Monday, June 11, 2012

Which Came First?: HJA (23)

Thanks, Vinny. Agreed that there are special problems for the historian with Jesus of Nazareth -- and that's why Historical Jesus study is a kind of industry all its own.

But the issue about "supernatural events that occurred after [he] died" begs the question. After all, what was it about his life and people's interactions with him / memories of him / traditions told etc. that gave birth to those beliefs about his post-mortem life?
Dr. Mark Goodacre.

Dr. Mark Goodacre of Duke University doesn't blog about mythicism all that often, but I always appreciate it when he does.  Dr. Goodacre is one of the leading challengers of the Q hypothesis, which posits that material common to the gospels of Luke and Matthew but not Mark came from another written source called Q.  Although Goodacre doesn't buy the mythicist argument, as one who challenges commonly held assumptions among his colleagues, he seems to appreciate the challenges they raise.

I particularly appreciated the way in which he phrased his question because I think that it really highlights the issue of Paul's silence about the historical Jesus.  Indeed, Dr. Goodacre's question begs the question that most puzzles me:  Was it something about people's interactions, memories, and traditions concerning a flesh and blood person that gave birth to the belief that he had become a heavenly being after his death?  Or was it the other way around?  Was it the encounters that people believed they had with the heavenly being that gave birth to the belief in the earthly man and the creation of stories about him?

When I look at our earliest source, I don't see much to indicate that Paul's understanding of Jesus was in any way the product of interactions, memories or traditions associated with an earthly person.  The only sources that Paul cites for his understanding of Jesus are revelation and scripture.  The only interactions Paul describes are the appearances of the risen Christ.  There are indications that Paul thinks that the risen Christ had once been an earthly person, but nothing to indicate that such a person was the source for anything Paul thought.  Paul never interacted with the earthly Jesus and he never indicates that anyone else did either.

Had it been interactions, memories or traditions concerning the life of an earthly person that gave birth to a belief in the postmortem activities of the supernatural being, I think that we would see some indication of that in the early epistles.  Even if Paul didn't know the earthly Jesus personally, sharing the deeds and teachings of such an extraordinary individual would have been a vital part of the life of early Christian communities, but there is nothing (as far as I can see) in our earliest sources to indicate that it was.

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