By Virtue Of The Absurd (post script)
So, in my previous 2 “By Virtue Of The Absurd” posts, I was looking into some New Testament stories that were absurd on face value, but pointed to some deeper underlying meaning. I just wanted to let Prof Price have the last word as to Paul’s conversion story in Acts, which we should always raise the question anew of what it’s doing:
- Saul loses no time in aggressively “preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Gal.1:23). His turnabout is as radical as Ebenezer Scrooge’s. It looks like what it is: a fictive miracle story. I can’t help thinking that, in the real world, anyone who knew who Saul was and now saw him preaching Jesus would conclude, not that Saul’s Jekyll- Hyde switcheroo proved the truth of his new creed, but that he had lost his mind. He would merely seem unstable. Who could predict what off-beat sect he might espouse next? Mithraism? The friggin’ Sabazius cult? (Price, Robert M.. Holy Fable Volume 2: The Gospels and Acts Undistorted by Faith (p. 276). Mindvendor. Kindle Edition).
Of course, as I said previously, Saul as the arch persecutor reversing sides very much did prove the truth of his new creed, as did the martyrdom of the saints generally. But, was there a deeper underlying point going on here? Had the martyred disciples been the only ones martyred, an argument could be made they were just deluded. But with Paul, his switch of sides and suicide mission brought an entirely different element to the martyrdom narrative. Still, as I said before, there was that point that Paul had relatives high up in the Jesus movement when he was persecuting it …
PS: The Absurdity Of The Last Supper:
In 1 Cor 11:23-27 we read regarding the special meal:
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
- – —-23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27)
Paul’s language “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” seems to suggest Paul thought the bulk of the ritual was newly revealed to him, so Mark’s narrative of the last supper may just be a creative recapitulation of Paul, not anything going back to the historical Jesus. Paul seems to be synthesizing a simple Jewish meal of thanksgiving with Pagan theophagy:
- ——“The central rite of the Dionysiac orgies was that of theophagy, i.e., of eating the god. Worshippers, rapt in ecstatic trance, tore an animal—the incarnation of the god—and devoured its flesh. By killing the god, eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, they were filled with divine power and transplanted into the sphere of divinity. In order to make room for the entrance of the higher force, the person must forfeit the power over the self. He must abandon his mind in order to receive the spirit. Loss of consciousness, ecstasy, is a prerequisite for enthusiasm, or possession.” (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets: Two Volumes in One (Hendrickson Publishers, 1962), Vol. 2, p. 107).
The Didache seems to preserve some elements of an tradition that would have been a springboard the Paul’s later elaboration. Tabor says:
- ———The Eucharist in the Didache, as I will discuss in a future post, is a simple thanksgiving meal of wine and bread with references to Jesus as the holy “vine of David.” It ends with a prayer: “Hosanna to the God of David,” emphasizing the Davidic lineage of Jesus. (Taborblog: https://jamestabor.com/glea…
In another post Tabor says regarding the Didache:
- —– Notice there is no mention of the wine representing blood or the bread representing flesh. And yet this is a record of the early Christian Eucharist meal! This text reminds us very much of the descriptions of the sacred messianic meal in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here we have a messianic celebration of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah and the life and knowledge that he has brought to the community. Evidently this community of Jesus’ followers knew nothing about the ceremony that Paul advocates. If Paul’s practice had truly come from Jesus surely this text would have included it….There is another important point in this regard. In Jewish tradition it is the cup of wine that is blessed first, then the bread. That is the order we find here in the Didache. But in Paul’s account of the “Lord’s Supper” he has Jesus bless the bread first, then the cup of wine—just the reverse. It might seem an unimportant detail until one examines Luke’s account of the words of Jesus at the meal. Although he basically follows the tradition from Paul, unlike Paul Luke reports first a cup of wine, then the bread, and then another cup of wine! The bread and the second cup of wine he interprets as the “body” and “blood” of Jesus. But with respect to the first cup—in the order one would expect from Jewish tradition—there is nothing said about it representing “blood.” Rather Jesus says, “I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom comes” (Luke 22:18). This tradition of the first cup, found now only in Luke, is a leftover clue of what must have been the original tradition before the Pauline version was inserted, now confirmed by the Didache. (https://www.biblicalarchaeo…
The Didache offers the Eucharist as a simple meal of thanksgiving. Luke Wayne comments that:
- In these passages, the bread and wine are symbols of Christian unity (grain gathered together and made one loaf), of the bounty of God’s creation, and of Christ who gives us spiritual food and eternal life. There is nothing in this thorough instruction about the meal serving to propitiate God’s wrath. Nothing about it atoning for the sins of those present. Nothing about it bringing the faithful back to a state of grace. Nothing even about it being the physical flesh and blood of Jesus’ human body. Everything is remembrance and proclamation in thanksgiving, as the New Testament says: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.’ And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:17-19). “In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). First of all, the supper is the occasion here, but the elements are not emphasized. There is nothing here that says that the bread is itself the sacrifice or that the cup (which is not even mentioned) is the sacrifice. The sacrifice seems to be the worship of the gathering itself, not the physical components of the meal. In the Old Testament, the purity of the sacrifice had to do with the lamb itself. Was it spotless? Was it healthy? Etc. Here, the purity of the sacrifice is not at all focused on the bread or the wine, but on the worshipers. This is more like what Paul speaks of to the church at Rome: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship,” (Romans 12:1-2). Secondly, the “sacrifice” in view here does not appear to be a sin offering or an atoning sacrifice. It is a praise offering, a freewill offering of thanksgiving. The author points to Malachi, which says: “‘For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts,” (Malachi 1:11). The subject here is not the redemption of the nations from their sins but rather that all peoples everywhere would revere and honor the name of the one true God. Even the types of offering listed by Malachi are not propitiatory sacrifices. The author of the Didache saw in the prophecy not a literal prediction of physical temple sacrifices from all nations, but rather the worship and praise of the people of all nations in every place embodied in the gathering of the church on the Lord’s day to thank and honor Him in the communion meal.
My thought is that it was never even a blip on the radar that Jesus would be killed, for otherwise the disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest, so Paul’s Eucharist may have been a new invention out of what originally with the historical Jesus had just been a simple meal of thanksgiving for Jesus and his inner circle – which is somewhat related to what we find about the eucharist in the Didache.
As Price argues, Mark’s Eucharist account is meant to Judaize Paul’s Pagan invention:
Jesus Dionysus (Mark 14:12-25)
- The Christian Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, introduced here, is in no sense represented as a reinterpretation of the Jewish Passover. Its major features, symbolically eating human flesh and drinking blood, are abominable in Judaism but fit perfectly into the contexts of other ancient religions with which we know Jews had long been familiar. The juice of the grape was the blood of Dionysus, beer that of Osiris. Bread was the body of the grain gods Dionysus and Osiris. Osiris offered his disciples a sacramental meal of bread and beer. Traditional conservatives see the problem; they just don’t like the solution: early Christianity was syncretistic, drawing upon various ancient religions. Scriptural references garnish the story in order to graft it into a Jewish, biblical context. Chief among them is Psalm 41:9, “Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” Frank Kermode traces the process of transformation of an original, entirely and abstractly theological claim that Jesus had been “delivered up” (paradothē, Romans 4:25) into a narrative of betrayal. God having “handed over” his son for our sins grew into the idea of a human agent “betraying” him (same Greek word). This character needed a name, so, in accordance with anti-Jewish polemic, he was named “Judas.” His epithet “Iscariot” seems to denote either Ish-karya (Aramaic for “the false one)” or a pun on Issachar, “hireling,” the one paid to hand Jesus over to the authorities. So much of the Last Supper story is taken up with this matter because of the mention of the betrayer eating with his victim in Psalm 41. All this almost renders the bread and cup secondary. They have been heavily reinterpreted in scriptural disguise as a covenant renewal. The connection with Exodus 24:8, “Behold the blood of the covenant which [Yahweh] has made with you in accordance with these words” is hard to miss. Verse 27’s quotation of Zechariah 13:7, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” looks like it has simply been rewritten into the following scene where Jesus’ disciples flee from the arresting party. But Peter swears up and down that, danger be damned, he will not forsake Jesus. This feature likely comes from Elisha’s three avowals that he will not leave Elijah’s side, in 2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6: “As [Yahweh] lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Roth ventures that Mark has given Peter one such pledge and three betrayals of it. On the other hand, Mark may have been thinking of Ittai’s pledge of loyalty to David, “Wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be” (1 Sam. 15:21). (Price, Robert M.. Holy Fable Volume 2: The Gospels and Acts Undistorted by Faith (p. 83-84). Mindvendor. Kindle Edition.)
The translation of Paul’s “delivered up” is key here, because it suggests Jesus being handed over by God in Paul, not someone betraying Jesus.