"Beginning From Jerusalem . . .":
Re-examining Canon and Consensus
Merrill P. Miller
Pembroke State University
JHC 2/1 (Spring 1995), 3-30.
Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996
This paper is part of the writer's larger project to re-examine the place of the so-called Jerusalem church in the study of Christian origins. The Jerusalem church is not merely an historical datum, but a category and root metaphor of the imagination of Christian origins. Thus, it has occupied and continues to possess a privileged place among the data that bear on the beginnings of Christianity. Though we may actually know very little about the Jerusalem church as an historical datum, it has nevertheless served in antiquity and today as the locus of what Christianity is about and how it got started. To summarize the position occupied by the Jerusalem church in conceptualizations of Christian origins is the first task of this paper.
The Place of the Jerusalem Church
Few scholars of Christian origins would take exception to the conclusion of James D. G. Dunn's article on Christology in the recent Anchor Bible Dictionary:1 "At the heart of NT christology is the claim that the man Jesus was raised from the dead to a status of supreme exaltation. This is the most constant element throughout the NT documents." Though Dunn admits that this central core is given diverse expression and weight so that "the core itself is something of an abstraction;" nonetheless, "it is the fact and character of Christ's death and resurrection which provided the criterion and control for christology" (p. 989). In a similar vein, Dunn concluded in a recent book that though "there was no single normative form of Christianity in the first century," there was "a fairly clear and consistent unifying strand which from the first both marked out Christianity as something distinctive and different and provided the integrating centre for the diverse expressions of Christianity. That unifying element was the unity between the historical Jesus and the exalted Christ..."2
This core claim and unifying strand that links the crucified Jesus and the resurrected Christ is said by Dunn to have existed from the first because it is conceived as the event of dramatic eschatological reversal which gave rise to the earliest community in Jerusalem. The church was born in Jerusalem as a consequence of Easter. This is not simply the judgment of the speeches and narratives of the book of Acts, but the dominant, indeed, the overwhelming, consensus of modern New Testament scholarship. While scholars recognize that Jerusalem is the sacred center of a later Christian epic imagination and acknowledge a variety of forms and expressions of early Christianity, the notion of diversity has been quite fully accommodated to the canonical account of Christian beginnings in Jerusalem as it appears in Acts and in the monumental epic narrative of Eusebius. Despite the idealization of origins in Acts and the tendentiousness of a Lukan salvation-history of which scholars are aware, it is that account which continues to supply the map of Christian origins for critical scholarship.3
I would submit that very little of this interlocking historical and theological picture of Christian origins is changed whether early Christianity is seen as an expression of Jewish restoration eschatology (E. P. Sanders, Paula Fredriksen) or as a Jewish revitalization movement (Dominic Crossan, Richard Horsley); or whether, from an earlier era, it is thought to take shape in the cleavage between Jewish Christian (Jerusalem) and Gentile Christian (Pauline) branches (F.C. Baur), or is divided between a Palestinian apocalyptic expectation of the coming of Jesus as exalted Son of Man and a Hellenistic cult of Christ as Lord (W. Bousset).4 However variously the relationship between Jesus and the earliest community in Jerusalem has been seen, and however differently scholars have assessed the relationship between Paul and the Urgemeinde, or accounted for the gap between Jesus and Paul, or described the differences between Hebrews and Hellenists, there has been uniform appeal to Easter and the proclamation of Jesus' vindication and exaltation to the position of Messiah by the Jerusalem Urgemeinde to account for the origins of Christianity. Nor has this historical and conceptual framework of apocalyptic-kerygmatic origins been altered in more recent sociological orientations, whether it is a matter of distinguishing a rural itinerant Palestinian Jesus movement from an urban movement of local churches in the Hellenistic diaspora (Theissen) or a question of viewing early Christian social history in terms of the survival of a Jewish millenarian sect (Gager).5
The role of the Jerusalem church is perhaps less prominent in some recent accounts of the Jesus movement, or may even be merged in the broader conception of Palestinian Jewish Christianity. For example, Theissen distinguishes between wandering charismatics and sympathizers who become the core of local communities (Sociology, 17-23). But this makes little difference with respect to the conceptualization of the Jerusalem church in an account of the origins of Christianity. More recently, Theissen has taken up a study of the history of the synoptic tradition by placing form-critical analysis in the context of political history and concluded that the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13 as well as the Markan passion narrative are based on written sources stemming from the Jerusalem church in the wake of the Caligula crisis in the early forties!6 Thus, whether as mother church or as part of a Palestinian Jesus movement, the underlying conception is that of an apocalyptic movement of repentance and revitalization rooted in the radically transforming experience of the resurrection of Jesus.7 Even where different branches of the Jesus movement in Palestine are recognized, the earliest communities in Jerusalem and Judea are taken as the source of the seminal apocalyptic and kerygmatic traditions of Christianity.8 In a recent book on Christology, Larry Hurtado calls attention to this common ground of NT scholarship:
|Although the impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the man, is not to be left out of consideration, it is commonly agreed that all Christian reflection on the person and work of Christ flows from the belief in the resurrection of Jesus in the earliest Christian community. It is also generally accepted that the resurrection of Jesus was understood by the first Christians as involving two things: (1) the vindication of the one crucified as a messianic claimant; and (2) his exaltation to a position of heavenly glory.9|
This assessment also appears to be little affected by the picture of the historical Jesus, however different the picture that is offered. Crossan, for example, presenting a picture of Jesus as a peasant Jewish Cynic, concludes: "If those who accepted Jesus during his earthly life had not continued to follow, believe, and experience his continuing presence after the crucifixion, all would have been over. That is the resurrection, the continuing presence in a continuing community of the past Jesus in a radically new and transcendental mode of present and future existence" (Jesus, 404). E. P. Sanders, presenting a very different picture of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, makes a similar assessment: "Without the resurrection, would his disciples have endured any longer than the Baptist's? I would guess not" (Jesus, 240). Thus, both Crossan and Sanders appeal to the resurrection as a radically transformative experience to explain how community in the name of Jesus could take root and be sustained. The Jerusalem church remains the privileged locus of this scholarly consensus.
The quest for a critical historiography in modern scholarship on Christian origins has not shaken confidence in the canonical picture of Jesus' fate or its picture of the origins of Christian community. The speeches and narratives of the early chapters of Acts are still counted on to provide the materials for reconstructing the beginnings of the church in Jerusalem, just as the scenes of the canonical passion narratives are thought to give sufficient historical access to the circumstances of Jesus' execution, despite recent skepticism about the existence of a pre-Markan Passion narrative. In combination, the dramatic and transformational pattern of violent death and transcendent vindication occurring at the geographical and religious center of the Jewish nation holds sway as much in the scholarly as in the popular imagination. The Jesus of history and the Christ of faith are joined at the origin.
However, the question of a critical historiography cannot come to rest merely on whether historians can plausibly account for the execution of Jesus, or on whether the writer of Acts has drawn on traditions that in some cases may put at our disposal isolated facts. The historian must determine whether it is possible to identify historical connections between the teaching and activity of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the movement that continued after his death. The major task of this paper is to expose the problem of making a connection between the death of Jesus and the existence of the Jerusalem church once these data are imagined in the canonical form of the execution of Jesus as a messianic pretender followed by the formation of a community announcing its identity and mission in terms of the vindication and exaltation of Jesus as Messiah. Despite the flood of research on matters pertaining to the death of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity, the problem of how to reconcile the execution of Jesus and the establishment and survival for more than a generation of a Jerusalem church as a messianic movement in that same city has hardly ever surfaced let alone been adequately addressed.
In the context of this paper, I can only attempt to show that the problem has not been appropriately identified and that it has important implications for the way Christian origins are imagined. To do this, I have chosen to follow the argument of the book by E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism. I have turned to Sanders' book precisely because it is concerned with the issue of connections between Jesus' teaching, the reasons for his execution, and the movement that continued after his death (pp. 11-12, 21-22, 57-58). Sanders is also one of the few scholars who has thought it necessary to raise the question of why the leadership of the Jerusalem community remained essentially unmolested. In the course of the discussion, I have also turned to the work of other scholars where it bears on the issue at hand.
The crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem would appear to be about as close as one can get to bedrock historical fact in the perspective of almost all NT scholars. For some, however, that means that the crucifixion is the datum which most requires explanation, while for others, it is the datum that least requires explanation. The nearly certain status of the fact, however, operates in both of these judgments. The difference has more to do with estimates of the teaching and activity of Jesus in Galilee and their likely effect. Thus, according to Sanders, "Whatever sort of teacher he is held to have been, it is difficult to move from 'Jesus the teacher' to 'Jesus, a Jew who was crucified'... It is difficult to make his teaching offensive enough to lead to execution" (4). On the other hand, Crossan avers, "Some form of religiopolitical execution could surely have been expected. What he was saying and doing was as unacceptable in the first as in the twentieth century, there, here, or anywhere" (xii).
For Sanders, then, making the connection between Jesus in Galilee and his execution in Jerusalem is not at all an obvious matter. He also admits that the sayings tradition seems not to support the context of Jewish restoration eschatology that is so central to his overall account of Christian origins:
|Yet the sayings material, viewed as a whole, is not what we would expect of a prophet of Jewish restoration. It is not focused on the nation of Israel. Jesus is not depicted (except in the opening summaries in the synoptics) as calling all Israel to repent, there is no teaching material about the reassembled twelve tribes (Matt. 19.28 cannot be considered 'teaching'), and in the material which can reasonably be considered authentic there is no prediction of a general judgment cast in terms of groups (leaving Matt. 25 out of account as inauthentic). The sayings material is markedly individual in tone, and when collective terms are used they do not imply 'all Israel': 'little flock', the 'poor', and the 'sinners'. (222)|
This does not mean that Sanders thinks Jesus intended to form a sect or that he did not have all Israel in view, but he secures Jesus' relation to Jewish restoration eschatology by appealing to a connection with John the Baptist (who did call for general repentance), to Jesus' instituting of the twelve (though, for Sanders, this is the least secure of the "almost indisputable facts" about Jesus), and to the symbolic acts of entering Jerusalem as a king and destroying the old temple and bringing the new. Nonetheless, he recognizes the discrepancy in the data:
|The discrepancy between two sets of data may be seen also if we contrast Jesus' execution with his teaching. Jesus was executed by the Romans as would-be king, that is, as a messianic pretender. Not only the Romans, but probably the 'crowds' and the disciples so saw him. Yet if all we had were his parables and related sayings, we would not expect this to have been the result of his career. Nothing about his teaching is adequate to account for his execution on the grounds of implied insurrection. The characterization of the kingdom as including a 'reversal of values' and his inclusion of the sinners might have been offensive to some of the pious, but they do not explain the Roman execution. The call to follow him at great cost and to love one's neighbor does not lead us to see him as a threat to the established order. The forced efforts of some to find in Jesus' teaching the cause of his death show the point. (223f.)|
One part of Sanders' solution to this puzzle is that Jesus may not have had a clear program for addressing his message to "all Israel" rather than only to "the little flock." In Sanders' words,
|We often read that Jesus 'shook the foundations' of Judaism. It is clear, however, that Judaism was not very severely shaken, although Jesus was probably an irritating presence, as were his followers after his death. There was, however, at the time of his execution, no rounding up of the disciples, nor was it necessary to suppress crowds of rioters. It is likely that, during his lifetime, Jesus made a smaller impact than had John the Baptist. Often people who see themselves as acting for God do not worry much about numbers or about realistic strategy. (226)|
However, this is only part of the answer to the puzzle, according to Sanders. For one thing, Jesus' symbolic acts in Jerusalem made his impact clear enough "for some to see him as constituting a threat to peace and public order" (227). Moreover, Jesus, having seen that John the Baptist preached repentance to all Israel and that few responded, may have thought it his special mission "to promise inclusion in the coming kingdom to outsiders, the wicked, if they heeded his call" (227).
How uneasily the teachings of Jesus as a whole fit the alleged context of Jewish restoration eschatology is seen in the way Sanders must harness the teachings to "the almost indisputable facts" of Jesus' life. The teachings themselves can neither account for the execution of Jesus nor for a messianic movement of Jewish restoration after his death. When Sanders starts with these "facts" and identifies the movement of Jesus' followers after his death as a messianic movement of Jewish restoration, he has in fact begun his historical investigation by adopting as history the narrative framework of the canonical gospel story and the interpretive framework found especially in the preaching of Peter in the early chapters of Acts.
The political execution must be explained and its reasons grasped because on Sanders' view no one mistakenly took Jesus and his following as a military threat or thought the kingdom to be anything else than an otherworldly kingdom. Sanders maintains with emphasis,
|Their [the disciples of Jesus] expectation throughout must have been for a miraculous event which would so transform the world that arms would not be needed in the new kingdom... [and] no one regarded Jesus' movement as posing an actual military threat. Thus some form of 'otherworldliness' must be attributed to Jesus and his disciples even before the crucifixion, and it would appear that neither the Jerusalem aristocracy nor the Romans understood Jesus' hope differently. (231)10|
The difficulty is that the movement survived, presumably because it posed no political or military threat, while Jesus was executed as "king of the Jews," despite the fact that he also posed no serious threat to Roman and Jewish establishments. For Sanders, this poses the problem of how to account for the death of Jesus. (294) I will argue that the problem should be posed from the opposite direction, i.e., from the consequences, or rather, the non-consequences of the execution of Jesus. How is it possible to explain why the execution of Jesus did not have serious effects on the establishment and survival of a movement of Jesus' followers in the city where he was executed?
On Sanders' account, the immediate reason for execution must be one that would not have implicated Jesus and his followers in an obvious way as rebels against Rome and yet could be presented to the Procurator as meriting death.(301) On the other hand, it could not have been just a matter of predicting the temple's destruction, since in that case the likely result would have been flogging and release, as in the case of Jesus ben Hananiah. A physical act was necessary, though the resulting execution could not have rested only on the action in the temple nor on what Sanders believes was its link with the saying about destroying this temple and building another. Though the temple act is essential for explaining the outcome, the action could not have been more than a symbolic gesture; otherwise, Jesus would have undoubtedly been seized immediately along with his followers. But the priestly aristocracy was not likely to feel that its control of the temple was in any jeopardy. What was crucial was "the combination of a physical action with a noticeable following" (304).
The matter of numbers is important in Sanders' considerations. Had Jesus actually gained a large following like Theudas or the Egyptian, or had Jesus urged his followers to believe that he would perform a miracle to inaugurate the kingdom like the miracles of Moses or Joshua of old, the high priests would not have had to urge the Roman authority to take action against Jesus, and the Roman reprisals would have been directed against his followers as well. But, according to Sanders, the combination of symbolic demonstration against the temple and noticeable following would have given the chief priests in Jerusalem a reasonable basis to propose to Pilate that Jesus be executed. (304f.)
Why was Jesus executed as a king? Sanders cautiously accepts that Jesus had entered Jerusalem as a king, though again, only as a symbolic gesture which his followers would have understood, but which would have involved no large public recognition or response. According to Sanders, "It fits into Jesus' last symbolic acts: he entered as 'king', demonstrated the destruction of the present temple, and had a meal with his disciples which symbolized the coming 'banquet.'" (306f.) The final exposure is provided by Judas who betrayed to the authorities that Jesus and his small band thought of him as king. That would be important: "It was the final weapon they needed: a specific charge to present to Pilate, more certain to have fatal effect than the general charge 'troublemaker" (309).
Sanders has managed to leave out very little of the Gospel account. (Formal trials are out, and there is some rearrangement of chronology, and he has taken the "false charge" of threatening the temple's destruction and linked it with the temple demonstration as an authentic saying of Jesus.) Not only is little left out, but the Gospel account also controls Sanders' perspective on the conflict, since he agrees that the real conflict was between Jesus and his contemporaries in Judaism. "The Romans did not act entirely on their own initiative... Here, as so often, the facts speak for themselves. The disciples continued as an apolitical group which was persecuted, at least sporadically, by the Jewish leadership and which was tolerated, perhaps even protected, by the Roman government" (295).11
Following Martin Hengel, Sanders locates Jesus among the leaders of "prophetic-charismatic movements of an eschatological stamp," which would include John the Baptist, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, and the Egyptian (237f.; cf. Hengel, Leader, 20f.). Jesus is closest to John the Baptist: "He, like John, falls in between the solitary woe-sayer and the Egyptian. The leader is executed but not the followers. There were enough followers, however, to make it expedient to kill Jesus, rather than simply flog him as a nuisance and release him" (303). Yet, we should note that unlike John, he was killed by Rome at priestly urging, and unlike all of them, he did not have a mass following (239f.).
Sanders thinks the disciples of Jesus did not actually know why Jesus was executed from the point of view of the Jewish leaders. It seems to me that Sanders has found it necessary to steer a course that also leaves the matter of motivation very unclear. On the one hand, almost every one of the factors that come into play in the Gospel accounts becomes a necessary consideration in Sanders' explanation: Jesus' extraordinary self-claim, his preaching of a kingdom, the entry into Jerusalem, the temple act and the saying against the temple, the fact that he had a following, the role of Judas in exposing belief in him as a king, and the religio-political challenge that he presented to the entire Jewish leadership. On the other hand, the temple demonstration which may have "pulled the trigger" (for execution) was a symbolic gesture that caused no public stir, and perhaps no public notice, as was also true of his entry into Jerusalem, and both temple leadership and Roman authorities recognized that Jesus posed no real threat to their control and held no secular political ambitions but spoke of an apocalyptic, supernatural kingdom. He was not a shaker of foundations, but a minor irritant.
What is one to make of this? Since the threat which Jesus posed is not clear, the motivation for his execution is also not clear. But Sanders finally seems to settle on the potential threat of public disorder. He sees that "the priests did not systematically have executed all who claimed to speak for God, nor did the Romans oblige them by killing everyone who irritated them" (301). But he thinks the Jewish leaders could reasonably oppose a charismatic leader on the grounds of saving their people from the threat of direct action by the Romans (288). For their part, "The Romans regarded him [Jesus] as dangerous at one level but not at another: dangerous as one who excited the hopes and dreams of Jews, but not as an actual leader of an insurgent group" (295).
If the concern was for public order, however, would not the reasons for the execution of Jesus apply many times over to a movement which, under the very noses of those who executed him, proclaims this crucified Jesus to have been raised from the dead and vindicated as God's Messiah and announces his imminent return as the signal for the coming of the kingdom? If the underlying motivation for the execution of Jesus was the fear of exciting the hopes and dreams of Jews, though it was clear that he was no insurrectionist, then no movement that continued to preach as vindicated the very hopes which Jesus excited could have been seen as less of a threat to public order. Indeed, faced with the execution of Jesus as a messianic pretender, a messianic movement in his name implied that the authorities responsible for his death were a tyranny.
In the early chapters of Acts, the apostles, under interrogation, make this charge directly against the authorities (4:10-12; 5:30-31; cf. 2:23-24, 36; 3:13-15; 4:24-31). At one point (5:28) the high priest reprimands the apostles for their determination to hold the authorities responsible for the execution of Jesus and to spread the teaching throughout Jerusalem. For the implied reader, of course, this shows how much the authorities fear the Jerusalem populace. Following Gamaliel's intervention, the apostles are flogged, charged to cease, and released only to return to proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah daily in the temple and at home (5:27-42). It is interesting to note that the only time in Acts that the authorities make reference to the execution of Jesus is in response to accusations concerning their own guilt. None of this is strange for a myth of origins that makes use of the topos of fearless opposition to tyranny in the name of a higher rule and authority. However, from the perspective of an actual Jerusalem political context, it is obviously hard to believe that the execution of Jesus on a charge of sedition should be a problem for the authorities, but not for the apostles. In Acts, the resurrection of Jesus occasions controversy only because of school debate between Sadducees and Pharisees, not because proclaiming it as the vindication and exaltation of Jesus is an act of defiance against the authority of those who put him to death. The crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman and Jewish authority in Judea has, in the perspective of Acts, theological and historical consequences for the Jews, but no social and political consequences for the apostles.
Sanders is aware of the need to explain why the leaders of the movement in Jerusalem were left free to go about their task, as is indicated by the evidence both of Paul's letters and Acts. The question is addressed in relation to the evidence of sporadic persecution of Jesus' followers as presented in Acts (arrests and flogging, death of Stephen), in Matthew and Mark (the disciples went to Galilee), and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15 (They "drove us out"). Consequently, the distinction which Sanders makes is between individuals such as Stephen and Paul accused of speaking or acting against the temple and/or the law and those who did nothing to make such charges plausible (286).12 The persecution of Paul was connected with his Gentile mission and was not suffered in consequence of preaching faith in a condemned criminal as Messiah. The latter preaching could not have been the cause of persecution by Jews since, if it were, Christians would have been persecuted everywhere, yet the leading Jerusalem apostles were not.
|It has sometimes been held that persecution was directed against the preaching of faith in Jesus, a condemned criminal, as Messiah... There must be, however, appreciable doubt about this as a ground of persecution. If it were, it should follow that Christianity was persecuted and hounded wherever there were enough Jews to give the followers of Christ a hard time. Yet, to repeat, it is clear from Paul's letters that the leading Jerusalem apostles were not persecuted, at least during his career, even though they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Their relative immunity indicates that it was not belief in the cross of Christ which differentiated those persecuted from those not. (283-284).|
Sanders is correct when he notes that there is no evidence of a specific charge brought against Christians to the effect that they are followers of a crucified Messiah. But he does not perceive that this lack of evidence testifies against the assumption that an eschatological messianism arising out of the experience of the resurrected Jesus constituted the unitary origin of the Christian community. It is precisely the canonical picture of Christian origins that conceals the problem of relating the political execution of Jesus in Jerusalem to the return of Galilean disciples to that city to proclaim him as the Messiah.
The recent comprehensive study of the first one hundred years of relations between Christians and Jews by Jack T. Sanders shows that the problem of proclaiming a crucified Messiah has not been seen in this way.13 In applying deviance theory to the relations between Christians and Jews, J. T. Sanders maintains that cultural or theological factors alone cannot provide a comprehensive explanation of these relations. Social factors must be considered as well. Among the cultural factors often cited as a primary cause of persecution is christology, but this is rejected: "Mainstream Jews did not normally come into conflict with early Christians for any reason, as far as I have been able to tell, related to the proclamation of Jesus' messiahship" (93).
While I agree with this conclusion, it begs the question. If one starts from the "indisputable fact" that Jesus was executed as a would-be king, the preaching of Jesus as the Messiah whom God raised from the dead would not have constituted merely a strange or "absurd" teaching following his execution, but precisely a social and political confrontation, i.e., the existence in Jerusalem of a community with its own leaders announcing in their very ground of existence the tyranny of the ruling classes in Jerusalem. Furthermore, J. T. Sanders maintains that the principle factor in responding to deviance in Jerusalem was occasioned by the increasing pressure felt among the priestly enforcers of boundaries to maintain a viable position of authority, so that even needling of the priesthood with charges of impurity and impiety or association with groups that welcomed Gentiles was sufficient deviance to be punished (138).14 But if sporadic instances of persecution experienced by the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem can be explained on these grounds, would we not expect the persecution of leaders of the community to have taken a different course altogether had the priestly elite been forced to respond to public proclamation of the messianic status of Jesus, especially if the initiative to have him executed had come from within their own ranks?
Paula Fredriksen has recently argued that the messianic preaching of Christianity constituted the principle source of tension leading to persecution of followers of Jesus.15 She differs from those who hold the view that it was the church's openness to Gentiles that elicited the major hostility from Jews. In her view, scholars have mistakenly taken the internal church issue with which Paul was faced in the fifties (circumcision of Gentiles) and retrojected it to earlier decades to account for Paul's persecution of the followers of Jesus in Damascus. The earliest source of controversy would have been the messianic preaching of the disciples. According to Fredriksen, however, this preaching would have had a more dangerous effect in the mixed urban centers of the Western diaspora than in Jerusalem:
|The enthusiastic proclamation of a Messiah executed very recently by Rome as a political troublemaker — a crucified Messiah — combined with a vision of the approaching End preached also to Gentiles — this was dangerous. News of an impending Messianic kingdom, originating from Palestine, might trickle out via the ekklesia's Gentiles to the larger urban population... The open dissemination of a Messianic message, in other words, put the entire Jewish community at risk. (556)|
On the other hand, however,
|Jerusalem, unlike Damascus or the cities in Paul's eventual itinerary, had a Jewish majority. The social situation was accordingly much less volatile. Also, in the course of the four decades until the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sanhedrin had other noisily apocalyptic popular movements and living messianic preachers to worry about. (557)|
In response to Fredriksen, it should be noted that there is no indication prior to the first Roman-Jewish war that messianism was the source of persecution of Christians in the cities of the Western diaspora.16 Moreover, I would argue that the term 'Christ' used as a name and the understanding of Christ as a cultic presence in pre-Pauline and Pauline congregations of the Western diaspora does not focus attention on popular messianic hopes.17 In fact, Paul never writes in his letters that Christ was executed by Roman authority in Jerusalem as a political troublemaker. This is not meant to overlook the fact that titles of sovereignty were cultivated in the early Christ congregations nor that these titles and early Christian worship in these congregations made use of Jewish theocratic notions as well as language from the Roman Imperial cult.18 However, I would suggest that while the function of this language was to establish Christ as an alternative figure of sovereignty for newly emerging communities, the political implications of titles of sovereignty were muted precisely by being expressed as devotional piety in the framework of Jewish theocratic ideals. It seems more likely that Jews of synagogue communities of the mixed Western urban centers would have reason to fear repercussions because of Christ communities that were aggressively engaged in uprooting Gentiles from idolatrous practices, i.e., from longstanding social, economic and cultural traditions.19
On the other hand, I cannot imagine that preaching messianic claims for Jesus in the Jerusalem where he was executed would have constituted a less volatile situation. We should remember that it was Rome that "took care" with dispatch of popular apocalyptic movements and living messianic preachers. For their part, the Jewish ruling classes would have had both means and reason to take more forceful action than they did against Galileans now established in Jerusalem who claimed to be founded upon a sovereignty that had been vindicated by God against the judgment and position of authority of the ruling priests.
The issue of Roman involvement is crucial for E. P. Sanders inJesus and Judaism because his search for an explanation of the situation of the Jerusalem apostles really turns on his perception of Roman intervention. According to Sanders,
|the passages in the synoptics sometimes mention Gentiles and their rulers (Matt. 10.18; Mark 13.9; Luke 21.12); but, at least in Judea, the Romans played no role in the persecution of the movement after the death of Jesus. The evidence from Josephus confirms the view of Acts. The results point in the same direction: had the Romans wished to eliminate all the leaders of the new movement, Peter, John and James could not have remained active in Jerusalem. (285)|
In other words, the Jewish leaders could not carry out a systematic persecution without Roman support. So Sanders concludes, "But mass execution could not be justified to the Romans, and the Christian leaders who did not themselves break the law or speak against the temple were allowed to continue their work unmolested" (286).
This explanation reminds one of the argument that Sanders has already rejected, namely, that Jesus was executed by the Roman authority for being something he was not and that the Romans subsequently came to realize this. But the opposite would seem far more likely: with the successful establishment of a movement that aroused the same sort of hopes (or illusions) of Jewish restoration eschatology in the name of one who had been removed as a potential troublemaker with delusions of kingship and who was now being proclaimed as a royal figure raised from the dead — with this in view, the Romans should have thought the execution of Jesus justified, been alert to the potential undermining of the authority of the Jerusalem aristocracy, and open to requests from the chief priests at least to drive out the movement's leaders.20 Sanders is of course correct that there is no evidence of Roman intervention or requests for Roman intervention; nor is there evidence that the chief priests sought from Rome authority to act against the movement in Jerusalem or Judea. But that ought to raise serious doubts about the messianic orientation of the community in Jerusalem, i.e., the public proclamation of Jesus as a divinely appointed ruler nullifying the actions of Roman and Jewish authorities against him and demonstrating their illegitimacy. It should also make one far less inclined to suppose that the Gospel Passion narratives constitute sources from which one can extract and reconstruct the historical circumstances and reasons for the death of Jesus.21
Contrary to Sanders, I do not see how the notion that the leaders of the movement in Jerusalem did not do any symbolic acts against the temple or speak against the temple can supply an answer to the problem that Sanders himself sees. For the followers of Jesus to claim that Jesus was vindicated and that he was to exercise supernatural authority as the Messiah would surely implicate them in anything for which he had been executed. The execution of a Galilean peasant in Jerusalem on grounds of being a would-be king and therefore a threat to public order hardly seems propitious circumstances for Galileans to establish in Jerusalem a messianic movement in his name. Of course, this is no problem for the author of Acts who wishes to demonstrate the unitary origins of the movement proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ (2:38) at the center of the Jewish nation — a movement that is guided by the Holy Spirit and whose claims and continual advance therefore cannot be successfully resisted.
John the Baptist was executed and a movement associated with his activity survived, but it did not attempt to establish itself at Herod's residence. The Teacher of Righteousness was put to death, but his community established itself in the Judean desert. The fate of the followers of the Samaritan prophet, the followers of Theudas and those of the Egyptian prophet are known. It is not certain what the fate of Judas the Galilean was, but he does not seem to have established a movement with continuous leadership in Jerusalem.22 Josephus records that two of his sons were crucified by order of the Procurator, Tiberius Alexander, at the time that the entire country came under direct Roman rule.23 I do not find in any of this grounds to explain the relationship between the violent fate of Jesus in Jerusalem and the relative freedom of the leaders of a Jesus movement in the same city.
In my judgment, Sanders' efforts to establish the connections between Jesus in Galilee, his execution in Jerusalem, and the subsequent movement in Jerusalem within the framework of Jewish restoration eschatology do not succeed. Consequently, his methodological point of departure —"We should begin our study [of the death of Jesus] with two firm facts before us: Jesus was executed by the Romans as would-be 'king of the Jews', and his disciples subsequently formed a messianic movement" (Jesus, 294) — loses conviction.
On the other hand, neither do those who have stressed far more than Sanders the social and political challenge that Jesus' message and mission posed to Roman imperial authority and Jewish second temple institutions appear to have addressed the problem of explaining the continuous existence in Jerusalem for decades of a movement in the name of Jesus. This is surprising, since the challenge Jesus is thought to have posed would seem to beg the question. Thus, when Crossan stresses that Jesus' teaching and program in Galilee were in deep conflict, at the religious and political level, with all for which the temple in Jerusalem stood, making his execution predictable, one must ask how his disciples managed to establish themselves and continue in Jerusalem, and why they would care to do so?24
In a number of writings, Richard Horsley has carefully distinguished between "little" and "great" traditions and has undertaken to describe the concrete social phenomena of different types of popular movements in Palestine in the first century: popular messianic movements led by figures acclaimed as kings, popular prophetic movements with large followings and intense apocalyptic expectations of imminent divine deliverance, and oracular prophets like Jesus ben Hananiah and John the Baptist who stood in the tradition of Israelite oracular prophecy. Where does Jesus and the Jesus movement belong in this typology of popular Palestinian figures and movements? It would appear that Horsley thinks of Jesus as belonging to the category of oracular prophet, at least with respect to awareness in these movements of concrete political-power relations in Roman Palestine. In contrast to the popular prophetic movements, "the popular oracular prophets would appear to have been more aware of the concrete political situation, being sharply critical in their pronouncement of judgment, but not taking collective actions which would inevitably have invited outright destruction by a threatened ruler" (Prophets, 462).25
This classification of Jesus is confirmed in Horsley's analysis of the temple demonstration, but with a difference. (Violence: 297-300).26 He thinks the Gospel writers have toned down the degree of disruptiveness occasioned by Jesus' action in the temple. It should be viewed as a prophetic symbolic act of destruction "symbolizing God's imminent judgmental destruction, not just of the building, but of the Temple system" (300). In fact, it escalated beyond the older biblical precedents, for it involved "some violence against property if not persons" (300). But Horsley cannot quite accept his own initial suggestion that Jesus attempted a direct takeover of the temple by force in the manner of a popular messianic claimant. While that would fit his arrest and execution as a revolutionary leader, it would make Jesus' actions "naive and abortive" (298).27
On the other hand, Horsley cannot quite resist setting Jesus and his followers in the category of popular messianic movements led by figures acclaimed as kings on the model of Saul and David of old. (Messianic Figures).28 Discussing the dramatic appearance of Simon bar Giora in the apparel of a king at the time of his surrender of the city to the Romans, Horsley states,
|Whatever Simon's purpose in his dramatic surrender, the Romans did indeed execute him as the enemy general or head of state, as part of the triumphal procession and celebration of the great Roman victory over the rebellious Jewish nation... Simon... was ceremonially paraded (appropriately robed, judging from War 7.138), scourged, and executed as the leader (perhaps explicitly as 'king') of the Jews as one of the principal events in the triumphal celebration in Rome. It is clear that Pontius Pilate was neither the last nor the first Roman imperial official to deal with a popular Palestinian Jewish leader recognized as a king of the Jews. (290)|
It seems that Horsley has concluded that Jesus of Nazareth, though belonging in some ways to the category of oracular prophet, was also recognized as a king of the Jews, though he had no army. If we are to take this comparison with any seriousness, can we believe that followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, whether as a particular community, or as a movement among the people as Horsley would have it, could have continued to preach over the course of decades the destruction of the temple system in the name of Jesus as a vindicated messiah figure?29 If we want to set the dramatic humiliation of Jesus' execution in Jerusalem in historical perspective, we should ask what the author of Mark was doing, not what Jesus was doing. After all, the author of Mark wrote at the time of Simon bar Giora not at the time of Jesus of Nazareth. As a social artifact, the Markan Passion narrative will be concerned with the social conflicts of the Evangelist's own time. After the destruction of the temple one could heighten the blame of an authority that no longer existed and thereby conceal the real source of conflict in one's own time. Once a coalition of Roman authority and Jewish ruling class had broken down, the portrayal of Jesus as a popular Messiah entering Jerusalem who fell victim to that coalition would be tempting and entail little risk.30 On the other hand, if we labor under the historicity of a messianic confrontation in Jerusalem that led to the execution of Jesus as a rebel and imagine his followers in Jerusalem subsequently proclaiming him the Messiah, we are faced with the historical problem of relating these two "facts" and having to account for the absence of evidence to suggest that Jewish or Roman authorities ever tried to destroy the movement or even force its leaders out of the city.
In this paper I have argued that modern scholarship has followed the canonical lead on unitary origins but ignored any actual political implications of the canonical account of the execution of Jesus and the canonical account of the origin and identity of the Jerusalem church. Surprisingly, this holds true especially for those who wish to take the political context of Christian origins most seriously into consideration. In the remainder of this paper, I want to raise as matters for an agenda several other reasons why the scholarly consensus on the unitary origins of Christianity needs to be re-examined.
First, it leaves out of account studies that are important because they do not support and may prove to be incompatible with the dominant paradigm of Christian origins. Recent studies on the genre and literary history of Q, on apocryphal Gospels, especially the Gospel of Thomas, and on pre-Markan gospel traditions have shown that there are early Jesus traditions that cannot be accommodated within the Easter kerygma and which do not evidence an apocalyptic context or persuasion.31 However, this is only a minimal statement of the significance of this recent work. An alternative picture of Christian origins has already been argued on the basis of it, namely, that Christian communities were at first formed in the name of Jesus as a founder-teacher.32 The teacher-sage was invested with the authority of Wisdom's envoy to enhance the significance of the teaching as various Jesus movements confronted challenges and sought a place in the social landscape of Galilee and southern Syria. Along these lines, a continuing wisdom trajectory can be traced into second century Christian gnosticism.33 On this view, the resurrection of Jesus is not the common center of all expressions of early Christianity. Moreover, the communities whose foundation myth was the kerygma of Jesus' saving death and resurrection do not represent the dominant basis of association from the beginning and arose in circumstances different from those of the Jesus movements. These are the pre-Pauline and Pauline congregations of the Christ located at first in northern Syria and Asia Minor.34
As a consequence of this recent work, it is now possible to pursue the question of community formation in Jerusalem by followers of Jesus without assuming the model of the kerygma-oriented Christ congregations as the only possible model. It may be as necessary to distinguish the group in Jerusalem from Jesus movements in Galilee and southern Syria. As possible points of departure in rethinking the "Jerusalem church," one might consider what appear to have been competing claims of authority by Galileans to shape a community ethos appropriate to Jerusalem, including the claim of a 'vision' of Jesus, the claim of family connection to Jesus and of superior personal piety ("the poor"), along with consideration of the social ambitions that the Jerusalem locale itself might invite.36
Another reason for reassessment has to do with the sources of our picture of this community and its leaders. As scholars know, the sources that depict the foundational revelation and the role and status of Jerusalem arise out of and are the products of an effort to preach the gospel to Gentiles and to establish communities among them. Despite the many studies devoted to relating information from Paul's letters and the book of Acts, including more recent sociological studies, I do not believe that the implications of our dependence on these sources have been fully appreciated or systematically assessed.36 On the contrary, it is remarkable how easy it is to forget this.
The priority of the Jerusalem church is thought to have legal consequences that account for its relation to the Antioch church, its role in the Gentile mission, and its authority in matters concerning conditions of membership for Gentiles and mixed table fellowship. Holmberg reflects the view of many scholars when he writes,
|The Antiochene Christians saw in Jerusalem the salvation-historical centre of the Church, which obviously had certain legal consequences. This seems to have been the common opinion among the first Christians, that Jerusalem was the centre of the rapidly growing Church. This was owing to its role as the Holy City and theologico-juridical centre of Judaism, and to the fact that this was the place where Christ had died and risen, where the Spirit had been effused, and where the Apostles of Christ resided, they being the guardians of the divine Word, that tradition of and from Jesus which had gone out from Jerusalem.37|
According to Holmberg, Paul was no exception to this view. Following Stuhlmacher, Holmberg states, "The role of the Jerusalem apostolate as the highest doctrinal court of the Church is part and parcel of Paul's salvation-historical conception of his own apostolate."38
What is assumed in these views is that conceptions of Jerusalem that serve the agenda of the writer of Acts around the turn of the century or that represent Paul's conception of his apostolate in the late forties and the decade of the fifties are actually rooted in the history of Christian origins in Jerusalem. The strength of this assumption is evident in a series of rhetorical questions put by J.T. Sanders in his book on Jewish-Christian relations. Commenting on Burton Mack's claim that only Paul and later Acts present Jerusalem and the resurrection as the font of Christianity, Sanders asks, "But if Jerusalem was not the recognized center of Christianity, why did Paul labor so to take the collection there? And if it was the recognized center, then it must have been, as we learn from Paul's letters, because those entrusted with the foundational revelation were there; and what could that foundational revelation have been if not the resurrection?"39
I would suggest a different working assumption. Conceptions of the messianic orientation of the Jerusalem church based on the foundational revelation of Jesus' resurrection, as well as conceptions of the role, authority and positions of its leading members are likely to reflect the internal disputes and competing claims for legitimation of individuals and communities engaged in a mission to Gentiles beginning in the late forties and the decade of the fifties. The writer of Acts was not the first to see the importance of Jerusalem for the scheme of a Christian salvation history that had as its goal the legitimation of a Gentile mission. But the actualization of such a mission, its conceptualization, contestation and legitimation in mixed communities outside Palestine is surely the context of our "knowledge" of the Jerusalem church, as far as our canonical sources are concerned. This is not to say there was no actual appeal to Jerusalem, nor any response in Jerusalem to issues and developments occurring elsewhere that may have affected both the status and the self-presentation of the community in Jerusalem. But to see that would be to discern a particular juncture of mythmaking and social history rather than to imagine that such conceptions were already in place and represented the common foundation of Christianity. This view of a foundational revelation to the leaders of the community in Jerusalem ascribing to them a superior authority and status may turn out to be in large part a diaspora version of beginnings in the homeland designed to support a mission to Gentiles among different factions of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Hellenistic cities of the diaspora.40
A third reason for re-examining the consensus on unitary origins is the problem of locating the origins of a messianic conception of Jesus. Such conceptions do not appear to have their roots in the sayings traditions. On the other hand, the use of the term "Christ" in connection with the kerygma of Jesus' saving death and resurrection already presupposes a Christian transformation of Jewish messianic ideas which were themselves fluid and synthetic constructs. In the recent volume from the first Princeton symposium on Judaism and Christian origins, N. A. Dahl acknowledges that a genuine historical problem is raised by the absence of the word Christos and messianic ideas in some writings and types of texts: "With few exceptions — and most of them secondary — Christos does not occur in the sayings of Jesus and collections of such sayings. This observation calls for an explanation" (Messianic Ideas: 396).41 The explanation Dahl offers is that disciples quoted sayings of Jesus during his ministry and later tradition retained this style of discourse, thus preserving Jesus' own mode of self-reference (which was not that of Messiah) in the traditions of Jesus' sayings. This solution of continuity in the sayings tradition allows Dahl to draw a conclusion about what could then be supposed concerning the circles in which Jesus' sayings were transmitted: "Collections of sayings of Jesus may well have emerged in communities that were familiar with and shared the faith in the crucified and risen Christ" (397).
This appears to be a rather typical appeal to the faithful transmission of Jesus tradition as a solution to a fundamental problem of early Christian history concerning the relationship of the tradition of Jesus' sayings to the kerygma of Christ's death and resurrection. But Dahl is actually making a different point. He sees that the sayings tradition cannot be the source of an early Christian confession of Jesus as Messiah, and since he also sees that resurrection experiences, post-mortem appearances, an empty tomb, and assumption to heaven were not aspects of messianic ideology, he concludes that early Christian confession must be closely related to the crucifixion of Jesus as an alleged royal Messiah. (390f., 398) Yet, in spite of this appeal to the fate of Jesus as the origin of Christos in the church, Dahl has called attention to the real locus of the problem: "The problem of the relationship between the Jesus-tradition and the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ is a problem within the early church and not simply to be subsumed under the question 'the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ.'" (398)
But clearly, for Dahl, this problem of church history concerns only the later vicissitudes of sayings and kerygmatic traditions. The source of the problem lies in the ministry and fate of Jesus. In effect, the problem of church history is resolved in the life of Jesus. Dahl appeals to what he sees as the combination of royal messianic and prophetic categories in all four canonical Gospels and returns to the conclusion he had already expressed: "This indicates that the combination of royal messianic categories with prophetic categories is due to historical events (viz., the public ministry of Jesus as a sage and prophet and his crucifixion as king of the Jews) and only secondarily to a given set of messianic or other ideas" (399). By appealing to the relationship between Jesus' teachings and his fate, Dahl can avoid the conclusion which otherwise is highlighted in the data he surveys, namely, that the origin of the problem is precisely in the history of early Christianity. From this latter perspective a quite reasonable explanation can be offered. There existed different ways in which the characterization, authority, and status of Jesus were enhanced, i.e., different myths of Jesus emerged in different locales and communities and partial merger of myths took place in the course of a continuing social history.42
Dahl's central observation, however, retains its importance. Neither the sayings tradition nor the kerygma can easily be said to account for the messianic identity of earliest Christianity and the community in Jerusalem. Yet, as we have seen, that identity, thought to be rooted in the primitive confession of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, is virtually taken as self-evident in standard accounts of Christian origins. We have observed that Dahl resolves the issue by appealing to Jesus' condemnation as a messianic pretender. The central aim of this paper, however, has been to show why such a resolution is doubtful and to point out why it is unlikely that either the death of Jesus or the identity of the group of followers in Jerusalem revolved around messianic confrontations, claims, or titles.43
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Basic Works Referred to in Discussion
Cameron, Ron. "The History of Early Christianity and the Acts of the Apostles," in idem, The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1984)
Cameron, Ron. "Alternate Beginnings — Different Ends: Eusebius, Thomas, and the Construction of Christian Origins," in Religious Propaganda and Missionary Competition in the New Testament World: Essays Honoring Dieter Georgi, Lukas Bormann, et. al. eds., (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 512-514.
Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991)
Dahl, N. A. (revised by D.H. Juel). "Messianic Ideas and the Crucifixion of Jesus," in The Messiah, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992).
Dunn, D. G. Unity and Diversity in the New Testament. London: SCM Press/Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 19902.
Fredriksen, Paula. "Judaism, the Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope: Another Look at Galatians 1 and 2," JTS 42 (1991) 532-564.
Gager, John. Kingdom and Community (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975).
Hengel, Martin. The Charismatic Leader and His Followers (Edinburgh, 1981).
Holmberg, Bengt. Paul and Power (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1978)
Horsley, Richard. Jesus and ther Spiral of Violence. Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
Horsley, Richard. "'Like One of the Prophets of Old': Two Types of Popular Prophets at the Time of Jesus," CBQ 47 (1985), 435-463.
Horsley, Richard. "'Messianic' Figures and Movements in First-Century Palestine," in The Messiah, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 276-295.
Mack, Burton. Myth of Innocence. Mark and Christian Origins ((Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988)
Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985)
Sanders, Jack T. Schismatics, Sectarians, Dissidents, Deviants: The First Hundred Years of Jewish-Christian Relations (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993).
Schille, G. "Christianity: Early Jewish Christianity," ABD 1: 937
Theissen, Gerd. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978)
White, L. Michael. "Christianity: Early Social Life and Organization," ABD 1: 927-929.
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1 "Christology (NT)," ABD 1: 979-991.
2 Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (London: SCM Press/Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 19902).
3 Ron Cameron has recently written, "Biblical scholars continue to follow the example of Eusebius in 'using the Acts of the Apostles as the main source' and model for writing 'the history of early Christianity' [citing Jacob Jervell, "The History of Early Christianity and the Acts of the Apostles," in idem, The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1984), 13] — even though they admit that Acts is tendentious. This scholarly proclivity is clear no matter what perspective a person has or methods are employed to determine the origins of Christianity, whether one is engaged in biblical theology, social description, historical criticism, feminist analysis, apologetic historiography, experiential hermeneutics, literary studies, or church history" ("Alternate Beginnings — Different Ends: Eusebius, Thomas, and the Construction of Christian Origins," in Religious Propaganda and Missionary Competition in the New Testament World: Essays Honoring Dieter Georgi, Lukas Bormann, et. al. eds., (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 512-514. Cameron's footnotes, which cite R. Bultmann, E.A. Judge, H. Koester, E. Schüssler Fiorenza, M. Hengel, Luke T. Johnson, D. Aune, and H. Chadwick, give stunning support to the statement above, see nn. 56-63, pp. 512-515.
For a recent discussion of the historical value of Acts, see Gerd Lüdemann, Early Christianity according to the Traditions in Acts, translated by John Bowden, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989) 1-18. On Luke as historian, see Eckhard Plümacher, "Luke as Historian," ABD 4:398-402. For a brief history of research on the speeches in Acts, see now Marion L. Soards, The Speeches in Acts (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1994) 1-11.
4 E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985); Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ (New Haven: Yale University, 1988); John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1991); Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987); F.C. Baur, "Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des petrinischen und paulinischen Christenthums in der alten Kirche, der Apostel Petrus in Rom," TZTh (1831) 61-206 = F.C. Baur, Ausgewahlte Werke in Einzelausgaben, Vol. 1, Historisch-kritische Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1963) 1-146; Wilhelm Bousset, KYRIOS CHRISTOS (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970).
5 Gerd Theissen, Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978); John Gager, Kingdom and Community (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975).
6 Gerd Theissen, The Gospels in Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 125-199. Cf. G. Schille, "Christianity: Early Jewish Christianity," ABD 1: 937.
7 Cf. L. Michael White, "Christianity: Early Social Life and Organization," ABD 1: 927-929.
8 See Schille, "Early Jewish Christianity," 935-938.
9 Larry W. Hurtado, One God One Lord (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 94.
10 Sanders rejects the view of Hengel that Jesus was executed because his intention was misunderstood, ibid., 224-225; see Martin Hengel, The Charismatic Leader and His Followers (Edinburgh, 1981), 59.
11 It should be noted that on the matter of internal conflict Sanders is prepared to qualify the 'apolitical' character of Jesus' message and intent: "I have used the term 'apolitical' to mean 'not involving a plan to liberate and restore Israel by defeating the Romans and establishing an autonomous government'. If Jesus claimed that those who followed him, even though sinners by the standard of the law, would be first in the kingdom, and demonstrated the nearness of a new order by his gesture against the temple, he would have been seen as presenting a challenge to the rest of Judaism in a way that cannot be called just 'religious' or 'political'. If he claimed, in effect, that he, rather than the acknowledged leaders of Israel, spoke for God, he challenged the leadership in all respects. A blow against the temple, even if a physically minor one, was a blow against the basic religio-political entity: Israel," 296. This is exactly the view of the Gospels and Acts, which includes, of course, the idea of the Romans as reluctant participants and even protectors of the church later.
12 Sanders remarks that Stephen was killed because he "carried on Jesus' attack against the temple," ibid. If this is accepted as historical fact, we should also note that he performed no symbolic act. One would suppose that the execution of Jesus would come into play here as a precedent, yet in Acts the death of Jesus constitutes—in a way that we have noted is quite typical—a ground of accusation against the members of the council whom Stephen addresses in his speech (7:52). On the death of Stephen and the persecution of the "Hellenists" in Acts, see most recently, Craig C. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress, 1992) 19-101. Hill's main thesis is that there is no justification in the story of Stephen for seeing in the Hebrews and Hellenists two different theologies. Hill also wants to demonstrate the substantial unity of the early Church by pointing to a common fate suffered which he believes is to be traced ultimately to the self-claim of Jesus. But Hill has simply harmonized what may be quite different situations. It is not clear at all that priestly aristocracy were involved in the Stephen affair or in the death of James (the brother of John) and the subsequent arrest of Peter. There is no indication that the death of James, the brother of Jesus, is for the same reason as the death of James, the brother of John, let alone that either is to be accounted for in the same way as the death of Paul. Sanders distinguishes the case of James, the brother of Jesus, from those of Stephen and Paul. The reaction of those strict with regard to the law probably indicates that the high priest had "trumped up" the charges, see Jos. Ant. 20. 200-203. On the reasons for the execution of James, see Wilhelm Pratscher, Der Herrenbruder Jakobus und die Jakobustradition (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987) 255-260. Pratscher also denies that the execution was for transgression of the Law, but when he includes among the reasons for the execution that James was the brother of Jesus who was executed as politically dangerous and that he was head of a messianic sect which included members not unsympathetic to Zealot activities, one wonders how James was able to continue without interference for a generation and why any high priest would have had to wait to act against him in the absence of the Roman procurator rather than enlisting Roman authority, if not for execution, at least for expulsion from the city.
13 Jack T. Sanders, Schismatics, Sectarians, Dissidents, Deviants: The First Hundred Years of Jewish-Christian Relations (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1993).
14 On the charges of impurity and impiety against the chief priests by the James party in Jerusalem, see ibid., 19-27. On the deteriorating status of the Jewish ruling class, see Martin Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea (Cambridge: University Press, 1987. For a somewhat different position on the question of continuing popular support of the Jewish ruling classes and on continuing recourse to negotiation in dealings with Roman authority throughout the period, see James S. McLaren, Power and Politics in Palestine: The Jews and the Governing of their Land 100 BC - AD 70 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991).
15 Paula Fredriksen, "Judaism, the Circumcision of Gentiles, and Apocalyptic Hope: Another Look at Galatians 1 and 2," JTS 42 (1991), 532-564.
16 On Jews who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah in the Gospel of John, see J.T. Sanders, Schismatics, 40-47, 92-95; on anti-Christian policy during the reign of Trajan and its connection to Christian messianic claims, see ibid., 57-58, 61-67, 202-203.
17 See Merrill P. Miller, "How Jesus Became Christ: Probing a Thesis," Continuum 2:2-3 (1993) 257-265.
18 See Helmut Koester, "Jesus the Victim," JBL 111 (1992) 3-15; Dieter Georgi, Theocracy in Paul's Praxis and Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991); David Seeley, "The Background of the Philippians Hymn (2:6-11)," The Journal of Higher Criticism 1 (1994) 49-72.
19 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 1 Cor. 10:14-21 and see, David P. Gooch, Dangerous Food: 1 Corinthians 8-10 in its Context (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1993). For recent discussion of the diversity of relationships between Jews and Gentiles in late antiquity, see Shaye J.D. Cohen, "Respect for Judaism by Gentiles according to Josephus," HTR 80 (1987) 409-430; idem., "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," HTR 82 (1989) 13-33.
20 Theissen thinks that the absence of Roman intervention against the church in Jerusalem explains why the Sanhedrin receives a greater share of the blame in the death of Jesus, The Gospels in Context, 172. But if Roman responsibility is to be given more weight in the case of Jesus, the absence of Roman involvement with a community of followers in Jerusalem is harder to explain.
21 It is often the Temple act that carries the burden of primary provocation in the execution of Jesus. In Sanders' view it could be regarded as a necessary but not a sufficient cause. Accompanying factors, such as having a noticeable following and the role of Judas in exposing royal claims, must come into play to account for his execution as "king of the Jews." For recent negative conclusions about the historicity of the temple demonstration and discussion of the literature, see R.J. Miller, "The (A)historicity of Jesus' Temple Demonstration: A Test Case in Methodology," SBL 1991 Seminar Papers (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991) 235-252; David Seeley, "Jesus' Temple Act," CBQ 55 (1993) 263-283. For a view of Jesus' temple act in the context of a broader discussion of sacrifice, see Bruce Chilton, The Temple of Jesus: His Sacrificial Program Within a Cultural History of Sacrifice (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 1992) esp. 91-111. Chilton believes that after an unsuccessful attempt to reform sacrificial practice in the temple, Jesus used his meals with disciples as a more acceptable form of sacrifice than the routine of the temple. "The authorities in Jerusalem were correctly informed [by Judas] that the teacher who had demanded a new view of purity in the Temple was acting in a way that set up an alternative cult, and he was found guilty of blasphemy," 153-154. Chilton does not say how we ought to imagine the successful establishment of a movement in Jerusalem of disciples of a Jesus executed on the charge of having instituted an alternative cult.
22 Josephus does not tell us what his fate was (cf. Acts 5:37), but the resistance was clearly ineffective; cf. David Rhoads, Israel in Revolution: 6-74 C.E. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976) 59.
23 Jewish Antiquities 20.100-102.
24 The thesis of S. G. F. Brandon that associated Jesus and his followers in Palestine with Jewish nationalism and deliverance from Roman occupation was predicated not only on the continuous existence and activity of a Zealot movement in the first century but also on the necessity of being able to account for the Roman execution of Jesus: "Ironic though it be, the most certain thing known about Jesus of Nazareth is that he was crucified by the Romans as a rebel against their government in Judaea," Jesus and the Zealots (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1967), 1. In an earlier book Brandon had written, "Whatever may have been the degree to which Jesus had become involved in the cause of Jewish freedom, it is certain that the movement connected with him had at least sufficient semblance of sedition to cause the Roman authorities both to regard him as a possible revolutionary and, after trial, to execute him as guilty on such a charge," The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (London: SPCK, 1951), 102. Yet, in spite of this, Brandon never seems troubled by the fact that the author of Acts "gives no hint whatsoever that its [the Jerusalem church's] existence was ever seriously jeopardized by official repressive action on the part of either the Jewish or the Roman authorities." (90-91)
25 Richard Horsley, "'Like One of the Prophets of Old': Two Types of Popular Prophets at the Time of Jesus," CBQ 47 (1985), 435-463.
26 Richard Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987).
27 To be sure, it is not clear which popular Jewish royal claimant of the first century sought to destroy the temple system. Brandon had also concluded that the Markan account had Jesus acting alone in an idealistic manner and that the event must have been different: "An attack on this business was tantamount to an attack on the property and authority of these magnates; it was, moreover, calculated to cause a fracas in which many of Jesus' supporters and others were likely to join, occasioning violence and pillage," Jesus and the Zealots, 9. But for Brandon the temple always remained the effective symbol of Jewish nationalism; he hardly thought of Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem as seeking to destroy the temple system.
28 Richard Horsley, "'Messianic' Figures and Movements in First-Century Palestine," in The Messiah, edited by James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992) 276-295.
29While Horsley denies that there is clear evidence to support the view that the apostles in Jerusalem worshipped and offered sacrifice in the temple, he seems to accept the picture of the apostles in Acts spreading the word in the temple: "Other passages early in Acts . . . indicate that the apostles were in the Temple mainly to spread the word about the fulfillment of history that they believed had begun with Jesus' actions, crucifixion and vindication, to do healings and exorcisms, and generally to expand their movement," Ibid., 292.
30For a full and detailed exposition of this view of the Markan Passion narrative, see Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) 249-349; cf. Theissen's hypothesis that the Markan Passion narrative was composed in Jerusalem in the years 40-50, The Gospels in Context, 166-199. Is it really convincing when Theissen argues that the absence of the name of the high priest in the Markan account reflects care and concern in formulating traditions that are circulated in the continuing sphere of influence of Caiaphas when he is arguing at the same time that the Sanhedrin receives greater blame in the death of Jesus because of the conflict the Jerusalem church experienced with the high priesthood? (171-173).
31These studies are to a large degree the work of scholars who have been influenced and set in new directions by the work of James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester, see Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971). To name only some of the major studies, editions of primary sources, multi-authored volumes and particular essays: John Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987); Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990); Ron Cameron (ed.), The Other Gospels (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982); idem., The Apocryphal Jesus and Christian Origins, Semeia 49 (l990); idem., "Alternate Beginnings--Different Ends"; idem., "The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Origins," in The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester, edited by Birger A. Pearson (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991) 381-392; J. Dominic Crossan, Four Other Gospels (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985); John Kloppenborg and Leif Vaage (eds.), Early Christianity, Q and Jesus, Semeia 55 (1991); Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence; idem., The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993); idem., "A Myth of Innocence at Sea," Continuum 1 (1991) 140-157; David Seeley, The Noble Death (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990); idem., Deconstructing the New Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1994).
32Mack, A Myth of Innocence.
33For a broader view of the place of Jewish wisdom in the development of Christology, see Mack, "The Christ and Jewish Wisdom," in The Messiah, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 192-221.
34Mack, A Myth of Innocence, 98-123.
35On this preliminary suggestion, see Mack, Myth of Innocence, 88-91.
36See, for example, Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1978); Nicholas Taylor, Paul, Antioch and Jerusalem (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992); F. B. Watson, Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
37Holmberg, Paul and Power, 19.
38Ibid., 28; see Peter Stuhlmacher, Das paulinische Evangelium I. Vorgeschichte (Gottingen, 1968) 87f.
39J. T. Sanders, Schismatics, 265, n. 48. The reference to Mack is in Myth of Innocence, 88.
40There is less tendency today to rely exclusively on Paul's letters to assess his relationship with Antioch and Jerusalem and his own claims. The need for a strong corrective to Paul's anachronistic interpretation of events recounted in Gal. 1:11-2:14 is insisted on in the recent study of Nicholas Taylor, Paul, Antioch and Jerusalem. Material in Acts plays an important role in Taylor's reassessment of Paul's account in Gal. 1-2. Partly as a result of this, assumptions concerning the foundational status of the Jerusalem church, the nature and historical basis of its authority, remain in place.
41N. A. Dahl (revised by D.H. Juel), "Messianic Ideas and the Crucifixion of Jesus," The Messiah, ed., James H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992). Dahl regards Christos in Mk. 9:41 and "Jesus Christ" in Jn. 17:3 as redactional. Christos was absent from sayings common to Matthew and Luke, from the Johannine rhemata-tradition, and from sayings peculiar to Matthew and Luke. Christos is not found in the Gospel of Thomas nor in sayings collections in the Dialogue of the Savior. It is absent from the dialogues between the risen Christ and some of his disciples, e.g., the Apocryphon of James. the Book of Thomas the Contender, the First and Second Apocalypse of James. Paul refers to sayings of the Lord. Christos is found once in Didache (9:4). Dahl notes that Justin is the first to make fairly frequent use of formulas like, "Christ, our teacher, said." The presence of Christos in connection with miracle stories in the Gospels is probably due to the evangelists, according to Dahl (see Matt. 11:2; Lk. 4:41; Jn. 7:31; 9:22; possibly 11:27), 396-397.
42On the origins of the term "Christ," see Miller, "How Jesus Became Christ," 257-265. In that article, I have argued that the distribution and uses of the term in Paul's genuine letters and the other epistolary literature of the NT, on the one hand, and in the Gospels and Acts, on the other, can be more adequately explained on the assumption that the term originated in the Christian circles of northern Syria with which Paul was familiar where it became very quickly a royal name for Jesus, while the titular, messianic use that is more common in the Gospels and Acts should be seen as a later development in the Jesus movements. I have also suggested that Christian use of the term did not originate in connection with apocalyptic conceptions of Jesus' resurrection, nor in the kerygma of a martyr's death and vindication, nor in connection with popular conceptions of messianic heroes. Rather, the royal name expressed an idealized royal ethos and legitimated a community set apart from local synagogues, while also having the advantage in Greek of being politically innocuous.
43Professors Ron Cameron, Barry Crawford, and Burton Mack commented on an earlier draft of this paper. I wish to thank them for their helpful suggestions and criticisms. Financial support to defray part of the costs for the research and writing of this paper came from a Faculty and Research Development Grant of Pembroke State University. I wish to thank the Office of Academic Affairs of the University and the Faculty Research and Development Committee for this support.
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