The Real Jesus?

Early Christian Beliefs

Communal Worship


“…Jews observed the most holy night of their Passover by liturgically bringing to memory the story of their origins. This solemn night was the focus of the people’s worship during this season. Christians developed this night into a full vigil. In all the earliest lectionaries of both the Jerusalem and Byzantine traditions, the twenty-four-hour vigil from Maundy Thursday night thought sundown on Good Friday was enjoined upon the Christians. They were to fast when the Jews slaughtered the paschal lamb to begin the Passover celebration.”
– John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels, p. 72

(For more information, see “Jewish Lectionaries“.)

Spong here is dependent on Michael Goulder (The Evangelists’ Calendar p. 297) who quotes mainly from early material that does not mention specific days. Dr. Mark Goodacre, in private correspondence, notes that there is a clear contrast between the 24 hour Passion liturgy with the three hour watch units identified in Mark, and the vigils of the second century.

“In Goulder’s scheme, two important time indications are missing: nothing marks 9: p.m. in Mk 14.26-42, and there is no marker for midnight in Mk 14.43-52. Likewise, neither Matthew, Luke nor John have markers for 9 p.m. and midnight, and neither Matthew nor Luke say when Jesus was crucified, unlike Mark in 15.25.”
– Dr. Mark S. Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (1996), p. 315-316

It is very possible that these missing time-indicators dropped out over time with the spread of Christianity.

“The vigil Goulder is suggesting for the Synoptists is on 14th/15th Nisan, or, for the Asians and John, on 13th/14th Nisan. In the year of the Passion, and so on one year in seven, this is Maundy Thursday/Good Friday. Most of the early evidence, though, does not clearly witness to a Maundy Thursday/Good Friday vigil but rather hints at an Easter eve fast, or even a two-day fast from Good Friday to Saturday.”
– Dr. Mark Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels pp. 327-8

“Let the end of the Pascha be after the Saturday, at midnight.”
Testamentum Domini 2.12 (second half of 4th C.)

“Not only is the vigil on the Saturday night rather than the Thursday night, but also it finishes much too early for Goulder’s theory, at midnight.”
– Dr. Mark Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels pp. 327-8

“The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”
– Justin Martyr, I Apologies 67

“Does not Justin’s language bring into question altogether the fixed reading schedule? Is not the impression one of informality with no set schedule of serial reading?”
– D.L. Bock, Proclamation, p. 25

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
– 1 Timothy 4:13

“Our concern is the tell-tale clause which has been added to the OT reading ‘as long as time permits’. We can hear the president saying, ‘As time presses this morning, brethren, I propose that the lector limits our OT reading to Lev. 1, rather than the whole of Lev. 1-5’.”
– Michael Goulder, Evangelists’ Calendar p. 53

“You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”
– Galatians 4:10-11

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
– Romans 14:5-6

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”
– Colossians 2:16

“He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly and disorderly, but at fixed times and hours…So then whose who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, for they follow the laws of their master and do not sin.”
– I Clementine 40:2, 4

“Festal worship continued to be practised in several branches of the church…Origen mentions the day of the lord, the Sabbath, Passover and Pentecost (cf. C. Cels. viii.22)…”
– Dr. Mark Goodacre, Goulder and the Gospels p. 325

“Others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.”
– John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians 1.5 (second half of the 4th C.)

Development of the Eucharist

(1) An Experience of the Past in the Present

“In the Passover ritual every generation is told to celebrate the festival as if it had itself come out of Egypt. The exodus of the past is celebrated today. This has nothing at all to do with our modern memorial celebrations; it is a co-celebration (mitfeiern) at which there is a ‘repeating’ of that event so as to bring the past into the present….The past is ‘re-presented.’ Correspondingly the future is anticipated…..

“This peculiar way of thinking about time – or, to put it more exactly, this peculiar experiencing of time (which can be seen, for example, in the form of the Hebrew tenses, which strike us as strange) – determined the celebrations of the Palestinian church. Through re-presentation they celebrated the table fellowship with Jesus and at the same time in them anticipated the consummation as the community of the new, the eschatological, covenant.”
– Willi Marxsen, The Lord’s Supper
as a Christological Problem
, p. 26

“What Marxsen has done is to set the stage for understanding the Palestinian, in contrast to the Hellenized, Lord’s Supper. To me that signifies that early Christian Jews adapted their understanding of ”rehearsed’ events to their Supper practice just as they had in the Passover seder.

“Marxsen went on to describe three stages in the development of eucharist tradition afterPaul in I Corinthians and the gospel of Mark.”
– Philip B. Lewis (Crosstalk)

“…A development can indeed be traced in which, by a kind of logical necessity, one stage follows another, and one can recognize a development…which runs almost exactly parallel to that of Christology – the action is asserted, then the action is reflected on, finally he who performs the action is, upon reflection, given explication.”
– Willi Marxsen, The Lord’s Supper
as a Christological Problem
, p. 30

“Marxsen held that originally both a Christology and a Supper (1) were observed, (2) were reflected on, and (3) ultimately were interpreted in terms of The Person of Christ. What is important here is that ‘the deed’ of participation preceded any interpretation. Marxsen adds the warning, ‘An interpretation never fully expresses adequately the thing which it interprets.’ Or, I would say, The Haggadah [e-presentation of Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt] does not in itself express adequately a Jew’s identity in the Covenant; it is only as deliverance is experienced that identity has meaning. So, too, the eucharist conveys nothing until the believer sits ‘at table’ in eschatological fellowship and anticipation with Christ.”
– Philip B. Lewis (Crosstalk)

(2) Evolution of the Eucharist

Formal vs Cultic Meals
“In Greco-Roman antiquity “the meal proper consisted of two courses, the
[DEIPNON] and the
[SYMPOSION]….[The former course] might consist of bread and various vegetables, with fish or meat if the meal was especially extravagant. There were many grades and varieties of breads since it was the staple of the diet…[and for the latter course] it is clear that, at the least, a ritual libation and removal of the tables commonly marked the transition from the eating to the drinking part of the meal.”
– Dennis Smith, “Social Obligation in the Context of Communal Meals: A Study of the Christian Meal in 1 Corinthians in Comparison with Graeco-Roman Communal Meals” Th.D. diss., Harvard University (1980)

“Such a background means that a two-part sequence of eating and drinking, of breaking bread and then pouring a libation before drinking wine, or more simply, of bread and wine, summarizes and symbolizes the entire process of a Greco-Roman formal meal.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

The meals of the Yahad also had a bread a wine sequence, but were cultic in nature.

“And [when] they shall gather for the common [tab]le, to eat and [to drink] new wine, when the common table shall be set for eating and the new wine [poured] for drinking, let no man extend his hand over the first-fruits of bread and wine before the Priest; for [it is he] who shall bless the first fruits of bread and wine, and shall be the first [to extend] his hand over the bread. Thereafter, the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hand over the bread, [and] all the congregation of the community [shall utter a] blessing, [each man in the order] of his dignity.”
Rule of the Congregation or Manual of Discipline 2: 17-22
(ca. 100 B.C.E.)

“These meals, conducted regularly as part of the present-age way of life of the sect, were pre-enactments of the final messianic banquet which the sectarians expected in the soon-to-come end of days. Again, the life of the sect in this world mirrored its dreams for the age to come.”
– Lawrence Schiffman

Eucharistic meal with no ritualization

The Teaching or Didache is “the oldest Christian church order, written in Syria at the end of I [first century] C.E.”
– Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament 2 vols. (1982)

“…The Book of Deuteronomy had been used by the Jews as the material to prepare proselytes for circumcision, the ceremonial bath, and incorporation into Judaism at the time of the Passover…The Christians took over this pattern for their converts, with baptism taking place on Easter eve, the Eucharist replacing the Passover meal, and the teaching of Jesus found in the journey section of each gospel replacing the words of Moses in Deuteronomy as the preparation. Evidence from ancient second-century sources, such as the Didache, or third century sources, such as the writings of Hippolytus, bear witness to the fact that such catechetical material was customary. The Didache was in fact catechetical material based in large measure on the Book of Deuteronomy. A work by Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century C.E. suggested that these instructions were given at the rate of three a week or eighteen over a six-week period of time. To give an earlier hint to that pattern, we have also discovered that pious Jews went to synagogue thrice weekly – Saturday evening, Monday, and Thursday – to hear the Torah of the coming Sabbath, and that pattern was thus also used for the converts who, then as now, appeared to be among the most pious….Furthermore, this catechetical material in Luke’s journey section was roughly organized into groups of three lections each, rotating around a central theme.”
– John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels, p. 162-163

“Thou, Lord Almighty, didst create all things for thy Name’s sake, and didst give food and drink to men for their enjoyment, that they might give thanks to thee, but us hast thou blessed with spiritual food and drink and eternal light through thy Child.”
Didache 10:3-4

“…The older prayer in Didache 10 indicates a eucharistic meal with no ritualization of bread and wine/cup, let alone anything else.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

“First concerning the Cup. ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.’ And concerning the broken Bread: ‘We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child. To thee be glory for ever.”
Didache 9:2-3

Eucharistic meal with body and blood symbolism

“The newer prayer in Didache 9 does have a ritualization of cup and bread, but, even late in the first century C.E., at least some (southern?) Syrian Christians could celebrate a Eucharist of bread and wine with absolutely no hint of Passover meal, Last Supper, or passion symbolism built into its origins or development.”
“…On the other hand, Paul knows from received tradition a eucharistic meal that has the bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of the Lord.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
– 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

“We have moved from, first, open commensality during the lifetime of Jesus through, second, general eucharistic meal without and then with a bread and wine (cup) emphasis and on, third, to specific passion remembrance, celebration, and participation. And this later specification is given as Jesus’ direct and explicit institution on, appropriately, the eve of his death.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

Passion remembrance

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.‘ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the [some manuscripts ‘the new’] covenant, which is poured out for many,‘ he said to them. ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.‘”
– Mark 14:22-25; (Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:15-19a; Didache 9:5)

“It is now…a Passover meal as well. And, even though the ritual now seems completely separated from the Greco-Roman formal meal tradition, with, for example, no mention of the wine-cup ‘after supper’ as in Paul, the phrase ‘poured out’ appropriates the libation moment of the Greco-Roman sequence even more precisely than does Paul.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

“Mark links ‘the cup’ with Jesus’ death in 14:24, and earlier, in 10:39, Mark has him tell those who aspire to positions of power that they will drink from his ‘cup’, which they all, in fact, do in 14:23: ‘and they all drank from it.’ The ‘cup’ thus embodies the entire gospel for Mark: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, together with his return as the son of Adam.”
It is possible “that Jesus may have performed some symbolic acts during table fellowship with his followers. And those symbolic acts may have involved bread and wine or perhaps fish.”
– Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels

This is my blood of the [some manuscripts ‘the new’] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.‘”
– Matthew 26:28 (Didache 9:5)

“Like Mark, Matthew has interpreted the cup of red wine, which represents the blood of Jesus, as an atoning sacrifice such as those made on the altar before the temple every day. Understanding the death of Jesus within the framework of the Near Eastern sacrificial system, which usually involved only animals, played a basic role in the Christian theological interpretation of Christ’s death.”
– Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels

Luke seems to have combined two different meals into his account. The cup is offered twice, once before dinner to be shared amonst the disciples, and once after dinner as the new covenant. The Eucharist has clear parallels in the Mithraic Communion.

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.‘ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’
– Luke 22:19-20

“Looking at the text of 19b-20, one can not help but notice the non-Lucan style and vocabulary: the phrase ‘for you’ occurs twice in this passage but nowhere else in all of Luke-Acts; the word for ‘remembrance’ occurs only here in Luke-Acts and never elsewhere does Luke speak of the ‘new covenant’ let alone the new covenant ‘in my blood.’ The absence of these words and phrases is more striking given that we can examine these words and phrases in volume 2 where Luke could have made allusions to the ‘new covenant in my blood’ but did not.”
– Richard H. Anderson (CrossTalk)

“In favor of the shorter reading is the following: D a d ff2 i l syh (and perhaps c r2 d). The longer reading is attested by the following: 1) all the Greek manuscripts, including p75 (AD 175/225); 2) all the versions with the exception of the Old Syriac and part of the itala and 3) by all early Christian writers beginning with Marcion, Justin and Tatian. Therefore, the bulk of the manuscript evidence supports the longer reading.”
– Yuri Kuchinsky (CrossTalk)

“The textual evidence for rejecting vss. 19b, 20 is so scanty that it is hard to see why it should be taken seriously. Against the [driblets of support for the shorter reading] is the overwhelming mass of evidence from all the great uncials and cursives, Byzantine, Caesarean, and Alexandrian, that Luke 22 19b, 20 is authentic.”
– Pierson Parker, “Three Variant Readings in Luke-Acts,” Journal of Biblical Literature 83 (1965): 165-170

By the end of the first century C.E., the ritualization of the wine and bread was more than symbolic.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
– John 6:53-56

“The phrase ‘to eat the flesh and drink the blood,’ when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense.”
– Fr. John O’Brien

“Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood.”
– J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 440

“Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.”
– Justin Martyr, First Apology 66:1-20

The Eucharist “is a simple report of a familiar magical operation – giving enchanted food to cause love. Often the food is identified with the body and/or blood of a god with whom the magician is identified; thus the food becomes also the body and blood of the magician; whoever eats it is united with him and filled with love for him.”

– Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? (1978) p. 161

(One mingles various ingredients in a cup of wine and says over it)

“I am he of Abydos…I am this figure of one drowned that testifieth by writing…as to which the blood of Osiris bore witness…when it was poured into this cup, this wine. Give it, blood of Osiris (that?) he (?) gave to Isis to make her feel love in her heart for him…”

The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden XV.1ff.

“The purpose of the rite – to unite the recipients with Jesus, and thus with each other, in love – explains the discourse John substitutes for the story of the Eucharist: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for (literally, ‘”in”) each other.”

– Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? (1978) p. 162

(3) Communal meal to Eucharist in early Christian churches

“Paintings on the walls of the earliest Christian catacombs in Rome, dating from slightly before 200 A.D., characteristically depict seven or eleven male figures, presumably apostles, seated at table, about to partake of two fish and five loaves…[and] two fish also appear accompanied often by five loaves of bread, in…early Christian funerary carvings and insciptions.” It is “fairly certain…that either for Jesus himself or for quite early, and probably, Jewish Christians, the meal of bread and fish, of which we learn in the gospels, was understood as a eucharistic anticipation if not epiphanic participation in the blessed life of table-fellowship in the Kingdom of God.”
– Richard Hiers and Charles Kennedy, “The Bread and Fish Eucharist in the Gospels and Early Christian Art”, Perspectives in Religious Studies 3 (1976)

“There are no known Last Supper scenes in catacomb or sarcophagus art.”
– Irwin, K. M. in Protocol of the Forty-second Colloquy (14 March 1982)

“For me, two different traditions, one of bread and fish, another of bread and wine, symbolically ritualized, after his death, the open commensality of Jesus’ lifetime. That disjunction possibly represented a Jewish Christian and a Gentile Christian development. It might be considered, however, whether bread and fish for the crowd and abundant fragments left over is a better ritualization of Jesus’ own life than bread and wine for the believers with abundance now completely irrelevant.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

In Jewish tradition, however, abundance of wine was equated with a fruitful harvest and symbolized the final days when the Lord would fill his faithful with bounty.

The earliest churches were in private homes and the communal meal, where food was distributed equally among all, served as the center of religious celebration. By the third century, Christian services moved from the home to the basilica. The symbolic Eucharist of bread and wine replaced the meal and leadership, now exercised by priests, was removed from the people.

“A Christian church, patronized largely by the well-fed and increasingly led by austere men such as [Origen, in the third century], whose restricted diet was the result of choice and not of necessity, found itself, in the next centuries, increasingly tempted to treat sexuality (a drive which frequently assumes leisure and regular eating habits), rather than greed and greed’s dark shadow in a world of limited resources and famine, as the most abiding and disquieting symptom of the frailty of the human condition. Maybe the time has come to look again at the seemingly absurd dreams of abundance of ancient Mediterranean men, to find, through their concerns, one way, at least, to more humane and more commonsensical objects of anxiety.”
– Peter Brown, Response to “The Problem of Miraculous Feedings in the Graeco-Roman World,” by Robert M. Grant,Protocol of the Forty-second Colloquy (1982)

Other Practices

(1) Render onto Caesar

The Tribute Penny

The first copper coins (quadrans) issued by Pontius Pilate in 29 C.E. had “had three ears of corn stamped on them…On the back, in place of the palm-tree or ear of corn, was a pan or ladle. It was not an ordinary kitchen utensil, but the bowl Roman priests used for pouring wine in honor of the pagan gods.”
“The new coins issued in 30 and 31 C.E. were even worse. “On the back was a harmless wreath with the date in it; on the front was a curling rod, something like a shepherd’s crook….This was the mark of office of the Roman augur, the expert who foretold the future. When an animal was sacrificed, the augur would inspect its entrails to tell whether the worshipper should carry out his plans that day or not.”
– Alan Millard, Discoveries From the Time of Jesus, p 71

Tribute Penny

Tiberius “Tribute Penny”

Of the five Roman governors who struck coins in Judea, only Pilate and Felix (52 – 60 C.E.) put on designs which would offend Judean religious sensibilities.

“Many silver denarii issued by the emperors Augustus and Tiberius bore the imperial portrait. One type minted for Tiberius is especially common and has become known the ‘the tribute penny’ by being identified as the coin shown to Jesus.”
– Alan Millard, Discoveries From the Time of Jesus, p. 75

An Ambiguous Aphorism

“Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, ‘Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?‘ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.
They brought the coin, and he asked them, Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
Then Jesus said to them,
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.‘ And they were amazed at him.”
Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26 // Matthew 22:15-22; Thomas 100:1-4; Eggerton Gospel 3:1-6

“Jesus’ response is a humorous bit of repartee. He misleads his interlocutors [the ‘Pharisees and Herodians’] by pointing to the emperor’s image and name on the coin, but he then ignores that point, and suggests they learn to tell the difference between the claims of the emperor and the claims of God. He responds to the question without answering it; he turns the question back on his interrogators, just as he often does in telling a parable without a conclusion. His audience is supposed to supply the answer themselves. In addition, he probably slipped the coin into his purse while they were haggling over what he had told them.”
– Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels

“The ambiguity is in the aphorism, which the Gospel of Thomas 100 proves circulated without most of the Markan setting. Thomas just has four elements:

-1. They show Jesus a coin

-2. They tell him that Caesar’s goons demand taxes.

-3. Jesus replies: ‘Give Caesar and God what belongs to each.’

-4. And give me what is mine.

“The idea that the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians to entrap Jesus is a typically Markan theme with virtually no historical merit. Likewise, the emphasis that the emperor’s image is on the coin is the Markan narrator’s interpolation. the Gospel of Thomas does not specify who showed Jesus the coin or stress that it was imperial currency. Rather anonymous Jews simply complain to Jesus about paying foreign taxes. They could have been disciples (Jesus’ usual dialog partners in the Gospel of Thomas) or peasants hoping he will give them theological reasons for keeping the coin. In this context, Jesus’ aphorism is certainly ambiguous since he gives them a choice of three recipients and he does not specify what goes to whom. They have to decide whether God or Caesar has a prior claim on the coin. And the last option (‘give me what is mine’) makes that decision even more difficult. Is Jesus implying that he had dropped that coin? Or is he asking to be paid up front before giving his ruling? Or is he telling them to forget about money and follow him, without bothering to carry a purse? The ambiguity of this pericope may be what prompted Mark to interpret it as a trap and to make it impossible to read it as encouragement to avoid paying taxes.”
– Mahlon Smith (CrossTalk 2)

The Issue of Roman Taxation

“It is possible that he intends to point out the most offensive features of the Roman denarius (the image, which contravenes Ex 20:4, and the inscription, which contravenes Ex 20:3 in that the emperor has claimed semidivine status), the medium by which Roman taxes were to be paid, implying that no pious Jew would want to possess such money. If this is all that Caesar wants, then by all means give it to him. This interpretation finds an interesting parallel in the Essenes. According to Hippolytus (Refutation 9.26) some Essenes would not even touch a Roman coin that bore the image and inscription of Caesar. This may very well have been Jesus’ point. Perhaps for this reason, and not simply because of poverty, Jesus did not possess a denarius for the object lesson; it had to be produced by his interlocutors!”

– Craig A. Evans, “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, Ed. – 1992), p. 245

“Where paying the Roman tax was concerned, Josephus refers to it when describing the birth of what now goes by the name of ‘the Zealot movement’ (Josephus calls it ‘the Fourth Philosophy’). In fact, the tax issue was central to the split between Herodian Sadducees and ‘opposition Sadducees’…”
“…Someone Josephus mysteriously refers to as Sadduk – he portrays as joining Judas the Galilean mentioned in Acts, the proverbial founder of the Zealot movement, in agitating against the tax (Antiquities of the Jews 18.4-5). The Gospels, prefiguring Paul’s position thereafter, for their part portray Jesus as teaching the people to pay the tax. Paul treated the issue of paying taxes to Rome appropriately in Romans 13.”
– Robert Eisman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered

“For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”
– Romans 13:6

“According to one perspective his approach could not be more cynical, yet it is revealing. He applies the key ‘Law Breaker’ terminology we find in the Scrolls and the Letter of James to those who break Roman law not Jewish. ‘God’s Law’ he calls the law of the State, even going so far as to portray Roman officials and tax-collectors as ‘God’s officers’. According to this view, that Gospels written after him did not scruple to portray their ‘Jesus’ as keeping ‘table fellowship with tax-collectors – even fornicators – should not be surprising.”
– Robert Eisman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered

(2) Equality in Servitude

“As for slavery, it is a persistent fact of life among God’s people: Christian slaves should abide in their social position, according to Paul, and ‘serve the more’. A slave’s obedience to his master was a religious duty…”
– Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.
Sayings Gospel Q: (Matthew 10:24-5 // Luke 6:40); John 13:16, 15:20

“The student/teacher contrast reflects the context of instruction in the early Christian community, when teachers of the new way were struggling to gain respect. If students are well taught, they will of course become like their teachers (Matthew 10:25a || Luke 6:40b). The desire for recognition and respect would have been alien to Jesus, who urged his followers to be humble and regard themselves as slaves. The proverb endorses the traditional superior/inferior relationship between teacher and student that Jesus sought to modify.”
– Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
– Paul in Galatians 3:28-29

Jesus “stressed not so much egalitarianism as being a servant: ‘whoever would be first among you must be slave of all’ (Mk 10:44; cf. 9:35).”

– James H. Charlesworth, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992), p. 28

“Jesus spoke to the humble of the world and attacked the dualism and inequality of pagan society. While dualism put an unbridgeable gap between heavenly perfection and earthly corruption, Jesus taught the attainability of perfection on earth: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, as is our Father in heaven’.”
“The early Christians developed no new cosmologies of their own, yet by attacking slavery and dualism they were eroding the main ideological, social, and economic obstacles that had impeded scientific advance in the preceding centuries. (The trade expansion that had emerged from Alexander’s conquests had ended three centuries earlier, by 100 B.C., and Hellenistic society’s dependence on slavery prevented any further advance in the technology of production.) Rather than furthering Platonic cosmology, the early Christians were casting it off.”
– Eric Lerner, The Big Bang Never Happened

(3) Love Feasts

“Many of the strange sects [in Rome] held Persian, even Indian, conceptions of the world in them: universes that were held in two oppositions, dualism of goodness and sin, of light and darkness, of god and the devil, opposing forces that were drawn up o face each other in a creative tension. The powers of darkness controlled man’s world. Light and intellect were their opponents; earthly organization and authority were its allies; and the organized Christian church was seen to have been made by the Devil to pervert true faith. Among these underground sects, people aimed for perfection. They might eat, for example, what they thought of as magical foods, like moist cucumbers, glistening and filled with light. Later, the residue would pass through the body and emerge as dark excrement, while the light element emerged in orgasm as semen. Many of the rituals involved the anointing and swallowing of this sacred substance, an orgiastic ritual that had been the bane of the Old Testament prophets a thousand years before and now afflicted the early church. Paul, in his Epistles clearly defines the difference between sacred and profane love – to many Hellenistic Christians these differences were not quite as clear.
– John Romer, Testament

“And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
“These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves.”
– Jude 5:12

“These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. they slander what the do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed, they also will be destroyed, suffering the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipations [love feasts] while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed.”

– 2 Peter 2:12-14

“In the New Testament rare reference is made to a festival called the Agape, so-called Love Feast. The Syriac translators, at any rate, thought the practice had to do with the comforting of the dead, and this certainly accords well with the meaning of agapao, ‘love’. This Greek word, so favored by the New Testament writers, is used by the tragedians for affection for the dead, and specifically in the Bible for the relationship between man and God. It is properly used in the Greek version of the Old Testament to translate a Hebrew word for ‘seduce, allure’.”
– John Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross

“…Agape is that it is fundamentally unselfish. It is always directed away from itself towards others. ‘It seeketh not its own’…John identifies Agape as the very nature of God (‘God is Agape’).”
– Skip G.

“The Agape seems to have involved a common meal of some kind, although New Testament references are to cryptic to tell us much…”
– John Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross

The Divine Image

(1) The Incorporeal One

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
– Isaiah 11:1-2

“Philo Judaeus, or Philo of Alexandria (b. ca. 30 B.C.E.-d 45 C.E.), was a leader of a large Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, and a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and theologian. His writings, which are numerous, reflect upon the relationship between Greek philosophical thought and Judaism.”
The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, Marvin W. Meyer, Editor

Philo of Alexandria was “the Jewish philosopher who wrote in Greek and whose thinking was influenced by Greek philosophy at least as much as by the Bible. Philo doesn’t mention the Messiah by this name, but speaks of the ‘Shoot‘ (rather infelicitously rendered in the Loeb Classical Library edition as the ‘rising’), the well-known Biblical symbolic designation of the earthly leader who was expected to usher in the era of salvation (cf. Zechariah 6:12 and Isaiah 11:1). But Philo reinterprets this old Biblical concept and defines the ‘Shoot’ as an entirely spiritual, noncorporeal being who – remarkable words in the mouth of a Jewish thinker – ‘differs not a whit from the divine image’, and is the Divine Father’s ‘eldest son’.”
– Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts

“I have heard also an oracle from the lips of one of the disciples of Moses which runs thus: Behold a man whose name is the rising [shoot], strangest of titles, surely, if you suppose that a being composed of soul and body is here described. But if you suppose that it is that Incorporeal One, who differs not a whit from the divine image, you will agree that the name ‘rising’ assigned to him quite truly describes him. For that man is the eldest son, whom the Father of all raised up, and elsewhere calls him his first-born, and indeed the Son thus begotten followed the ways of his Father, and shaped the different kinds, looking to the archetypal patterns which that Father supplied.”
– Philo, De confusione linguarum 4:45

“Philo Judaeus is roughly contemporary with Jesus (he led a delegation to Rome to protest some anti-Semitic measures under Caligula.) Also, his very Hellenized and Platonizing theology is a link between one form of Judaism in his day (which did not survive the post-Temple monopoly of the Pharisaic/rabbinic tradition) and the ‘starting point’ of some threads in Christian theology and scriptural exegesis. He provides no witness whatsoever to Jesus, of course.
“A fair amount of Philo’s writings survive (see the Loeb edition); he is (with Josephus) one of the sources for the contemporary reference to the sectarians now commonly thought to have been responsible for at least some of the Qumran scrolls (in Philo’s case, the references are to Egyptian Jewish sectarians, sharing some similarities to Josephus’ Essenes.)”
– Michael L. Siemon

(2) Archetypal Man

“Paul had an opportunity to attract many pagans was when he was in the idolatrous city of Athens, which was filled with graven images and people hungry for new deities. Did Paul, however, present Jesus to them as the divine son of God, a co-equal partner who came down from heaven in the guise of a man born of a virgin? That certainly would have grabbed their attention, but Paul [according to his chronicler Luke] told it like it was…”
– Miryam Nathan

“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
– Acts 17:31

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
– I Timothy 2:5

“According to Biblical scholar, Hugh J. Schonfield [Those Incredible Christians], Paul studied the ‘occultism of the Pharisees‘, and specialized in the ‘Lore of Creation’, which was in turn influenced by ‘Chaldean and Platonic cosmogonical speculations, but these had been poured into a Jewish monotheistic mould’.”
The Christian Conspiracy: The Orthodox Suppression of Original Christianity

“Paul’s Judaism before (and after) his Damascus vision contained a highly mystical, even kabbalistic, component to it. Because of this, Paul understood the resurrected Jesus as a mystical figure, specifically as the Adam Kadmon, or Archetypal Man, described in the Kabbalah.”
– Art Johnson

“The term ‘mystery’, appearing in some of the [Dead Sea] scrolls as a designation of hidden eschatological truth or inexplicable deviations from perfect divine goodness, is used by Paul to describe the manifestation of God’s salvation through Jesus, a belief that could only be comprehended by some. The same term, however, was used throughout the Hellenistic world in reference to religious cults that had secret rites of passages.”
– Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, (1995) p. 372

“The essential element in the teaching is that the visible universe conforms to a pattern or design, which represents the image of the Invisible God who, himself, has neither form nor substance. Man, the crown of creation, being made in the image of God, answers therefore completely to the original pattern, which thus may be conceived as a manlike figure. This primordial or Archetypal man, the ‘heavenly man’ of Philo and the Adam Kadmon of the Jewish occultists, is the true image of God, the beginning of the creation and the Lord of it. Hence the first man on earth was given dominion over every living thing in it.”
– Hugh J. Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians

“He [the Son] is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth; everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers – all things were created through him and for him. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity. Now the Church is his body, he is its head.”
– Colossians 1:15-16

It is clear in this passage that Paul, in equating the Son with the Church, is applying the term to a people (as in the reference in Daniel 7 to the Son of Man as the Tribe of Israel), rather than a specific personage. This vision of the preexistent Son of Man first appeared in the apocryphal First Book of Enoch.

“The term ‘Bar Nasha’ or ‘Son of Man’ refers to the ‘divine human form.’ An archetype of the human creation itself, it is the perfect Cosmic blueprint for all human beings. This was equated by some ancient writers with the ‘Logos’ or eternal ‘image of God’ that was said to be in every man that comes into the world.”
– Father John Rossner, In Search of the Primordial Tradition

“We see man, therefore, as wearing physically the likeness of his spiritual Archetype, and that archetype is the expression of the nature of God….But for what purpose was man created? His creation must have had to do with the Messianic Plan, and the soul of Adam must have been knit with the soul of the ultimate Messiah [Christ]. It was therefore to be deduced that the archetypal or heavenly man was also the pre-existing spiritual counterpart of the Messiah, the heavenly Spirit-Christ.”
– Hugh J. Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians

“So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’ [Genesis 2:7 ]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:45-48

“Paul portrays Adam and Christ as contrasting images of fall and salvation respectively. But Paul seems to have more than Jesus’ earthly existence in mind, since he uses the term anthropos, which can also refer to his resurrected nature: ‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’ The agent that begins and is responsible for this change on earth is the Spirit. The Spirit not only creates the Christ that is within believers; the Spirit itself has taken on the character of Christ. The risen Jesus is to be experienced as a life-giving Spirit, explaining how the transformation starts, just as it is to be experienced as the last Adam, in which, one supposes, is the culmination of the mystic process in the apocalyptic end.”

– Alan F. Segal, “The Risen Christ and the Angelic Mediator Figures in Light of Qumran” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, Ed. – 1992), p. 318

“Accepting with Paul the equation of the Messiah as the Adam Kadmon, it required that he should cast aside his glory and ‘make himself small,’ so as to atone for Adam’s sin by the man Jesus and initiate the restoration of harmony between man and God, and between the visible universe and the Invisible God. By the resurrection, there was restored in Jesus the light-body which the first man had possessed and forfeited, and the re-expansion of his stature in a manner comparable to that of the first man before the Fall. Thus ennobled and reintegrated with the Adam Kadmon, Jesus was henceforth the Lord Jesus Christ.”
– Hugh J. Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians

“Paul therefore distinguishes between the Heavenly Christ and the earthly Jesus who was ‘made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.’ (Romans 1:3-4) It was through the resurrection that Jesus became the Son of God and thus restored man’s true spiritual archetypal state.”
The Christian Conspiracy: The Orthodox Suppression of Original Christianity

“This figure [the Son of God] is pre-existent not simply as a kind of divine being…but as the ‘man from heaven’;…Indeed, he is the archetypal man and the archetypal Son of God in whom we become sons of God, fellow-heirs with Christ who will bear the image of the man of heaven.”
– Frances Young, The Myth of God Incarnate

“And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
– 1 Corinthians 15:49

“…Put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
– Ephesians 4:24

“The resurrected Jesus/Messiah/Adam Kadmon, while the heavenly image of the transcendent God, is not literally God. But Paul’s mysticism set the stage for Christians to see the Messiah purely in a spiritual sense. And as Gentiles lacking Paul’s kabbalistic training became the majority within the church, it became more and more difficult for Christians to maintain the distinction between Jesus as Adam Kadmon as opposed to Jesus as literally God. Finally, the three were merged in Christian theology: the resurrected Jesus as Adam Kadmon became the divine Son, second person of the Trinity.”
“The equating of the Adam Kadmon with literal divinity in Christian theology is IMO the critical breakpoint between Judaism and Christianity.”
– Art Johnson

Although Paul’s mysticism all but disappeared in orthodox Christian tradition, his vision exerted a strong influence on the gnostic theology of Valentinus. Elements of secrecy in the Christian tradition persisted until the fourth century

“We can detect the existence of esoteric doctrines since the earliest stages of Christianity, and throughout the first centuries….Before the celebration of the Eucharist, the doors of the Church were closed to non-baptized, catechumens included.”
“The Church Fathers knew quite well that according to the Gospels, Jesus had taught his disciples esoteric doctrines which he would not disclose to the crowds.”
“Let us recall some of them [i.e. these witnesses]: the Apostolic Constitutions mentions the sending away of catechumens (the amuetoi) and the closing of the church doors after the homily (II, 57). Egeria, who visited Jerusalem around 400 echoes these practices, to which Cyril, the bishop of the Holy City during the second half of the fourth century, also refers several times. Athanasius condemns the Arians, who are prepared to reproduce the mysteries before catechumens and pagans. A similar reproach is addressed to the Marcionites by Epiphanus for daring to show the ‘mysteries to the catechumens’.”
– Guy G. Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom:Estoeric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (1996), pp. 3,4, 31

“…The existence of certain doctrines, beyond those which are exoteric and which do not reach the multitude, is not peculiar solely to Christian doctrine, but it is shared by the philosophers. For they had certain exoteric doctrines and others were esoteric.”
– Origen in reply to Celsus (3rd C. C.E.)

“It signifies that the mystery must be sealed by you, …that it must not be divulged to those for whom it is not appropriate, that it must not be spread among the unbelievers by vain gossip.”
– St. Ambrose, commenting on verse 4:12 in the Song of Songs

(3) Higher Than the Angels

“It is difficult to date with absolute certainty the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews, but there are those who argue persuasively for a date at least earlier than the Gospel of Matthew (80 C. E. – 85 C. E.). [Some argue ca. 64 C.E. – 70 C.E., just before or during the Jewish War]. In any event, this book appears to come out of an early and fairly Jewish period of Church history, or at least it was developed inside a deeply Jewish part of the Christian Church. Some have suggested that the epistle to the Hebrews was originally a homily based on Psalm 110. It clearly portrayed Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of the Atonement. It had no specific concept of a resurrection, but focused strongly on what came to be called the exaltation, or the ascension.”
– John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels, p. 220

“I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, ‘You are my Son [or son]; today I have become your Father [or ‘have begotten you’].”
– Psalms 2:7


“I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.”
– 2 Samuel 7:14

“Hebrew’s author saw the lines, ‘You are my son…,’ actually written of King David (Psalms 2:7), and ‘I will be a father to him…,’ written of King Solomon (2 Samuel 7:14), as messianic and therefore applicable to Jesus. He made Jesus, alone of all men, outrank the angels. But he also, as his reference to Yahweh’s many sons made clear, saw Jesus’ special sonship as unique only in degree.”
– William Harwood, Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus

“To which of the messengers did he ever say, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father’? Or again, ‘I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to me’….Or again, ‘All of God’s messengers are to pay him homage’…For it seemed appropriate to him…in raising many sons to high honor, to perfect by sufferings the one entrusted with their liberation.”
– Hebrews 1:5-6, 2:10

“To the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ appointment as messiah raised him to a level previously restricted to Yahweh’s winged messengers (angeloi):
– William Harwood, Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus

“It suggested that Jesus had entered the heavenly realm in much the same way that the sacrificial animal went up to God on the smoke of the burnt offering (Heb. 4:14 ff., 9:12, 9:24). Jesus, in the Book of the Hebrews, would have been carried on the clouds into the heavenly realm as both the great high priest and the perfect offering.”
– John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels, p. 220

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens [or ‘gone into heaven’], Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. ”
– Hebrews 4:14

“The Epistle (5-7) compares the high priesthood of Jesus to that of Melchizedek, the priest-king of the city of Salem who was honored by Abraham (Gen. 14).”
– Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?, (1995) p. 380

“And he [God] says in another place, ‘You [Jesus] are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’.”
– Hebrews 5:6

Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity
Fresco from Cyprus Monastery (15th c.)

From Jesus to Godhead

(1) Beliefs About the Divine Nature of Jesus

Distinct from God?

The Father and I are one.
– John 10:30

The Father is greater than I.
– John 14:28

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature [or ‘in the form of’ – Greek:
en morfh qeon
] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature [or ‘the form’] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.”
– Philippians 2:5-11

“Paul’s Christ is not God, he is God’s first creation, and there is no room for the trinitarian formula of the Athanasian Creed nor for its doctrine that the Son was ‘not made, nor created, but begotten.’ But inasmuch as the visible universe is the expression of the Invisible God, the Christ, as first-product, comprises the whole of that expression in himself.”
The Christian Conspiracy: The Orthodox Suppression of Original Christianity

I can do nothing on my own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.
– John 5:30

“The lecture on authority is cast in the first person, which is uncharacteristic of Jesus’ mode of speech….Rather than the authentic words of Jesus, the author of the Fourth Gospel is presenting his own meditations of the theological significance of Jesus.”
– Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels

Although Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as someone distinct from God, the following phrase also crops up:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [or into] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
– Matthew 28:19 (Acts 8:16; 19:5; Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 1:13; 10:2 and Galatians 3:27.)

“Matthew did not include in Jesus’ fictitious instructions to his followers to preach to gentiles, the words: immersing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the consecrated breath [holy ghost] (Matthew 28:19b). That piece of Nicene mythology was interpolated into Matthew no earlier than the generation immediately preceding the council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. Eusebius, who wrote in the early fourth century C.E., quoted from some manuscripts of Matthew that contained 28:19b and some that did not. Since there was no conceivable way that a copyist could have accidentally omitted the trinitarian formula, that it was not part of the original version of Matthew is the necessary conclusion.”
– William Harwood, Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
– 1 Timothy 2:5

The pastoral letter of 1 Timothy by Pseudo-Paul “can be taken as evidence that, as late as 120 C.E., even the Christians had not yet heard the theory that Jesus was God…”
– William Harwood, Mythologies Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus

This conclusion is not supported by contemporary Roman sources however.

“Pliny the Younger, proconsul in the province of Bithynia (in Asia Minor) during C.E. 111-13, describes for the Emperor Trajan his method of handling Christians who are denounced to him (Letter 10.96). Among the practices of Christians, Pliny mentions their custom of meeting regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses ‘to Christ as to a god’ (Christo quasi deo).”
“…the satirist Lucian of Samosata (ca. 115-ca. 200) wrote a mocking life of a convert to and then apostate from Christianity, The Passing of Peregrinus. The Christians are said to be so enamored of Peregrinus that they revered him as a god ‘…next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”
– John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew – Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 1.

The Trinitarian Doctrine
The concept of the Holy Trinity has a precedent in the “God is One” acclamation of the Egyptian New Kingdom a millenium before Jesus.

“The ancient Egyptians believed that God could be manifest in any form he/she chose. Thus, many deities have multiple representations, with Re, the solar deity having 76 forms in all, as may be seen in the New Kingdom royal tombs at Thebes. In those same tombs, you have a realistic picture of the trinity. The solar deity Re, depicted as a disk, and within the disk are Khepri, the scarab beetle form of Re, and the ram-headed Re-Horakhti. These three aspects of the solar deity were respectively, the morning sun, the midday disk sun, and the evening form. Incidentally, the morning form, Khepri, was the resurrected sun, which the Egyptians believed daily died when it set in the western horizon, but then, in the deepest night hours was magically transformed back into the scarab, and reborn in the eastern horizon, as Khepri. Many of the earliest Christian theologians lived in Alexandria, and so they adopted this Egyptian religious concept for explaining the Christian Trinity.”
– Frank J. Yurco

A “succession of great Christian thinkers (and their Gnostic forerunners)…originated from Egypt or lived there, starting with Valentine and Basilides (c. C.E. 135), followed by Clement and Origen, and leading to Alexander, Athansius and the presbyter Arius.”
– Seigfreid Morenz, Egyptian Religion

“It would be ridiculous to imagine that the body of the Redeemer, in order to exist, had the usual needs of man. He only took food and ate it in order that we should not teach about him in a Docetic fashion.”
Clement of Alexandria

“The Word disguised himself by appearing in a body…by the works he did in the body [he] showed himself to be, not man, but God.”
– Archdeacon Athanasius [later bishop of Alexandria], On the Incarnation of the Word 16:1

“According to the Alexandrians, therefore, Jesus had been God, and had existed in total equality with God since before time began. To view him any other way made him less than God, which was unthinkable.”
– Ian Wilson, Jesus, The Evidence

“Tertullian, a lawyer and presbyter of the third century Church in Carthage, was the first to use the word ‘Trinity’ when he put forth the theory that the Son and the Spirit participate in the being of God, but all are of one being of substance with the Father.”

– “Islam: Prophethood, Jesus & Trinity

“The merging of Jesus into a Holy Trinity occured “probably under Gnostic influence which in turn developed from Neo-Platonism. The concept is that the one transcendent God is an impersonal God (contrast with Judaism’s personal God) who is beyond the reach of mere man – hence the need for a mediator between God and man. There are two mediators: Logos the son of God personifies male rationality and logic, and Sophos the daughter of God personifies female wisdom and intuition. Jesus of course was related to Logos in the Gospel of John and the ‘Holy Spirit’ tended to be seen as Sophos.”
– Paul Harvey

“The cultural matrix of this mystical theology is probably the mystical Hellenistic speculation of Christianized Philonic Jews of the mid- to latter 1st c. C.E., rather than pagan Greeks. For Aristotelian logic left gentile Greek churches totally clueless as to how to make rational sense out of the Gospel of John. Hence, the next five centuries of theological and christological debates that resulted in countless councils and excommunications and creeds and the eventual decision of most oriental Christians to adopt the simple monotheism of Muhammad.”
– Mahlon Smith (CrossTalk – 17 Oct 1998)

“[Tom] Kopecek [CrossTalk – December 4 1996] locates the crucial philosophical background for the Trinity in Ptolemaic Valentinian Christianity. In their view, human beings differed most in how much of a share of the Spirit they had (most people didn’t have much if any of it.) It was the Spirit which linked them to the divine. In the development of the Pleroma, there was a hierarchy of thirty Aeons. But because each of them were spiritual beings, they were all of the same substance or essence (homoousios)– i.e., spirit. This idea of the Pleroma provided something of a model for the later orthodox Catholic view of the Trinity, for the Valentinians looked upon the Pleroma as divided into three main divisions, the beings or ‘persons’ of which were distinguishable but nonetheless all fully divine or God. The first known use of homoousios with reference to the relationship between God and Jesus was by Paul of Samosata, third century Bishop of Antioch.”
– Bob Schacht (CrossTalk – 17 Oct 1998)

(2) The Council of Nicea

Alexandrian Theology

“Many scholars see the core of Alexandrian theology as Deification or the grace of renewal. By deification the Alexandrians mean the renewal of human nature as a whole, to attain sharing in the characteristics of our Lord Jesus Christ in place of the corrupt human nature, or as the apostles state that the believer may enjoy “the partaking in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), or the new man in the image of His Creator (Col. 3:10). This theological mind draws the heart of the Alexandrians away from the arguments about the definitions of the theological terms to concentrate on attaining the divine grace as being an enjoyment of the unity with the Father, in His only-begotten Son, Jesus, by the work of His Holy Spirit, or attaining Christ Himself who renews our nature in Him.”
The Characteristics of Alexandrian Theology

“For this He came down,

for this He assumed human nature,

for this He willingly endured the sufferings of man,

that by being reduced to the measure of our weakness

He might raise us to the measure of His power.

The Word of God, became man just that you may learn from a Man

how it may be that man should become god.”
– Clement of Alexandria

” He was made man that we might be gods…For as, although there be one Son by nature, True and Only-Begotten, we too become sons, not as He in nature and truth, but according to the grace of Him that calls, and though we are men from the earth, are yet called gods.”
– Athanasius

A Crisis in Christianity
“According to the Egyptian Gospel Jesus is supposed to have said to his disciples that ‘the same was the Father, the same was the Son and the same was the Holy Ghost’.”
– Seigfreid Morenz, Egyptian Religion

“However, for those who had grown up around Antioch, the region that included the homeland of the earthly Jesus, there was an altogether different emphasis and outlook. In the third century the great Lucian of Antioch, reflecting Christianity’s origins in Jewish monotheism, had stressed the essential oneness of God, the simple humanity of Jesus, and the importance of the way of life Jesus taught, which those obsessed with theology too easily overlooked.”
– Ian Wilson, Jesus, The Evidence

The School of Antioch was in directed opposition to the School of Alexandria, which supported the trinitarian creed. The Christians in Antioch claimed that they possessed the true manuscripts (Textus Receptus) of the Gospels. They charged that the Alexandrian manuscripts, which were used as the source for revised bible versions, were composed by heretics.

Although Arius was Deacon of the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, he was also a follower of Lucian. His philosophers and textual criticism opposed the trinitarian doctrine of the Alexandrian school and provoked a crisis within the church. The Arian controversy, as it came to be known, eventually spread across the Roman Empire.

“For He [the Son] is not eternal or co-eternal or co-unoriginate with the Father, nor has He His being together with the Father, as some speak of relations, introducing two ingenerate beginnings, but God is before all things as being Monad and Beginning of all. Wherefore also He is before the Son; as we have learned also from they preaching in the midst of the Church. ”
– Arius’ Letter to Alexander of Alexandria (excerpt) 320 CE

(Modern critics have charged that Arius’ true agenda was to promote the worship of Theotokos, the mother-goddess. Arius, however, writes about “One God, alone Ingenerate, alone Everlasting, alone Unbegun, alone True, alone having Immortality, alone Wise, alone Good, alone Sovereign” [“Letter to Alexander”].) Airus’ superior was Alexandria’s Bishop Alexander, supreme ecclesiastical authority for Egypt and Libya. According to Alexander, Arius taught that God chose Jesus “on account of the carefulness of His manners and His practice” and was “a thing created, and a thing made” (“Epistles on the Arian Heresy and the Deposition of Arius”). This is in contrast to the description of Jesus in the Gospel of John as “the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father”, whom Alexander describes as “subsistence of the divine Word [Logos]”.

“St. Athanasius [the succeeding Bishop of Alexandria] defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit in his reply to the Arians who believed that He was a creature and less than the Logos. He also writes about the Holy Spirit in four letters addressed to his friend Bishop Serapion. His theology concerning the Holy Spirit is the same concerning Christ. The Holy Spirit must be God, because if He were a creature, we could not participate in His divine nature. He states, ‘If by participation in the Spirit, we are made ‘sharers in the divine nature’ 2 Pet. 1:4. It should not to be doubted that His nature is of God.”
The Characteristics of Alexandrian Theology

In an attempt to end the controversy, Arius was excommunicated by Bishop Alexander. Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, however, convened a synod of the bishops in his region in support of Arius. The emperor Constantine suddenly found himself embroiled in a bitter theological dispute which had political consequences which threatened the Pax Romana he had foughtso hard to establish. Therefore, in 318 CE, he sent Arius and Alexander each a letter asking them to resolve the dispute.


The Emperor Constantine

“Constantine the Victor, Supreme Augustus, to Alexander and Arius…how deep a wound has not only my ears but my heart received from the report that divisions exist among yourselves…having enquired carefully into the origin and foundation of these differences, I find their cause to be of a truly insignificant nature, quite unworthy of such bitter contention…Restore my quiet days and untroubled nights to me, so that joy of undimmed light, delight in a tranquil life, may one again be mine.”
– Constantine

“Constantine was principally interested in two things: the God of the Christians, whom he saw as a manifestation of his existing sun god; and the figure of Jesus the Christ, whom he saw as a Jewish messiah, just as he was, he felt, the messiah of the Empire. He considered Jesus to be a warlike and sacred figure like himself who fought to establish God’s rule, but whereas the Jewish king has failed, he had not.”
– Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus

Unable to resolve the dispute, “Constantine decided personally to summon all Christian leaders to the first-ever ‘World Council’. The appointed date was early summer 325 C.E., the venue the pleasant lakeside town of Nicaea, today Iznik in north-western Turkey, where Constantine had a suitably commodious palace.”
“In the simplest terms, the point at issue was whether Jesus was a mere being (now incontestably divine) who had been brought into existence to serve God’s purpose – to act as the ‘word’ of God – at a particular time in the early first century C.E., or whether he had been God for all eternity, ‘of one substance with the Father’ [Greek: homoousion to patri)] (as those in the West expressed it).”
“To try to provide a formula on which the whole gathering could agree, Eusebius of Caesarea read out the statement of belief which he was accustomed to employ at baptisms within his own diocese:”
– Ian Wilson, Jesus, The Evidence

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of all that is seen and unseen; and in one lord Jesus Christ, the word of God, god from God, light from light, life from life, only begotten son, first-born of all creation, before all ages begotten from the Father, who for our salvation was incarnate and lived among men…”
– Eusebius of Caesarea

“But to the fourth-century Alexandrians…it simply did not go far enough, and was not sufficiently precise. It made Jesus appear less than God himself.”
– Ian Wilson, Jesus, The Evidence

Of One Substance
Constantine ruled in favor of the Alexandrians. At his urging the following phrase was added which described the Son of God as “begotten of his Father before all world. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.”

“There was a religious requirement behind this theory, viz., the need of retaining… the simple article, ‘God Himself became man for our salvation….

“If now, the redemption of mankind consisted in the miracle of the deification of man’s substance, it followed that the full Godhead must have combined in Jesus Christ with human nature, and so raised it to a divine status. In this way, it inevitably followed that this theory of redemption required the recognition of the complete substantial deity of the Logos. In the last analysis, this is what is meant when the Logos Son is declared to be homoousios, i.e., the ‘same substance’ as the Father. It means to say that God’s nature as present in Christ, the nature which was recognized as Son or Logos, possessed everything which belonged to the full, divine, miraculous operation. To put it otherwise, our human bodily form represented in Jesus’ bodily form, was combined with the entire and most exalted nature of God, without any sort of diminution, and was thereby withdrawn from the perishableness of the earthly.
“For this reason, any attempt to maintain degrees of the divine essence in the case of the Father and Son must be repudiated.”
“…this guaranteed the essential deification of redeemed mankind, in accordance with the needs of popular religion.”
– Hans Lietzmann, A History of the Early Church III, 108; 111

“…The Nicene formula was important for all who regarded their own access to immortal life as the only salvation worthy of the name; and this creedal theory helped to make the desired miracle of deification believable.”
– Roy W. Hoover, printout on Nicaea and Homoousios

There is nothing in the Nicene creed about Jesus’ words and actions. Only his death is important. While the Christian message from early times, as expressed in the kerygma of the Gospel of Mark and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), is centered around the belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus was still a human like us (although sinless) while on earth.

“Jesus grew both in body and in wisdom, gaining favor with God and men.”
– Luke 2:52

According to Mark (but not Luke), Jesus expressed ignorance of when the end would come (Mark 13:32). In the high Christology of the Nicene creed, however, this human dimension was removed. Jesus became an icon of eternal truth far removed from the human condition.

Under pressure of banishment, all but two of the bishops present signed the revised statement of faith.

“The decision of Nicaea that God himself and not a half-god is present in the man Jesus of Nazareth was open to the loss of the Jesus-character of Jesus as the Christ or, in traditional terminology, to the denial of his full human nature. And this danger…was real. Popular and monastic piety was not satisfied with the message of the eternal unity of God and man appearing under the conditions of estrangement. These pieties wanted ‘more.’ They wanted a God, walking on earth, participating in history, but not involved in the conflicts of existence and the ambiguities of life. Popular piety did not want a paradox, but a ‘miracle.’ It desired an event in analogy with all other events in time and space, an ‘objective’ happening in the supernatural sense. By this kind of piety the way for every possible superstition was opened.”
– Paul Tillich, Systematic Theologv, 11, 142; 144

John Dominic Crossan has come to terms with the Nicaean creed, however.

“Christianity…when it attempted to define as clearly as it could the meaning of Jesus, insisted that he was ‘wholly God’ and ‘wholly man’, that he was, in other words, himself the unmediated presence of the divine to the human. I find, therefore, no contradiction between the historical Jesus and the defined Christ, no betrayal whatsoever in the move from Jesus to Christ. Whether there were ultimate betrayals in the move from Christ to Constantine is another question.”
– John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991)

Supression of Opposing Views
The Council of Nicaea was concluded with a banquet which seemed a far cry from the open commensality of Jesus’ meals.

“Detachments of the body-guard and troops surrounded the entrance of the palace with drawn swords, and through the midst of them the men of God proceeded without fear into the innermost of the Imperial apartments, in which some were the Emperor’s companions at table, while others reclined on couches arranged on either side. One might have thought that a picture of Christ’s kingdom was thus shadowed forth, and a dream rather than reality.”
– Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 3:15

Later, upon returning home, Eusebius of Nicomedia and two other churchmen repudiated the agreement, but it was too late.

“Understand now by this present statue, Novatians, Valentinians, Marcionites, Paulinians, you who are called Cataphrygians…with what a tissue of lies and vanities, with what destructive and venomous errors, your doctrines are inextricably woven! We give you warning…Let none of you presume, from this time forward, to meet in congregations. To prevent this, we command that you be deprived of all the houses in which you have been accustomed to meet…and that these should be handed over immediately to the catholic [i.e. universal] church.”
– Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 2

“The books of Arius and his sympathizers were ordered to be burnt, and a reign of terror proclaimed for all those who did not conform with the new, official ‘Christian’ line:”
– Ian Wilson, Jesus, The Evidence

“Eleven years afterwards, a more numerous and celebrated assembly was convened at Nice in Bithynia, to extinguish, by their final sentence, the subtle disputes which had arisen in Egypt on the subject of the Trinity. Three hundred and eighteen bishops obeyed the summons of their indulgent master; the ecclesiastics of every rank, and sect, and denomination, have been computed at two thousand and forty-eight persons; the Greeks appeared in person; and the consent of the Latins was expressed by the legates of the Roman pontiff. The session, which lasted about two months, was frequently honored by the presence of the emperor. Leaving his guards at the door, he seated himself (with the permission of the council) on a low stool in the midst of the hall. Constantine listened with patience, and spoke with modesty: and while he influenced the debates, he humbly professed that he was the minister, not the judge, of the successors of the apostles, who had been established as priests and as gods upon earth.”
– Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 7

“According to historian Michael Grant, Constantine had little interest in the person of Jesus himself and found the crucifixion an embarrassment. In a remarkable irony, seeing ‘the Cross not so much as an emblem of suffering but as a magic totem confirming his own victoriousness’, Constantine transformed the cross from a symbol of sacrificial love and humiliation into a symbol of triumph: he had it painted on the shields of his soldiers.”
– Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (1995)

“By the time of the Emperor Constantine’s [deathbed – -337 CE] conversion, when Christianity became an officially approved religion in the fourth century, Christian bishops, previously victimized by the police, now commanded them. Possession of books denounced as heretical was made a criminal offense. Copies of such books were burned and destroyed. But in Upper Egypt, someone, possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St. Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction – in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,6000 years.”
– Eileen Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (1989)

These papyri at at Nag Hammadi were finally found in 1945 and revealed the influence of Gnosticism on Hellenistic thinking.

The homoousion doctrine was finally ratified at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The Trinitarian creed was made authoritative in 451, at the Council of Chalcedon. Debate on the matter was no longer tolerated and opposition against the Trinity was now considered blasphemy. Sentences ranged from mutilation to death.

2 thoughts on “The Real Jesus?”

  1. These citations regarding early Eucharistic practice are very useful. Thank you! I have recently been studying the Anaphora of Sts. Addai and Mari, the very ancient liturgy still in use by the Assyrian Church of the East (very difficult to find now without Latinizations due to this ancient church’s perilous history over the last century or two) and am struck by there being no reference to the “This is my body, this is my blood” language in it. This liturgy, which references the body and blood of Christ being present even before the consecration portion begins, considers that which is being done “in remembrance of me” the sharing of the communal meal. Given that this is the liturgy with a church of very ancient tradition, which developed outside of the Roman Empire (within which both Catholic and Orthodox traditions developed), there is a strong suggestion that earliest tradition just did not see this in the sacrificial light that the Western churches have certainly come to understand it. But then, my suspicion is that this apparent discrepancy may have been affected by language, which at its heart reflects different modes of comprehension. There is a great example of this in the Gospel of Phillip, in which those who believe that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit is derided. To my understanding, this boils down to a distinction between psycholinguistic systems. In the Aramaic of Jesus and the apostles, the Holy Spirit is a feminine word — “rukha.” Hence, the idea that feminine could conceive of the feminine (whether understand physiologically or more esoterically) was seen as absurd. The Greek word, “pneumatikos,” is neuter — and in keeping with that indefinite form, the understanding of Mary conceiving of Jesus is “mystery.” But in the Latin, the Spirit is “spiritus,” which is male — and just as in all of those old Roman myths with gods propagating with mortals, it’s easy to see why the idea of this conception was seen physiologically. So I suspect that underlying all of these early variants of Eucharistic consecration may be ancient psycholingual differences that we moderns just don’t understand. I don’t necessarily think the answer lies just in “word studies” or looking up ancient words in lexicons because those are just as driven by the particular viewpoints of the “authoritative” sources as anything else. But there is lots of food for thought in these citations provided!

  2. I think it’s clear to most modern scholars that Jesus did not call himself God, nor did the disciple believe he was God, literally or fully anyway. But he did make some amazing statements concerning himself, especially in the gospel of John. In St. John Jesus declares himself separate and one with God. And also gives some very mystical statements about our relationship to him and to God. I think it can be clear that Jesus was an Enlightened Jewish Mystic that revealed a true mystical path to unity with God through his teaching and example. God is the mystery of mysteries, seen everywhere but nowhere. And Jesus is the Path to fully experience this mystery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.