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.


Anonymous said...

Who do you believe Jesus was?

Anonymous said...

Julius Caesar of course! Who else? (Serious now!) I can't think of any other lord who could match the Lord.

Anonymous said...

they are not the same person! Where in the world did you get the impression that Julius Ceasar did miricales!!

Anonymous said...

By mentioning Carotta may have willfully ignored some 'knowledge' provided by your 'quotes'every other sentence, you do kinda take the sting out of your rant. Throwing around a couple of quotes from that overrated novel is not gonna cut it. You circumvent any direct attack on what he /did/ say, only by so fervently proclaiming what he did /not/ say. It's a weak defence (because yes, you felt attacked).