Jesus Source Documents
The Council of Nicaea was brought together by the Roman emperor Constantine to unify the newly recognized Christian Church which was then split over a theological dispute which history labels as Arianism. This theological dispute was about the perfectibility of a divine Jesus Christ. At stake was the last remnants of the Spiritual Nature idea in Christianity of human self-improvement. In contrast the Christian apocalyptic viewpoint was that humans could not be improved by their own efforts. They could only be saved by church.
Specifically the Arian dispute was about whether Jesus, as a “Son” was in some way inferior in divinity to the Father. The Arians said yes and this difference in divinity was what made Jesus human enough so that Jesus understood the human condition. Despite his initial humanity Jesus had become a perfect divine being by the end of his earthly life. Consequently, he was an example of perfectibility towards which all humans could strive. This was the majority opinion of the Greek speaking east.
In contrast, their apocalyptic opponents held that Jesus Christ was fully divine from the start and equal to the Father in every way. Only a fully divine Christ had the lordly power to offer salvation to his followers via the Church and its rituals. This was the position of the majority in the Latin west and of its powerful Christian center of Alexandria, Egypt. By 380 CE this position won out in the west becoming orthodox Christianity (Rubenstein 1999).
The Whole Christian Church Never Could Agree on a List of Books for the Bible
(July 9, 2022) Determining good sources of information about Jesus has always been a problem. Even the famous Council of Nicaea held in 325 CE could not agree on a list of authentic sources. As in all such disputes, those involved first had to agree on their sources of authority. If each side had a different set of authoritative texts then they had no hope of agreement. The historian who collected this data was Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, which was an important port city along the eastern Mediterranean.
Eusebius wrote a book entitled "Church History" which detailed his researches into the question about which of the early Christian books were good sources of information. He sought to determine this by noting which books were mentioned the writings of the early church leaders and whether they recommended them as authentic.
Eusebius summarized his conclusions in chapter 3, section 25 of his history (Eusebius 325). Notice that the apocalyptic book of Revelation was disputed yet it made it into the western Bible while First Clement was not disputed and it was not included despite him being an early Bishop of Rome who likely knew the apostles Peter and Paul personally. The reason for First Clement's exclusion was that its arguments for peace were based too much on nature- (this book will be discussed on its own page).
The following is how Eusebius classified the books in chapter 3:
- The thirteen Pauline Epistles
- First Peter
- First John
- First Clement
- Second Peter
- Second and Third John
- The Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, Preaching of Peter, Revelation of Peter
- Acts of Paul
- Shepherd of Hermas
- Second Clement
- Epistle of Barnabas
- Teachings of the Apostles
- Gospel of Thomas
- Gospel of Matthias
- Gospel of the Hebrews
- Acts of Andres
- Acts of John
Since the whole church was never able to agree on an official canon each region of the church defined their own. The recognized western Bible of today mostly derives from a series of later local church councils such as the Council of Laodicea in 363 CE which agreed on what became the present New Testament but without the book of Revelation. The first list of what became the 27 books of the New Testament in the west was put out by the Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt in 367 CE (Ehrman 2005). This list was confirmed by the later North African councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). They included Revelation but stated that Hebrews was secondary in authority to the Pauline Epistles.
ReferencesEhrman, B.D (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why . HarperCollins
Rubenstein, R.E. (1999) When Jesus became God, the Struggle to Define Christianity during the last Days of Rome. Harcourt
Jesus Source: The Authentic Letters of Paul (53-64 CE)
- 1 Thessalonians (written in 53 CE from Athens)
- Galatians (written 55 CE after his second visit to Jerusalem where the status of the Gentiles was argued)
- 1 Corinthians (written in 56 CE from Ephesus)
- 2 Corinthians (written in 57 CE just before his return to Jerusalem with money for the church there)
- Philippians (house arrest in Caesarea in Israel after 59 CE but before 62 CE)
- Philemon (house arrest in Rome after 62/63 CE but before 64/65 CE)
This set of letters forms a tight coherent sequence through time such that placing other letters attributed to him within this scheme is problematic. Each letter except the very personal prison letters of Philippians and Philemon exhibits a style in which Paul mentions a worry and then proceeds to make suggestions that would eliminate his worry. Paul always has a section in these letters where he justifies his authority because that is often called into question. This sort of justification is not found in the other letters attributed to him such as Romans. Those other letters present him as an authority.
In these authentic letters Paul never compromises his belief that all people, including his fellow Jews, can only inherit the apocalyptic Kingdom of God if they believe Jesus is the risen Messiah who will rule over the coming post apocalyptic kingdom of God, that is, declare him as lord and savior. This is not true in other letters traditionally assigned to Paul like Romans.
Paul’s authentic letters have a rather rambling, just-in-time style indicating they were written down by a scribe as thoughts popped into Paul's head while he was pacing the floor. This style contrasts with the well thought out treatises on theology exhibited in the other letters attributed to him.
No scholarly consensus exists regarding Pauline chronology (Dieter 1992). This confusion originates because some scholars cannot accept the evidence that Paul has a limited number of authentic letters. The confusion continues if Paul’s authentic letters are not given evidential priority when compared to the later book of Acts. The book of Acts incorrectly seeks to force Paul into the line of apostolic authority instead of treating him as the creative outsider that he was. If Paul had an idea which he believed was right then he taught it regardless of what the Jerusalem apostles thought.
Galatians is the only letter of Paul’s that can be dated directly (even if uncertainty) to about 55 CE. This uncertainty arises because the date of his conversion near Damascus has to be estimated. A good estimated conversion date is 37 CE based upon the likely number of years (5 years) after the death of Jesus before a significant Jewish Christian community could have developed in Damascus. In any case Paul was certainly in Damascus before 40 CE because the King Aretas he mentions (2 Corinthians 11:32-33) was the King Aretas IV who ruled out of Petra between 9 B.C.E. and 40 CE (Donfried 1992).(Galatians 1:15-2:1, NIV) 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia (Paul's hometown of Tarsus is in Cilicia). 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they praised God because of me. 2:1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.
Consequently, Galatians was written shortly after this second Jerusalem visit where they discussed the status of the Gentile converts (this is known as the council of Jerusalem). Consequently, 55 CE is a good date for Galatians. Paul’s third and final visit to Jerusalem in 58 CE was for delivering the money to them that he collected from the churches which he had founded.(Acts 18:21-23, NIV) Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Acts describes the council of Jerusalem earlier in chapter 15 and ignores it in this passage in an attempt to give Paul apostolic legitimacy before he sets out on his missionary journeys, a fact contradicted by Paul’s own letters which show him going out on his own authority.
Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8) during this later set of visits through Galatia and Phrygia. This letter was written due to his concern about raising money for the church at Jerusalem. Fund raising implies that the church at Corinth had been in operation for some time so this letter would not have been written near the time of the Corinthian church’s founding. Consequently, the year 56 CE is a good date for 1 Corinthians.
Donfried, K.P (1992) “Chronology”, In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 1 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 1002-22.
Mark was likely written in Greece, at the opposite end of the Greek speaking world from Alexandria, Egypt where the Q source was compiled independently of Mark. The gospels of Matthew and Luke were written between these two areas because they used both Mark and Q as sources.
The gospel of Mark does not actually mention the name of its author although the name of Mark came to be associated with it. Mark is not mentioned in any of Paul's authentic letters and is only mentioned in the later book of Acts where "John also called Mark" is associated with both Peter (Acts 12:11-12) and Paul (Acts 12:25) as Acts sought to associate the gospel of Mark with apostolic authority. This mention also indicates that the Gospel of Mark was in circulation by the time Luke-Acts was written around 80 CE.
Mark was one of the most common names of that era in both Greek (Markos) and Latin (Markus) so using the name “Mark” would be equivalent to the English name "John Smith" and be understood as an author who wished to remain anonymous.
Jesus Source: Gospel of Mark (70 CE)
(July 9, 2022) The Gospel of Mark was written about 70 CE during the first Roman-Jewish war shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This date for the composition of Mark is in accordance with the scholarly consensus (Achtemeier 1992).
The author of Mark believed Jesus foretold the destruction of the Jewish temple and wanted to tell the world about this successful prophecy and the other apocalyptic prophecies attributed to Jesus. For Mark, Jesus was the “Anointed One” who would rule after the end times. Mark wanted to give hope to the early Christian communities who were being persecuted by both Romans and Jews during this time. Each group viewed the Christian as being sympathetic to the other side.
The first Roman–Jewish lasted between 66 and 74 CE. Within that time the Roman Emperor Nero died in 68 CE which lead to a short civil war as various Roman armies competed to put their commander on the throne. The war officially ended when the desert fortress of Masada was captured in 73 CE after a long siege but for all practical purposes it ended when Jerusalem was captured and its temple destroyed in 70 CE.
The Jews in the Roman Empire had been granted many privileges as a native people including exclusion from military service, exclusion from the duties to the emperor cult, the right to keep the Sabbath, and the right to collect a temple tax for the support of the Jerusalem temple. As long as Christians were seen as a sect within Judaism by the Roman authorities they also enjoyed those privileges (except when Nero blamed them for burning a part of Rome in 64 CE). Christians were apparently not well like because they insulted other religious practices. During the Roman-Jewish war of 66 to 73 they would have been viewed as enemy Jews by the Romans and traitors by the Jews for not rigorously following their traditional laws. The result was that the Christians were seen as enemies of both.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.(Mark 13:1-13, NIV) 1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
The above passage likely derived from a rumor which spread while Jesus was in Jerusalem which was that he was seeking to destroy the temple. This rumor probably was the trigger which led to his betrayal by Judas and arrest by the Romans. Yet only Mark has Jesus actually saying that the temple will be destroyed. The other gospels have other people saying it. All we can say for sure is that Jesus would have opposed the temple with its claim that people can be made right with God by doing sacrifices instead of improving their inner being.
The Jesus Christ of Mark was a powerful king and such kings were supposed to show anger when their exalted status was not respected. Thus the Jesus of Mark was more angry than compassionate. This angry Jesus of Mark was softened by Matthew and Luke. For example Mark 3:5 has Jesus looking around in anger at people in a synagogue. Luke removes this reference to anger and Matthew rewrites the scene so that sentence is eliminated. Mark 10:14 has Jesus becoming aggravated by his disciples but Matthew and Luke remove this anger reference. Finally, the original phrase in Mark 1:41 of “feeling anger” towards a presumptive request for healing is preserved in some old manuscripts Mark but later copiers replaced by the phrase with “feeling compassion” (Ehrman 2005 page 133).
ReferencesAchtemeier, P.J (1992) “Mark, Gospel of”, In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 4 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday, 1992) 541-57.
Ehrman, B.D (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins
Jesus Source: Gospel of Luke and Acts (80 CE)
(July 9, 2022) The books of Luke and Acts were originally a single book. The motivation for writing Luke-Acts was the preservation of knowledge, the mapping out of an apostolic line of authority, and the reconciliation of Jewish and Gentile Christians after the Roman-Jewish war. This reconciliation movement led to the creation of the early non-authentic letters of Paul so Paul could say that the Jews could also be saved by the law, something which the authentic letters of Paul do not support. These early non-authentic reconciliation letters include Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians.(Luke 1:1-4, NIV) Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
The need to preserve knowledge and to justify its sources only comes about when people perceive a risk to that knowledge. Consequently, Luke should be dated to approximately 80 CE which is early enough to feel the need for preservation yet late enough to use the Gospel of Mark as a source. The author of Luke-Acts also used the Q source (also used by Matthew) and various other smaller sources only found in Acts. The scholarly consensus for its date is between 80 and 85 CE. (Johnson 1992).
Due to increasing differences in theology during the time which Luke was written, the lineage of apostolic authority was emphasized. As mentioned in the Pauline letters section, Paul’s travels in the book of Acts were changed so that he could be presented as first gaining authority from the original Jerusalem apostles.
The author of Luke de-emphasized the more ritualistic practices of Jesus' magical healing practices (only the laying on of hands was acceptable). He also made Jesus more aloof and unemotional. Towards this end Luke does not copy a large section of Mark (Mark 6:45 to 8:27) and this is called the "Great Omission" by Biblical scholars. The Great Omission contains the following:
- an insulting Jesus ("are you so dull" he says to his disciples,
- a parable comparing Gentiles to dogs),
- a set of overtly magical miracles performed by Jesus (spitting onto a tongue or into the eyes),
- a repeat of the "Feeding the Multitudes miracle,
- the miracle of walking on the water on the Sea of Galilee.
Besides eliminating the section comparing Gentiles to dogs, the author of Luke also emphasized that the Jews did not know what they were doing when they rejected Jesus. Luke is the only source which has Jesus saying on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He also adds a similar phrase when the early Christian martyr Stephen dies from being stoned by the Jews: “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Significantly, this reconciliation attempt was not well received in some regions as these sayings were dropped in many early gospel copies (Ehrman 2005).
The name “Luke” is meant to convey that this gospel is in the tradition of the apostle Paul because Luke was one of his followers. “Luke is first mentioned in Colossians 4:14 which is a letter attributed to Paul but was actually written later by someone else. Then Luke and Mark are paired in 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24, which are even later letters attributed to Paul but actually written by someone else as well.
Luke was likely written in Asia Minor, a region heavily influenced by Paul yet in between the source locations of Mark in Greece and Q in Alexandria, Egypt. Asia Minor is also far enough away from the Levant where Matthew could be written independently at nearly the same time.
Ehrman, B.D (2005) Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why . HarperCollins
Johnson, L.T. (1992) “ Luke-Acts, Book of”, In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 4 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 403-420.
Despite this, Matthew has some of the longest "in the spirit of Jesus" non-apocalyptic passages of all the gospels which also makes it the most loved gospel among Christians and why it is placed first in the New Testament.
Jesus Source: The Gospel of Matthew (80 CE)(Matthew 10:5, NIV) 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.(Galatians 2:11-13, NIV) 11 When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Like Luke, the evidence suggests that dating Matthew to 80 CE is reasonable. It is old enough to use Mark as a source yet new enough to address this question of Kingdom inheritance after the Roman-Jewish war. The scholarly consensus is between 80 and 90 CE (Meier 1992).
(Psalm 18:50 NIV) He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.(1 Kings 9:4-7 NIV) 4 "As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, 'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' 6 "But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.(Isaiah 54:8-10 NIV) 7 "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. 8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. 9 "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
(1 Chronicles 17:11-14 talking about King Solomon) 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.' "(Hosea 11:1 NIV) "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.(Matthew 2:13-15 NIV) 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."
The person “Matthew” is first mentioned as a disciple in the earlier book of Mark with the gospel of Matthew adding some additional information such as Matthew was a tax collector. This and other additional Matthew information is found only in the gospel of Matthew (9:9-10) and that seems to be why Matthew's name came to be associated with this book.
ReferencesMeier, J.P. (1992) “Matthew, Gospel of”, In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 4 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 622-41.
Jesus Source: The Sayings Collection of Q (69 CE)
(July 9, 2022) Matthew and Luke have a common sayings tradition between them which came to be called Q. The idea that a collection of sayings existed in the early Christian community was completely hypothetical until the sayings Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in the Qena bend area of central Egypt which demonstrated that the sayings collection style was indeed used along the Nile River. Consequently, the Q source was likely compiled in and around the city of Alexandra in Egypt which was connected to Rome via a direct shipping trade route. Rome received most of its wheat from Egypt via Alexandria by this time.
Knowledge preservation is the usual motivation for collecting sayings from the local oral tradition. Consequently, the collection the sayings found in Q probably started during the persecution of Nero in 64 CE and it continued through the Roman-Jewish war years ending in 74 CE. This gives an average date for its sayings of 69 CE. No scholarly consensus on the date of Q seems to exist besides agreeing that it comes before Matthew and Luke (Tuckett 1992).
ReferencesTuckett, C.M. (1992) “Q (Gospel Source)” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 5 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 567-71.
Supporting this Egyptian origin, the author of John also knew that the Gnostic Christians in the area were beginning to use Thomas as their authoritative disciple because he slams Thomas as the disciple who does not accept that Jesus arose in the flesh:
(John 20:24-25) Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Jesus Source: John (90 CE)(1 Kings 9:4-7 NIV) 4 "As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, 'You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' 6 "But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.(John 20:30-31 NIV) 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
(John 20:8-10, NIV) 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
(Isaiah 5:7 NIV) The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
The Gospel of John came to be associated with the name of John who was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman. John’s main characteristic is one of impulsiveness and zealotry. The Gospel of Mark gives John and his brother James the title "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17).
While John is only second to Peter in discipleship status, he was the one who was twice rebuked by Jesus. The first was where he forbade an exorcist from working in Jesus' name (Mark 9:38-41). The second time was when John and his brother wanted to be seated next to Jesus (Mark 10:35-45).
The best date for the Gospel of John seems to be 90 CE. It was written after Mark, Matthew, and Luke because it drops the mention of the Kingdom. Yet John cannot have been written too long after the Roman-Jewish war because John’s local community still retained the memory that anyone who acknowledged Jesus was turned out of the synagogue (John 9:22, 12:42, 16:2). Consequently, a composition date of 90 CE is good and that is the scholarly consensus although suggested dates range from 80 to 95 CE (Kysar 1992).
ReferencesKysar, R. (1992) “John, The Gospel of”, In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 3 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 912-31.
This last copy was unexpectedly unearthed in the Egyptian desert at Nag Hammadi in 1945 in the Qena bend area of central Egypt where it had been hidden and buried in clay jars. This version was written in Coptic and an analysis of the writing indicated it was copied shortly after 350 CE. Consequently, it was likely compiled in and around the city of Luxor in Egypt. This is the same region where the pre-alphabetic inscriptions were found.With this text, a few other previously found Greek scroll fragments could then be identified as belonging to Thomas. These are fragments were:
- P. Oxy. 654 which lists the Thomas prologue and sayings 1 through 7
- P. Oxy. 1 lists sayings 26 through 30, 77.2, 31, 33; and
- P. Oxy 655 lists sayings 24, and 36 through 39).
- P. Oxy 1 is dated to approximately 200 CE while the others are dated to near 250 CE (Cameron 1992).
Jesus Source: The Sayings Collection of Thomas (90 CE)
(July 9, 2022) The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of Jesus sayings for an oral tradition which eventually became gnostic. Because of this gnostic trend it became tainted as a source in the eyes of apocalyptic Christianity. It was mentioned by Eusibius in 325 CE as a rejected book in his church history. Later Christians were given orders by their bishops to burn all non-apocalyptic books and this led to all copies being destroyed except for one.
Assigning a single date to Thomas is difficult because the sayings were collected over a long period of time as evidenced by 14% of its sayings having overlapping themes. Some 18 or 19 of these overlapping theme sayings have parallels in Q yet Thomas is an independent source from Q because the ordering and context of the sayings are different. Despite this independence 37% (37 out of 101) of the Q sayings are found in Thomas and 28% (37 out of 132) of Thomas sayings are found in Q (Crossan 1998).
Being a collection of sayings, it would have had the goal of preserving knowledge. This suggests it was started during the Roman Jewish war in the era of persecution for Jews and Christians. If so it would have been started around 70 CE. The collection of sayings seems to have ended near 110 CE with the addition of some fully developed gnostic sayings. Very little scholarly consensus exists about dating Thomas because of this range (Cameron 1992). Hence assigning an average date of 90 CE for the purpose of source analysis seems reasonable.
Gnosticism was a general cultural paradigm which adopted dualism yet rejected the lordification of the deities. Dualism was an idea which originated in the Persian Zoroastrian religion and began permeating Mediterranean culture around 500 BCE. It perceived reality in terms of absolute “good” versus “evil” with the cosmic order was a battle between Good and Evil. Because the Divine realm was good, the material earthly realm became inherently evil. Most of the west was dualist by 200 BCE yet the authentic Jesus teachings show that he was not a dualist.
Yet by not accepting deity lordification, Gnosticism retained the Ancient Pagan Paradigm of treating divine realm as a collection of powers with the optional personification of those powers into people. This idea was preserved in Greek Platonic philosophy and that is what allowed Christian theology define the Trinity by claiming that God as a person was defined by the powers of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who could also be personified.
According to the Gnosticism which entered Christianity, the evil world was not created by the God of Light but by the foolish God of Darkness. A good God could not create evil. This God of Darkness was called the demiurge and he was the god of the Old Testament. The other God, the God of Light provided humanity with their soul or spirit, their divine spark, which if properly understood and used would allow each individual to transcend the evil material world and reconnect with the good spiritual realm (the Kingdom of Light) thus being saved. Developing "gnosis" or self-awareness is what provided this deep understanding.
Consequently, the Gnostics held that Jesus could not have arisen in the material flesh because material flesh is evil. This led to the disciple, “doubting Thomas,” of John 20:24-28 to become associated with this sayings gospel. His full name is Didymus Judas Thomas who was a disciple especially revered among the churches of Syria. Thomas was considered to be one of the original 12 disciples as written in Mark 3:16. Both Syria and Egypt were end points on the Roman-Mesopotamian/Persian/India trade routes.
ReferencesCameron, R. (1992) “Thomas, Gospel of” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 6 (ed. David Noel Freedman; New York: Doubleday) 535-40.
Crossan, J.D. (1998) The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco)
Flavius Josephus was a well-connected Pharisee who was put in charge of the Jewish defenses in the north at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War which occurred between 66 and 73 CE. Josephus was captured shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to Josephus himself, he was spared because he predicted that the Roman General Vespasian would become emperor of Rome. Later he was pensioned by Vespasian which allowed him to write.
The first work written by Josephus was The Jewish War which he began shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. His second work is known as the Jewish Antiquities and it was written around 93-94 CE.
Jesus Source: Josephus (70 & 90 CE
(July 9, 2022) An independent source of information about Jesus is found in the two histories written by the captured and pardoned Jewish commander Josephus (37- circa 100 CE)."This passage is a wildly garbled condensation of various gospel events, seasoned with the sort of bizarre legendary expansions found in the apocryphal gospels and acts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries." (John P. Meier 1991 page 57)(Josephus, Antiquities, Book 20, chapter 9, paragraph 1) But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:
- Unlike the inauthentic passage this passage is found in all the Greek transcripts with little variation.
- The church historian, Eusebius quotes it in his work dating from 314 CE indicating it existed prior to that date.
- Jesus and his brother James are mentioned in passing and not as the main subject of the paragraph which is centered on the illegal execution of James which causes Ananus to be deposed.
- Since James was a common name (the Aramaic form of Jacob) he had to be distinguished from other Jameses by mentioning his brother who just happened to be Jesus making the mentioning of Jesus even less central.
- No early Christian source uses the phrase “James, the brother of Jesus”. Instead he is mentioned as “James the brother of the Lord,” or “James the brother of the Savior”.
Josephus' account of the death of James differs from the early Christian tradition given by the second century historian Hegesippus. Josephus has the death occur around 62 CE before the Jewish war occurs. In contrast, Hegesippus has it occur just before the siege of Jerusalem around 70 CE.(Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3) Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.(Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3 with possible Christian additions eliminated) Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
John Meier’s reasons for its authenticity are as follows:
- All three existing Greek manuscripts of book 18 have the Christian edited passage, the earliest of which only dates to the 11th century. Latin copies which first originated in the 6th century from the school of Cassiodorus also have the Christian edited version indicating this passage had to have been edited early which lessens the likelihood that it a complete fraud.
- The text and grammar of the non-edited section cohere with the style of Josephus and does not cohere with the text of the New Testament.
- The non-edited section flows together well indicating that an editing process could have taken place after the composition of the original passage.
- The original passage has the tone of surprise that despite the shameful death of their leader the Christians have not yet faded away.
- Josephus was acquainted with Jesus as indicated by his mention in book 20 so multiple passages about Jesus would be likely.
- Josephus also describes the work of John the Baptist in book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2 so describing Jesus is fully coherent with Josephus' purpose and interest. Additionally, the mention of John the Baptist occurs after the mention of Jesus contrary to the Christian tradition which mentions Jesus then John the Baptist. This placement again suggests that the non-edited passage is not of Christian origin.
- Early Christian writers, most notably Origen (184-253 CE), viewed this passage as indicating that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ even though the passage explicitly mentions that Jesus was the Christ. This indicates that the Christ passage was a later insertion. For Origin this knowing about Jesus and not believing was worse than not knowing about him in the first place. This would have been the motivation to edit the passage to be more in alignment with Christianity which was probably done during the 400's.
ReferencesMeier J.P. (1991) A Marginal Jew - Rethinking the Historical Jesus - volume 1, Doubleday, New York
Sacred Texts Archive at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/index.htm