Friday, August 28, 2015

Priceless Brotherhood


From the May 2012 E-Block.

***

In a chapter titled "James the Just: Achilles Heel for the Christ Myth Theory?" Price discusses alternative readings for Gal. 1:19 amenable to morphing Jesus into myth. He considers this verse the best argument around against Mythicism, when tied in with the historical reports of James as a successor to Jesus. Price discusses three theories to account for this:
  1. That James, like Thomas in later apocryphal literature, was understood "to be the earthly, physical counterpart to a heavenly Jesus."
  2. That James was part of a group of missionaries called "brothers of the Lord" (which is the idea of Earl Doherty...).
  3. That a heavenly Jesus has been historicized, and thereafter the fictive connection to James was made.
Option 1: Thomas Twin
For the first option, Price violently strains ahead hundreds of years to an apocryphal and Gnostic "acts" document. In the Acts of Thomas, verse 11, the Risen Jesus appears and declares himself to be the "brother" of Thomas:

And the king desired the groomsmen to depart out of the bride-chamber; and when all were gone out and the doors were shut, the bridegroom lifted up the curtain of the bride-chamber to fetch the bride unto him. And he saw the Lord Jesus bearing the likeness of Judas Thomas and speaking with the bride; even of him that but now had blessed them and gone out from them, the apostle; and he saith unto him: Wentest thou not out in the sight of all? how then art thou found here? But the Lord said to him: I am not Judas which is also called Thomas but I am his brother. And the Lord sat down upon the bed and bade them also sit upon chairs, and began to say unto them...

However, from the prior context of this story, it is clear that Jesus acts and lives on. This is completely out of accord with what the Christ Myth requires. Price even admits that the stories present Jesus as having walked the earth, so it would seem that Jesus calling Thomas his “brother” reflects some actualization in which Jesus is made out to be Thomas’ flesh and blood brother – precisely because he is his “twin”. However, since this sort of Gnostic connection could not possibly adhere to James in Gal. 1:19, it would be irrelevant anyway.

In the Acts of Thomas, Jesus is clearly visible to all men; he even sells Thomas as a slave to a passing Indian merchant! But what if it were the case that Jesus "remains invisible to mortal eyes" in one of these documents? Price also appeals to the Book of Thomas the Contender, yet another Gnostic document (and so likewise inapplicable). However, he appeals to this portion of it:

The savior said, "Brother Thomas 5 while you have time in the world, listen to me, 6 and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered 7 in your mind. "Now, since it has been said that you are my 8 twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn 9 who you are, in what way you exist, and 10 how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, 11 it is not fitting that you be ignorant 12 of yourself. And I know that you have understood, 13 because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth. 14 So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, 15 you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called 'the one who 16 knows himself'. For he who has not known 17 himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself 18 has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all. 19 So then, you, my brother Thomas, have beheld what is obscure 20 to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against." 21

Price notes that Thomas is destined to be "called" Jesus’ brother, and takes this to indicate and honorific designation due to spiritual insight, not birth. However, it is quite clear that the reason Thomas is expected to be called Jesus’ brother is because he is a “twin” of Jesus – the expectation is that a blood relationship will be assumed between them because of the likeness between them. Spiritual insight is what Jesus indicates Thomas will receive -- and this would be in order that the identification will be more appropriate, in light of the Gnostic view that everything in heaven has an earthly counterpart. Beyond that, it should be noted that this in no way indicates that Thomas here is not already Jesus’ flesh and blood brother. Jesus’ comment that he “will be called” Jesus’ brother does not mean that he is not now, but that he will receive the designation as an honorific title – not because, as Price thinks, he currently has spiritual insight, but because in their social world, it was an honor to be designated as related to someone in one’s family who had done well. The familial connection accrued honor to the other person; and so designating Thomas as “brother of Jesus” would have been a case of highlighting the relationship for honor.

Here as well, Price makes a vacuous and desperate appeal to the 19th century Chinese revolutionary Hong Xuiquan, who called himself the "little brother of Jesus" as a way to indicate that he was a second incarnation. Even by itself there is little reason to grant credence to Price's analogy, coming as it does 1800 years after the fact, from a different culture, and with no supporting data in the NT or any other document to support such a meaning.

That said, indications are that Hong conceived of this designation in a literal and organic way to begin with. In visions, Hong was introduced to his “Heavenly Father” (as well as his Heavenly Mother and Wife!) as well, so the idea of himself as Jesus’ “little brother” was by no means merely symbolic. See on this link below, in which a historian of this subject says, “it had come out that Hong regarded himself as, literally, the younger brother of Jesus Christ.”

Price's further comments include vain attempts to "mirror read" statements about James as Jesus' physical brother such that from whole cloth he creates a historical actuality in which this was a polemic against the earlier and more accurate teaching that "brother" meant something else. As such mirror-reading merely assumes what it sets out to prove, no more need be said of it.

Option 2: Brotherly Redux

The second option Price considers is that "brother" may have been used to refer to James as a leading missionary, such as Jesus calls "brothers" those who suffer for him. Of course, this is the same basic argument made by Doherty, which attempts to wrest familial ingroup language out of blood-familial language. Price, however, does nothing to improve upon the argument, nor does he deal with the difficulties we have noted.

Option 3: Mythmakers

The final option is one Price relates to "ethnological myths" in which fictitious family connections were created in order to explain later relationships -- e.g., Jacob and Esau are not real human beings, but "ethnic stereotypes of the groups they represent..." Of course, such speculations are themselves merely critical artifices without substance, so that here Price is (as he often does) using one weak higher-critical reed to support another. In addition, there is no evidence for such myth-making in NT times, though to fit the bill as needed, Price inserts another weak reed into the substance of his higher-critical sweat lodge, supposing we have a perfect example of that in the relationship of John the Baptist and Jesus. To accomplish this, however, Price must invent wholesale the notion of Christianity and followers of John being rival sects, so that the story of John and Jesus becomes a sort of enacted fable for why the sects should be rivals. As I have frequently noted, it is amazing how much history needs to be invented as times to explain away a much simpler history. Price's only other support for this notion is derived from further imaginations of James/Paul and Peter/Paul rival sects.

That just leaves a few odds and ends. Price dispenses with the reference to James and Jesus with the possibility of interpolation, or by the implied suggestion that by the time of Josephus, the "historicization" of Jesus had already taken place and Josephus simply knew no better. He closes with warning that one must not fall into "a hell-bent adherence to a hobby horse of a theory" -- and so, as has been typical or Price since we first encountered him to many years ago, performs an irony to which he remains happily oblivious.
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