Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Christ Conspiracy: On the Jews ... (Chapter 20, pt 4)

[post in progress, will add references]

The other half of the chapter about Alexandria asks the question 'why was this mythical savior figure historicized as a Jewish man'. Therefore, part of the background information of the chapter directly relates to Judaism in antiquity. Misleading source usage is still very much with us throughout the chapter.
In the second century CE, after the destructions of both 70 and 135, increasing numbers of zealous Jews, Samaritans and other Israelites migrated to Alexandria and joined the mystery schools, jockeying for position not only with each other but also with the non-Judaizing Gnostics, becoming ever more influential on the Gnostic effort. At that time, the salvationist literature started to become Judaized and Hebraicized, with the infiltration of the Yahwists and Joshua cultists, including and especially the Zadokites or Sadducees. In fact, the Zadokite-Therapeut connection is apparently confirmed by the use of the specialized “pentecontad calendar” by both groups.

Geza Vermes, who is given as a source for the claim that Zadokite-Therapeuts and Sadducees both used a pentecontad calendar, confirms that the Dead Sea Scrolls community had a pentecontad calendar[2], but does not confirm anything about Sadducees or Therapeuts[2]. Indeed, Geza Vermes calls this a 'peculiarity' of that particular community[2]. Murdock is thus misleading us with regards to what her source says. More sources would be necessary.
The question is not whether or not Jesus and his religion were created but why: Why was the ubiquitous solar myth turned into a “Jewish” man? As reflected in the Bible, the Israelites, particularly the tribes of Judah and Levi, considered themselves the chosen people of God and the spiritual leaders of mankind (Deut. 7:6). They were a “priestly nation” who had determined that other nations should serve Israel or utterly perish (Is. 60:10-12). The Israelites claimed that they had the right to kill the males of the enemy nations “but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else . . . you shall take as booty for yourselves.” (Deut.
20:13-14) In fact, throughout the Old Testament the god of Israel repeatedly commanded “his people” to exterminate other cultures and to commit genocide. The Israelites also insisted that they had the right to lend money with interest to the “foreigners,” but were not to do so with their “brethren” (Deut. 23:19-20).

Of course, the foreigners - until Christianity and Islam were widely accepted - accepted lending with interest to anyone, including their own brethren [3][4]. Thus, Jewish lending practices were in fact not particularly more beneficial to the Jewish lender - the position Murdock here is trying to advocate in order to show that Jews were manipulative greedy bankers even in the early times of their interaction with other nations - but rather, the Jewish lending practices were beneficial for Jewish debtors to Jewish lenders (but since the criticism is pointed out in terms of lending and not in terms of borrowing, it's clearly about lending). This is part of a pattern with regard to how Murdock describes Judaism that I will write a post about at a later point.

Reading up a bit on laws regarding interest in antiquity, it seems the Jewish rules had some rather reasonable backgrounds - societies that did not have regular releases from debt tended to end up with most of their populations enslaved or highly indebted. This might be the background for the release of debts every seventh year - a rule that also is known to have been implemented elsewhere to prevent the situation described above[3][4]. It strikes me as weird that the Torah has two mechanisms for preventing that situation, but that might be attributed to the redactors not thinking that much about the effects of the law, but rather just compiling laws they for some reason liked into their system.

Murdock goes on to describe the Jewish expectation for the Messiah. She also describes the Jewish view of gentiles in a rather one-sided summary - taking the most negative expressions from the intertestamental literature and the DSS scrolls as representative of the Jewish doctrine on gentiles.

Given the description of the fervor with which the Jews expected the Messiah to arrive, she goes on to state:
This messianic frenzy increased throughout the Roman occupation and was high during and after the purported advent of Christ. It is impossible to believe that, in such a desperate and fanatical environment, if Christ had been real, had done the miracles ascribed to him and—most importantly—had satisfied all the scriptural requirements of the messiah, the Jews would not have jumped with joy at his supernatural advent but would actually reject and cause him to be killed. But the Jews did not accept him, as messiah after messiah rose up thereafter, as if Christ had never existed at all. . . . 
Indeed, but this is a strawman argument. Few atheist historians believe Jesus to have done any particularly miraculous deeds - they believe the mechanism behind how these claims developed to parallel the more general tendency in religious movements to ascribe miraculous deeds to their leaders. To most scholars in historical Jesus-research, the interesting question is not "did he do this or that miracle", it is "which of these pronouncements do go back to Jesus, which are later additions by the church, what can we learn about the early church as well as about the times just before the foundation of the church, by investigating these things".

Furthermore, orthodox Jews will of course tell you that even if the NT narratives were true, Jesus did not fulfill any messianic requirements, as nearly all those that he is claimed to have fulfilled are verses taken out of context. 
As Jacolliot remarks:
One fact has always astonished me. Through all the sacred books of primitive times of Egypt and the East, the old tradition of the Messiah had passed into the Hebrew
law. How is it . . . that the Jews refused to recognize this Redeemer whom they expected so impatiently—and whom, even today, they still expect?cmxviii
Again, the same fallacy as Murdock's - conveniently pretending euhemerism was never on the table. Jacolliot's argument here is a valid argument against the idea of a supernatural Jesus; it is not, however, a valid argument against the existence of a regular person who lead a religious movement and whose adherents later on deified him and ascribed miraculous powers to him.
The Jews were literally dying for a supernatural deliverer and—lo and behold— an astounding, divine incarnation came along, with all the scriptural requirements of the messiah and the requisite miracles to demonstrate that he had the full power of God behind him, yet the Jews (and all historians of the day) completely ignored
him—nay, they put him to death! In fact, the world that followed Christ’s alleged advent would have been impossible had he really existed at that time.
A simpler explanation, of course, appears when we compare and contrast Jesus to some of the other messianic claimants of the time - nearly all of them organized some military campaigns. A failure on a claimant's part to even attempt that might very well explain why the majority of Jews would not accept such a claimant, especially given the rather militaristic tone presented in the Old Testament regarding what the Messiah was supposed to accomplish.
Of course, in order to be saved by a deliverer, one has to have enemies, and the zealous Jews had created them everywhere by being extremely sectarian, arrogant and bigoted. The Jews as a whole were the only group exempt from a Roman law that compelled all subjects to conform to some degree to the state religion and political system, and their extreme sectarianism made them an annoyance to the empire. 
The question here should of course be on which part the intolerance was - were the Jews intolerant for refusing to participate, or was the Roman law intolerant by refusing to permit others from participation. Murdock prefers blaming the Jews, but an objective scholar should probably prefer blaming the Roman religion at this point! When Christians force non-Christians to participate in Christianity, Murdock is very negative. Why does she not reject the Roman practice as strenuously? Why is it wrong to oppose something that is wrong? Murdock complains about jizya on her blog and forum - yet the Jews were subject to the quite analogous fiscus judaicus, the only group subject to such a humiliation in the entire Roman empire. Murdock elsewhere admires the religious tolerance of the Roman empire, so one wonders if her admiration for religious tolerance does not extend to tolerating the Jews.
Yet, the Jews were losing badly in their battle to maintain their separation, as they were being swallowed up by the Greek and Roman cultures, with their numerous cults and religions. In addition, many Jews disdained the oppressive Mosaic Law. These factors forced the priesthood to resort to its time-honored method of financing Zealots to re-establish its centralized religion.
Yet the Zealots are not associated with the Sadduccean priesthood by any scholars I know of, but rather with the Pharisaic party. Murdock does not provide any sources that link the Zealots to the Sadducees either, so I am left to wonder why she thinks the Zealots had anything to do with the priesthood.
Larson describes the climate in Palestine during this time:
Palestine was filled with robbers, and no man’s life was secure. Any wild-eyed seditionists could procure a following through extravagant promises. The activities of the Zealots were supplemented by those of the Sicarii, a secret society of assassins who mingled with the multitude in the crowded streets especially during feast and holy days, and struck down their victims with daggers. . . . Roman indignation was aroused since the Jews alone were rebellious.
The Jews alone were rebellious? Three servile wars, the Batavian revolt, Gauls revolting under Ambiorix, Boudica's revolt, the Great Illyrian Revolt, Artaxias II's revolt against Rome, as well as the Alexandrian revolt against Jews in 38CE. All those took place in the 1st centuries BCE and AD, and together add up to about seven rebellions in two hundred years. In the same time, twelve regular "external" wars were fought - a difference, but not one of an order of magnitude or anything like that.

Further, the aftermath of the Cantabrian wars consisted of 70 years of guerilla warfare. The Lusitanians also had a prolonged conflict. Venutius led a revolt in Britain, and the Brigantes seem to have had at least one of their own as well.

The Jews alone indeed. . .

[1] D.M Murdock, The Christ Conspiracy
[2] Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls [warning: this was typed out of memory and may be wrong in this version - will check which author when fixing the last bits of the post]

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