A Non-HJ Interpretation of Paul's Letters

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A Non-HJ Interpretation of Paul's Letters

Post by Peter Kirby » Tue Apr 07, 2015 3:51 pm

Split from the Vinny blog thread:

http://www.earlywritings.com/forum/view ... f=3&t=1440

NAS Romans 10:6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down), (Rom 10:6 NAS)
NAS Romans 10:7 or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." (Rom 10:7 NAS)

NAS 1 Corinthians 15:47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. (1Co 15:47 NAS)

Ephesians 1:20 which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, (Eph 1:20 ASV)

NAS Ephesians 4:8 Therefore it says, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men." (Eph 4:8 NAS)
NAS Ephesians 4:9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? (Eph 4:9 NAS)
NAS Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) (Eph 4:10 NAS)

NAS Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; (Phi 3:20 NAS)

NAS Colossians 1:15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. (Col 1:15 NAS)
NAS Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him. (Col 1:16 NAS)

NAS 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.

NAS 1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

NAS 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, (2Th 1:7 NAS)

Now, if there were actually more than 10 Pauline scholars in the world who were trying to get at the meaning of the text, without lots of presuppositions, we'd start to see questions asked like:

(1) Where is Jesus from?

ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ (1Co 15:47 BGT) or πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως (Col 1:15 BGT)
'the second man is from heaven' or 'the firstborn of all creation'

(2) So, where exactly did this Jesus descend, when he did so in order to die and get raised up from the dead? Where'd he ascend from?

τὴν ἄβυσσον (Rom 10:7 BGT) or τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς (Eph 4:9 BGT)
'the abyss' or 'the lower parts of the earth'

(3) And would you say that he's coming back to earth again, eschatologically speaking?

NAS Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; (Phi 3:20 NAS)
NAS 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.
NAS 1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
NAS 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, (2Th 1:7 NAS)
NAS 1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. (1Th 5:2 NAS)

(4) Interesting, Paul, interesting. Let's just take that as a no for now. Okay, what kind of man is this Jesus?

NAS Romans 8:3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God (did): sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and (as an offering) for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (Rom 8:3 NAS)

(4-b) Wait, that doesn't seem right ... I'm sorry, what was that?

NAS Philippians 2:7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:7 NAS)

(5) Okay, well, if you insist. I'll take your word for it then. But why would he have to be found in appearance as a man, in the likeness of flesh?

NAS 1 Corinthians 2:7 but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; (1Co 2:7 NAS)
NAS 1 Corinthians 2:8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; (1Co 2:8 NAS)

(5-b) What'you talkin' 'bout, Paulus?

NAS Colossians 2:13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (Col 2:13 NAS)
NAS Colossians 2:14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col 2:14 NAS)
NAS Colossians 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers (τὰς ἀρχὰς) and authorities (τὰς ἐξουσίας), He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Col 2:15 NAS)

(5-c) Disarmed the rulers and the authorities? Are you high or something? How can that possibly happen?

NAS Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree "--

(5-d) Say that again?

NAS Ephesians 2:14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, (Eph 2:14 NAS)
NAS Ephesians 2:16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph 2:16 NAS)

(6) Clear as mud, boss. But let's try a new angle: what kind of ἀρχόντων could be fooled into killing a man appearing to be a man? Be disarmed?

NAS Ephesians 2:2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince (ἄρχοντα) of the power (ἐξουσίας) of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. (Eph 2:2 NAS)

(7) Okay that makes a little more sense. After all you already told us where he descended for his resurrectional activity, and it was 'the abyss', i.e., 'the lower parts of the earth'. So some spirit dudes are there, and they thought he was just some man, not the Lord of glory. Somehow them killing him fulfilled some divine purpose, abolishing the curse of the law's covenant, when the rulers were tricked. Cool, cool. I guess you could say he paid the blood price. But if he was incognito when he died, how'd he get the name Jesus?

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord, to the glory of God the father. (Phil 2:8-11)

(8) Alrighty then. But just one more thing... don't you seem to contradict yourself on a lot of this elsewhere??

We ask you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us. (2 Thess 2:1-2)

There you have it, folks. You heard it here first. This is reporter Peter Kirby live with the letters of Paul, signing off.
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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Peter Kirby » Wed Apr 08, 2015 7:47 pm

I wasn't really completely clear. My point was that it is a historicist interpretation that is lurking behind the summary of Paul that he was a man who died and rose to heaven. My question was not christological locomotion in the heavenly spheres so much as that this capsule summary did not pay close attention to the exact wording of Paul, none of which suggest a heavenly ascension from the surface of the earth like we see in the gospels.
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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Peter Kirby » Thu Apr 09, 2015 10:16 am

We actually do have a reference that places Christ in a historical setting in the letters of Paul.

We know Christ was on earth for a while (for Paul) because Christ was the food for the people of Moses in the desert, the "rock" that gave them drink.

1 Corinthians 10
10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

So it's true that Christ was on earth for Paul, in 1 Cor 10, in the time of Moses.

Unfortunately we do not get any historical references from Paul for when and where on earth Christ was staked, if it even were on earth.

What he does tell us is that Christ was raised up from the abyss or under the earth. That's it. That's the *only* 'geographical' reference we get.

There is no problem with Christ being buried under the earth, in the abyss. In fact this is implied because this is where his body is raised up from death.

Of course, Joseph of Arimathea or any other human being didn't have the ability to get him down there, so that sort of counts against the idea that humans killed him. So do all the references amassed in my previous post.

Now, naturally, it is a little premature to say that Christ had died in the abyss. For example, Christ could have been slain in a cave somewhere (if he was on earth) or maybe on a nice little plain or a hill. It's quite hard to say, because spirits could visit the surface of the earth to stake Christ there. Or perhaps slain in the lower heavens and brought down to the abyss by the demons. Again, hard to say exactly where, because Paul does not. Surely it was understood by the audience, but it is very hard to say what was understood from our vantage point.
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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by andrewcriddle » Thu Apr 09, 2015 12:39 pm

Peter Kirby wrote:I wasn't really completely clear. My point was that it is a historicist interpretation that is lurking behind the summary of Paul that he was a man who died and rose to heaven. My question was not christological locomotion in the heavenly spheres so much as that this capsule summary did not pay close attention to the exact wording of Paul, none of which suggest a heavenly ascension from the surface of the earth like we see in the gospels.
Is it methodologically legitimate to ignore the Gospels as evidence for what Paul meant ?

Assuming that the Gospels come from the same broad movement as Paul and are written less than fifty years after Paul, then prima-facie they are likely to help understand Paul's thought world.

One could argue that Plutarch for example is a better guide to Paul's world than are the Gospels but then we get into arguments about the correct understanding of say Isis and Osiris and whether, properly interpreted, it supports mythicism.

It is maybe not surprising that when Paul is read in total isolation his meaning becomes ambiguous.

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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Apr 09, 2015 1:02 pm

andrewcriddle wrote: Assuming that the Gospels come from the same broad movement as Paul and are written less than fifty years after Paul, then prima-facie they are likely to help understand Paul's thought world.
or the Pauline documents and the Gospels existed separately for a period of time before being brought together.

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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Ulan » Thu Apr 09, 2015 1:19 pm

Peter Kirby wrote:We actually do have a reference that places Christ in a historical setting in the letters of Paul.

We know Christ was on earth for a while (for Paul) because Christ was the food for the people of Moses in the desert, the "rock" that gave them drink.

1 Corinthians 10
10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

So it's true that Christ was on earth for Paul, in 1 Cor 10, in the time of Moses.
Do you have any recommendation where to read something about this? Baptized into Moses? What is the "standard" interpretation here?

"9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents."

It's so easy to read past these hints. I know it's one of those connections Stephan is talking about all the time.

Edit: Sometimes, I'm a bit dense. So Paul's "last supper" was nothing but the original Passover meal, what he calls the spiritual food and drink under Moses.
Last edited by Ulan on Thu Apr 09, 2015 2:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Peter Kirby » Thu Apr 09, 2015 2:28 pm

andrewcriddle wrote:
Peter Kirby wrote:I wasn't really completely clear. My point was that it is a historicist interpretation that is lurking behind the summary of Paul that he was a man who died and rose to heaven. My question was not christological locomotion in the heavenly spheres so much as that this capsule summary did not pay close attention to the exact wording of Paul, none of which suggest a heavenly ascension from the surface of the earth like we see in the gospels.
Is it methodologically legitimate to ignore the Gospels as evidence for what Paul meant ?

Assuming that the Gospels come from the same broad movement as Paul and are written less than fifty years after Paul, then prima-facie they are likely to help understand Paul's thought world.

One could argue that Plutarch for example is a better guide to Paul's world than are the Gospels but then we get into arguments about the correct understanding of say Isis and Osiris and whether, properly interpreted, it supports mythicism.

It is maybe not surprising that when Paul is read in total isolation his meaning becomes ambiguous.

Andrew Criddle
This is an excellent point, and one that I do appreciate.

It is also why I believe it is invalid to argue solely from the specter of doubt. The specter of doubt should not keep us up at night.

On the other hand, we have plenty of evidence that the broad movement was very broad. It may even be incorrect to call it one movement, as we seem to have at least two broad groups (certainly in existence in the second century, anyway), neither of which acknowledge the authority of the other. Those groups were those who called themselves the "catholic" church and those who considered themselves initiates into "gnosis." Now this is more of an inside-outside distinction, spoken from the perspective of the catholics, because there were multiple very distinct schools within the "gnosis," such as Valentinianism and Marcionism and what scholars call Sethian Gnosticism. We don't have any theological tracts from the Marcionites, for example, but you do have to wonder whether they might have performed the same kind of positioning as the catholics, and placed everyone else outside of the one true church, including those so-called catholics. It's more than a suspicion, really; the catholics had no way to enforce their view as the one true view, other than by rhetoric, until around AD 325.

What is interesting about the development of the "catholic" tradition is that the earliest champions of it, with what little that survives, frequently do not reckon Paul at all really, certainly not as a very important source of theological truth (even the notable exceptions, 1 Clement [if 'catholic'] and Ignatius, don't treat Paul as all that amazing, textually--really just someone like them, only earlier and on some kind of level with Peter, who also happened to write letters). What they do reckon as important are the words of the lord Jesus. Papias devotes his entire five books to it (and related anecdotes), although they are mostly lost. Justin refers only to the memoirs, not to Paul. It is not until 2 Peter (which could possibly be even later than Irenaeus, or just roughly contemporary--there is nothing to set the date exactly and no citation even by Irenaeus) and Irenaeus that we find someone in the 'catholic' tradition vigorously defending and expounding points from Paul. There is frequently the impression that Paul is a little dangerous and has been accepted somewhat reluctantly into the catholic tradition, as famously captured by Tertullian's expression "the apostle of the heretics."

We didn't have very extensive direct evidence for the "gnostic" viewpoints until the publication of the Nag Hammadi Library. One thing abundantly clear is that they were indeed different from the catholics and just as diverse as the catholics claimed that they were, if not more. Now, people don't like to use these texts as much as they perhaps should, in the reconstruction of Christian origins. There is definitely a tendency to try to make them late, then to deny that their points of view could have been early, and then to dismiss them as a branching off from the catholic tradition that cannot really provide much evidence for the origins of Christianity. But a very broad-scoped picture of things, in just a few words, can be said to raise questions about that. They had a commentary on the Gospel of John with Heracleon in the early second century; Origen did his a century later, refuting some of his points. Marcion published Paul as holy writ in the early second century; the catholic use of Paul as holy writ dates later, with the first known writer to get into it heavily being Irenaeus. An interesting point of view, slightly before Irenaeus, is that of the intellectual Celsus who became interested in Christianity philosophically and wanted to refute it. Notably he makes no distinction and treats as "Christian" the viewpoints of the gnostics, as quoted by Origen.

There definitely seem to be systems of thought in the Nag Hammadi texts in which a Galilean Jewish peasant takes no role at all. Not that it is laboriously or particularly denied, but that it just takes no role at all. There are also of course those in which such a person does, although even then they seem to have put a lot more emphasis on "resurrection appearance" narratives and discourses, the very kind that we might suppose were possible even without a HJ and which might (possibly!) have been the origin of the genre of writing narratives about Jesus. Should we assume that all of them had a Galilean Jewish peasant in mind whenever mentioning the words "Christ," "Lord," "Savior," "Word," "Jesus," "Excellent," and other terms? Critical scholars of gnosticism generally do not (with the exceptions of "Jesus" and "Christ," which may itself be a methodological error). There is a vibrant discussion in the literature about the origins of Gnosticism, and one of the terms of dispute is whether it has any "pre-Christian" element. What is pre-Christian Gnosticism? Reading the literature, you can generally infer that they mean something very like what the "Mythicists" talk about, people who believe in some kind of secondary power in heaven but not Jesus of Nazareth.

And of course nobody denies that we have texts such as the Wisdom of Solomon and Philo of Alexandria, which are pre-Christian and have exactly that in places. If we wonder about the methodological uncertainty behind excluding the Gospels from the interpretation of Paul, how much more should we wonder about the methodological uncertainty of excluding the "pre-Christian" texts that talk about some kind of secondary power in heaven?

As a matter of fact, how do we prove that Paul is a "Christian"? He does not use the word. Scholars of the "gnostic" tradition have defined as pre-Christian roughly speaking anything that does not reckon a Jesus of Nazareth in their system. If we used the same nomenclature of Paul, the question becomes whether Paul was a pre-Christian author who had some ideas that fed into the birth of Christianity proper, with its Gospel Jesus. Whether Paul was not really so different from Philo of Alexandria, his contemporary, in that he was a Hellenistic Jew who was creatively reinterpreting and syncretizing the traditions of his faith.

The difference being, of course, that Christianity would claim that Paul knew the men who knew Jesus of Nazareth, and that Marcion elevated his writings into scripture and the catholic tradition followed suit... while they would just copy Philo of Alexandria in admiration.

In short, chronology does tend to be rather important, even if it isn't as simple as blithely and ridiculously assuming that everything popped into existence the moment we can find it in a text. We also lack a lot of evidence for the earliest known interpreters of Paul (ie, gnostics), but we do know that there was a large swath of Christianity that took a radically different direction than the primarily-Gospel-oriented catholic tradition. Between this, and the intense debate over in what sense Jesus was a "man" who had a "body" and "flesh" (Catholic VS Marcion VS Valentinus), I'd say we'd have to take all of these questions very seriously and indeed consider whether the earlier beliefs were different.

Finally, I am now persuaded that Doherty is largely likely to be wrong about Middle-Platonist-Paul ... or at least I don't regard it as the most interesting idea ... and I am much more inclined to view that Valentinus (a spiritual body inhabiting a physical body) or Marcion (a spiritual body descended from heaven) had the nature of the flesh of Jesus correct as an interpretation of Paul (a spiritual body). What I wonder about is whether Valentinus and Marcion were themselves reading Paul with Gospel-tinted glasses, just as we do today, although with enough critical exegetical insight to see the nature of the body in Paul correctly. The only difference between these two second century guys' view of Paul and my view of Paul is that I am not so sure that all the stories about hob-nobbing with disciples on earth were known to Paul. If there are no such stories in view for Paul, then why not wonder where Paul's Jesus died and where Paul's Jesus was resurrected? And why not take the indications in Paul as having been killed by spirit beings and resurrected from 'the abyss'/'the lower parts of the earth' as being important? And since that tends to contradict the Gospel-influenced view, is it not methodologically suspect to take anything from the Gospels as granted here? If the two are in tension, which would be the more likely secondary layer? (And why are the same scholars who are ready to stratify a hypothetical source, Q, often so bedazzled and befuddled by the suggestion of any "stratification" of Paul?)

The question is vastly complicated because there have been several textual corruptions in the text of Paul. As I have started to write on my blog, however, a detailed study of the textual corruptions of Paul may in fact be one of the better arguments for seeing no-HJ in Paul, rather than an argument for seeing one. After all, we should be surprised that so many passages with _objective indicators of absence_ (Marcion's text of Paul) also happen to be the same passages tabulated as supposed proofs of the HJ view of Paul's Jesus. I've calculated by some napkin math that roughly 90% of the passages that Bernard Muller, for example, likes to catalog for his proof of an HJ view in Paul, were among the passages absent in Marcion's text of Paul. I intend to write more on this, and it is what chiefly distinguishes me from some of the more apologetical (ie seeking to provide a defense that will likely be accepted by the ones targeted for reading it) investigators of the non historicity of Jesus (who seem to prefer any consensus position as long as they think that they can bring it into their views), in that I know that a lot of people don't like to claim any interpolations, let alone many, but I am not afraid to make the suggestion, based on the evidence and indications that are available to us today. I don't feel obliged to do backflips over the "sperm of David," for example, when that sperm was injected there by a second century interpolator, who may indeed have believed in the virginity of Mary ("the descendant of David according to the flesh," the same phrase frequently employed in discussions regarding the virginity of the mother of Jesus in later Christian writers). One of the criteria that is useful here, besides manuscript evidence and indicia interna and the text of Marcion's Paul, is the criterion of the development at the time of the Gospel of Mark. Some of these interpolations "leapfrog" over the beliefs present in the Gospel of Mark (where Jesus is *not descended from David*, and he is *not* in gJohn and *not* in Epistle of Barnabas). Scholars puzzle over these "leapfrogs" briefly but then brush them off due to their unfailing belief in the received text.
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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Peter Kirby » Thu Apr 09, 2015 2:31 pm

Ulan wrote:
Peter Kirby wrote:We actually do have a reference that places Christ in a historical setting in the letters of Paul.

We know Christ was on earth for a while (for Paul) because Christ was the food for the people of Moses in the desert, the "rock" that gave them drink.

1 Corinthians 10
10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

So it's true that Christ was on earth for Paul, in 1 Cor 10, in the time of Moses.
Do you have any recommendation where to read something about this? Baptized into Moses? What is the "standard" interpretation here?

"9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents."

It's so easy to read past these hints. I know it's one of those connections Stephan is talking about all the time.

Edit: Sometimes, I'm a bit dense. So Paul's "last supper" was nothing but the original Passover meal, what he calls the spiritual food and drink under Moses.
Yup, and it's allegorical support for their practice of baptism in the precedent of the people passing through the red sea.

The new promises are from God through Jesus, like the old covenant was from God through Moses, but apparently Moses endorses baptism too, because that's such an amazing coincidence man. Would not be surprised if Doherty asks here, "if the baptism of Moses can be commented on, in historical terms, why not the baptism of Jesus" (in either sense... received or performed). Yes I know I know. It was understood. But how do we know it was understood?
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by Ulan » Thu Apr 09, 2015 2:43 pm

It's also fun how direct the image of Christ as life-giving spirit gets here. He is feeding all of Israel in the desert. Which was also my main point of the last post. Of course, the relation to Passover was always there. It's just no distant allusion, it's pretty much seen without any distance in time. It's not "like through Moses". Christ was there!

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Re: Vinny's Jesus Agnostic Blog

Post by outhouse » Thu Apr 09, 2015 3:00 pm

Ulan wrote:. He is feeding all of Israel in the desert

Rhetorical mythology Paralleling the Emperors feast. Not likely a historical event with a core, unless he stole a small basket of fish. I doubt it.

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