Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The New Testament Class

Dudes.. seriously.. you gotta get a book called The New Testament; A Historical Introduction to Early Christianity by Bart D. Ehrman. Bart also wrote "Misquoting Jesus" which i also highly recommend. why do i loooove this book/class so much? well it really helps bring into focus the historical world of Jesus. Here are some thoughts from the book:

Many christians today think that there was once ONE christianity in the first century and that the splits (i.e. the many denominations) of christianity are a modern invention. NOT so. There were at least 4 types, if not more. we had the Jewish-Christian Adoptionist that thought Jesus was not himself divine but his message was. Calling Jesus God was a blasphemous lie. They liked the gospel of Matthew and thought Paul was a heretic.

The Marcionite Christians on the other hand LOVED Paul and thought that Jesus was Divine and NOT human. Marcionites believed that the Jewish god was evil and Jesus came to save us from this god. Marcion (the leader) actually went further and put together a "canon" or standard books. Their bible was a shortened version of Luke and ten truncated letters of Paul with NO Hebrew Scriptures.

There were the Gnostics who believed that there was a special knowledge that is necessary for salvation. Salvation meant escaping from this material world. Jesus was fully human but yet was entered into by another entity known as the CHRIST at his baptism. therefore jesus was two beings. Gnostics were also polytheists believing that there were at least 32 different gods and some even believed there were 365 gods and each one controlled one day. They had their own writings, namely the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Truth, and the GOSPEL OF JOHN. Yes, that's right, John is a Gnostic gospel.

Proto-Orthodox christians claimed that it's views had always been the majority position and that it's rivials (meaning all you've just read about) were heretics. They later became the dominant form. They accomplished this by taking everyone else's major gospels, namely matthew, mark, luke and john and claiming that these held the real authority. these christians argued that jesus was both divine and human and was one being instead of two. by accepting all scriptures as authorities they were able to claim that both perspectives were right and showed their emphasis was correct and that argue'n that Jesus was ONLY human or ONLY divine was a perversion of the truth.

so that's how the New Testament emerged, namely out of conflicts from these groups. and we've been debate'n the acceptance of what books should be in the bible ever since. there were some popular ones like the shepherd of hermas that didn't make it. Revelation was the MOST disputed book, but somehow made it in. It was not until the year 367 C.E. (almost two and a half centuries after the last n.t. book was written) that the 27 book N.T. canon was accepted.

another thing to think about is the gap between writing. Mark was prolly the first Gospel written about Jesus... it was written 30 to 40 years after the death of Jesus. This would be like having the first written record of the Eisenhower presidencey appear today. There is also NO written reference to Jesus or his followers in pagan literature toay from the first century of the common era.

crazy facts for a crazy world. now we don't have to say "i wanna go back to that one time christianity" when we never had it. even the early church set up was split between 5 major ancient cities. gotta love history, it's so crazy interesting!


Cody said...

Why are historians' reconstructions more legitimate than the testimonies of the Church Fathers who wrote during the period?

Luke said...

umm... i don't get it. what i'm saying is that the church emerged from these views specifically the proto-orthodox for reasons afore mentioned.

plus when reading the histories, the fathers never agreed. they started with the fact that rome would be the first among equals and then bickered around the 9th century (mainly over the infallibility of the pope and the ascendency of Rome) and separated from then on. greek orthodox now claims to be the first and only apostolic church. but then again so does rome.

Cody said...

I'm probably reading something into your post that's not there.

What often seems to be behind these reconstructions is the assertion that the orthodox position was arrived at through the suppression of other positions, and is therefore morally suspect. This ignores the fact that the heresies were excluded for v. good reasons. Moreover some of the reconstructions tend to purport to tell us what 'really' happened while relying on empirical or literary criticism methods that aren't ontologically better than those of traditional theology.

I haven't read the book so I shouldn't say too much. On what basis does it make the claim that John is a Gnostic gospel?

Cody said...

Another question: how did they reach the conclusion that Mark was written such a long time after Jesus? (it's interesting that you, along with some authors I've read, say the 'death of Jesus' rather than the 'resurrection of Jesus' or the 'ascension of Jesus', but I digress)

Luke said...

Erhman would say the orthodox position was arrived at not "through the suppression of" but acceptence of important aspects of the other positions. this fact doesn't make it suspect but provides a clearer understanding of what the early church was going through. definately check the book out.. it's a good read.

i always think unity is called for and must be made possible. the orthodox unity of the early church was tenuous at best until rome tried to assert supremacy around 1040s when the Great Schism occured. the church was never a unified front but what we make of this is what matters. some would say scrap the whole thing, some would say God speaks to all believers (priesthood of all believers) and some still would say the Church is the only way to go. and within these considerations, we must get the historical background for and underpinnings of each.

Elane Pagels writes a lot on the Gospel of Thomas and other "gnostic" texts. she prefers to use the term "syrian traditions" and notes how John parrells and attacks these books in a round about way. she really covers this in "beyond belief" a really interesting read. check it out if you have time.

Luke said...

well. the dude did die and prolly around 30ce =/-. plus the death is well agreed on, the resurrection we have no idea how long he was down on earth, so it's easier to date from the death of rather than the ressurection of.

as for the dating there's a few ways to arrive at that.. i'd suggest reading the book to get the full range... but short of it is the 70ce date is largely due to the Two-source hypothesis that proposes that Mark was one of the sources for the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Luke, the dating of Mark according to this viewpoint depends on the dating of Matthew and Luke.

There are differing opinions of course...

Anonymous said...

I take Ehrman with a grain of salt - ie: he is onto something but he is also off of something.

I think Ehrman does well to expose some of early Christianity's schisms - which likely all occured after the early community was dead and gone - I think from that point on - Gentile Christianity becomes the normative experience.

I think the real problem with Christianity is it's abandonment of the Judaic faith and Tanakh interpretations (and severe split from anything even remotely Jewish). One has to think the first community was Jewish and these authors are Jewish - thus we need some Jewish interpretations and background. Problem is, find me that in any of the churches on this planet?

Gentile faith dominated this faith from after the death of thr spostles until what we have at present - raising for me a hell of a lot of questions about Christianity's very validity and theological viewpoints (even the creeds are in question). I think we have inherited faith that resembles what the early church taught - but stripped it of anything Jewish in interpretation.

I have Ehrman's book also - but the one's the speak to me loudly and clearly about our faith is the one's with Jewish interpretations (like The Forgetten Jew and now I am looking into rabbinical works - like Joshua Heschel). Their stuff sounds a lot like our stuff - but wth more integrity...my opinion.

Luke said...

"I think the real problem with Christianity is it's abandonment of the Judaic faith and Tanakh interpretations"

preach on!!! yeah! i agree. the rabbinic class i'm taking maybe the most important and eye opening class i will take here at seminary. as for ehrman, a colleage summed it up for me that Ehrman is trying to get over his inerrant and fundamentalist background. he just wishes he would keep that baggage out of what he gets printed. thanks for the comment!

James said...

One small comment. Josephus Flavius does mention Jesus of Nazareth in Antiquitues.

Of course there are controversies surrounding some manuscripts of Antiquities that contain highly exalted Christian like language when describing Jesus that Josephus would likely have never used. There have been discoveries of other manuscripts though, one in Arabic, that do not contain this exalted language. These discoveries seem to indicate that Jospehus most likely did indeed write about Jesus of Nazareth in the first century. He also famously makes refernce to James' execution.

Luke said...

"Josephus Flavius does mention Jesus of Nazareth in Antiquitues."

absolutely! but it's extremely short saying something close to "a man named jesus had followers in judea. he was crucified by pilate."

that's all.