bookmark_borderSlicing Up the Metaphysical Pie

One basic question in metaphysics is this:
How many gods exist?
Atheism can be defined as the view that there are 0 gods.
Monotheism is the view that there is just 1 god.
Polytheism is the view that there are 2 or more gods.
Thus all of the various answers to the metaphysical question above are included in these three categories.
The term polytheism, however, is a very broad category that includes many different and conflicting answers to the question above.
Manichaeism – the view held by Augustine before he converted to Christianity, is the view that there are two (major) gods, a good god and an evil god:
Mani’s teaching dealt with the origin of evil, by addressing a theoretical part of the problem of evil by denying the omnipotence of God and postulating two opposite powers. Manichaean theology taught a dualistic view of good and evil. A key belief in Manichaeism is that the powerful, though not omnipotent good power (God) was opposed by the semi-eternal evil power (Satan). Humanity, the world and the soul are seen as the byproduct of the battle between God’s proxy, Primal Man, and Satan.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manichaeism
A polytheist might also believe that there are three gods, or four gods, or a dozen gods, or one hundred thirty-six gods, or… I don’t know if there is an actual religion that proposes this, but it is theoretically possible that there is an infinite number of gods.
Therefore, atheism and monotheism are just two possible answers to the question ‘How many gods exist?’, and there is actually an infinite number of different and conflicting answers that could be given. The category of polytheism, unlike atheism and monotheism, lumps together an infinite number of different and conflicting views.
Although monotheism represents a single view as to the the number of gods that exist, there are, of course, many different types of god that might exist, and thus many varieties of monotheism. I won’t try to define the term ‘god’ here, but will specify one necessary condition for something to be a god: it must be a person. Humans are persons, and we don’t think of humans as being gods, so being a person is NOT a sufficient condition for being a god. But one must be a person in order to be a god.
Thus, I do not consider ‘pantheism’ to involve belief in the existence of one or more gods. Pantheists believe that the ultimate source of the world is an impersonal force. This belief is NOT belief in a god. A pantheist could be an atheist and believe that there are zero gods. Or a pantheist could be a monotheist and believe that there is just one god (so long as that one god has its source of existence in a great impersonal force). Or a pantheist could beleive in two, three, four, or a hundred thirty-six gods.
Back to monotheism. How many different kinds of gods are there? Richard Swinburne points to three basic characteristics of persons that are the basis of his analysis of the word ‘God’ and the claim ‘God exists’: freedom, power, knowledge. Persons can make choices and decisions with various degrees of freedom or free will. Persons have the power to change things and have various degrees of power of various kinds. Persons have beliefs about themeselves, others, and the world, and these beliefs can be true or false, and persons can have various degrees of ignorance and knowledge.
The God of western theism is supposed to have an infinite or unlimited degree of freedom, power, and knowledge. So, lesser sorts of gods are lesser because they possess only a finite degree of one or more of these basic characterstics. I would add one more critical characteristic to the basic three: longevity. A god that exists only for a few seconds is not likely to have much impact on the world. The longer a god exists, the more opportunities the god has to impact and influence the world (or to create a world). So, the element of time or longevity seems rather important.
Swinburne divides up degrees of the various characteristics into just two: infinite or finte. Since there are only two possible degrees of a characteristic on his schema, we can represent the various kinds of deities in terms of a truth table, where TRUE means that the characteristic in question is infinite, and FALSE means that the characteristic is finite:

Based on this very simple and straightforward classification of gods, there are 16 different types of gods. A god of type 1 is the sort of god that western theism believes exists. Such a god has infinite or unlimited freedom, infinite power, infinite knowledge, and exists for eternity (has existed infinitely in the past and will exist infinitely into the future). Thus, on this classification schema, there are 16 different varieties of monotheism.
How many different varities are there of the view that there are two gods? If both gods are of the same type, if someone believes in ‘twin’ gods, there are 16 different possible pairs of ‘twin’ gods. But there is no necessity in believing that both gods must be of the same type. So, we must also consider the various combinations of types of gods, where the two gods are of different types.
Any combination of two different objects can be placed in two different orders. Object A and object B can occur in two orders: A-B or B-A. Both are permutations of one combination, the combination of A and B. Thus, for pairs of objects, we can determine the total number of possible permutations, and then divide by 2 to arrive at the number of different combinations. We already know that there are 16 possible combinations of gods that are ‘twins’, so we need only figure out how many combinations there could be of pairs of different types of gods and then add 16 to that number.
For permutations of a pair of dissimilar gods, the first god can be from any one of the 16 types. The second god selected, however, must differ in type from the first, so there are only 15 possibilities for the second god. Thus, the number of permutations of two dissimilar gods (based on there being 16 different types of gods) would be 16 x 15 = 240. But we are interested not in the number of permutations (which include different orderings), but only in the number of combinations, so we divide by two: 240 / 2 = 120. There are 120 different combinations of pairs of gods that are dissimilar, plus 16 pairs of gods that are ‘twins’, so there are 136 different combinations of gods possible for the view that two gods exist.
So, there is only one version of atheism (there are simply 0 gods of any sort), and there are sixteen versions of monotheism, and there are 136 versions of belief in two gods. As the number of gods slowly increases, the number of different versions/combinations of gods increases exponentially.
I’m not entirely happy with the very simple categorization of gods that we have derived from Swinburne’s analysis of ‘God’. Having only two degrees for each characteristic seems excessively stingy. Think for example, about the idea of a god possessing a ‘finite degree of power’. Think of all of the various possibilities that this category encompasses.
Let’s just focus on one simple sort of power: the power to lift an object of a certain weight. An ant has a finite amount of this power. A large ant can, perhaps, lift an object that weighs one ounce. A human infant can only lift an object that weighs about one pound or perhaps a few pounds. One of the strongest human beings who ever lived could lift an object weighing about 1/2 of a ton. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWUNjTHHIxY) Perhaps someday a human being will be able to lift an object that weighs one ton (on earth under normal gravity).
But we can imagine a being that could lift an object that weighs two tons, or three tons, or one hundred tons, or one thousand tons, or one million tons, or one trillion tons. All of these possibilities from the power of an insect to lift an object weighing one ounce, to the power of an imaginary person to lift an object weighing trillions of trillions of tons are included in the broad category of having a ‘finite degree of power’.
So, I don’t think it would be at all excessive to add a few more categories of degrees of power, and the same goes for the other characteristics of persons. I suggest a system of four categories of degrees:
Sub-Human
Human
Superhuman
Infinite/Unlimited
An ant has sub-human power, at least in terms of lifting objects. A person who can lift an object that weighs 1/2 ton is still within the range of human power, in terms of lifting objects. A person who can lift an object that weighs one billion tons, but not an object weighing one trillion tons would have superhuman power, in terms of lifting objects. A person who can lift any weight whatsoever, would have infinite power, in terms of lifting objects.
We generally think of gods as being either superhuman or infinite in various respects, but this is not an absolute requirement. The gods of the greeks were superhuman in their power, but were often quite human in other ways. Greek gods could be tempted to do things that were foolish or stupid. So, gods can have a human degree of a given characteristic, perhaps a god can be even be sub-human in some respects. But let’s toss out the sub-human degree of the four characteristics of persons, since gods are generally conceived of as having at least a human level of these characteristics. That still gives us a little more specificity than the Infinite vs. Finite categories of Swinburne. We at least have divided the Finite category into two sub-categories: Human vs. Superhuman.
Given this small ammendment to the above categorization of types of gods, there are three possibile degrees for each of the four basic characteristics of persons. That means that the number of types of deities is increased to 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 =
9 x 9 = 81. So, I propose a categorization of types of gods that includes 81 different types, not just the 16 types from the above overly simple classification.
If atheism is defined as the view that there are 0 gods, then there is still just one version of atheism.
But since there are 81 different types of gods on my proposed system of classification, there would be 81 varieties of monotheism.
How many versions of belief in two gods would there be?
We know that there would be 81 different pairs of ‘twin’ gods, where each god was of the same type as the other god in the pair. But there could also be pairs of dissimilar types of gods. First we need calculate the number of possible permutations of such pairs (which includes different orderings), then we divide the number of permutations by two, to arrive at the number of different combinations of disssimilar gods.
For the first god of a pair, we have 81 different possibilities from which to choose. But since the second god of the pair cannot be of the same type as the first, there are only 80 possible choices for the second god. Thus, the total number of permutations of two dissimilar gods (when choosing from 81 different types of gods) is 81 x 80 = 6,480. Since we are only interested in the number of combinations, and don’t care about different orderings, we must divide this number by two: 6,480 / 2 = 3,240. So, there are 3,240 different combinations of two dissimilar gods. We already know that there are 81 different combinations of two similar gods (gods of the same type), so we add these two numbers together: 3,240 + 81 = 3,321 different combinations of two gods.
This shows how with the slightly ammended system of classification, where we allow for three degrees of possession of a basic characteristic of a person, the exponential increase of versions/varieties of views as the number of gods grows is even more radical than the exponential increase that we saw with the initial overly-simple system of classification.
Versions of atheism: 1.
Versions of monotheism: 81.
Versions of bi-theism (belief in two gods): 3,321.
How many versions are there of tri-theism (belief in three gods)?
Given that there are 81 different types of gods, there would be 81 different combinations of three gods where all three were of the same type.
But there are two other kinds of combinations of three gods. One other kind of combination is where all three gods were of different types (none being of the same type). Finally, the remaining kind of combination would have two gods of the same type plus one god of a different type.
To figure out the number of combinations of three gods where all three are of different types, we can first determine the number of permutations of three gods there are when there are none of the same type, and then divide that number by six, because for each combination of three gods where the gods are all different types, there are six different permutations.
These are the permutations of the combination of A and B and C:
1. ABC
2. ACB
3. BAC
4. BCA
5. CAB
6. CBA

To determine the number of permutations of a series of three gods, where all three are different, and there are 81 different types of gods, we have 81 choices for the first god, 80 choices for the second god, and 79 choices for the third god. Thus the number of permutations for a series of three disimilar gods is 81 x 80 x 79 = 511,920. Since there are six permutations for every combination of three different gods, we must divide the number of permutations by six to get the number of combinations: 511,920 / 6 = 85,320 combinations of three gods, where all three are of different types of gods.
Now we need to determine the number of combinations of three gods there are when two of the gods are of the same type. We already know that there are 81 different pairs of gods that are ‘twins’, that are both of the same type. Each of these pairs can be modified to form various combinations of three gods by adding one more god of a different type than found in the pair. Since one of the types of gods has been used in forming the pair of twin gods, that leaves only the remaining 80 types to choose from in order to form the various combinations of three. Therefore, each of the 81 pairs of twins can be modified in 80 ways to form a combination of three gods, where two are of the same type and the other god is of a different type: 81 x 80 = 6,480 combinations of gods where two are of the same type and the other god is a different type.
Now we just add the number of each of the three different kinds of combinations together: 81 combinations (where all three gods are of same type) + 85,320 combinations (where all three gods are of different types) + 6,480 combinations (where two of the gods are the same type and one is different) = 91,881 combinations of three gods.
There are 91,881 different versions of tri-theism (the belief that three gods exist).

bookmark_borderBest of All Possible Persons

Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best… If there were not the best among all possible worlds, God would not have produced any. (Gottfried Leibniz, Theodicy, translated by E.M. Huggard, 1951, p.128)
According to Anselm, God is the being than which none greater can be conceived. In other words, God is the best of all possible persons. According to Leibniz, the best of all possible persons would have to create the best of all possible worlds (or else create nothing at all).
The problem with Leibniz’ view of God is that if God is a logically necessary being, and if God must necessarily create the best of all possible worlds, then the world is itself a logically necessary being, not a logically contingent being. This would mean that Leibniz’ cosmological argument for God is based on a false premise.
Richard Swinburne rejects both of these claims about logical necessity. God is not a logically necessary being, but is a logically contingent being, according to Swinburne. And the creation of this world is not a logically necessary inference from the existence of God, but is only probable to some degree or other, given the assumption that God exists.
Part of how Swinburne defends his view that the creation of the universe is not a necessary inference from the existence of God is by denying that there is such a thing as the best of all possible worlds. In other words, he thinks that the idea of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent, it contains a self-contradition, so there is no logical possibility that there is a best of all possible worlds.
Swinburne assumes, quite plausibly, that if God existed and if there were a best of all possible worlds w, it would contain at least one created person P (in addition to God who is not a created person). But then we can conceive of another possible world w‘ which was exactly like w, except that we substitute another person Q for P, who has all the characteristics of P but is a different person. Such a world would clearly be of no less value than w, so w would NOT be a better world than w‘. Therefore, w would NOT be the best of all possible worlds. (See The Existence of God, 2nd edition, p.114-115.)
Furthermore, Swinburne argues that for any possible world that contains one or more persons or sentient creatures, we can always imagine a world which is exactly like that world except that it contains one more person or sentient creature who has a happy and good life. The latter world would clearly be a better world than the former. But the same reasoning applies to the better world, so for any logically possible world, we can always conceive of a world which is slightly better. Therefore, there is no logical possibility that there is a best of all possible worlds, just as there is no logical possibility of there being a largest positive integer.(See EOG, p.114-115.)
It strikes, me, however, that if Swinburne is correct that there is no possibility of there being a best of all possible worlds, then doesn’t it follow that there is also no possibility of there being a best of all possible persons?
The logic to prove this in a rigorous way might be a bit involved, but I can lay out at least an outline of my reasoning for now:
1. If a person creates a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds, then that person is NOT the best of all possible persons (because, as Leibniz argued, the best of all possible persons must create the best of all possible worlds if that person creates any world).
2. Any person who creates a world would create a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds (because, as Swinburne argues, it is logically impossible for there to be a best of all possible worlds).
3. If God exists, then God created a world (given a definition of ‘God’ which implies that God is the creator of the universe).
Thus:
4. If God exists, then God created a world which is NOT the best of all possible worlds. (from 2 and 3).
Therefore:
5. If God exists, then God is NOT the best of all possible persons. (from 1 and 4)
To be continued…

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 22

I have argued that the agreement that exists between the seven gospel sources concerning the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis, could be explained on the basis of the common cultural idea of a ‘Messiah’. I conceded, however, that the crucifixion of the Messiah was not a part of the expectation of first century Palestinian Jews, but pointed out that the crucifixion of Jesus and surrounding events are described only in Mark and the Gospel of Peter, and not in the other gospel sources that Ehrman points us to. Thus, there is no agreement between gospel sources concerning the crucifixion of Jesus.
In any case, the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis could be transmitted, for the most part, by a single sentence:
Jesus the Messiah was crucified.
Thus, there is no need for a common textual source to explain the agreements between the various gospel sources, nor a need for an actual historical Jesus to explain these agreements.
In conceding that the common cultural idea of a ‘Messiah’ did not include the crucifixion of the Messiah, I was reflecting the general concensus of N.T. scholars that the idea of a suffering and dying Messiah was an invention of the early Christians, which departed from previous Jewish beliefs:
According to Klausner’s generally held view, the idea of messianic suffering, death, and resurrection came about only as an apology after the fact of Jesus’ death. In this view, it is simply a scandal for Christian messianic thought that Jesus was scourged and humiliated as a common rebel, despite the fact that he was the Messiah….After the Messiah Jesus’ humiliation, suffering, and death, according to this view–held by many Christian thinkers and scholars as well as Jewish ones–the theology of Jesus’ redemptive, vicarious suffering was discovered, as it were, in Isaiah 53, which was allegedly reinterpreted as referring not to the persecuted People of Israel, but to the suffering Messiah…
(Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels, p.130-131; referring to The Messianic Idea in Israel by Joseph Klausner).
Boyarin, however, argues that the idea of a Messiah who experiences redemptive, vicarious suffering was a Jewish idea derived from midrash on the book of Daniel and Isaiah:
The notion of the humiliated and suffering Messiah was not at all alien within Judaism before Jesus’ advent, and it remained current among Jews well into the future following that–indeed well into the early modern period. The fascinating (and to some, no doubt, uncomfortable) fact is that this tradition was well documented by modern Messianic Jews, who are concerned to demonstrate that their belief in Jesus does not make them un-Jewish. Whether or not one accepts their theology, it remains the case that they have a very strong textual base for the view that the suffering Messiah is based in deeply rooted Jewish texts early and late. Jews, it seems, had no difficulty whatever with understanding a Messiah who would vicariously suffer to redeem the world. Once again, what has been allegedly ascribed to Jesus after the fact is, in fact, a piece of entrenched messianic speculation and expectation that was current before Jesus came into the world at all. That the Messiah would suffer and be humiliated was something Jews learned from close reading of the biblical texts, a close reading in precisely the style of classically rabbinic interpretation that has become known as midrash, the concordance of verses and passages from different places in Scripture to derive new narratives, images, and theological ideas. (The Jewish Gospels, p.133)
While there is no crucifixion per se in the book of Daniel nor in Isaiah, if the idea of a Messiah who would be humiliated and would suffer vicariously for the sins of others was derived or derivable from Daniel and Isaiah by first century Palestinian Jews, then, given that crucifixion was clearly one of the most humiliating and suffering-inducing forms of execution used by the Romans at that time, it is not a big stretch to see the crucifixion of Jesus as being based upon the idea of a ‘Messiah’ as shaped by Jewish midrash on Daniel (chapter 7) and Isaiah (chapter 53).

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Index

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/06/05/did-jesus-exit-part-1/
Introduction to the issue: Did Jesus exist?
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/06/07/did-jesus-exit-part-2/
Outline of Did Jesus Exist? By Bart Ehrman. Various skeptical points by Ehrman, especially the insignificance of non-Christian historical sources.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/06/10/did-jesus-exit-part-3/
Keith Parson’s advice and Bart Ehrman on the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (MJH).
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/06/15/did-jesus-exit-part-4/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/06/28/did-jesus-exit-part-5/
Development and clarification of the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/02/did-jesus-exit-part-6/
About 17,000 Jewish males in Palestine were named ‘Jesus’ at any given point during the first century.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/04/did-jesus-exit-part-7/
Chronology of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/08/did-jesus-exit-part-8/
Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument (SGA) and the analogy of proving the existence of God with proving the existence of Jesus: both depend on what you mean by the key term ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/12/did-jesus-exit-part-9/
Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument (SGA) is concerned with seven gospel sources that are supposed to be independent sources. Ehrman fails to discuss the facts and data required to evaluate his key claim. I propose the MJH-Source Matrix as a guide to evaluate the key claim in SGA.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/15/did-jesus-exit-part-10/
Mark portrays Yeshu’a as a flesh-and-blood person-MJH attribute 1 (A1). In the Comments section (near the end of the comments) I also show that Q portrays Yeshu’a as a flesh-and-blood person.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/07/19/did-jesus-exit-part-11/
Crossan’s certainty about the crucifixion and death of Jesus is undermined by skeptical points made by Ehrman.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/08/10/did-jesus-exit-part-12/
M appears to portray Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/08/14/did-jesus-exit-part-13/
L portrays Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/08/17/did-jesus-exit-part-14/
Mark represents Jesus as being ‘Jewish’ in both senses of the word.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/09/27/did-jesus-exit-part-15/
Q represents Jesus as a devout follower of the Jewish faith.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/10/13/did-jesus-exit-part-16/
Q represents Jesus as a male descendant of the Hebrew people.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/10/27/did-jesus-exit-part-17/
L represents Jesus as a male descendant of the Hebrew people.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/11/13/did-jesus-exit-part-18/
The Batman and Superman characters are common ideas in American culture. So, almost any American in the 21st century could create a story about Superman, and it would include many characteristics of Superman that other Americans would recognize. First century Palestinian Jews had a common cultural idea that could explain many of the attributes that make up the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis: the idea of a ‘Messiah’.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/12/07/did-jesus-exit-part-19/
L represents Jesus as a devout follower of the Jewish faith.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/12/14/did-jesus-exit-part-20/
The Minimal Jesus Hypothesis consists of 12 attributes. The agreement between Mark, Q, L, and M concerning the first 8 attributes can be explained in terms of the common cultural idea of a ‘Messiah’. The remaining attributes are primarily related to the crucifixion of Jesus, which are not explained by the idea of a ‘Messiah’. So, SGA has some significant force ONLY if there is agreement between these gospel sources concerning crucifixion-related events/attributes.
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2013/12/15/did-jesus-exit-part-21/
None of the 16 crucifixion-related events found in Mark are found in Q, M, or L. There are no crucifixion-related events covered by Q, M, or L. Thus, the SGA (Seven Gospels Argument) is very weak and inconclusive, because of two serious problems: (1) the common cultural idea of a ‘Messiah’ explains the agreement of the gospel sources concerning the first 8 attributes of MJH (Minimal Jesus Hypothesis), and (2) there is no agreement between the gospel sources concerning crucifixion-related events, which is what most of the remaining attributes of MJH are about.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 21

I have reviewed Q, M, and L passages, looking for crucifixion-related events.
The Gospel of Mark includes several crucifixion-related events in Chapters 14 and 15:
1. The Plot to Kill Jesus
2. The Anointing at Bethany
3. Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus
4. The Passover with the Disciples
5. The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
6. Peter’s Denial Foretold
7. Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
8. The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
9. Jesus Before the Council
10. Peter Denies Jesus
11. Jesus Before Pilate
12. Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified
13. The Soldiers Mock Jesus
14. The Crucifixion of Jesus
15.The Death of Jesus
16. The Burial of Jesus

Matthew chapters 26 and 27 cover the crucifixion-related events. There are no passages from M that are included in those chapters. Furthermore, there are no crucifixion-related events covered by M. None of the sixteen crucifixion-related events in Mark are found in M.
Luke chapters 22 and 23 cover the crucifixion of Jesus. There are no passages from L that are included in those chapters. Furthermore, there are no crucifixion-related events covered by L. None of the sixteen crucifixion-related events in Mark are found in L.
Luke Chapter 22 does include one passage from Q, but that passage is not directly related to the crucifixion:
Q 22:28, 30
You Will Judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel
28 .. You who have followed me 30 will sit .. on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Furthermore, there are no crucifixion-related events covered by Q. None of the sixteen crucifixion-related events in Mark are found in Q.
I conclude that SGA (Seven Gospels Argument) by Ehrman is very weak and inconclusive. It has at least two very serious flaws:
(1) Most of the points of agreement between the various gospel sources can be fairly well explained in terms of the common cultural idea (for first century Palestinian Jews) of a “Messiah”.
(2) Although crucifixion-related events probably cannot be accounted for in terms of the common Jewish idea of a “Messiah” and expectations surrounding a coming Messiah, only one out of four of the gospel sources (namely: the gospel of Mark) that we have examined include any of sixteen different crucifixion-related events found in Mark. There is no agreement or correspondence between the gospel sources on crucifixion-related events.
There may be a third serious issue as well: lack of agreement or corroboration on the chronology of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion. Since crucifixion-related events are not found in Q, M, or L, it is hard to see how they could support the chronological aspects of the crucifixion found in Mark. But I need to do a bit more study before I draw conclusions about chronological agreement or lack of it.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 20

The Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (MJH) can be stated in terms of a list of a dozen attributes:
A1. This person was a flesh-and-blood person.
A2. This person was an adherent of Judaism.
A3. This person was a male descendant of the Hebrew people.
A4. This person lived in Palestine as an adult (in his twenties and/or thirties) in the 20s CE.
A5. This person was know to be a preacher of religious beliefs.
A6. This person was known to be a preacher of moral values.
A7. This person was known to be a teacher of religious beliefs.
A8. This person was known to be a teacher of moral values.
A9. This person was crucified in Jerusalem.
A10. This person was crucified by the Romans.
A11. This person was crucified around 30 CE (between 28 CE and 33 CE)
A12. This person was named Yeshu’a.
These are the specific claims that should be confirmed by multiple early and independent historical sources in order for MJH to be considered to be confirmed or highly probable.
However, because the idea of a “Messiah” was a cultural idea that was widespread among Palestinian Jews of the first century, many of the above attributes could have been derived simply from common Jewish beliefs about what the “Messiah” was supposed to be like.
Most adult Americans have a common cultural idea of “Superman” and could write a story about Superman, without consulting any books or written stories about Superman or any movies about Superman, and such stories would contain many common elements (Superman has a red cape and can fly like a jet airplane. Superman has superhuman strength and often uses his special powers to defeat criminals and evildoers, etc.).
Similarly, most adult Palestinian Jews of the first century could create stories about a “Messiah” figure, and those stories would contain many common elements, even if the person creating the story did not use or consult any written documents.
Characteristics (A1) through (A8) can be explained fairly well as being the result of a common cultural idea of a “Messiah”, with the exception of the specific chronological details mentioned in (A8). The chronological details, however, probably cannot be found in all seven of the seven gospel sources that Ehrman points us to, and they probably cannot be found even in all four of the gospel sources that I have been focused on (Mark, Q, L, and M).
Thus, correspondences between the various gospel sources concerning the characteristics (A1) through (A8) provide only very weak evidence for the view that there was an historical Jesus who actually had those characteristics and thereby explains why various independent sources correspond with each other on those characteristics of Jesus.
Thus, it seems to me that Ehrman’s argument really stands or falls on the remaining characteristics (A9) through (A12). These do not appear to be explainable in terms of the common cultural idea of a “Messiah”. So, if all seven gospel sources are independent, and if they all agree on those remaining characteristics, then Ehrman’s argument may have some force, although it would have significantly less force than what it appeared to have initially, when I did not realize there was a plausible alternative explanation available for most of the dozen characteristics showing up in several independent gospel sources.
Most of the remaining characteristics concern the crucifixion of Jesus. There is some redundance here to take into consideration. Crucifixion was (primarily) a Roman punishment, so if one decides that the “Messiah” was crucified, it follows naturally that the crucifixion would be performed by Romans.
Jerusalem also seems like a fairly natural location for the crucifixion, since Jerusalem was not only the most sacred city, for Jews, being the location of the holy Temple, where God (Jehovah) was present, but it was also central politically, in that the wealthy and powerful Jewish priesthood maintained their position of power by collaborating with the Romans. The political conflict between Jews and Romans focused on Jerusalem, and the final battle between Jews and Romans was over the possession and control of Jerusalem.
Death by crucifixion was not what Jews expected to happen to the Messiah. So, the characteristics of Jesus concerned with the crucifixion are not explainable in terms of the common cultural idea of a “Messiah”. However, if some other explanation could be provided to explain why the idea of a crucified Messiah might be present in several of the seven gospel sources, then Ehrman’s first argument would be completely done in. I don’t have such an explanation at this time, but I note this point, because it appears to make the success of Ehrman’s argument precarious.
If just one sentence became somewhat widespread, through oral traditions or word-of-mouth, then the seven gospels argument would be largely undone:
Yeshu’a the messiah was crucified.
The widespread utterance of this one sentence, or very similar sentences, could explain the correspondence of several “independent” gospel sources on the twelve characteristics outlined above, the characteristics defining the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis.
Probably the most significant characteristics are the specific chronological indications, such as the age of Jesus, the date of his ministry, and the date of his crucifixion. If all seven gospel sources independently agree on these chronological points, then that would be significant. But, I think this is not in fact the case. I will need to take a closer look to verify my view, but my impression is that these chronological details are a weak point of Ehrman’s argument.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 19

In Part 14, we saw that Mark portrays Jesus as a devout follower of the Jewish faith. In Part 15, we saw that Q portrays Jesus as a devout follower of the Jewish faith. Does L, the special source used by Luke, portray Jesus as an adherent of Judaism? as a devout follower of the Jewish faith? While the evidence is not as extensive as it is in the case of Mark and Q, the evidence is fairly clear that Jesus is portrayed by L as a devout follower of the Jewish faith.
Jesus and the Jewish Scriptures
L 4:25-27:
Jesus refers to Old Testament stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-16 and 2 Kings 5:1-14), indicating familiarity with the Jewish scriptures. Jesus calls Elisha a “prophet” and says that Elijah was “sent to…a widow” indicating his belief that Elijah was also a prophet. So, Jesus accepted the stories in Jewish scriptures about these men as true, and Jesus accepted the Jewish view of these men as being messengers from God.
L 10:30-37a
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. It involves a man who is travelling “from Jerusalem to Jericho”. Characters include “a priest” (presumably a Jewish priest from the temple in Jerusalem) and “a Levite” and “a Samaritan”. A man who was beaten up, robbed, and left for dead is not helped by the priest or the Levite, but is helped by the Samaritan. Jesus asks “Which of these three was ta neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” In this Jewish context, Jesus is making a reference to the Old Testament command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
L 14:12-14
Jesus also taught that we should be generous and kind towards the poor, disabled, and the blind, which is in keeping not only with the “Love your neighbor” command in Leviticus, but is also a theme in other O.T. passages (caring for the poor, orphans, widows, and resident aliens): Exodus 22:21-27, 23:10-12; Leviticus 19:9-11, 23:21-23; Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 15:10-12, 24:11-16, 27:17-19.
L 16:19-31
Jesus told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus portrays Abraham as a saint, in keeping with the Jewish faith. Jesus teaches that there will be rewards and punishments in the afterlife, and that to avoid punishments in the afterlife one ought to “listen to Moses and the prophets” (verse 31).
L 17:12-18
In this story Jesus heals ten lepers, and then tells them “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Presumably he is referring to Jewish priests, and his order reflects a law found in the Jewish scriptures (Leviticus 13:2-8 & 14:2-3). Jesus is pleased by one of the healed lepers who later returned and thanked Jesus, because that leper gave “praise to God”. In other words, that leper showed gratefulness for the miraculous healing brought about by God. Giving praise to God is clearly an important part of the Jewish faith, and is part of the ten commandments of Moses (see Exodus 10:1-6, 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21, 10:19-21).
Jesus as a Teacher of Jewish Beliefs, Values & Practices
L 7:11b-15
In this story Jesus is accompanied by “his disciples and a large crowd”. Jesus performs a healing miracle, a resurrection of a dead man. There is no indication in this passage about what sort of teacher Jesus was, but the fact that he performs a miraculous healing suggests that he was some sort of religious teacher.
L 7:36-47
In this passage Jesus is clearly portrayed as a teacher within the Jewish faith tradition. Jesus is invited to have a meal at the house of a Pharisee. A Pharisee would be unlikely to invite a Gentile or a non-practicing Jew or a promoter of another religion (polytheism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism) to eat with him in his home. Pharisees were devout followers of the Jewish religion. This Pharisee is concerned about the question of whether Jesus was a prophet (verse 39), and he calls Jesus “Teacher”(verse 40). Clearly, in the context of wondering whether Jesus was a prophet, a messenger from God, the term “Teacher” implies a teacher of religious beliefs and practices, not a teacher of mathematics or a teacher of rhetoric, etc.
L 13:10-17b
“Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.”
(verse 10). If Jesus was teaching in synagogues on the sabbath, then this strongly implies that Jesus was a teacher within the Jewish faith tradition. Obviously, he would not be allowed to teach in a synagogue on the sabbath day if he promoted atheism or polytheism or Hinduism or some other alternative to the Jewish religion.
Furthermore, Jesus heals a crippled woman on that sabbath day, and is criticized by “the leader of the synagogue” for violation of the sabbath day of rest. Jesus argues that healing a woman who was “a daughter of Abraham” who had been crippled “for eighteen long years” was a legitimate exception to the divine command not to work on the sabbath day. Note that Jesus does not say “Hey, I’m not a devout Jew, so I don’t care about observing the sabbath”. In arguing that this is a reasonable or legitimate exception to the rule, Jesus is implicitly accepting the rule or commandment not to work on the sabbath (see Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
L 14:2-5
Jesus again argues for healing as a legitimate exception to the prohibition of work on the sabbath:
And Jesus asked the lawyers and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” (verse 3)
Clearly, Jesus is not rejecting the Jewish rule against working on the sabbath, since he wants to discuss whether healing on the sabbath is “lawful”, meaning whether healing on the sabbath would be in keeping with the ten commandments and other laws of Moses.
Jesus on Repentance, Forgiveness of Sins, and Divine Judgement
A major theme in L is repentance and forgiveness of sins, in order to avoid divine judgement and punishment. This was the core message of John the Baptist according to the canonical gospels, and it appears to be a core message of Jesus in L.
In three passages, Jesus approves of or encourages people to repent of their sins to avoid divine judgement.
L 7:36-47
And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he [Jesus] was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment. …he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house: you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgeiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to who little is forgiven loves little.”
L 13:1b-5
Jesus comments on a couple of recent events. Pilate had killed some Galileans. And eighteen people were killed in Jerusalem when a tower fell on them. Apparently, popular sentiment viewed both incidents as being a divine punishment for sins of the victims. But Jesus says that these people were not any more sinful than other Galileans or other residents of Jerusalem: “…Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (verse 3 & 5).
L 19:2-10
Jesus befriends Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who was rich, and Zacchaeus responds enthusiastically: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (verse 8). Jesus responds to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man cam to seek out and to save the lost.” (verse 9). Jesus appears to be following in the footsteps of John the Baptist, teaching and encouraging sinful and non-devout Jews to repent, and to start living in accordance with the ten commandments and to worship Jehovah, the God of Israel.
L 15:4-6
Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep (see Jesus’ comments to Zacchaeus in L 19: 8-9).
L 15:8-9
Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Coin.
L 15:11-32
Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Son (Prodigal Son). The son in the story clearly represents a sinner who repents and returns back to love and obey Jehovah.
L 16:19-31
Jesus tells the parable of the Lazarus and the Rich Man. The rich man is being tormented in the afterlife, and he pleads with Abraham: “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” (verses 27 & 28). Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets: they should listen to them.” The rich man replies, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (verses 29 & 30). Here we see Jesus teaching that one must repent of sin in order to avoid divine punishment in the afterlife.
L 18:10-14a
Jesus tells the story of the Self-Righteous Pharisee and the Repentant Tax Collector. When the Pharisee prays at the temple, he thanks God that he is devout and religious. When the tax collector prays, he says “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (verse 13). Jesus comments that “…this man [the repentant tax collector] went down to his home justified rather than the other [the Pharisee].” (verse 14).
Jesus and Prayer
L 11:5b-8
Jesus teaches that we should be persistent in prayer.
L 18:10-14a
Jesus teaches that we should pray for divine forgiveness.
L 18:2-8a
Jesus teaches that we should be persistent in praying for justice. Presumably, he had in mind the Jewish hope that God would save the Jewish people from oppression and domination by the Romans, although he might also have had in mind the elite Jewish priests of Jerusalem, who were collaborators with the Roman authorities.
I conclude that there is ample evidence that L portrays Jesus as a devout Jew, as an adherent of the religion of Judaism. Jesus was, according to L, familiar with the O.T. and believed Moses, Elijah, and Elisha were messengers from God, and that Abraham was a saint. Jesus believed that we should obey God, specifically that we should obey the commandments and laws of Jehovah, and that most people, perhaps all people, are sinful and need to repent, change their minds and their lives to conform to the commandments and laws of Jehovah, in order to avoid terrible divine punishments in the afterlife. Jesus believed that we should pray to God and worship God. All of this reflects the idea that Jesus was a devout follower of the Jewish faith.