Saturday, April 30, 2005

Caesar's Messiah

I have recently been forwarded an advance copy of the forthcoming book, Caesar's Messiah, by Joseph Atwill. From the blurb at Amazon:
Author Joseph Atwill makes the case that the Christian Gospels were actually written under the direction of first-century Roman emperors. The purpose of these texts was to establish a peaceful Jewish sect to counterbalance the militaristic Jewish forces that had just been defeated by the Roman Emperor Titus in 70 A.D. Atwill uncovered the secret key to this story in the writings of Josephus, the famed first-century Roman historian. Reading Josephus's chronicle, The War of the Jews, the author found detail after detail that closely paralleled events recounted in the Gospels. Atwill skillfully demonstrates that the emperors used the Gospels to spark a new religious movement that would aid them in maintaining power and order. What's more, by including hidden literary clues, they took the story of the Emperor Titus's glorious military victory, as recounted by Josephus, and embedded that story in the Gospels - a sly and satirical way of glorifying the emperors through the ages.
I'll have a review up in a few days.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mark, Q, and Beelzebub II: Markan Interreferences

This is the second in a series of posts on the Mark-Q overlaps.

Before we actually get into the problem of the Mark-Q overlaps it will first be necessary to identify yet another stylistic technique of the writer of Mark. The Gospel of Mark appears to have been created in part by using the stories from the Old Testament as a framework for the events of Jesus' ministry, passion, death, and resurrection. From time to time the author sends the reader a signal of this habitual creative pattern: he cites a passage he has paralleled, or will parallel, elsewhere in the Gospel. Since I was unable to find out what word scholars have given to this habit, I have dubbed them "interreferences" until someone comes along with some term more pleasing to the eye and ear. To date I have managed to locate about a dozen instances in which the author does this, including Mk 1:2, Mk 2:25, Mk 2:26, Mk 3:22, Mk 7:6-8, Mk 7:32, Mk 9:1-13, Mk 9:19, Mk 12:20, Mk 14:27, Mk 14:55, and Mk 16:5. Some of these are of course stronger than others.

Two of the easiest to see are located right in Mark 2, Mk 2:25, and Mk 2:26. In Mark 2:25 Jesus refers to the time that David ate the bread of the presence, demanding 5 loaves. Later on in the gospel, in the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mk 6:30-44, Jesus' disciples will have five loaves. In the next verse, Mark 2:26, Jesus makes a famous error, incorrectly referring to "Abiathar" as the High Priest when David had his magical snack. This is often written off as error, but it is a colossal boner, as Meier notes:
"After reviewing both the scriptural errors and flaws in Jesus' arguments, Meier (2004) concludes: "If this scene gives us a true picture of the biblical knowledge and teaching skill of the historical Jesus, then the natural and very effective response of the Pharisees would have been not fierce anger and concerted opposition but gleeful mockery. They would have laughed their heads off-and invited the populace to do the same-at this uneducated woodworker who insisted on making a fool of himself in public by displaying his abysmal ignorance of the very scriptural text on which he proposed to instruct the supposedly ignorant Pharisees."(p579)
In other words, this mistake is so comical that the writer must have intended it. In my own reading the writer is referring the reader ahead to the Gethsemane scene, which he will construct using 2 Sam 15-17 as a foundation. In 2 Sam 15-17 David sends Abiathar back to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant. The back-to-back joining of David and Abiathar represent the writer quietly directing the reader to the passages to be paralleled. Homer may nod, but Mark never sleeps.

Similarly, in Mark 14:55, during the Sanhedrin Trial, the writer cites Daniel 6, right down to the Greek. Daniel 6 is the basis of the trial, death, and resurrection scene in Mark 15-16. Again, in Mark 3:22 the writer mentions Be-el'zebul, which occurs only once in the OT, in 2 Kings 1. That sequence was used to create the story of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. And that will take us shortly to the next post in this series......

Meier, John. 2004. The Historical Jesus and the Plucking of the Grain on the Sabbath. The Catholic Bible Quarterly. I, 66, 2004, p562-581

Monday, April 25, 2005

Jim West on Iraqi Museums....

I don't plan to post much on non-NT issues here, but the problem of antiquities theft and fraud does at least have a ghost of a relationship. I saw that Jim West writes on his Blog:
The BBC carries the story, which begins Saddam Hussein's power had collapsed and the newly arrived US-led coalition forces were unable to prevent a crime against history. Professional smugglers connected to the international antiquities mafia managed to break some of the sealed doors of the Baghdad Museum storage rooms. They looted priceless artefacts such as the museum's entire collection of cylindrical seals and large numbers of Assyrian ivory carvings. More than 15,000 objects were taken. Many were smuggled out of Iraq and offered for sale. US Forces had other things to do besides protect antiquities, and US planners probably didn't even think about Museums being looted until it was pointed out to them by news organizations. War has more than just human casualties. No doubt we have for the most part forgotten the horrible destruction in Germany during the Allied bombings of WW II- as well as the havoc wreaked in France and Britain. High time, isn't it, that "they beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks".
Jim does not appear to permit comments on his blog, so I'll just take a moment here to point out that West is wrong on several points. Archaeologists and museum specialists warned the US long in advance that the museums would be looted. Counterpunch has a good article on the topic. The American Society for Oriental Research has a warning from 2002 on the issue. Googling will turn up others. The US had the troops to secure each one of Iraq's oil wells, but apparently not its archaeological sites and museusms. Further, the permanent shortage of US troops in Iraq was a deliberate policy decision by the Bush Administration and not a result of the exigencies of warfare; the Administration removed Gen. Shinseki from his post as General of the Army after he informed the Administration that they didn't have enough troops, a fact one that anyone could discover by reading this 1995 article in Parameters, the Army War College journal. The failure to protect Iraq's heritage was also a gross violation of the laws of war. In short, the museum was looted because of the incompetence and venality of the Bush Administration, and for no other reason.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Book Review: Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David

I zoomed up to Taipei this weekend to pick up some books that a friend had procured for me overseas. In between trips to the Shanghai Hsiaoguan for Twice-Cooked Pork and hiking on the east coast:

Taiwan's east coast offers spectacular sea cliffs and beautiful views.

I managed to find the time to swallow a half-dozen books, including Thompson's The Messiah Myth. Here's a first pass at a review.
The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David

Thomas L. Thompson
Basic Books, 2005. 414 pages.

The Historical Jesus Quest is really composed of two quests. One involves sifting through the texts and developing methodologies for dealing with the data. The other involves situating the figure of Jesus in the proper historical context.

The battle over the proper context for Jesus has been one of least-recognized but most profound of the various struggles among New Testament exegetes. After WWII exegetes began to strongly emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus. Laudably, this was partly in response to the "Aryan Jesus" of 19th century scholarship, that eventually found its apotheosis in Nazi doctrines. However, it was also in response to the arguments of scholars from the schools of myth and comparative religions, who had argued in the period prior to the Second World War that Jesus resembled similar figures of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean. By reinforcing the Jewishness of Jesus and delinking him from the surrounding cultures, New Testament scholars sought to protect him from the assaults of the comparative religions school.

At first glance it is easy to mistake Thomas L. Thompson's The Messiah Myth for a revival of this school. Don't. The Messiah Myth does not attempt, as the comparative religions school did, to seek out parallels to Jesus and then link Jesus to them. Rather, Thompson attempts to recover the Greater Context: an enormous toolkit of ideas, themes, and observations that dominate the literature of the Near East, and find expression in all of its major texts, including the Bible, and in all of its major heroes, including Jesus and David.

Despite the subtitle The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, Thompson's book does not focus strongly on Jesus. The vast majority of the work consists of exploring the Old Testament and other Near Eastern texts to show that they all make use of the same complex of tropes in composing their various stories. This complex of tropes includes reversals (of rich and poor, the powerful and the peasantry, the weak and the strong), descent-ascent motifs, messiah as priest, king, and warrior motifs, and similar structures and idea familiar to readers of the Tanakh and the Christian writings. Thompson thus does not seek to show that Jesus is a myth by close analysis of the stories about him, like G.A Wells and other mythicists have done. Instead, he offers a rich new context against which the figure of Jesus can be evaluated.

Thompson opens the book with a chapter entitled "Historicizing the figure of Jesus" that is apparently intended as a critique of the various Historical Jesus figures that New Testament scholarship has produced. He observes:
  • "A wary reader does well to recognize the wish fulfillment of Schweitzer's figure of Jesus. His mistaken prophet is historical primarily because he does not mirror the Christianity of Schweitzer's time. But the assumption that this mistaken prophet of the apocalypse is a figure appropriate to first century Judaism is itself without evidence. The prophetic figure Mark presented, and the assumed expectations associated with his coming, belong to the surface of Mark's text. Schweitzer did not consider why Mark presented such a figure or such expectations. Nor did he consider whether the life of such a person and the expectations of his coming in fact belonged to the historical reality of first century Jews in Palestine, or whether both expectations and figure were literary tropes. Then the figure of the messiah might express Judaism's highest values within Mark's story does not imply that either the figure or expectations about him were to be found in early first-century historical Palestine."(p6-7)

The opening chapter serves notice: the historical Jesus is an assumption, rather than a discovery, of scholarship. "Dating sayings common to Q and Thomas as an "earliest level" of sayings and suggesting a time between 30 and 60 CE for their origin is a conclusion drawn from the assumption that there was an oral tradition derived from a historical Jesus' teaching."(p11) From whence, then, stems this figure
  • "As we will see in the following chapters, the most central sayings in the gospels were spoken by many figures of ancient literature. That they are "sayings of Jesus" is to be credited to the author who put them in his mouth. Many sayings the [Jesus] seminar identifies as "certainly authentic" are well-known and can be dated centuries earlier than the New Testament. The very project of the Jesus Seminar is anchored in wishful thinking. Evidence for the prehistory of these sayings is so abundant and well attested that we can trace a continuous literary tradition over millennia."(p11)

Having sounded the eschatological alarm, Thompson slowly bids the Gospels goodbye, and enters the world of the Old Testament. In the second chapter, "The Figure of the Prophet", there is much back-and-forth between the Gospel stories and the Old Testament, but by the time we get to chapter four, "The Song for a Poor Man", the Gospels have been left behind, and we plunge into a world of international texts from antiquity, each full of themes the echo, extend, comment on, and interact with, the recurring tropes that make up the Tanakh.

Thompson builds his reading of the texts by searching out themes common throughout the Near East, drawing on a wide variety of texts. Writing on the Good King, he says:
  • "Some of our stories serve as memorials to the king, while others are dedications of a cult place. Thirteen of the twenty-one inscriptions are presented in autobiographical form, where the king plays the role of author as well as subject. Eight present the story of the king in the third person. The Idrimi stele (no. 13), which is engraved on a statue of the king, presents its first-person form by locating the closing lines in a cartoon balloon coming out of the king's mouth. In spite of the autobiographical form, some of these inscriptions are likely posthumous."(p157)
Analysis of these texts yields common themes that function as tropes, recurring themes that appear in texts all over the Near East.

For example, in the Near East there is a common trope: a "utopian, comprehensive, and transcendent" peace that is the goal of every king's rule. Thompson identifies this peace in many different texts (including in an appendix), including tales about Idrimi, Nabonidus, and Esarhaddon, as well as David.

At his best when building his collection of tropes, The Messiah Myth falters whenever it comes near the Gospels, giving the impression that Thompson is wielding a hammer in whose presence everything attempts to turn into nails. After establishing the existence of a trope referring to the children and the kingdom, Thompson then turns to the Gospel versions:
  • "Of the six occurrences of the trope Crossan calls "kingdom and children" sayings, four are classified as independent and two dependent. Only the authority of scholarly tradition of the primacy of Mark supports the judgment that the very close variations of the saying "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belong the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:14) and "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belong the kingdom of God" (Lk 18:16) are dependent on the similar saying in Mark: "Let the little children come to me; do not prevent them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:14). This saying, nearly identical in all three gospels, clearly offers a common trope, but the primacy of Mark's version, including the phrase "kingdom of God" he shares with Luke, does not stand on its own merits. The assumption that Mark is the source for the versions of Matthew and Luke is unprovable. Similarly, that the saying in Mark is the most likely original can be shown to be without merit."(p76)
While it is quite true that any sayings tradition is ultimately an assumption of scholars, that is not the case with the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels, where scholars possess all three of the relevant texts. Thompson either does not understand, or does not care to understand, the complexities of the Synoptic problem and the way that it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of most scholars that the first gospel written was Mark. Right or wrong, the priority of Mark is a conclusion, not an assumption.

This dismissal of modern scholarly understandings means that The Messiah Myth interacts largely with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, when the most historically important Gospel is that of Mark. Thompson apparently regards these writings as largely independent, and locates their similarities in the use of common tropes rather than literary dependence. This position is indefensible, and does nothing for the book's credibility. A further problem is that Thompson does not mention the letters of Paul.

Nevertheless, for those of us interested in the New Testament and in the Bible in general, there are innumerable insights and understandings. Thompson writes with an assurance and erudition that commands our attention, and manages to suppress any pesky doubts that might arise when we observe his cavalier attitude toward New Testament scholarship. Using the insights he develops from the tropes he collects, Thompson is often able to correct scholarly misapprehensions:
  • "Like the 'kingdom of God,' the metaphor of my father's kingdom is not apocalyptic in the sense that it implies expectations of the end of the world as Schweitzer thought. It is rather a utopian and idealistic metaphor for a world of justice. In ancient Near Eastern and biblical literature, it is related to the figure of the savior-king who, by reestablishing divine rule, returns creation to the original order."(p198)

Because Thompson functions at the level of tropes, larger themes that govern the structure of texts, there is actually little here that is useful against the figure of Jesus as a historical figure. Despite his complaints about New Testament scholarship Thompson himself provides no answers to the questions he raises. Showing that tropes are part and parcel of ancient texts simply undermines Thompson's own implicit argument against a historical Jesus, for many of the texts that Thompson uses to support his case are either about, or from, historical figures. Hence it is easy to argue that the Gospel writers simply cast their historical figure in the standard Near Eastern format, and dismiss Thompson with a wave of the broader theme. Mythicism will never advance until it begins to churn out detailed, verse-by-verse readings of the relevant texts that show precisely how they are built out of literary convention, pre-existent sayings, Old Testament passages, themes, and concepts, and literary tropes and broader mythic themes. For that purpose Thompson will provide useful insight, but no decisive view.

Despite the title, those who come to this book seeking arguments against Jesus historicism will be disappointed. But readers who pick this volume in search of new understandings of old texts will not leave the table hungry. There Thompson pours out a cornucopia which this reviewer's New Testament-oriented interests cannot hope to adequately capture. I highly recommend The Messiah Myth to anyone with a general interest in ancient Near Eastern mythology and story, including the Bible texts. For them, The Messiah Myth will be bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and a ferryboat to the boatless.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Books here!

Today the loot from Amazon I awarded myself last month after finishing a large translation job finally arrived. T Thompson's The Messiah Myth, T Weeden's Mark -- Traditions in Conflict, Lentz's book on the historical-critical method, and a bunch of others. I may go AWOL from the Sword this weekend, as are heading up to Keelung for some hiking in the wild terrain of the NE coast.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Is Mark Q? Beelzebub and the Mark-Q Overlaps

This weekend I had to stay in Hsinchu again to watch the kids while my wife and her sister went shopping in the flower market. I found myself in another discussion with Earl Doherty over at JesusMysteries on the whole issue of Q, which Mark Goodacre's excellent The Case Against Q has convinced me is an artifact of scholarship.

Several years back Fledderman (2001) argued that the Beelzebub reference in Mark, Matt, and Luke demonstrated Mark's use of Q. While I agree that it is of import for the problem of Q, I have a rather different take on it. In two important ways, it shows the hand of Mark in Q, and thus, the dependence of Q on Mark. In this post I'll take a look at one of the arguments. Tomorrow I'll offer another perspective on the Beelzebub issue.

Is Mark Q? Two Arguments

Argument the First: The Argument from Possession
The Beelzebub reference in Mark 3:22 is a tell-tale clue that Mark is Q. Here is the context:
20: and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21: And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself." 22: And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Be-el'zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons."(RSV)
This parallel story for this event is also found in Matthew 12:22-26 and Luke 11:14-18.

Possession is a key theme of the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus is its primary focus. While in the other canonical gospels Jesus is depicted as the Son of God from the beginning, in Mark Jesus appears as a human who, at his baptism, receives the spirit of God. Thus, in the Gospel of Mark Jesus is adopted as the Son of God (recall Paul's claim that believers were the adopted sons of God in Romans 8:14-17). Throughout the Gospel Jesus encounters possessed individuals, and demon spirits who correctly identify him, while at the end, his "God" leaves him as he dies on the cross. In Mark Jesus is literally a man possessed.

This understanding of Mark as an Adoptionist document allows us to understand what is going on in the famous passage. Traditionally exegetes, working from the premise that the story has some underlying historical source, have understood the passage as commenting on Jesus' relations with his family. In this context the so-called Embarrassment criterion is often invoked to turn the passage into history. However, this interpretation not only misses the boat, it has not even shown up at the right dock. This event, almost certainly an invention of the writers', was probably never intended by the writer of Mark to reflect on Jesus' family. Rather, it is intended to further highlight Jesus as a possessed person.

Painter (1999) has drawn attention to the inherently incredible aspects of the narrative:
"First, the reader needs to recognise that [Greek omitted] is a reference to the family although they have not yet been mentioned by Mark. Next, the reader needs to know what the family in Nazareth heard of the situation. There is no clear clue to enable the reader to grasp this. There is no indication how the news travelled to Nazareth. The family seems to arrive on the same day without any suggestion of a significant gap before their arrival to allow for travel both ways, of the message to them and then of their jounrey to Jesus. Of course, it can be argued that Mark had no idea of distances or wouldn't have cared had he known. More likely, Mark implies that those who went restrain Jesus were close at hand, ....whoever they were, were not a family from a village miles away that has not been previously mentioned."(p504)
As Gundry (1993) observes, the Greek for "family" here could mean any kind of close associate. Further complicating matters, in the Western tradition it is the scribes who come out to seize him, not insiders. However, it is generally accepted that the writer means Jesus' family at this point in the text.

Since the narrative on its face is not credible, what does the reference mean? As Fowler (1996) points out, the debate here is not over whether Jesus is possessed. Rather, it is over whether
the spirit that possesses Jesus is good or evil. In other words, the passage assumes possession. For the writer of Mark, it was probably perfectly natural that an ordinary man who suddenly thought he was the Adopted Son of God should be suspected of possession by his loved ones; indeed, it would strange if he were not. Thus the writer sets the reader up for one of his trademark motifs: an identification of Jesus that is apparently erroneous but ironically correct. The Gospel abounds in such references -- Roman soldiers who mock him as a Jewish king, a Roman Centurion who sees him as God's son, enemies who refer to him as one who speaks truly though they intend mocking insult, and priests who mock him as a false Messiah. Here, his family thinks that he is possessed. Ironically, in Mark Jesus is in truth possessed, but by God, not a demon.

However, Jesus' possession by God, and possession in general, is not part of any program of Matthew's or Luke's, both of whom posit a Jesus that is the Son of God from the get-go. So what is the reference to possession doing in their Gospel? If this tale is a Mark-Q overlap, then Q contains Markan stylistic features. In other words, Q is Mark.

Fledderman, Harry T. 2001. Mark's Use of Q: The Beelzebul Controversy and the Cross Saying. In Labahn, Michael, and Schmidt, Andreas, eds. 2001. Jesus, Mark, and Q. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 214. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. pp17-33.

Fowler, Robert. 1996. Let the Reader Understand: Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International

Gundry, Robert. 1993. Mark: A Commentary on His Gospel. Grand Rapids: Erdmans.

Painter, John. 1999. When is a house not home? Disciples and family in Mark 3:13-35. New Test. Stud. vol 45, 1999. pp498-513.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Leman Blog

Just thought I'd take a moment in between digesting calories I don't need at prices I can't afford to say that Wayne Leman has a blog devoted to English and translation wording problems in the various translations of the English bible some readers might be interested in.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bede Responds on Chiasms

The Christian apologist Bede has responded to my reconstruction of the original structure of Mark on his blog. Bede's overall assessment is quite negative. For those interested my annotated reconstruction is here. I hoped to get the comments and structure updated this weekend, but life has intervened, in the form of another trip to Hsinchu for expensive meals, swimming at the company spa, and hiking trips in the mountains. Life sure is cruel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Is the Death of John in Mark an Interpolation? Not quite....

In The Jesus the Jews Never Knew atheist and skeptic Frank Zindler argued that the appearance of John the Baptist in Mark 6 was an interpolation. Zindler's argument was very thin, based entirely on his perception of a seam. He writes:
"The second major Markan passage retailing the tale of John the Baptist is found in chapter 6. Curiously, it takes the form of a fairy tale-like flashback -- perhaps designed to obscure the fact that it too is an obvious intrusion into Mark's skimpy narrative. (In general, the very loose organization characterizing this gospel makes it hazardous to interpret every wrenching dislocation of subject as an interpolation.)(p91)."
Zindler's argument lacks rich evidential and argumentative support and makes a very serious error of interpretation: the writer of Mark has a very controlled structure, and each verse is precisely placed. As we shall see, it is this tightly controlled structure that enables us to get a handle on what has actually happened.

What is the Source for the Take of John's Death?
Like most of the rest of Mark, the tale of John's death is taken from the Old Testament, from the story of Esther and from the expansions of it in rabbinical lore. This argument was originally made by Aus, but I have been unable to obtain a copy of the original article, so I have reconstructed it from the summaries and hints in Gundry's Mark and in Meier's A Marginal Jew. Here are the parallels as I see them (out of order parallels in parens):

ESTHER: Vashti, wife of the Persian King, is granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar
MARK: Herodias, wife of Herod, is granddaughter of Herod the Great

ESTHER: Vashti is commanded to appear before the Court wearing her crown (seen by later Jews as wearing only the crown). In Talmud Megillah 12B she is to appear only wearing royal crown
MARK: (Herodias' daughter dances lasciviously before Herod)

ESTHER: Esther marries the King of Persians,displacing Vashti
MARK: Herod has taken his brother's wife as his own, setting aside his own wife

ESTHER: Haman suggests Vashti be killed (Midrash)
MARK: (Herodias suggests John be killed)

ESTHER: Vashti's head is brought before the King on a platter (Midrash)
MARK: (John's head is brought before Herod on a platter)

ESTHER: Esther wants to stop Haman from destroying the Jews
MARK: Herodias wants John dead for criticizing her marriage

ESTHER: The enemy of Esther, Haman, is the king's favorite.
MARK: Herodias' enemy, John, is thought to be a "righteous and holy man" by Herod, who "kept him safe"
and "heard him gladly."

ESTHER: Haman goes home to get the advice of Zeresh his wife and his friends (twice)
MARK: (Herodias' daughter asks her mother what to ask for.)

ESTHER: Esther and the King are at a banquet arranged by her for herself and Haman
MARK: Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee.

ESTHER: "And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour
in his sight; and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre."
MARK: "For when Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests"

ESTHER: "And the king said to Esther' Whatever thy petition, it shall be granted thee; and whatever thy
MARK: the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it."

ESTHER: "...even to the half of the kingdom, it shall be performed.'
MARK: And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom."

As elsewhere in Mark the writer has preserved the original lines of his source text. In this case the writer has preserved the doublet wish. The Greek of Mark even follows the Greek of the Septuagint closely.

Is this Passage Interpolated?
There are several reasons to think so. Let me run down some of them:

1. The author of Mark nowhere else mentions the Book of Esther, which is odd because he has a habit of citing a book which he parallels elsewhere in the Gospel. 6:14-29 is big, and it would be unusual for a structure of this size not to pop up somewhere else. This may be wrong, as at least one scholar claims to have found Esther 2:18-23 parallels Mark 15:6-7 (I couldn't see any parallels myself, but I haven't read the argument, just the statement).

2. The story is intercalated between the two halves of the sending of the disciples but not in the writer's usual deft way in which one story comments on the other when they are sandwiched together. A good example of the typical style is Peter's denial, in the A-B-A' format. While Jesus affirms who he is Peter is out in the courtyard, denying who Jesus is. Then even as the soldiers mock Jesus and tell him to "Prophesy!" as if he can't, his prophecy of Peter's denial is coming true out in the courtyard. There just doesn't seem to be that same structure here where one part speaks to the other. The sending out of the disciples doesn't appear, at least to this writer, to reflect back to John the Baptist's death in any meaningful way. Moloney (2001), has argued otherwise, saying that the pericope forms a bridge between the initial part of the Gospel, where the disciples hear Jesus' message accompanied by positive signs, and the second part, where they begin to show their failure to understand Jesus. However, the disciples' incompetence is on display throughout Mark 4 and in Mark 5 as well, and may extend all the way back to Mk 2:23-28.

3. Another strike here is that while Mark often writes off the OT, and sometimes off Jewish legends and stories, it's rare that a passage of such length is entirely without allusions to OT verses in the details. For example, in the Cleansing of the Temple, the story frame is Jehu's cleansing of the Temple of Ba'al, but the verses themselves are not taken from 2 Kings, but from Zechariah, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah. Similarly, in the Annointing of Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper, the frame is again the Elijah-Elisha cycle, but the structure of the story is from Samuel, and there are cites of Deut and other texts in the verses. The writer of Mark likes citing the Psalms, Prophets, and Daniel, and these are nowhere in evidence in this story of Herod. On the other hand, the healing of Jairus' daughter follows this pattern of OT-free detailss, and just like 6:14-29, cites the source near the end.

4. the writer of Mark does not use the novelistic Jewish literature like Esther at all, except perhaps a bit of Tobit in Mark 16.

5. Mark 6 is an inverted parallel of Mark 3. Guess what story is not paralleled in Mark 3? You guessed it: JBap's death.

Solution: A Partial Interpolation/Expansion
A look at the chiastic structure of the pericope suggests that the story is NOT entirely an interpolation. The pericope has the usual Markan structure with the doubled center, but the center is wrong. Here is the chiastic structure of the first half of the pericope (see my Commentary for the entire structure):

A So they went out and preached that men should repent.

B And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

C King Herod heard of it; for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the baptizer has been raised
from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Eli'jah." And others
said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it he said, "John, whom
I beheaded, has been raised."

D For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero'di-as, his brother
Philip's wife; because he had married her.

E For John said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."

F And Hero'di-as had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John,
knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed;
and yet he heard him gladly.

G But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the
leading men of Galilee.

H For when Hero'di-as' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests;

I and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it."

I' And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom."

The I-I' bracket is the center of the chiasm. Note that each bracket is a simply a copy of the other. The writer of original Mark, while loving doublets, never makes them simpleminded repetitions of one another. Whatever the case for the rest of the pericope, the writer of Mark never wrote that center. Markan centers either have complex structures or consist of two brackets, one of which comments, replies to, or summarizes and extends the other, but not in a mindless and obvious way.

Another indicator of partial interpolation and expansion is the relationship between the D and E brackets:

D For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero'di-as, his brother Philip's wife; because he had married her.

E For John said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."

There is no other place in Mark where two explanatory brackets ("For...) pile into each other like that. Hence, I believe at this point the interpolator has hacked out material and replaced it with his own. The original material resumes near the end, in the B' and A' brackets. The ABC brackets at the beginning are Markan, and the reference to Elijah and the prophets and JBap is Markan and occurs two other times in Mark.

Hence, I am opting for partial interpolation on this one. In my view, the original text probably was quite short and simply narrated John's death in the usual laconic Markan fashion.

Sunday, April 10, 2005



NT scholar Ken Olson (pictured, below) became the latest to be assimilated by the Blogsphere this week with the

launch of KAIMOI, adopting a rare Greek-French word meaning: "AND ME." As the blogsphere expands to fill the NT universe, will there be anyone left unblogged? We asked Robert Putnam, author of "Blogging Alone," a new book that explores the assimilation of all minds into the emergent blogsphere, but Putnam begged off, saying that after weeks of racking his brains trying to think of things to write on his blog, he had discovered that he has a wife and kids.

For related stories, see:

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Biblical Studies Carnival is up and running!

Joel Ng, who runs the Ebla Forum, has finally got his Biblical Studies Carnival Blog up and running! The blog summarizes the best of Bibliologs around the Net. Joel ideally wants:
  • Original contributions with substantive comment on issues relating to the early Hebrew/Jewish and Christian scriptures (and pseudepigraphia), as well as Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Blogs themselves need not be actually focused on such material, only the entries themselves.
  • Non-sectarian bias.
  • Showcasing the best of the Biblical Studies blogs.
  • Anybody with a keen interest may contribute, not just the scholars. However, the material should be clearly argued and provide readers the ability to track down sources where cited.
Looks great! Can't wait to read all the entries.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More work...

I won't be able to post here until next week. I sure hate it when work interferes with my hobby! To come: Fowler, Crossan, Source-Critical methodologies, and Markan Chiasms......

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Chreia in the Temple Cleansing in Mark

From some comments on my Chiasm stuff earlier:

I wonder if it's time to start thinking about all of this as evidence for layers of redaction...the bits that are not chiasmed would seem to be later additions, and it's interesting that there seems to be some correlation with those elements that are missing from Luke--I should look into this in more detail. Mr. Turton, have you discovered Ur-Markus? (Or deutero-Mark, as the case may be).

I think the evidence shows that the Bethsaida section contains three types of material: Markan, modified Markan, and totally non-Markan. The last is exemplified by the idiotic "Beware the leaven of Herod" chastisement of the disciples.

(Could we even put the prophetic quotations in v1-3 in this category of later additions? Perhaps it was a revision or addition to an earlier tradition of John-material at the beginning of the gospel.)

Maybe, but it is impossible to tell now. I'd need another section to compare it with.

I might even go further, and suggest that some of the features of the chiasms seem to imply that the author was working with earlier material, struggling with its structure--the occasional ABC parallelism seems to suggest this, as do the brief 1-layer ABBA brackets interspersed throughout.

I agree but not in the way you think. In 12:10-35 there is a chiasm that looks like it informs the reader that Mark knew Paul. It contains 1-layer ABBA chiasms. It is interesting that you see them the same way I do, as indications of source-reliance. But the sources I see are all texts that Mark had access to, not tradition. But some of the ABBA contain chreia, others, long bursts of narrative that come from the author. Like this one:

A And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him.
___B And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons
___B Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zeb'edee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-aner'ges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
A Then he went home;

Here in my view he gets Peter, James, and John from Paul, and Judas he makes up out the Old Testament. The others I am open to arguments on. So we have a mix of tradition and invention here.


A And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.

____B And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "Every one is searching for you."

____B And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out."

A And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

...contains a chreia structure that the writer probably coined himself. I don't think you can say ABBA = this or that. Mark is never that simple (sigh)

My hunch is that the author was working to impose stylistic order on earlier material--and, I would argue further, was using chiasms to insert commentary into the previous text. So I would hypothesize three layers of redaction--one prior to the chiasms, and one following, but I realize this might just be my ideosyncratic opinion.

We sort of see this the same way, but the "earlier material" is in 99% of cases either OT or Pauline. There are no traditions under Mark.

ere's an example of what can be done with your chiasms. Let's look at the temple cleansing. In your Commentary, you cite Geoffrey Troughton in using Nehemiah as an OT basis for this episode. Troughton says:

"According to Davies and Allison, the prohibition against carriage through the Temple is the likeliest source of allusion to Nehemiah." Mk11:16 "and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple" is present only in Mark. It is not present in either Matthew, Luke, or John. It's especially telling that it isn't present in Matthew, since Matthew seems to have had the latest edition of Mark of the three other evangelists.


So, what happens to the chiasm without v16? It looks like it's reduced to an ABCBA structure, which isn't a chiasm at all according to your rules. Perhaps this was an older pericope that the author had difficulty rewriting. However, you'd probably view this conclusion as ad hoc, so let me suggest a different perspective. The center has been reduced to: And he taught, and said to them, "Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."

You note that the center of Markan chiasms is often a chreia. Aren't we looking at one here?

And he taught, and said to them, "Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?
***But you have made it a den of robbers."***

Hell yes! That's a great observation. But actually, that comment about centers and chreia was an earlier observation. My later restructuring of my early chiasms in Mark led me to conclude that Markan chreia/parables occur in the bracket directly following the center, more likely. But your basic observation holds: Jesus is speaking in chreia form.

Making for a lovely chreia-chiasm (which previously you could either not see, or not use, because you had to fit v16 in.) This example seems to tell us a few interesting things. For one, it suggests that the later editor was an OT-exegete. We are now left asking what exegesis is original, and what was added later.

We knew the editor(s) was an OT-exegete because the bogus material in the Bethsaida section is also OT-related. I think Matt dropped the reference to vessels in the Temple because, being a heckuva a lot dumber than Mark, he didn't get it. Or else, he knew it was impossible since he knew something about Judaism and the Holy Land, unlike Mark.

Also, as noted above, I have just removed the best piece of evidence that the cleansing is just a midrash on Nehemiah 13:9. Furthermore, if you read Troughton's article in its entirety, you will find that I have made his interpretation of Jesus' cleansing much more irrelevant.

Yes. Don't agree, though.

Finally, I'd like to add that although my solution breaks rule #4, you yourself break it in the bracketing of Gethsemane, in your F bracket there.

No, because the second F bracket there looks like a general admonishment to the readership, at least to me. I cosntructed another rule that when the speaker switches from the conversational mode to a general admonishment, a new bracket is called for. Where I broke my rule is in bracket B there. I need to redo that chiasm as I am very unsatisfied with it!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Carotta Part II: Jesus...was not Julius

Carotta's discussion of the Passion of Julius and the Passion of Jesus moves on to Simon of Cyrene.
  • The King James Version lingers in our ears: ‘…to bear his cross.’ But Mark says arêi: ‘…to take up his cross, lift it.’[124]
    This is strange. According to Mark, Simon did not bear the cross in Jesus’ place but rather lifted it up, erected it. Did Jesus ever come in contact with that cross?

Here again Carotta's lack of research into the scholarly literature shows. Markan language is always carefully chosen and if Mark said "take up his cross" he did so for a reason. Donald Senior (1987,p116) points out that the phrase "take up the cross" is the same in both 8:33-4 and 15:21-22. The writer of Mark is drawing attention to what it means to follow Jesus -- to take up his cross. The connection between 8:34 and 15:21 is that the mention of "cross" in 15:21 is the first time in the Gospel since 8:34. Jesus has managed to make 3 Passion predictions without mentioning the term even once. Clearly, when the writer uses it here, he is sending us a signal. And the signal is not that Jesus is already dead. Carotta is simply playing games with some very serious and complex structural themes in Mark that go back far into the Gospel.

Carotta does this again in the following section, where he re-interprets cross to mean a stake or similar piece of wood. Carotta argues that Greek speakers would not have understood what Mark meant as a cross, but that is rather odd in light of the fact that no one has ever claimed the crucifixion was anything other than a cross-shaped (T-shaped, etc) piece of wood. No one has ever understood it as anything other than a cross and indeed, in the previous section, Carotta has just been arguing that Simon of Cyrene had been lifting up a cross.

The next section involves more ignorance of biblical scholarship. Carotta is aware that the Crufixion scene draws on Psalm 69 for details, but either ignores or does not know that the major details are drawn from Psalm 22. Hence his claim that "Above we have noticed that the second verse of Mark seems to describe the erection of a funeral pyre and the ritual deposit of gifts for the dead" is utterly wrong. Mark is describing a scene whose details he has drawn entirely from the Old Testament, and whose climactic moment is taken from Psalm 22. In light of this knowledge his translation of these verses can only be described as bizarre:

If now the words of the first verse are read from the same viewpoint as in the
second, it is conspicuous that MURA—myra—is nearly identical in lettering to
PURA—pyra—meaning ‘pyre’, and that MUR—myr—can be confused with PUR—pyr—‘fire’
(think of e.g . ‘pyre’, pile to be burned, ‘pyromaniac’, incendiary,
‘pyrotechnic’, fireworks, or ‘pyrite’, firestone). OXU—oxy—also means ‘sour’,
but originally ‘sharp’—and together with verbs of movement or action it takes on
the meaning of ‘quickly’. Now, if we combine oxy and elaben, it takes on the
sense of: ‘was promptly’, ‘took quickly’, ‘grasped the opportunity’.
verses of Mark can now produce a coherent meaning:
‘…and while the pyre
caught fire, they quickly assembled stakes, posts, slats and palisades, placed
them around it, tore up their garments and threw valuable pieces on it…’

It is hard to refute this, since the writer has specified no rules by which such transformations between the various words can be made. In any case, Psalm 22 tells us where the tale of the garments comes from:

"they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots."

Scores of scholars have commented on this; it is basic to any understanding of the Passion tale. I was unable to find any reference to it in Carotta.

Some of Carotta's other parallels are interesting, but none require that Jesus be Julius. For example, on page IV of his website, Carotta notes that the story of the Water Walk looks a lot like a story in Caesar's life:

Due to a lack of ships, Caesar was only able to transport approximately half
of his troops across the sea. He sent the ships back to Brundisium (modern
Brindisi) and commanded Antonius to follow with the rest of the troops and their
equipment. Antonius hesitated, however, because of the weather and the cruising
enemy fleet. Desperate, Caesar slipped, alone and incognito, onto a small boat
during the night to help bring his men across. Using the current of the river
which flowed into the sea to his advantage, he wanted to glide across the
breakers. However, when in the night the off-shore wind dropped and a strong
breeze arose from the sea, the current collided with the sea surge and forced
the boat back; the helmsman despaired. At that moment Caesar revealed himself
and said: ‘Do not fear, you sail Caesar in your boat, and Caesar’s luck sails
with us!’ At first it helped and everyone rowed with double the effort. In the
end however, he reluctantly had to give up. Later his men reproached him when
they heard what had happened.

However, there is no need to posit a direct reliance (Jesus=Julius) even if one accepts the parallel. Perhaps the writer of the passage in Mark had heard of the tale and thought it a proper model.

There is no time to go over each and every one of Carotta's misunderstandings and abuses. I will simply put up one last:

These are striking similarities, but where is alea iacta est? It is only in the
Greek text that we can see Caesar’s words. (He saw them), ‘casting: for they
were fishers’—amphiballontas, êsan gar (h)aleeis.[368]
Alea, Latin for die, once understood as (h)aleeis, Greek for fishermen, turns
over the sentence. Alea iacta esto, ‘Let the die be cast’, becomes ‘Fishermen,
let (it) be cast’. The cast remains aleatoric still: the fishermen must believe
that they will catch something. (H)aleeis retains the sound of alea; the sense
changes to a miraculous catch—or to fishers of men.[369]
the rest here too, another incongruence in the Gospel texts can be explained. It
was never comprehensible why the fishermen in the Gospels were called (h)aleeis.
This refers to sailors more than fishermen. (H)aleeis is derived from (h)als,
salt. The Sea of Galilee is supposed to be Lake Gennesaret which is the
well-known inland lake of the Jordan. Not a sea. No sea, no sailors, no salt.
(H)aleeis and ‘Sea of Galilee’ do not make sense.

The sad reality is that the scene of the call of the disciples makes perfect sense. It is based on the OT, where Elijah calls Elisha, and the vocabulary that Carotta draws attention to here is drawn from the Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint. Jeremiah 16:16 offers a reference to "fishers of men" which, as Donahue and Harrington (2002, p75) and Meier (2001, p194n122) point out, occurs in an eschatological context:

Lo, I am sending for many fishers, An affirmation of Jehovah, And they
have fished them, And after this I send for many hunters, And they have hunted
them from off every mountain, And from off every hill, and from holes of the

Meier (2001, p194-195n122) observes that Mark uses the same term for "fishers," haleeis, as the LXX. In the OT, he further notes, fishing for humans is a regular metaphor in the context of judgment and destruction (Habakkuk 1:14-17, Amos 4:2).

In other words, the writer of Mark does not derive his story from Caesar, but from an even older source. Carotta either does not know, or ignores, the scholarship.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Was J Caesar Really J Christ?

Website Review:
On the Julian Origin of Christianity– an investigative report –Jesus was Caesar
Francesco Carotta

I thought I'd look at this idea. It crops up from time to time in forums where people discuss such stuff. The title of the page basically says it all -- Carotta's theory is that the Gospels actually are about Julius Caesar.

The first page of Carotta's site deals mainly with what Caesar looked like. A tantalizing paragraph gives a list of his titles:

A corresponding decree by the Senate helped to convince the ungrateful. The inscriptions on the pediments of the numerous statues dedicated to Caesar that have survived, especially in the East, bear titles not only such as pontifex maximus, dictator or consul, but also soter, euergetes, patron, theos—savior, benefactor, patron, god, etc.[13]
But this correspondence between Jesus' titles and the titles of Roman power is well known to NT scholars. It does not establish a connection, but rather, a common vocabulary of concepts that early Christians drew on when depicting Jesus, and Romans drew on when describing their Divine emperors.

Further down, Carotta notes that there is a correspondence between Roman imperial depictions and Christian depictions of Jesus, seeing how Caesar's bust with an olive wreath looks just like a bust of Jesus' head with a crown of thorns.

If we set it upon the Torlonia head with the help of computer graphics we obtain
this result: The Torlonia head now looks very much like an image of Jesus with
his crown of thorns.
Of course, there is a reason for this. as T.E. Schmidt pointed out in a 1995 article in New Testament Studies, the whole scene of mockery, flogging, purple robe, and crown in the Gospel of Mark represents Mark's depiction of Jesus' walk to Golgotha as a Roman triumph. In other words, Caesar with wreath resembles Jesus with thorns because the writer of Mark deliberately chose that image to illuminate Jesus' last steps.

Now Carotta would probably reply that this is because the writer was depicting Julius Caesar. But there is no need to go that extra step. Understanding the writer's choices [ ]

Carotta loves to play games with words. He writes:

Christos indeed looks like a contraction of archiereus megistos, no farther removed from each other as e. g. Ko"ln from Colonia, Lyon from Lugdunum, Zaragoza from Caesaraugusta, Bizerte from Hippo Diarrhytus or priest from presbyteros. The letters surviving the contraction are here visually demonstrated by capitals:[44]


Furthermore, the word christos regularly is found abbreviated in Christian writings, sometimes with both first initials of XPICTOC, X and P, written one over the other in form of a monogram. And this is not so far away from the initials of pontifex maximus, P and M: MP respectively XP.
The alert reader will note that Carotta has not specified any rules by which we can evolved CHRISTOS from the longer term. This means we are just free associating. Take the concluding sentence as an example: "P and M: MP respectively XP" confuses Latin and Greek: the PM is in Latin, the XP in Greek. Why should we be able to match these two? Because Carotta says so? If you have no rules and two languages, you can find any relationship you like. It's like saying that because a local Taiwanese slang abbreviation, LKK, is close to KKK in English, the two must be related.

Further down Carotta glides over a very sticky point. After noting some funky resemblences in iconography, he asks:

"Is this air of familiarity, that we have detected in the iconography and the
titles of Caesar and Jesus respectively, merely coincidental or does it indicate
a relationship of dependence?"

This is basically a false dichotomy. It need not indicate dependence for there to be a relationship. For example, it could be that such depictions of divine power were a common idiom in the Mediterranean in antiquity. Even if it indicates dependence such dependence could take many forms. Early Christians may have heard how Caesars were depicted and wished to present their powerful figures in such a manner, for instance.

Carotta's next page, Parallel Lives, is a howling mess. Let's take a look at it.

Both Caesar and Jesus start their rising careers in neighboring states in the
north: Gallia and Galilee.

Both have to cross a fateful river: the Rubicon and the Jordan. Once across the rivers, they both come across a patron/rival: Pompeius and John the Baptist, and their first followers: Antonius and Curio on the one hand and Peter and Andrew on the other.

This misrepresents the Bible tales in several ways. In Mark, the earliest gospel, for example, Jesus is not said to cross the Jordan at this point in the Gospel. Jesus does not run into Peter after crossing the Jordan, but back in Galilee. It is in the Gospel of John that Peter follows on the heels of Jesus' baptism in time and space. How does Carotta know where which story to accept? We don't know.

Both have good relationships with women and have a special relationship with one particular woman, Caesar with Cleopatra and Jesus with Magdalene.
Jesus has no special relationship with Mary in the canonical gospels, only in the extracanonical gospels. In Mark, the earliest gospel, she appears only at the end, and Jesus never speaks to her. It is very easy to make parallels if your database consists of any text written about a single person, matched against the entire life of another person. Particularly when the contradictions are ignored. Carotta does not appear to make any attempt to sift the information for credibility.

Both have encounters at night, Caesar with Nicomedes, Jesus with Nicodemus.
Raise your hand if you know someone who has never had an "encounter at night." What? No hands are up?

Both of them are great orators and of the highest nobility, descendant of
Aeneas and son of David, yet nevertheless both are self-made men. Both struggle
hard and ultimately triumph, hence each has a ‘triumphal entry’: Caesar on
horseback and Jesus on a donkey.

Here again we see Carotta insensitive to the problems of the Gospel texts and of Roman history. Caesar can hardly be described as a self-made man, coming from an illustrious family and backed by powerful Roman citizens. By the same token Mark can be read to deny that Jesus was a descendent of David. Only Paul states that unequivocally. Again we run into the problem of "if you cast your net wide enough, anything can serve". Here Carotta again ignores contradictions between sets of information in his text, always choosing the one that serves his parallelism.

Another problem is that Carotta ignores the extent to which the Jesus story depends on the Old Testament for its framework and details. The story of the entrance into Jerusalem parallels 1 Sam 9 and 2 Sam 10. The event draws also on Zech 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your
king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a
donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (NIV)

and other Jewish texts and motifs, such as Simon Maccabaeus' entry into Jerusalem.

But the resonance between the two is also due to the fact that there was a common tradition among all these cultures of the King's Entrance into the city being an epiphany story about a God. Duff (1992) points out that the procession surrounding the entrance of the warrior-king into the city was originally modeled on Greek epiphany processions, in which the deity enters the city. Frequently the entering King is either greeted as a god, or performs sacrifices that "function as an act of appropriation" (p60). The scene may also represent a common convention of Greek drama, the hyporcheme, as proposed by Bilezekian (1977):

"The hyporcheme was a well-known dramatic convention practiced especially by
Sophocles. It consisted of a joyful scene that involves the chorus and sometimes
other characters; takes the form of a dance, procession, or lyrics expressing
confidence and happiness; and occurs just before the catastrophic climax of the
play. The hyporcheme emphasizes, by way of contrast, the crushing impact of the
tragic incident."(p127)

In other words, as the saying goes, any similarity to real individuals and events is purely coincidental. Next, Carotta goes on to say:

Both have an affinity to ordinary people—and both run afoul of the highest
authorities: Caesar with the Senate, Jesus with the Sanhedrin.


Both are contentious characters, but show praiseworthy clemency as well: the clementia Caesaris and Jesus’ Love-thy-enemy.
Such "praiseworthy clemency" was a staple of both cultures' ethical systems and naturally decent men will have it. Again we see the pattern: similarities are due to commonalities between the various cultures involved -- both of which had a heavy Hellenistic overlay.

Both have a traitor: Brutus and Judas. And an assassin who at first gets away: the other Brutus and Barabbas. And one who washes his hands of it: Lepidus and Pilate.
But Caesar had more than one traitor..... more on the traitor stuff in a moment...

Both are accused of making themselves kings: King of the Romans and King of the Jews. Both are dressed in red royal robes and wear a crown on their heads: a laurel wreath and a crown of thorns.

Detail alert. In Mark the robe is purple, in Matthew, it is red. The mockery scene resembles Caesar because it is supposed to -- both draw on a common well of motifs for having a triumph, Caesar in seriousness, Mark in irony. Here is an example of where there is a clear relationship, it is not one of dependency, but a drawing on common ideas.

Both get killed: Caesar is stabbed with daggers, Jesus is crucified, but
with a stab wound in his side.

But the stab wound is a well-known Johannine addition to the tale. Carotta counts anything as a parallel, with no attempt to sift the information for origin and derivation.

Both die on the same respective dates of the year: Caesar on the Ides (15 th)
of March, Jesus on the 15 th of Nisan.

That is a fascinating coincidence....Nisan/March was the first month of the year. And yet, the same problem. Jesus dies on this day because it was Passover.

Both are deified posthumously: as Divus Iulius and as Jesus Christ.
Again, this all depends which gospel you read -- you could well read John as saying he was deified in his own lifetime. Carotta seems to pick and choose whatever supports his cause...

Both leave behind priests: Marcus Antonius and Peter.
Peter is never identified as a priest in any of the earlier writings of the New Testament. That is a later legend developed by the Church as a legitimation strategy in its struggle with the other forms of Jesus-belief. If you cast your net wide enough, and do not sift the information in any way....

Both have a posthumous heir: Gaius Octavianus adopted by Caesar's Last Will and
Testament and John the disciple whom Jesus adopts while on the cross ('Woman,
behold thy son!').
Again, a bit of Johannine legendizing that few scholars would take for an early part of the tradition.

The next page discusses the Passion tales and here Carotta's lack of basic NT knowledge really shows.

We have shown some similarities and parallels between Caesar and Jesus. There
are just as many to be found when we compare the narratives of their respective
passions.Both Caesar and Jesus were murdered. In both cases their elimination
was of no gain to the murderers: Brutus died and so did Judas; Caesar had a
successor, Jesus resurrected; Caesar was elevated to the gods, Jesus ascended
into heaven.
Here we have the same problem as before of Carotta picking and choosing without regard for the development of the story. The earliest rendition of the Judas story is in Mark (it does not occur in Paul, where Jesus simply is "handed over"). Note that the term "betray" is never used in Mark, just "handed over" as in Paul. Elsewhere in the NT it appears only in Luke 6:16 Modern readers are conditioned by two thousand years of legend to see Judas as the "betrayer." Yet exegetes have found it extremely difficult to pin down exactly what Judas "betrayed." The word used to describe Judas' action more correctly means "handed over" and carries this meaning in the Old Testament as well (Klassen 1998, p395-7, 404).

In other words, the idea of "betrayal" is a later addition to the tradition. Robert Fowler has pointed out that there is no reason the reader could not think that Judas was alive and well and part of the Twelve at the end of Mark; there is no indication that Judas died in Mark, nor that he has been expelled from the list of Jesus' apostles. In other words, when we see Judas' death we are looking at an additional layer added to the original tale by later writers. Mark's Passion tale, the earliest, does not include a "betrayal" by Judas.

A further problem with this parallel is that Judas did not kill Jesus, but Brutus did kill Caesar. In other words, Judas is neither traitor nor killer; Brutus is both. There is no parallel here.

The second parallel, ascension to heaven, is a common one for gods and heroes in Hellenistic tradition and need not be seen as a distinct parallel. In this case, again, common tradition explains why the two stories share similarities.

Carotta then goes on to explain that Jesus' famous silence at his trials was due to the fact that he was already dead.

Conclusion: Jesus is silent after his capture. He, the fearless individualist,
acting alone against everybody from the beginning—he who had come not to bring
peace but the sword—should suddenly become speechless? Here, the gifted orator
with whom the word was from the beginning, and who had something eloquent and
incisive to say on every occasion, whether it were Sermons on the Mount or
parables, is now dead silent at his trial, the crucial moment when he finally
has a stage? We immediately think of the apology of Socrates, the other famous
orator who was unjustly condemned. This silence of Jesus is inexplicable—that is
why there is such an extensive literature about it. Was his trial conducted
posthumously? Was he already dead?
Carotta then goes on to explain that Jesus had been killed by a stab wound at his arrest, and that the midrashic creation of details in the Gospel had covered up that fact. The story in John of the stab wound in the side was cover invented off the Old Testament for the reality of the stab wound that killed him. Jesus' terseness at his trials reflects the fact that the trials are inventions, while the stab wound "we may regard as a certainty." Carotta asks:
From where did John take the stab in the chest of Jesus? It can only have
happened at his capture, where there was a violent engagement and the naked
sword was drawn:
Here Carotta goes badly wrong. The story frame for the capture of Jesus is 2 Sam 15-16 and the drawn sword and wound are taken from that tale. In other words, Carotta is arguing that the Gospel writers invented something from the cover something from the OT. The reality is that the invention of the stab wound in John is unrelated to the sword drawn in the Arrest scene, and both are drawn from the Old Testament. Carotta's lack of research into the scholarly literature shines brightly here.

Carotta goes on to say that "We can be confident that a gang went wild with daggers and other weapons, and indeed so wild that they wounded each other in the face." This, however, is rank nonsense. In 1899 E. A. Abbott identified the fact that there is a missing verse in 14:47, one in which Jesus orders the would-be hacker to put up his weapon. This verse is found in all three other gospels, though Luke got the order wrong, and thought Jesus wanted ear restored, not the sword. In any case, in all four synoptic gospels, violence at the arrest scene is specifically ordered to a halt by Jesus. Hence, Carotta's attempt to draw a parallel with the scene of Caesar's death, where things got out of hand and the assailants cut each other in their desire to get at Caesar, fails utterly, because the scene as crafted specifically denies that there is any violence. Carotta ignores both the scene as written, and the framework that shaped it (neither of which offers a scene of uncontrolled violence) to claim that there is a parallel. There is none.

Carotta then offers another bit of word game to turn "Julius" into "King of the Jews." The conversion involves noting that in Greek capitals there is a superficial similarity between the two words. It is true they could be confused, just as one might, at a glance, confuse the word "Chance" with "Chicago."

The next error lies in the scene with Simon of Cyrene. I'll save that for the next post....