Why Not Talk About This Instead?

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Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Sep 12, 2015 7:43 am

(originally blogged)

For a while, I’ve been putting off writing this. However, instead of trying to make the perfect post, I’ve decided to make the minimal post necessary to explain the idea. The idea of making the perfect, long post is tantamount to attempting to control the outcome of the conversation, something that definitely isn’t going to happen anyway. Perhaps I could instead just start it and hope that others generate ideas off it, perhaps better ones than I would have thought up alone.

Basically, it could be considered a spin on Doherty’s presentation, in two ways that make it significantly different.

(1) The “Middle Platonism” thought by Doherty to lurk in Paul’s writing is abandoned as an explanation of Paul. Instead, Paul does not have anything but a popular Jewish and/or Hellenistic conception of God, spirits, and the world. Paul’s beliefs about Jesus do not regard them as timeless and ideal but as occurring in time (even recently) and with a body, in places.

(2) Some bits of Paul’s writings are considered to be interpolated.

Let’s unpack this just a little.

(Nota bene: there could be many other differences with Doherty. This discussion focuses only on Paul.)


(1) No Middle Platonism in Paul

I haven’t found it anywhere in Paul’s letters.

Hebrews and Revelation are a different subject. Paul’s letters may represent a different viewpoint, even if Hebrews or Revelation evinced any kind of Platonic or Middle Platonic interpretation.

So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?

The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth': that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.

(2) Interpolations in Paul

There is this widespread agreement that allowing interpolations to creep in to the discussion of the texts that we’re looking at opens the floodgate to any number of different, contradictory interpretations that (perhaps) could not be refuted on objective grounds.

This is correct. And, yet, it doesn’t actually make it any less likely that there were interpolations. It just makes it very inconvenient for us, to the point of making us despair of having any firm conclusions.

At the same time, we may not have to despair. There may be some minimally-reasonable ways to consider parts of the letters interpolated. Not that everyone would agree (when does that happen?), but it would be something rather than nothing.

Famous examples that are candidates for interpolation include Romans 1:3 (and surrounding), Galatians 1:19 (and surrounding), and the phrase in Galatians 4:4.

The refutation will be that there is absolutely no case for interpolation in any of these instances, but at least we could argue about that instead of pounding our heads against the brick wall that is the implausible interpretation of these verses proposed by Doherty and those who have followed him.

That’s It

These are two things that drastically change the conversation regarding the interpretation of Paul in this debate, yet almost nobody is talking about them. Almost everybody involved is talking about Doherty’s interpretation and those who followed it. I consider this to be a historical artifact of the course of the discussion in recent history. Some of the writers before Doherty proposed the interpolations that I propose here for consideration (or more), and even Doherty now seems to be on board for the phrase in Galatians 4:4. Many of the writers before Doherty mention nothing of Platonism.

It’s about time the discussion move on from a narrow focus on one particular attempt to explain these things (and the defense or refutation or that attempt), proceeding on to a slightly-more-objective consideration (if anyone wants to try, anyway) of the various possibilities here and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve written a bit more in this regard (and about Marcion’s Shorter Readings of Paul), if you want to read more and see that this need not just be an idle proposal. Of course, I’m not going to start throwing around the word “conclusive” anytime soon here. It’s an idea, a hypothesis. I’m (slightly) more hopeful that a “conclusive” case could be found for the historicity of Jesus and all of that, but I haven’t seen it either. Categorizing, understanding, and (if we can) conclusively refuting ideas like this one might put us on that path.

http://peterkirby.com/why-not-talk-abou ... stead.html
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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Sep 12, 2015 8:53 am

Peter Kirby wrote:So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?

The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth': that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.
Is there some particular passage or concept that brings this candidate to mind?

I admit, for example, that when I myself stare at Romans 10.6-7 long enough, I start to find it easier to imagine those verses as highlighting two principal venues for the work of Christ: heaven and the abyss, effectively bypassing earth. But... I do have to stare at it a while first; this particular significance is hardly obvious. And... the Marcionite version of Romans may well have lacked these verses.

You and I have already gone around a bit about the location of the crucifixion and attendant details on a hypothetical "best case" for mythicism, and I must say, I am still very much more in favor of a venue on earth, perhaps even in Israel/Judea, but without much more specification than that at first, since the first advent was supposed to be a secret, hidden both from spiritual powers and from humanity. I know you have reasons (having to do with how one might expect myths to identify locations) to find that scenario of mine less plausible than one in which Christ is crucified away from the earth somewhere. (And, for my part, I still consider that the element of secrecy in the first advent, along with the necessity to reconstruct the event from scriptural precedents and predictions, would trump such expectations fully.) But I am more than willing to look at things from another angle. If under the earth, why under the earth? What indications do we have? What is attracting you to that option?

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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:03 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Peter Kirby wrote:So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?

The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth': that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.
Is there some particular passage or concept that brings this candidate to mind?
Ephesians 4:9-10
In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.

Romans 10:6-7
But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Ben C. Smith wrote:I admit, for example, that when I myself stare at Romans 10.6-7 long enough, I start to find it easier to imagine those verses as highlighting two principal venues for the work of Christ: heaven and the abyss, effectively bypassing earth. But... I do have to stare at it a while first; this particular significance is hardly obvious.
But isn't this quite enough to say: the current discussion is too narrow? That this should be discussed?

I'm not trying to stop the discussion. I'm not claiming to know the answers. I believe that we don't know. I am trying to broaden the discussion a bit. Ultimately, and unfortunately, I think this will force us (if we commit ourselves to being fair about it all, of course) to admit a bit more about our ignorance, rather than our firm and "conclusive" knowledge.
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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Sep 12, 2015 9:17 am

Peter Kirby wrote:
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Peter Kirby wrote:So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?

The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth': that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.
Is there some particular passage or concept that brings this candidate to mind?
Ephesians 4:9-10
In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
I agree that Ephesians 4.9-10 is a good match for Romans 10.6-7.
But isn't this quite enough to say: the current discussion is too narrow? That this should be discussed?
Oh, sure. Of course. Trying to get a foothold from which to further the discussion is exactly what I am doing.

Do you think there might be some way to leverage the Ascension of Isaiah in this direction?

10.8. "Go forth and descent through all the heavens, and thou wilt descent to the firmament and that world: to the angel in Sheol thou wilt descend, but to Haguel thou wilt not go.

....

10.27. And again I saw when He descended into the first heaven, and there also He gave the password to those who kept the gate, and He made Himself like unto the form of the angels who were on the left of that throne, and they neither praised nor lauded Him; for His form was like unto their form.
28. But as for me no one asked me on account of the angel who conducted me.
29. And again He descended into the firmament where dwelleth the ruler of this world, and He gave the password to those on the left, and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there; but they were envying one another and fighting; for here there is a power of evil and envying about trifles.
30. And I saw when He descended and made Himself like unto the angels of the air, and He was like one of them.
31. And He gave no password; for one was plundering and doing violence to another.
11.1 After this I saw, and the angel who spoke with me, who conducted me, said unto me: "Understand, Isaiah son of Amoz; for for this purpose have I been sent from God."

It would take some identification of textual manipulation and interpolation, some taking of 11.2 and accompanying verses as bandages, I suppose.

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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:25 am

Peter Kirby wrote:So, where would these things take place, if not in Judea and under Pilate?

The candidate that comes to my mind is ‘under the earth': that Jesus descended under the earth and was crucified and buried by the demons there. Perhaps the reader has their own ideas or comments on the subject.
If Jesus was imagined as both killed and buried in the nether realm, what would the imagined purpose be, to your mind, of him being made to look like a human (Romans 8.3-4; Philippians 2.5-11; Hebrews 2.14-18)? If his identity was to be a secret (1 Corinthians 2.6-9), is he simply supposed to look like a still living, human intruder into the realm of the dead, like Orpheus? A hero, as it were, instead of a god?

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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Sep 12, 2015 12:07 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:Do you think there might be some way to leverage the Ascension of Isaiah in this direction?
Ben, up to now, I must admit that I have been relatively disinterested in the Ascension of Isaiah. My main involvement has been absorbing a little bit of what others have been saying there and a particularly obscure debate with Andrew Criddle about whether the Ascension of Isaiah's "pocket gospel" may have been referenced in a transcript from a high medieval inquisitioner's text, which I conceded to Andrew as having the better side of the argument.

But now you have piqued my interest.

We get an even more interesting picture when we look at a bit of the textual data in the verses around 10.8. For this I had to refer to The Old Testament Apocrypha. I also learned a new word today, Haguel, which is understandable given that it a straight transliteration of the Ethiopic. It's usually interpreted as the dwelling of the souls in prison (Hebrew abaddon, Greek apwleia, English perdition). Which apparently is not the only level below the earth and is (here) lower than where the angels are in Sheol.

This is based on OTP, volume 2, page 173.

Ethiopic
And I heard the voice of the Most High, the Father of my Lord, as he said to my Lord Christ, who will be called Jesus, "Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition. And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens, and you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol.

And none of the angels [translator's note: or, "rulers"] of that world shall know that you (are) Lord with me of the seven heavens and of their angels. And they shall not know that you (are) with me when with the voice of the heavens I summon you, and their angels and their lights, and when I lift up (my voice) to the sixth heaven, that you may judge and destroy the princes and the angels and the gods of that world, and the world which is ruled by them,

for they have denied me and said, 'We alone are, and there is no one besides us.' And afterwards you shall ascend from the gods of death to your place, and you shall not be transformed in each of the heavens, but in glory you shall ascend and sit at my right hand, and then the princes and the powers of that world will worship you." This command I heard the Great Glory to my Lord.
Major salient points that dovetail with this particular interpretation of Paul:
  • "You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition." [!]
  • "And you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol." [!]
  • "And afterwards you shall ascend from the gods of death to your place." [!]
All of these salient points, which dovetail with this particular interpretation of Paul, are significantly different in the Lat2 or Slav versions. (This rendition is created by transferring the notes that are in OTP into the body of the text.)

Lat2 and Slav
And I heard the voice of the voice of the Eternal One saying to the Lord, the Son, "Go out and descend through all the heavens. You shall be in the world, and go as far as the angel who is in hell. And you shall make your likeness like that of all who (are) in the five heavens [...].

And they will not recognize you, nor will the angels and the princes of that world; and you will judge the prince {Lat2: of that world} and his angels, and {Slav: the world ruled by them, Lat2: the rulers of the world}.

for they have denied me and said, 'We alone are, and there is no one besides us.' {Slav: And when you have been raised from the earth, afterwards, Lat2: And ...}, you shall not be transformed in each of the heavens, but in glory you shall ascend and sit at my right hand, and then the princes and the powers and all the rulers of heaven and earth and hell will worship you." This command I heard the Great Glory to my Lord.
Some analysis:

It looks quite reasonable to regard the Ethiopic as primitive. Most of the edits and deletions tend to make the text alter, iron out, or mute what the Ethiopic is saying about Christ in Sheol. We can compare the three salient points in particular.
  • "You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition." {Ethiopic}
    "You shall be in the world, and go as far as the angel who is in hell." {Lat2, Slav}
  • "And you shall take care to make your form like that of the angels of the angels of the firmament and also (like that) of the angels who (are) in Sheol." {Ethiopic}
    [...] {Lat2, Slav}
  • "And afterwards you shall ascend from the gods of death to your place." {Ethiopic}
    "And when you have been raised from the earth, afterwards" {Slav}
    "And [...]" {Lat2}
Theoretically, this kind of argument is reversible. But the particular changes made don't suggest the reverse to me (the first one, for example, has the vestiges of the Ethiopic viewpoint). And the reverse (going for a more not-so-historical Jesus by editing a text to make him skip the earth and go straight to sheol) seems more 'ad hoc' as an explanation. We know that the earthly interpretation was dominant later, and the dominant docetic interpretation at a late date was also in some sense earthly in orientation. The Ethiopic in general also has some other grounds for suspecting primitivity, such as agreement with the Greek where the Greek is extant.

Lat2 and Slav appear to share a common ancestor or descend one from another, as shown from their verbal agreements against the Ethiopic regarding changes such as "voice of the Eternal One saying to the Lord, the Son" and "and all the rulers of heaven and earth and hell." It's not exactly clear whether Lat2 or Slav is a redaction of the other text, or neither. Lat2 deletes a little more however (Slav's "when you have been raised from the earth, afterwards" transforms the Ethiopic), so that might support the posteriority of Lat2 or a common ancestor. More than this passage would have to be considered to resolve all the issues involved there.
Ben C. Smith wrote:It would take some identification of textual manipulation and interpolation ...
In light of the confirmatory data involved ... which I didn't even expect to find, but found anyway ... this looks like a strength, not a weakness.
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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Sep 12, 2015 1:29 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:If Jesus was imagined as both killed and buried in the nether realm, what would the imagined purpose be, to your mind, of him being made to look like a human (Romans 8.3-4; Philippians 2.5-11; Hebrews 2.14-18)? If his identity was to be a secret (1 Corinthians 2.6-9), is he simply supposed to look like a still living, human intruder into the realm of the dead, like Orpheus? A hero, as it were, instead of a god?
These passages for the reader following along:
Romans 8:3-4 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Philippians 2:5-11

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Hebrews 2:14-18 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. 16 For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
1 Corinthians 2:6-9 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
The most straightforward explanation seems to be that doing so allowed himself to end up getting killed by those who killed him, while not doing so (and retaining his original image and showing the true form of his body) would have not resulted in that. It's straightforward because it's basically what more than one of these texts say.

And why does he need to get killed? Harder to say. Something about "condemning sin in the flesh" (Romans) comes up. Something about "destroy[ing] him who has the power of death" also comes up. The same kind of destruction is mentioned in the Ascension of Isaiah. There are other statements.

One theory that seems to bring a fit with a lot of statements is the "ransom" theory, where the debt incurred by killing God's Son "redeemed" people in the world under the ownership of the powers of death (perhaps considered a deal originally permitted by God by expelling Adam and Eve and condemning them to sin and death). But that's not the only thing that I can imagine. Perhaps there is also the "just payback"(tm) theory, where killing God's innocent Son merits a whole big mess of divine destruction.

There are a lot of statements that support such ideas ('atonement theories', basically) that I'm not quoting right now... it's a big project to assemble them.

Sheol is chosen as the location because that is where the "gods of death" are (in the phrase of the Ethiopic Ascension of Isaiah). The point is to defeat them, break their spell.
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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by MrMacSon » Sat Sep 12, 2015 3:15 pm

.
This -
Peter Kirby wrote:

... Almost everybody involved is talking about Doherty’s interpretation and those who followed it. I consider this to be a historical artifact of the course of the discussion in recent history. Some of the writers before Doherty proposed the interpolations that I propose here for consideration (or more), and even Doherty now seems to be on board for the phrase in Galatians 4:4. Many of the writers before Doherty mention nothing of Platonism.

It’s about time the discussion move on from a narrow focus on one particular attempt to explain these things (and the defense or refutation or that attempt), proceeding on to a slightly-more-objective consideration ... of the various possibilities here, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve written a bit more in this regard (and about Marcion’s Shorter Readings of Paul), if you want to read more and see that this need not just be an idle proposal.
James McGrath sums up Carrier thus in his August 2015 http://www.bibleinterp.com/ piece "Mythicism and the Making of Mark" -
By deciding that the Gospels are allegories, and that Paul believed Jesus to be a celestial figure (in a realm where one could be “born of a woman, born under the Law,” “of the seed of David according to the flesh,” crucified, buried, and everything else that fits more naturally in the mundane terrestrial realm) Carrier has made it impossible for anything at all to contradict his viewpoint.

http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/201 ... 8026.shtml
In asking, in the same article -
  • "If the Gospels are not allegories, nor the euhemerization of celestial myths, then what are they?"
- McGrath seems to be conceding the points that
  • "Carrier has made it impossible for anything at all to contradict his viewpoint."
and that
  • the Gospels are allegories: that they are euhemerization of Paul's celestial myths
[+/- euhemerization of Marcion's notions of Jesus (??)]

Peter Kirby wrote: Of course, I’m not going to start throwing around the word “conclusive” anytime soon here. It’s an idea, a hypothesis. I’m (slightly) more hopeful that a “conclusive” case could be found for the historicity of Jesus and all of that; but I haven’t seen it, either. Categorizing, understanding, and (if we can) 'conclusively' refuting ideas like this one might put us on that path.

http://peterkirby.com/why-not-talk-abou ... stead.html
Cases for or against a historical Jesus are likely to be made via inductive formal argument (at least initially), though deductive arguments would ultimately be better.

But, yes, the path starts with ideas, speculation, and hypotheses; as Doherty, and Carrier, have done.

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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by Peter Kirby » Sat Sep 12, 2015 3:48 pm

MrMacSon wrote:But, yes, the path starts with ideas, speculation, and hypotheses; as Doherty, and Carrier, have done.
It's not Doherty's fault that so many people became focused on his ideas. It is, indeed, his success. In some ways, his theory is a victim of its own success, because a lot of people are not considering all the ways in which different parts of it could be true or false, instead of rejecting it all wholesale. This fault is primarily with critics of "mythicism" who identify it by brand--Doherty's being one of the most recognizable and plausible-looking brands. Rejecting a part of it is not to vindicate the views of these critics.
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Re: Why Not Talk About This Instead?

Post by MrMacSon » Sat Sep 12, 2015 4:11 pm

Peter Kirby wrote: It's not Doherty's fault that so many people became focused on his ideas. It is, indeed, his success.
True; but they became focused on his ideas - they could not or cannot 'see the wood for the trees'.
Last edited by MrMacSon on Sat Sep 12, 2015 4:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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