The earliest followers of Jesus were Jews. The church was predominantly Jewish until after the first major war with Rome (A.D. 66-70), and not until after the catastrophic Bar Kokhba war (A.D. 132-135) did the Jewish church of Jerusalem come to an end and a Gentile bishop succeed the Jewish bishop there. It would be many centuries before the Ebionites Oewish Christians) would finally cease as a distinct and viable denomination within Christianity. Accordingly, for Jewish and Christian scholars today, the origins of Judaism and Christianity constitute a complex and interesting story whose interwoven threads should not be unraveled. Ironically, the mighty Roman Empire, which smashed the state of Israel in a series of punishing wars (from A. D. 66-135), was itself overrun by a messianic faith rooted in Israel's sacred Scriptures and its ancient belief in the God of Abraham.
Thursday April 6, 2006, the National Geographic Society held a press conference at its Washington, D.C., headquarters and announced to some 120 news media the recovery, restoration and translation of the Gospel of Judas. The story appeared as headline news in dozens of major newspapers around the world and was the topic of discussion in a variety of news programs on television that evening and subsequent evenings. A two-hour documentary aired on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, April 9, and has aired several times since.
in A.D. 180 Irenaeus wrote:
Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas (Against Heresies 1.31.1)
James Robinson, dismisses the Gospel of Judas as having no value for understanding the historical Judas. (James M. Robinson, From the Nag Hammadi Codices to the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas, Institute for Antiquity and Christianity Occasional Papers 48, Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, 2006).
There are however other suggestions where Jesus apparently made a private arrangement with a few disciples that the other disciples know nothing about. We see this in the securing of the animal for entry into Jerusalem (Mk II) and in the finding of the upper room (Mk 14). Exegetes and historians may rightly wonder if the episode in John 13 is a third example; where Jesus says to Judas, "What you are going to do, do quickly" (13:27). The other disciple don't understand what Jesus has said. of a private arrangement Jesus had with a disciple that was not known to the others. It could be that, as the disciples speculated, Jesus was sending Judas to accomplish some task, perhaps relating to Jesus' security later that evening. If so, then Judas's appearance in the company of armed men, who seize Jesus and deliver him to the ruling priests, was a betrayal.
In any case, the Gospel of Judas makes a meaningful contribution to our understanding of second-century Christianity, especially with regard to the question of diversity We have here have an early exemplar a form of what has been called “Sethian Gnosticism” or what may have its roots among a small group of Jewish pessimists that according to Carl Smith emerged in the aftermath of the disastrous wars in A.D. 66-70 and 115-117. (Carl B. Smith II, No Longer Jews: The Search For Gnostic Origins, 2004). During our lecture-seminars in 1999 we suggested, that the term “Gnosticism” could just as well be seen as a synthetic product that history of religions scholars assembled from widely disparate materials of among others “Mandaean, Manichaean, Persian, and heresiological sources.”
outside the New Testament and even later than the New Testament sometimes offer
important assistance in going about the task of New Testament interpretation.
The Gospel of Judas does not provide us with an account of what the historical
Judas really did or what the historical Jesus really taught this disciple, but
it may preserve an element of tradition-that could serve exegetes and historians
as we try to understand better what happened.
Thus sometimes there is evidence, and that is good. But evidence of what? This is the troubling question that keeps coming to mind when we consider carefully and critically the evidence and claims proposed by James Tabor in his book, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon &: Schuster, 2006).
In p.1 we mentioned Tabor's suggestion that Jesus' human father was a soldier, and Tabor indeed thinks he may have located this soldier's tomb in Germany. He speculates that Jesus may have visited this man, in the region of Sidon (on the north coast of the Mediterranean), as may be hinted in Mark 7:24: "And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have anyone know it." What evidence does Tabor have for any of this?
We suggested that Celsus whose work largely survives in quotations in for example the rebuttal (Contra Celsum) written by Origen in the middle of the third century A.D. Celsus as far is known was the first who made the claim of a Roman soldier named Pantera (or Panthera), and next it shows up in the rabbinic Tosefta, which dates no earlier than A.D. 300 (Tosefta -Hullin , 2.22-24). Thus Tabor rightly notes that Pantera was a real name used by real Roman soldiers in the time of Jesus. He believes that a tombstone, bearing an inscription of one Pantera, discovered in 1859 in Bingerbruck, Germany, may actually be in reference to Jesus' father. The inscription reads:
Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62 a soldier of 40 years service, of the
1st cohort of archers, lies here.
Tabor plausibly suggests that the name Abdes is a Latin transliteration of the Hebrew (or Aramaic) Ebed, which means "servant." This possibility, plus the fact that the soldier of this inscription was from Sidon , which is not too far from Galilee , could well mean that this man was Jewish and could have come into contact with Mary. Accordingly, Tabor declares, "The mystery of Pantera [is] solved." Is it' Before anyone can declare anything solved, we must ask if the Pantera of the inscription was of the right age, in the vicinity of the village where Mary lived and in the year 5 or 6 B.C. if he has any chance to have impregnated Mary. Tabor is unable to show this, and other scholars who have discussed this inscription have expressed serious doubts that Pantera was old enough to have impregnated Mary or anyone else in 5 or 6 B.C. There is no actual archaeological evidence that can be linked to Jesus and it thus just seems to be another myth.
Tabor points out that some church fathers took the Pantera allegation seriously. For example, in Against Heresies (787.5) Epiphanius (A.D 315-403) suggests that Joseph's father was Jacob Panthera. Tabor thinks this supports the historicity of the tradition. Otherwise, why would church fathers such as Epiphanius take it so seriously' But Epiphanius and later Christian writers are simply trying to fend off the slur, and to do so they throw out various proposals, some having no more merit than the allegations themselves. Accordingly, their fourth-century (and later) rebuttals provide no actual evidence that the Pantera proposal by Celsus actually has any history earlier than the time of Celsus himself.
Tabor is also pretty sure that jesus' body was removed, and Tabor has an idea where the remains are buried to this day. The grave of Jesus is a little bit north of Tsfat (Safed) in Galilee . How does Tabor know this? It is a tradition passed on by a revered sixteenth-century mystic named Rabbi Isaac ben Luria. As a devotee of the kabbalah, ben Luria evidently had a vision, which revealed to him the locations of the tombs of various Jewish sages and saints, including the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. I doubt any scholar will take this proposal seriously.
But as we have suggested in P.1, there is worse hokum history then Tabor, and trained historians find utterly implausible. Legends, rumors, forged documents, hoaxes and psychic intuition hardly constitute the stuff from which sober historical truth will be found.
Let us illustrate this point with the conclusions reached by retired Australian lecturer and writer Barbara Thiering in her books The Qumran Origins of the Christian Church (1983), Jesus the Man: A New Interpretation from the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992; US edition: The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls), Jesus of the Apocalypse: The Life of Jesus After the Crucifixion (1995), and The Book That Jesus Wrote: John's Gospel (1998). Here are some of her findings:
Sunday March 1 , 7 B.C., Jesus was born near the Dead Sea, not far from Qumran. / At age twelve Jesus was separated from his mother. / As a teen Jesus may have traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, where he was influenced by Buddhism. / On Monday March 25, A.D. 15, at the age of twenty-one, Jesus was baptized in Jerusalem. / In A.D. 20 Joseph, the father of Jesus died. / On March 1, A.D. 29, on his thirty-fifth birthday, Jesus begins preparation for ministry; John the Baptist revokes Jesus' authority to baptize. / Jesus and Mary Magdalene marry on Saturday, September 23, A.D. 30. Simon Magus officiates This is a trial marriage. A second, binding marriage takes place March 1 A.D. 33. / On Friday, March 20, A.D. 33, Jesus is crucified, however, Jesus was drugged, swooned, fooled the Romans, and was taken down from the cross still alive (though badly injured). His life is saved by special medicines smuggled into the tomb with him. Jesus recovers. / On Saturday, September 15, A.D. 36, Jesus returns on the scene. / On Monday, February 29, A.D. 40, Saul (Paul) meets Jesus, to decide when to do about the Roman emperor Gaius Caligula. / On September 3, A.D. 45, Jesus teaches in Antioch. / On Tuesday, March 17, A.D. 50, at Philippi, Jesus marries again, this time with Lydia. / On Tuesday, March 7, A.D. 58, Jesus, Luke and Paul assemble in Thessalonica to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Last Supper and the crucifixion.
This is only part of Thiering's findings The former lecturer of the University of Sydney School of Divinity has uncovered a great deal more. And yes, Jesus has children by his wives Mary and Lydia How are these "facts" discovered, you ask? According to Thiering: By reading the Dead Sea Scrolls and the writings of the New Testament, and suming that they are all in code and that they therefore need to be decodec. Thiering finds in this code some amazing things. The raising of Lazarus (in Jn 11), who is really Simon Magus, turns out to be code for being excommunicated from the Qumran community. Turning the water into wine (in Jn 2) means that Gentiles, previously only permitted water baptism, may now become full members in the community and may partake of bread and wine. We even hear of "popes" and "cardinals," and so on. One can read every line in the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls and any other literature from this period of time and not find any of the things that Thiering thinks she has found. Why not? Because none of it is there. Not surprising most scholars have ignored Barbara Thiering's work because it is so subjective and idiosyncratic. One scholar however has given her work the criticism it deserves; N. T Wright, Who Was jesus7 (1992), pp. 19-36 At this point brief mention needs to be made of Robert Eisenman, who in james the just in the Habakkuk Pesher (1986) and other writings, has argued that James the brother of Jesus is Qumran's Teacher of Righteousness. So here we have another theory that argues that the Dead Sea Scrolls are either Christian writings, or refer to Christians. Virtually no one has followed Eisenman, but compared to Thiering's views, Eisenman's are pretty tame.
Of course, we need not be limited to texts, whether in code or not. Hypnosis, says Dolores Cannon, can lead to new discoveries about Jesus too. In Jesus and the Essenes: Fresh Insights into Christ's Ministry and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992) Cannon, a psychic and past-life hypnotist, describes for readers how through regressive hypnosis she was able to recover one of her subject's previous lives. In this particular life the person had been an Essene and had known Jesus. Well, why bother with Hebrew and the study of the Scrolls, when a long-lost spirit can tell you all you want to know? Through this procedure, it might be added, Cannon claims that she has learned a lot about the prophecies of Nostradamus, UFOs and Wicca.
Of course, many readers will readily agree. They want history based more on historical investigation and less on seance. But let readers beware; there are some books that have been published that pretend to engage in research and investigation, but all they offer is another approach to hokum history and bogus findings.
In recent years the public has been bombed with theories regarding the Holy Grail, that is, the cup from which Jesus and his disciples drank at the Last Supper. For more than one thousand years the church took no interest in this cup. Then in the late twelfth century a poet named Chretien de Troyes (died c. 1185) wrote a poem, Le Roman de Perceval ou Ie Conte du Graal (c. 1175), for Philip the Count of Flanders. He died before the poem was finished, leaving behind more than 9,000 lines. Other poets stepped in to complete it, such as Robert de Boron and Wolfram von Eschenbach. Out of these literary efforts arose the legend of the Holy Grail The Anglo world knows the legend well, in the version of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Germans and French have their own versions of it also.This is, of course, the stuff of myth and legend. There is no historical evidence of the existence or knowledge of the existence of the cup Jesus--apart from its mention in the New Testament, there is none whatever. Nor is there any evidence that the Knights Templar, who served as armed escorts to and from Europe and the Holy Land , ever had a connection to the Holy Grail or found hidden documents or lost treasures or whatever. But lack of evidence is no problem-if you have imaginative and interpret legends as historical fact. Throw in an anti -Christian agents complete with an imagined truth-suppressing Vatican , and you are ready to write some hokum history.
Michael Baigent, coauthor of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail more recently then up with another amazing taletitled-- The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History (2006). In the Grail books Baigent believed he had proven that Jesus had a child through Mary Magdalene. In The Jesus Papers Baigent, who holds a graduate degree in mysticism and describes himself as an expert in the field of arcane knowledge, thinks he has proven that Jesus survived his crucifixion and wrote letters in which he denies his divinity. Well, if that doesn't beat all.
There are three major elements to Baigent's latest theory. First, he says that he, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln received a letter from an Anglican vicar, the Reverend Douglas Bartlett, in which he says he knows of "a document containing incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was alive in the year A.D. 45." The letter goes on to say that this is the real treasure of Rennes Ie Chateau, whose discovery had resulted in the sudden wealth of the Abbe Beranger Sauniere at the beginning of the twentieth century. Eventually our intrepid authors visited the old vicar, who told them that in the 1930s, while living in Oxford, he learned from Canon Alfred Lilley 0860-1948) of the existence of a manuscript that proves that Jesus was indeed still living in A.D. 45 Lilley saw this manuscript in France in the 1890s. The old vicar couldn't remember what the document said exactly. The document is gone; no one has seen it since. And so there is no opportunity to examine it. Baigent suspects that the Vatican (of course) bribed the Abbe of Rennes le Chateau, which would account for the Abbe's wealth, and then either hid the document or destroyed it.
Let us get this straight. Baigent is asking us to believe a story he says he heard from an elderly man in the 1980s, about a conversation this elderly man had with another elderly man in the 1930s, about a document the older elderly man says he saw in the 1890s, but which no one today can produce. And this is evidence of what? Quite apart from the utter flimsiness of this whole chain of hearsay, we have already seen that the legend of the treasure of Rennes Ie Chateau is a 1950s-era hoax and has been laid to rest. The good Abbe earned some extra money through the sale of masses, got caught and was disciplined. His journals and ledgers (unlike Baigent's mysterious document) still exist and list the names of those who paid the Abbe money and how much they paid. No treasure, no mystery; no mysterious lost document either.
The second major element put forward by Baigent is no better Based on his interpretation of the image that depicts the body of Jesus at the tomb, which serves as station 14 of the "Stations of the Cross,,6 in the church at Rennes Ie Chateau, Baigent has concluded thatjesus did not die on the cross but was drugged, with the help of Pontius Pilate, quickly placed in a tomb and then at night, with no one about, Jesus' friends removed him from the tomb, nursed him back to health, and then Jesus departed from Judea and headed [or Egypt. 7 And just how does the image o[ station 14 in the church at Rennes Ie Chateau reveal this startling truth? The moon is up. Yes, that's right-the moon is up You see, according to Jewish burial traditions, bodies are supposed to be in the tomb before nightfall, before the moon comes up. Yet, in the painting that depicts station 14, a full moon is seen high in the night sky. Baigent deduces from this anomaly that in the painting Jesus is not being placed in the tomb dead; he is being takenJrom the tomb alive.
That is quite a lot to deduce from a moon in a painted depiction of station 14. Is it likely, moreover, that Pilate would take part in a plot to assist Jesus in escaping his fate, since, after all, the governor had ordered Jesus' execution in the first place? Perhaps there is a simpler explanation. I wonder if the artist who painted station 14 was influenced by the Gospel story? It reads:
"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus" (Mt 2757; Mk 1542-43) Joseph requested the body ofJesus, hastily prepared it for burial and then placed it in a tomb. Notice that the story begins with the words, "When it was evening" (emphasis added) Not knowing Jewish burial traditions, the artist of station 14 in the church in Rennes Ie Chateau misunderstood what was meant by "evening" (which in the Gospels means end oj day, not night Jail) and so exercised artistic license and depicted the burial as taking place at night, with a full moon in the sky. And there is one other thing: Jesus' friends in the painting of station 14 are depicted as gJieving, which is what you would expect them to do if their friend and teacher is being placed in the tomb dead, not if their friend and teacher is being taken from the tomb alive.
Baigent's third major element is the weakest of all and proves that Baigent needs no evidence whatsoever to cook up a good cover-up. He tells us that he was able to track the source of rumors in the Holy land of the existence of documents that would be dangerous to the Vatican . His investigation led him to a collector of biblical antiquities who lives in a "large European city" (Baigent will not name this city or this collector) The collector told Baigent that in 1961, while excavating in the cellar of an old house in Jerusalem , he found two papyrus documents bearing Aramaic text. Items found with these documents led the collector to date the documents to A.D 34. The documents are letters, and the writer identifies himself as "the Messiah of the children of Israel ." This must be Jesus, he reasoned. Who else could it be? The letters, which are addressed to the Jewish Sanhedrin, explain that the writer did not intend to claim divine status in saying that he possessed the Spirit of God. Initially unwilling to unveil these letters, eventually the collector showed them to Baigent.
Although Baigent cannot read Aramaic, and so does not personally kE what these documents actually say (or even if the text is Aramaic), he believes what the collector told him. He tells us that the collector showed the letters to Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad, two respected Israeli archaeologists and biblical scholars, and they confirmed the antiquity and authenticity of the texts. Unfortunately, one of them must have leaked the existence of the letters to Catholic authorities, the collector surmises, for it wasn't long before pressure was applied to the collector. To get the authorities to back off he promised to keep the documents under wraps. Baigent also promised not to say anything about them, at least not right away.
Baigent asks us to believe that Jesus of Nazareth. having faked his death on the cross and having fled to Egypt, wrote two letters in Aramaic to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, in which he explains that he is not divine, at least not any more divine than anyone else who has been touched by God's Spirit. We are to trust Baigent, even though he cannot read Aramaic, cannot name the collector who possesses the alleged Aramaic letters, and cannot even name the city in which the collector resides. We are to trust Baigent and the anonymous collector when we are assured that the Aramaic letters were authenticated by two prominent archaeologists, who just happen to be unavailable for comment. (Yadin died in 1984; Avigad, in 1992.) We are to believe all this, even though no living, qualified expert has seen these documents, and the two who say they have seen them-and are still living-cannot read them.
Baigent further neglects to mention that archaeologists and papyrologists will tell you that no papyrus (plural: papyri) can survive buried in the ground, in Jerusalem , for two thousand years. The only papyrus documents that have survived from antiquity have been found in arid climates, such as the area surrounding the Dead Sea and the sands of Egypt . No ancient papyri have been found in Jerusalem itself. Jerusalem receives rainfall every year; papyri buried in the ground, beneath houses or wherever. decompose quickly So whatever Baigent saw, they were not ancient papyr: found beneath somebody's house in Jerusalem , and they were not letters Jesus wrote.
But where in p.1, we analysed what is known of the birth of Jesus, so let us in p.2 next compile what is known about the birth of the Christian Church. It is clear that following its echatological Jewish beginnings (Christ the promished Mesisas/King of the Jews). The church next began because of its belief now that jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to dozens, of his followers. Thus it was next the conviction that God had raised Jesus, who had in turn commanded his followers to continue to preach his vision of the kingdom, which led to the emergence of the church. The church believed furthermore that Christ would return.
But although Luke the Evangelist labors hard to portray Christian unity, the disagreements in the first generation of the church are plain to see in the book of Acts. The disagreements do not focus on Jesus himself. He is universally regarded among his followers as Israel 's Messiah, God's Son and the world's Savior. The point of disagreement concerns whether non-Jews (or Gentiles) must become Jewish proselytes (or converts) in order to be saved by Jesus Messiah. Some said yes; others said no.This debate unfolds in the book of Acts and is alluded to in several places in Paul's writings. In Acts the first indication of the coming debate is seen in the mention of the spread of the Christian movement to Samaria . We are told that Philip-a deacon, not an apostle-began preaching Messiah Jesus to Samaritans. Many believed and were baptized (Acts 8:1-13). Next we are told: "Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-15). For Luke, the reception of the Holy Spirit offers tangible proof of genuine conversion.
What we now have in Acts then is the spread of the Christian message to Samaritans (who were regarded by Jews, more or less, as half Jewish, half Ger:tile) and to Gentiles. Each time representatives from Jerusalem observed anc. confirmed the reality of the conversions. Why' Observation and confirmation are needed because many Jewish believers did not think Gentiles couIC become believers unless their conversion included full adoption of Judaism (that is, becoming proselytes). Of course, in telling the story the way he did Luke prepared for the ministry of Paul in order to show that Paul's evangelizing of Gentiles was not only legitimate, it actually followed the example of Peter himself, the leader of the church.
The church convened a council in Jerusalem to deal with this disturbing development. Peter and others were accused by some, who asked: "Why did you go to [the Gentiles] and eat with them?" (Acts 11:3). This may sound odd to us moderns, but for first-century Jews who took the law of Moses seriously this was an important question. In recent times the Jewish people had faced deadly oppression, designed to force them to eat and live as Gentiles. In the second century B.C. devout Jews (the "Maccabean martyrs") suffered torture and execution for refusing to eat pork (2 Maccabees 6-7). To eat pork and adopt other Gentile customs was understood as abandoning Jewish law and faith.
Not much later in the Acts narrative Paul was commissioned to take the Christian message abroad. In Acts 13-14 we have a recounting of his wellknown first missionary journey Although he first entered synagogues in every city that he and his companions visited ("to the Jew first"), when rejected he turned to the Gentiles ("then to the Greek") Paul did not require his Gentile converts to adopt Jewish practices, much less become full-fledged Jewish proselytes.
Pharisees were critical because from their perspective Jesus did not seem to take the Jewish laws of purity. Yet there where also Pharisees, who in time joined the Christian movement. This is not too surprising, since they were known for their belief in resurrection (Acts 23:6-8; Josephus,]ewish Wars 2.163). A resurrected Messiah was something that many of them may well have found compelling. But they were still Pharisees, and by definition that meant they took the law of Moses seriously.
The controversy addressed by the Jerusalem Council, described in Acts, was the issue that divided the early church. Although the decision reached gives the impression that Paul and supporters of the mission to the Gentiles were vindicated, the problem was not fully resolved and simply never went away. In Acts II Peter had spoken and seemed to have settled the matter. Yes, even Gentiles can be saved by Messiah Jesus. Now, here in Acts, James the brother of Jesus spoke. No, Gentiles do not have to become Jewish proselytes. As believers in God and his holy Son, however, Gentiles must abandon pagan practices. The advice of James was accepted and the problem, at least for the time, seemed to be settled. So the principal disagreement within the early church concerned the question of Gentiles and the Jewish law.
What Paul challenges in his letters, written shortly after the letter of James, is the idea that Gentiles must adhere to the law of Moses if their Christian walk is to mature. The idea that Paul attacks is not the teaching of James. The differences that we see in the respective writings of these men are due to different sets of problems that each one in his own way had to address.
Bart Ehrman in Lost Christianities (2005) then discusses second century persons and movements. He discusses Ebionites, Marcion and his following, and Gnosticism. Ebionites were Jews who believed inJesus but rejected some of the claims about Jesus and the Jewish law The Ebionite Gospels were apparently revisions of Matthew, thus bringing the Gospel story in line with Ebionite theology. No Ebionite writing or fragment dates before A.D. 120. Marcion was a second-century extremist who wished to delete the Old Testament and most of the overtly Jewish writings from the New Testament. He was happy with Paul's letters, but with little else.