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The Jesus Legend 2: A Jewish Legend of Yahweh Embodied?


The authors set out to argue that the religious environment in the time was not conducive to believing in a divine Jesus, therefore we must account for the spread of Christianity with a cause outside of simple cultural evolution. A few questions jump up at me:

  1. Are there examples of religions breaking the bonds of culture in the past?
  2. Need we take into account the many, many views of Jesus that arose parallel to what survived?
  3. Is it true that Jesus was seen as divine early on (didn’t that divinity start in John, the oldest Gospel)?

They argue against eight points that scholars put forward to say that the Jewish community in the first century was Hellenized to the extent that they would be open to a divine man. I don’t know how important it is that the community be Hellenized. Must it really be so for the Jewish community to have an evolving tradition?

Kindle Notes:

The eight arguments for a religiously hellenized Palestine, together with the more general argument for a highly flexible monotheism, form the basis for the contention of some legendary-Jesus theorists that first-century Galilee was the kind of place in which a legend about a miracle-working divine man naturally would have arisen (1763).

Note: We don’t need to show that a divine Jesus as likely to have arisen in that cultural environment, only that it would be more likely than supernatural events.

To the contrary, the evidence suggests that precisely because they were surrounded by pagan culture, Jews were highly resistant to any encroachment of paganism upon their distinct monotheistic religious beliefs (1822).

widespread-there is no evidence to suggest that the use of Greek would have inclined the Jews toward Hellenistic religious ideas (1881).

We conclude, therefore, that the inference that Galilee must have been open to significant Hellenistic/pagan influences on matters of religion simply because it was in proximity to major Hellenistic cities is misguided speculation (1900).

In sum, the evidence suggests that the Hellenistic aspects of Sepphoris during the time of Jesus were largely superficial and did not impinge upon the religious life of the Jewish people who lived there (1924).

Such evidence strongly suggests that the Gentile population in Galilee exercised no significant influence, religiously speaking, on Galilean Jews (1976).

the evidence suggests that “by the first century CE, the chief routes bypassed Galilee.” He goes on to argue that “nothing in the literary or archaeological record suggests that Galilee was practically overrun with visiting gentiles (1996).

we must judge the argument for a strong Hellenistic influence on the basis of this alleged “occupation” as misguided (2013).

How significant were the economic, cultural and religious tensions between Galilee and Judea? And how significant is the claim that we find no synagogues in Galilee prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE? Does it imply that Galilee was less Jewish and more vulnerable to pagan influences than Judea? In our estimation, it does not (2015).

There is, therefore, no good reason to use the meager evidence for “divination” we find in first-century Judaism to draw the conclusion that their religious worldview had been significantly hellenized in a pagan direction (2104).

In this chapter we have seen that there is no compelling reason to suppose that first-century Jews as a whole-including Galilean Jews-were open to a revision of their basic religious convictions via pagan ideas. Related to this, we have seen that there are no grounds for supposing that the monotheism of first-century Jews had become so “flexible” that we might expect a legend about a man being identified as God to arise (2190).

In his estimation, these resurrection experiences “involved an encounter with a figure recognized as Jesus but also exhibiting features that convinced the recipients that he had been clothed with divine like glory and given a unique heavenly status.”153 With this, it seems, we find ourselves faced with a plausible explanation for the rise of a high Christology within a first-century monotheistic Jewish context (2210).

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