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Old 05-16-2001, 01:29 AM   #1
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Post Why the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is not an embarrassment to Christians

I take this interpretation from Andrew Benson’s “The True Origins of Christianity and the Bible”, 1997, p. 181, a useful compendium of biblical history.

Benson sees the early history of Christianity as a struggle between Jewish Christians, known as Ebionites, who retained Jewish customs and ideas, and Hellenistic Christians, who grafted Platonic ideas and Hellenistic mystery practices onto Christianity. The Ebionites thought that Jesus was a man who had been given special powers by God, but was not a god himself. The Hellenistic Christians, who eventually became the established church, turned Jesus into a god.

The Ebionites had a version of Jesus’ baptism in which God says, after Jesus is baptized by John, “You are my beloved son…today I have begotten (i.e., adopted) you” (referring to Psalm 2:7) The Ebionites believed that God’s power only entered Jesus when he was baptized by John. This baptism was in effect an anointing by the holy spirit, who came as a dove.

Benson sees Jesus developing from a person with many human qualities in Mark, the earliest Gospel, into a more god-like person in Luke and Matthew, until the Gospel of John treats him as a god.

So there was no embarrassment for these early Christians in having Jesus baptized by the holiest man that came before him. It explained how he got his divine powers. It was only after the baptism story had been borrowed and altered by later Hellenistic Christians, who decided that Jesus was god and had been born without sin, that it became embarrassing, so that Matthew has to add some reluctance by John to baptize Jesus.

Benson does believe in the historical Jesus (although it is not clear how carefully he has considered the mythicist case), but this detail destroys one of Nomad/Brian’s proofs.
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Old 05-16-2001, 01:51 AM   #2
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Exactly. Thre are so many unknowns here that any interpretation of the context of the baptism report is just that - interpretation. The 'embarrassment' criterion is inconsistent when used by those who believe Jesus to be God, because they accept both the baptism and the divinity. If they can do that, why couldn't the gospel writers do the same?
 
Old 05-20-2001, 12:04 PM   #3
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I would like to make a difference between form and substance or, in this case, between structure and content:

The "sturcture" of facts such as Jesus' birth, baptism, crucifixion, death and resurrection are--in my opinion--beyond argument. It is the "content" of such facts that will always remain tantilizingly out of our grasp, lost in the passage of time and theological overlay. This is part of the "fun" of doing scholarship and theology. Or just arguing!

My working assumption is that Jesus was bapized by John. The idea that John thought himself unworthy to untie Jesus' sandals says more about the importance of Jesus to the evangelists than it does about the accurate reporting of what was said between the Baptizer and Jesus. The oral memory of Jesus' first followers was that he was baptized by John. To answer any present or anticipated arguments by opponents, the gospel writers felt free to introduce theologically meaningful content back into their historical memory of the structure to make sure that Jesus would not be overshadowed by the figure of John, obviously an important Jewish prophet in his own right.

There was nothing inherently "dishonest" about writing this way. This is the way it was done. We do the ancient writers a disservice if we judge them by today's perspectives and standards. It is only from our present perspective that it seems somehow disingenuous. Remember, folks--this the ancient world!

[This message has been edited by aikido7 (edited May 20, 2001).]
 
Old 05-20-2001, 12:29 PM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by aikido7:
. . .The "structure" of facts such as Jesus' birth, baptism, crucifixion, death and resurrection are--in my opinion--beyond argument. It is the "content" of such facts that will always remain tantilizingly out of our grasp, lost in the passage of time and theological overlay. This is part of the "fun" of doing scholarship and theology. Or just arguing!
</font>
What do you mean beyond argument?? Do you mean there is not enough data to say one way or the other?
Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
My working assumption is that Jesus was bapized by John. The idea that John thought himself unworthy to untie Jesus' sandals says more about the importance of Jesus to the evangelists than it does about the accurate reporting of what was said between the Baptizer and Jesus. The oral memory of Jesus' first followers was that he was baptized by John. . . . Remember, folks--this the ancient world!
</font>
I would say that this is an ancient myth with no particular basis in fact. If there were any oral traditions of Jesus, it would be just as easy to insert the entire baptism scene as to embellish it with extra conversation.

Doherty's response to Nomad, several days after I first posted this, pretty much demolishes Nomad's whole argument. There is no evidence for the baptism, and it was not embarrassing to Mark, who was the source of the story. It was even less embarassing to the Ebionites.

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