Friday, May 3, 2013

"The Open Tomb," Part 5



We now take up a rather large chunk of OT, over 100 pages, although much of it needs no coverage, being an extended chapter on groups like the Essenes. I do not assume that Mirsch had done the job right on those; I merely see no need to address those issues, as they are tangential to the main case concerning Jesus. Suffice to say Mirsch's coverage is not that of a qualified scholar, as usual.

We begin with the crucifixion, which, as noted, Mirsch dates to 37 AD. Most authorities date the end of Pilate's reign to 36; I have noted now that some few do try to extend it into early 37, but this will not help Mirsch even so, as Mirsch's thesis is that Pilate was removed from power because of Jesus' crucifixion, and there is an awful lot of event-making to fit into that narrow window -- which means Mirsch will have to justify his chronology with more details  than he offers now.

Mirsch's bewilderment that anyone would crucify a non-threat like he supposes the usual view of Jesus would be [230] is answered in our trial piece linked previously. As noted, Jesus was (from the view of Pilate) merely a pawn in a game the priesthood was playing; in reality he mattered little to Pilate at all, as would be the case for any backwoods Jew, in Pilate's eyes.

Especially amusing is Mirsch's attempt to argue, as a prelude to his version of the swoon thesis, that Jesus was not savagely beaten with whips before the crucifixion. [235f] This was the very normal routine for crucifixion as part of a "status degradation ritual," so that Mirsch's attempt to wave off the preliminaries as an "educated guess" or "merely supposition" is little more than hand-waving, save for one rather ludicrous contrivance he offers [239]. Mirsch notes that in 32 AD, Tiberius issued an order that the Romans should "change none of the customs" of the Jews, as recorded by Philo.  Based on this, and his contrived 37 AD date for the crucifixion, Mirsch argues that this decree would make Pilate hesitant to pronounce a death sentence, much less whip and crucify someone in Judaea.

As shown in our trial article there are far different reasons for that, but even so, Mirsch's application is thoroughly meritless. Let's take a broader look at that passage from Philo:

…things in Italy were thrown into a great deal of confusion when Sejanus was preparing to make his attempt against our nation; for [Tiberius] knew immediately after [Sejanus’] death that the accusations which had been brought against the Jews who were dwelling in Rome were false calumnies, inventions of Sejanus, who was desirous to destroy our nation… And he sent commands to all the governors of provinces in every country to comfort those of our nation in their respective cities, as the punishment intended to be inflicted was not meant to be inflicted upon all, but only on the guilty; and they were but few. And he ordered them to change none of the existing customs, but to look upon them as pledges, since the men were peaceful in their dispositions and natural characters, and their laws trained them and disposed them to quiet and stability.

The problem here is that this has to do with a specific act of Sejanus in which he accused Jews of treason falsely -- it has no bearing on any other incident whatsoever, and any instructions to the provinces would relate to this specific charge and incident related to Sejanus -- not to any later matters. The second problem is that, as our trial piece shows, Jesus essentially incriminated himself for a charge of sedition; and so he would be "guilty as charged" -- which in turn would fulfill the stricture laid down, even if it did apply beyond this particular incident.

Finally, note that the command was to "change none of the existing customs," not to not execute anyone. What this means is defined in the earlier context of Philo:

But he never removed them from Rome, nor did he ever deprive them of their rights as Roman citizens, because he had a regard for Judaea, nor did he ever meditate any new steps of innovation or rigor with respect to their synagogues, nor did he forbid their assembling for the interpretation of the law, nor did he make any opposition to their offerings of first fruits; but he behaved with such piety towards our countrymen, and with respect to all our customs, that he, I may almost say, with all his house, adorned our temple with many costly and magnificent offerings, commanding that continued sacrifices of whole burnt offerings should be offered up for ever and ever every day from his own revenues, as a first fruit of his own to the most high God, which sacrifices are performed to this very day, and will be performed for ever, as a proof and specimen of a truly imperial disposition.

Moreover; in the monthly divisions of the country, when the whole people receives money or corn in turn, he never allowed the Jews to fall short in their reception of this favor, but even if it happened that this distribution fell on the day of their sacred sabbath, on which day it is not lawful for them to receive any thing, or to give any thing, or in short to perform any of the ordinary duties of life, he charged the dispenser of these gifts, and gave him the most careful and special injunctions to make the distribution to the Jews on the day following, that they might not lose the effects of his common kindness.

Therefore, all people in every country, even if they were not naturally well inclined towards the Jewish nation, took great care not to violate or attack any of the Jewish customs or laws.  And in the reign of Tiberius things went on in the same manner, although at that time things in Italy were thrown into a great deal of confusion when Sejanus was preparing to make his attempt against our nation...

What Tiberius referred to here was the religious practices of the Jews -- not judicial dealings with them! At the same time it is a bit of a joke that Mirsch sees Pilate bowing to pressure to crucify Jesus, in order to suit his theory, but not to have him whipped beforehand! Why the lack of consistency -- other than to support a theory in advance?

Mirsch does at least get right that crucifixion crosses were likely low to the ground [245].  He is also right that the wounds from crucifixion by themselves would not be life threatening. [249]. Curiously, he quotes Martin Hengel's excellent work on the Zealots [252] having ignored all of Hengel's scholarship that shows his conclusions about their dating to be wrong.  We pick up with infamy again where Mirsch declares that the "kingdom of God" is "a euphemism for the re-established United Monarchy of King David" [253]. Such a definition would never withstand an analysis of the use of the phrase, though we are sure Mirsch would find a way to hem, haw, and interpolate his way out of it, so we will not pursue that further. 

We will note the rather amusing attempt to militarize Jesus by pointing to Mark 4:26-9, where Jesus refers to use of a "sickle" to harvest. Mirsch points out that the word "sickle" has a "shared etymology with the small curved blades carried by the Zealots..." [256] That will become noteworthy as soon as someone proves that the Zealots spoke English; the Greek word for "sickle" used is drepanon, as Mirsch admits. There is therefore nothing but insane imagination in the idea that the word was meant to invoke the Latin word secula, much less the English word sickle.

We need not detain ourselves, further, with Mirsch's savage rewrites of parables; eg, the parable of the mustard seed is happily tooted away so that the "birds" become "the Jerusalem priesthood". [257] We also will not detail ourselves with an enormous chapter in the Zealots and Essenes; although I am sure the key points would be utterly rejected by scholars, the chapter builds on, rather than underlies, Mirsch's main arguments.

The chapter following has yet more tendentious rewrites; just to give an example, the parable of the Good Samartian is raped such that the robbers are the Romans, and the parable is a call to Samaria to join the Jesus revolution. [348] These may all be ignored as fantasy piled on fantasy.

We pick up again where Mirsch deals with Josephus, and find little that is not covered in our treament in Shattering the Christ Myth (chapter by Chris Price). Mirsch adds nothing new to the mix, other than first, a suggestion that no other passages in Josephus matches this one for "brevity of lack of purpose." The latter is simply nonsense; the obvious purpose would be to explain the origins of a well known deviant cult. In terms of brevity, Mirsch provides no comparative statistics to speak of, but it hardly makes a difference; Mirsch is judging "brevity" by the standard of the modern paragraph breaks.  If he's going to use any objective measures, he needs to measure according to number of words devoted to a person by name -- and there are a great number of persons in Antiquities to whom Josephus devotes few words. 

The one thing Mirsch does get right is that Josephus would devote few words to Jesus because he was "a minor character" in his view. In this Mirsch unwittingly echoes the arguments regarding "Remsberg's list." I should also note that Mirsch devotes only a couple of dozens words to Tacitus, and does not even deal with the importance of his reference to Jesus. Obviously Mirsch considers one of the best and most accurate historians in antiquity to be a "minor character." [363].

We may also briefly note that added absurdity that while Mirsch rejects Antiquities 18 as a reference to Jesus, he manages to find Jesus referenced in another part of the Antiquities, in code, as a rebel leader. This of course is merely reliant on Mirsch's creative rewriting scheme.

When we return next week, we'll discuss Mirsch's version of the swoon theory, with input from one of our readers who is a physician.

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