Posted: Jul 20, 2013 9:04 am
by neilgodfrey
spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:

So Jews did not as a whole believe in such a messiah? This belief was distinctive enough to be the mark of certain assemblies among the Jews?

Probably all Jews knew of the notion of the messiah, but it didn't impact on most of their lives. The messianism of John is quite different and staunchly anti-established religion. To be ready for the eschaton and the appearance of the messiah you had to receive baptism, a rite that had nothing to do with the temple or the synagogue.


But there is no evidence for any of this apart from Christian apologetic tradition.

It's certainly true that the evidence is only contained within christian tradition, yet it doesn't support the christian tradition.


That doesn't make sense to me. How can an integral part of a tradition not “support the tradition”? This idea that there was some sort of competition between John the Baptist and Jesus is a product of later Christianity. It was introduced by later Christianity and the apologetic purposes are transparent. It was not there in the epistles or other pre-gospel traditions (unless one accepts modern constructs of Q as historical evidence).

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:& that JB is simply a theological foil for Jesus found only in theological faith-documents. And one of those, the Gospel of John, does not even support the idea of baptism being necessary for an eschaton. Nor is this the reason for Paul's notion of baptism.

You're overworking the "apologetic" and "theological faith" rhetoric and I think not noticing the fact that John doesn't sit well in christianity. John is the one who receive the Elijah references leaving Jesus to play second fiddle as an Elisha figure. John talks about the eschaton, the end time, the need for repentence. Jesus gets to repeat this stuff, but it's John's message. That's upstaging, don't you think?


Apologetic and faith are not overworked. I simply introduced them as the simplest explanations for the JB passages in the gospels. Can you point to a single JB reference in the gospels that does not link directly to some OT passage? Without going into the details here, we can see that everything said about JB in the gospels is derived from Malachi, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, . . . It is all “midrashic” creation if you will tolerate that word. If not, I'll use another. Whatever it's called it all amounts to the same thing. The only conceivable “secular” historical reference we have to John (Josephus) situates him at a time that excludes him from any possible role in relation to Jesus.

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:I do know of literary evidence for notions of a messiah to come and especially of messiahs that had been in the history of Israel, but I don't know of any evidence that such ideas were discussed and occupied the minds of the general populace of Judea until the time of the first Jewish War.

I think that those individuals who caused people to go out into the wilderness, as mentioned in Josephus, were either messianic contenders or prophets of a coming messiah. It would be hard not to have heard the notion before the war.

As I've been noting in previous comments, this is the common assumption but lacks evidence. The details of these groups actually belie the idea: the messiah was supposedly to come as a conqueror and Christianity is said to be unique in that it accepted a non-conqueror for a messiah, yet at least one of those leaders carried no arms; bandit leaders were common enough throughout many regions of the empire, too, and with little to set them apart as necessarily "messianic" movements in Judea; and Jews were quite capable of looking for kings to rule in the Second Temple period without assigning such individuals the sort of "messianic" status we are talking about here.

According to Green, Thompson et al there is no evidence of any contemporary figure being declared a messiah until the time of Bar Kochba. Following their evidence I see merit in their argument and have yet to see it rebutted.


It's not evidence, but argument from silence. The notion of thew messiah is delineated briefly in the Psalms of Solomon and to a greater extent in the DSS. The securely dated DSS by C14 are before the turn of the era and the Psalms are the same, so there is already a literary tradition to support the notion before the reputed time of Jesus.


Now you're getting my point. We have no evidence of a popular imminent messianic expectation prior to the Jewish War(s).

The notion of the messiah is found in many Jewish texts. The question remains, though, whether these notions were part of the wider popular consciousness. We have no evidence that they were. The texts speak of a messiah at the “end of days” – suggesting a distant future time. There is no evidence that such an idea was translated into having any immediate relevance to the society of the day among the general population.


spin wrote:
Josephus has apologetic reasons not to deal with any messianism. In fact he eschews the term in all places except the TF and the reference to James. No-one but Jesus is a messiah. You can understand my straight face here. (The two passages about Jesus are the only two that mention a messiah, so you should be able to glean my lack of belief.) Josephus had reasons not to deal with this problematic notion of Judaism, since armed rebellion is entailed in the messiah's activities. His work is usually, and I think fairly, classified as an apologetic history. Besides, a dead messiah is a false messiah and Christians are not going to label anyone else a messiah. The messianic silence is not significant.


So goes the conventional wisdom. But is any of this really the final word? Josephus has apologetic reasons to eschew references to messianism, we are told, but then we are told he doesn't eschew the term for other reasons – e.g. when he talks about the brother of Jesus or whatever, or when he talks about Vespasian. This sounds like some sort of ad hoc rationalization rather than a real argument.

I can reply that there is a simpler explanation: there was no popular messianic expectation until the time Josephus says there was.

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:The expectation of such an imminent figure is not testified until the time of the first Jewish War. It is only after 70 that we have our first Christian literature speaking of such figures and using them as foils against their Messiah.

Who was around to leave a body of literature that would call anyone else a messiah? The silence is insignificant.

Messianism, if embodied, implied rebellion against the Roman overlordship. It meant removal of foreign power from the land of the Jews. Advocating messianism was sedition.


It was not sedition to scorn those who pretended to be messiahs and accuse them of lying and thereby being responsible for the downfall of Jerusalem. Josephus could not scorn anti-establishment rebels enough. Adding the fact that they were deluded messianists would not have hurt his propaganda interests in any way. Why, even the scholarly establishment can quite accept Josephus telling the Romans that some Jews thought Jesus was the messiah.

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:
spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:(John the Baptist as a foreteller of a Messiah can be explained as a literary patch-work creation of miscellaneous OT passages, just the way Psalm 22 etc were worked to create a dramatic declaration on the cross. Josephus who appears to have less of a theological agenda for his account of John the Baptist places him after Christ and associates no messianist view to him.)

He might be able to be explained that way, but christianity certainly had to accept his existence. It certainly had to accept baptism as well, though baptism has nothing to do with christian salvation. Given that John's beliefs were imminently apocalyptic, christianity's acceptance of him required a lot of dancing. Christianity provides a testimony for John when taken with Josephus gives him a historical foundation. The foretelling of the messiah as part of his non-christian eschatological message is reasonable, though perhaps not comfortable for Josephus to tell the Romans. The gospels inadvertently tell us interesting things about John and his followers. Why did John's followers fast when those of Jesus didn't need to? Why did he have to send to find out if Jesus was the messiah? Don't these show some of the contention between the two sets of belief? Followers of John's religion didn't know that Jesus was the messiah. This makes one think of the Apollos story in Acts 18:24ff. Apollos, the Johannine believer, had to be taken aside and told about Jesus, presumably of his coming and more specific teachings.

He certainly can be explained that way in the Gospels, and I would argue that that is the simplest explanation for his appearance and function there.

Christianity did not "have to" accept JB until he appeared in the Gospel of Mark. It was his function there that led to the questions surrounding him and Jesus, and all the so-called "embarrassed" responses in later gospels.

You still really haven't said what benefit including John would have been. The best you've mentioned is something about him being a foil, which seems to have entailed saddling christianity with baptism.


Well a literary foil suggests a benefit. We have the typical literary prophetic announcement of a great figure to come, the representative of the Old against the New. This is another topic entirely. I have posted about it often enough on Vridar. It deserves another series of posts here.

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:Paul did not know of him; nor any of the other letter-writers; nor did the Marcionites; nor those attached to the Gospel of Thomas. (The latter appear to have given special place to James, but there is no JB.) JB only makes his mark in later developments for some reason. The Acts story has many grounds for being argued to have been a mid/latter second century product.

I gave the Acts reference purely for the fact that the baptist religion is shown to have survived and was proselytizing, showing that it was a separate existence from christianity. The later it is, the more significant that separation is.

That various writers didn't know him, especially someone at the beginning (Paul), suggests that the evolving tradition hadn't as yet dragged John in.


All the Acts reference does is tell us what the author of Acts wanted to convey to his audience. Now what is the best explanation for that? That is another question entirely. (We can't just blithely assume historicity. We need first to address the nature and context of the literature we are dealing with.)

And if Paul writing twenty plus years after Jesus had no need to address the JB question – when and why does this JB become someone that Christianity “can't ignore”?

spin wrote:
neilgodfrey wrote:But come back to the phrase behind "in Christ" itself. I doubt that this is the most natural way to refer to "assemblies" who were "believers in a messiah".

Firstly, most of the literati among the Jews would have known that the writings spoke of such a figure; how much of these ideas were in the awareness of the broader population is simply unknown until the time of the Jewish War/s.

Secondly, "in Christ" sounds more like something out of Stoicism -- living "in Reason/Logos", for example. Was there ever a Maccabean who could have been said to have been "in Christ"? It does not sound quite right as a reference to those who supposedly believe an idea that every Jew was supposed to have believed in anyway (as the conventional wisdom asks us to accept).

I don't think one can make these sorts of calls without having a close familiarity with the language and cultures. The Greek seems pretty straightforward to me, but what it seems to me would probably not be of any significance because I lack that close familiarity.


I am open to reading the scholarly arguments. I have read several that DO address this “in Christ” phrase (Novenson, Engberg-Pedersen) and it is of their arguments that I am thinking here.

If anyone with the skills has argued a case that “in Christ” can refer to any believer in a messiah, per se, then I will love to read it. Till then I have no alternative but to go along with the arguments of those who do have the specialist skills – such as the likes of the two scholars I mentioned.

“In Christ” does not speak of a believer in a Messiah, per se. Bar-Kochba supporters were never described as being “in Christ”, I am sure.