without recognizing Luke and Luke's status as Paul's chosen mouthpiece. A group with a Pauline "secret gospel" seems to take Timothy as Pauls' chosen mouthpiece (Tertullian Prescription 30) and the Paulinism they know seems to be a mystery religion with various references from Timothy supporting the idea that Paul wanted to shroud not only the teaching of Christianity in mystery but Paul's identity as such. To this end, Irenaeus seems to be at odds with not only Marcion's understanding of "Lukan material" (which is according to Irenaeus at once "the only true preservation of Paul") but also other community's understanding of Paul and Paulism. Irenaeus points to Acts as "the only way" to understand Paul, that Paul's choice of Luke over Mark, "proves" that the orthodox canon as such (and with it Acts) is "the only way" to know Paul. He then uses this "Lukan canon" to vilify all other Pauline traditions. My question then is with regards to Clement's use of Luke to encourage the idea that the world was about to end and Irenaeus's use of Luke to disparage other traditions, is there any reliable history in Luke? it doesn't strike me as the kind of narrative which on its own could be used to establish "reliable history."

I think that's why Mark seems to reliable. Matthew seems to want to make Jesus into the expected Jewish messiah. Mark is just reporting things and could be construed to be providing an account of things reported about Jesus. Luke seems more reactionary in nature. It was written from the "many things have already been written about Jesus" perspective. On some level, by writing yet another gospel, after recognizing "many previous accounts" the gospel necessarily takes on a reactionary character, even a revisionist nature. What was the revisionary purpose? All roads point to a "correction" of Marcionism. It might not have been Irenaeus who actually penned ur-Luke. But the author's purpose aligned with Irenaeus's activities. Let's suppose that the gospel (whatever gospel you want to identify as such) originally argued for Daniel's seventy weeks terminating at the destruction of Jerusalem, that's a first century Christian POV. I think Clement's use of Luke to bolster a contemporary termination of the Seventy Weeks (it's not explicit but implicit in his argument in Book One), that's part of the revisionary character of the earliest use of Luke. Similarly Irenaeus's refutation of Clement's use of Luke and his use of Luke to counter Marcionism, that's another sign that Luke was used to "weaponize" late second century concerns rather than first century concerns.

Bottom line: When I read Paul I expect a mystery cult. When I read Acts I see something COMPLETELY different. When I read Paul I expect a megalomaniac who took a central place in his religion. When I read Acts I see an actor up for a Best Supporting role. Not off to a good start in terms of historical reliability as the "one true witness to Paulism."

There is a maxim of Nietzsche, never trust anyone in whom the instinct for punishment is strong.
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