Seeing the Gospels through a Jewish lens: An interview with Amy-Jill Levine

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Image courtesy of Amy Jill-Levine

Image courtesy of Amy Jill-Levine

Image courtesy of Amy Jill-Levine

Image courtesy of Amy Jill-Levine

Jesus was a Jew who practiced a Jewish religion and preached mostly to Jewish people about Jewish themes.

I explored this idea earlier in the week through an interview with National Book Award winner James Carroll about how Christians often overlook Jesus’ Jewishness. Today, I extend this line of thinking a bit with a conversation with Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She has written a provocative book titled Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, wherein she discusses how reading the Gospels through a first-century Jewish lens changes many common interpretations.

Here we discuss her thinking and where modern Christians may be missing the point of Jesus’ most popular parables.

RNS: You self-identify as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Why are you so interested in Jesus and his stories? 

AJL: I am an historian who is doing what I love to do: studying Jesus with other people who also find him fascinating and inspirational. There shouldn’t be anything surprising about a Jew who is interested in Jewish history, and such Jews as Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, James, and Paul, are part of that history.

People who think of me as a misfit because I do not worship Jesus are operating under a category confusion. Faith is not based in logic; faith is not derived from empirical observation or historical data (see here 1 Corinthians 1:23) – it comes from the heart, not the head. [tweetable]Belief is not like Sudoku; it is like love.[/tweetable]

Image courtesy of HarperOne

Image courtesy of HarperOne

RNS: Many Christians live in the Western world. Do you think Christians have missed the “Jewishness of Jesus,” and if so, what difference does it make?

AJL: It is both common and appropriate for people to read the Gospels from their own perspectives–what academics like to call reading from one’s own “social location” or “subject position.” Therefore, people will see Jesus through their own lenses. If we can add historical information to those personal and cultural understandings, we can increase appreciation of Jesus’ message and the context in which it was first introduced. Indeed, if we take seriously our own social location, surely we should take Jesus’ location seriously as well.

Including the historical context also allows us to correct the false and toxic stereotypes of Jews and Judaism that have crept into pockets of Christian imagination across the globe. To regard early Judaism as epitomizing misogyny, xenophobia, elitism, legalism, militarism and see Jesus as inventing egalitarianism, universalism, solidarity with the poor, spirituality, and pacifism distorts not only Jewish tradition, it also distorts any understanding of Jesus and the Gospels.

RNS: You emphasize Jesus as Rabbi in your parables volume. Why is this important?

AJL: Jesus is the first person in literature called “rabbi,” which at the time–the late first century–meant “teacher.” The term “rabbi,” today thoroughly associated with Judaism, signals for Jesus his own particular Jewish identity.

For Christians, Jesus should be more than a Jewish teacher. But he must be that Jewish teacher as well. If his teachings were not of import to the Church, the Gospels would have skipped right from the Nativity stories to the Passion–right from Advent to Lent. To see Jesus as a rabbi, a Jewish teacher, is to take seriously what he had to say: his parables, interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel, apocalyptic pronouncements, ethical guides–and all of these teachings can only be fully appreciated if we see how they fit into their own historical context.

RNS: The power of parables is not just how they are spoken, but also how they are heard. Are Christians “hearing” the parables the way his first century audience would have?

AJL: There is no single lesson to any parable, or indeed to any story. The parables will mean different things to anyone who hears them. I do not want to dismiss any of these interpretations unless they are premised in a false reading of Judaism. Rather, I want to add to them by recovering, through historical imagination, what they might have initially suggested.

We do not hear the parables the way Jesus’ initial audiences would have heard them. First, we miss the allusions those first hearers would have recognized. Second, we are heirs to two millennia of Christian interpretation-–interpretations already begun by the Evangelists. Third, we miscue the genre: today parables are often seen as children’s stories, as statements of the obvious, or as designed to comfort. That original audience knew that parables were challenges, or even indictments. Finally, we often miss the humor. By domesticating the parables and ignoring their challenge, we lose their provocation, and their punch.

RNS: Which parable has been most misinterpreted by modern Christians?

AJL: Today, we hear that the “Good Samaritan” is about accepting the marginalized. Samaritans were not “marginalized” by Jews; to the contrary, they were the enemy. This fact also shows why the modern tendency to identify with the Samaritan is, although affirming for the Christian today, not what a first-century Jewish audience would do.

Or, we hear that priest and Levite ignore the injured fellow because they were following Jewish law concerning ritual impurity. The parable has nothing to do with purity laws; to the contrary, burying a corpse is one of the highest commandments in Judaism, a point made in sources ranging from the Deuterocanonical Book of Tobit to the writings of the first-century historian Josephus to the Mishnah and Talmud. Unless we know what the terms “priest,” “Levite,” and “Samaritan” suggested to that original audience, we’ll not only miss the parable’s profundity, we’ll promote negative stereotype of Jewish practice and ethics.

RNS: Which parable do you most radically re-interpret?

AJL: I’m hardly “radical.” I’m simply attempting to take seriously Jesus’ teachings as early Jews would have heard them. For example, the standard interpretation of “The Prodigal Son,” is that the father, representing G-d, surprisingly forgives the Prodigal, representing repentant gentile Christians. This is not a first-century reading.

First, by beginning, “There was a man who had two sons,” the parable evokes Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, etc. Thus the move to allegory is not needed. Rather, the parable sets up readers to identify with the younger son, and then, if we read carefully, it disrupts this identification.

Next, the connection of this parable to the immediately preceding parables of Lost Sheep and Lost Coin also disrupts a connection between father and Father: the man lost his sheep and the woman lost her coin, but G-d does not lose us.

Third, there is nothing surprising about the father’s welcome; nor is it clear that the son repented: his motivation to return home is hunger, not guilt. Finally, working for a pig farmer no more makes one a gentile than eating a bagel makes one a Jew. We do not have in the parable, in its historical context, an allegory about repenting and forgiving; we have a story about a man with a lost son.

In the first parable, the owner of 100 sheep notices one missing, and the woman with ten coins notices one lost: that is, they counted. Now comes the challenge of the Prodigal: Dad had two sons, and he didn’t count. He didn’t realize that he lost the older son. And so we are challenged: have we counted? Have we made sure everyone counts?

  • John McGrath

    I was brought up Catholic. It was very much emphasized that Jesus was a Jew and a rabbi, and that his encounters with Pharisees were not necessarily hostile. Quite the contrart, they were treating him as knowledgeable in Jewish Scriptures and as a kind of colleague, hence their challenging of him with tough questions, the way they challenged each other with these kind of questions.

    Thus in the Good Samaritan Story, Jesus is teaching a variation of the principle that “The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath,” a common principle among Galilean rabbis. In the story Jesus is not condemning the priest and the Levite for following the law against polluting themselves by touching a corpse. (Either they taught the man dead, or that he would die while they ministered to him.) he was simply asking exactly what he asked, “Which one practiced in batter way the Great Commandment, Love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, the members of the priestly caste (priests, Levites, Cohens) did a right thing, but the Samaritan did a better thing, The priest and the Levite were not being condemned.

    This story illustrated very Jewish way of posing moral questions in relation to the Law. When it comes to the needs of a human being, which should take precedence, the law or the human need?

    At least that was what I was taught in my Catholic school. Of course this was New York City where any priest or religious education teacher could consult with a Jewish rabii on an any of Jesus stories. of course, being a Ctaholic school, it was pointed out that Jesus had the lesson of “The sabbath being made for humanity” gently reinforced by his mother Mary at Cana, when she persuaded him to do the wedding party a good turn rather than insist on the priority of his mission and its timing.

  • Susan

    John, when did you go to a Catholic School? It sounds like it was post-Vatican II. I’m a Jew and I can only speak from my personal experience, but I haven’t met many Christians who grew up with the teachings about Jesus that you did. Perhaps the RNS needs to do a post explaining who an what the Pharisees really were.

  • John McGrath

    In the south Bronx when it was Irish, Jewish and becoming Puerto Rican. The pastor was a good friend with a rabbi. There really were Catholic publications along the lines i said, from the Paulists, I think. And much of it may have come from my parents, who had Jewish relatives in Europe (they were from Ireland, in perhaps the one diocese with a liberal tradition). In school we also learned about Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, the real and understandable fear of US Calvinists of an aristocracy, including bishops. My parents were always nice to the “wrong” people, including girls who got pregnant before marriage. My mother knew a lot of Jewish people. One of her nieces in Ireland converted to Judaism to marry a French secular Jew (she made him go back to synagogue). The family was fine with this, including Catholic clergy relatives. Most of the family now is non-religious but well informed on the history of religion in the West.

  • Val

    Jesus was not a Jew, he was a Christian!

    Jesus was only half-Jewish and that is doubtful. He was rejected by many Jews because he was illegitimate and it says so in the Bible.

    Jesus’s teachings hold hints of the philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, the worship of Isis, Essene teachings and Mandaen love of baptism, plus Gnosticism.

    His teachings were often in conflict with Judaen rules and regulations, he protested against the treatment of women and he worked on the Sabbath day.

    For today’s Jews to make a case that he was one is silly, he completely stood the religion on its head. Jesus was a Christian!

  • Val

    It was and is perfectly acceptable to work on the Sabbath day if the life or health of an individual is at stake. That is a very Jewish concept. That is what Jesus did when he worked on the Sabbath. He did so because he was helping people who were hungry.

    You include the Essenes in your list of Jesus’s influences. The Essenes were Jews. Jesus was obviously disagreeing with one variety of Judaism as prescribed by the Shammai school of the Pharisees, but that does not make him less Jewish. Jesus was in the Hillel school of Pharisees.

  • Susan

    According to Jewish law one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish. It doesn’t matter who the father is.

  • Troy

    How could Jesus be a Christian? Christianity is a movement defined by Jesus. Jesus isn’t defined by the movement though. Jesus was most certainly a Jew, the term Christian wasn’t even invented until later.

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  • If Jesus wasn’t Jewish why did he say, “I have only come for the lost sheep of Israel [the Jews]” ? (Matthew 15:24)

    Saying Jesus was a ‘Christian’ is like saying George Bush was a Democrat.

    Off the wall.

  • Susan

    The post above is my post. I meant to address the post to Val, in the comment section, but I made a mistake and put Val’s name in the wrong space.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Wow, Atheist Max! My respect for you just went up a bit! ( I say respect because your’re my favorite atheist! ) I respect the fact that though you claim you hate religion, you’re honest enough to stand for the truth. Thanks, Max!

  • Thank you, Laurence Charles Ringo.

    The legend of Jesus is the beginning of Christianity – but he, and its first proponents were Jewish.

    Like many other mystery faiths of the era, Christianity was an offshoot of an established religion (Judaism) and as the early Jews abandoned any notion that Jesus was a real messiah – so the Gentiles picked it up for themselves many years after Jesus (or some such figure, assuming he existed) had left the scene.

    The Gospel of Mark is a masterpiece of Greek allegory and it is so similar to other allegories of the era that there is good reason to think it was written after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 73 C.E. and was modeled on Homr’s Oddessey – In any case Mark is the oldest gospel.

    Mark’s first gospel may have been little more than an elaborate commentary about the trauma experienced by the Jews at the hands of Romans as their great temple was destroyed.

    “Judas” means “Jew” in greek and his emergence in the Jesus story may mark the beginning of the rift as the gentiles took the religion over – I am only repeating what I have read and am not authority on this.

    In any case, the trauma and misery of Christianity has caused the world is real though its founder was either imaginary or loosely based on some such figure who may have lived.

    “Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    Nothing about that leads to anything good.

  • Sorry my point in all of that was
    Jesus – if he existed – could only have been Jewish.

  • Jack

    Val, Jesus was (and is) Jewish. Be real.

  • Jack

    This is probably the only time I will ever agree with Max.

  • Jack

    Max, you should read the Jewish Annotated NT, which I believe Jill Levine edited.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Just read your post, Max…I’m curious…can you explain the concept of “gentile”Messiah? I’m not getting to what end and for what purpose the Gentiles would appropriate the Jewish Messiah.
    .. ?

  • @Ringo,

    “can you explain the concept of “gentile”Messiah?”


    A few years after Jesus died and his followers were being persecuted by Romans – Paul, a jewish soldier had a vision of Christ.

    Paul claimed that “Christ’s Love” was not just for Jews but also for Gentiles. This was apparently revealed to him personally. So Paul went to spread the the word of Christ specifically to Gentiles and it caught on – Read his letter to the Ephesians and you can understand his argument to the gentiles.

    A few decades later – the ‘Love of Christ’ had spread quite far and there were several churches. The excitement about this new religion seemed to validate the Messiah myth which might not have been much discussed by the gentiles up till then. It is likely that the Gospel of Matthew was written for the Jews at this point to support the growing sense that they were missing out on their Jewish Messiah.

    Around 300 C.E Emperor Constantine declared the Holy Roman Empire would be ‘Christian’. And it appeared that Christ had finally come to rule the world. Again, the more the Jesus movement succeeded the more he began to look like a Savior of the World – a real messiah.

    All of this success seemed to validate the claim (to many) that Christ must really have been the true Messiah of the Jews since he had appeared to conquer the known world.

    Read Paul’s argument from Third Letter to the Ephesians written in about 50 C.E :

    3 Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
    Christ Jesus made me his prisoner, so that I could help you Gentiles. 2 You have surely heard about God’s kindness in choosing me to help you. 3 In fact, this letter tells you a little about how God has shown me his mysterious ways. 4 As you read the letter, you will also find out how well I really do understand the mystery about Christ. 5 No one knew about this mystery until God’s Spirit told it to his holy apostles and prophets. 6 And the mystery is this: Because of Christ Jesus, the good news has given the Gentiles a share in the promises that God gave to the Jews. God has also let the Gentiles be part of the same body.

    “His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news. 8 I am the least important of all God’s people. But God was kind and chose me to tell the Gentiles that because of Christ there are blessings that cannot be measured. 9 God, who created everything, wanted me to help everyone understand the mysterious plan that had always been hidden in his mind. 10 Then God would use the church to show the powers and authorities in the spiritual world that he has many different kinds of wisdom.”

    “God did this according to his eternal plan. And he was able to do what he had planned because of all that Christ Jesus our Lord had done. …
    …. I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is.“”

    So Jesus became Messiah only after the success of the Christ movement.

    In other words:
    At first, Jesus was rejected by most Jews as a Messiah.
    But Paul saw Jesus as Messiah of the whole world – not just for Jews.
    After the Jesus movement became dominant over the entire Roman Empire that once persecuted him (thanks to Constantine) Jesus became Christ of the known World and the Messiah story seemed to make a lot of sense. Christ had seemed to conquer the world just as a Messiah would be expected to do.

    Many Jews were never convinced as they are not convinced today.
    The Marcianites believed Jesus was his own God and not a Messiah. But that idea died out.

    Meanwhile, the Gentiles bought the Jewish backstory as part of the Jesus they already knew. To them he was Christ as well as Messiah. The Jews who had rejected Jesus would never be forgiven by the Gentiles who “knew better.”

    The Gospel of Matthew was particularly effective at pointing out that Jesus was a Jewish Messiah because of connections it includes according to the Old Testament Scripture – Matthew makes several connections of Jesus’ life from ancient prophecy – particularly from Isaiah.

    When Jesus became the Messiah of the world – it came with all the other baggage of Yahweh.

  • @Ringo,

    Maybe a timeline will help. Dates are approximate.
    I have paraphrased for brevity.

    How Gentiles accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

    30 C.E. – Jews reject Jesus as Yahweh’s Messiah.
    50 C.E. – Paul, a Roman soldier persecuting early Jesus followers hears Jesus say, “Preach to the Gentiles”

    70 C.E. – Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple are destroyed by Rome. One Million Jews are horrifically slaughtered by Roman soldiers
    73 C.E – Gospel of Mark “Jesus was revealed Messiah at death” – Gospel of Mark ends in deep despair.

    Success of Jesus movement
    appears to influence the next Gospels.

    85 C.E – Gospel of Matthew: “Hey Jews, Jesus was Messiah from baptism”
    90 C.E – Gospel of Luke: “Hey, Gentiles, Jesus was Messiah from Birth!”
    100 C.E – Gospel of John: “Hey, Everyone, Jesus was God AND Savior even from the beginning of all time!”

    312 C.E.- Constantine declares Jesus is Christ
    Christianity is decreed for all of the Roman Empire.

    By the time Jesus Christ victoriously ‘conquers the Roman Empire’ in this way in 312 C.E. – all of the Gospels explain the Jesus story.

    Jesus as “Messiah” (both God and God’s Savior) is the dominant story line.

    Today, for Christians, Yahweh and Jesus are completely intertwined.

    For Jews, Jesus is just another Jewish prophet.
    Ironic, isn’t it?

    The Holocaust of Jews at the hands of Rome had to have a profound effect on these Gospels. The warning about “666” Anti-Christ is known to have been Nero. There are deep, heartbreaking longings in these gospels which we can barely understand.

  • Jack

    LOL……The World According to Max…..

    Max, where did you get the idea that Paul was “a Roman soldier?”

    I suspect it was from one of the conspiracy sites you apparently frequent.

  • Jack

    The Gospel of Mark is hardly a “masterpiece of Greek allegory.” It is a no-frills, first-out-of-the-box attempt to put the story down on writing about the earthly fate of the One the apostles and disciples were preaching about. What followed Mark were the other gospels in which further detail was furnished.

    And given that Luke was written later, and was likely written when Paul was still alive, since that was true of its sequel, the Book of Acts, it is unlikely that Mark was written after 70 CE/AD. Scholars have argued about the dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) for quite awhile, but part of the reason for the continued rift is that many of them can’t believe that Jesus actually foretold what happened in 70 — ie the horrific destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from their land. Unfortunately, getting hung up on the foretelling makes it difficult to analyze the texts with sufficient rigor and look for more mundane clues on dating.

    But the big picture over the past century is how the scholarly community has been dragged kicking and screaming to accepting earlier and earlier dating of the four gospels. Anti-supernaturalist biases have given way to accepting the tangible results from modern archeology, and more professionalized biblical analysis and study. The field of biblical criticism has improved, resulting in a marked reduction in quack theories borne out of creative speculation.

  • Jack,

    “he was not a roman soldier”

    Paul was a radical Jewish Pharisee and Likely a member of the Zealots – a band of thugs persecuting Christians in the decade before the fall of Jerusalem operating with permission from Rome. He likely carried weapons and certainly could not have done so without full blessing from all local Roman authority. A ‘soldier’ with Roman permission to kill Jews fits the description of Paul completely.

    I remind you that the ‘Christians’ he persecuted were all JEWISH.
    The Romans were in conflict with all Jews as the war for Jerusalem drew near. Not just the small groups who were adopting Jesus.

    I pointed out I was editing for brevity!

    Roman soldier is fine shorthand under the circumstances. Read some recent books on these matters. Your ‘knowledge’ is way out-dated!!

  • @Jack,

    “Conspiracy sites…..LoL”

    Which conspiracy sites are you talking about?
    Instead of that, why not look at a book?

    Paul was a radical Jewish Pharisee, a member of a thuggish group called the Zealots who rounded up the followers of Jesus (not yet called Christians) – the zealots were allowed by the Romans to use their weapons to directly to persecute and kill these Jews going house to house.

    The Pharisees were cooperating with Rome 100%. Paul would have been obedient to Roman Law.
    That is why my shorthand for Paul is ‘Roman Soldier’.

    Within a decade or two of the Roman siege on Jerusalem would kill 1,000,000 jews.
    The Sadducis did not survive the siege – all were killed off.
    But the Pharisees, who had been cooperating with Rome survived and thrived after the sacking of the Temple.

    Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus around 37-39 C.E. and he flips allegiance from Rome to the Jews following Jesus. He writes one of his letters to ‘brothers’ from prison.

    Only after Paul’s preaching do these Jews start calling themselves ‘Christians’ and it happens at Antioch in 44 C.E.

    There is no record of Jesus before Paul’s letters .

    Mark’s Gospel is an Allegorical story – WRITTEN IN GREEK – a boilerplate chain of events similar to other allegories.

    Mark was written around 73 C.E. decades after the first letters of Paul and a year or two after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans.

    The “prophecy” of Jesus foretelling the fall of Jerusalem is a retro-fitted story. It is like saying the Red Sox were going to win the World Series again someday – then writing all about it after it happens. Such ‘prophecy’ is not worthy of any respect.

    The dream of vengeance against Rome for the fall of the Temple shows up in Revelation.

    That is why I call Paul A ROMAN SOLDIER.
    THE PHARISEES (his first allegiance) Rejected the Jerusalem Rebellion and wanted Rome to continue in power.

    But the SADDUCCIS died with the Temple.

  • Jack

    No, Max, “Roman soldier” is not “shorthand” for Paul. That’s kooky. As you yourself have rightly pointed out above, both Paul and the Christians he was persecuting were Jews. Back then, before Christianity was established as a totally separate religion, the fight between them was a religious dispute between two groups of Jews over who Jesus was. In the first century, the Romans couldn’t care less about such religious disputes per se…..they only cared when they felt Roman rule or public order was threatened. Once they decided they were threatened, they would respond like the brutal oppressors they were. But the norm was hands-off on religious matters. The great exception was in Rome itself, where Christians were treated brutally and Jews were expelled for a bit.

    The Romans were horrible, but they had nothing to do with Paul’s early persecution of Christians, and when Paul was persecuting them, he was in no way acting on orders from Rome. Again, it was an internal religious struggle — a bitter family dispute back then among Jews — with passions very high on all sides.

  • Jack

    And no, Max, while Paul was a Pharisee, he definitely was not a Zealot. The only Pharisees who had anything to do with the Zealots were from the School of Shammai. Paul shows every indicator of being taught by the School of Hillel, which opposed the Zealots and ultimately opposed the rebellion against Rome decades later. The School of Shammai was consequently decimated by the rebellion of 66-70, whereas the School of Hillel lived on, founded the academy at Yavneh under ben Zakkai, and were the precursors of the Judaism of the next 20 centuries.

  • Jack,

    “Romans couldn’t care less about such religious disputes”

    That is like saying the USA doesn’t care whose side the Sunnis or the Shiites are on – you have too narrow a view of things.

    The Romans took sides and sought allies before the rebellion in Jerusalem.
    Not regarding Jesus who was not even on the radar! But between the leaders of Jerusalem The Pharisees and the Sadducees.

    The Romans wanted support from the Pharisees and they got it.
    The Sadducees refused – and later died for it.

    In 34 C.E. Paul was a Pharisee Soldier – a member of the Zeaolots – in cahoots with Rome ‘dealing’ with the problem of other Jews who were getting away from the law. The objective was to keep the Jews in line and tamp down talk of rebellion.

    The road to Damascus changed Paul and he switched allegiances away from Rome and toward the new Jesus Cult.

    The rest is painfully obvious.

    The Gospel of Mark – the first Gospel – is an expression of agony about the losses suffered and the demand for Rome to acknowledge and be judged for its crime against the Jews.

    “SURELY THIS MAN WAS THE SON OF GOD” – Roman Soldier (Centurion) (Mark 15:39)

    Matthew later ADDS AN Earthquake to the Roman’s line to make sure the point is NOT LOST ! (Matthew 27:54)

    Mark’s Gospel is a 1st century Greek allegorical tale, written in Greek (as are the other gospels) about the suffering of the Jewish people who died under the thumb of the evil Romans. Mark is a literary masterpiece – but it is almost entirely fictional. We have no idea what might have been true in it.

  • @Jack,

    “The Gospel of Mark is hardly a “masterpiece of Greek allegory.””

    Oh, good grief.
    It is a brilliant, astounding work of fiction. And its parallels with other Allegories are ridiculously obvious. Please don’t be that ridiculous!

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Wow, Max…and you were doing so well…for a minute.Oh, well. Once you get caught up with the quasi-historical pablum of the frequently debunked liberal so-called”biblical”scholars, if the Bible EVER contained any truth, that will soon turn into myth, fable, legend, whatever you want it to be. No wonder atheists flock to these individuals; once their own need to disbelieve is undergirded by a flimsy foundation of razzle-dazzle pseudo – theological academics–voila!! The atheists feel vindicated in their unbelief because, well, Dr./Professor MUST know what he/she’s talking about, right? After all, the believers have their agenda…and on it goes, a never ending merry-go-round, everybody talking past one another. Sad.

  • @Ringo,

    “Wow, Max…
    if the Bible EVER contained any truth, that will soon turn into myth, fable”

    The Gentiles accepted Jesus as the Messiah
    because the Gospels told the story that way. That is truth.

    Thought I was just answering your question.

    You’re welcome.

  • JACK

    “Max, while Paul was a Pharisee, he definitely was not a Zealot.”

    I was a “ZEALOT” – Paul (Acts 22:3 and Galatians 1:14)

    Why do Atheists know so much more about the Bible than Christians?
    Oh, right.
    That’s how we became ATHEISTS!

  • Jack

    Max, your ignorance of history, especially Jewish history, is palpable. You should sue your history teachers. And when your mistakes are identified, all you can do is repeat the nonsense you’ve memorized rather than defend yourself with facts or logic. I’m certain that this is exactly how you handled critics when you were a theist. Zero critical thinking then — and zero critical thinking now.

    To sum up, yes, Paul was a Pharisee, but no, he was not a Zealot (LOL) and no, he was not a Roman soldier (ROFLOL).

    I feel like I’m talking to a child. Maybe I am in a way.

  • Jack

    LOL…..that’s not what it says, Max…….

    Here is what Acts 22:3 says:

    “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in the city. Under Gamaliel, I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was JUST AS ZEALOUS for God as any of you are today.”

    Read that again, Max. He was saying that he was just as zealous for God as the people he was addressing. He was not saying that he was a member of a party called the Zealots.

    I hope you can tell the difference.

    Similarly Galatians 1:14 says this:

    “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was EXTREMELY ZEALOUS for the traditions of my fathers.”

    In neither verse does he say he was a member of the party known as the Zealots.

    In both verses, he is simply saying he was zealous in his religious practice.

    Again, I hope you understand the difference.

  • Jack

    Max, Paul was a Pharisee, not a Zealot. The texts you cited to the contrary quote Paul as deeming himself zealous in religious practice…..that is hardly the same as saying he was a member of a party called the Zealots.

    As usual, you have twisted the Bible to make it say what it doesn’t say. Your credibility is shrinking each time you do it.

    And no, the Gospel of Mark is not a “Greek allegorical tale,” but a sparse, unadorned, terse, and perhaps hurried account of how Jesus ended up dying by crucifixion. The only reason it was in Greek is why the rest of the NT was in Greek….it was the lingua franca of that area of the world at that time. Calling it a “literary masterpiece” is laughable, with the writer laughing harder than anyone over the thought were he here to do so.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Thanks, Jack-you beat me to it!! Frankly, I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for Atheist Max to stick to reading the Scriptures as they should be read and understood; his propensity for wrenching the text out of its correct sequence is starting to wear.Keeping Scripture in its proper contex is the ABC’s of sound exegesis, any informed student of Holy Writ would know that. The fact that Max failed to ascertain the difference between a Zealot and being zealous does not bode well for his expositional skills, which, frankly, are sadly lacking.

  • Jack

    LOL….Where in the world did you get the idea that the Gospel of Mark is a “literary masterpiece?” It is a pedestrian work and was not meant to be anything close to being a masterpiece. I don’t mean to insult the writer of Mark, but rather to point out that the writer wasn’t trying to write a masterpiece. He was simply trying to relate what happened to Jesus, especially to those who had heard the story orally.

    An example of a literary masterpiece is the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was one of the most astonishingly talented writers of the ancient world. Hebrew scholars rhapsodize over its beauty and eloquence.

  • Jack

    Max, since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, you can believe anything you want and cite whomever you wish in support of your contention. This is getting a little silly. The point is that the writer of Mark didn’t set out to be Homer. Moreover, a comparison of what’s in Luke and Matthew and what is not in Mark makes it clear that Mark is simply the first attempt to tell the story of Jesus — a story told as a biography mostly of his teaching ministry, trial, death, and resurrection, a biography whose purpose was to aid in the evangelization work of the earliest Christians.

  • Jack

    No, Max. Once you examine the evidence carefully and thoroughly, reading all sides, the simplest and most straightforward explanation is this:

    The Gospel writers and indeed a whole generation of disciples of Jesus were simply telling us the truth about what happened.

    The only alternative is to believe one form or another of a hopelessly complicated web of conspiracy theories, none of which hold up under scrutiny.

    I realize you find that personally inconvenient, but life and reality are not made for you…’s the other way around.

  • Jack

    Wrong about the Saduccees…..they were the priestly class that ran the Temple in Jerusalem and were the closest to the Roman garrison there. The high priest, like the Roman governor of Judea, was essentially a Roman appointee.

    The common people generally hated the Saduccees precisely because they saw them as in cahoots with the Romans. The Talmud calls the family of Caiaphas the priest a family of robbers of the people.

    To present the Saduccees as enemies of the Romans is absurd. They were the most conspicuous collaborators with the Romans.

    As for the Pharisees, again, the schools of Shammai and Hillel went opposite ways during the rebellion against Rome, with Shammai disciples siding with the rebels and seeing them as successors to the Maccabees and Hillel disciples opposing the rebellion as being tantamount to national suicide. The disciples of Shammai largely perished while those of Hillel survived the rebellion and went on to become the precursors of the Judaism of the next 20 centuries.

  • Jack

    I also realize that for you, Max, evidence that the Gospel is true is the last thing on earth you want to see. You are emotionally invested in your foolish decision to replace ill-grounded faith with equally ill-grounded skepticism.

  • Ringo,

    “I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for Atheist Max to stick to reading the Scriptures as they should be read and understood”

    Maybe because they are not factual?

    And I have worse news for you.
    The letters of Paul possibly inspired most of the Gospel of Mark and all the later gospels.

    I know you are googling all of this stuff and you are shocked that I am right. But you won’t admit it.

  • @Jack and Ringo,

    I never told either of you I was an expert. I reject the notion that Athiests need to explain themselves.

    No matter my imperfections of analysis
    – the burden is on you (not me) to explain why YOUR idea about the Bible is accurate. I’m talking about the claims that Jesus was GOD!
    I’m talking about resurrection! I’m talking about Matthew’s Zombies!

    Regardless of my knowledge I have not closed any doors (as you clearly have) regarding where the evidence appears to lead!

    I have read countless books on Christianity – 1000,s of hours I have spent on this and still I would NOT claim to be an expert.

    I happen to think it is fascinating that The Gospel of Mark was written in reaction to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE

    “1. The Gospel of Mark was written as an allegorical fiction
    2. The author of Mark was a Christian follower of a Pauline sect
    3. The author of Mark was familiar with the letters of Paul
    4. The Gospel of Mark is not based on any prior narratives about Jesus
    5. Almost all the scenes in the Gospel of Mark are symbolic and/or literary allusions to the Hebrew scriptures
    6. The author of Mark regarded the earlier Jewish oriented Christ movement as a failure”

    – R.G. Price

    I realize that Price is not everyone’s favorite Biblical analyst
    and I don’t know enough to refute all of his points.

    I’m a fan of Bart Ehrman but he just gets angry at Price and Carrier on the topic of Jesus existence without offering a coherent argument as to why it is true. (just like you two are doing)

    Ehrman’s book about the existence of Jesus was by far his worst book.

    Whatever the bible is….it is impossible to claim it as FACTUAL!

  • Jack,

    Know what?

    Despite all your LOL’s you have not shown a whiff of reason to agree with you. Yet that is your burden, not mine.

    There is no evidence for Jesus in any of your arguments and there is ample evidence that my sources are correct on every point.

    Jesus may have been entirely created by Paul, a traitorous Pharisee full of regret for taking the wrong side against the Jews early in his life.

    1. The Saduccees were slaughtered by Rome.
    2. The Pharisees survived the siege of the Temple because they had cooperated with Rome.

    3. Paul was a member of the Zealots – working with Roman authorities to keep the Jews in line before the siege. The Zealots failed as the rebellion proceeded anyway.

    4. Gospel of Mark was written after the destruction of the Temple, not before. All other Gospels followed and claimed Jesus to be messiah.

    5. Paul was a Pharisee cooperating with Roman authorities going house to house alongside them ( a roman soldier).

    6. The character of “Jesus” is full of hate for the Pharisees. And only the Pharisees who convert to Christ are acceptable. This appears to be entirely Paul’s idea. Jesus may have started out as a creation of Paul.

    All of my analysis is a BETTER explanation than YOURS!
    The burden is on you, not me.

    Want a true LOL?

    Tell me again how many ZOMBIES visited with Thomas as they walked around Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52)
    And tell me why Thomas forgot all about those ZOMBIES the following week (John 20:25)

    Cuz that’s a lot more plausible! LOL!

  • Jack,

    “you can believe anything you want”

    Actually, no. I can’t.
    If there is no evidence I cannot believe it. That’s how Atheists like me operate.

    Show me evidence for any of your claims and I would have to confront the FACT of the evidence. I have no interest in empty claims.

  • Jack

    Max, you need to admit when you’re mistaken on a simple question of fact, or certainly not keep reposting something as fact when it already has been refuted through direct quotation from the source. It’s called being an adult and taking responsibility rather than covering up.

    As you well know, this refers to your claim that Paul was a Zealot and your misuse of two passages which show nothing of the kind. I quoted them verbatim to make that clear.

    Your failure to take responsibility for repeated mistakes in quotations leads people to question whether they can believe any of your quotations, which you regularly deploy as weapons against the Bible.

  • Jack

    Wrong, Max. Your desperate attempts to make points against the Bible by misquoting the Bible are speaking progressively louder. You were caught in two lies in less than a day. And given your cavalier response, it’s clear you have no intention of changing.

    Thus, people would be wise to fact-check all of your quotes, because you cannot be trusted not to misquote or even to accept responsibility when you do.

  • Jack,

    “Max, you need to admit when you’re mistaken on a simple question of fact”

    You have not refuted my statements with anything close to evidence of the contrary.

    “I quoted them verbatim to make that clear.”

    The quotes confirmed that Paul was a zealot – not the contrary.

    “Your failure to take responsibility …”

    Oh good grief! The Bible is a bauble from ancient times. Scholars don’t agree completely and I reject your assertion that my scholars are worse than yours!

    I choose my scholars because they appear to make the most sense out of a distant work of ancient GREEK literature. The Bible is fiction – and it doesn’t matter to me what you believe about it.

    Just don’t tell me all about how I need to be ‘responsible’ while you defend the bible as A TRUE WORK OF NON-FICTION!

    That is IRRESPONSIBLE. Whatever the Bible is, it is not a true story!
    Shame on you for telling people that ZOMBIES walked around in Jerusalem for real!
    Shameful nonsense.

  • Jack,

    “desperate attempts to make points against the Bible….”


    ZOMBIES walked in Jerusalem, according to your Bible.
    You think I am ‘desperate’ to make points against ZOMBIES?
    You think I’m desperate to clear up how that isn’t real?

    The Bible is self-refuting hogwash!

  • Jack,

    “You are emotionally invested in your foolish decision….to..skepticism”

    ZOMBIES, Jack!

    Yeah. It is really a foolish decision of mine to abandon my emotional ties to the truth of ZOMBIES.!

    ‘Cuz that sounds so possible and so obviously REAL! LOL!

    Tell me again how many ZOMBIES visited with Thomas as they walked around Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52)

    And tell me why Thomas ***forgot*** all about those ZOMBIES the following week (John 20:25) ?

    “Unless. I see..I will not believe” – Thomas
    Right. So he hadn’t seen any zombies before?

    Saying the Bible originated from a leprechaun living under a mushroom would make more scholarly sense than to say this book is true!

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Do yourself a favor, Jack: Stop beating the dead horse of Atheist Max’obstinacy, and move on. It’s obvious he’s dead set on seeing things his way, bolstered by whatever fringe so-called”scholar”he can unearth, so…Pray for him, and keep it moving, proclaiming the Scriptures as Truth and Jesus as Lord.Peace, Jack.

  • @Jack,

    “To present the Saduccees as enemies of the Romans is absurd.”

    No, jack.
    ZOMBIES are absurd.

    None of the analysis I presented is remotely problematic when compared with your far more ridiculous answer – that it is a TRUE document.

    For crying out loud. The problem isn’t the Saduccees – a trivial debating point.

    The problem is your Zombies (Matthew 27:52) and all the other completely ridicule-worthy claims of your bible. Indefensible nonsense.

  • @Jack,

    “Where did you get the idea that the Gospel of Mark is a Greek Masterpiece”?

    Marilyn Mellowes, 1998:
    “The way Mark tells the story suggests that his audience lived outside the homeland, spoke Greek rather than Aramaic, and was not familiar with Jewish customs. While there is disagreement about where Mark wrote, there is a consensus about when he wrote: he probably composed his work in or about the year 70 CE, after the failure of the First Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple at the hands of the Romans. That destruction shapes how Mark tells his story.”

    Also it is clear you have not read the book, “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” by Dennis MacDonald

    MacDonald demonstrates so many parallels between Mark and Homer that something is clearly going on!

    “MacDonald’s conclusion that the author of the gospel of Mark in many significant places is imitating Homer poses a profound challenge to current scholarship on the history of early Christianity and the historical Jesus.”
    Mary A. Tolbert, Pacific School of Religion

    MacDonald also wrote, “Christianizing Homer and The Legend and the Apostle” which I began reading only a month ago and have not finished.

  • Jack

    Well, Max, anyone who has read the progression of posts on your erroneous claims that Paul was a Zealot — including your being caught misquoting scriptures, denying it even after I supplied the correct quotes, and now lying about the whole episode despite the trail of posts that shows everything — can see who and what you really are. At the very least, it shows you can’t be trusted on anything you claim to be citing. From now on, people are going to have to fact-check your purported quotes, even the familiar ones, to be sure you haven’t played games with the words.

    I wonder, too, how much of your life story corresponds to reality.

  • Jack

    The problem, Max, is that your credibility is in tatters. You habitually misquote scriptures and continue doing so even when confronted with it, you repeatedly get simple historical facts wrong, confusing all of the main groups and actors of the first century with each other, and when called on it, you refuse to be an adult and accept responsibility, while continuing to cite the same errors as if nothing has happened.

    It has gotten to the point that nothing you say can be assumed to be true. It’s not just a problem of carelessness……but one of simple honesty.

  • Jack

    Nice try at wiggling away, Max. You claimed Paul was a Zealot and then supplied two citations. I quoted from both citations, showing how they said nothing of the kind. You then ignored what I posted, hoping no one would notice. Then you denied the whole thing, pretended nothing happened, and then repeated that Paul was a Zealot.

    That’s the pattern of a liar, Max, and a big one at that. When you repeat an error that’s already been corrected as though it never was corrected, even when there’s a trail of posts showing it was and that you knew it was, that’s more than just lying…..It’s the mark of someone who has a serious problem with objective reality.

  • Haggadai

    One thing this discussion forgets is that the remaining apostles formed a church centered in Jerusalem under Jesus’ brother, James. James, as the brother of Jesus, got into various disputes with Paul over Jesus and the idea of reaching out to gentiles. The disputes and the Jamesian church were extirpated when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 CE. Thereafter, the Greek Christian view of Jesus predominated, using largely much of the Greek mythology, as espoused by Luke and Mark, i.e., the person who dies and is resurrected again.

  • Stephen Lewis

    Test post.

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