How Did the Romans Crucify?–New Archaeological Evidence

The Science Channel (Discovery Science) is re-broadcasting its four part series “Biblical Conspiracies” tonight beginning at 7pm EST. Two of the programs are of particular interest in that they have reshaped the entire discussion about how the Romans crucified–in other words, how were victims in fact attached to a cross by nails? It now appears we have the archaeological evidence to answer this question and those of us who have thought for years that nails were put through the wrists not the hands were simply wrong.

Bible Conspiracies

Few have heard anything about the “Abba Cave,” discovered in 1971 in the north Jerusalem suburb of Givat Hamivtar–not far from the tomb of “Yehohanan,” the famous “crucified man,” discovered in 1968–about which much has been written. The Abba cave held the remains of another “crucified man,” with three nails–not just a single one in the heel bone–that clearly pinned the hands (not the wrists, as some have argued) in hook-like fashion to a cross beam. It was assumed back in the 1970s that these bones were buried and no longer available for analysis–but it turns out this is not the case. What is even more intriguing, the victim was arguably none other than Matitiyahu Antigonus–the last of the Hashmonean kings–who was both beheaded and crucified by Marc Anthony. in 37 BCE).

Despite recent nay-saying, by those who are apparently not aware of all the facts, including the available skeletal remains and nails mentioned here, the case that the tomb held the remains of a crucified/beheaded male, as Nicu Haas first indicated, is a convincing one, given this latest analysis from Prof. Hershkovitz. Also those who have argued that crucifixion nails went through the wrist not the hands, and that these nails are too “short” to be for crucifixion, are just mistaken. Hershkovitz has definitely clarified this issue. The nails are driven into the palm, then either angled or bent into a hook, not to hold up the body but to keep the hands and arms in place–thus “tacking” or pinning the hands to the wood behind. The hypothesis that this individual was the Hasmonean royal priest/king Antigonus turns out to be a live option.

In April, 2011 filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici released a film titled “Nails of the Cross,” part of a six-part series on the History Channel titled “Secrets of Christianity.” In this film Jacobovici claimed he had located two lost crucifixion nails, both of which had been originally found in the 1990 discovery of the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas. The implication, according to Simcha, was these these might well have been nails used to crucify Jesus that Caiaphas superstitiously had buried with him in the common belief at the time that such nails had magical powers–perhaps for healing or to guarantee good fortune in the afterlife. The reaction from biblical scholars and archaeologists was dismissive, charges of Easter-time sensationalism, and denials that there was any evidence these nails were either used in anyones crucifixion much less that they could be identified as coming from the tomb of Caiaphas. Prof. Robert Cargill offered the most expansive critique, which you can read here, and Simcha replied to him, point by point, here.

2-1 Sale: Restoring Abrahamic Faith: A Personal Manifesto

Many of my blog readers have copies of my book Restoring Abrahamic Faith but I wanted folks to be aware of the annual “Holiday” 2-1 sale on this particular book. I was thinking many who appreciate find this book might find it to be an ideal gift for friends and family. Here are the details on the sale and below is a post from 2010 where I describe the book, its history, and how I came to write it. Unfortunately, due to sky high international postage (more than the cost of the book!), this 2-1 sale is only offered to US domestic customers. I hope to have an e-book version out in 2015. Copies are mailed UPSP Priority Mail and shipped the next business day of the order.

Holiday 2-1 SALE through the end of 2014
Order any quantity of copies of Restoring Abrahamic Faith
and your order will be automatically doubled at no extra cost
All Copies are signed by the author
US Domestic Orders Only

Payments by Credit/Debit or Paypal via genesis2000.org or through Amazon.
Payments by Check to: Genesis 2000 mailed to:
Genesis 2000 Press
2124 Crown Centre Drive, Suite 300
Charlotte, NC 28227

RAFShadded

As a professor in a large and thriving Department of Religious Studies in a public/state university I make every effort to keep my personal religious faith and our enterprise as a faculty in the area of the academic study of religion properly separated. There is some debate in our field on this question with arguments on both sides as to what extent one’s implicit religious or political views should become part of the teaching discourse. Although there is no need to avoid matters of religious faith in the classroom, and indeed such matters are part of our study, my position is that personal theology belongs elsewhere–particularly for those in public education.

That said, like Frank Moore Cross and many others in our field who were raised in Christian contexts, I have found myself more personally drawn toward the complex of ideas, concepts, tensions, and even contradictions, reflected in the Hebrew Bible, as I have noted previously in my Blog post “Reflections on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.”

Back in 1991 I published a little book titled Restoring Abrahamic Faith with a small non-profit publisher called Genesis 2000. It was more or less in response to questions I was getting from many quarters regarding my own “beliefs.” It was mainly an attempt to save my “breath,” so I could refer it to those who were curious about my own personal faith, or the lack thereof.  Also, in the final chapter of my popular book, The Jesus Dynasty, that was intended for general audiences far beyond my academic arena, I did include, a final “Conclusion” that delved into matters of faith and the consequences of historical Jesus studies–mentioning my view of “Abrahamic Faith.” In 2008 in an expanded, 3rd edition was released.  It is now available either directly from the publisher (http://genesis2000.org) or through Amazon. And yes, alas, it also has a Facebook Fan page! You can read the preface to the book on-line here, as well as several endorsements and reviews.

Naming the Unnamed “Beloved Disciple” and the “Comforter” in John’s Gospel

Who was the unnamed intimate who “lay close to the breast of Jesus” at the last supper, the one to whom he passes on the care of his mother Mary, just before his death, and the “eyewitness” source that lies behind the traditions now embedded in the Gospel of John? And what about the enigmatic “Comforter” or “Helper” who is to come after Jesus departs–so they will not be left orphans?

In my book The Jesus Dynasty (Simon & Schuster, 2006) I offer my reasons for thinking that the enigmatic figure in the Gospel of John, described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” or more commonly, the “Beloved Disciple,” is none other than James the brother of Jesus. I am not sure who has suggested this over the years but I first encountered the idea from Robert Eisenman.[1] This is the unnamed intimate who “lay close to the breast of Jesus” at the last supper, and the one to whom he passes on the care of his mother Mary, just before his death. He appears to also be the “eyewitness” source that lies behind the traditions now embedded in the Gospel of John (21:24).

Jesus-and-his-brother-James

Jesus and his Look-Alike brother James in a Byzantine Portrayal

The traditional view that the Beloved Disciple was the fisherman apostle John, one of the sons of Zebedee can be traced back as early as Irenaeus (c. 180 CE) and was made part of the official Church History of Eusebius in the early 4th century. [2]  This identification, however “beloved” to so many, seems highly unlikely. After all, from the few stories we have about John son of Zebedee, he has a fiery and ambitious personality—Jesus had nicknamed him and his brother the “sons of Thunder.” They are the two that had tried to obtain the two chief seats on the Council of Twelve, one asking for the right hand, the other the left. On another occasion they asked Jesus for permission to call down fire from heaven to consume a village that had not accepted their preaching (Luke 9:54). On both occasions Jesus had rebuked them. The image we get of John son of Zebedee is quite opposite from the tender intimacy of the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” No matter how ingrained the image might be in Christian imagination, it makes no sense to imagine John son of Zebedee seated next to Jesus, and leaning on his breast.

Eusebius also mentions another John, “the Elder,”perhaps the author of the New Testament letters of 2nd and 3rd John, whom some have seen as a more likely candidate than John the son of Zebedee[3] This view has been recently defended by Richard Bauckham in his massive study, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. A good summary of the arguments pro and con for these two Johns as the “beloved disciple” is on-line here.

Today there are several dozens of books in print suggesting various alternative identifications. Ben Witherington and others have suggested Lazarus, brother of the sisters Mary and Martha, whom Jesus raises from the dead in the gospel of John, see here.  In the gospel the sisters send word to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3). This view has received some possible support from the fragment of “Secret Mark” that Morton Smith found, see here.  Mary Magdalene has also become a suggested candidate, despite the use of the masculine pronouns, see Ramon Jusino’s paper here. Most recently it has been suggested that an unnamed “son” of Jesus, whose identity had to be hidden, was the Beloved Disciple, see here. Some scholars have viewed the “beloved disciple” as a literary construction representing the “ideal disciple,” with no specific identity. James Charlesworth surveys all the possibilities with a full history of scholarship in his landmark book The Beloved Disciple, which I recommend as the best place to begin for readers with a serious interest in this question. Charlesworth ends up arguing for the apostle Thomas, an identification that I think is unique with him, while he is apparently unaware of the possibility of James the brother of Jesus–a choice that has not been part of the mainstream discussion.

Let’s take a look at the text themselves. The Gospel of John mentions the Beloved Disciple in only four scenes, all at the end of his narrative: at the Last Supper, at the Cross, at the empty Tomb, and on the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection. Since he is never mentioned earlier we really have very little to go on. Here are the texts in the RSV translation:

1) John 13:23-25: One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus; so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speakings.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

2) John 19:26-27, 34-35: When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home…But one of the soldiers pieced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth — that you also may believe.

3) John 20:2-8 So she [Mary Magdalene] ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. . . Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in. . .

4) John 21:1, 7, 20-24 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together…That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea…Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

It is also possible that the Beloved Disciple is mentioned in John 18:15 though he is not given that designation: “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. As this disciple was known to the high priest, he entered the court of the high priest along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the maid who kept the door, and brought Peter in.”

Based on these texts I would make the following points:

1. The Beloved Disciple is a male, not a woman, and since Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb and then runs to tell Peter and this “other disciple” whom Jesus loved, the news of the empty tomb, “he” cannot be Mary Magdalene.

2. Anyone mentioned by name in the Gospel of John, and especially in these latter chapters, 13-21, is likely not the Beloved Disciple, on the grounds that his identity is being veiled not revealed with a name. That means we can eliminate those mentioned in John 21:1-2, as well Philip, Andrew, and Judas Iscariot of the Twelve, but also Lazarus I think.

3. If we accept the reference in John 18:15 as referring to our figure, the Beloved Disciple seems to have priestly connections in that he is able to get Peter into the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, knowing the woman at the door.

4. The Beloved Disciple takes Jesus’ mother Mary into his care, when Jesus as the oldest son of the family was formerly responsible for the family as function “head of the house.” He is officially designated as the “son” meaning that he is now to carry on the caretaker function for the household that Jesus no longer could do. Whether this scene at the cross is to be taken as historical fact or not, I think it nonetheless reflects a tradition that Jesus’ mother was passed into the care of one who became the “son” in charge of the family, including his mother. Obviously he is gone from the scene and someone has to take over in terms of leadership in the family and care for his mother.

5. The Beloved Disciple is present at the last supper, and thus, based on Mark at least, possibly one of the Twelve, though John does not specify this, i.e., that the meal was with Jesus and the Twelve alone. The description of this disciple “lying close to Jesus’ breast” at the Last Supper indicates an honored place of proximity and intimacy. Jesus loves all his disciples but this particular one has a special place.

I am convinced that these traditions in the Gospel of John refer to a real person, not a symbolic figure. He should be known to us in other texts and in early Christian tradition by name. If we eliminate characters who are named in these latter sections of the Gospel, particularly Lazarus, Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Philip, Andrew, and James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, and Judas Iscariot, who is left?

Of the Twelve apostles it is noteworthy that the only ones not named in the Gospel of John are the “other” James, the “other” Jude, the “other” Simon, and Matthew. Jesus has three brothers: James, Simon, and Jude, as well as a fourth, Joseph. I think there might be some evidence, as I point out in The Jesus Dynasty, that Matthew is another brother, possibly even the one otherwise known as Joseph. This silence seems more than incidental or accidental.

Given these factors it seems to me that James the brother of Jesus surfaces as the best candidate. He is the one who takes over leadership of the followers of Jesus. The “mother and brothers” of Jesus are mentioned in the book of Acts as if they are intact and together (Acts 1:14). Although Luke is reluctant to name either Jesus’ mother or the brothers, given his emphasis on the dominance of Peter and eventually Paul as the main apostles, that he knows the tradition of the intact Jesus family, together in Jerusalem, gathered with the other followers is surely telling. And all the more so that he later has James as the clear head of the Jerusalem community (Acts 15:12-21). To have some other individual such as Lazarus, or the fisherman John, now functioning as caretaker over the family, just makes no sense at all with James present and functioning as leader of the community. I present arguments in my book that James the brother of Jesus was one of the Twelve, and is referred to otherwise as “James the less,” or “James the young one,” who has a brother named Joses. Mark names “James and Joses” as the two older brothers of Jesus. James the brother of Jesus also is known for his priestly orientation, even though his mother is Davidic if Luke’s genealogy is her own. As I discuss in the book, that line has a strong component of priestly/Levite blood running through it, just as Aaron married Elisheva, the leading princess of Judah. Hegisippus tells us that James wore the white linen of the priest, and a mitre of some type, and was allowed to enter the inner sanctuary of the Temple–perhaps as a representative of the Nazarenes. We also have the tradition in the Gospel of the Hebrews that James was indeed present at the last supper, and that Jesus handed over to him some kind of “garment” that signified his priestly office.

It is also possible that the references in John (14:16; 26; 15:26; 16:7) to the coming of “another Helper,” following Jesus’ departure, who will not only bring them to remember what Jesus taught but also “guide them into all Truth” is not the Holy Spirit, per se, but rather an individual or person who will be filled with the “Spirit of Truth” and thus not leave the disciples “orphaned.” This fits perfectly with the quotation in the Gospel of Thomas.

I think it likely that the community that ended up shaping the Gospel of John, as indicated in chapter 21:24, had access to eyewitness materials that originated with James the brother of Jesus. Much as in the case of the Gospel of Thomas, the final product that has come down to us is considerably expanded in Gnostic/dualistic directions and a heavy theological overlay. It is noteworthy that the Gospel of Thomas also highlights James as the one to whom Jesus had passed on his authority, in a Logion that some have dated as early as the 40s CE, even though in its present form this work seems far removed from the theological perspectives of the historical James. I think the same is likely the case with the Gospel of John. I close with the key quotation from the Gospel of Thomas:

 The disciples said to Jesus, “We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be the greatest over us?” Jesus said to him, “No matter where you come it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist.” (Logion 12)

It is also possible that the references in John (14:16; 26; 15:26; 16:7) to the coming of “another Helper,” (παρακλητος) following Jesus’ departure, who will not only bring them to remember what Jesus taught but also “guide them into all Truth” is not the Holy Spirit, per se, but rather an individual or person who will be filled with the “Spirit of Truth” and thus not leave the disciples “orphaned.” This would account for the way in which this figure is spoken of in such personal terms. This fits perfectly with the quotation in the Gospel of Thomas. We know that the Ebiionites understood the “Christ Spirit” to be one that “hastened through the ages,” and could pass from Jesus to his brother James in terms of inspiration, authority, and function.

In my book, The Jesus DynastyI argue that the recovery of faith by the disciples in the Galilee was largely attributed to the presence of Jesus’ brother James who well might have looked enough like Jesus to provide them with both guidance and comfort in their “orphaned” state. This would not preclude visionary “resurrection” sightings and “appearances” of Jesus, as Paul recounts in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, and indeed, many scholars see two traditions embedded here in Paul’s testimony–one based on an appearance to Peter in Jerusalem (Luke & John), and the other “to James and all the apostles,” only after they returned to Galilee (Mark, Matthew, John 21, Gospel of Peter).

 

  1. See his book James the Brother of Jesus, p.992n28/p. 120. []
  2. Church History 6. 25. []
  3. Eusebius, Church History 5. 24. []

Jacobovici Responds to Bauckham Review of “Lost Gospel”

Update: Bauckham has now posted Parts 3 his review of the book here as well as Part 4 which is a counter-response to Jacobovici’s initial response to his Parts 1 & 2, here.

Last week Richard Bauckham began a serial publication of his detailed assessment of the new book, The Lost Gospel, by Simcha Jacovovici and Barrie Wilson via Mark Goodacre’s blog. Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Jesus as the sun-god Helios/Sol Invictus Vatican grottoes under St. Peter's Basilica.

Jesus as the sun-god Helios/Sol Invictus Vatican grottoes under St. Peter’s Basilica.

Simcha has just posted a detailed response to Parts 1 and 2 at his Web site here and here. This respectful and informative exchange is most welcome.

Update: Bauckham has now posted Parts 3 his review of the book here as well as Part 4 which is a counter-response to Jacobovici’s initial response to his Parts 1 & 2, here.

Simcha also offers an overview of the thesis of his new book in a Huffington Post blog post, “Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene is Fact Not Fiction,” that is trending “most popular” on the Religion Home page this morning with 4.4K “likes”

In related news the Washington Post issued a correction and an apology for its initial story on the new book in which the writer had incorrectly asserted that Discovery TV, that produced Simcha’s 2002 documentary on the “James ossuary,” had called it “one of the top ten hoaxes of all time.” Neither Discovery nor any of its agents ever made no such statement and the source was actually Joe Zias, whom Simcha is suing for just that sort of libel. In fact Discovery aired two of Simcha’s subsequent documentaries on the Talpiot Tombs (“The Lost Tomb of Jesus” (2007) and “The Resurrection Tomb Mystery” (2010), both of which it still promotes on its web site). The companion documentary to the Lost Gospel titled the ”Bride of God” that will air on Discovery Science, December 14 and 21.

Simcha has also responded to Bill O’Reilly’s charge that he is “stupid” and that Jesus never had any brothers or sisters, see here.

 

JFK and Jesus: 50 Years and Counting…

The 51st anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy was all over the media this weekend and much on our collective minds. I happened to catch some of the CNN specials on “The 60s” with many reflections of our society and its changes–good and bad. Those of us in our 60s and older have very vivid memories of that day in Dallas–Friday, November 22, 1963. It all comes back so vividly. In my case it was truly a kind of “coming of age.”  I was a young 17 year old freshman in college at what was then Abilene Christian College sitting in 1st year Bible class–a required course for all students–taught by Carl Brecheen. Around noon someone knocked on the classroom door and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. An audible gasp of shocked disbelief filled the room and Dr. Brecheen had us stand as he led a short prayer, then dismissed the class so we could get to the nearest television. The country and the world were in a state of utter shock. That weekend is a blur as we clustered in groups around televisions with little to say other than “I just can’t believe it.” For me the election of 1960 was truly a “coming of age.” I felt with many of my friends that somehow our “world” had ended that day.I My father likened the experience to the shock over the Pearl Harbor attack, when he like hundreds of thousands of others joined the service the Monday after. The only thing remotely like it in my life has been September 11th, 2001, in terms of the collective shock.

JFK2

So now 50 years have passed and I began to think this morning about the generation living in Judea and Galilee in the time of Jesus 50 years after his shocking murder by the Roman authorities in April 30 CE. What were things like 50 years later–around the year 80 CE? What about those living at that time in their 60s and older, who had either known or heard Jesus or seen or heard about his death? What would they remember?

Crucifixion Fedor_Bronnikov_002

We know that the years 66-73 CE were horrible years of death, destruction, and societal disruption as a result of the Jewish Roman Revolt chronicled in such detail by eyewitness Flavius Josephus (Joseph bar Matthias). To understand better the background and foreground of the times I tell my Christian Origins students that before they even think about reading our New Testament documents if they are interested in understanding the Jewish Roman world of Jesus they need to wear out of a copy of Josephus’s Jewish War (Bellum Judaicum) published around 75 CE.[1] Josephus served as both a Jewish commander in the Revolt but following his capture a confident and friend of the emperors Vespasian and subsequently Titus and Domitian. Along with a copy of Josephus I would also recommend The Historical Jesus in Context (eds. Levine, Allsion, Crossan) for the broader context of the “life and times” of Jesus.

I think there is no doubt that the generation of those who had heard of or known Jesus 50 years earlier would have memories both vivid and faded–just as some of our own regarding the death of President Kennedy–which undoubtedly have been refreshed tremendously by photos and film in the intervening years. But still, 50 years is just not that long a time. We all have memories of people, places, and even events and conversations that reach back that far. But as every family knows when someone recounts such things at a typical family gathering there can be drastic differences on details of chronology and setting! But still, with over 40,000 books now published on John F. Kennedy, and an abundance of sources that would take a lifetime to even access–photos, letters, documents, films, and memorabilia–biographers still can’t agree on much about Kennedy–whether in life or death.

So what about remembering Jesus in 80 CE? There is absolutely no doubt that there would have been many who had known or heard–or even heard about–Jesus who would have vivid memories of him, his teaching, and even his death. The problem we face is that other than a basic framework in Paul’s letters (which date back to the 50s CE)–i.e., references to Jesus being crucified, to Cephas, to James his brother, etc.–we have no eyewitness accounts or even contemporary secondary sources that give us anything about Jesus. There is simply no comparison in terms of historical sources and materials between what we have on JFK and what we have on Jesus.

What we have is a single source–the gospel we call Mark, which most of us date in the 70s CE. The problem with “Mark” is that the name is merely a traditional designation–it is not part of the ancient work itself–and the writer neither claims to be an eyewitness nor presents material that one might associate with eyewitness testimony.

Mark is a theological production–a highly self-conscious literary presentation of what the author represents as the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, some manuscripts add “Son of God”). You might call it a “Drama about Jesus in three Acts” (roughly chapters 1-8a; 8b-10; 11-16). That does no mean it contains no history at all–indeed the basic narrative framework of Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem is generally considered reliable by most critical historians. That would include Jesus growing up in Nazareth, associating with John the Baptizer, preaching an apocalyptic message of the imminence of the Kingdom of God, gathering together a group of followers, healing and casting out demons, and confronting the authorities in Jerusalem at Passover in 30 CE.

But Mark is far removed from the kind of memories one would encounter in interviewing people regarding what they remember about November 22, 1963–or even talking to those who actually knew President Kennedy in one capacity or another. There is plenty of myth, legend, and anecdote floating around–since Kennedy has become such an iconic figure–but no dearth of firsthand oral memory.

And that is what we don’t have with Jesus. Mark was subsequently overwritten by Matthew, who used him as a source, reshaped his story considerably, and expanded it with blocks of “teaching” materials or “sayings” of Jesus that are not known to Mark. Matthew clearly has his own very theological agenda–and as with Mark, the name “Matthew” is a traditional association, not one inherent to the work itself. Despite the common assumption that he is an eyewitness (one of the Twelve!), the book itself never makes such a claim, and its content is never presented in the style of eyewitness material. Matthew’s sayings material (most often called the Q source by scholars) seems to have a history that goes back earlier than Matthew’s composition, but it is anonymous and amorphous, and much of it exists in a different version in Luke.

Scholars have expended an enormous amount of effort the past 50 years trying to systematically evaluate our gospel sources in an effort to get back to the historical Jesus.  We don’t all agree on our conclusions but the issues have been significantly sharpened and in some areas there is consensus.  I would recommend first and foremost Dale Allison’s works in this area, starting with his Jesus of Nazareth: Millennarium Prophet and then his more substantial work Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History. The latter work is deals specifically with the question of what was remembered, by whom, and how was it passed on and shaped. The one central insight that many of us share, including my own take on Jesus in The Jesus Dynasty, is, to quote Dale Allison, “our choice is not between an apocalyptic Jesus and some other Jesus; it is between an apocalyptic Jesus and no Jesus at all.”

It is this radical apocalyptic outlook that most heavily effects out ability to access “memories” of Jesus during the first 50 years. Not only was the world of 1st century Jewish Judea and Galilee utterly shattered by the Great War with Rome, but the hopes and expectations of the Jesus movement had utterly failed by 80 CE. What they most expected to happen never came–namely the “Coming of the Son of Man in the Clouds of Heaven,” and what they least imagined came about–the triumph of the Roman Imperial “Beast” over all enemies and opposition. In my view the early followers of Jesus are best understood 50 years after his death as emerging through the crisis scholars have characterized as “When prophecy fails,” brought on by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In my view S. G. F. Brandon’s monumental work, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church is among the most important work in the field of Christian Origins. I have written extensively on this phenomenon of early Christian apocalypticism, see my blog post “Getting Up to Speed on Apocalypticism,” here for some references and links.

  1. The Penguin paperback translated by Williamson and Smallwood is easy to obtain and a good first choice []