Jewish Calendars -- The different Jewish calendars of ancient times provide one possible explanation for the time differences of Jesus' death in the synoptic gospels compared with G. John. What became the traditional Jewish calendar (luni-solar, adjusted) would have Jesus executed at one time while the solar calendar (very symmetrical calendar attested by most of the relevant Dead Sea Scroll texts) suggests a slightly different time. In John, Jesus on the cross is portrayed as the Passover Lamb himself, removed from the cross at about the time the Passover lambs are being slaughtered -- see G. John 19.14 and 31 (compare Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.7!) -- whereas in other traditions Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples before his crucifixion.
Because the traditional Jewish calendar is lunar based (with a solar adjustment every third year), holidays move to different days of the week from year to year. Trying to match the days as mentioned in the Gospels, some have concluded that the events could have taken place only in 27, 30, or 33 CE during the term of Pilate.
We also have indications, however, of an alternate (solar) Jewish calendar
of 364 days (divisible by 7, for equal 52 weeks -- divisible by 4 for seasons
of 91 days, each season 3 months of 30 days plus a one day holiday between).
The idea is that under the solar calendar, Passover would start after Tuesday
sunset, giving more time for the otherwise hectic sequence of events leading
up to Jesus' crucifixion, according to the gospel traditions.
All of the Gospels, and other sources, mention brothers (and sisters) of Jesus, and some "scenes" regarding these also include his mother Mary. Jacob/James "the brother of the Lord" and Judas Didymus Thomas ("the twin") are two of the more famous alleged kinfolk of Jesus.
Early "Catholic" tradition came to maintain the continued (perpetual) virginity of Mary, interpreting the "brothers" of Jesus as half-brothers by Joseph in a previous marriage. This is also similar to the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
By the 4th and 5th centuries, some Catholic interpreters extended perpetual virginity also to Joseph, and in that context "brothers" became cousins. Catholic traditions also extended the idea of a pure birth, untainted by original sin, back to Mary, which is referred to as the "immaculate conception" (of Mary; not the same as the "virgin birth" of Jesus).
Protestants tend to hold that Mary had other children by Joseph after the birth of Jesus -- the passage in G. Matthew 1.25 states that Joseph and Mary did not have relations until after the birth of Jesus. This would seem to imply that Mary and Joseph did have relations later, but those for whom Mary is "ever-virgin" offer other interpretations of this passage.
The Language Problem: What language did Jesus speak? [see above]
The Translation Problem:
- since Jesus most likely spoke Semitic, and the preserved sources are in Greek, there is a problem of translation.BACKGROUND OF THE GOSPELS
E.g. in the "Lord's Prayer" in G.Matt 6, the word "trespasses" (King James Version; see also G.Luke 11) can also be rendered "debts" (Revised Standard Version). Probably a Semitic word with both meanings lies behind the Greek. Different translators with different backgrounds may have different understandings of ambiguous words.
This material is mostly contained in writings called "gospels" ("gut + Spiel" -- German for good news [Greek "evangelion"]). Some of them became canonical (included in the New Testament) over time, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Others are classified as extra-canonical or apocryphal, such as the (Sayings) Gospel of Thomas. The Gospels are usually given names associated with Jesus' disciples (G. Matt, G. John) or with specific groups (G. Hebrews, G. Ebionites).
The "gospels" are written in a Greco-Roman literary style. It is in the genre of epic-like storytelling of heroes, presented as a semi-biography
Sources: "Q" source (German "Quelle," or more specifically, "Spruchquelle" = sayings source) is defined as material common to Matthew and Luke, but not found in Mark. The Gospel of Thomas (the sayings of Jesus) MAY have been related to this "Q" material or stratum in some way
How did the materials we now have get to be written? How did the
sayings of Jesus come to be preserved?
The primary vehicle initially was probably oral transmission in early Christian groups, and use of the traditions in preaching and instruction
Categorizing the gospels
Differences in style indicate that the authors knew Greek, but for the most part weren't sophisticated authors (except perhaps Luke). Comparisons of chronologies (e.g. between G.John and the synoptics) can be revealing. A more obvious comparison is that of content. Comparison of similar Jesus stories that differ only in details (such as the story of his birth) usually indicate multiple traditions.
By drawing such comparisons, we see that the Gospels are not first-hand accounts but rather compilations of materials from different sources. This is explicit in Luke, but nearly as obvious when a passage like "the Sermon on the Mount" (G.Matt 5-7) is considered, which appears to be a collection of popular sayings attributed to Jesus. So, while we can't know if any of the accounts actually happened that way, we can say something about their popularity and variety when the Gospels were written.
Possible locations of the synoptic authors: Perhaps Luke was in Asia Minor preaching to the Gentiles while Matthew was in the area outlying Palestine
The People who wrote the Gospels and their motives
An illuminating parallel in our own day is to be found in the translation of religious texts. For example, Roman Catholic traditionalists translate references to Jesus' "brothers and sisters" in a less-than-literal sense ("cousins"), out of conviction that Jesus had no brothers or sisters since both Mary and Joseph are considered perpetual virgins. Theology thus influences interpretation. A similar phenomenon is evident in the different versions of the Jesus stories. We can't know what actually went on ("Paul doesn't seem to *care* about the historical Jesus," emphasized the prof), but by comparing different sources, we can get some idea of the motives that formed early Christian literature.
Eg. One was the influence of scriptural expectations on the Jesus traditions -- Jesus often plays a role in a story that "just happens" to fulfill some prophecy of old. Such stories were probably invented, or at least emended, to "prove" that Jesus was the Messiah. Another good example is the comparison of the scene of Jesus' resurrection at the end of the Gospels, where the location of Galilee is stressed in some Gospels but not all (see G.Luke!). This then may imply a geographical bias on the part of the authors and/or their most trusted sources (where did "Luke" get this information?).
The diversity of the audience caused the problem of heresy when Jesus' saying were viewed by different people on different terms. The Gnostics and Mystics viewed Jesus as one who spoke mysteries of personal salvation. Some others viewed Jesus more as a political rebel or reformer. Some saw him as an apocalyptic preacher. Since we can only know Jesus from materials written by people who held these different views, it's difficult to unmask the real ("historical") Jesus.
The role of "faith" in Christian tradition: for some, it involves belief that everything in the Bible is God's word and beyond questioning, which is radically different from an academic approach (such as this class).
When did people start to use the gospel materials?
There are a lot of claims about the date, but there are no unambiguous materials for precisely dating the composition of the gospels. However, the gospels were mentioned around 180CE (Irenaeus) and 150CE (Justin). According to Papias (around 130CE), the LOGIA, or Oracles of "the Lord" were written down in Hebrew by Matthew and others translated Matthew's material into Greek in various ways; Papias also claims that Mark was Peter's secretary and companion in Rome and recorded Peter's preaching about Jesus.
The year 70 CE is a pivotal point for dating the gospels. It is the year when the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman forces. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus "predicts" the destruction of the Temple.
Both within the Gospels and in other sources, it is clear that early Christians focused on recording the teachings of Jesus -- particularly with the earliest impetus of end of world expectations. Thus many events in the Gospels may have been reconstructed from sayings, because little attention was paid at the time to record the actual sequence of events. As waiting for the end subsides, push for different kinds of materials grows -- to provide a history, a textbook, etc.
Themes found in the Gospels:
Jewish law [circumcision, kashrut], what Jesus said to certain individuals, Jesus talking about end times
How do the "synoptic Gospels" (Mark, Matthew, Luke) relate
to each other?
The author of Luke-Acts claims to have used sources; to what extent are earlier sources visible to us, looking back through the preserved accounts?
Convenient Presentations of the Synoptic Problem can be found in "Gospel Parallels," "Gospel Records," "Gospel Synopsis," etc. They align similar accounts. See the link at RelSt 435 to a web based synopsis.
By studying the synoptic problem:
1. Even for people with a traditional Christian background, the problems are there in the texts, showing the human aspect of the gospel accounts and their transmission.
2. Modern scholarship tries to handle the Synoptic Problem now as a scholarly pursuit without the theological involvement.
Examples of Synoptic Problems
1. The Birth of Jesus:
Divorce is adultery, thus not permitted, and there is no exception based on Paul, Luke and Mark. In two different places G.Matthew has Jesus teach that divorce is not permissible, except under certain conditions of sexual impropriety. Perhaps the author of Matthew came from a community that was more sympathetic toward divorce.3. Time of Crucifixion:
the "synoptics" and G.John have different accounts of when Jesus was crucified relative to Jewish Passover. There were at least two different Jewish calendars in the 1st century CE [see above for details].4. Accounts of Judas' Death:
THE INDIVIDUAL GOSPELS
Matthew: Judas refuses the pieces of silver. Judas hangs himself. The chief priests decide to buy the potterís field as a place to bury foreigners (Field of Blood). Acts: Judas bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This field became known as Akeldama (Hakel-dama), Field of Blood. Papias: Judas swells up from an illnes and dies in his home. 5. Instructions at the Empty Tomb (see separate file): Mark: Abrupt ending in the oldest manuscripts which makes it difficult to get the full picture. The women came to the tomb. They saw a man (human or superhuman - it's not clear) saying that they would see him in Galilee as he told them (see above - "He precedes you into Galilee...") The women then left without saying anything because they were afraid. Perhaps the original gospel ended here. Matthew: almost the same as Markís except that the women go and tell the disciples, and Jesus does infact appear to them in Galilee and nowhere else. Luke: "man" appears to the women and says "... Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man... and on the third day rise again." As we noted, the earlier "prediction" by Jesus of his anticipated troubles does not specify an appearance in Galilee. (In Luke/Acts, Jesus appears only in the Jerusalem area and not in Galilee.) John: there is no voice or person at the empty tomb with instructions - only Peter and the unnamed disciple go to the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene tells them that Jesus is not there - they saw and believed; includes a vague reference to departure, not at all like the synoptic tradition ("Where I am going, you may not now follow...") G. Peter: says that the disciples were told that Jesus arose as he said and "departed there whence he was sent" G. Nicodemus: "he is not here... has risen as he said... is in Galilee..." - the guards later report that the angel told them that Jesus has risen and is in Galilee 6. Appearances: Mark - in one of the endings to this gospel, says that later Jesus was eating with them and after speaking to them was taken into Heaven Matthew - the 11 disciples went to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had ordered them - Jesus then gave the "great commission" (literally, "when you go, make disciples of all nations...") - there is no hint that they saw him before they went to Galilee Luke - no hint that he appeared to anyone in Galilee - the Emmaus appearance is in the Jerusalem vicinity; the disciples returned to Jerusalem and Jesus stood before them - while he blessed them, he departed from them John - what appears to be the original ending (ch. 20) has its focus in Jerusalem, over the space of at least a week's time; the "appendix" (ch. 21) moves the scene to Galilee! G. Nicod - Jesus and his disciples were sitting (in Galilee) on Mount Mamilch - while he spoke to them, he was taken into Heaven 7. Gospel Parallels
Sermon on the Mount (plain): (as found in Matthew and Luke)Sermon on the Mount becomes source for the Lord's Prayer, although in G.Matthew's sermon, the prayer seems to be a "late" insertion into the surrounding material (compare G.Luke!).
The Beatitudes: (as found in Matthew and Luke)
two different applications (abstract, economic) of same wordsMatthew says "blessed those who hunger for righteousness"8. Other synoptic problems found under RelSt135 - Problems in Jesus Traditions
Luke says "blessed the hungry, cursed those who aren't"
Take into account that..
There are major differences, in time and place, in these writings - this is less noticeable in popular Christian use, where they all tend to be harmonized (Jesus first appeared in Jerusalem, then went to Galilee, etc.) This probably represents early geographical rivalry between followers in Galilee (which is where Jesus and his first followers apparently came from) and followers in Jerusalem, whence Luke may have derived much of his information on these matters There is also a question between the time of the appearance and the disappearance - how long Jesus remained with his followers after he rose from the dead. (In some Gnostic traditions Jesus taught for 3 & 1/2 years after he rose - this is already mentioned by Clement of Alexandria.)
The Gospel of Matthew: unique to G. Matt are 11 passages claiming "fulfillment" of certain Jewish "prophecies," including 5 concerning Jesus' birth and infancy; G. Matt has strong connections to Jewish Traditions; G. Matt is closer than other authors of the gospels, maybe reflecting close conflicts with the Jewish Pharisees because the author portrays them in such an unfavorable light.
*Matthew seen as most Jewish gospel but not always positive stance towards Judaism [e.g. Matthew has a Jewish flavor saying "Kingdom of Heaven" instead of "Kingdom of God" because some Jews avoid saying the name of God, but Matthew 23 says beware hypocrites -- anti-certain types]
The Gospel of Luke (and Acts): the author of Luke-Acts probably borrowed materials from Matthew and Mark, as well as other sources, and put things into a more "historical" framework, for gentile readers.
The Gospel of Mark: thought to be written before Matthew and Luke. Matthew and Luke thought to have used Mark as a source.
The (Sayings) Gospel of Thomas: The complete Sayings Gospel of
Thomas is preserved in Coptic, a form of writing the Egyptian language in
Greek characters. 3 fragments have also been preserved in Greek. These have
been dated by some to around 200 CE. The Coptic text came from the Nag Hammadi
discoveries, where 13 codices were found in 1946/47. The Gospel of Thomas is
made up of 114 sayings of Jesus.
"Thomas" was not a proper name, but is a Semitic term for "twin." His name was Judas, with Didymus (Greek for "twin") and Thomas as nicknames, and he was listed as one of the 12 original followers of Jesus.
Why the (Sayings) Gospel of Thomas was not included in the New
Certain individuals and groups in power made the decisions. It was probably not included because of its use by Gnostics; therefore the group that developed into the most powerful, dominant Christian group opposed it.
There was a theological struggle between the Gnostics and what came to be the dominant group. Gnostics believed that the material or physical world was bad and believed in the ideal spiritual world. Whereas the others believed that Jesus or God created the physical world so it was therefore not all bad.
The Gospel of Peter: Fragmentary work found at Akhmim. Did not survive in living community. Found buried in a grave.
Why it is called Gospel of Peter:
there are other authors who mention a gospel of Peter (they said it was used by Gnostics) and the speaker claims that he is Peter.
The beginning is missing, but the fragment starts with the trial of Jesus.
The Gospel of Mary: this is a work called the G of M because Mary figures heavily in the text. It is a papyrus found in Egypt. Part of the beginning is missing.
The Secret Gospel of Mark: The late Morton Smith (Columbia U) claimed to have found a copy of a letter in Greek written on the end pieces of an 18th century book in a remote monastery. The letter talks about a Secret longer Gospel of Mark used only by the elite Christians and hidden from the common Christians (because they wouldn't understand it). The letter is from Clement of Alexandria. This argues that the current Mark is not the earliest Gospel but it is a condensation of an earlier, longer work. Some believe that Smith forged this letter (because the book has since disappeared) but Kraft thinks this highly unlikely.
Epistle to the Apostles: Survived and copied in Ethiopian church. Describes Jesus on a mountaintop revealing things to his disciples.
Infancy Gospel of James (Book of James, Proto-evangelion Jacobi): James reported to be the brother of Jesus (this is mentioned by Paul in Galatians); this book is about the birth of Mary (that she was born in purity) and her giving birth to Jesus. There is the confirmation (by a midwife) of the virginity of Mary after the birth of Jesus. This book helped establish the reverence for Mary in classical Christianity.
Infancy Gospel of Thomas: Some believe Thomas was in India at the time of this writing. A collection of stories that illustrates Jesusí power of nature. Some ideas were: antagonisms against Jesus, tongue in cheek style writing, lessons, or simply stories to show that Jesus' word was done. These writings became mainstream in Greek and Latin Christianity, so it has been preserved and copied.
In one story Jesus makes birds out of clay on the Sabbath, and then gives them life. In another Jesus tells a kid who has run into him to die, then blinds the dead boy's parents and then gets in trouble with Joseph -- of course, it all works out in the end! In another Jesus raises a kid who has died after falling off a roof.
The Infancy G of T was on the margins of writings considered acceptable and survived in many copies in the Greek and Latin churches. There were many books that haven't survived, some from when Christianity was not recognized legally (it wasn't until 300's that Christianity was fully permitted and groups were allowed to meet publicly etc.).
Synoptic Problem FAQ (concerning the following can be found at this website)
- custom of releasing prisoner at Passover from Christian text not found anywhere elseFinally:
- mode of crucifixion: at this time Jesus' "crimes" would call for crucifixion if the Romans were responsible; probably stoning would be the equivalent Jewish punishment (see the Stephen story in Acts 6-7)
- while he was on the cross, a spear was thrust into his side according to one tradition - blood and water flowed, suggesting to some modern interpreters that he had already expired (much more quickly than normal)
- "Delay of the Parousia" means that Jesus the Messiah had been present, is now gone, but we are anticipating his return. Jesus said to some of his followers, "You will not taste death until you see the kingdom coming." This did not occur, but the saying is still preserved. It could possibly have been given a less literal meaning by early Christians. Professor Kraft suggested that it could have been placed in the gospels in such a context that favored a less literal interpretation so as to avoi d embarrassment.
- since the earliest Christians were Jewish, it is possible that they didn't want it to seem like the Jewish leaders put Jesus to death and thus tended to place blame on the Romans
- a few years later Jesus' brother James was stoned. Why? For what? And why wasn't Jesus killed in the same way?
- Who was there (of Jesus' followers) to report what had happened? And why were women reporting in this society (instead of men/male disciples)?
-Are these the focus of Jesus or the focus of the people collecting the sayings/narrative?
-Could it be that the earliest followers of Jesus apocalyptically oriented therefore transformed their approach to Jesus?
-Earliest purvayers had influence on what Jesus' self-conscious was -- how much?
-Was Jesus a misunderstood man? It is possible that Jesus was misunderstood. Professor Kraft suggested that this depended on who Jesus was and to whom he was speaking. If he had stoic/cynic views and was speaking to people who had apocalyptic v iews he might easily be misconstrued.
Josephus: lauds Jesusís praises in a doubtful passage that was probably souped-up by Christians to serve their religious agenda
Tacitus (c. 120CE): mentions a "Chrestos" ("noble one" in Greek) who was executed under Pilate. The similarity of this name to the word "Christos" ("anointed one") led to a brief analysis of the uncertain ty involved in our study. Did Tacitus actually write "Chrestos?" If so, was this "Chrestos" Jesus Christ? Where did Tacitus get the term? Was it a miscommunication, or perhaps another title used by early Christians for Jesus? If the la tter, was this term a corruption of "Christos," or is perhaps the popularity of the term "Christos" due in part to its similarity to this term? And so on.
What is most likely derived from Jesus?
If something is attributed to Jesus and not commonplace to Judaism of the time or early Christianity (not placed in his mouth) then most likely authentic ((i.e. "Only God knows that end" but later people said Jesus knew everything, so they had to explain his words -- this gives a certain authenticity))
CONTEMPORARY VIEWS ON JESUS
Albert Schweitzer: educated in medicine, an expert organist, and at the same time he took up theological subjects to study; he mastered all three fields
his doctoral dissertation was his study of how scholars studied Jesus claimed that not enough attention was paid to Jesus of the 1st century he argued that present studies have fitted Jesus into modern times he argues, because Jesus thought the end of the world was imminent, his teachings have a "timelessness" because everyone is approaching the end of their worlds (death), so Jesus' teachings about a world that is ending continues to be relevant this study brought about the end of the "old quest" for the historical Jesus and brought about the "new quest" the "third quest": a move back towards more credulous historical analysis wrote "The Quest of the Historical Jesus ((he attempts to figure out how Jesus really was and how modern studies of Jesus have distorted him)) a contrasting search is for "The Christ of Faith" ((seeing Jesus through the eyes of those who believe))
Ehrman's Chap 15 (The New Testament: Hist Intro to Early Christian Writing) is the single most important chapter in that book for dealing with the Jesus traditions
idea of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet remember that even if some sources are "primary" in terms of their antiquity, they may be "secondary" in that they are not eyewitness accounts or written by the participants we cannot assume that we have a solid knowledge about Jesus one has to be aware of ancient perspectives in presenting Jesus then we look at how modern scholars view Jesus and the sources
Rudolph Bultmann believed that de-mythologization was only one part of the needed program
he wanted to keep Jesus relevant to people he wanted to deal with what were the problems common to humans then and now, and how they could be solved in a Christian context
Robert Funk was the leader in putting together the controversial Jesus Seminar -- he was a senior scholar, taught at various schools, and was the executive secretary of the American Society of Biblical Literature about 25 years ago
he became involved in groundbreaking endeavor founding "Scholar's Press" which provided an inexpensive way to publish technical works under the control of the scholars themselves was committed to "de-mythologizing" Christianity also, to get behind "mythology," and figure out its meaning "Existential Christianity" deals with human existence thus he believed that Jesus was a very important representative of God in history, even if we could not know much about him in detail Funk is concerned that what goes on in scholarly circles doesn't get much publicity. He wanted to get it more exposure and to get scholars together as a group, invite reporters, and have public discussions of the problems However, the resulting "seminar" was not really representative of all scholars (it is a self-selecting group) So far the seminar has discussed the "Q" materials and has developed an unusual way of voting with colored tokens "Crosstalk" was set up for people to communicate with scholars
anything he claims to know about Jesus is a product of his assumptions of how Jesus fit into 1st century Judaism an apocalyptic Jesus is embarrasingly wrong, since it's been 1900 years since his end of the world teachings and the world continues to exist Kraft has no intent in requiring us see things the way he does, but just to recognize the issues and consider consistent solutions.
[Edited and formatted by Christina C. Lee, Fall 2001]