Paul’s Gospels?

Daniel Unterbrink proposes a lot of unique ideas in “Judas of Nazareth” but the most compelling is that Paul inspired the Synoptics – the writing, the editing, and the whole narrative.

It is Unterbrink’s assertion that Paul lived past the persecution of Israel from 68-72 and helped to compose Mark’s gospel. His reasoning is simple: the gospel displays Pauline themes interwoven throughout the book. The same is also said of Matthew and Luke, who borrow 50%+ from Mark.

It’s a reasonable assertion since Paul’s key writings (Galatians, Romans, and the Corinthians) all pre-date the Synoptics by several years.

Unterbrink see’s Paul as introducing a Jesus messiah (Christ) that does not resemble the actual historical Jesus of Peter and James. So Paul’s ‘revealed gospel’, which differs from that of Jesus’ brother and disciples, takes on gentile qualities for the sake of a wider audience.

I agree with much of that assertion after studying the Jewishness of Jesus myself.

There is no way Jesus taught the things Paul teaches since Paul is in conflict with the early community in Acts 15 and in Galatians 2. Paul plays that original community down, even declares they are wrong, within his version of the ‘revealed gospel’ he’s received (via visions).

Much of the gentile flavour we find in the Synoptics (and John) can be clearly attributed to Paul’s message and writings – from the Lords Supper to the resurrection to inclusion of the Gentiles.

If the writing of the letters of Paul are accurately aged (60’s) then they easily pre-date the gospels (70-100+) and could have inspired their creation, thoughts, and formation of Jesus’ life and wording.

That’s not absurd thinking, that’s normal rationale of following the influence of who wrote first.

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Ethicizing the Law – Summation of the Commandments

Geza Vermes in ‘The Religion of Jesus the Jew: Chapter 2 – Jesus and the Law: The Judaism of Jesus‘ gives a great insight from R. Simlai as he breaks down the ethics of the law into one line. Here is his quote:

“613 commandments were given to Moses…David came and reduced them to 11. For it is written: A Psalm of David, O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? (1) He who walks blamelessly, (2) and does what is right, (3) and speaks truth from his heart; (4) who does not slander with his tongue, (5) and does no evil to his friend, (6) nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; (7) in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, (8) but who honors those who fear the Lord; (9) who swears to his own hurt and does not change; (10) who does not lend his money at interest, (11) and does not take bribe against the innocent. How who does these things shall never be moved (Ps. 15:1-5)

Isaiah came and reduced them to 6, for it is written: (1) He who walks righteously (2) and speaks uprightly; (3) he who despises the gain of oppressions, (4) who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, (5) who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, (6) and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil (Isa. 33:15)

Micah came and reduced them to 3, for it is written: He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but (1) to do justice, (2) and to love kindness, (3) and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Isaiah came again and reduced them to 2, for it is written: Thus says the Lord: (1) Keep justice (2) and do righteousness (Isa. 56:1).

Amos came and reduced them to 1, for it is written: For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: (1) Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)”

For starters this shows a Jewish history of summarizing the law like Jesus did when he presents the Decalogue to the rich young ruler or gives his 2 great commandments. Jesus was right in line with such a tradition that is much deeper than just Rabbi Simlai (goes back to the scriptures, then to Hillel, Philo, Josephus, etc).

What this also shows is that much of what Jesus is seen teaching in the gospels, and what the epistles also allude to, can be found in a summation like this. In fact, if you compare this list with much of what Jesus taught they are very similar in content regarding a close relationship with God. One could filter through each list and find places where Jesus taught such things.

So what does it mean?

It means when we read Jesus, we are reading someone clearly in the Judaic tradition based solely on the content of his ethics. That’s a good thing. It establishes that (a) Jesus likely was a real person and (b) that he found his integrity in the scriptures of his God (his religion). He isn’t something from nowhere, he’s part of an established line of thinking that creates words we find him teaching his students.

On a personal level, I really dig those lists.

Qumran Community and Early Christian Community

Geza Vermes does Yeoman’s work in comparing the early Christian community with that of the Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls) – in ‘Jesus and the World of Judaism: Chapter 9 – The Impact of the Scrolls on NT Study‘.

He makes 5 comparison between communities that will enlighten us to the time of the gospels/epistles:

1. Eschatological Expectation: Believed they were witnessing the final acts of the last age. One case has a teacher of righteousness and the other has the same thing by a different name – Jesus (also a teacher of righteousness).

2. Claims to be ‘true Israel’: They believed in their ‘election’ as the community of God’s chosen. Both used a system of appointing 12 leaders of the movement.

3. Attitude to the Bible: Both professed to using prophetic understanding to understand the bible more completely.

4. Significance of Jerusalem Temple: Quman saw the temple as ‘wicked’ and needed to be substituted; Christianity has prophecies of it’s destruction. The eery part is this – the Qumran community saw atonement through spiritual sacrifice, following Torah, and suffering. The same themes can be found in Christianity.

5. Organization and Customs: Both used a ‘common purse’ idea (shared funds for the community), money was seen as an evil, both had initiates en masse on Pentecost, and both had celibacy stances for leaders.

So why care about any of these similarities?

They were ‘outsider’ movements that railed against the establishment and by railing decided to form their own core group that would replace much of the established religious system. Both could not find their foothold in Israel so Qumran faded out by 70 CE and Christianity left Judaism behind (same time), likely because of the war, and became Gentile focused/centered.

It shows us that Jesus and his community (Paul and forward) did not function in a vacuum and there was a lot of precedence as to ideas being used in both movements (3 if you count the Essenes as a separate movement). This means Jesus’ message was not something new or strange, it wasn’t foreign or abstract, it was at home within Judaism of the times.

*Note: Many scholars believe the Qumran community was Essenes – however this is not fully provable. It also is theorized that people fleeing the war hid the scrolls there for ‘safe keeping’ (so maybe there was no community at all?)

Shema, Kaddish, Jesus, and a New Religion?

Jacob Neusner in ‘Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah’ in the chapter titled ‘a Judaic response to a Christians Community With God‘ mentions how Judaism follows some very central themes in it’s devotion to God.

1. Shema (Creed)

2. Scriptural Passages to Shema (texts/teaching)

2. Kaddish (Liturgical Prayer)

What’s amazing is that Jesus followed this same template in the gospels – he is found either saying exactly these things, doing these things, or has a version close to it.

1. Shema: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4) – also found in Mark 12:29; Neusner says the creed covers 3 things: (a) creation – of all (b) revelation – Torah to Israel (c) redemption – Redeemer of Israel

2. Shema Scriptural Texts: Deut 6: 5-9, Deut 11:13-21, and Num 15:37-41 – these outline:

  • Blessed be God’s Kingdom forever, Love God with all your heart/soul/might, teach your children, bind to your hands, frontlets to your eyes, and put them on your house gates
  • Follow the commandments, love God with your heart and soul, this will cause rain and abundance, do not follow other gods, this will lead to loss of the land, bind to your hands, frontlets to your eyes, and put them on your house gates
  • Fringes as reminders to keep God’s commandment

3. Kaddish: Liturgical prayer that resembles the Lord’s Prayer

These teachings are the key aspects of the liturgical portion of Torah.

Did Jesus follow these ideas? Did he teach them?

The Shema was clearly something he recited. When we get to those scriptural texts Jesus summarizes the greatest 2 commandments from those passages and even throws in Matt 5:17-18 for good measure. In fact, much of the sermon on the mount relates directly to those passages. Jesus wore fringes – Mark 6:56. Jesus taught a prayer to his disciples that took ideas from the Kaddish.

Now Neusner only relates the Jewish aspects of these liturgical ideas, Amy Jill-Levine in ‘The Misunderstood Jew‘ drives these points home (as does Geza Vermes in ‘Jesus the Jew‘).

It is clear that Jesus is Jewish and follows Judaic concepts. He follows the core components of the Jewish liturgy – can’t really be more a follower of Judaism than that.

None of this is a new religion. This can all be found in the most basic study of Judaism.

I do not believe Jesus was making a new faith system, he was different than his contemporaries the Pharisee’s, Sadducee’s, and Essenes but not so different it constituted a new faith lineage. Yet, this is what happened.

Understanding Jesus – Compare with the Ba’al Shem Tov

Geza Vermes has put Jesus into the category of Hasidism – that lineage within Judaism. Although Hasidism started in the 1700’s there are remnants of this idea in early Judaism as well (which is where these leaders draw their water from).

What is Hasidism? “The Hebrew for Hasidism, hasidut, denotes piety or saintliness, an extraordinary devotion to the spiritual aspects of Jewish life.” (Rabbi Louis Jacobs)

This piety/extraordinary/hasidic devotion included many aspects like healer, man of prayer, righteous leader/teacher for the masses, love for God and all people/classes (namely within the faith), disciples who inherit movement after the tzaddik is gone, personal relationship with God, purity in religious spirit/heart means more than knowledge, world is filled with God’s glory, asceticism, use of stories/parables, focus on joy, and in constant conflict with the more orthodox strains of the faith.

If that don’t describe Jesus I don’t know what model within Judaism does.

So who is this Ba’al Shem Tov? He is all the things mentioned above. Oddly, this character resembles the life of Jesus as well.

These are incidences from Ba’al Shem Tov’s life:

  • key teaching passed to him ‘fear no one but God
  • while young had a close relationship with God – spent time in fields praying – even had visions while in such ecstatic states (many while studying in caves) (wandering rabbi)
  • even though well studied, kept an image of simplicity
  • early life surrounded by mystery (even his birthdate is unknown)
  • developed a relationship with other hidden righteous men
  • revealed himself in his early 30’s as a healer and teacher/leader
  • Was a highly respected teacher and had insight lacking in forms of Judaism at the time
  • believed in mentorship/discipleship relationship as key
  • gained follower’s in the the tens of thousands and even more after death
  • believed in the Jewish homeland – they should be there
  • had ideas that ,after passed, he would be there with you (IE: if you sang a certain prayer)

To not see Jesus in the same light as the Hasid, someone like Ba’al Shem Tov, is to miss out who Jesus was and how he taught within the framework of Judaism. Jesus existed in a time in Judaism when the core beliefs were not set and he offered a version to Judaism, a wandering rabbi, that focused on equality and a push back to Torah/Prophets as the core to learn from (sometimes went deeper than his contemporaries). He followed the tradition of healer but also focused on a purity in faith, be like children was somewhat the core of that. He possessed great knowledge about God due to his personal relationship with Him, one he also passed onto his disciples. Jesus tried to frame the ‘here and now’ as his importance (the kingdom of God is here) and this was a set-up to the after-life (even the apocalypse themes of the times).

What Christianity is lacking is this – they have taken Jesus from his Jewish roots, supplanted him, and placed him into philosophical thoughts exterior to his faith. Jesus is no longer a teacher of Torah/Prophets – he fulfilled them (finished them – completed them – was greater than them). He becomes a blood atonement for the masses, something he never did teach. He is placed into a 3 headed God figure (Trinity) that he never once teaches about. Jesus becomes a version of Gentile imagination, placed on the Jewish stories of him, to fit a Roman world.

And that’s too bad because Christianity is missing out on a gem of a person.

Jesus & Christianity – From Faith to Fiction

Geza Vermes in ‘Jesus and the World of Judaism: Chapter 4 – Jesus and Christianity‘ does yeoman’s work to point out how Jesus was a clear adherent of the Judaism of his times. He was not a figure external to Judaism, but internal to the faith of his forefathers.

He followed Torah, in fact, taught on Torah ideals and how to delve further into them. He kept sabbath, purification rituals, and celebrated the festivals (IE: Passover). He had eschatological ideals, along the lines of the Essenes, and was a healer – like Honi from the Galilee. He followed the idea of being an ‘imitator of God‘, which had a rich history inside Judaism at the time. He was in an era when Judaism was making it’s codes for it’s faith and Jesus had his ideas which both differentiated him but also grounded him into the conversation.

It is plausible Jesus taught the idea, alive in Judaism in his era, that Israel would become a ‘light (un)to the nations‘. As David Ariel says about this idea in Reform Judaism ‘stressed that Israel was not only to be a moral exemplar but to see its reĀ­ligion as missionary, with morality as the Jewish mission‘.

Maybe Jesus saw a return to Torah, a better adherence, and building this relationship with God again (like the prophets) would lead Israel to (a) freedom and (b) influence. At this point in time Israel does not have a sovereign state and the religious fervor, apocalyptic in nature, was calling for this type of cleansing. If I am not to be believed surely 2 revolts – 68 CE and 132 CE – over this exact issue are to be considered.

Jesus fits in that mold of Judaism and he is an active participant in that faith. Did Jesus come to establish a whole new religion? This is the crux of the issue in Christianity.

Christianity has become a foreign idea to Jewish ears. Many ideas illegal to Torah have sprung up, accredited to Jesus, like blood atonement, end of the sabbath, Jesus’ equality to God, the law as a ‘curse’, and the overall usurpation/cancellation of Judaism by Christianity as God’s favored system.

Are we sure Jesus taught that? Are we sure Paul taught that even?

It is almost impossible for me to see Jesus as teaching such filth about his own beloved faith, in his Father-son ideas, and in the ideas of imitating God. No one in Judaism would make such claims against a God they proposed to love so dearly, in a religion established by God, and in the words (Torah) handed directly from God to Moses. That is ludicrous thinking.

So we must look at who wanted to usurp Judaism and take it’s integrity/place. This can only lie at the feet of Gentile writers. These writers/compilers never met Jesus nor were they taught in the ways of Torah (Judaism). They were, at best, taught Pauline ideas (who also never met Jesus), which were constructed from his Hellenistic-Jewish background and best interpretation of what he heard. What we find is we have 2nd and 3rd hand sources writing and compiling for the Christian canon.

I am claiming Gentiles complied/wrote/edited the teachings of Jesus (and Paul) so as to bend the faith in their favor. History not only bares this out but so does Christian thought (Philosophical Greek in nature – not Jewish).

2015 – Starting the Blog Again

I always loved blogging, namely on religious topics.

Lately I am reading a tonne of stuff on early Christian history and Judaism – much of how it impacted (and was ususrped) Christianity.

I think I’ll start writing blogs on the key stuff I read – from the books I am reading.

Plans are to write a book on the formation of Christianity and how it moved away from Judaism – so far that it is practically impossible to tell Judaism was where this branch broke off from.

I’ll examine that over 2015.