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Old 05-22-2001, 05:02 PM   #1
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Lightbulb Jesus Puzzle Counterscenario

On another thread, Earl Doherty recently posted a very nice summary of his position on historicity vis-a-vis the Q tradition. That exposition and a review of the related passages in his book finally crystallized for me a theory with which I have been struggling for some time. Iíd like to throw it out for discussion.

Letís assume for the moment that Paulís gospel was substantially as ED argues, i.e., transcendental and not referring to any historical human figure. Letís further assume, as ED argues, that the Q sayings tradition, especially in the early Cynic-derived layers, had no Messianic or salvational implications, and no apparent emanation from a single historical figure.

These two assumptions, though, still leave one large group of data unexplained. Particularly since ED persuasively argues (Jesus Puzzle, p.184) that the author or community traditionally identified as Mark was not working from Q, or at best had only a much smaller version. Whence, then, did he get the tradition set down in his gospel?

Consider, then, this scenario. Suppose there was a third tradition. Some sort of preacher-gadfly. Perhaps active circa 30 CE, but maybe earlier (even much earlier). Perhaps in Jerusalem but not necessarily. Perhaps he was known as Jesus or Joshua, but for purposes of discussion letís call him Felix. What Felix may have actually done and said is difficult, arguably impossible, to extract from the layers of myth later added to the story, but letís posit a hypothetical.

Taking one of the more daring elements of the Gospel story, suppose Felix actually predicted the destruction of the Temple. Mark 13; see also Matt. 24 and Luke 21. Note that there is nothing particularly divine about such a prediction. After all, the Temple had been destroyed before. Israel was at the time occupied by an even more formidable power. And there were enough signs of potential strife from which someone, anyone, could have extrapolated or anticipated disaster.

Suppose further that Felix had done a few other things to ďmake a nameĒ for himself. Perhaps he disputed with the Pharisees over legalism. Perhaps he claimed to be the son of God. (Itís happened before, and since.) Perhaps he ministered to the sick and some of them made inexplicable recoveries. (Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.) Perhaps he even upset the Sanhedrin enough to get crucified. Which, if any of these things he actually did isnít important. Just so he did enough that a small group of followers kept alive his memory and that Temple prophesy.

On these suppositions, it isnít unreasonable to suppose further that when the rebellion broke out, Felixís followers would have assumed the prophesized time had come and made for the hills (as tradition says they did). Moreover, the eventual validation of the Temple prophesy would have lent great weight to Felixís other statements, especially the one about being the Son of God and the path to salvation. This, in turn, could have led to the oral tradition usually postulated to underlie Mark, which could have been later integrated with Q by the author or community traditionally identified as Matthew, and with Paul by the author or community traditionally identified as Luke.

Now, I donít suggest this scenario can be proven. On the other hand, I have a hard time seeing how thereís enough untainted evidence to prove any hypothesis. The question is, having granted Doherty much of his thesis, what argues against the scenario? In other words, can it be excluded? And, if not, isnít it the most plausible explanation for the disparate traditions reflected in the New Testament story as it has come down to us?
Old 05-23-2001, 05:19 PM   #2
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It is an interesting scenario to think about, the idea that a tradition built up after Paul's ministry, or at least independently of it which associated a preexisting mythical story about a savior God called Jesus with a person who lived in the first century.

It reminds me a little of Koresh and others like him. In the background is a religious belief system which inspires claims that some person is in some sense an embodiment of the religion. Perhaps Mark or others which influenced him developed the idea that a person embodying the mythical Jesus actually lived and walked the Earth.

The question that has to be answered is, did Mark believe that what he was writing really happened? And where did he get his information? Was he inspired through visions and a little imagination? Did he simply collect the stories from others? Did he write the gospel as a work of fiction with the intent of teaching religious lessons?

I don't know, but it's fun to think about.

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