Sunday, April 11, 2010

Deconstructing Jesus

In his book, Deconstructing Jesus, Robert M. Price opens by pointing out that scholars in search of the historical Jesus often create him in their own image. Depending on what parts of the scriptural record you consider to be genuine, Jesus could have been a messianic king, a progressive Pharisee, a Galilean shaman, or a Hellenistic sage. However, if Jesus can be interpreted to be whoever you want him to be, it makes the whole question of a historical Jesus meaningless.

In order to uncover the true historical Jesus, we must take away everything which came from a different source. Price points out anachronisms in the Gospels proving certain sayings couldn't have been said during the time of Jesus. For example, there were virtually no synagogues or Pharisees in Galilee until after 70 CE. Also, the term "Rabbi" wasn't used as a title before the second century.

The mystery of what the number 153 means in John 21:11 ("Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.") is solved by turning to Pythagoras. One of the miracles of Pythagoras involved him correctly guessing the exact number of fish in a net. 153 is a significant number to Pythagoreans because it's the sum of 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13+14+15+16+17. It's also what you get when you add 1+(1X2)+(1X2X3)+(1X2X3X4)+(1X2X3X4X5). Also, if you add together the cubes of the three digits in 153, you get 153. It's what Pythagoreans call a "triangular" number.

Price examines the Sufi preserved sayings of Jesus and also notes the similarities between the sayings of Jesus and aphorisms of the rabbis in the Mishnah as well as Cynic and Stoic philosophers. In a very interesting chapter, he details how Rene Girard's scapegoat theory can be applied to the story of Jesus.

Price also devotes a chapter to ancient romance novels such as Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, Iamblichus' Babylonian Story, the Ephesian Tale of Xenophon, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, Heliodorus' Ethiopian Story, and Apuleius' The Golden Ass. A common plot involves the heroine falling into a coma, being prematurely buried, and kidnapped by grave robbers. Her lover is shocked to find her tomb empty, eventually finds her, but gets crucified because the king wants her for himself. The lover is saved from crucifixion at the last moment and is reunited with his love, although he thinks that she's a ghost at first.

Price points out parallels between Jesus and other mythical savior figures (like Dionysus, Jesus turns water into wine and describes himself as a life-giving grapevine (John 15:1-10)). Also, he points out how parts of Jesus' story are borrowed from other messianic figures. The trial of Jesus is lifted straight from the trial of Jesus ben-Ananias as described by Josephus. The cleansing of the temple is based on Simon bar-Giora. Jesus is also based on Cleomenes, Carabbas, Theudas, Jesus ben-Sapphiah, Jesus bar-Abbas, Elymas bar-Jesus and Jesus Justus among others. Jesus is also based on Old Testament figures such as Joshua (which is a variant form of Jesus), Jonah, Elisha, and Moses. Mark's crucifixion account is taken from Psalm 22.

It's not even certain that Jesus was crucified by Pilot since there is another tradition in which Jesus is crucified by Herod. There's also a Jewish tradition that Jesus died in 100 BCE. 1 Corinthians 2:8 and Colossians 2:15 attribute the death of Jesus to spiritual entities rather than earthly rulers.

So, after we remove the borrowed stories and sayings, what are we left with? Nothing. Just as with Hercules, there might have originally been a historical figure behind the myths, but when you strip the myths away, nothing of the historical person is left. If there was an historical Jesus, no information about him survives.