Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Snap: Stephen Huller's "The Real Messiah"

From the September 2009 E-Block. This will close out what I will be posting from that issue. Now to move to October!

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"Desperate people will clutch at any available straw, even if it comes along in the form of an eight- or nine-year-old boy." (Stephen Huller, The Real Messiah, 53-4)

Stephen Huller's The Real Messiah (TRM) has already garnered many nominations for crackpot theory of the year; admittedly, it is not simply making up people like the Roman Piso theory does, but it does make enough wild, undocumented, and unproven assertions to give the Piso theory a run for its money, and even resorts to the same collapsing of personalities and tenuous connections between persons: E.g., Marcus Agrippa, that is, Agrippa II, was also Barabbas [30], as well as a Samaritan wise man named Marqe [124], and the Jewish historian Philo was his uncle [42]; this latter, based on "Alexandrian tradition" (more on that shortly). 

The dizzying thesis of TRM is that Marcus Julius Agrippa, the last ruler of Palestine, was the same person who authored the original Mark's gospel (the one we have now is somewhat edited, supposedly), and was also acclaimed as the Jewish Messiah - as prompted by many, including Jesus himself, who was actually crucified in 37 AD (in Samaria, by the way, not Jerusalem) at roughly the same time Agrippa was (as a child) enthroned Messiah in Alexandria, symbolically seated on an artifact we today know as the throne of St. Mark, which is reportedly the item which got Huller started on all of this to begin with. 

Thereafter, Agrippa it is said was the "acclaimed and almost universally accepted Messiah of the Jews" [1]. Jesus, it is said, acted as a sort of John the Baptist for Agrippa, not the actual founder of Christianity, which is really Agrippa's gameplan.

In the process of arguing his case, Huller frequently - though not as frequently as, say, Acharya S - argues for esoteric interpretations of evidence, suggestions of cover-ups by scholarship, and relationships of convenience based on minor, statistically insignificant coincidences. As with most revisionist histories, this is inevitably how it goes: Even evidence of writers of that period is manhandled into submission; Josephus for example, who knows not a bit of this thesis, is dismissed as an unreliable witness whose works have been tampered with too much. [20] (Tacitus, who also seems to know nothing of Agrippa founding Christianity, is ignored except for a brief reference [14] to what he said of Caligula; Annals 15.44 might as well not exist.)

The central piece of Huller's case is a rather obscure artifact called the Throne or Chair of St. Mark, of which, more shortly. Obscurity and esoteric reading, however, is a frequent resort for Huller, especially at critical points in his case. We shall provide samples as evidence.

[9] Huller refers to a "generally ignored passage from a virtually forgotten Christian manuscript, which said that the original Gospel of St. Mark wasn't really about Jesus as much as it was about the author himself." In a note Huller quotes what he says is a "roughly paraphrased" comment by Adamantius, author of a work against the Marcionite heresy, as saying, "What right has he [a heretic] to assert that the Messiah wrote the gospel? The gospel writer did not refer to himself as the Christ but to Jesus who he is proclaiming." This is said to be in response to "the same suggestion" (as the one Huller makes) made by the heretic Adamantius was replying to.

Unfortunately, the text of this work, where this portion is written, is not readily available anywhere in English, which by itself renders Huller's report suspect; why does he not quote (or even "roughly paraphrase") the heretic's actual words? Roger Pearse of tertullian.org checked this for me, and he notes that Huller has indeed ignored the preceding context: a response to the question by the pagan Eutropius, "is the gospel by Peter?"

Even so, Huller's own "paraphrase" by itself suggests that the heretic was speculating that Jesus himself wrote the Gospel rather than Mark, whose name was on it.

[12] The Throne piece, as noted, is Huller's central proof; he supposes that Agrippa himself sat on it, as a child, during a coronation ceremony in Alexandria. Every credible source I can find, however, dates this artifact to at least 500 years later than Agrippa's lifetime. How does Huller get rid of those intervening years?

It's all quite circular in the end: There is an inscription on the throne that says, "The Coronation of Mark and Evangelist of Alexandria" and there is a denotation of a specific year. According to Huller, this can only be a Jubilee year referred to, and there happened to be one of those in, um, 37 AD when he thinks Agrippa was enthroned, which was also the only Jubilee that happened when Agrippa was actually alive. [12] Therefore we must date this throne to the first century. Unfortunately, he says, we can't be specific about where the throne was in those intervening 500 years. [166]

[29, 240f] Much is made of the way Jesus supposedly denies that he is the Messiah, a matter Huller would have solved much more readily had he been aware of the nature of the honor-shame dialectic that governed public proclamations about one's one identity. (See here.)

[42] One example of a tenuous connection made: "...Alexandrian tradition suggests that Philo was Marcus Agrippa's uncle." Referenced for this is the book Mark the Evangelist by a 20th-century Pope of the Coptic Church, Shenouda III. But that's not quite what the book says. The book is online here and on page 9, cited by Huller, it says:
CHAPTER ONE THE UPRAISING OF SAINT MARK
A Jew With A Gentile Character: St. Mark was a Jew from the Levite Tribe (1), he preached both Jews and Gentiles, but mainly among the gentiles. He had two names, "John", is the Jewish name and "Mark", is the gentile one. Mark became his distinctive name. He was born a Jew in Africa, thus he is an African born Apostle. His birthplace was in Gyréne, one of the Five Western Cities in Libya, in a small village called Aberyatolos.(2)

Two Names:
His Jewish name, "John", meant "The Kindness of God" (3) and it was mentioned twice in the Book of Acts. [Acts 13:5, 13]. His Roman name was "Mark" which meant a "hammer"(4), an unfamiliar name to the Jews. (5) Josephus, in his book, mentioned that he was the cousin of Philo. (6) Our Apostle was mentioned as Mark in all the epistles of St. Paul [Cor 4:10 ; Phi 24 ; II Tim 4:11] ; St. Peter in [1 Peter 5:13] and in the Book of Acts [Acts 15:39]

On three occasions, his two names were mentioned together. It was either said, John who was named Mark, or John who was known as Mark.
In other words, Shenouda does not say that Agrippa was Philo's cousin, but that Mark the evangelist was, and Huller arbitrarily assumes that his Mark = Agrippa connection is valid in order to illicitly abuse Shenouda's authority. Not that Shenouda seems to have it on the ball to begin with. He references "Ant. 18 :8 :1 and 19 :5:1" as sources for his claim, and it appears that Shenouda himself has somehow confused St. Mark with Marcus. The first reference says:
But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Caius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Caius's words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself.
While the second says:
But when Marcus, Alexander's son, was dead, who had married her when she was a virgin, Agrippa gave her in marriage to his brother Herod, and begged for him of Claudius the kingdom of Chalcis.
How Shenouda understands this to be Mark the evangelist is hard to say, but it is obviously a case of wishful thinking on his part.

Later, Huller also misuses Shenouda's work [141] saying that he "even makes the suggestion that St. Mark married a woman by the name of Berenice!"

Despite the exclamation point, there seems to be no reference to "Berenice" as anything but the name of a city in that document. Huller also imagines, without explanation, that Mark as we know him was incapable of doing things like founding a theological school as Shenouda says, so therefore, Shenouda must be talking about Marcus Agrippa "whether he realizes it or not."

His one other clue is that Shenouda says that Mark had a "scholar" named Justus run the school for him, while "Marcus Agrippa had a secretary named Justus" who was an "expert in pagan philosophy." What Huller neglects to consider is that "Justus" was a common name of that day, especially among Jews, as it meant "righteous". This is an example of Huller making too much out of a statistically insignificant coincidence.

[45-6] Huller appeals to a record by Philo of a "mock coronation" held in Alexandria, in which a random "poor, unfortunate fool" was dressed as a king and mocked by the crowd that was actually angry at Agrippa. Huller supposes this to be a parody version of Agrippa's own actual, honorable coronation, rejecting it as historical because, he says, "nobody seems to have noticed how utterly implausible Philo's argument is, when read its totality." Unfortunately, while Huller quotes the story of the "poor fool" in full, he does not quote these allegedly "utterly implausible" arguments by Philo, which he reports as:

"First, Philo says Marcus Agrippa was absolutely innocent, simply a victim of his own modesty."

It is hard to say what part of Philo Huller refers to here, since he refuses to quote where this is said, but based on the translation here, it appears that he means this:
Accordingly, going down to Dicaearchia, and seeing some Alexandrian vessels in the harbour, looking all ready and fit to put to sea, he embarked with his followers, and had a fair voyage, and so a few days afterwards he arrived at his journey's end, unforeseen and unexpected, having commanded the captains of his vessels (for he came in sight of Pharos about twilight in the evening) to furl their sails, and to keep a short distance out of sight in the open sea, until it became late in the evening and dark, and then at night he entered the port, that when he disembarked he might find all the citizens buried in sleep, and so, without any one seeing him, he might arrive at the house of the man who was to be his entertainer. With so much modesty then did this man arrive, wishing if it were possible to enter without being perceived by any one in the city. For he had not come to see Alexandria, since he had sojourned in it before, when he was preparing to take his voyage to Rome to see Tiberius, but he desired at this time to take the quickest road, so as to arrive at his destination with the smallest possible delay.
As far as can be told, Huller has confused "modesty" here to mean "humility" when it seems quite clear that Philo is referring to the way Agrippa arrived with a lack of fanfare in order to enhance the speed of his journey (e.g., "modesty" meant that the contingent was small and not noticeable). But even so, Huller does not explain what is "implausible" or "ludicrous" about this in the first place.
"[Philo] then suggests in effect that it wasn't Agrippa's enthronement that caused the rioting and that the rioters themselves set up a parody enthronement that incited the anti-Jewish riots." [46]

And yet, Huller will in the very next paragraph go on to say that it is "quite possible that Philo was reporting a real event here too" because, he says, common rabble sometimes did parodies of actual enthronements at the same time a "real" one was going. So Huller has just used the very argument he called "ludicrous" a paragraph ago. But that said, it is once again hard to decide what Huller is referring to here, for Philo says:
But the men of Alexandria being ready to burst with envy and ill-will (for the Egyptian disposition is by nature a most jealous and envious one and inclined to look on the good fortune of others as adversity to itself), and being at the same time filled with an ancient and what I may in a manner call an innate enmity towards the Jews, were indignant at any one's becoming a king of the Jews, no less than if each individual among them had been deprived of an ancestral kingdom of his own inheritance.
What seems at work here is a matter of honor: It would be a greater honor to be under the rule of a client-king like Agrippa than to be under the thumb of a Roman prefect - just as indeed being under Pilate was a "step down" in honor for Judaea, since it was a step further away from self-rule. The reaction of the people is perfectly intelligible, and therefore, Huller's attempt to suppose that Philo's version is a coverup for the anger expressed over Agrippa's supposed Alexandrian coronation ceremony falls flat.

[54-5] Huller supposes that Agrippa "had good reason to believe" that he was the Jewish messiah. Sadly, Huller makes this assertion apart from any consideration of Jewish messianic expectations, only drawing vague parallels between Agrippa's rise to power in which Agrippa supposedly saw this rise as a sort of "resurrection" (!) paralleled to the sort of "resurrection" Isaac went through on the altar. This is also based in part on the assumption that Agrippa is the same person as Barabbas (taken to mean, "son of Abraham").
[80] As part of an attempt to connect Agrippa's wife Berneice with the Biblical St. Veronica or St. Berneice, Huller quotes this passage from a work called the Macarius Magnes here:
CONCERNING Berenice, or the woman with the issue of blood. . . . Berenice, who once was mistress of a famous place, and honoured ruler of the great city of Edessa, having been delivered from an unclean issue of blood and speedily healed from a painful affection, whom many physicians tormented at many times, but increased the affection to the worst of maladies with no betterment at all, He made to be celebrated and famous in story till the present day in Mesopotamia, or rather in all the world---so great was her experience ---for she was made whole by a touch of the saving hem of His garment. For the woman, having had the record of the deed itself nobly represented in bronze, gave it to her son, as something done recently, not long before. . . .
...leaving out the portions in bold, so that he may suggest to the reader that this "queen of a certain place" means she was Agrippa's queen. But the text says mistress of a famous place, not queen, and this woman is directly connected (as a ruler) to the city of Edessa, which is in Turkey. Yet note that Huller has removed the reference to Edessa and Mesopotamia as well. One can only wonder why (facetiously). Huller also selectively quotes John Francis Wilson, as only saying that the author conflated the story of Agrippa's wife/sister with that of the woman who had an issue of blood; Wilson also mentions the Edessa connection, but then again, there seems to be little reason to read into Magnes any connection between the Berenice he names and the one married to Agrippa.

[88] It is claimed that the rabbinic Mishnah "has a story of how the ancient sages actually acknowledged Marcus Agrippa as (Messiah)" with reference to the book's appendix., where Huller provides a long list of authors who supposedly acknowledged Agrippa as the Messiah, but not one quote or specific line reference is given. [238] It appears that Huller is doing all he can to avoid having his work checked.

[99f] Huller misuses the thesis of David Trobisch's book The First Edition of the New Testament to argue for an original gospel document by Agrippa from which the current four are derived - a thesis Trobisch himself would hardly endorse.

[101] Huller also makes the incredible claim that "there is no historical reference to St. Mark the Evangelist outside the Gospels themselves." What about Papias, Irenaeus, and others who referred to him? On the next page Huller makes it clear what he means: There is no "contemporary historical source, and hearsay" - in other words, he merely hastily disposes of these later references, without any serious justification that would not also dispose of the vast majority of recorded history (though we have perhaps seen that that would hardly concern Huller at all).

[106] Huller discerns a secret code proving that Mark (eg, Marcus Agrippa) ultimately wrote all of the Gospels:
Matthew the elect, whose symbol is M, Mark the chosen, whose symbol is R, Luke the approved, whose symbol is K, and John the beloved, whose symbol is H.
According to Huller, the Latin parallel letters are M, R, K, and A, and this is a secret code informing us that Mark was the author of all four gospels. Unfortunately, Huller neglects to mention that the manuscript (Borgian Diatessaron) that has this opening is in Arabic, and dates to around the 14th century AD - and it seems to be little but imagination that turns an Arabic H into a Latin A.

[109] Huller appeals to the discredited Secret Mark for a point in his favor.

[116-7] An extended passage said to be a "smoking gun" for connecting Mark with Marcus Agrippa is presented as from "a "Latin copy of Jewish Wars" in which Agrippa, in a speech, warns the Jews that their rebellion will lead to disaster. Huller perhaps wishes to leave the reader with the impression that this comes from Josephus, but it does not: It comes from a "very free and Christianized" translation of the Wars, which is wrongly ascribed to the second century author Hegesippus, but was more likely done in the fourth century.

Thus, Huller's use of this reference is dishonest, and his argument that it is too coincidental that Mark in his Gospel could have made comments about the destruction of the Temple, and Agrippa could have done the same at roughly the same time, is upended.

[124] Huller relies on "the Samaritan document called Tulida" for events of the first century, apparently not concerned to let his readers know that this document is dated in portions to no earlier than the twelfth century.

[172ff, 188f] Huller provides a sometimes esoteric, sometimes strained interpretation of the carvings on St. Mark's throne to support his thesis, generally begging the question of the historicity of his "Marcus enthroned" scenario to force an interpretation. He finds parallels to Revelation, which admit the obvious answer that the throne's designs were based on Revelation, but insists that the throne must have come first, because the author of Revelation misread an animal on the throne as a lamb, when it is in fact a ram, "and its horns are clearly visible if anyone takes the trouble to look closely." From here, Huller re-interprets the scene as that of the ram caught in the bush who subbed in for Isaac.

One looking closely notices, however, that this lamblike figure does not have the large, curved horns of a ram; if there are horns at all - which there may or may not be - they are small, and are just as well representative of the horns of the lamb that stands for Jesus (though he has seven - Rev. 5:6). But even if not, Huller's reason for the disassociation, that "lambs do not" have horns, is false: Sheep breeding sources that I have consulted indicate that lambs have horns as early as 6 months; see for example here:
Please note that lambs will develop horns at an early age. In our experience homozygous (meaning two genes for horns) horned lambs will show horn development by the time they reach about 10 lbs. The ewe lambs will sometimes have very tiny "nubbins"at birth, which will begin to grow out and be visible by the time they are 20 lbs. or about 2-3 weeks of age. Truly horned sheep do not suddenly develop horns when they are 6 months to a year old. However, polled sheep can develop scurs that can become dangerous by growing back into the skull.
It seems that Huller's "twenty years" of research did not include any research into animal husbandry.

Those are just a sample of the errors and obfuscations Huller offers, and in that, those that are checkable; most of his claims are not, given that he refuses to give precise source citations or quotations, or uses sources generally not accessible, often at the most critical junctures.

I decided to challenge Huller publicly on TheologyWeb, and this provided some interesting moments. First, I would provide the reader with two rather informative quotes. From Huller's blog here is an assessment of something argued by Bart Ehrman:
UPDATE Here is what that fool Bart Ehrman says on the subject (The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research p. 77) "[i]n raw chronological terms, the Diatessaron antedates all MSS of the NT, save that tiny fragment of the Gospel of John known as P52." That perfectly demonstrates what we already know i.e. that Ehrman read the fragment AND FURTHERMORE KNEW THAT ALL THE EARLIEST GOSPEL WITNESSES COME FROM THE DIATESSARON (I didn't even mention this earlier) and STILL IN SPITE OF HIS KNOWING THIS Ehrman didn't realize that P52 could well be YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE DIATESSARON PREDATING ALL OTHER MSS. Indeed in light of what he says in the first part of his sentence HE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. THE SCALES TIP IN FAVOR OF P52 BEING A DIATESSARON FRAGMENT IN LIGHT OF THE CUMULATIVE EVIDENCE CITED IN HIS TESTIMONY. Why doesn't he recognize the truth standing right in front of his eyes? The polite way of expressing matters - he has been victimized by his brainwashing at the hands of the Irenaean paradigm. The not so polite way of expressing the same idea - yet another big name scholar whose not as smart as he seems.
The significance? Huller apparently sent Ehrman his book hoping for an endorsement -- and didn't get it. Hence Huller has turned on him. We of course do not consider Ehrman to be completely honest ourselves, but this matter of P52 is one of a consensus that is held across ideological lines. Clearly Huller is not able to handle it when scholarship contradicts him.

Finally, much can and has been made of Huller receiving an endorsement from Robert Price. Given Price's reputation for endorsing just about anything, this means little to begin with, but when I confronted Price on this subject recently, and asked if he thought the book was accurate, he replied:
It is not so simple as "accurate" or not. The man is proposing a complex alternate paradigm in which old bits of evidence are interpreted in new ways. Personally, I do not find myself persuaded by the basic thesis. But that is true of most books I read since I am constantly trying to widen my horizons by reading perspectives new to me. You can't sign on the dotted line on many or most. However, I am grateful for the challenging new readings he provides in case after individual case. I believe such ideas ought to be given "air play" so interested readers may make of them what they deem best.
This speaks certainly to Price's character as a scholar -- negatively -- but more importantly here, it seems rather dishonest of Huller to use Price's endorsement the way he does when Price himself is not persuaded by the thesis.

Huller's credentials indicate that his primary profession is that of a circus performer, and based on this book and what we have seen, I do not find that hard to believe.

Update: In the process of confronting Huller for his errors, I have caught him in a deliberate act of fabrication with respect to the quote above re Ehrman. For more on this, see the thread on TheologyWeb here, page 2.

Tekton Research Assistant "Punkish" also discovered a blog by Huller here with a rather outrageous title (be forewarned) that also deserves to be quoted from:
I certainly could have picked a better name for this blog. In fact for over a century scholars have noticed countless 'problems' with Josephus but somehow managed to express themselves with more decorum. Steve Mason makes a very good case for the basic witness of Josephus while acknowledging Christian additions. The difficulty however is that all scholars assume that the basic structure of the text is sound and the 'additions' are mostly superficial attempts to 'admit' Josephus 'into the Church' by getting him to acknowledge basic truths of Christianity.

So it is these academics seem to acknowledge that this or that particular passage might be acknowledged to have been 'added' and 'subtracted' (see Feldman Contra Apionem p. 205). Nevertheless, in spite of it all, we are inevitably encouraged to 'take heart' because once these various additions are 'ignored' we are still left with a compelling (if not the only) witness to Jewish life leading up to the first century CE.

I think these scholars suffer from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome. The texts of Josephus were preserved by the Church which made the interpolations and now we - as desperate students of history - are not told essentially that we are left with no other option other than accepting the material at face value.

My solution is to argue that what has survived from antiquity is not Josephus' original work but a deliberate Christian corruption of that original text which has as its underlying purpose TO DIMINISH THE STANDING OF MARCUS JULIUS AGRIPPA, THE LAST KING OF ISRAEL AND THE UNIVERSALLY ACKNOWLEDGED MESSIAH OF THAT COMMUNITY IN THE LATTER PART OF THE FIRST CENTURY. My arguments on behalf of Agrippa's 'messiahood' appear in another book the Real Messiah and the website devoted to support its claims www.therealmessiahbook.blogspot.com. This blog tackles the thorniest issue at that heart of that thesis - why the existing texts of Josephus should not get the last word on the contemporary significance of Agrippa.

My purpose in assembling the present material is to demonstrate THAT THE CORRUPTIONS IN JOSEPHUS ARE NOT LIMITED TO A RANDOM 'SPRINKLING' OF 'CONFESSIONS OF FAITH' ON THE PART OF THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR OF JEWISH ANTIQUITIES AND THE JEWISH WAR. Instead the editorial manipulations go much deeper into the material than previously realized all with the explicit purpose of undermining Agrippa's original messianic claims.

I will trace the Christian editors manipulations all the way back to Chapter Fifteen of Jewish Antiquities the section which initiates the discussion of Agrippa's connection to Herod the Great and - more significantly - AGRIPPA'S GENEALOGICAL LINK TO THE MESSIANIC LINE OF THE HASMONAEANS THROUGH THE ELUSIVE FIGURE OF MARIAMNE. There are well known 'idiosyncrasies' in the account of Mariamne which - until now - have been viewed as a separate problem from the so-called Testomonium Flavianum and the various difficulties associates with the person of Agrippa of himself.

It will now be argued that there are all separate aspects of one and the same problems - i.e. A DELIBERATE AND METHODOLOGICAL ATTEMPT TO SYSTEMATICALLY UNDERMINE THE ORIGINAL UNDERSTANDING OF JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND SAMARITANS THAT MARCUS JULIUS AGRIPPA WAS THE MESSIAH. It was Agrippa rather than Jesus who had the strongest claim to Davidic ancestry (through Mariamne). Seen this way Agrippa was both a 'son of David' and a 'son of Mary.'
And on yet another blog, Huller argues here that Paul was also Mark!
All that we are left with is the story of their former master’s heavenly ascent and the implied revelation of "another" god. In the surviving Catholic writings of the "Paul," the apostle is allowed to keep his revelation but through various deliberate textual corruptions he vows never to reveal its contents to anyone! This is why Tertullian comes after the Marcionites for saying that they know what the apostle saw. Only an idiot can’t see through this screen. And should be clear what their apostle received from the "other" God – the revelation of the gospel itself.

"It is my gospel!" the apostle screams out over and over again in his epistles. "It came to me by a direct revelation from God!" The Church Fathers are left scratching their heads asking why the Marcionites don’t call it the "gospel of Paul" if this were true. The answer is quite simple – they identified the apostle as being named Mark as Hippolytus infers in his account of the sect and their gospel was the original gospel of Mark.
As can be seen, Huller has no reservations about resorting to calling scholars incompetent, or suggesting conspiracy, when the evidence is not cooperative. 

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