Saturday, August 24, 2013

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

According to Reza Aslan, Jesus was a guerrilla leader who wanted to drive Rome out of Palestine and he points to the scriptures as evidence: "I came not to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51), "If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36), "From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of God has been coming violently, and the violent ones try to snatch it away" (Matthew 11:12, Luke 16:16).

According to Aslan, when Jesus said the Kingdom of God was near, what he meant was the expulsion of Rome and the establishment of an independent Jewish state. After all, the god Jesus worshipped was the warrior god of the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 15:3), blood-splattered (Isaiah 63:3), angry, and genocidal. The god who repeatedly told the Jews to violently expel foreigners from their land and bathe in their blood (Psalms 68:21-23). As a Jew, Jesus despised gentiles. He referred to them as dogs (Matthew 15:21-28) and instructed his disciples not to preach to them (Matthew 10:5).

When Jesus speaks of the rich being made poor and the poor being made wealthy, he is speaking as a revolutionary who wants to overthrow the social order. The reason he spoke in parables that no one could understand was to keep his sedition hidden from Rome. Jesus also told everyone to keep the fact that he was a messiah secret to avoid Roman execution (Mark 4:11-12), yet he knew the fate that awaited all would be kings such as himself, so he also repeatedly predicted his own death. (Aslan acknowledges these predictions could have been placed into Jesus's mouth after the fact, but he thinks they are genuine historical sayings of Jesus simply because there are so many of them!)

Aslan's main evidence that Jesus was a zealot was the fact that he was crucified. Rome almost exclusively reserved crucifixition for insurrectionists. Usually, the seditionists were executed first, then their bodies were put up on the cross as an example to any other would be rebels. The men crucified to either side of Jesus are called "lestai" in the gospels (except in Luke), which literally translates as "bandits" but was a term Rome used for rebels.

Additionally, the titulus nailed above Jesus declaring him the "King of the Jews" indicates that this was his crime. Since Jews were subject to Rome, declaring yourself King of the Jews or Messiah, another kingly title, was the same as calling for an overthrow of Roman rule. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (or two donkeys as Matthew has it) was a clear indication that Jesus thought he was meant to be king since David and other Jewish kings in the Hebrew Bible rode donkeys into Jerusalem to proclaim their kingship.

Jesus was executed not only because he called himself Messiah (i.e., King of the Jews), but also because he threatened to destroy the Temple (Mark 13:2, Matthew 26:61), which, as a symbol of Roman power in Palestine, was the same as threatening Rome itself. Not only did Jesus say he would destroy the Temple, but he also drove out the money changers with a whip and prevented anyone from entering (Luke 19:45-48, Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-18, John 2:13-16). Since the Temple was the center of Judaism, it was gigantic; and since many zealots both before and after Jesus captured it to make political statements, it was patrolled by numerous armed guards. The only way Jesus could have taken over the Temple would have been with the help of an army.

As a revolutionary zealot, Jesus was not unique. There were several men just like him both before and after this time who wanted to throw off the shackles of Rome and assassinate the wealthy priests of the Temple. Aslan also tells us that the miracles performed by Jesus aren't unique either. Many other magicians also healed the sick and raised the dead at this time.

Aslan tells us that Jesus began as one of John the Baptist's disciples. After his baptism (or lack of baptism as the gospel of John has it), Jesus went out into the wilderness, the place John the Baptist had just emerged from, not to be tempted by satan, but to learn from John. The first words of Jesus's public ministry echo John: "The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). The first action in Jesus's ministry is to start baptizing people like John did (John 3:22-23). Jesus's first disciples, Andrew and Philip, were originally John's disciples (John 1:35-37). Jesus also calls his enemies a "brood of vipers" a phrase he picked up from John (Matthew 12:34).

In the gospels, groups such as the Pharisees, the scribes, the chief priests, and the elders are lumped together when in reality they were separate and distinct groups. The depiction of the Pharisees in the gospels is quite contradictory. They are Jesus's chief opponents, yet he is also on friendly terms with them. It was a Pharisee who warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him (Luke 13:31), a Pharisee who helped bury him after his execution (John 19:39-40), and a Pharisee who saved the lives of his disciples after he ascended to heaven (Acts 5:34). Jesus dined with Pharisees, lived among them, and even counted a few as his disciples, yet they are also the main bad guys of the gospels.

Aslan points out that the gospel's depiction of Pilate couldn't be further from the truth. Josephus records an instance in which Pilate pilfers the Temple treasury to pay for the Jerusalem aqueduct, then sends his troops to slaughter the Jews when they complain about it. The Pilate of history executed so many people on a daily basis, he didn't have the time to question them individually as the gospels say he did with Jesus. This is a far cry from the gospel depiction of Pilate who doesn't want to execute Jesus, but is forced to by the Sanhedrin. In reality, the Sanhedrin couldn't force Rome to do anything. They were completely at Pilate's mercy. (Jesus's trial by the Sanhedrin is also not historical. The Sanhedrin was not permitted to meet at night, meet during the Passover, meet on the eve of the Sabbath, or meet casually in the courtyard of the high priest, all of which the gospels claim happened.)

Like the hundreds of other scholars who write books about the historical Jesus, Reza Aslan highlights the parts of the Gospels that confirm his theory and dismisses or reinterprets the parts that disagree with it. Therefor, Aslan takes the violent sayings of Jesus at face value, but he reinterprets the peaceful sayings like "love your enemies" and "turn the other cheek" to make them fit his picture of Jesus. For example, Aslan says the point of the Good Samaritan parable wasn't that the command to love your neighbor includes non-Jews, but rather the real point is that the Temple priests who didn't help the victim on the side of the road are evil and must be overthrown.

Aslan is far from the first scholar to propose that Jesus was a revolutionary. In the end, this is basically a summary of other scholar's work and gives us little that is new. But how historically reliable is Aslan's depiction of Jesus?

"Granted, writing a biography of Jesus of Nazareth is not like writing a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. The task is somewhat akin to putting together a massive puzzle with only a few of the pieces in hand; one has no choice but to fill in the rest of the puzzle based on the best, most educated guesses of what the completed image should look like." (Zealot, page xxxi)

And guess Reza Aslan does. However, you wouldn't know it from the tone of this book. Aslan presents his speculations as if they are fact. True, he sometimes presents opposing viewpoints in his endnotes, but far too often he simply tells us "most scholars agree" as if that settles the matter. As Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory."

Assuming Jesus existed and wasn't just a mythological figure who was historicized, what can we know about him? Some ancient historians such as Josephus and Tacitus mention Jesus, but even if these references aren't the interpolations they appear to be, they come too late to be relevant. Really, the only source of information we have about the historical Jesus is the New Testament, and therein lies the problem.

Aslan tells us in his introduction that, "the gospels are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a historical documentation of Jesus's life." Incredibly, he then goes on to paint a picture of the historical Jesus using the gospels as his source! This is akin to using the Iliad to tell us about the historical Achilles. Aslan removes the parts of the gospels which are obviously not historical and declares that we can trust that what remains is true. This is an approach no historian outside the field of Biblical studies would ever use. Can you imagine a serious historian telling us that while the supernatural aspects of the Odyssey are fictitious, everything else that's described really happened because nobody would have made it up?

Aslan tells us Jesus wasn't really born in Bethlehem. The gospels just said he was to fulfill prophecy. Fair enough. But he concludes from this that Jesus had to have been born in Nazareth, even though the gospels say Jesus grew up there to fulfill prophecy as well! (See Matthew 2:23.) Aslan tells us there's no evidence Nazareth existed at the time of Jesus: no mention in any histories, no appearance on any map. (He could have also added that there is no archaeological evidence that it was populated at the time of Jesus.) Aslan takes this lack of evidence as evidence that Nazareth must have been a really small town! He doesn't even seem aware of the possibility that it's a second century anachronism like many others found in the New Testament.

For example, one of Jesus's apostles is called Simon the Zealot, even though the Zealot party did not exist until the second century. Aslan explains that this is not an anachronism, Simon was called a Zealot because he was particularly zealous! He doesn't say how he knows this. He's probably just assuming the gospels are first century creations. I suppose this is possible, but the job of the historian is to discover not what is possible (almost anything) but what is most probable. Given all the other second century anachronisms in the gospels (Jesus being called a rabbi, Pilate being called a Procurator, the existence of Galilean synagogues, Jesus referring to the murder of Zechariah son of Berachiah as if it had happened in the past, followers of Jesus being anti-Semitic, the description of the Bar Kokhba revolt in Mark 13, etc.), it's most likely that this is one more second century anachronism.

Aslan tells us Luke's nativity story is not historical: the census of Quirinius which took place in 6 AD did not include the region of Galilee, so no one from Nazareth would have taken part. Also, the Romans held the census for taxation purposes, so it would have been ridiculous to have everyone return to their ancestral homeland. The contradictory nativity story of Matthew is also not historical. While the numerous sins of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC, are well documented, there is no record that he ordered the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem. Despite the fact the nativity stories are obvious fabrications, Aslan tells us Matthew did correctly record the time of Jesus's birth!

Aslan acknowledges that the early Christians (such as Paul) were not interested in Jesus's life, only his death and resurrection, and he also acknowledges that Jesus wasn't the only god to die and come back to life, yet, incredibly, he still believes the gospel accounts (written long after Jesus died) preserve historical information about him. He acknowledges that Matthew and Luke are based on Mark and that "the gospel of John is little more than Pauline theology in narrative form", yet if all four gospels agree on something, he claims it must have really happened! This is like comparing all the various Hercules stories and declaring all points of overlap are historical.

Aslan points out that the story of Jesus is based on figures from the Hebrew Bible such as Elijah and Moses. However, instead of recognizing this for the literary borrowing that it most certainly is, he thinks that the historical Jesus intentionally patterned his life on the prophets! This is possible, but given that the entire gospel narrative start to finish is based on different parts of the Hebrew Bible, it's far more likely the gospels are a midrash of the Old Testament rather than works of history. I suppose Aslan should be given credit for treating the gospels with more skepticism than the average fundamentalist, but if he wants people to call him a scholar, he needs to be much more skeptical.

Aslan began his book with a vivid description of the Temple written in the second person to make you feel like you're really there. His first chapter actually wouldn't be out of place in a historical novel:

"The money changers will also collect the half-shekel Temple tax that all adult males must pay to preserve the pomp and spectacle of all you see around you: the mountains of burning incense and the ceaseless sacrifices, the wine libations and the first-fruits offering, the Levite choir belting out psalms of praise and the accompanying orchestra thrumming lyres and banging cymbals."

His also gives a lush description of Jerusalem later on:

"The purple vineyards whose vines twisted and crawled across the level plains, the well-tilled fields and viridescent orchards bursting with almond and fig and olive trees, the green beds of papyrus floating lazily along the Jordan River--the Jews not only knew and deeply loved every feature of this consecrated land, they laid claim to all of it."

I was about to say Aslan missed his calling as a novelist, but according to his bio at the end of the book, he has a master's degree in fiction, he is the editor of a literary magazine, and he is currently Associate Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside. Since this book is mainly educated guesses and speculation mixed with a dash of history, I wonder why he didn't just write a historical novel in the first place.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Brief Summary of the Book of Isaiah

When I was in grade school, I attended a Mormon seminary. The seminary teacher taught us that the Book of Isaiah is really complicated and hard to explain. Isaiah is an important book for the Latter Day Saints because it is quoted at length in the Book of Mormon. I decided to reread the Book of Isaiah and see if I could make any sense of it.

It helps to read it in a modern day translation, for as poetic as the King James Bible is, it's difficult to understand. There are more than 500 words in the KJV which have since changed their definitions. For example, "awful" originally meant "inspiring wonder," "by and by" meant "immediately," "profitable" meant "useful" and so on. Of course, Isaiah isn't going to make much sense if you read an out of date translation of it.

It turns out that Isaiah isn't that difficult to understand after all. There are a few confusing passages here and there, of course, but basically it's just an explanation of why Israel has been brought low with a prediction for future greatness. The Mormons, like most Christians, try to interpret Isaiah as being a prophecy about Jesus. This simply does not work if you take Isaiah at face value. It could be about Jesus if you read it metaphorically, but then again, it could be about absolutely anything at all if you read it metaphorically.

I've included a broad outline of Isaiah below. It's obviously not an in depth analysis, it's simply a humble summary.

Chapter 1 Israel has been overthrown because her rulers are greedy. Yahweh detests prayers, offerings, and religious assemblies.

Chapter 2 In the last days, there will be peace between all nations, but everybody will run and hide from Yahweh who is mad at them for making idols.

Chapter 3 Yahweh is going to destroy Jerusalem and Judah.

Chapter 4 Yahweh will clean Jerusalem and his glory will be like an umbrella over Mount Zion, providing shade during the day and protection from storms.

Chapter 5 Jerusalem and Judah are wicked, so Yahweh is going to destroy everything and start over.

Chapter 6 Isaiah sees a vision of Yahweh seated on his throne. The seraphim with six wings cleanse Isaiah's sin by touching a hot coal to his lips.

Chapter 7 A young woman (some translate this as virgin) will soon give birth to a son named Immanuel. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel are marching on Jerusalem now, but the land of these two kings will be laid waste before Immanuel is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Also, Yahweh will hire the king of Assyria to be a razor to shave off Jerusalem's beard and pubic hair.

Chapter 8 Yahweh commands Isaiah to impregnate a temple prostitute and name his son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (quick to the plunder) because Assyria will plunder Damascus and Samaria before the boy is old enough to speak.

Chapter 9 In the future, a child will be born in Galilee named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (or Elgibor, the father of Ad, ruler of Hashalom as the Dead Sea Scrolls have it). He will rule upon the throne of David in peace forever until the end of time. Yahweh will burn Israel and Judah and the inhabitants will eat their own children.

Chapter 10 After Yahweh is done using Assyria to destroy Jerusalem, Yahweh will destroy Assyria.

Chapter 11 A Branch from the stump of Jesse will judge with righteousness. He will slay the wicked with his breath. Lions will start eating straw. The scattered people of Judah will gather together again and destroy their enemies. The Euphrates River will dry up.

Chapter 12 Yahweh will be praised when he does this.

Chapter 13 Babylon is screwed.

Chapter 14 Israel will enslave the other nations and taunt Babylon. Even trees will taunt Babylon. Children will be slaughtered for their ancestor's sins. The Philistines will rejoice that Babylon is gone, but Yahweh shall destroy them too.

Chapter 15 Moab is screwed.

Chapter 16 Boy, is Moab screwed.

Chapter 17 Damascus is screwed.

Chapter 18 Cush is screwed.

Chapter 19 Egypt is screwed. Egypt will stagger about like a drunk in his own vomit.

Chapter 20 Yahweh commands Isaiah to walk around naked for three years because Assyria will one day lead Egyptian and Cushite captives away naked.

Chapter 21 Babylon is destroyed yet again. Also Edom and Arabia will be destroyed.

Chapter 22 Jerusalem is screwed. Yahweh will take Shebna, the palace administrator, and roll him into a ball and throw him far away.

Chapter 23 Tyre is screwed. Literally. The city of Tyre is a prostitute who will screw all the kingdoms on the face of the earth. All the money Tyre earns from her prostitution will go to Yahweh, which makes Him the Pimp Daddy.

Chapter 24 The whole world is screwed.

Chapter 25 Yahweh will prepare a rich feast for all people and swallow up death. Moab will be trampled down like straw in manure.

Chapter 26 Yahweh casts down the rich and raises up the poor. Yahweh has killed the other gods Israel used to worship, but the earth will soon give birth to her dead.

Chapter 27 Yahweh shall slay the great sea monster Leviathan with his sword. Jacob's guilt will be atoned once Israel stops worshipping Yahweh's wife Asherah.

Chapter 28 The tribe of Ephraim are drunks, so Yahweh will kill their leader and transform Himself into a crown. All tables are covered with vomit from the drunken priests and prophets. The people of Jerusalem have made a covenant with Sheol, the realm of the dead, but it will be annulled. Yahweh instructs farmers in the correct way to plant crops.

Chapter 29 Ariel, the city of David, will be destroyed, but so will all the nations that fight against her.

Chapter 30 Woe to those who go to Egypt seeking protection. Those who remain in Jerusalem will throw away their idols like a menstrual cloth and be protected. Yahweh sets Topheth on fire with His breath.

Chapter 31 Just in case you skipped past the last chapter, Yahweh will destroy those who fled to Egypt and protect those who remain in Jerusalem.

Chapter 32 The harvest will fail and the land overgrown with thorns and briers, but then the land will be fertile again.

Chapter 33 The sinners will suffer from a drought and be burned. The righteous will live in a mountain fortress and have plenty of water.

Chapter 34 Yahweh will destroy all nations. The stars will fall from the sky. Yahweh's sword is bathed in blood and covered in fat from lambs, goats, rams, and wild oxen. Edom will be set on fire and burn forever.

Chapter 35 The desert will blossom. The blind will see; the deaf will hear; the lame will walk; and the mute will speak. There will be a highway called Way of Holiness that only the redeemed can walk upon. There will be no lions or wicked people there.

Chapter 36 Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, besieges Judah and asks that they surrender. The besieged are forced to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine.

Chapter 37 Isaiah tells King Hezekiah not to worry for Yahweh will kill Sennacherib. The angel of Yahweh kills 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib runs away. Later his sons kill him while he is worshiping his god Nisrok.

Chapter 38 King Hezekiah becomes ill. Isaiah predicts that he will die. Then he says Hezekiah will live for 15 more years and Judah will be delivered from Assyria. As a sign, the shadow cast by the sun goes backwards ten steps.

Chapter 39 Hezekiah shows off all his treasures to messengers from Babylon. Isaiah predicts that Babylon will steal all this treasure and make Hezekiah's descendants into eunuchs.

Chapter 40 Yahweh will raise the valleys and bring down the mountains so all the land will be flat. People are like grass that withers, but the word of God endures forever. Yahweh regards all nations as worthless and less than nothing. People are like grasshoppers to Him.

Chapter 41 Yahweh destroys nations with his sword and bow.

Chapter 42 Yahweh is more powerful than idols. Yahweh hands Israel over to plunderers for not obeying His law.

Chapter 43 Those of Israel can walk through fire without being burned. Yahweh will destroy other nations as a substitute sacrifice to redeem Israel. Yahweh is the one and only God and there is no other savior. Yahweh has disgraced Israel because they have stopped making animal sacrifices to Him.

Chapter 44 Yahweh is the only god and it's dumb to worship idols.

Chapter 45 Yahweh is the only god and it's dumb to worship idols.

Chapter 46 Just in case you skipped past the last two chapters, Yahweh is the only god and it's dumb to worship idols.

Chapter 47 Babylon is likened to a virgin daughter whose nakedness will be exposed. Yahweh allowed Babylon to destroy Israel, but soon Babylon will be destroyed. Babylon's astrologers and sorcerers will be burnt up.

Chapter 48 Yahweh is better than idols.

Chapter 49 Yahweh will remember Israel and gather the exiles back together. He will force Israel's oppressors to eat their own flesh and become drunk on their own blood.

Chapter 50 The servant of Yahweh has suffered, but Yahweh will soon return to torment all who oppose him.

Chapter 51 Yahweh will rebuild Zion. The inhabitants of earth will die like flies, but Yahweh's salvation will last forever. Yahweh defeats the monster Rahab and cuts it into pieces.

Chapter 52 Yahweh will redeem Jerusalem.

Chapter 53 The servant of Yahweh is ugly and despised. He suffers for the sins of Israel.

Chapter 54 Yahweh has abandoned Zion, but He will return and rebuild the city with sparkling jewels.

Chapter 55 Yahweh will forgive all who abandon their wicked ways. Mountains and hills will sing and trees will clap their hands.

Chapter 56 Eunuchs and foreigners will be blessed.

Chapter 57 The righteous die so they may be spared from evil. Those who worship idols will be destroyed. There is no rest for the wicked.

Chapter 58 Fasting does not please Yahweh. Instead, one should free the oppressed, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.

Chapter 59 Yahweh isn't helping due to Israel's sins.

Chapter 60 All nations will either bring their wealth to Zion or perish.

Chapter 61 Israel will be rebuilt. Foreigners will be servants and the wealth of all nations will reside in Zion.

Chapter 62 Zion will be renamed Hephzibah (my delight is in her) and Beulah (married) for Yahweh will marry Jerusalem just as a young man marries a young woman.

Chapter 63 Yahweh makes his garments red with blood by stomping on all the nations like one treading a winepress. Yahweh was once Israel's Savior, but now he turns against them.

Chapter 64 Israel begs Yahweh to come back.

Chapter 65 Yahweh will punish most of the people of Israel for worshipping other gods, but will save a portion of them. Yahweh will create new heavens and a new earth and the former will not be remembered. The new people will live as long as trees, wolf and lamb will feed together, lions will eat straw.

Chapter 66 Yahweh will punish anyone who makes sacrifices to Him. He will execute judgment on all people with fire and with His sword. The dead bodies are eaten by worms and burned forever.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Donkey God

Jewish Onolatry

In ancient times, the Jews were accused of having a statue of a donkey in their temple. In some versions of the story, Moses was depicted riding the ass, in other versions it was just an ass by itself, or only the head of an ass. From whence did this accusation of onolatry (donkey worship) arise? Was it simply libel meant to discredit the Jews, or is there some truth to the claim?

The best source we have of this claim is found in the writings of the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus. In his work, Against Apion, he replies to the ancient Greek-Egyptian scholar Apion who lived circa 20 BC to 50 AD. Unfortunately, none of Apion's writings have survived, so we must rely on the response from Josephus, written around 100 AD.

Apion hath the impudence to pretend that "the Jews placed an ass's head in their holy place;" and he affirms that this was discovered when Antiochus Epiphanes spoiled our temple, and found that ass's head there made of gold, and worth a great deal of money. To this my first answer shall be this, that had there been any such thing among us, an Egyptian ought by no means to have thrown it in our teeth, since an ass is not a more contemptible animal than furones [it's unknown which animal is refered to here] and goats, and other such creatures, which among them are gods [...] Apion ought to have had a regard to these facts, unless he had himself had either an ass's heart or a dog's impudence; of such a dog I mean as they worship; for he had no other external reason for the lies he tells of us. (Josephus, Against Apion II:7)

Josephus uses the common apologetic tactic of "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you." In answer to Apion's claim that that Jews worship a donkey, he accuses him of worshiping a dog. Josephus then goes on to call Apion an ass for saying the Jews worship an ass:

The latter [Mnaseas of Patara] according to Apion, related how, "while the Jews were once in a long war with the Idumeans, there came a man out of one of the cities of the Idumeans, who there had worshipped Apollo. This man, whose name is said to have been Zabidus, came to the Jews, and promised that he would deliver Apollo, the god of Dora, into their hands, and that he would come to our temple, if they would all come up with him, and bring the whole multitude of the Jews with them; that Zabidus made him a certain wooden instrument, and put it round about him, and set three rows of lamps therein, and walked after such a manner, that he appeared to those that stood a great way off him to be a kind of star, walking upon the earth; that the Jews were terribly affrighted at so surprising an appearance, and stood very quiet at a distance; and that Zabidus, while they continued so very quiet, went into the holy house, and carried off that golden head of an ass, (for so facetiously does he write,) and then went his way back again to Dora in great haste." And say you so, sir! as I may reply; then does Apion load the ass, that is, himself, and lays on him a burden of fooleries and lies. (Josephus, Against Apion II:10)

The historian Apion references here is Mnaseas of Patara who wrote about 200 BC. In Mnaseas' native land of Lycia, the ass was associated with Apollo. There was a statue of an ass in the temple of Apollo at Mysia and an ass appears as a votive offering in the Panhellenic temple of Apollo at Delphi. Here, we have one possible explanation for the ass in the temple. Someone could be combining the Jewish god with Apollo.

There is a reference in the Suda, an abstract on a book by Damocritus, called On Jews. It is unknown exactly when Damocritus lived, but it may have been around the same time as Apion.

Damocritus, historian. Tactics in two books. On Jews, in which he says they used to worship the golden head of an ass, and every seventh year, being idle, they would bring [to the altar] a stranger, and bit by bit cut his flesh, and in this way destroy him. (Suda s.v. Δαμόκριτος, although s.v. 'Ιούδας καὶ 'Ιουδαῖος places the interval at 3 years instead of 7)

When emperors such as Antiochus and Caligula demanded to have their statues put in the Temple, the Jews said images were forbidden in their Temple. A story of a statue being discovered in the Temple therefor would prove the Jews disloyal to the emperor and perhaps the story was invented for precisely this reason.

The Roman historian Tacitus, a contemporary of Josephus, provides another explanation for why the head of the ass was in the temple. He claims that while the Jews were wandering through the desert, they were about to die of dehydration. They were saved when a pack of wild donkeys lead them to water. They therefor made an image of a donkey in their temple to commemorate the occasion.

Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple. [...] In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. (Tacitus, Histories V:3-4)

The Tacitus account could have been based on an incident described in the Bible. In the midst of a genealogy, we are told in an aside that 'Anah (i.e. "the ass") found water in the desert thanks to some donkeys.

The sons of Zibeon: Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who discovered the hot springs in the desert while he was grazing the donkeys of his father Zibeon. (Genesis 36:24)

The Tacitus account is also found in the writings of his contemporary Plutarch who says the Jews revered not just the pig, which they refused to eat, but also the ass and hare.

But I should think that if the Jews had such an antipathy against a hog, they would kill it as the magicians do mice; when, on the contrary, they are by their religion as much prohibited to kill as to eat it. And perhaps there may be some reason given for this; for as the ass is worshipped by them as the first discoverer of fountains, so perhaps the hog may be had in like veneration, which first taught them to sow and plough. Nay, some say that the Jews also abstain from hares, as abominable and unclean. They have reason for that, said Lamprias [Plutarch's grandfather], because a hare is so like an ass which they detest; for in its color, ears, and the sparkling of its eyes, it is so like an ass, that I do not know any little creature that represents a great one so much as a hare doth an ass. (Plutarch, Quæstiones Conviviales 4.5.2)

Plurach also claims Bacchus and Apollo are he same god and that the Jews worship him (Quæstiones Conviviales 4.6). This may tie in with the account given by Mnaseas of Patara who connected Jewish ass worship with Apollo.

Writing in the first century BC, Diodorus Siculus tells us that it's not simply an ass or the head of an ass in the temple, Moses himself is depicted riding upon it.

For, say they, Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, having subdued the Jews, entered into the temple of God, into which by their law no one was permitted to enter but the priest. Here, when he found the image of a man with a long beard carved in stone sitting on an ass, he conceived it to be Moses who built Jerusalem, established the nation, and made all their impious customs and practices legal: for these abound in hatred and enmity to all other men. Antiochus, therefore, abhorring this their contrary to all other nations, used his utmost endeavour to abrogate their laws. In order to effect this, he sacrificed a large hog at the image of Moses and at the altar of God that stood in the outward court, and sprinkled them with the blood of the sacrifice. He commanded likewise that the sacred books, whereby they were taught to hate all other nations, should be sprinkled with the broth made of the hog's flesh. And he extinguished the lamp called by them immortal, which was continually burning in the temple. Lastly, he compelled the high priest and the other Jews to eat swine's flesh. Afterwards, when Antiochus and his friends had deliberately considered these things, they urged him to root out the whole nation, or at least to abrogate their laws and compel them to change their former mode of conducting themselves in common life. But the king being generous and of a mild disposition, received hostages and pardoned the Jews. He demolished, however, the walls of Jerusalem, and took the tribute that was due.' (Diodorus, fragment from Book 34 of The Library of History)

As Bezalel Bar-Kochva writes (The Image of the Jews in Greek Literature: The Hellenistic Period, also Josephus' Contra Apionem) Diodorus Siculus got this story from Posidonius of Apamea (or possibly Apollonius Molon) who recorded it in the first century BC, who in turn got it from Timochares (circa 129 BC), a Seleucid court historian. Timochares' source was a previous Seleucid court historian who lived during the Hasmonaean revolt (c. 163 BC).

But this isn't the earliest account of the story. Mnaseas of Patara wrote about 200 BC, but the story goes back even further. The translators of the Septuagint (circa 250 - 200 BC) apparently knew of the story and didn't want Moses to be associated with an ass, so they simply changed the word "ass" to something else whenever it appeared. The Hebrew version of Exodus 4:20 reads: "And Moses took his wife and children, mounted them on an ass, and set out for Egypt with the staff of God in his hand" but the Greek of the Septuagint changes "ass" to "beast of burden". The Septuagint also changes the reference to "ass" in Numbers 16:15 to "a desirable object".

And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD, Respect not thou their offering: I have not taken one ass [a desirable object] from them, neither have I hurt one of them. (Numbers 16:15)

There are very few places in the Bible where a word is deliberately changed. The Jews obviously found the association of Moses with asses embarrassing, but why? Was there some truth to the claim that Jews held asses in high regard?

In the Bible, the first born of every mother, both human and animal, must be sacrificed. However, the Bible allows a substitute sacrifice to be made in the cases of donkeys and men.

And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. (Exodus 13:13)

It's obvious why the Jews wouldn't want to perform human sacrifice like their ancestors, but why do asses get to be redeemed by a substitute sacrifice as well? The answer, my friend, is found in the Talmud.

For they [the asses] supported Israel in the time of the Exodus, for there was not even one in Israel who did not take with him ninety Lybian asses loaded with silver and gold of Egypt. (B. Berakhot 5b, see also Exodus 12:35-36)

We've already discussed a possible association of the Jewish god with Apollo, but Apollo wasn't the only god associated with the ass. The Egyptian god Set-Typhon was sometimes depicted with a donkey head and he has also been more explicitly associated with the Jewish god. For example, we have the following passage from Plutarch:

Those who say that Typhon fled from the battle on an ass for seven days, and having been saved produced sons, Hierosolymus and Judeaus, are at this point clearly dragging Jewish issues into the story. (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride 363C-D)

In Morton Smith's book, Jesus the Magician, he argues that the association of the Jewish gods with the donkey may have something to do with the Egyptian god Seth. The Egyptians considered Seth the god of foreigners and he is sometimes depicted on magical gems with a donkey head and called Iao, a variant of Yahweh's name. "Iao" may have also been thought to be the sound that a donkey makes.

Also, Manetho's Aegyptiaca (quoted in part by Josephus) written about 270 BC, connects the Jews in general and Moses in particular with the Egyptian god Seth. He tells us the Hyksos (shephards) withdrew from Egypt, wandered in the desert, and finally settled in Judea where they founded the city of Jerusalem (Against Apion I:75-90). The Hyksos are elsewhere described as worshipers of Seth.

In addition to being associated with the ass, Typhon is also associated with a certain golden calf. The golden calf incident is explained in Exodus 32:1-20. While Moses goes up the mountain to receive commandments from God, his brother Aaron makes a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. When Moses finds out, he punishes the people by grounding up the calf into powder, putting it into water, and making them drink it. This really isn't fair when you realize that the Israelites hadn't been commanded not to worship graven images yet. Now, if he had punished them the second time they started worshiping golden calfs (1 Kings 12:28-33), making them drink gold Kool-Aid would actually make sense. As it is, Moses punishes them for breaking a law which he didn't even know about before he went up to the mountain. Philo tells us the golden calf was meant to be the Egyptian god Typhon.

For when the prophet, after having been called up to the loftiest and most sacred of all the mountains in that district, was divinely instructed in the generic outlines of all the special laws, and was out of sight of his people for many days; those of the people who were not of a peaceable disposition filled every place with the evils which arise from anarchy, and crowned all their iniquity with open impiety, turning into ridicule all those excellent and beautiful lessons concerning the honour due to the one true and living God, and having made a golden bull, an imitation of the Egyptian Typhos, and brought to it unholy sacrifices, and festivals unhallowed, and instituted profane and impious dances, with songs and hymns instead of lamentations. (Philo, The Special Laws 3:125, see also On Drunkenness 95, On Flight and Finding 90, The Special Laws 1:79, and On the Life of Moses 2:159-73)

Perhaps because of this association with Typhon, Josephus omits the golden calf incident from his retelling of the Bible entirely (Antiquities 3:95-101).

Christian Onolatry

Not only Jews, but also Christians were accused of worshiping the head of an ass. Early Christian apologist Minucius Felix wrote a treatise titled Octavius around 150 AD. In it, a Christian named Octavius defends Christianity from a critic named Caecilius.

I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion,--a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. (Octavius, Chapter IX)
This is the business of demons, for by them false rumours are both sown and cherished. Thence arises what you say that you hear, that an ass's head is esteemed among us a divine thing. Who is such a fool as to worship this? Who is so much more foolish as to believe that it is an object of worship? unless that you even consecrate whole asses in your stables, together with your Epona, and religiously devours those same asses with Isis. Also you offer up and worship the heads of oxen and of wethers, and you dedicate gods mingled also of a goat and a man, and gods with the faces of dogs and lions. Do you not adore and feed Apis the ox, with the Egyptians? (Octavius XXVIII)

Like Josephus before him, Minucius Felix also uses the "I'm rubber, you're glue" approach and accuses his critic of being the one who worships animals. Strangely, Tertullian (c. 160 - 225 AD) doesn't deny that Christians worship the head of an ass, although he does use the tried and true apologetic tactic of turning the accusation back around and says his opponents also worship asses.

In the next accusation we are found guilty not just of abandoning our communal faith, but of adding on a monstrosity of superstition. Some of you have entertained the dream that our god is actually the head of an ass. Cornelius Tacitus first launched this fantasy in the fourth book [it's actually the fifth book] of his Histories where he recounts the Jewish war. Starting with the origins of the Jewish people, he traces the source of their religion and its name. He relates how the Jewish people, hard-pressed for water and wondering abroad in desolate places, were delivered by following the lead of a herd of wild asses thought to be in search of water after feeding. For this reason the likeness of this animal is worshiped by the Jew. This is why I believe that we Christians, being linked to the Jewish religion, are associated with the same image. [...]
But what defense do you want from me? I'm admitting now to an occasional transgression that applies equally well to you. Let us suppose that that there is something asinine about our God. You certainly will not deny that you conduct the same worship we do. You in fact worship the ass in its entirety, not just the head. And then you throw in Epona, the patron saint of donkeys and all the beasts of burden, cattle, and wild animals. You even worship their stables. Perhaps this is your charge against us that in the midst of all these indiscriminate animal lovers, we save our devotion for asses alone! (Tertullian, Ad Nationes I:XI, see also Apologeticus XVI)

The onolatry of the Christians isn't just referred to in ancient writings, but also in ancient art. The oldest visual representation of the crucifixion is the Alexamenos graffito scratched onto the plaster of a school room on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It depicts a crucified figure with the head of a donkey and says, "Alexamenos worships [his] god". A little bone crucifix of a crucified donkey has also been found in Montagnana, although it can't be dated. Another graffito, this one drawn in Carthage around 200 AD, depicts a figure with donkey ears and a hoof wrapped in a toga holding a book. This is accompanied by an inscription which reads, "The god of the Christians." Tertullian refers to this image as the Donkey Priest.

There is now a new rumor about our God going the rounds. Recently a most depraved individual from Rome, your city, had defected from his own faith and allowed his skin to be shredded by wild beasts. Every day he would hire himself out for viewing while his skin was stripped. He would carry around a picture directed against us with the heading "Onocoetes," meaning Donkey Priest. It was a picture of a man wearing a toga and the ears of the donkey with a book in hand and one leg ending in a hoof. And the crowd believed this Jewish man. Who else plants the seed of our infamous reputation? As a result the whole city is talking about the Donkey Priest. Since this rumor has been around since yesterday, it lacks any authority of time and is compromised by the character of its author. I shall now gladly use it to refute your charges.
Let us have a look if you are caught up with us in the same folly. If the image we cherish is a freak, it doesn't really matter what kind of freak. You have gods with the head of a dog, the head a lion, the horns of a cow, a ram, or a horny-headed goat. You have goat-form gods, snake-form gods, gods with winged feet, not to mention wings growing out of the brow and out of the back. Many a donkey priest is lurking in your midst. (Tertullian, Ad Nationes I:XIV)

Tertullian repeats this story in a slightly modified form in his Apologeticus:

But recently in this city, what is really a new representation of our god has been made public, since a certain criminal, hired to trick the wild beasts, exhibited a picture with an inscription to the following effect: 'The Christian God, the Offspring of an Ass.' He had asses' ears, one foot hoofed, was dressed in the toga and carried a book. We laughed both at the name and the figure. But they were bound to worship at once a two-formed divinity, because they have welcomed, as gods, creatures with heads both of dog and of lion, with the horns of a goat and a ram, others with goats' bodies from the loins downwards, and like serpents from the legs, and with wings on the foot or the back. (Tertullian, Apologeticus XVI)

According to the now lost Gnostic book The Descent of Mary quoted by Epiphanius, the god of the Jews had the form of an ass, which some associated with the demon Sabaot. Apparently, spying god in his true form is what got Zacharias killed and is the reason Jewish priests wear bells into the temple.

That it was the occasion of the death of Zacharias in the temple, that when he had seen a vision, he, through surprise, was willing to disclose it, and his mouth was stopped. That which he saw was at the time of his offering incense, and it was a man standing in the form of an ass. When he was gone out, and had a mind to speak thus to the people, Woe unto you, whom do ye worship? he who had appeared to him in the temple took away the use of his speech. Afterwards when he recovered it, and was able to speak, he declared this to the Jews, and they slew him. They [the Gnostics] add, that on this very account the high-priest was appointed by their lawgiver (by God to Moses), to carry little bells, that whensoever he went into the temple to sacrifice, he, whom they worshipped, hearing the noise of the bells, might have time enough to hide himself; and not be caught in that ugly shape and figure. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 26:12:1-4)

The Christian may may have been associated with the ass simply because the Jewish god was, but another possible reason for the association of Jesus with the ass is found in Rabbinic literature such as the Bereshith Rabba. The rabbis believed there would be two different Messiahs, Messiah Son of David associated with the ass and Messiah Son of Joseph associated with the bull.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, He is triumphant and victorious, lowly and riding upon an ass: even upon a colt, the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)
His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. (Deuteronomy 33:17)

Jesus was thought to be the Messiah ben David by the early Jewish-Christians, so depicting him with the head of an ass makes a certain kind of sense, even if our modern mind believes the ass to be a symbol of stupidity, the ancients obviously didn't see it that way. In line with the Zechariah prophecy, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on an ass (Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19) or according to Matthew, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on two asses at the same time!

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. (Matthew 21:1-11)

Jesus trades in his two asses for a white horse in the Book of Revelation.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh [often a Biblical euphemism for penis] he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Reveleation 19:11-16)

In his book, the Pre-Nicene New Testament, Robert M. Price notes that unlike the other books of the New Testament, Revelation does not contain second century anachronisms, which makes it the earliest book in the New Testament. It actually has more in common with Jewish apocalyptic literature than Christian writings, so the rider on the white horse could have originally been Yahweh and only later identified with Jesus once Christianity caught on.

The onolatry claim was apparently still current in Renaissance Italy, for the rabbi Simone Luzzatto (1583 - 1663) listed it first in his refutation of anti-Jewish slanders. Although, he explains that the Tacitus story is based on a kernal of truth.

It could have been that since Samson had been a most valiant man and distinguished captain of the Hebrews, after vanquishing a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and having been most thirsty, he prayed to God that water might gush out most abundantly from the jawbone, from which he was restored, as can be read in Judges 19 [Actually Judges 15; don't read Judges 19 it's the most horrific chapter in the entire Bible]. In commemoration of so brave an action, the effigy of the head of an ass with water gushing out of it [was placed in the temple.] (Luzzatto, Discorso 60)

That water gushed out of the jawbone isn't explicitly clear in the scripture, but Luzzatto's interpretation is understandable.

Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. Then Samson said, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi. Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. (Judges 15:15-19)

Luzzatto's explanation is clever since he takes the broad outline of the Tacitus story (a donkey being the instrument of a miraculous deliverance from thirst) and connects it to a scripture. However, his explanation is strained.

I recently thought of another explanation after reading The Great Angel by Margaret Barker. In her book, Barker demonstrates that the early Christians considered Jesus and Yahweh to be the same deity. Thus if Yahweh was depicted with a donkey head, Jesus would be as well.

There is no depiction of Yahweh as a donkey in any ancient carvings that survive, however Yahweh is depicted as a horse that the sun rides upon on the Taanach cult stand. Archeologists have also found horse figurines in Jerusalem not far from the Temple. These figurines depict Yahweh as a horse, sometimes with a sun disk around his head. There is also a terra-cotta horse figurine from Hazor dated to the late tenth century B.C. Statues of horses are also mentioned in the Bible. Apparently they used to be located at the entrance to the Temple, but King Josiah had them removed.

He [Josiah] removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun. (2 Kings 23:11)

Since Yahweh was depicted as a sun horse in ancient Israel, it's not that improbable that Jewish critics would ridicule their worship by calling the sun horse an ass. The accusation that Jews worshiped the head of an ass would then be transfered over to the early Christians who believed Jesus and Yahweh were the same person.

In conclusion, we can't really know anything for sure. The claim that Jews worshiped an ass could have come from a number of different sources. Archeology indicates that Yahweh was originally depicted as a horse, which outsiders may have taken for an ass. The story could have originated in Idumea where Apollo was associated with the ass, or from Egypt where Set-Typhon was. The claim might have something to do the the golden calf incident in Exodus. Asses are associated with miracles and prophecies in the Bible and Rabbinic literature associates the Messiah ben David with the ass. Of course the claim could have arisen from something else entirely which has been lost to history. As with most questions dealing with antiquity, we'll just never know for sure.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jesus the Magician by Morton Smith

Scholars in search of a historical Jesus usually assume the miraculous stories are later additions and that the real Jesus was either a sage dispensing wisdom or a prophet preaching the end of the world. However, Morton Smith believes the opposite is true.

"Teachers of the law were not, in this period, made over into miracle workers. Neither were the authors of apocalyptic prophecies [...] but a miracle worker could easily come to be thought a prophet and an authority on the Law." (p. 16)

The miracle stories in the gospels show signs of reworking, proof that they were not later additions, but rather part of the original story. There are literally thousands of teachers of the Law found in rabbinic literature, but none of them are comparable to Jesus. This is because he was not a teacher of the Law. He was a miracle worker who later had legal sayings attributed to him.

Jesus was also not a prophet in the Old Testament sense. The Old Testament prophets did not forgive sins, perform exorcisms, and with few exceptions did not heal. Moses and Elisha healed leprosy, Elisha and Elijah raised boys from the dead, but only Jesus and the magicians of his time cured fever, blindness, lameness, paralysis, catalepsy, hemorrhage, wounds, and poison. In fact, Jesus twice refuses to perform the miracles of the prophets (compare II Kings 1:10 with Luke 9:54-55 and II Kings 6:15-17 with Matthew 26:52-4). The miraculous escapes, transfiguration, walking on water, eucharist, and "I am" sayings of Jesus have parallels in magical practice, but not in the Old Testament.

Another common mistake many biblical scholars make is relying on Christian sources. To get a complete picture of who Jesus was, we must also consider what critics said of him. You wouldn't write a biography about a dictator using only what his propaganda said.

Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?
(John 8:48)

Since history is written by the victors, the texts we are left with are mainly Christian. In fact, the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered all books by "heretics" (Christians who held minority opinions) and pagan works critical of Jesus to be destroyed in the early 300's AD. However, many early Christians quoted from these critical works in order to denounce them, so we do have some idea of what they said. Some criticisms of Jesus are even preserved in the New Testament.

Jesus is accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). His own family accused him of being crazy (Mark 3:21) and did not believe in him (John 7:5). He is called the "son of Mary" (Mark 6:3) rather than the son of Joseph, which means he was born out of wedlock. He is also accused of being possessed by a demon, i.e. being crazy (John 7:20, John 8:48, 52, John 10:20). This is why is he told to heal himself (Luke 4:23). A demon apparently drove him out into the wilderness (Mark 1:12, "demon" and "spirit" were interchangeable terms in common usage). He was even accused of being Beelzebul.

It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! (Matthew 10:25)

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan?[...] In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:22-30)

Interestingly, the only unforgivable sin in Christianity is accusing Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul rather than by the Holy Spirit. The fact that this is such a big deal indicates that it was the most important rumor about Jesus his followers wished to dispel.

Jesus is accused before Pilate of being a "doer of evil" (John 18:30) which in Roman law codes refers to magicians. Jesus is often called "one who leads astray" or "deceiver" which also refer to his being a magician.

After John the Baptist died, the Gospels tells us that many people believed Jesus was John raised from the dead (Mark 6:14). This doesn't make much sense except when we look at magical beliefs of the time in which the spirit of someone who dies a violet or unjust death can be summoned by a magician, such as Jesus.

In third century Smyrna, Christian necromancers summoned the spirit of Jesus because of his violet death by crucifixion. The Samaritan magician Simon as well as Saint Paul (Galatians 2:20, Romnas 15:19, 1 Corinthians 5:13) also summoned the spirit of Jesus to perform miracles, so it's plausible Jesus was using John's spirit the same way.

Jewish accounts of Jesus repeat the accusations found in the New Testament (that he was mad, demon-possessed, a magician). They also accused him of cutting magic Egyptian marks into his flesh, which could be a reference to either scarification or tattooing. (Matthew admits that Jesus was visited by magi (magicians) and lived in Egypt, although only in his infancy.) Magicians of the time did write spells on their flesh and instructions for doing so are found in magical papyri of the time. Paul tells us he was tattooed or branded with the marks of Jesus in this way (Galations 6:17).

Rabbinic writings speak disapprovingly of magicians using the name of Jesus ben Pantera to heal and the Babylonian Talmud (B. Sanhedrin 43a) tells us Jesus was stoned for practicing magic. Jesus was also said to be the student of the magician Joshua ben Perahya who lived 80 BC. (B. Sotah 47a, B. Sanhedrin 107b, P. Hagigah II.2(77d), P. Sanhedrin VI.13(23c))

The Roman historian Suetonius said Christians practiced magic. Lucan, a Roman poet, wrote of a witch who not only summoned a soul from the underworld, but forced it to reenter its dead body, much as Jesus had done.  The Christian apologist Justin Martyr counters claims that Jesus was a magician. The writings of Celsus have been destroyed, but Origen quotes from him at length in order to counter his claims.

Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God. (Celsus, quoted by Origin in Against Celsus 1:28,38)

Celsus gives us a different account of Jesus than that found in the Gospels. Jesus was conceived by a soldier named Panthera. He had 10 disciplines instead of 12, and he was betrayed by more than one of them. He said that Jesus was small and ugly (Against Celsus 6:75). Origin agrees that Jesus was indeed ugly, but that his appearance was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:1-3. Celsus also accuses Jesus of being a wicked man under the influence of an evil spirit (Against Celsus I:68).

The Mandaeans, a sect in modern day Iraq that worships John the Baptist, claim Jesus was an evil magician based on their ancient texts. Also, Jesus was sometimes identified with the Samaritan magician Simon. However, it's unknown exactly how old the Samaritan and Mandean traditions are.

Ancient magical material, which is archeologically datable, shows that the name of Jesus was used in magic spells during his lifetime (see also Acts 19:13). Also, of the three oldest visual representations of the crucifixion, two are found on magical gems.

The oldest visual representation of the crucifixion, a graffito scratched on the plaster of a school room on the Palatine Hill in Rome, depicts a crucified figure with the head of a donkey. There was a long standing legend that the god of the Jews was a donkey or had a donkey head. Josephus refutes this claim (Against Apion II:80), although later Jews accused Christians of the same thing.

A graffito drawn in Carthage around 200 AD depicts a figure with donkey ears and a hoof wrapped in a toga holding a book with the inscription, "The god of the Christians." A little bone crucifix of a crucified donkey has also been found in Montagnana, although it can't be dated. The Christian writer Minucius Felix refutes the claim that the god of the Christians had a donkey head. The association of the Jewish and Christian gods with the donkey may have something to do with the Egyptian god Seth sometimes depicted on magical gems with a donkey head and called Iao (Yahweh).

Before the fourth century, the name of Jesus was used in various magic spells (conjuration, exorcism, cursing, love charms, spells to improve memory or receive revelations through dreams, etc.) by both Christians and pagans. These survive in fragmentary amulets, lead tablets and magical papyri. Jesus has continually been depicted as a magician in Christian art, complete with magic wand, including a gold glass plate in the Vatican library.

New Testament scholars often claim that Judaism was sealed off from the outside world and therefore early Christianity could not have had any pagan influences. The opposite is true. The ancient Israelites had never controlled all of Palestine. While the Jews had overrun most of Palestine including Galilee and forcibly converted the semitic peoples living there between 125 BC to 75 BC, this conversion was only skin deep. The region had long been influenced by Phoenician and Egyptian beliefs (Egyptian amulets are frequently found in archeological digs). Persian influence lead to the Jews adopting monotheism and demonology. Also Greek beliefs and practices were familiar everywhere. In the 360 years between the time Alexander the Great had conquered Palestine and Jesus got baptized, the Jews were ruled by either the Greeks, the Romans, or Roman agents for 320 of those years. It's impossible for Christianity not to have been influenced by paganism.

In the magical papyri, the name of the Jewish god Yahweh is used more than three times as often as any other deity. The fact that the Jews practiced magic is proven by the discovery of the magical book Sefer ha-Razim (The Book of Secrets). The Old Testament speaks of the 'obot ("divining spirits" or "spirits of the dead", see Isaiah 8:19, 19:3, 29:4, 1 Samuel 28, Leviticus 19:31, 20:6,27, 2 Kings 23:24) who are equated with gods.

Solomon was said to control demons in Rabbinic literature (B. Gittin 68a-b, the midrashim on Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes), the writings of Josephus (Antiquities VIII:45-49), and in the romance The Testament of Solomon. Solomon controlled the demons through an amulet engraved with the secret name of Yahweh.

The term "son of god" was synonymous with "magician" and thus Jesus is almost exclusively called "son of god" when performing miracles. Apollonius of Tyana was another magician who lived the same time as Jesus who shared a lot in common with him (he was the son of a god, performed miracles, taught morals, had disciples, rose from the dead, etc.) Early Christian apologists such as Eusebius had difficulty explaining why Jesus should be preferred over Apollonius.

Jesus cured a deaf man by spit and a magic word (Mark 7:32-35) he also cured blindness by spit, although it took two tries (Mark 8:23-26). He used a magic phrase to raise a girl from the dead (Mark 5:41, Peter also uses this phrase in Acts 9:40 although he mistakenly uses the Aramaic word talitha (girl) as the proper name Tabitha!).

The other gospel writers were embarrassed by this apparent magic so they took it out of their versions. They couldn't remove references to Jesus being the son of god since it was essential to their religion, but since it was a common claim of magicians, they have other people call Jesus the son of god (he only says it of himself when forced to, see Mark 14:60-62). The gospels almost completely remove any reference to Jesus being a Samaritan since they were associated with magic.

Magic was a common practice at the time (see Mark 9:38, Acts 19:19) and numerous Christian magical papyri have been discovered. Jesus often gives instructions for the proper way to perform healings and exorcisms in the gospels. In Matthew, magi (magicians) give gifts to the infant Jesus, declaring him the ultimate magician by implication. They then go home by a different route (Matthew 2:12) since after meeting with a supernatural being, you should go home by a different road (Sefer ha-Rezim I:5)

At the baptism of Jesus, a spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove. This scene is not based on anything from the Old Testament or rabbinic tradition, it could only come from the realm of magic. The magical papyri give spells magicians can use to entrap a spirit. This way, they can perform miracles immediately, by commanding the spirit, rather than reciting lengthy spells (The Magical Papyrus of Paris IV:2006, Sefer ha-Rezim I:5). Early Christians said the Samaritan magician Simon Magus performed his miracles by controlling the spirit of a murdered boy.

However, spirits of the dead were mainly used for harmful magic. Since Jesus was a healer, he would have used a supernatural being of a higher order than men. The Magical Papyrus of Paris gives instructions for how to command a god (I:54). It involves burning frankincense to summon a hawk, then burning myrrh to summon a god who comes down in the form of a star. Once the magician has control of the god, he can do things like make food and wine appear, stop evil demons, solidify water so that it can be walked upon, change shape, turn invisible, fly, calm wild beasts, read minds, know the future, etc. This god will also take the magician's spirit up into the air after he dies. The magical papyri also describe how to become a son of god. The Good Demon is invoked in Magical Papyrus of Paris XIII:784: "For I have taken to myself the power of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and of the great god-demon Iao Ablanathanalba." Iao is the Israelite god Yahweh, Ablanathanalba is a magical palindrome of uncertain meaning.

Jesus apparently uses his spirit servant to heal the centurion's servant (Luke 7:1-9) and had 72,000 angels at his command (Matthew 26:53). The spell for how to command such an angelic legion is found in Sefer ha-Rezim VI. Also, the manner in which Jesus obtained disciples corresponds to magical love spells to make someone forget their family and follow the magician. His disciples immediately drop what they're doing, not even bothering to put their fishing nets away, and follow him without so much as saying good bye to their families (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus didn't even permit a potential disciples to bury his father before following him (Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:60).

The exorcisms and healings of Jesus have a magical basis, including the belief that diseases were demons (Jesus commands a fever to leave Simon's mother-in-law as if it were a demon in Luke 4:38-39). Jesus also gives his disciples immunity from snakes and scorpions (Luke 10:19, Mark 16:18) another common magical spell.

Defixions are spells usually written on lead tablets or potsherds and buried by graves or thrown into water to destroy an enemy. One such addressed Osiris and other underworld gods and said "inasmuch as I give over to you Adeodatus the son of Cresconia, I ask you to punish him in the bed of punishment." Paul also uses the language of magic to "give over" his enemies to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:3, 1 Timothy 1:18-20).

It was common to enchant food so that whoever ate it would become possessed. Jesus seems to do this at the Last Supper. When asked who will betray him "Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him." (John 13:26-27) This same principal seems to be at work with the Eucharist.

In addition to putting evil spirits into people, Jesus also put good spirits into people. He gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples by breathing on them (John 20:22). His disciples had the power to send out a spirit (their "peace") to a house and have it return to them (Luke 10:5-6). They could also place a curse by shaking the dust off their feet (Luke 10:10-12). Jesus had the keys to heaven which other magicians claimed to have.

Another magical parallel is found during the Transfiguration, when Jesus ascends a mountain, changes his form, and meets with the spirits of Moses and Elijah who foretell his future (Luke 9:28-31). Also, Jesus is able to become intangible (Luke 4:29-30, John 7:30, 44, 8:20, 59, 10:39) and invisible (Luke 24:31). Jesus often commands people to tell no one after he heals them, perhaps to keep the demon from coming back (Matthew 12:43).

The Greek term for "one who can get what he wants from the gods" is pray-er, that is, one who prays (Iliad 1:11,94; 5:78). The term was later replaced by magician. After all, both prayers and spells are two different names for the same thing.

Just like the magicians of his time, Jesus called god "Father" and believed he lived in the heavens. He also instructed his followers to pray only in secret, a common magical practice. Glorifying the Name of the god was also important. Compare John 17 where Jesus asks that his name be glorified because he glorified god's name with "Glorify me as I have glorified the Name of your son Horus!" (Papyri Graecae Magicae VII:504). "Thy will be done" was also a prayer used by magicians (PGM XII:189).

Initiates into the magical rites generally wore a particular costume, a linen cloth over their naked body (Mark 14:51, Papyri Graecae Magicae III:706, IV:88, 170, 3095, The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden III: 13, XXVIII:6, XXIX:23, Longer Gospel of Mark quoted by Clement of Alexandria).

Like all magicians of the time, Jesus was poor, and consequently commanded his rich followers to give all that they had to the poor, i.e. to him (Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33). He apparently made his living by performing miracles. One trick faith healers still use to this day is secretly finding out someone's name and pretending they know it through other worldly means. Jesus does this by sending his disciples to a town ahead of him (Luke 10:1). Then he impresses the rich people in that town by already knowing their names. Finally, he invites himself to stay at their house (Luke 19:1-5).

While I don't agree with everything Morton Smith writes in this book, I do agree that the New Testament makes more sense if Jesus was originally a magician who later had sayings and prophecies attributed to him rather than the other way around.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker, Part 3

Chapter 7

The Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria lived during the time Christianity began, yet his writings don't match our preconceived notions of what Jewish thought at that time should have been. However, he was a spokesman for Judaism and his writings were popular enough to have survived, therefor any study of Christian origins has to take Philo's writings into account. Keep in mind also that the monotheistic rabbis didn't appear until later centuries.

Philo was not a monotheist, but rather believed in a second god called the Logos or the Word. This means many Jews of his time believed in a second god as well. This is not surprising since the Jews of Alexandria already had the Wisdom of Solomon.

Thy all powerful Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying a sharp sword of thy authentic command, and stood and filled all things with death, and touched heaven while standing on the earth. (The Wisdom of Solomon 18:15-16)

The destroyer with the great sword had originally been Yahweh (Exodus 12:12, 29). Philo elsewhere describes the Logos in terms used for Yahweh, meaning that for Philo and his Alexandrian community, Yahweh was the Word. Early Christian writers such as Clement of Alexandria and Theodotus equated Jesus with the Logos (see also the beginning of the Gospel of John), which isn't surprising since Jesus is equated with Yahweh (Lord) throughout the New Testament.

Philo also refers to the Logos as King, Shepherd, High Priest, and Firstborn Son among other titles. The Logos was the son of the Most High (Elyon). Philo also equates Logos with Wisdom, even though Logos was male and Wisdom female. This presents no difficulty for Wisdom seems to be the female aspect of Logos just as she is the female aspect of Yahweh in the Old Testament.

The writings of Philo and the apocalypticists clearly point to an alternate form of Judaism which was polytheistic. Just because Deuteronomistic monotheism later came to dominate Jewish thought doesn't mean it always had.

Chapter 8

In the Targums (Jewish translations/commentary on the Bible written in Aramaic) the word Memra is used to refer to the Word of God. The Word of the New Testament is described in the same way as Philo's Logos and the Memra of the Targums (John 1, 1 John 1:1-2, Revelation 19:11-16, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Peter 3:5-7).

In the early centuries of Christianity, a main focus of rabbinic Judaism was to discredit the idea that there were two gods. According to the Mekhilta of R. Ishmael, this idea apparently came about due to two different appearances of Yahweh in Exodus. In Exodus 15:3, Yahweh is a man of war, indicating that he is a young warrior. In Exodus 24:10, Yahweh is giving Law, the activity of an old man. R. Ishmael tries to explain this apparent contradiction away by explaining that Yahweh can appear in different forms and he cites Daniel 7 as an example. It's a strange example to cite, however, since Daniel 7 portrays two distinct gods, the young warrior Yahweh and the Ancient of Days Elyon.

Chapter 9

Yahweh created sea monsters in Genesis 1:21, but some scriptures point to an earlier myth in which he battled them (Letter of Manasseh 3, see also Isaiah 51:9 in which Yahweh kills the sea dragon Rahab). Yahweh created the stars in Genesis 1:16 simply as sources of light, yet they sing in Job 38:7 along with the other sons of god. Although they are centuries later, gnostic writings appear to preserve the earlier form of Judaism including talk of sea monsters and angels.

Instead of making the usual assumption that gnosticism is a heretical form of Christianity, Margaret Barker takes a close look at the texts and finds that gnosticism has more in common with pre-Deuteronomic Judaism. Gnosticism is exactly what you'd expect to find if a group of Jews rejected the monotheistic reform and held onto the earlier beliefs. They grew to view Judaism as the enemy and the god of the Jews as evil, although they still believed in a good god. According to The Apocryphon of John, the Great Archon seduced Eve who then gave birth to two sons, the good Yave and the evil Eloim (Apocryphon of John II:1:24). Basilides taught that Christ came to destroy the God of the Jews.

There are many varieties of Gnostic thought, but in general, they believed that the god which created the world was not the only god, although he foolishly thought he was. There was another more powerful god, much like the relationship between El Elyon and Yahweh. One gnostic text points out that Yahweh admits he isn't the only god when he says that he is a jealous god. If there was no other god, why would he be jealous? (Apocryphon of John II:1:11-13)

The Gnostics also speak of a female aspect of god called Sophia who shared a lot in common with the Wisdom of the Bible. She was said to be the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden (Apocryphon of John II:1:22, Hypostatis of the Archons II:4:94, 1 Enoch 32:3-6, Proverbs 3:18).

Chapter 10

The early Christians identified El Elyon with the Father and Yahweh with the Son, or Jesus. The pseudo-Clementine writings contain a debate between Simon Magus and Simon Peter in which Simon Magus claims the God of the Jews was not the Most High God. Simon Peter counters that while each of the seventy two nations has a being called a god ruling over it, they are really angels mistaken for gods.

Early Christians, including Paul, referred to the God of the Jews, Yahweh, as the Son of God and identified him with Jesus. The Father was El Elyon, the Most High God, who created Yahweh. Anytime the Old Testament referred to Yahweh, the Christians took it as a reference to the pre-existent Jesus. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin cites numerous scriptures from the Old Testament which support the two gods theory.

The distinction between the Father and Son had begun to blur by the time of Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria, but Christians still believed there were two separate gods in the Old Testament. Hippolytus of Rome believed the Ancient of Days in Daniel was the Most High God, while the Son of Man was Jesus. Novatian read the Old Testament the same way.

Unlike modern translators, Eusebius read the Hebrew of Psalm 91:9 correctly: "You, O Yahweh, are my refuge, you have made Elyon your dwelling place." (Proof IX:7) Two distinct gods are clearly referenced, yet modern readings are based on what the translators think it should have said. Eusebius goes on to demonstrate that the Hebrew of Psalms 45:7 indicates the the Anointed One is a second god, not a priest: "Thou hast, O God, loved justice and hated impiety: therefore in return, O God, the highest and greater God, Who is also thy God hath anointed thee." (Proof IV:15)

The Angel in the Book of Revelation was Yahweh. He is the first and the last (Revelation 1:17). He could permit people to eat from the tree of life (2:7). He had the sharp sword of judgement (2:12). He was the Son of God (2:18). He had the seven spirits of God (3:1). He was also the Scribe of the Book of Life (3:5). Reveleation 3:14 (Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation) could be a reference to Amon who assisted in the creation (Proverbs 8:30).

Philo associated his Logos with the center of the menorah (which had only seven candles in the Old Testament, as opposed the the nine candles of the modern day menorah). The early Christian document The Shepherd of Hermas described the Son of God having three angels on his left and three on his right (Hermas Sim. ix:12:8) The psuedo-Cyprianic text The Threefold Fruit of the Christian Life tells us the Son of God was one of the seven angels (216-219). An engraved amythyst has been discovered bearing the names of the seven archangels: Raphael, Renel, Uriel, Ichtys, Michael, Gabriel, and Azael. Ichtys was the common acronym for Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour.

The Ascension of Isaiah has the second Lord (Jesus) sit on the right side of the throne of the first Lord (Elyon) with the angel of the Holy Spirit sitting on the left (Ascension of Isaiah 11:32-33). In 2 Enoch 24:1, this Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel. Jewish tradition (Genesis Rabbah 78:1) held that while the other angels were insignificant, Michael and Gabriel did not change. There was even an early version of the trinity which was composed of Christos, Michael and Gabriel which can be recognized in epitaphs, amulets, amphorae, and seal stones dating back to the fourth century.

Origen speaks of a similar Jewish tradition in which God has a masculine aspect called the Word and a feminine aspect called the Spirit. The canonical Gospels don't tell us who declared Jesus the beloved son during the baptism, we simply assume it was the Father. However, the Gospel of the Hebrews (now lost, but quoted by Origen and Jerome) states that the Holy Spirit is the Mother of Jesus and it was she who declared Jesus her son during the baptism.

Jesus is sometimes identified with Gabriel (Epistle of the Apostles, the Sibylline oracles) and sometimes identified with Michael (Shepherd of Hermas, Revelation 12:7, 11:16). Jesus was known as the Angel of Great Council to the early Christians (LXX Isaiah 9:6, Novatian, Theodotus, Origen, Eusebius). Methodius called him chief among the archangels. Melito and Justin also called Jesus an Angel.

In Revelation 14:1, the saved have the name of god written upon their foreheads. According to Ezekiel 9:4, this mark was a tau, which looks like X in the old Hebrew and Samaritan scripts. This is mentioned in the Talmud (Horayoth 12a) as the shape of a Greek chi. Early Chrisitans put this sign upon their foreheads, showing they identified Yahweh and Christ.

Chapter 11

The early Christians prayed to Jesus as if he were Yahweh (1 Corinthians 16:22, Didache 10:6). Several early versions of John 1:18 read "the only begotten GOD who is in the bosom of the Father" instead of "only begotten Son" (Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, parts of Irenaeus and Origen). Barker goes on to quote numerous New Testament passages which name Jesus as God. Jesus is called the Savior in the New Testament, while the Old Testament constantly refers to Yahweh as the Savior.

In 2 Esdras 13, the Son of God rises from the sea and destroys the wicked by breathing fire. There are a couple cryptic references to a deity named Righteousness (Isaiah 1:21,26) thought by some to be the Canaanite deity Zedek, but Righteousness could be another of Yahweh's titles. The name Melchizedek is also related.

2 Corinthians and the Epistle to the Hebrews both imply that Jesus was present at the Exodus. Two of the most important early manuscripts of Jude, verse 5 (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus) actually read, "Jesus saved a people from the land of Egypt." This isn't surprising after reading the numerous passages in the New Testament which clearly identify Jesus as Yahweh.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker, Part 2

Chapter 4

According to Philo, the two cherubim of the temple represent the God of Israel, yet one is male and one is female. Both participated in creation and the mother was called either Knowledge or Wisdom. According to rabbinic tradition (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 3a, Genesis Rabbah 8:1, Clementine Homilies III:54:2) Yahweh was a hermaphrodite and created Adam as a hermaphrodite. Philo did not think Adam was a hermaphrodite, but believed that Yahweh was (God made male and female and created them after his image).

Rabba bar Rab Shila's text of 1 Kings 7:36 described the cherubim as like a man intertwined with his wife. Ezekiel 41:18 implies this by describing the cherubim as having two heads, one of a man and one of a lion, facing away from each other. Yahweh is sometimes described in feminine terms, such as giving birth to Israel (Deuteronomy 32:11,18, Isaiah 42:14, see also Isaiah 45:9-11, Isaiah 49:14-15, Isaiah 66:13).

Digging into the texts, Margaret Barker finds evidence that Yahweh's female aspect or consort, Wisdom, was suppressed by the Deuteronomists (1 Enoch 94:5, Deuteronomy 4:6, Baruch 3:12, Baruch 3:36-37, Pistis Sophia). Kabbalistic writings speak of the exile of the female aspect of Yahweh called Shekinah. Jeremiah calls this figure the Queen of Heaven (Jeremiah 44:17-18). A female god is also mentioned in Micah 5:3 and Isaiah 7:14.

In the Deuteronomic writings, the goddess Asherah is always linked with Ba'al, however in extra-Biblical Hebrew writings, Asherah is linked with Yahweh, and in Canaanite texts of the first millennium, she is never linked with Ba'al. It seems the Deuteromists connected Asherah with Ba'al in an effort to discredit both, but Asherah was originally Yahweh's consort, not Ba'al's.

In Isaiah, a female herald brings news to Zion and Jerusalem (Isaiah 40:9, 61:1-4) but later becomes identified with the city itself (Isaiah 54:7), a city which is abandoned by her husband (Isaiah 49:14) and deprived of her children (Isaiah 54:1). Perhaps this was why the city of New Jerusalem married the Lamb in the New Testament (Revelation 21:9-14). The woman in labor from Isaiah (Isaiah 66:7) becomes the woman clothed with the sun (Revelation 12:1-6) which indicates that John saw her as a goddess.

We know Asherah was worshiped in Israel, since we are repeatedly told that she was purged from the Temple (2 Kings 23:6-7, 18:4, 21:7, 13:6, 23:6, 1 Kings 15:13, 18:19, 18:40). These purgings didn't seem to take effect, since she always seemed to come back. She is described by Ezekiel in terms similar to Lady Atirat, consort of El and mother to seventy sons in the Ugaritic literature.

We also know she was Yahweh's consort from archealogical evidence. There are inscriptions mentioning "Yahweh and his Asherah" at Kuntillet 'Ajrud and Khirbet-el-Qom. There is a cultic stand at Taanach which has two Asherah scenes and two Yahweh scenes. Asherah is sometimes depicted as a tree (see Deuteronomy 16:21, 7:5, 12:3, 1 Kings 14:23, 14:15, 16:33, 2 Kings 17:10, 17:16, Proverbs 3:18, Sirach 24:13-22) while Yahweh was depicted as a sun horse. Female figurines have been found at many Israelite sites, including at the royal palace of Ramath Rachel, indicating that worship of a female deity was not limited to the common people. Horse figurines, some with sun disks around their heads, have also been found in Jerusalem, not far from the temple (see 2 Kings 23:11, Revelation 19:11-16).

In one version of 1 Enoch 10:1, the archangel who warns Noah about the Flood is named Istrael, the Greek version of the Hebrew Ishtarel which is very similar to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar who laments the Flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Not only was Yahweh's female aspect called the Spirit of God or Wisdom in the Old Testament, but many early Christians considered the Holy Spirit of the trinity to be female. The greatest church in Byzantium was named Hagia Sophia after Wisdom. Words Matthew 23:34 attributes to Jesus are attributed to Wisdom in Luke 11:49 and Paul describes Jesus as the Wisdom of God in 1 Corinthians 1:24.

Chapter 5

The Prayer of Joseph, an early Jewish work which has not survived the ravages of time, but is quoted in part by Origen, says that the archangel Israel was chief captain of the heavenly hosts before coming to earth as Jacob. According to the gnostic text On the Origin of the World, Jesus became the angel Israel ('the man who sees God').

The angel Jaoel, Joel, or Yahoel (whose name is a combination of Yahweh and El) is described in the Apocalypse of Abraham as being robed in purple with a rainbow turban. He carries a golden scepter, and has white hair and a body like sapphire. He lives in the seventh heaven. This angel also appears in the Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve 31 and the Apocalypse of Moses 43:15. In 3 Enoch, this archangel reveals that he is better known as Metatron, and he used to be the man known as Enoch (3 Enoch 4:3). Metatron is also mentioned in b. Sanhedrin 38b.

In apocalyptic writings, humans are referred to as animals and angels are referred to as men. Thus, when Noah is born a bull and becomes a man (1 Enoch 89:1) and Moses is a sheep who becomes a man (1 Enoch 89:36), what's really being described is the process of them becoming angels. The New Testament describes Jesus going through a similar transformation (Philippians 2:9-11).

Metatron is known as the Little Yahweh, which implies there were two Yahwehs. Many early Christian and gnostic texts refer to two different Lords or Yahwehs (Pistis Sophia, Book of Jeu, Gannat Bussame, Sirach 51:10, Ascension of Isaiah 9:40, 10:7, Eusebius, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6)

Some places refer to just four archangels, while others refer to seven. Adding these together may explain why Yahweh is said to have eleven names. 1 Enoch 20 names the seven archangels as Uriel (2 Esdras 2:48, 4:1), Raphael (Book of Tobit), Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel (Daniel 8:16, 9:21), and Remiel (2 Esdras 4:36, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, 2 Baruch 55:3, 63:6). Enoch gives each angel a different role, however their roles seemed to be interchangeable.

Yahweh tries to kill Moses in Exodus 4:24, however in Jubilees 48:1-3, it is the angel Mastema who tries to kill Moses instead. 1 Enoch mentions a couple other fallen angels: Azazel and Semjaza. Fragmentary texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that the Prince of Darkness was also known as Satan or Melchiresa, while the Prince of Light was also called Michael and Melchizedek.

Melchizedek appears only twice in the Old Testament (Genesis 14, Psalms 110). Both references indicate that he is a priest of El Elyon (not Yahweh). However, the 11QMelch fragment presents Melchizedek as not a priest, but an angel. He is the judge of the council of gods in Psalms 82:1 and the one heralded in Isaiah 52:7 (see also Isaiah 61:1).

In the Kabbalah, Yahweh is Adam, the primordial man.

Chapter 6

In the Old Testament, "Yahweh" and the "Name of Yahweh" are sometimes used synonymously, but sometimes refer to two different figures. The Name, or the Logos, was an important concept to Philo. In Exodus, the priests wore a golden plate on their turban which said "Holy to Yahweh", however Philo records a different tradition in which the golden plate said simply YHWH, indicating that the priest was a stand in for Yahweh.

It was originally thought that Yahweh himself sat upon the cherubim throne in the Temple of Solomon, but the Deuteronomists criticized this idea.

But will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built. (1 Kings 8:27)
Would you build a house for me to dwell in? [Your son] shall build a house for my Name. (2 Samuel 7:5,13)

The Deuteronomists tell us Yahweh's Name dwells in the Temple, not Yahweh himself. According to the Gospel of Truth 38 and other gnostic texts, the Name is the Son of God. There are Greek magical papyri which give the name of the god of the Jews as Jesus. Jesus and Yahweh were one and the same. "I conjure you by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus" or "Hail God of Abraham; hail, God of Isaac, hail, God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestos, the Holy Spirit, the son of the Father." The fact that two different versions of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) both forbid taking the Name in vain, may be a reference to this magical practice of invocation.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker, Part 1

The Great Angel by Margaret Barker

Margaret Barker's book The Great Angel is incredibly dense, so I'm unable to provide a full summary of everything. I highly recommend everyone get a copy and read it for themselves. Her book does assume a readership with some knowledge of Biblical studies, so if you're not already familiar with the scholarship, parts may be confusing.

Chapter 1

In the Old Testament, the phrase "son of God" is sometimes used to refer to angels, and sometimes used to refer to kings or the people of Israel. However, there are different words for God in Hebrew. Sons of El Elyon, El, or Elohim are always heavenly beings, i.e. angels, whereas sons of Yahweh, Lord, or the Holy One are always humans. This indicates that Yahweh is not the Most High God, but rather one of the sons of El Elyon.

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus is called the son of the Most High, that is the son of El Elyon (Luke 1:32, Mark 5:7), but not the son of Yahweh or the son of the Lord. In fact, Jesus is called Lord himself, which is the phrase New Testament writers use to refer to Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 6:5 with Luke 10:27).

Yahweh is the most prominent son of El Elyon in Biblical literature, but other sons of El Elyon also make appearances. The sons of El Elyon in Genesis 6:2-4 who fathered children with human women are named in 1 Enoch 6:7 and 59:2.

In the LXX and Qumran version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, El Elyon divides the world up into different nations, one for each of his sons. Yahweh gets Israel, while the other gods get the other nations. These sons of god also appear in Deuteronomy 32:43, LXX and DSS versions, and are referred to in Hebrews 1:6. These rival gods, also called messengers or angels, also appear in Isaiah 14:32. They are called princes in Daniel 10:13-14 where they fight against Yahweh and the archangel Michael.

These rival gods challenge Yahweh in Job 1:6, although you can't tell that from most English translations: "Now there was a day when the sons of El Elyon set themselves against Yahweh and Satan came also among them." Here we learn that Satan is one of the other sons of El Elyon, making him Yahweh's brother and fellow god. In the Book of Job, Yahweh is not the highest god, but rather just one amongst many and he is challenged to prove that Job is loyal only to him. The sons of El Elyon get mentioned again in Job 38:7: Yahweh asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? [...] when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of El shouted for joy?" The creation of the other sons of El (angels) are mentioned in Jubilees 2:1,4.

Psalms also mentions the sons of El Elyon. In Psalm 29:1, they are told to acknowledge Yahweh (often translated as Lord in English). Psalm 89:6 tells us Yahweh is feared amongst the council of gods. Psalm 58 and 82 describe the judgement placed upon the sons of El Elyon. "You are Elohim (plural form of God in Hebrew), sons of Elyon (the Most High), all of you..." (Psalms 82:6)

One like a son of God appears in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:25. 2 Esdras 13:22-26, and 2 Esdras 2:42:-48 present one of the sons of Elyon as the deliverer of Israel. There is also the Qumran fragment 4Q Son of God: "He shall be hailed as the son of El and they shall call him the son of Elyon." In apocalyptic literature such as Daniel and Revelation, the sons of El are referred to as being like men (for example, Daniel 9:21 calls the angel Gabriel a man), whereas mortals are called animals.

Chapter 2

A great reform occurred in ancient Israel when the Book of Deuteronomy was "discovered" (2 Chronicles 34-35, 2 Kings 22-23). History was rewritten to conform to the new laws, although books such as 1 Enoch and parts of Isaiah preserve the pre-Deuteronomic religion of Israel. Interestingly, there is no mention of Moses in any Jewish writings until after the Babylonian exile. He appears to have been introduced by the writers of Deuteronomy as part of their attempt to elevate the Law above Wisdom (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).

Part of this new Law was the prohibition against worshiping gods other than Yahweh. Thus history had to be rewritten to remove reference to the other gods, although, as we have seen, traces of Israel's previous polytheism remain.

I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-3)

"You are my witness," says Yahweh, "I am El, and also henceforth, I am He." (Isaiah 43:12-13)

Yahweh thundered in the heavens, and Elyon uttered his voice. (Psalms 18:13) 

The Israelite and Canaanite myths are very similar. The theophanies of Yahweh resemble the appearances of the Canaanite storm god Ba'al Haddu (Job 38, Ezekiel 1:4, Isaiah 24:19-23, 34:8-10, 42:13-15, 59:16-19). Yahweh's heaven resembles the Canaanite court of El. The son of man vision in Daniel 7 has similarities to the depictions of Ba'al and El in the Ugaritic texts. This relationship gets carried over into the New Testament in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46) where the king (the Son of Man) acknowledges a superior Father.

During the period of Deuteronomic reform, multiple gods were combined into a single entity, however not all the Israelites went along with this. Worship of El and Yahweh as two separate gods fulling the roles of Father and Son continued all throughout Jewish history and eventually spun off into the new religion of Christianity.

Chapter 3

Psalm 89 depicts Yahweh as the greatest of the Holy Ones in heaven. In Daniel, these Holy Ones or Watchers bring Yahweh's decrees to earth (Daniel 4:14). Two of them discuss the fate of Jerusalem in Daniel 8:13 and they are promised the kingdom of Elyon (Daniel 7:18, 25, 27).

The Holy Ones are Yahweh's entourage when he comes as King (Deuteronomy 33:2-3, Zechariah 14:1-9, 1 Enoch 1:2,9, also quoted in Jude 14). The early Christians expected Jesus to come just like Yahweh and refer to him as a Holy One (Mark 1:24)

The house of David shall be like Elohim, like the angel of Yahweh at their head. (Zechariah 12:8)

In some sections of the Bible, the words god and angel are used interchangeably (Psalms 34:7, Psalms 35:5-6, 2 Samuel 24:16-17, 2 Kings 1:3, 2 Kings 15, Exodus 14:19), although in later sections a clear distinction is made between angels and gods. However, there are far more passages in which Yahweh and Angel of Yahweh are used interchangeably (Zechariah 3:1-7, Genesis 16, Genesis 18, Genesis 48:15-16, Judges 5:23, Judges 6:11-16, Judges 13:3,22, Genesis 22:12, 2 Kings 19:34-35, Isaiah 37:35-36). When Moses talks to the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-7), the Angel of Yahweh, Elohim, and Yahweh all speak to him at different times, indicating these terms were used as synonyms, although early Christians may have read the trinity into this story.

Yahweh had the form of a man and carried a sword filled with blood (Isaiah 34:6). He protected Israel and did battle with their enemies. He appointed their high priest and was their redeemer and judge. Ezekiel described Yahweh as being bronze from the waist up and made of fire from the waist down with a rainbow surrounding him (Ezekiel 1:27-28). Daniel describes a similar figure made of bronze and fire (Daniel 10:5-6). In Daniel 7, Yahweh (Son of Man) is depicted as the young warrior god succeeding the elderly El Elyon (Ancient of Days).

The four names of the Messiah, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) are summarized in the LXX as simply "The Angel of Great Council." This great fourfold angel was divided up into four different angels: Gabriel (Literally Strength of God. This is Yahweh as El Gibbor or Mighty God as in Isaiah 10:21), Raphael (Healing of God. This is Yahweh as healer as in Exodus 15:26 and Psalms 30:2), Phanuel (Presence of God, later became Uriel, Light of God invoked in the high priestly blessing of Numbers 6:25), and Michael (Who is Like God? the incomparable Yahweh of Isaiah 40:18,25). Michael was the Wonderful Counsellor (since Yahweh's incomparability lay in his wisdom Job 38-39, Isaiah 40, 43), Gabriel was Mighty God, Raphael was Everlasting Father and Phanuel was Prince of Peace.

Throughout the Bible, kings are said to be the sons of Yahweh and worshipped as if they were Yahweh (1 Chronicles 29:20,23, 1 Chronicles 28:6, Zephaniah 1:5). Kings of other nations are also described as gods. The Babylonian king is associated with a god called the Day Star, one of the sons of El in the Ugaritic texts. Day Star is also called Lucifer, not to be confused with Satan who is a different god altogether (Isaiah 14:12). Just like the planet Venus (a.k.a the morning star) is the brightest object in the sky before sunrise, so too Day Star appears to be the mightiest god. However, when the sun does rise, Babylon's god, like Venus, will disappear in the face of the sun (Yahweh). Yahweh vows to destroy another god in Ezekiel 28:12-19, this one associated with the King of Tyre. Moses is said to be a King and a God in some extra canonical sources (Philo's Life of Moses 1:155-158, the Exodus of Ezekiel the Dramatist).

The word "branch" is used to refer to kings, such as the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:19), Ptolemy III Euergetes (Daniel 11:7), and the royal prince of the house of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).

Leviticus 16 describes a ritual in which the sins of the people are placed upon a goat which is driven out into the desert "for" Azazel, although the Hebrew can also be translated "as" Azazel, meaning the goat is being punished for Azazel's rebellion in 1 Enoch 10:5 and The Book of Giants from the Dead Sea Scrolls. A second goat, perhaps representing Yahweh, is slain for purposes of atonement. Thus, the god symbolically dies for the sins of the people which becomes a major idea in Christianity later on.