21 Feb 2013 
#54 How to explain the so-called silences about the historical Jesus in early Christianity (50-200)?

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At first (in Paul’s generation), the true historical Jesus (HJ) was known as someone of little historical importance, who had the misfortune to be crucified as king of the Jews, due to a set of (historical & religious) circumstances: see here
No wonder Paul and the author of 'Hebrews' focused on a Christ crucified (and believed resurrected) and very little else about the man Jesus.

Then came the gospels, canonical and others, plus all kind of associated stories, as the ones about the infancy. They were full of myths and contradictions, which were stuck to that HJ.
No wonder that some late 1st & 2nd century “fathers” of the Church and other anonymous Christians avoided most (and sometimes all) of this mythical HJ, many times in favour to a pure ethereal religion based on Platonism and Logos. And when the Christian apologists were ridiculing the myths about the pagan gods, it was not advisable to feature your own god, also "loaded" with myths!

Here is some evidence:

From Paul (35-60)
1 Cor 2:2 "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (KJV)
Php 2:7-8a "But made himself of no reputation, ... he humbled himself ..."


In '1 Timothy' (around 120), fables and genealogies appear to be an issue among Christians:
"nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith." (1:4)
gLuke and gMatthew have long genealogies of Jesus, which are totally different between David and Joseph (names and numbers) and were likely the ones causing disputes.

In '2 Peter' (around 130), "we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty." (1:16), "cunningly devised fables" likely refers to gospel material, because next, Jesus' divinity is known only through a voice from heaven, and nothing else (such as witnessed extraordinary feats!):
"For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain." (1:17-18 --obviously an elaborated version of Mt 17:5)

Tatian (around 165) is on the defensive when he wrote, in his 'Address to the Greeks', chapter XXI:
"We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man. I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations [likely a reference to the gospels then, canonical & uncanonical]."
But next, after exposing pagan beliefs:
"Athene, as they say, took the form of Deiphobus for the sake of Hector, and the unshorn Phoebus for the sake of Admetus fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse us came as an old woman to Semele. But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiae lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame. Prometheus, fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from men, wishing their destruction."
Tatian asked:
"Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe [condescend to grant] us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales."
The message: you are not qualified to mock us about our own legend-like stories: you are believing in similar (or worst!) ones than ours!

Still later, Tertullian (195-220), in his Apology, dealt with pagan criticism on stories showing up in the gospels:
Chapter XXI: "This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united. The flesh formed by the Spirit is nourished, grows up to manhood, speaks, teaches, works, and is the Christ. Receive meanwhile this fable, --it is like some of your own--while we go on to show how Christ's claims are proved ..."
Chapter XXIII: "But at once they will say, Who is this Christ with his fables? is he an ordinary man? is he a sorcerer? was his body stolen by his disciples from its tomb? is he now in the realms below? or is he not rather up in the heavens, thence about to come again, making the whole world shake, filling the earth with dread alarms, making all but Christians wail ...? Mock as you like, ..."

And finally, Athenagoras of Athens (175-180) and Theophilus of Antioch (180-185) wrote nothing in their writings known to us about Jesus whether as human or heavenly. But both claimed to be Christian.

Cordially, Bernard

Tags: {historical Jesus} {earthly & human Jesus} {Jesus' historicity} {silences}
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