Book Note: Anthony LeDonne, Historical Jesus

This is a must-read book, whether you are persuaded or not. I don't say that about many books, let alone books about the historical Jesus which has become a cottage-industry these days. But

LeDonne's book,

Historical Jesus

, is different because he pushes the historical approach by responsibly bringing in research on

human perception




He makes a case that by analyzing patterns in the way Jesus was remembered by his contemporaries, we can make some plausible claims about his life and teaching as a "historical" figure. Now "historical" is in scare quotes for a reason. It is because LeDonne doesn't understand his job to be to reconstruct what happened in the past, but to explain why the past was remembered as it was. So consider his definition of history: "History, as a discipline of knowledge, is not what happened in the past, it is an accounting of how the past was remembered and why. To confuse these is to confuse the very nature of the historian's task" (p. 34). And "History includes only the past that has been interpreted through memory. That which has not been remembered is not history" (p. 34). And this memory is ongoing, forged with each new generation in order to make sense of the current situation.

The real job of the historian is "to measure and compare interpretations in order to explain the most plausible interpretation of the story" (p. 78). He "doesn't attempt to peel away interpretation in order to find facts" (p. 78). Why? Because "the postmodern mind knows that no facts are available for analysis that have not been preceded, followed, and mediated by interpretation" (p. 78).

So LeDonne begins with the premises that the storytellers behind the gospels are interpreters by discipline, and that what they have written is exactly what history ought to look like, and our job is to explain why history was written to look like this. What the gospel writers produced were creatively constructed interpretations that began during Jesus' lifetime. Why during his lifetime? Because if he would not have been interpreted by his contemporaries, he would not have been remembered at all (p. 40).

LeDonne's approach is laid out and applied as the book progresses. LeDonne concludes that Jesus had a complex relationship with his mother and their dysfunctional family, that he saw himself as an exorcist and healer, that he took on John's massive following and began to preach nonviolence and the establishment of God's political reign on earth. This revolutionary message led to a final confrontation with the temple priesthood in Jerusalem and his death.

While I am impressed by LeDonne's approach and persuaded by his application of theories on human perception and memory, I remain a modernist too (postmodernism is the extreme of modernity).

I think that our job is to provide plausible explanation for what happened from records that are interpretations of what was perceived to have happened.

To me, this argument for plausibility is still tied to fact. I can't seem to detach it and am not sure I would want to anyway.

Book Report: The Historiographical Jesus (Le Donne)

Today a package arrived in my mailbox. What's this? I thought as I opened it. As I tore the package open and the name of the book emerged

"The Historiographical Jesus" by Anthony Le Donne

, I thought, "My gosh, a perfect title!" Simultaneously I thought (in regards to historical Jesus research) - "it is about time!"

Of course I haven't had time to read and digest all that Le Donne has to say yet. But I can see already that this book is a "must" read. It is pioneering, taking seriously the study of social memory and applying it to what Le Donne thinks we can and can't say the Jesus traditions.

Refreshingly he establishes himself as an historian who is not trying to get back to "unrefracted memory" (that is, what actually happened), but to account for the earliest memory refractions in Jesus' story. So "authenticity" and "historicity" are redefined to point to earliest memories of Jesus and Le Donne maps out the criteria that he uses to pick up this information.

Le Donne works with the concept of memory refraction in the Jesus tradition and analyzes how the stories and saying of Jesus were distorted as they were handed down and consciously and unconsciously reframed. Anthony argues that the analysis of memory refraction allows historians to escape the problems between memory and typology and recover the earliest memories of Jesus.

Creating Jesus 9: Why did Jesus die?

We must take caution to keep in mind that the development of christology was not a linear, philosophically reasoned, completely coherent process. The first Christians were not deliberately creating a divine Jesus. The process is extremely complex, it involved intense personal and interpersonal negotiations. It was responsive to certain questions that they were trying to resolve. It is organic and dynamic.

For me this means that when they were wondering about a question, and they had an idea about an answer, the idea didn't come to them as a single notion upon which they built another single notion. Rather they got an idea, and that idea brought with it an entire set of images and traditions and scriptures that were already associated with that idea.

Further, the solutions they were generating were fermented within a diverse Jewish thought world, not the "orthodox" Christian thought world which we are familiar with today, and so many continue to find necessary to apologize and defend by historicizing it. If we are going to do history and figure out what happened, it is necessary to set aside our preconceived notions about what the scriptures say as Christians have come to understand them. It is necessary to stop trying to make the evidence fit into a box it doesn't fit into.

What the early Christian literature preserves for us is the answers the first Christians provided to those initial questions. What scholars like myself try to do is look at the answers and determine what questions birthed them, and what process occurred in order for those particular answers to be their solutions, and to offer the best dates we can for when those solutions were brought into the theology.

Two very early pictures of Jesus emerge in response to his death. One is a prophet. The other is a martyr. And these were tied together. It is completely wrong to think that the martyr complex is a late myth that Mark or someone else created. The martyr is there in our earliest testimonies, piggybacking on the trope of the rejected prophet. In the Kernel Thomas we find reference to this already as a saying of Jesus: "A prophet is not received hospitably in his village. A doctor does not heal the people who know him" (31). It is in all three synoptics, and there applied to Jesus' rejection as a prophet in his own village (Mark 6:4; Matthew 13:57; Luke 4:23-24). It is known to John (4:44) with the same interpretation. Whatever Jesus may have meant by this saying we might never know. But it is clear that in all the independent attestations to it, it was remembered by the early Christians as proof of Jesus as a rejected prophet.

Also in the Kernel Thomas we find the parable about the tenant farmers who killed the owner's son, the heir of the vineyard (65). Again, whatever the parable meant in Jesus' teachings, we can dispute for a long time. What is indisputable is the fact that this parable, even in its telling in the Kernel Thomas had already been attached to a proof text from Psalm 118:22 the"rejected stone which has become the head of the corner" (66). This prooftext roams around a number of early Christian sources (Acts 4:11; Mark 12:10-11; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:5-6) and is used as a reference to the rejection of Jesus. In all three synoptics, it is connected to the end of the same parable of the tenant farmer. In Acts 4:11, it is explicitly associated with Jesus as the prophet-like-Moses who was rejected and killed.

The martyr was another idea that became associated with the prophet Jesus, probably because they understood Jesus as a prophet to be a completely righteous man who died a violent death through no fault of his own. The Jewish martyr was a Jew who maintained his or her piety and faith in YHWH even while enduring torture and death at the hands of the enemy. There developed a complex of ideas about the death of these people, one of them being that their deaths could not be for naught. That the righteous person was killed in such torturous ways, must mean something. So in the Maccabean literature we see arise the belief that the death of a righteous man had atoning value - it atoned for the sins of Israel. Furthermore, the righteous person had to be rewarded, and since this couldn't happen in this life, it must have to happen in the afterlife. So in the literature produced from the Maccabean period, we see the creation of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The martyrs and the enemies would be resurrected bodily in order to received their reward from YHWH and be glorified becoming stars or angels in heaven. The enemies would be punished.

Now our first Christians knew this idea. It was internalized for them. This paradigm was ready to go for them. And so this paradigm colors the literature from day one. It fit perfectly their interpretations of the visions of Jesus as resurrected being too.

So what we have is an immediate new complex hooked to Jesus' death and postmortem appearances. The new complex answered their questions: why did Jesus die? where is he now? He died because he was a rejected prophet like Moses (think the golden calf story). Also like Moses he did not deserve this treatment. He died, the heir of the vineyard, killed by the tenants, which was predicted in the scripture of the rejected cornerstone. He was a righteous man of God who suffered a torturous death. The title "Righteous One" was attached to him very early as it was also to James his brother who continued the tradition as the "Righteous One" once Jesus died (Acts 3:14; 7:52). He was martyred and his suffering served to atone for the sins of Israel (Acts 5:31). Now he has been exalted to heaven, resurrected by God to his right hand just as we would expect of a martyr. The proclamation that Jesus was "raised from the dead" appears to have entered liturgy very early (Romans 1:3-4; Acts 2:24; 2:32; 3:15; 4:2; 4:10; 4:33, etc.). The entire pattern is preserved in Acts 2:22-36.

Creating Jesus 8: Rereading and remembering

Let's recap before proceeding. I have argued that the impetus for christology is two-fold: it is a response to Jesus' death which did not meet the group's messianic expectations; it is fermented by visionary experiences of Peter (and others like Mary?) which were understood to be religiously significant experiences. They understood the visions of his spirit not as a ghost (as a non-Jew might have framed it) but as a resurrected body (as a Jew would have framed the afterlife).

We also noted that the type of resurrected body was disputed among the Jews at the time. This is important for us. That we not impose "orthodox" christian notions of a fleshly resurrection on literature that recognizes more than one position and those in conflict.

Some like Paul, understood the resurrection of the person (Paul calls the person the "seed") to be the rising of a spiritual body, not the body of flesh that was in the grave. Jesus was buried and raised on the third day, but not as a body of flesh, but as a spiritual body (his flesh was left in the grave!). His "seed" would have a new body, not the body of flesh. His "seed" would be transformed into a celestial body (1 Cor 15:37-38). Others like Luke were sure it was the flesh which was raised (I guess he understood the person to be the flesh-blood body) and it will be the same as before, even eating fish. John's gospel has something in between. The fleshly body is raised but is transfigured into a new kind of body that can walk through locked doors.

In 1 Cor 15, Paul is arguing a couple sides of the debate. The Corinthians don't like the body resurrection at all; they are probably wanting to keep their non-Jewish view that the soul is immortal and in fact sloughs off the "soul body" as well as the "flesh body" it received when it incarnated so that it can be liberated and reascend to God. The idea that the afterlife would be embodied, whether a spiritual body or a physical body reanimated was nonsense to them. Paul agrees that the resurrection is not the resurrection of the flesh, but a transformation of the "seed" in a blessed glorious spiritual body.

Now these two impulses resulted in two activities. First, they reread their bible, the Jewish scripture in order to figure out what the suffering and death of their Messiah meant, and they talked to each other, "remembering" what they could of Jesus' teachings whether public or private and began to write it down.

Both of these activities are activities common to Judaism. The Jews believed that their scripture held meaning that could be reaped through study and prayer, that the scripture was multivalent and could reveal a previously unknown meaning under new circumstances. This is how God communicated to his people. So after Jesus' death, the first Christians turned to scripture and began to read it with new questions and a new perspective - that is they were trying to understand why the Messiah suffered and why he died as a criminal. They took passages that traditionally had nothing to do with messianic prophecy and made them such, which the other Jews loudly protested.

There is also evidence (not only in the form of Kernel Thomas and Q, but also in terms of narrative claims), that they tried to record what they could remember of Jesus' teachings. If the narrative claim of the Clementine corpus has any value, it suggests that James, the leader of the group of Christians located in Jerusalem, hired someone to go around with Peter and record his preachings which were about the teachings of Jesus. He wanted to use these books in the mission, as handbooks for preachers sent out to various locations. Other texts imagine the disciples sitting around a table and trying to recall what Jesus said. Certainly such claims in the texts give authenticity to the texts themselves (since it would be understood that this text was based on those remembrances). But what I find compelling is that the claim being made matches the type of early sayings source books that we have been hypothesizing for over a hundred years existed in terms of Q. We know they existed because we have Thomas, and now my own work suggests an early Jerusalem-oriented Kernel that looks like it contained five early speeches attributed to Jesus.

So what were the first christologies that fermented in these sayings gospels and other texts that preserve some early tradition (even if only to counter and correct them)? What scriptures were being used to form these christologies? Next time I will begin to take up these questions.

Creating Jesus 7: What about the empty tomb?

I hope that you noticed that I did not locate the empty tomb stories as an impulse for christology. Rather I view them as a reaction to christology already in the making.

Why? Because the narratives and the letters of Paul suggest that the visions of Jesus were not originally connected to the empty tomb stories. The claim to visions of Jesus were not the same as the claim to the empty tomb. The two are merged in the gospel narratives. You can see how the two claims are woven together nicely in the Lukan narrative where you have a Petrine vision of Jesus which is separate from the empty tomb narrative but edited onto the story about the empty tomb. You have the empty tomb story that has been further embellished with the vision-eucharist story of the two on the road to Emmaus; and you have the confession of the eleven in Jerusalem that Jesus had appeared to Simon, a vision that has nothing to do with the empty tomb at all. We also have Paul's report that Jesus first appeared to Peter (nicknamed "Rocky"), an appearance that has nothing to do with the empty tomb narrative.

So the empty tomb is a later story that developed in order to offer an explanation for a christology that was beginning to ferment in the earliest community after Jesus' death. When we examine how the tradition came into being, it looks to be that the original claim to a vision was Peter's. It may be that we also have an original claim to vision by Mary Magdalene as well, since John preserves an interesting line: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord.'" This claim to vision has been attached to two empty tomb stories, one in which Mary finds the tomb empty, and the other in which Peter and the beloved disciple (=Lazarus), find the tomb empty. Paul doesn't appear to know the Magdalene claim, just as he does not know the empty tomb story (which isn't the same thing as resurrection from the dead, which I will address shortly).

What was Peter's vision, and Mary's vision? Peter's vision is never related to us in the narratives or Paul's letters. All we know is that the Lord "appeared" to Simon. The Johannine author transmits an elaborate story of Mary going to the tomb and seeing Jesus there in an unrecognizable form. She mistakes him for a gardener. Since the later empty tomb stories all have Mary at the tomb, and John ties her vision to this visit, I think that the Magdalene claim to vision (whatever the vision actually was) may have been a claim to have seen him when she visited his tomb. Like Peter, the claim itself was that Jesus "appeared" to her.

It is not easy to piece together what might have happened. All we have recorded is what they thought happened, or better, how they interpreted what was happening to them. I have blogged on the resurrection of Jesus before, so this is not new news to most of my readers. I maintain that Jesus' physical dead body was not raised. This is not what happened, although this is one of the interpretations of what happened that was put into place by some of the early followers. And at that it isn't even the earliest interpretation! The earliest interpretation appears in the Gospel of Luke, "they supposed that they saw a spirit" (Luke 24:37). Now the Lukan author is going to make an argument against this interpretation, but this argument is later than the original holdings of the disciples. It is a corrective to an earlier tradition that Peter and Mary had visions of Jesus as a spirit (or ghost?!) after his death.

We don't have to look hard to find all sorts of psychological, anthropological, and sociological studies to point out that the death of loved ones, especially traumatic deaths, frequently result in post-traumatic experiences including vivid dreams and sightings of the deceased. In fact, I can relate to this very well on a personal level. When my mother died unexpectedly ten years ago, I experienced very vivid dreams of her visiting me. In these dreams, it was as if she never died, she had only been hidden away by the doctors, who continued to work to heal her. Once cured, she would walk out of a door and embrace me. I would respond stupefied. Why would the doctors have told me she died, when she lived and they knew it? Always there was a sense of relief that she was really alive.

If I had lived in a society that understood dreams to be messages from God, visions to be interpreted, I might have understood my own dreams of my mother as a religious experience, rather than as one of the ways that my own psyche was trying to deal with and accept her death. Given what the gospel narratives tell us, the visions of Peter and Mary (and others?) were interpreted as religious experiences. The simple explanation that they saw Jesus' spirit appears to have not been enough of an explanation. It wasn't simply a ghost. They move to locate their visions of the deceased Jesus within their Jewish belief system, to align them with Judaism's teachings about what happens to a person after death. This is how and why the visions of Jesus' spirit begin to be perceived as visions of Jesus resurrected.

The resurrected body was understood to be a different thing by different Jews. There was no consensus teaching. There appears to have been a wide range of belief even among the first Christians, from the belief that your raising will be as a new spiritual body of glory like the angels (Paul) to the belief that your raising will be of your physical fleshly body from the grave, a body that still needed to eat (Luke). The empty tomb stories were created in order to correct the earlier tradition that Peter (and others?) had visions of Jesus as a spirit, and its original interpretation (which Paul knows and supports, and Luke alludes to), that Jesus' resurrection was a resurrection of Jesus as a spiritual body.

Creating Jesus 6: Unfulfilled expectations

There is one more impulse toward Christology that appears to me to be behind all of this. When the formation of new religious movements is studied from a sociological and psychological perspective, it is the case in prophetic movements that the death of the leader puts the community in crisis. There is a liminal period in which the movement has to reassess and if it is going to go on it has to choose new leadership and/or new direction.

Now I am not one to psychologize Jesus. I have no idea who he actually thought he was. But I do know that his close followers thought he was some kind of Messiah - be it a prophet, a king, or a priest. The question in scholarship has always been whether this perception of Jesus originated before or after his death, and much of the literature since Wrede's Messianic Secret has leaned toward after his death.

I'm not convinced. The way I reason through this problem is this: the criminal death of Jesus was a serious obstacle to the proof of his Messiahship. The Christians spend a lot of time explaining in their writings how it is that the Messiah would suffer and would be killed in the worse way possible, a death cursed by the law. And by in large their explanations did not convince very many Jews. So to develop Jesus into a Messiah figure after his criminal death doesn't make as much sense to me as trying to reinterpret the traditional Messianic expectations to fit new historical circumstances. This is what we would expect, in fact, given what we know about social memory formations. They take previously held expectations that are not fulfilled and shift them in such a way to make them conform to the historical reality and experiences of the community.

So I think it is very reasonable to think that a third impulse to create the Christology that the first Christians did was that their original expectations of Jesus while he was alive were not met in his death. In other words, the expectation of the Jesus movement prior to his death appear to have been that of a more traditional Messiah - likely some type of prophet-king - and when he did not fulfill that role, but was executed instead, they literally had to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure their thinking about who Jesus was in order for their movement to continue.

They did this by returning to their scriptures. But more on this in the next post.

Creating Jesus 5: Why did the Christians "create" Jesus?

After laying down the ground rules, the first thing that I think we need to tackle is why the early Christians began to construct the picture(s) of Jesus they did? In other words, what inspired them to form their first christologies? What impulse(s) caused them to want to understand Jesus in "divine" categories beyond their memories of him as their Jewish teacher and leader?

These are not easy questions for sure, and it is necessary to keep in mind that a complex of impulses worked in conjunction with each other to form Christology. As Christianity mobilized and became geographically more and more diverse, the Christological formulations will also diversify. My study of the literature has revealed three major Christological paradigms that are connected with different geographical locales. So I will discuss diversity very shortly.

For now, let's just consider impulse. Why develop Christological schema at all?

One of the strongest impulses I have been able to recover from the literature is the need for the early Christians to attach some meaning or value to the troubling death of Jesus. Allusions and interpretations of his death are across the literature, deeply engrained from the very beginning of Christianity. Yes, even in Q, and even in Thomas. Both know Jesus died, and both offer meaning to that death. Now our different sources know or offer different meanings for his death, but know about it they do.

Why was it so troubling? Because he died as a Roman criminal. His criminal death was a problem that I cannot overemphasize. It was good for nothing in terms of theology. It was not good for trying to convert Romans, and it was not good for trying to convert Jews. It in fact was a liability that the Christians apologize for and explain over and over and over again in their literature.

But we can imagine from the explanations they provide for Jesus' death that some of their first questions following Jesus' death were likely along these lines:

Why was our leader killed as a criminal?
Why did God allow this to happen?
Where was Jesus now?
What would happen next?
What are we supposed to do now?

A second impulse that I think we have to take very seriously, again because it is all over the various layers of traditions (age and geography), were the followers' claims to visions of Jesus after his death. They claimed to have apocalypses of Jesus, to see him or talk to him after he died. Although we might see these as only their stories, it is clear from their writings that they understood these visions to be significant religiously. And because of this, their religiously interpreted experiences influenced sharply the development of Christology.

Creating Jesus 4: Religiously Interpreted Experiences

Our sources are filled with claims of visions of the divine, hearing the voice of God, where the person says that he or she encounters God immediately and directly (what we call mysticism). It is not necessary for the historian to make decisions about whether or not the people in the stories really and truly saw God or heard his voice and move to explain this as hallucinations or madness. These internal or private "events" are similar to miracles. They are interpreted and given a very particular religious value. Whatever was experienced by the person (which I have no way of verifying or not, since it is an internal event) is understood by the person or those who transmit his or her story as authentic religious experiences (or in some cases like Simon Magus, inauthentic - remember the religious community holds the hermeneutical keys). Whatever may have happened in actuality becomes a religiously interpreted experience in our source.

Like miracles (which also may represent human experiences that have become religiously interpreted as miraculous), mystical experiences are very interesting to the historian because they tell us how the seer understands a number of things about his or her world. His or her religiously interpreted experience (particularly if the person is a founder of a tradition) can impact significantly the orientation and growth of the religion.

So although I won't say as an historian that a religion started when "God so-and-so appeared to Mr. so-and-so" and commissioned him (thereby making a religious claim historical fact), I can and should say that "one of the significant impacts on the origin of religion such-and-such is Mr. so-and-so's vision in which he understood God so-and-so to have commissioned him" (thereby understanding the religious claim as a hermeneutic that impacted the history of the religion).

The same is true of miracles. Although I won't say that Jesus walked on water (thereby making a religious claim historical fact), I can and should say that it is evident from the nature miracle stories that some of the first Christians understood Jesus in highly exalted categories, capable of doing what is not normally done by humans, like walking on water or multiplying food or walking through closed doors. These are actions that readers then and now would have attributed to divine men and gods, not your average Joe (thereby understanding the miracle claim as a hermeneutic that tells us something about early Christian theology rather than history).

Creating Jesus 2: Ground rules

Before we start on the adventure of determining how a Jewish rabbi became God, we need to establish the ground rules (our method and assumptions).

1. This is a critical venture, not an apologetic one. This is perhaps the most important ground rule we can put into place, and stick by at all costs. What the theologians back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries realized is that for the study of religion to be an academic enterprise comparable to the study of history or literature or the arts, it cannot be apologetic. If we want to understand how any religion comes into existence and grows, we cannot be invested in the promotion or rescue of that particular religion. We have to leave our own theological interests at the door.

2. We cannot grant special privileges to the religion we are studying. This means that we cannot allow for God to perform miracles when it is convenient for our explanations. We cannot suspend what we know to be scientifically true about our world and grant a religion special treatment or supernatural explanations. The critical study of religion is not about proving or defending one's own religious beliefs or the special claims of a particular religious community. It isn't about disproving them either. The critical study of religion does not amount to outsiders attacking what should not be attacked. It is about dealing fair and square with religion in an objective scientific manner using reason that relies on verifiable research, and not allowing for special knowledge of God, revelations, or privileges to be granted to the religion. For those people who want to use the post-modern avoidance strategy and argue that there is no objective truth but only pluralisms, well you need to go back and reread your philosophy and your science. Although the historical enterprise is recognizably subjective, this does not mean that it is unscientific or that it does not result in research that is as objective as possible.

3. We must suspend canonical thinking and boundaries. We must deal equitably with all of our ancient sources, having no preconceived judgments about them based on whether they are in or out of the bible, whether they support or deny traditional theological or christological formulations, and whether they were written by the winners or the losers in the battle over Christianity. There are no heretics or heretical literature, except in terms of how various historical groups may have perceived each other.

4. We begin with the assumption that Christianity did not fall out of the sky one day, but it originated on earth among human beings and developed in complex social, political, and religious environments.

5. The sources that have been left behind were written by human beings and reflect the complexity of the growth of Christianity.

6. Our sources are not neutral. They were not written to report objective factual history. They were written for a variety of reasons including apology and polemic and propaganda. They often reflect a communal interest, and thus do not necessarily tell us what happened but what the community wanted to happen, thought should happen, or wanted remembered about them.

7. Our sources are dependent on the human being, physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, socially. The stories they relate are the consequence of human experience and human memory which itself is a constructive process with many implications. Eyewitness testimony (even in those cases where we might have it in our sources) does not guarantee the "reliability" or "authenticity" of anything reported. Not only is intentional lying a possibility that we cannot simply set aside, but human memory (because it is a social constructive process) has been proven to distort. Social memory likewise.

With these ground rules in place, we will be ready to begin trying to figure out how Jesus became God.

Creating Jesus: How Jesus Became God (1)

Several people have been e-mailing me following my lecture on Jesus the Jew and the Jewish beginnings of Christianity at the Museum of Natural Science. The question they want answered is how this rabbi became God in the Christian communities.

This has always been the central question to studies of Christology and there have been many scholarly models which have varying amounts of success taking into account the vast amount of written evidence. What is certain is that Jesus was not being worshiped as a god by his disciples during his life. This came later after his death. The question is how long it took to happen, and how it happened that a "monotheistic" Jewish sect took on the worship of a second god.

I have worked out my own model and published the bones of it in a piece called, "How We Talk about Christology Matters," in Israel's God and Rebecca's Children. But I have decided to run a series of posts on the subject following Easter, the day of the resurrection. We will explore many items here, without Christian apology, to determine from the written evidence what likely happened all those years ago.

I want to begin by ditching the language of Christology that we have used in the past, particularly the "high" and "low" narrative. This is apologetic language developed out of Protestant seminaries that places judgment on the Christological narratives of the early Christians. If a Christian text says that Jesus had human parents and was a prophet, it is said to be "low" Christology and "adoptionist" because God adopted Jesus as his son. If a Christian text says that Jesus was of virgin birth and was the Son of God, it is said to be "high" Christology and "incarnational".

This language locks us in a paradigm of development from "low" (which must be earlier) and "high" (which must be later). It locks us into a view that "high" Christology is preferable to "low" Christology (a contemporary church view for certain!). And it breaks down once we get a text that says that Jesus was born of human parents but was worshiped as God (a branch of Ebionites), or that Jesus was a created being (a super-angel) and yet was worshiped as God (Arius), or a number of other known cases. Even Paul (whose letters make up our earliest testimonies) is hard to discuss within these categories, so we practically have to bend over backwards to "make" his testimonies "fit" our pre-conceived paradigms.

So it is time to get rid of the old language and paradigms, and put something new in place, something that we grow out of the evidence, without apology for Christian theology which has its own agendas. It is this new paradigm that I intend to blog about.

Next time: what made the first Nazoreans, the first Christian Jews, christologize in the first place?