Doherty's Evolution Of Jesus:
(7) Cosmic Christ: Jewish, not Gnostic
Doherty complies the different understandings of the early church in its attempts to come to terms with what the events of Jesus life and death meant, and plugs into them Gnostic interpretations and uses the fact of theology itself to imply that the church didn't have the story of the cross and the tomb when it began.
Between these two poles lie other incongruent conceptions. In the earliest layer of the Gospel of John, Jesus is the mythical Descending-Ascending Redeemer from heaven who saves by being God's Revealer; later he is equated with the Greek Logos. Jesus is the heavenly High Priest of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the non-suffering intermediary servant of the Didache, the mystical Wisdom-Messiah of the Odes of Solomon. Paul hints at divergent groups in places like Corinth who "preach another Jesus." In the diverse strands of Gnosticism Jesus (or Christ) is a mythical part of the heavenly pleroma of Godhead, sometimes a revealer akin to John's, sometimes surfacing under other names like Derdekeas or the Third Illuminator. (The
Gnostic Jesus eventually interacted with more orthodox ideas and absorbed the new historical figure into itself.) But all this out of a crucified criminal? Out of any human man?
As we have already seen, the use of Logos is not an just an imported
Greek concept, it also functions as a loan word to express a Hebrew concept. it does not link Jesus to Gnostics or mystery cults or to Philo, it links him solidly to Jewish understanding of who the Messiah was in second temple
Judaism. The church's understanding of Jesus did grow overtime, it is still growing. That in no way means that Jesus didn't live on earth or that the story of Jesus is fiction invented because the group had a lack luster history. People understand ideas about God in different ways, it only makes sense that the church would have a plethora of understandings about Jesus, some of these were perversions of the truth, some are harmonious with each other. Jesus can be logos and high priest at the same time. Some are derived from the canonical Gospels. The high priest of Hebrews is not a contradiction to the logos of
John. The basis for all of these views, Christ, redeemer, high priest, were all present at Qumran and all part of the understanding that developed in heterodox Judaism of their messianic expectations. All of these concepts, in some basic form would have been in place and implied in any association with Messiah. These concepts were already set up and waiting for a candidate when Jesus came along to be baptized by John. They did not need to come from the Gnostics or the Greeks, they were very Jewish.
Florentino Garcia Martinez is professor at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, where he heads the Qumran Institute. This chapter is reprinted from The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Julio Trebolle Barrera (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995).
"In spite of that, the general lines of the text are clear enough to assure us that in Qumran interpretation, Jacob's blessing of Judah was seen as a promise of the restoration of the
Davidic monarchy and of the perpetuity of his royal office. And since the future representative of the dynasty is identified not only as the shoot of David, but also explicitly as the "true anointed," there remains no doubt about the "messianic" tone of the text. Unfortunately, the details which the text provides about this "Messiah" are not many."
"... However, a recently published text enables us to glimpse an independent development of the hope in the coming of the "priestly Messiah" as an agent of salvation at the end of times."
"It is an Aramaic text, one of the copies of the Testament of Levi, recently published by E. Puech,32 which contains interesting parallels to chapter 19 of the Greek Testament of Levi included in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs. From what can be deduced from the remains preserved, the protagonist of the work (probably the patriarch Levi, although it cannot be completely excluded that it is Jacob speaking to Levi) speaks to his descendants in a series of exhortations. He also relates to them some of the visions which have been revealed to him. In one of them, he tells them of the coming of a mysterious person. Although the text is hopelessly fragmentary it is of special interest since it seems to evoke the figure of a "priestly Messiah." This "Messiah" is described with the features of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, as J. Starcky indicated in his first description of the manuscript.33 The two longest and most important fragments of this new text can be translated as follows:
2.1 4Q541 frag. 9 col. I
1 [. . .] the sons of the generation [. . .] 2 [. . .] his wisdom. And he will atone for all the children of his generation, and he will be sent to all the children of 3 his people. His word is like the word of the heavens, and his teaching, according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine 4 and his fire will burn in all the ends of the earth; above the darkness his sun will shine. Then, darkness will vanish 5 from the earth, and gloom from the globe. They will utter many words against him, and an abundance of 6 lies; they will fabricate fables against him, and utter every kind of disparagement against him. His generation will change the evil, 7 and [. . .] established in deceit and in violence. The people will go astray in his days and they will be bewildered (DSST, 270).
.... The priestly character of this figure is indicated expressly by his atoning character: "And he will atone for all the children of his generation...."
The agreement of the person thus described with the "Messiah-priest" described in chapter 18 of the Greek Testament of Levi is surprising.34 At least it shows us that the presence of this priestly figure in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs should not simply be ascribed to interpolations or Christian influence. Rather, it is a development which exists already within Judaism. This text also shows us that the portrayal of this "Messiah-priest" with the features of the "Suffering Servant" of Deutero-Isaiah is not an innovation of purely Christian origin either, but the result of previous developments. Our text stresses that although he would be sent "to all the sons of his people," the opposition to this figure, "light of the nations" (Isaiah 42:6) would be great: "They will utter many words against him, and an abundance of lies; they will fabricate fables against him, and utter every kind of disparagement against him" (compare Isaiah 50:6&endash;8; 53:2&endash;10). What is more, according to the editor, it cannot be excluded that the Aramaic text even contained the idea of the violent death of this "Messiah-priest." In other words, this opposition would reach its ultimate outcome as in Isaiah 53. His argument comes from the other fairly extensive fragment of the work, in which possible allusions to a violent death by crucifixion are found. However, to me this interpretation seems problematic. The fragment in question can be translated as follows:
2.2 4Q541 frag. 24 col. II
2 Do not mourn for him [. . .] and do not [. . .] 3 And God will notice the failings [. . .] the uncovered failings [. . .] 4 Examine, ask and know what the dove has asked; do not punish one weakened because of exhaustion and from being uncertain
a [ll . . .] 5 do not bring the nail near him. And you will establish for your father a name of joy, and for your brothers you will make a tested foundation rise. 6 You will see it and rejoice in eternal light. And you will not be of the enemy. Blank 7 Blank (DSST, 270).
... Whatever might be the possible allusion to the death of the expected "Messiah-priest," the identification of this figure with the "Servant" of Isaiah seems confirmed by the parallels indicated in fragment 9. In any case, the idea that the eventual death of the "Messiah-priest" could have an atoning role, as Christian tradition attributes to the death of the "Servant," is excluded from our text since the atonement he achieves (frag. 9 II 2) remains in the perspective of the cult.
As far as I know, this is the only text which in the preserved sections deals with the priestly "Messiah" alone. However, many other texts refer to this figure when speaking of a two-fold messianism. This is the two-headed messianism in which we are presented with the "Davidic or royal Messiah" and the "levitical or priestly Messiah" together. They are called the "Messiahs of Israel and of Aaron" respectively."
Martinez urges scholarly caution as the scrolls are very fragmentary, there is no
guarantee they do not contain references to other Messianic figures as well, and the notion of a
crucifixion for the priestly Messiah is doubtful for several reasons, pertaining to the nature of the text--but his overall opinion seems to be that the concept of a Priestly Messiah on the order of the suffering servant is vindicated
Qumran text, 4Q521
Hebrew Scholars Michael Wise and James Tabor wrote an article that appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review (Nov./Dec. 1992) analyzing 4Q521:
"Our Qumran text, 4Q521, is, astonishingly, quite close to this Christian concept of the Messiah. Our text speaks not only of a single Messianic
figure, but it also describes him in extremely exalted terms, quite like the Christian view of Jesus as a cosmic agent. That there was, in fact, an expectation of a single Messianic figure at Qumran is really not so surprising. A reexamination of the Qumran literature on this subject leads one to question the two Messiah theory. As a matter of fact, only once in any Dead Sea Scroll text is the idea of two Messiahs stated unambiguously.
"There is no doubt that the Qumran community had faith in the ultimate victory of such a Messiah over all evil. However, a closer reading of these texts reveals an additional theme, equally dominant-that of an initial, though temporary, triumph of wicked over righteousness. That is, there was the belief among the Qumran community that the Messiah would suffer initial defeat, but that he would ultimately triumph in the end of days."
Doherty is magnifying obscurities and making more than he should out of matters best left to experts. He commits murder to the text by trying to pretend that the high Priest of Hebrews is not a flesh and blood character or that this in any way means Jesus didn't have a flesh and blood life on earth when the text says explicitly he did. Here he is trying to load his pagan connections into the base of all abstract reasoning about the nature of Christ in connection to Jesus. It is true that early Christianity was diverse, and that proto Gnostic sects were forming as early as the 50's, which addresses
are Corinth. None of that proves in the least that Jesus didn't exist in history or that the original Christian position did not embrace the cross, the tomb, and
soterological effects of both. Odes of Solomon Doherty cannot prove are about Jesus anyway. So what if there were erroneous ideas forming? He tries to sum up his position:
A more sensible solution would be that all these expressions of the idea of "Jesus" and "Christ" were separate distillations out of the concepts that were flowing in the religious currents of the day (as outlined in Part Two). Scholars now admit that "the beginnings of Christianity were exceptionally diverse, varied dramatically from region to region, and were dominated by individuals and groups whose practice and theology would be denounced as 'heretical'. " (Ron Cameron summarizing Walter Bauer, The Future of Early Christianity, p.381.) It is no longer possible to maintain that such diversity—so much of it uncoordinated and competitive—exploded overnight out of one humble Jewish preacher and a single missionary movement.
beginnings were diverse alright, that in no way means that there wasn't a Jesus. Doherty's solution is absurd and requires reversing both history and mythology. It makes more sense to understand the developmental history of Christ as the development of the churches understanding and it's story telling ability rather than to see Jesus as a fictional character. The church struggled with the meaning of the events in Jesus' life, his death, his resurrection. It struggled with questions of group identity, and it struggled to find a form in which to reflect Jesus' teachings and his story. None of this in any way implies that the story wasn't based upon real events that center on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Promised Messiah. Doherty is basically ignorant of the second temple Judaism and messianic expectations. He doesn't seem to understand that "Christ" was the Greek term the Jews used to say "Messiah" not a connection to pagan wisdom traditions.
At the center of this controversy is the question about the nature of the early tradition. I have
shown the following points which I think demonstrate the futile nature of Doherty's fantasies.
(1) The Gospels are said to have been so unauthoritative that they were not quoted until way after the Apostolic fathers. Answer: Just not true, I demonstrate hundreds of quotations from
Ignatius, 1 Clement, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Paul.
(2) Paul is said to not quote the Gospels or mention the cross or the tomb
Answer: Just not true; my chart shows that he quotes them many times. Helmutt Koester theorizes that Paul had a saying source, perhaps even Q itself.
(3) three major sources are said to prove an ancient tradition lacking the cross and the tomb; Q, GThom, and E 2.
Answer: Q must lack these elements as part of the definition of itself. Q is the material not shared by all three synoptics and these elements are in all four gospels. Moreover, I show the PMR includes these elements and pushes them back to AD 50, which is just as old as the three non canonical sources mentioned. Thomas is not a single unified source but three different source in Greek and one in Coptic all heavily redacted. There are indications of violence to Jesus in E 2 indicating that perhaps the cross and the tomb were purged from the sources by Gnostic groups.
(4) The development of Q is said to have demonstrated the need to reinvent the history of the group and this is marked by the third state of Q development.
Answer: No real basis in history is shown for such a group. Koester warns of drawing such a conclusion about Galilean
Hellenists. The whole point of putting it in Galilee would be just so that would tally with Jesus supposed historical origins. The leadership crisis of the group is as fictional as the group itself. The Q source could easily have been a systemic collection of Jesus ethical teachings, perhaps one that was started before he even died. The narrative action was told in oral tradition and the ethical teachings passed on by remembering his sayings; a historical Jesus would also be a member of a group (presumably John's) or at least "around" the group. John's death would certainly
precipitate a leadership crisis it would only be natural to turn to Jesus as the new leader. Of course they would see Jesus as greater because even John said he was greater.
Doherty doesn't seem to understand the nature of theology. He's rife with misconceptions about Christianity that involve understanding the most extreme forms of inerrancy and
obscurantism as Orthodoxy. The fact is the early church had the elements of the Jesus story as we know them. They did not know that all that they implies. The Church had to come to terms with the theological significance of the events, and it had to learn how to communicate that in written form and all of this took time. IT is this process of understanding that Doherty
tries to pawn off as fictional development, or as invention of the story over time. He cannot square this
thesis with either the facts or the authorities he quotes for support.