Category Archives: Messianic expectation

Who invented Christianity?

Was Christianity as we know it an invention of Paul? I will leave for another discussion the extent of Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and his teachings. In my forthcoming novel “Becoming Christ,” I explore (among other things) Jesus in the context of his mission, and how elevated claims about his person were likely to have been an integral part of his mission.
Logically we start with one of the most incontrovertible facts about Jesus, his execution as King of the Jews, that is to say, he was crucified as an insurrectionist. Nothing in any tradition suggests in the final days, Jesus did anything to evade this fate. On the contrary, the evidence indicates that he was aware that something like this would happen, and well in advance. What forces led Jesus to acquiesce to such a fate?

We can safely infer from Jesus’ fate that insurgency was a problem in Judea at the time of Jesus. After the death of the Baptist, Jesus was the only prominent figure upon whom potential insurgents might pin their hopes. As Jesus contends with other groups in the diverse Judaism of his times–Pharisees, Sadducees, priests–I suggest he also contended with insurgents. His message of love of enemies and forgiveness was in sharp contrast to theirs. It may have been that they were determined to put him at the head of their army. Unable to dissuade the insurgents, he sets about to abort their movement. Jesus concentrates his entire mission into the person of himself, so that if he is eliminated the insurgency collapses. He accepts this fate to avoid the catastrophe that would inevitably ensue from a massive insurgency. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. It is better from one man to die than that the entire country be lost.

Making elevated claims about himself also draws a line between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were literate groups while Jesus’ followers were largely illiterate.  If Jesus was the embodiment of his message, then his followers had direct access to that message without the intervention of the literate elite. His group could set a separate path from the Pharisaic movement.

If elevated claims were already part of Jesus’ mission, this allows for a continuity with the message about him after his death. If Jesus’ followers built a church on Jesus and his mission, then Jesus laid down the foundation for them.

Jesus and the zealots

Many contend that Judas the son of Ezekias (Hezekiah) who led the uprising centered in Sepphoris around the time of the death of Herod the Great (Jewish Antiquities 17:271-272) and Judas the Galilean, who led the resistance to the census under Quirinius (JA 18:4f) were the same person. The claim seems to rest primarily on the fact that they had the same name, ignoring how common the name Judas (Judah) was among Jews (Judeans) at that time. The first argument against this claim is that Josephus does not link the two. The second Judas is identified by his city of origin, Gamala, and not by any famous father. The former Judas has royal aspirations. The latter Judas considers paying tribute to Rome a form of slavery and contend that God is their only Ruler and Lord (JA 18: 23). This position is hardly amenable to one who himself wants to be king. It is more favorable to the arrangement during much of the Hasmonean era when the High Priest governed and there was no king, an arrangement that Josephus himself favors.
Identifying the two Judases is convenient, but unsupported.

Why does this matter? Those who saw Jesus as the messiah seem to be more in the tradition of the son of Ezekias. This could be a sentiment especially prominent in the backwaters of Galilee. Josephus links Judas the Galilean, whose uprising was not in Galilee but in Jerusalem, with a group of Pharisees, with what he calls the Fourth Philosophy, and eventually with the Zealot Party of the rebellion of 66 CE.  To me the Fourth Philosophy does not resemble the Jesus movement, cf. JA 18:23-25.

The line of David

During the Hasamonean period, there is no apparent concern that the Hasamonean kings were not of the line of David. Later Herod the Great took pains to establish ties to the Hasamoneans by marriage, since they were considered royal, and his own ancestry was questionable. This according to Josephus, The Jewish War.

How did the concern about a Davidic king get revived?