What people came to believe about Jesus

“Jesus as a Jewish figure …who came to be interpreted…in the Greek Gospels in categories familiar and congenial to the Graeco-Roman world… adapted him to the Graeco-Roman cultural milieu and thus came to present the divine figure found in the gospels.” (EP Sanders – Professor Oxford)

“Logos” as a Greek philosophical idea in use from the time of Heraclitus in 5th century BCE. Link.

[early Christian hymn written or quoted by Paul] “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:6-11)

On the one hand, the texts of the Old Testament have their roots in the wider world of the Ancient Near East; on the other, Christianity rapidly expanded into the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean outside Roman Palestine.  (John Riches – Professor Glasgow)

… he has read the right things and drawn the right sorts of conclusion from them,
so his audience will gain a pretty good notion of the state of modern biblical
scholarship on the origins of Christianity. Aslan says what all scholars not in
thrall to blinkered religious conservatism say: when reading the New Testament,
we have to fight through several filters of authorship to get any idea of how
these sacred texts relate to a life lived in first-century Palestine. All the
works included in the New Testament canon were written in a language different
from Jesus’ native tongue, and even the earliest among them were written by
someone who never met him in his earthly life; the latest may postdate h-is
death on the cross by about a century. They are coloured by preoccupations
which were not those of Jesus himself, and they fuelled the development of a
church which became radically different from anything Jesus or the first
generation of his followers could have envisaged.  (Professor Diarmuid Macculloch review of “Zealot” by Reza Aslan)

Jesus of Nazareth did not call his disciples “Christians”… the term was coined by observers in the city of Antioch sometime in the 30s or 40s AD who witnessed Greek-speaking followers of Jesus passionately affirming his unique status as the christos (anointed) Jewish “Son of God” who had risen form the dead (Acts 11:26).  The neologism illustrates a point of exceptional importance in tracing the emergence of Christianity: that it was a process based upon the physical movement of ideas into a world beyond Galilee and Roman Judaea.  And as the ideas travelled, they found themselves in cultural surroundings significantly different from the world that Jesus had known.  This in turn stimulated an astonishingly extensive and diverse series of responses to Jesus and his teachings as reported.  And the emergence of Christianity is the history of the relationship between those ideas and their origins in the ancient Near East.  (John Curran – Queen’s University Belfast)

Most [contemporary scholars] recognise that there was no single church from which Gnostic heretics deviated.  Rather, Christian communities were diverse form the start… … Numerous independent Christian communities , none with a fully convincing claim to exclusive authenticity as “true Christianity”, emerge from the fog of c 100 CE and jostle for position; in hindsight, we can identify the “horse” that will emerge as the dominant orthodoxy by the end of the third century, and we watch it as it compete with and overcomes its rivals.   (David Brakke – Professor Ohio State)

There are now over nine thousand distinct and separate religions, with a hundred or so new ones coming into being every year.  (John Haldane – Professor St Andrews, previously Oxford)

Tarsus – Greek-speaking http://www.bibleplaces.com/tarsus.htm

“roughly we may say that… the movement began as a Jewish sect and was soon transformed into a Graeco-Roman cult”. (Wayne A. Meeks – Professor Yale)

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).  Footnote from “The Bible Gateway” site reads “Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God“.

It was a time of immense and vibrant pluralism and cultural exchange.  Religions came into contact, and deities form one religious system were equated, fused, or otherwise integrated with those from another, complex processes referred to by the imprecise term of “syncretism”.  (Helen Morales – Professor California, Cambridge)

One of the Roman’s more cunning tricks, when conquering a country, was to synchronise gods with it.  When they invaded Britain, for example, and arrived in what is now Bath, they could easily have demanded that the indigenous population stop worshipping the local goddess Sulis, and worship the Roman goddess Minerva instead.  They could have fought pitched battles over it.  But why bother?  The ever-practical Romans simply declared that Sulis was the British version of Minerva, and stated that the goddess should now be known as Sulis Minerva, as though she had recently married but wished to retain at least some of her own identity.  Merging sets of gods was an extremely effective way of eliminating at least some of the differences between the Romans and those they conquered. (Natalie Haynes)

Within Jewish and Christian areas of religion there were certainly some strands that excluded other groups.  But this is by no means the whole picture.  The evidence of inscriptions, in particular, shows us individuals happily mixing what from our perspective we might wish to call Jewish, Christian and Mithraic elements – and practices of this sort are far too widespread to be considered “deviant”.  (Emily Kearns – Oxford)


Roman Isis Horus child 20BC What people came to believe about Jesus

Roman adoption of Egyptian cult of Isis and Horus

Roman adoption of Egyptian cult of Isis and Horus

The consensus is that Christians said more (i.e. greater and more significant things) about Jesus after Easter than the historical Jesus had said about himself.  (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

Do we insist that the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prediction about Jesus of Nazareth, when elsewhere Isaiah explicitly identifies the servant as the people Israel (49:3)? (Amy-Jill Levine Douglas A. Knight – Professors Vanderbilt)

Some scholars have assumed that the concept of salvation and a “Saviour” appears for the first time in early Christian belief.  In fact these concepts were present prior to Jesus’ time.  Asclepius, the Greek and Roman god of healing, for example was hailed as “the Saviour”… The author of the Wisdom of Solomon, sometime perhaps in the second century BCE, claimed that the serpent mentioned in Numbers 21:4-9 was a “symbol of salvation” (16:6), but God was “the Saviour of all” (16:7).  Jesus and his followers inherited a rich vocabulary, including the terms salvation and Saviour.   (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

“Danger of thinking that there was ever “true” Christianity, that there was ever a pure state of belief from which to decline.”  (Peter Brown – Professor Princeton)

Some of this elusiveness may be traced back to Jesus himself.  When he talked he often spoke in riddles and parables, and when asked who he was, he replied:  “who do you say I am?”.  He laid down few clear rules, left no systematic body of teaching, and founded no school to pass on his wisdom.  The mystery is also a function of the sources on which we have to rely.  We cannot consult the books Jesus wrote because he wrote no books, and we cannot turn to contemporary accounts of his life and works for there are no such accounts.  We have only interpretations, and interpretations of interpretations.  Our most important sources of information are already embroiled in the debate about his significance, and already take sides.  (Linda Woodhead – Professor Lancaster, Cambridge)

“Irenaeus [second century Bishop in what is now France] declares that “the Lord God” who crated humankind in Paradise was “our Lord Jesus Christ, who “was made flesh” [John 1:14] and was hung upon the cross”. Irenaeus knew that this claim far oversteps anything found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, where, he notes, each pictures Jesus as a man who receives special divine power, as God’s “anointed one”.  Each of these gospel writers assigns Jesus a somewhat different – human – role.  Thus, Irenaeus says, Matthew depicts Jesus as God’s appointed king and traces his family back to King David; Luke emphasises his role as priest; and Mark depicts him primarily as God’s prophet.  But each of these gospels stops short of identifying Jesus with God, much less as God”.  (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

“Constantine’s summons to Nicaea, to formulate a creed….To exclude Arius’ view that Christ was divine but not in the same sense as God, they insisted on adding that Christ was “of one being with” – essentially no different from – God the Father.  While the great majority of bishops were prepared to accept almost any formula that would secure harmony within the church, those who opposed this phase pointed out that it occurs neither in the Scriptures nor in Christian tradition”.  (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

So much for the New Testament.  What followed?  Once the Jewish context of thought had become largely lost in Christian thinking, and new intellectual questions about Jesus had arisen, it is not surprising that “Son of God” came to play a different role… in this context “Son of God came to signify Christ’s “divine nature” whereas the New Testament term “Son of Man” signified his “human nature”.  It is ironic that this move, insofar as it was based on the Gospels, was wholly misjudged, in that in its earlier use, as we have seen, “son of God” was a term chiefly for humans, and so for Jesus as human (however exalted in significance), and “Son of Man”, among a number of senses, could signify a heavenly (though still not divine) figure.  (Leslie Houlden – Professor Kings, Oxford)

“… in the long term [Christianity was to turn] from a faith of the Semitic East into something very different, in which the heirs of Greek and Latin civilisation determined the way in which the Christ story was told and interpreted.  For Paul was not merely a Jew:  he was one of the countless subjects of the Roman Empire who had obtained grants of citizenship”.  (Diarmaid MacCulloch – Professor Oxford)

In the Christian movement were woven together the great traditions of the past – of Greece and Rome and Israel – and the traditions of the little communities in Galilee and Judea and all around the Mediterranean basis.  And these traditions were amalgamated with and transformed by “gospel”, novel claims, novel experiences, interpretations that skewed the traditions and sometimes stood them on their heads”.  (Wayne A. Meeks – Professor Yale)

“In a pagan world, however, Paul’s words would once again have been understood somewhat differently. The term “Son of God” would have suggested a divine being of some kind… would have been interpreted as indicating … the descent of a “heavenly” being into the world.  Inevitably, then, new questions began to be asked – e.g.  about the Son’s pre-existence.  As time went by, Paul’s language about Jesus as Son of God was understood as spelling out his “divinity”….According to the later exegesis of the Church, “the Son of God” expressed Christ’s divinity, while the term “the Son of man” referred to his humanity.  Were those who read New Testament language in this way distorting its meaning, or were they drawing out the implications of its teaching in ways that were appropriate to their own culture?  Unfortunately, what tended to happen was that the later interpretation came to be seen as the authoritative and only way of understanding the text, with the result that “New Testament theology” was not  only identified with the theology of a later community, but was itself regarded as though it were set in stone”.   (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

“The redefinition of the gospel – from the good news of God’s rule, to the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, God’ Son – played an important role in the rise of Christianity”.  (Craig A. Evans – Professor Acadia, Princeton)

Jesus’s shameful death remained a scandal, but followers explained it as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind (Rom. 3.25), the vehicle for the inauguration of a “new covenant” between God and humanity (Heb. 8–10).  (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

NT writers accord the
blood of Jesus Christ a central place in their theology. Poured out in his
sacrificial death on the cross (Rom 3:25; John 19:34; Heb 9:14; 10:19) Christ’s
blood procures redemption from sin and death for all mankind (Eph 1:7; Heb
9:12; 1 Pet 1:19; 1 John 1:7; Rev 1:5), justifies them before God (Rom 5:9),
sanctifies them, and acquires them as a holy people fit for the Lord (Heb
13:12; Acts 20:28; Rev 5:9). It inaugurates a new covenant between God and man
(Matt 26:28 and parallels; 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 10:29; 13:20) which is expressed in
the Eucharist, a repeated ritual which, from its earliest beginnings, possessed
strong sacrificial characteristics (1 Cor 10:14-22; cf. John 6:53-56). The
universal saving efficacy of Christ’s blood, shed in one perfect and complete
sacrifice on the cross, is a fundamental theological datum which the Church
Fathers and all later writers take for granted. (Robert Hayward – Professor Durham)

“European culture rooted in antiquity was shaped by two peoples who did not belong to the conquerors:  Greeks and Jews…Both were subdued by the Romans.  But both managed to win the Romans over to their culture.  The Romans became culturally “Greek”; they took over Greek philosophy , education and literature.  They converted to a religion shaped by Judaism, for they took on Christianity.  They were changed from inside by the culture of a people they had conquered”.  (Gerd Theissen – Professor Heidelberg, visiting lectures Oxford and Cambridge)

When I say ‘about Buddhism,’ I mean about what the Buddha himself was preaching. That happens to be my own field of research. Of course, there is a vast amount to be studied in Buddhism, which developed later than that.  (Richard Gombrich)

Empires prefer a baby and the cross to the adult Jesus…  The adult Christ who calls his followers to renounces wealth, power and violence is passed over in favour of the gurgling baby and the screaming victim.  As such, Nicene Christianity is easily conscripted into a religion of convenience, with believers worshipping and gagged and glorified saviour who has nothing to say about how we use our money or whether or not we go to war.  Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312, after which the Church began to back-pedal on the more radical demands of the adult Christ… in the hands of conservative theologians, the Nicene religion of the baby and the cross is a way of distracting attention away from the teachings of Christ..  It’s a form of religion that concentrates on things like belief in the virgin birth while ignoring the fact that the Gospels are much more concerned about the treatment of the poor and the forgiveness of enemies.  (Giles Fraser – Church of England priest, Oxford)

Nicaea, the two councils in Ephesus, the council in Chalcedon — all these places are in modern Turkey, where this new faith is now receiving the attention of the state. Its sort of internecine conflicts that have been going on for centuries, conflicts over doctrine, over dogma, over who’s going to run the show, on what basis, and those kind of things — very fractious disputes, and now Constantine who has sort of taken this new faith under his wing has decided that he needs to administrate some peace among these fractious elements. So he convenes Nicaea to do that…. because he sees this as a kind of new ideological glue for a far-flung empire that’s always on the verge of fragmenting. (Allen Callahan – Brown and Harvard)

creeds come out of these councils — formulations, doctrinal formulations, classic doctrinal formulations. How does one talk about the relationship between Jesus as Son, God as Father? What’s the relationship of the two of them and the Holy Spirit? How does one talk about Jesus’ humanity and talk about Jesus’ divinity — two categories for at least some people that are mutually exclusive? Christian doctrine is developed in these councils, of course. (Allen Callahan – Brown and Harvard)

[Paul’s role]  So we may well ask: why should we take seriously, let alone read reverently, this vituperative, hallucinating, conflict-ridden polemicist who was at the same time both a passionate disciple of a man he never followed and a passionate enemy, by his own admission, of those who did? Why hasn’t the world written him off as a fulminating, apocalyptic crackpot? And why has a worldwide Christian communion been celebrating his birthday?  Because that man, in the perverse hindsight that only dogma could call Providence, became the future of an ancient movement of unlettered, agrarian, Semitic-speaking, indigenous Palestinians that would come to be co-opted by parvenus who, like him, were none of those things. (Allen Callahan – Brown and Harvard)

The Akedah, the story of Abraham’s binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 touches a deep nerve in Jewish and Christian sensibilities.  It is a story of strange violence and tenderness, of a father ordered by his God to sacrifice “his only son”.  … … Christian interpretation of the Akedah… is refracted through its own central narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Remarkably, though, despite the obvious similarities between the two stories, there are few actual literary allusions to the Akedah in the Gospel narratives.  When Jesus prays to God in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, we may hear distant echoes of Isaac’s questioning of his father and the subsequent traditions of his willing acceptance of his father’s purpose.  Of course the plot is different: there is no human father as mediator of God’s purposes; no relenting on the part of the heavenly father; no more testing of the victim’s father.  Rather it is the victim himself who must struggle to accept freely the heavenly Father’s unwavering will (a motif which does indeed occur in some of the version of the Akedah).  (John Riches – Professor Glasgow)

The Old Testament used the term “Son of God” in a broad sense, perhaps best translated as “belonging to God”.  It was applied across a wide spectrum of categories, including the people of Israel in general (Exodus 4:22), and especially the Davidic king and his successors who were to rule over that people (2 Samuel 7:14).  In this minimalist sense, the term could be applied equally to Jesus and to Christians.  Jesus himself does not appear to have explicitly used the term of himself.  It is found used in this way elsewhere in the New Testament, especially by Paul and in the letter to the Hebrews.  Paul, for example, stated that Jesus had “been declared Son of God” on account of the resurrection (Romans 1:4).  Paul uses the term “Son of God” in relation to both Jesus and believers.  However, a distinction is drawn between the sonship of believers, which arises through adoption, and that of Jesus, which originates form this being “god’s own son” (Romans 8:32).  In the fourth gospel and in the Johannine letters, the term “son (huios) is reserved for Jesus, while the more general term “children” (tekna) tends to be applied to believers.  (Alister McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

The New Testament, drawing on Old Testament imagery and expectations, presents Christ’s death upon the cross as a sacrifice.  This approach, which is especially associated with the Letter to the Hebrews, presents Christ’s sacrificial offering as an effective and perfect sacrifice… (Alister McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

There are obvious questions about how we can have reliable historical knowledge about such a distant figure… and yet the NT dates from remarkably close to the time of Jesus… much closer than for example standard biographies of Roman Emperors.  But it’s not so much the detail of the biography… it’s the way in which Jesus’ life is perceived to have certain significance by his first followers which resonates with their experience and move forwards from there… we’re dealing with something which was seen to be of significance and which was seen to be capable of transforming people’s lives…. Certainly as you read the NT you can see people who are convinced that something of decisive importance has happened which has the capacity not simply to transform their lives but also to explain the world around them… (Alastair McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

What Christianity is saying is that there seems to be something wrong with human nature.  We just don’t possess the capacity to transform ourselves and that in some way in order to experience and enter into the redeemed live something has to be done for us.  It’s a question of not having the adequate resources to actually transform ourselves to be saved… and that in some way the life and the death of Jesus are the basis for this transformation… by entering into the world in Christ God is demonstrating the extent to which we have wandered from him and also his yearning or longing that we should come back to him.  (Alastair McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

Jesus offers new possibilities for the form of human life as such, not merely for a particular group to find an identity.  In his faithful and obedient relation to the father, Jesus sketches a new and comprehensive vocation for human beings.  So to come to be “in Christ”, to belong with Jesus, involves a far-reaching reconstruction of one’s humanity… (Rowan Williams – Professor Oxford and Cambridge)

Firstly, and most obviously, the Gospels do not identify Jesus with God: they are two different persons.  Even in those passages that present Jesus as divine, he is subordinate, and this subordination of divine entities under one supreme deity is consistent with the tenets of ancient monotheism.  Moreover, the doctrine of Christ as fully God and fully man was a fourth century teaching, one that could be defended by an appeal to the first-century texts, but not one native to them.  And even the fully divine / fully human Christ was imagined as another “person” distinct from God.  (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

Finally we must revisit the key question.   How are we to account for the post-Easter developments for which there is little or no pre-Easter precedent?  Shortly after his crucifixion Jesus was worshipped by his followers.  Language and attributes began to be used of Jesus which had been reserved for God alone in Scripture (i.e. the Old Testament) and in later Jewish writings.  The whole story of Jesus was read against the backdrop of Scripture and seen as its fulfilment…. … In spite of the monotheistic heritage his followers refused to abandon, at a very early point in the post-Easter period they began to worship Jesus and to speak about him in ways that had been reserved for God.  For this there was no direct precedent – and hardly a precedent of any kind… … The crucifixion of Jesus was an acute embarrassment to his followers.  At the time of Jesus there was no expectation that a Messiah would suffer or be crucified, so proclamation of a crucified Messiah made no sense at all to Jews who heard it… The disciples did not and could not gloss over this embarrassing fact.  Very soon after what must have been a traumatic event for the disciples, they attached positive theological significance to the crucifixion of Jesus  About AD 50 Paul cites a much earlier tradition he had received: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).  (Graham Stanton – Professor Cambridge)

[Greek religion]  Everyone knew who Zeus the Saviour was and what a proper sacrifice was.  (Simon Price – Oxford)

the sort of thing that was being claimed in the creed of 325 had very clear antecedents within a century of Jesus’s crucifixion – so that it is odd to speak of a “revolutionary” position advanced in 325. Everyone at the Council of Nicaea believed they were defending immemorial tradition; and they were right to the extent that extravagant language about who Jesus “really” was goes back a long way…is hard simply to deny that Christian scripture does show people praying to the exalted Jesus from very early indeed. (Rowan Williams – Professor Oxford and Cambridge)

[Romans]  Paul can assume they understand his insider language.  They know who Christ (Messiah) Jesus is, and what an apostle is, what the Scriptures are, and that God is an agent who has made promises through the prophets.  These prophets are said to refer to a person who is called God’s Son, and Paul himself has a God-given role to spread a message about him which is described (without explanation) as gospel of God. … God’s Son is then described and identified in a couplet which contains ideas and phrases not found elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and so looks like a quotation from some early Christian creed or confession used in worship.  (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

[Romans]  Paul’s main concern was to answer Roman objections to his theology and missionary practice.  (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

1 Cor. 15.3 shows that (Jewish) Christians very early interpreted the death of Jesus as a sacrifice, and that idea is present here too [in Romans 3.5] “offer” as well as “expiation in or through his blood”) and is implied at 4.25.  That is, however, different from some substitutionary theories of atonement. Substitution takes place in sacrifice, but there is no idea of God punishing an innocent victim.  Rather, God accepts the offering of the worshipper.  The [idea of] Christ as the one true perfect sacrifice, is explored in the epistle to the Hebrews, and can find support in these pre-Pauline Jewish Christian ideas.  (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

[the Lord’s Supper]  The “progress” in the history of religions from bloody animal sacrifices to bloodless forms of worship is balanced bout by a “regression” into ideas of human sacrifice, believed long ago to have been superseded, which had provoked Jesus’ violent death.   (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

There is a dispute as to how far the sense of the titles changed when they were adapted by Jesus or his disciples and whether this marks a break with Jewish tradition.  (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

“edited” by later copying scribes.  These scribes provided variants that removed unattractive theological concepts, clarified the meaning, improved the grammar, or harmonised the text so that it was similar to parallel texts…. Dozens of examples prove that often a core tradition is habitually edited at the beginning and the end.  This insight helps us grasp the editing of Mark by Matthew and Luke, and perhaps, at times, Mark’s editing of the traditions he received.  Also, Paul, in reporting Jesus’ last supper, edits the tradition he received and passed on by supplying a qualifying sentence at the end of the tradition:  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26 NRSV).  Thus, Paul adds a saying of Jesus that drives not from tradition but from his editing.  (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

Christianity has a vast reservoir of resources for shaping life and death.  Like most religions it is more capacious and flexible than a philosophical system, and works not only with abstract concepts but with vivid stories, striking images, resonant symbols and life-shaping rituals.  It appeals to heart and senses as well as mind, and offers a range of prompts and provocations for guiding and shaping the lives of individuals and societies.  (Linda Woodhead – Professor Lancaster, Cambridge)

A second question concerns Paul’s role in shaping earliest Christianity:  Was he a religious genius who created, out of his personal experience, a Christ cult that was alien to the preaching of Jesus?  Or was he a faithful interpreter of a movement, which he joined after having persecuted it.  The most reasonable answer is that Paul did not invent the Christ cult.  His letters show that he knew and used traditions (ritual, creedal, hymnic) that preceded him.  Still, Paul was a thinker, and he gave his distinctive stamp to these traditions.  (Luke Timothy Johnson – Professor Candler, Yale)

One accusation often brought against Paul is that he taught a totally different gospel from that proclaimed by Jesus himself.  He has been described, for example, as the real founder of Christianity.  At first sight it does indeed seem that the message of Jesus was very different from Paul’s.  But we have to remember that while Jesus taught about God, not about himself, Paul, too, who is apparently so Christocentric in his teaching, is concerned primarily with what God did through Christ.  Jesus did not come to “found” a new religion, but to call his people back to God.  But Paul, also, was not founding a “new religion”, for he saw his gospel as the fulfilment of God’s promises, and his mission was to call Gentiles to join God’s people.  If Paul’s gospel centres on the death and resurrection of Jesus, that was an inevitable shift for any Christian after Easter:  neither of these events could be ignored! (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

Two figures dominate the New Testament.  The first is Jesus, the second, Paul…. Paul’s influence on the development of what came to be known as “Christianity” was immense.  Thirteen of the twenty-seven documents that make up the New Testament claim to be written by him, and the larger part of the Acts of the apostles is devoted to relating the story of Paul’s missionary endeavours.  Paul is the central figure in the New Testament between the middle of Acts and the end of Philemon.  (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

Paul wrote long before the fathers of the Church had got to work trying to formulate their beliefs about Christ.  The questions they asked were often very different from the question that occurred to Paul, and their answers tended to be expressed in philosophical language quite foreign to Paul’s . For them, too, Christ’s sonship meant oneness with the Father, but it was oneness of essence rather than oneness of will.  For Paul, who the Son is was expressed in what he did.  As Son, he is like God, and so his actions – including his self-humiliation and willingness to accept death – show us what God himself is like.  The Son of God is the one who, because he was obedient, carried out God’s will.  As God’s Son, Christ was sent by God to fulfil God’s purpose – which was, as we have seen, to enable men and women to become his children.  Later theologians seized on such statements and asked questions about what the Son was doing before he was sent, so opening up a debate about Jesus’ pre-existence.  In order for Christ to have been sent, they argued, he must presumably have been already present with God.  Pauls’ concern in these statements, however, is not with pre-existence, but with the fact that Christ alone was able to carry out God’s purpose, because he alone was totally at one with his will.  (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

Jesus was a retro-constructed sacred hero.  Most of the important Christian claims about him:  his pre-existence before his earthly life, his co-creation of the universe with God, his miraculous birth, life teachings, miracles, arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and reunion with God his Father were invented after his death.  I do no mean that none of these events occurred.  What I mean is that they significance of all these events was imagined, discovered, contemplated and magnified, only once Christians had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ and son of God.  They then set about creating Jesus’ divinity, just as contemporary pagans deified their dead emperors, and called the living emperor “son of God”:  Son of God was a pagan title.  Exceptional pagan holy men were even called God out of respect during their lifetimes.  (The title “son of God” occurs in hundreds of surviving Greek inscriptions from all over the eastern empire.  But, for the sensitively Republican Roman elite, Augustus was only divi filius (in Greek: theiou huios), which means son of the divine or godlike, as distinct from son of God (deus, theos).  Augustus was the (adopted) son of his deified father, Julius Caesar, whose ascent to Heaven had been marked by the appearance of a comet.  As with Jesus, his divinity was confirmed only after death.  (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

After Augustus “son of god” became a regular imperial title, with which Christians would have been familiar.  On the title God for pagan holy men, see Philstratus, life of Apollonius of Tyana 8:5… “Every man who is considered good in honoured with the title God”.)  But ancient Christians believed that Jesus Christ was truly divine, the Son of the one true god.  They would have forcefully resented any comparison with human emperor or holy men…. But early Christians also fiercely disagreed among themselves for several centuries about the degree and nature of Jesus’ divinity:  was he divine from birth or from baptism, or only after his resurrection?  Was he wholly divine, or a mixture of human and divinity, or, as pagans and Jews thought, wholly human? (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

It has come to be recognised that there was close contact between the early Christians and Jewish communities…  It is known that Christians attended synagogue as well as church services, whilst others adopted Judaism.  (James K. Aitken – Cambridge)

The annual Jewish atonement service in ancient times chose a goat on whom the lot fell and on whom the sins of the people were loaded by the priest after he had heard their confessions.  The goat was then sent out to a desert cliff to die, carrying the sins of the people into oblivion.  (William Klassen – Professor Jerusalem, Cambridge)

When Buddhists hear the story of Jesus’ life and death, it often brings to mind the Buddhist concept of a bodhisattva.  Bodhisattvas place the enlightenment of other beings as their priority and make a vow that they will attend to that rather than their own aspiration to nirvana… From the Christian point of view this seems to illustrate the idea of self-giving love that is so central to the doctrine of the Incarnation and Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.  This self-giving love that can be said to be the essence of the life and death of Jesus also has a close parallel in the Buddhist idea of compassion.  (Peggy Morgan – Oxford)

In the third and fourth centuries, Christians were formulating doctrines using the language world of Greek philosophy, which was quite different to that of the Hebraic world in which Christianity has its roots.  (Peggy Morgan – Oxford)

It was in 1854 that Pope Pius IX took the bold step of raising belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the status of a formal dogma of the church, that is to say, of making it a belief which is obligatory for all members of the Church to hold, or at any rate all who are in communion with the See of Rome.  It was a bold step because it signalled the Pope’s determined opposition to the anti-religious spirit that was sweeping across Europe at that time.  The mood of the time was liberal, secularist, anti-clerical if not actually anti-Christian, so that the promulgation of this dogma was something like the waving of a red rag in front of a bull and it has often been described as a political rather than a theological act. (John Macquarrie – Professor Oxford)

So how is Paul’s theology of the cross to be described?  We may say that, for Paul, the cross stands, immovable, as the fundamental reference point of faith.  It is from here that faith began, and to here that faith will continually return, to be nourished by the crucified Christ.  Through sharing in Christ, the believer shares in his sufferings and death, and will one day – but not yet! – share in his glorious resurrection.  And that hope will and must keep us going through faith.  Believers may catch glimpses of the heavenly realms, they may even hear the distant voices of angels – but they remain here, committed to Christ crucified, in the midst of a suffering world.  the heavenly realms remain in the future, even if their distant music can now be heard.  The cross stands as the image of the Christian life in the world, just as it stands for the hope beyond this world, which believers share with Paul.  (Alastair McGrath – Professor KCL and Professor Oxford)

We tend to forget that men of the fourth century, confronted with defining the humanity of Jesus, still had the images and stories of Achilles, Dionysus and Heracles in view. It was not a thoroughly Christian world, but a world still infused with the seductive images of demigods and their courtesans—the same world whose attractions Clement had anguished over a hundred years before Nicaea. Saving the saviour from that kind of emulsion prompted some of the more intricate doctrines of the early period.  The preservation of the humanity of Jesus came at the expense of his historicity. In making sure he would not be confused with Caesar, Apollo or Mithras, they focused on the way in which he was God and how God became man. At the end of the makeover, however, no first century Jew remained to be seen. (R. Joseph Hoffman – Professor Beijing, Oxford)

Ideas about Jesus as pre-existent and divine originated in Jewish context, in the conviction that he was the messiah, although they were subsequently transformed as Christianity spread in the Gentile world.  The Jewish context, even where Semitic languages were spoken, was itself part of the Greco-Roman world, and influenced by Hellenistic culture in various ways.  The old antithesis of Judaism and Hellenism cannot be maintained.  But it was within the specifically Jewish sector of the Hellenistic world that the idea of the divinity of Christ had its roots.  The study of the growth and development of this idea must be interpreted in that context, before its development and transformation in the world of Gentile Christianity can be understood.  (Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. Collins – both Professors at Yale)

Paul, himself a Jew… [argued that] Judaism indeed had an essence, but that essence was the static, dead “law” against which Christianity would come to define itself as a religion of the spirit.  In these formulations, Judaism became a Christian theological category that Christians could use for their own self-definition:  We are not Jews.  (Michael Satlow – Brown)

John’s emphases – repentance for sin, purification – were hardly exotic concerns within Second Temple Judaism.  The particular emphasis that John evidently placed on his own role as agent of this purification…. John’s call to moral renewal in the face of the coming Kingdom mean, precisely, keeping Torah – hardly unique themes in Jewish moral exhortation.  What characterises his particular preaching is his connecting observance specifically with bodily purification and apocalyptic warnings.  …. This concern to attend to the inner (what we would designate the “moral”) dimension of repentance before addressing the external protocols of atonement (purity, offerings, and the like) is a stock theme of Jewish penitential tradition in all periods. … … … What distinguished Jesus’ prophetic message from those of the others was primarily its timetable, not its content.  Like John the Baptiser, he emphasised his own authority to preach the coming Kingdom; like Theudas, the Egyptian, the signs prophets, and again like the Baptizer, he expected its arrival soon.  But the vibrant conviction of his followers even decades after the Crucifixion, together with the unprecedented phenomenon of the mission to Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles, suggests that Jesus had stepped up the Kingdom’s timetable from soon to now.  (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

… Depends on what one thinks Christianity fundamentally stands for.  There is no obvious, established answer to this question which simply being a Christian commits one to.  Christianity, over the course of its two-thousand –year history and throughout the extent of its global reach, exhibits a great variety of answers; Christians are simply not of one mind on this most fundamental of theological questions.  Answers vary of course with church affiliation.  But church affiliation does not decide the matter.  (Kathryn Tanner – Professor Yale)

Its beliefs too tension-filled (for example, monotheism combined with a claim for the divinity of Christ)… (Kathryn Tanner – Professor Yale)

Platonism… develops from … the notion of man’s essentially spiritual nature, from the belief of his kinship with the divine.  But, for Christianity, man is a creature; he is not ultimately God’s kin, but created out of nothing by God and only sustained in being by dependence on His will.  There is an ontological gulf between God and his creation, a real difference of being.  Only in Christ, in whom divine and human natures are united, do we find One who is of one substance with the Father.  AT this point Christianity and Platonism are irreconcilable, and the conflict between them came to a head in the Arian controversy.  (Andrew Louth – Professor Durham, Oxford)

[Myths] are stories imbued with meaning and power.  Myths could be used to explain or justify the way the world is. Even in modern times we acknowledge that a myth can take on a life of its own and become more influential than the original facts on which it was based.  (Geraldine Pinch – Oxford)

[Helipolis obelisks]  Cleopatra’s Needle is the western horizon, the place of sunset and death.  The other obelisk of the pair is the eastern horizon, the place of dawn and rebirth.  (Geraldine Pinch – Oxford)

Early Christians continued to believe in the existence of pagan deities but downgraded them to the status of demons.  (Geraldine Pinch – Oxford)

The gods Seth and Horus were later presented as warring opposites in need of reconciliation”.  (Geraldine Pinch – Oxford)

[fundamentalism]  Contemporary foundationalism takes a surprising variety of forms, ranging from the scriptural literalism of Christian Evangelicals and Islamists to the genomic logocentrism and neurophysiological reductionism of some of today’s most sophisticated scientists.  These seemly disparate forms of belief are alternative versions of a religiosity that privileges simplicity, security and certainty over complexity, insecurity and uncertainty.  Such religiosity attempts to banish down by absolutising relative norms and dividing the world between exclusive opposites (good/evil, sacred/ profane, religion/secularity, West/East, white/black, Christianity/Islam etc).  Its premise is that reality is solid – everything is clear, neat, pure, precise, and, thus, nothing remains subtle, ambiguous, uncertain.  (Mark C. Taylor – Professor Columbia)

No time in history was at once more foundational, and yet so deeply divisive for the development of Christianity than late antiquity (200-800 CE).  During the patristic era – so named for the great fathers and mothers of the early church, the patres – church leaders, theologians, monks and laity set in place the basic elements of Eastern and Western Christianity and many features of the wider culture as well.  But the end of the period, the catholic or orthodox faith was solidly rooted in the Roman empire and its successors, and it was prominent in many places beyond the imperial borders, as Christian faithful began to face the pressure of Muslim invasions.  Yet what may appear to be the golden age of the early church was also a time of conflict and division, marked by heated debates, excommunications, and the fragmentation of Christianity into rival churches – Nicene and Arian; Chalcedonian (Byzantine, Slavic and Russian), Non Chalcedonian (Oriental Orthodox) and Nestorian; donatist and Catholic – and eventually the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christendom. (Christopher A Beeley – Professor Yale)

Christianity was born in Jerusalem, the temple city of ancient Israel where Jesus was crucified and his disciples first witnessed the risen Lord.  Yet the great flowering of Christian theology began farther south, in the cosmopolitan port city of Alexandra on the northern coast of Egypt.  A century and a half after Jesus’ death, Alexandra produced the most prolific theologian of the early Christian period and the person who had the greatest influence on the church’s understanding of Christ for over five hundred years – Origen of Alexandria (c 185-c254).  (Christopher A Beeley – Professor Yale)

The origins of Christianity in Alexandria are notoriously murky.  Most scholars now believe that Christianity first appeared there in the first century through the mission of Jewish Christians from Palestine, and that the earliest Alexandrian Christians lived in fairly close contact with the Jewish population.  The popular idea that Mark the Evangelist founded the Alexandrian church and served as its first bishop, first attested in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastic History in the early fourth century, is unlikely.  (Christopher A Beeley – Professor Yale)

From what little evidence we have, second-century Alexandrian Christianity appears to have been rather diverse, possibly including Jewish Christians oriented toward the Jerusalem church, Greek-speaking Christians of a more ascetical bent, an apocalyptically oriented variety, and a form of Marcionite Christianity – or some combination of these. (Christopher A Beeley – Professor Yale)

Many Israelites at the time of Jesus were expecting a Messiah who would be divine and come to earth in the form of a human.  Thus the basic underlying thoughts from which both the Trinity and the incarnation grew are there in the very world into which Jesus was born and in which he was first written about in the gospels of Mark and John.  (Daniel Boyarin and Jack Miles – Boyarin Professor Berkley)

For moderns, religions are fixed sets of convictions with well-defined boundaries.  We usually ask ourselves:  What convictions does Christianity forbid or what practices does it require we ask similar questions in regard to Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, the so-called great religions of the world.  Such an understanding, of course, makes nonsense of the idea that one could be both a Jew and a Christian, rendering it just a contradiction in terms.  Jews don’t fit the definition of Christians, and Christians don’t fit the definition of Jews.  There are simple incompatibilities between these two religions that make it impossible to be both.  I will argue … that this conception just doesn’t always fit the facts, and specifically that it doesn’t represent well the situation of Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries at all…For centuries after Jesus’ death, there were people who believed in Jesus’ divinity as the incarnate Messiah but who also insisted that in order to be saved they must eat only kosher, keep the Sabbath as other Jews do, and circumcise their sons.  Here was an environment where many people, it would seem, thought that there was no problem in being both a Jew and a Christian.  (Daniel Boyarin and Jack Miles – Boyarin Professor Berkley)

For quite a number of generations after the coming of Christ, different followers of Jesus held many different theological views and engaged in a great variety of practices with respect to the Jewish law of their ancestors.  One of the most important arguments had to do with the relation between the two entities who would end up being the first two persons of the Trinity.  Many Christians believed that the Son or the Word (Logos) was subordinate to God the Father and even created by him; others believed that while the Son was uncreated and had existed from before the beginning of time, he nonetheless was only of a similar substance to the Father; a third group believed that there was no difference at all in substance between the Father and the Son.  There were also very sharp differences in practice between Christian and Christian:  some Christians kept much of the Jewish law (or all of it), some kept some rules but dropped others (e.g.  the apostolic rule of Acts), and still others believed that the entire law needed to be overturned and discarded by Christians (even those born Jews).  Finally there were Christians who held that Easter was a form of the Jewish Passover, suitably interpreted with Jesus as the Lamb of God and paschal sacrifice, while others vigorously denied such connections.  (Daniel Boyarin and Jack Miles – Boyarin Professor Berkley)

The decisions that were made in Nicaea had the effect… of driving a powerful wedge between traditional Jewish beliefs and practices and the newly invented orthodox Christianity.  By defining the Son as entirely on an equal footing with the Father and by insisting that Easter had no connection with Passover, both these aims were realised.  Between Nicaea and Constantinople, many folks who conserved themselves Christians were written right out of Christianity.  Christians who practiced Judaism, even only by holding Easter at Passover… especially were declared heretics.  Nicaea effectively created what we now understand to be Christianity, and, oddly enough, what we now understand as Judaism as well.  Across the seven decades between the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, options for ways of believing or being Christians were cut off through this process of selection, especially the option to be both Christian and Jew at the same time.  One could not both believe in Jesus and go to synagogue on Sabbath:  we won’t let you.  Also, say the Nicene rulers of the Church, one must believe that the Father and the Son are separate persons but of exactly the same substance… if you don’t, say these rulers, you are not a Christian but a Jew and a heretic.  These strenuous efforts to make the separation absolute were further productive of a great deal of anti-Jewish discourse at the time and continuing almost to our own day (nor is it quite dead yet).  Bishop John Chrysostom’s (c 349-407) sermons “Against the Jews” were an excellent example of this development.  (Daniel Boyarin and Jack Miles – Boyarin Professor Berkley)

Clearly, the idea of a living and dying God who is going to be resurrected in the here and now is a non-Judaic idea. Moreover, the idea of an almost God-like Messiah again has no connection with Palestine at all, nor an actual immediate ‘resurrection’ and not at the End of Time (and this for all ‘the Righteous’ not just ‘the Messiah’!), which is nowhere envisioned. All these are non-Jewish and Hellenistic if one prefers or even Egyptian. Of course, you can hark back, as documents like the Gospels try to do, to Daniel’s apocalyptic presentation of ‘one like a son of man coming on the clouds’; but this is meant to evoke the coming of the Heavenly Host in apocalyptic vengeance and Glory as the War Scroll from Qumran, much as the Letter of James, in key passages definitively evokes and describes.  ‘Son of man’ in Hebrew even to this day is the way one expresses ‘being a man’ and this is particularly the case in the Israel of today, where people often say ‘be a Ben-Adam‘ – meaning ‘be a son of Adam,’ ‘Adam’ and ‘Man’ being the same word, that is, ‘be a man.’ …But in the Bible also, Prophets use the term to refer to themselves, the most notable of whom being Ezekiel who is constantly using the phrase ‘son of man’ to refer to himself – probably to distinguish himself from an Angel, e.g., ‘son of man prophesy against the nations,’ ‘prophesy against the peoples’. Here, he is undoubtedly addressing himself. So the whole idea of ‘the Son of Man’ wherever it occurs is a complete misnomer and would show the reader that we are in a total non-Jewish alien environment. (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

A dying and living Messiah, is completely at odds with any conceptuality that would have been understood or known in Palestine at this time. But of course… it has everything to do with how these sorts of god-like figures were seen elsewhere in the Mediterranean World outside of Palestine.   One can see views of the same conceptuality in the tomb paintings of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and how to enter the environment of the gods in ancient Egyptian mythology and folklore. It runs through the whole Book of the Dead, a good ten or fifteen centuries earlier – instructions for how to become a living and dying God or a dying and living God.  The same is true in the Hellenistic Roman world where figures like Alexander – probably influenced by this kind of earlier Egyptian practice and ideology – start to claim that they are descendants, not of their own fathers, but of much more important supernatural deities. This, then, becomes transferred to the Roman Emperors in succession to him, who seem to feel they have to make the same kinds of claims – particularly someone like Augustus, with whom it seems to really have begun, has to start to claim that he is the son of a Jupiter or whomever, since he wasn’t really the son of Julius Caesar or anyone like that; and then this idea of being the son of God starts to permeate the whole Julio-Claudian line and Emperors up to the time of the fall of the temple and the fall of that line.  Each member, in turn, had to declare himself the son of God or some such phenomena so obviously, if you were going to compete in the Greco-Roman world with these kind of conceptualities, the Messiah-type person you are trying to disseminate had to incorporate many of these kinds of qualities. This kind of material had already been circulating in the Horus/Isis/Osiris theology, also from Egypt, and it was widespread in Mithra and other Greek Mystery Religion materials that someone like Paul, familiar with the part of the world now called Asia Minor (but then just ‘Asia’), would have known.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

A rather striking historical fact… [is that] each of the major Eurasian traditions which dominate the history of literature culture has possessed some body of authoritative texts, the transmission of which has been central to its continuing identity.  The Greeks had their Homer, the Jew and Christians their Bible, the Zoroastrians their Avesta, the Hindus their Vedas, the Buddhists their Tripitaka, the Chinese their classics and the Muslims their Koran.  In terms of character and content these texts do not have much in common.  .. Nor is there anything very uniform about the way in which such texts have been preserved, bar the fact that sooner or later they were all reduced to writing.  What they share, despite all this variety, is their centrality to their respective cultures.  (Michael Cook – Professor Princeton)

Religions create, and thrive on, passionate commitment and passionate conflicts. Jesus is a symbol both of devotion and of disagreement. Pagans and most Jews thought that it was absurd to claim that Jesus was the Son of God. And early Christians disagreed fervently among themselves as to whether Jesus was wholly divine, or wholly human, or a subtle mixture of human and divine. Modern believers have tried to forget these ancient debates, and have largely succeeded. But these were only some of the beliefs which early Christians died and later killed for. They help to remind us that there were then, as there still are today, many Christianities. And it was by no means predictable which orthodoxies would win. (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

The final chapter is a study of Jesus, not so much of the historical Jesus as of the many and varied Jesuses of history, constructed over time. Jesus, I argue, is not just, nor even primarily, a historical person. Rather, like the sacred heroes of other great religions, he is a mirage, an image in believers’ minds, shaped but not confined by the images projected in the canonical gospels. To be sure, his canonical historicity is part, but only part, of the image. But as with all beliefs, most is imagination and inspiration. History here is a history of representations, not of facts. So, ancient Christians constructed many Jesuses, as modern believers still do. Fixation on any particular version as the true Jesus is more a matter of believer choice than of historical truth or falsity. (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

This process of elaboration can sometimes be linked to what looks like the process of the development of a doctrine.  Thus in Mark’s view of Jesus as “son of God” (a purely human title which in the Old Testament could be applied to a king like Solomon) developed by the time John wrote his Gospel into Jesus as “The Son of God” (a divine figure who existed with God in the beginning)… … It has often been held that Paul and others Hellenised or paganised the new faith, elaborating it with pagan myth, mysticism and sacraments.  But early Christianity spread thought the synagogues, its only sacred book was the Jewish bible, nearly all its leaders were Jewish, its doctrines were developed mainly controversy with other Jews, and so far as it adapted itself to the Gentile world it did so along lines already worked out by the Jews.  Within the crucial first twenty-five years the issues were fought out in Jewish terms, and most scholars are now inclined to think that all the ideas the early Christians needed were available within the Jewish tradition.  The Jewish tradition was very complex and eclectic at that time.  (Don Cupitt and Peter Armstrong – Cambridge and BBC)

In the case of Jesus the religion that grew out of him is at the very least a considerable transformation of what was taught by him.  In the Christian creeds and doctrinal definitions Jesus’ teaching is not even mentioned… … The question about Christianity is how far it has actually wishes to remain true to Jesus’ message.  … down the centuries Christian belief and devotion has often seemed to stray a long way from Jesus’ own outlook… It has always been much easier to worship the God-man enthroned in heaven than to face up to the real message of Jesus himself. The Christ of the Christendom period was divinised Roman emperor, projected into heaven, wearing the Roman emperor’s clothes and his halo.  He is an awesome and majestic figure… but is he Jesus?  The Christ of modern Christianity, since the Reformation, has been a more intimate and human figure, an ideal self, and elder brother, a companion, friend and guide.  He is a saviour, and a hero of ideal beauty, but is he Jesus?  Des he stand for the values that Jesus, the real Jesus, stood for?  It is at least arguable that the Christ-centred piety of much modern Christianity is a humanist hero-cult, remote from the real Jesus.  (Don Cupitt and Peter Armstrong – Cambridge and BBC)

The Gospels as we have them – whoever produced them – at their core are just too anti-Semitic to have been produced by anyone other than Gentiles.  The animus against Jews – Jews of all stripes, even those representing the Leadership of the Jerusalem Church (called “Pharisees” in Acts) – is just too intense and unremitting to be otherwise.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

Who would have known the character Jesus better?  His closest living relatives, who according to tradition were his legitimate successors and Palestine, and those companions accompanying him in all his activities?  Or someone who admits that he never saw Jesus in his lifetime, as Paul does, and that, on the contrary, he was an Enemy of and persecuted the early Christian community, and came to know him only through visionary experiences that allowed him to be in touch with a figure he designates as “Christ Jesus” in heaven?  The answer of any reasonable observer should be obvious:  James and Jesus’ Palestinian companions.  But the answer of all orthodox Church circles has always been that Paul’s understanding of Jesus was superior… Furthermore, it is claimed that the doctrines represented by James and the members of Jesus’ family were defective in their understanding of Paul’s Christ Jesus and inferior to boot.  Given the fact that the Christianity we are heirs to is largely the legacy of Paul and like-minded persons, this is just what one would have expected and it should surprise no one…. Picture of the Apostles in the gospels as “weak” (Matt 14:31 and parallels), a term Paul repeatedly uses in his letters, almost always with derogatory intent … In the Gospels, reflecting Paul, when an Apostle as important as Peter “sinks” into the Sea of Galilee for lack of “Faith” or denies Jesus three times on his death night, the implications are quite clear.  They are “weak” in their adherence to the Pauline concept of “Faith”, as opposed to the more Jamesian one of salvation by “works”.  In addition, they have a defective understanding of Jesus’ teaching, particularly of that most important of all Pauline doctrines, the Christ.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

The gospels were written when the Jesus movement was split into rival factions, which followed the tradition of particular apostles.  Their reports of Jesus’ relations with the disciples sometimes reflect these earlier and ongoing conflicts.  For example, Mark (10:35) shows up the disciples, James and John, as crudely ambitious:  they want to sit on either side of Jesus in heaven.  Matthew in a parallel passage (20:20) exonerates them, by attributing these ambitious to their mother; Luke helps make peace by omitting the incident.  When Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, Mark (8:29-33) has Peter recognise Jesus as the Christ, but then he rebukes Jesus, who in turn compares Peter to Satan.  (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

These passages even contain veiled attacks on someone as important as Peter… statements like “Whosoever denies me before men, him also will I deny before my Father in Heaven” (10:33) have direct relevance to Peter, pictured in the Gospels, as we have already seen – among other such shortcomings – as having denied Jesus three times no his death night (Matt 26:69-75).  This, of course, is part and parcel of the retrospective polemics of these Paulinized and Hellenized, Gentile Christian Gospels as we have them… … If a man comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters… he cannot be my disciple (14:26).  This attack in Luke comes after the picture of Jesus having just attacked dining with brothers, kinsmen, and the Rich, rather than the Poor, the blind, and the lame (14:12-21)…. Nothing could better illustrate the manner in which the Gospels [carry out] thinly disguised attacks on the family of Jesus and the Jerusalem Leadership.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

The word “homoousion” by which the Nicene fathers excluded the subordination of Arius is not biblical, and the reservations felt about it on that score are an indicator of normal expectations.  In De Synodis, therefore, Athanasius is at pains to argue that the term is true to the sense of scripture.  The main theological question addressed by the Greek theologians was how to speak religiously of Christ without endangering Judaeo-Christian monotheism.  When the experience of salvation in the church and sacrament was thought to demand a confession of his full divinity, that was considered not a novelty but a clarification with the conceptual tools available in Greek philosophy, of what had always been believed everywhere by all orthodox Christians.  It led to a Trinitarian doctrine of God adumbrated by the triadic formulae in Matthew 28:19, and 2 Corinthians 13:10, and looser formulations such as 2 Corinthians 1:18-22, 1 Peter 1:3-12. (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

While employing the warp and woof of Jewish Messianism, this is exploited basically to produce a pro-Roman, spiritualised, Hellenistic-style mystery religion.  Here, one must understand that, while all the Gospels exhibit differences, the Synoptics are basically variations on a theme – with more less material added.  John, while differing markedly as to specific historical points and development, still comes from the same Hellenistic, anti-Semitic mind-set – even more extreme.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

Whatever one’s personal attitude towards martyrdom, there is something unsettling about imagining ourselves into the world of an individual who embraces death and sacrifices their life.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

The idea that thought his crucifixion Jesus was the exemplary martyr became common currency in the early church.  (Jolyon Mitchell – Professor Edinbrugh, Dartmouth, Cambridge)

There were huge changes in the religious life of Rome , both during the Republic and during the Empire, gods, myths and festivals all evolved over that period.  Things changed because of changes in the social and political situation of Rome, they also changed because of the changing relationship between Rome and her Empire.  (Emily Kearns – Oxford)

Outside Rome analysis of the religious life of the empire is extremely difficult.  The imperial world includes an enormous variety:  Roman cults borrowed from Rome, traditional Greek civic cults (as at Nysa), newly created cults (Mithraism, Jews and Christians).  It has always been tempting to talk in terms of neat abstract categories:  Judaism; Christianity; Mithraism.  Those categories, especially Judaism and Christianity, used to be seen as exclusive entities.  That is, their theological and practical positions each had a central core, consistent across place and time:  round that core were a number of awkward or heretical deviant groups which could be treated as simply marginal.  They were exclusive of each other and of other religious groups of the time.  However the current trends in the study of Judaism and Christianity are firmly against the normative assumptions of the old picture. So in the context of Judaisms and Christianity it has become conventional to recognise diversity within each system (so “Judaisms”, “Christianities”).  It is then a matter for debate as to whether each of these two bundles were neatly separate religions in a way that other religious practices of the Empire clearly were not. (Emily Kearns – Oxford)

Ideally speaking, what we should expect is the following twelve stages in a divine / human Redeemer’s career.  These stages represent a cluster of expectations.  Not all of them are necessary in any one redeemer’s life… (1) supernatural or mysterious origin (2) birth portents (3) infancy perils (4) initiation, revelation (5) voyage in search of wisdom (6) contest with demonic powers (7) miracle working such as cures, resuscitations (8) extreme ethical virtue and / or wise sayings (9) conflict with conservative / repressive / civil / religious authorities (10) dramatic final scene (11) violent, mysterious death (12) resurrection, ascension, post-resurrection appearances and the judgment of the dead.  This general scheme, mutatis mutandis [in one form or another], applies to Buddha [who lived about 500 BC], Jina [many centuries BC], Jesus and Mani.  And of course, the similarity between Jesus and Mani was not accidental.  Mani and his followers consciously attempted to imitate and surpass Jesus.  (Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

It is often assumed… that the Gospel of Mark presented a very human Jesus (called “low Christology”) because it was early the idea of a fully divine Christ had not yet been articulated.  But “high Christologies” of a divine or pre-existent Christ also existed at a very early stage (Phil 2.6-11), and Mark may have deliberately sought to minimize divine or heavenly claims for Jesus (16.5n).  At times Jesus is even said to be lacking in power (6.5) or faith (14.36; 15.34), but the audience already knows the ending of the story:  Jesus is the true Messiah and will be resurrected and vindicated by God.  (Lawrence M. Wills – Professor Episcopal Divinity School, previously Harvard)

The story of the hospitality of Abraham belongs to the oldest strand of religious tradition to speak about angels.  It is a story that is common to Jews, Christians, and Muslims…  [however] At some points there  are differences between Christianity and Islam on angels, as, for example, on the question of whether the Devil is a fallen angel.  Nevertheless, what is most immediately striking is that angels are companions of Abraham; they occur in the stories of Abraham in the earliest forms we have.  It is also noteworthy that the religions that claim Abraham as their father, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all continue to tell stories of angels.  Jesus, in one of his parables, speak of the poor man who dies and is “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22)  (David A. Jones – Professor Twickenham, Oxford)

Luke’s report of Jesus’ last word differs markedly from 4 Maccabees 6:26-30, in which the aged Eleazar, having been repeatedly tortured in order to get in to eat pork, prayed, “Thou knowest, God, that though I might have saved myself, I die in fiery torment for the sake of the Law.  Be merciful to thy people, and let my punishment be sufficient for their salvation.  Make my blood an expiation for them, and take my life as a ransom for them.  (Leander E. Keck – Professor Yale)

Israel’s God was not the only one who “lives”.  Indeed, oath formulas from ancient Egypt used the phrase “as Amun lives”, as did oaths in Israel (see, e.g.  1 Sam14-45; 2 Sam 2:27; Job 27:2; a misuse of the formula is criticised in Jer 5:1-2).  Even the famous line in Job 25:19 “I know that my Redeemer lives” has a parallel in a Ugaritic text about Baal “And  in know that Aleyan Balal lives” (though this may allude to his annual reanimation).  (Leander E. Keck – Professor Yale)

The Early Church was so creative largely because its most vocal members so frequently disagreed with each other.  (Peter Brown – Professor Princeton)

Taken literally, the New Testament in particular describes a cosmic battle between good and evil beings for control of the physical world.  These supernatural figures intervene not only in the operation of nature… but also in the lives of human beings.  The beneficent beings direct humans to do good; the malevolent ones compel them to do evil.   Taken literally, the New Testament describes a pre-scientific outlook… (Robert Segal – Professor Aberdeen, Stanford)

A generation after Jesus’ death, when the Gospels were written, the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (in 70 C.E.); the most influential centres of Christianity were cities of the Mediterranean world such as Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus and Rome. Although large number of Jews were also followers of Jesus, non-Jews came to predominate in the early Church. They controlled how the Gospels were written after 70 C.E.  (Bruce Chilton – Professor Yale)

The messiah of biblical and rabbinic tradition is definitely and truly human.  In the Hebrew Bible, the term (which occurs only thirty-nine times) usually designates the current ruler of Judah or Israel:  being anointed with oil was the way one assumed office in the ancient Near East.  Accordingly, we also find meshiach (anointed one) in reference to the High Priest (e.g.  Lev 4:3, 5, 16).  But at one point the entire people are called “God’s anointed” (Psalms 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22), and elsewhere so is Cyrus the Persian .. (Isaiah 45:1)…  But the historical anchor for the messianic tradition is the warrior king David.  … The Prince of Peace must first be a man of war: his duty is to inflict final defeat on the forces of evil.  But – and, in the light of the symbol’s resonance with the royal and military Davidic tradition, unsurprisingly – we find the Judaism of this period no idea that the messiah is to die to make atonement for sin.  The dying messiah falls in battle, a prelude to the coming messiah son of David; the one whose suffering expiate the sins of other sin the Servant Songs of Isaiah is the people of Israel.  These two concepts might be conjoined in a later, and significantly different, first century apocalyptic movement [i.e. Christianity]; but within traditional Judaism they were distinct.  … …. Judaism preceding and contemporary with ancient Christianity knew no tradition of a resurrected messiah, and thus nothing of a dying messiah.  Where an “anointed one” does die – in Daniel 9:26, for instance, “after sixty two weeks, the messiah will be cut off and be no more” – he is a human political figure.  But he is not, ipso facto [“by that very fact” i.e. the fact that he has died], the final eschatological Redeemer-king.  (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

Jesus, both before and especially after his execution, was not a credible messianic candidate, and his apostles knew it.  If Mark 12:35-37 recalls any historical incident, Jesus knew it too.  The messiah everyone expected as the Davidic messiah… … … What then should we conclude about the scandal of the cross?  First, that in light of their experience of Jesus’ resurrection, early Christians turned necessity into virtue by seeing in Jesus’ cross a premier theological justification for its violation of traditional expectation:  the messiah died for the sins of many. (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

Even more dramatically rehabilitated are the disciples, and especially Peter.  In Mark they are ineffective, inconstant, almost inexplicably dim-witted.  When the gospel closes, they have been off-stage for two chapters, last seen deserting Jesus in Gethsemane or, in Peter’s case, denying him in the High Priest’s courtyard… But with the shift from the second to the third Christian generation likewise came a shift in the perception of the disciples.  They assumed a new stature and dignity, which Matthew protected by reworking offending passages in Mark.  Thus where Mark’s Jesus had rebuked the disciples for lack of understanding, Matthew’s simply explicates the parable (Mark 4:13; Matthew 13:18).  In Mark, James and John ask Jesus for a high place in the Kingdom; Matthew attributes the offensive request to their mother (Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 13:18). And where Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi had elicited obscure reactions and ultimately a harsh rebuke, in Matthew it calls forth lavish praise whereby he establishes Peter as the rock of the (future) church (Mark 8:27-33; Matthew 16:13-23).  For Matthew’s third-generation community, the disciples were no longer failures, but founders.  Witnesses to and partners in the original mission to Israel (10:1-11:1), they lined the Gentile church to its Redeemer (28:16-20).  (Paula Fredriksen – Professor Boston, Princeton, Stanford)

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man.  He worked surprisingly deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly.  He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks.  When Pilate, upon hearing  him accused by men of highest standing among us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him did not give up their affection for him.  And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has not disappeared to this day.  (Josephus AJ 18.63-64)

The earliest Christians confidently expected Christ’s return and the complete establishment of God’s kingdom within one or two generations at most.  (Denis Nineham – Professor Cambridge, Professor Oxford)

It is at least possible that it was only when the heavenly Christ came to be recognized as Son of God that the idea arose that he had claimed to be such, and been recognized as such in the days of his flesh, no explicit tradition to that effect being known.  (Denis Nineham – Professor Cambridge, Professor Oxford)

Does it make sense to think of a single and continuous Christian history, a steady movement towards the (nearly) universal dogmatic syntheses of the fourth and fifth centuries?  Few scholars could be found to support such a thesis in these simple terms.  Or is the orthodox consensus an historical accident?  If the latter is true, considerable problems arise for the contemporary believer and the believer’s delegate, the systematic theologian: is any version of Christianity as valid or “authentic” as any other?  … the question of whether there was an identifiable “orthodoxy”, a prevailing sense of the norms of Christian identity, prior to AD 300 has disturbingly wide repercussions. …. How, if at all, is one to identify the “centre” of any religious tradition?  … is the whole notion of looking for the essence of a particular religion, or the essence of what makes this or that tradition a religion, a mistake?   (Rowan Williams)

Once by mistake I got into a Communion service and there saw human sacrifice still going on in symbolic form – Flesh and Blood symbolically consumed.  (AJP Taylor – Oxford)

Despite the proscription of heathen cults by the emperor Justinian in AD 553 the deep wellspring of ancient Egyptian religion proved a fertile force for the development of early Christianity, for Isis and Horus substitute the virgin and child – the iconography (and much of the underlying theology) remained virtually identical.  (Toby Wilkinson – Cambridge)

More generally, though the Christological distinctiveness of John’s gospel should not be denied, it should not be exaggerated.  True, only this gospel explicitly designates Jesus ”God” (1:1, 18; 20:28); but this gospel also insists not only on Jesus’ humanity but on his profound subordination to the Father (see esp 5:16-30).  Conversely, the synoptists, for all their portrayal of Jesus as a man, portray him as the one who has the right to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12 par, – and who can forgive sins but God alone?) and relate parables in which Jesus transparently takes on the metaphoric role most commonly assigned to God in the Old Testament.  (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

The Tree of Life, or the Cosmic Tree, is a symbol common in many ancient religions.  In Judaism it is associated with the almond tree; the almond was used as the pattern for the cups, capitals and flowers of the menorah.  In the Bible it appears not only in the Adam and Eve story, but also in the New Testament.  The cross is associated with the Tree of Life, mentioned again in Revelation (22:2).  The Tree of Life stood at the centre of the world (the Garden of Eden), and Christ’s crucifixion is said to have happened at the centre of the world.  The two trees of Eden (Life and Knowledge) are also reflected in ancient Babylonian religion – the Tree of Truth and the Tree of Life, which stood at the eastern entry to the Babylonian heaven.  (John Bowker – Professor Gresham, Cambridge)

By the time Paul wrote his letters to the different churches within 20 to 30 years of the Crucifixion, the title “the Christ” had already become more or less a proper name, “Jesus Christ”.  This suggests that the claim that Jesus was the Messiah quickly become established among Christians.  (John Bowker – Professor Gresham, Cambridge)

Although the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, it is a central doctrine of Christianity:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons as one Godhead.  The term evolved in the fourth century CE after a long series of Christian debates.  (John Bowker – Professor Gresham, Cambridge)

It is said that there are over 20,000 Christian denominations alone.  (John Haldane – Professor St Andrews, previously Oxford)

It must strike even desultory readers of the Old Testament that the god it depicts – a tribal deity – is a bully and a tyrant of the first water.  The contrast with the New Testament’s avuncular deity is striking.  But what readers might not know is that some biblical texts have a decidedly questionable history.  Consider Deuteronomy, which in the midst of yet another doctrinal quarrel with Israel, was suddenly and conveniently “found” by workmen refurbishing the Temple; and of course it gave unequivocal support to one side of the argument.  Yahweh often entered on cue like this, apparently unable to resist politics, and invariably on the winning side.  Jesus’s divinity affords another example.  In Mark’s Gospel he is a man; in the theology of St Paul he is the medium of the New Covenant; in the fourth century AD, after a massive controversy over the Arian “heresy” – Arius of Alexandra had argued that Jesus must be less divine than the Father – he became a god in human form.  (A. C. Grayling – Professor Birkbeck, Oxford)

Many of the feasts of the Christian calendar began as pagan festivals, and were adopted and adapted by the church as a means of winning converts.  Easter, for example, has its origins in a pagan celebration of nature’s resurrection.  According to St Bede, the word is derived from Scandinavian Ostra or Teutonic Ostern or Eastre, in either case the name of a goddess of northern mythology responsible for fertility and birth – along scholars now disagree with him (and among themselves) about these etymologies.  The symbols of Easter, rabbits and eggs, are as ancient as the festival: rabbits signify reproductive ebullience, eggs symbolise new life.  Like the phallus-worshipping May-day observance which closely follows it (and which contemporary self-styled “Pagans” regards as a more important feast…), Easter is therefore about sex.  The contrast with the purely spiritual and other-worldly significance now attached to it is striking proof that propaganda and brutality (e.g.  burnings at the stake) can make entire populations believe the very opposite of what their ancestors believed.  Christianity’s appropriation of this age-old fertility festival is of a piece with its frequent adaption of other once-pagan things.  The quarter-days, including Christmas, are associated with moments of astronomical importance, namely the solstices of winter and summer and the equinoxes of spring and autumn, all of them major pagan feasts.  Many of the saints of the Christian calendar are pagan deities whose cult was so strong that the new religion could make headway only by incorporating them; two of many examples are St Vitus and St Hippolytus.  Fraser in the Golden Bough famously begins by showing how worship of the Virgin Mary was grafted onto worship of the virgin goddess Diana, whose cult in Italy during the first centuries AD was very powerful.  The Christians’ technique was effective; the old faiths were simply incorporated wholesale into the new; Diana’s worshippers were told that they could at last know her real name, which was Mary.  (A. C. Grayling – Professor Birkbeck, Oxford)

For the church does not exist to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that sets down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary… sacrament of holy communion that we gather to perform. .. is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter day.  (Rowan Williams – Professor Oxford and Cambridge)

“The idea of the saving benefit of a righteous man’s death is hardly unusual in the Jewish world, or in the Mediterranean world in general, for that matter.  There are several expressions of the belief that the death of the righteous will benefit, or even, save, God’s people… Among the most important are traditions associated with the torture and death of the Maccabean martyrs”.  (Craig A. Evans – Professor Acadia, Princeton)

Unfortunately we cannot go back to some “pure, authentic Torah” received and handed on by Moses.  Jewish tradition and Christian tradition both believe there was one, and Jewish tradition believer that it was preserved by the rabbis.  Ultimate, this is a matter of faith.   No one can establish the text of such a Torah, and historians cannot tell us of a time when one monolithic Judaism was accepted unquestionably by all Jews as authentic.  … even in the first century several forms of Judaisms existed side by side, and each lay claim to being the authentic Torah.  Christianity, in its turn, made a similar claim, that Jesus was the “fulfilment” of Torah, and that Christians were the “true Israel”.  (Norman Solomon – Oxford)

The idolatry of holy books…What the reformed traditions often don’t get is that they have given up worshipping images only to worship a book.  (Giles Fraser – Church of England priest, Oxford)

Isis-worshippers believed that she had restored her dead husband, Osiris, to life.  (Natalie Haynes)

All ancient religious worship involved offerings.  The Athenians would pour libations to their gods, spilling a little wine for Athene, and sharing a drinking cup among themselves.  They would sacrifice animals at their temples.  The internal organs of the sacrifice would be burned, as the god’s portion.  The willingness of the sacrificial victim (bulls were less docile than the average sheep, for example), the darkness of hits blood – these things were seen as omens.  Then the rest of the animal would be cooked and eaten by those attending the sacrifice.  The religious experience was therefore actually a social one.  (Natalie Haynes)

The Romans had a very business-like attitude to their gods, a relationship that can best be described with the Latin phrase “Do ut des”, “I give, so that you may give”.  In other words, a roman would offer a sacrificial gift to the gods in the expectation of getting something in return.  No wonder the idea of sacrifice was so integral to ancient polytheism:  how could you expect some help or favour form a god if you hadn’t killed an animal or poured some wine for them.   You can’t get something for nothing.  (Natalie Haynes)

Scientologists inside and outside the Church hold that Mr Hubbard is the saviour of humanity.  Others question that. Paul Thomas Anderson’s brave and good film, The Master, is loosely based on Hubbard.  The film’s tortured main character, a true disciple, is warned: “You know he’s making it up as he goes along”.  (John Sweeney)

But after he failed the shengyuan examinations for the fourth time, he opened the Christian tracts and read them fully.  In a sudden shock of realisation, Hong saw that the two men in his vision must have been the God and Jesus of the tracts, and that therefore he, Hong, must also be the Son of God, younger brother to Jesus Christ.  Like Lin Qing in north China thirty years before, Hong was able to persuade people of his spiritual powers through a charismatic manner and a strong religious conviction.  But unlike Lin, Hong did not work secretly through a network of local sectarian cells.  Instead he began to preach his message publicly, baptize converts, and openly destroy Confucian and ancestral shrines…. By 1849 he had attracted around 10,000 followers.  (Jonathan D. Spence – Professor Yale)

[Son of God]  Where the phrase occurs in the gospels, we cannot be sure whether it was actually used in the time of Jesus or has been introduced later in the writing of the gospels.  What can be said is that, if it was used in the time of Jesus himself, it meant no more than the special human agent of God; it could not have meant the second hypostasis of the Trinity.  (William Montgomery Watt – Professor Edinburgh)

The world’s first city [Uruk] is celebrated I the world’s first work of epic literature; “The Legend of Gilgamesh” told the story of Mesopotamia’s King Gilgamesh, two thirds god, one-third man, who was credited with the building of Uruk’s famous city walls.  (Richard Miles – Sydney and Cambridge)  [italics added]

[Egypt]  The king was carefully presented to his subjects as the incarnation of sacred power.  His mandate did not merely cover the day-to-day order of the Egyptian state.  He guaranteed and safeguarded the cosmic and earthly order.  (Richard Miles – Sydney and Cambridge)

The story of Jesus was certainly not a unique one in first-century Judaea.  There were other prophetic religious figures from Galilee who attracted considerable followings before falling foul of the Roman authorities or their client kings, the most famous being John the Baptist.  What made the Christian sect stand out was that Jesus’ messianic claims did not die with him.  On top of this, Christianity’s growing focus on converting gentiles meant that it stopped being just another Jewish sect.  Paul of Tarsus was a key figure in this process of broadening the sect’s appeal.  His upbringing as a member of the Jewish elite and his status as a Roman citizen made him an unusual convert to Christianity, and he started to take the fledgling religious group in a completely new and ambitious direction.  Paul began missionary work across Syrian, Asian Minor and Greece, and it had a galvanizing effect; by the time of his death in the 60s the sect was still small, although well established in many of the larger cities in these areas.  The majority of the members of  these new Christian communities were gentiles, mostly artisans.  Perhaps because of the hostility they faced, originally from the Jewish elite and later form the Roman authorities, the Christians organised themselves well.  They had a clearly hierarchy and strong leadership from bishops and priests.  Their community had an ethos of charity that made it very attractive to the poorer sections of Roman urban society, who always looked favourably on any one who fed them and buried their dead.  (Richard Miles – Sydney and Cambridge)

[Christianity in the fourth century]  There seemed to e very little agreement among the wider Christian community about what constituted orthodox belief.  When a serious dispute arose over whether the Holy trinity of the Father, Son and Holy ghost was one body or separate entities with a hierarchy, Constantine, who saw himself as God’s representative on earth in both religious and secular affairs, was determined to bring the squabbling to an end by ordering the bishops to find a compromise.  He called the Council of Nicaea in 325, where a decision was reached to which virtually all the bishops signed up. But if Constantine thought that was the end of the doctrinal infighting then he was very much mistaken.  It soon turned out that none of the parties were happy with the outcome.  (Richard Miles – Sydney and Cambridge)

Christianity, particularly as it was shaped by the apostle Paul, is a religion of anticipation, in that humanity is understood to be suspended in time between Christ’s first and second coming, knowing that the world’s restoration to its original wholeness and divine indwelling is assured by not yet completed.  (Bronislaw Szerszynski  Lancaster University)

Luke was writing probably 15 years, maybe 20 years after Mark, and actually knew the Gospel of Mark. He reproduced a good bit of Mark’s Gospel in his Gospel, in the Gospel of Luke. What is striking is that he took out this verse that – where it says that where Jesus says that he’s come to give his life as a ransom for many. Luke took out that verse, and when Luke portrays the crucifixion of Jesus, there’s nothing about the crucifixion scene that makes you think that this death is meant to be an atonement for sin. In fact, Luke also wrote a second volume that we have in the New Testament. He also wrote the Book of Acts, which talks about the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire. And there are a number of sermons in Acts in which the apostles are trying to convert people. And in these sermons, they talk about the death of Jesus, but they never mention that Jesus’s death is an atonement for sin. Instead, what they say is that Jesus’s death was a huge miscarriage of justice. The people who did it are guilty before God, and they need to turn to God so that God – in repentance – so that God will forgive them. In other words, the way the death of Jesus works in Luke is not that it brings atonement for sin. It’s the occasion that people have for realizing their sinfulness so that they can repent, and God will forgive them. [interviewer - So that's a pretty fundamental difference in the perception of the symbolic significance of Christ's death] Absolutely. And it’s not the only – these are not the only two views. The early Christians had a lot of different views about the significance of Jesus’s death. The thing that made them all Christian, I think, is that all of them thought that Jesus’s death, in some way, was important for human beings’ standing before God. But as it turns out, there are some groups of Christians – in the first, second century – who didn’t think that the death of Jesus actually mattered that much for salvation. (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

You know, what happened with me with respect to heaven and hell – I guess is what happened with a lot of the Christian doctrines – is as a historian, I came to see where these ideas came from. And I realized that these ideas didn’t descend from heaven one day soon after Jesus’s death, that in fact, the doctrines of heaven and hell were human creations – that the humans came up these views of heaven and hell. And in my book, I explain a little bit how that happened, that doctrines of heaven and hell developed within early Christianity; that they weren’t actually the teachings of Jesus or of his earliest followers, but they were later developments, as were the doctrines of the trinity, for example, or the divinity of Christ. (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

For me the history of Judaism develops from X to Y to Z, just as Christianity develops
from X to Y to Z. and these developments take place in history, due to historical
forces and circumstances, some of which we understand, some of which we don’t
fully understand because of the documentation, but which we nonetheless do our
best to understand.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

What do Jews say in reply…. If I commit a sin I’ll repent.  The system is built in and allows for human frailty.  And it’s not as if God creates us in such a sinful state that we then depend on God to send me a remedy for that fundamental sinful state.  No.  god knows that we humans are frail creatureswe are fallible.  We commit a sin.  We atone for our sins.  We repent.  We engage in Torah study, charity, good deeds.  And that makes up on some level for the sin that we committed.  And that’s fine.  That would be what a Jew would say in reply.  To which a Christian would say
“that’s not enough” to which a Jew would say “ it is”.  (Shaye Cohen – Professor Harvard)

The story of the development of early Christian theology is by its nature one of
division and dispute, and it was in exploring the grounds and consequences of
those disputes that Chadwick excelled. He quoted, not without approval, a
remark by the early church historian Socrates of Constantinople to the effect
that “controversy and conflict are the very stuff of church history, and that
if the Church were suddenly to be at peace, there would be nothing for [the
historian] to record”.  (from The Times obituary of Professor Henry Chadwick)

[‘Lamb–Jesus’] Perhaps, despite the Christian originality in worship, the concept of a
creature put to death for a religious purpose was so strongly etched onto the
collective unconscious that Christians did not dare to obliterate it
. (Marie-Zoe Petropoulou)

The Oasis Elim.  A remarkable departure from
the Septuagint text is found in a dialogue between Moses and his father-in-law
in which Moses describes a dream. In
his dream Moses is conveyed to Sinai’s peak,
where he sees a gigantic throne and upon it, God himself in human semblance. God
bids him approach the throne, gives him
the sceptre, seats him on the throne and crowns him. From the throne, Moses beholds the whole universe. According to the interpretation, Moses will cause a great throne to arise, and he himself will rule over mortals. Moreover, he will see all things in the present, past and future. The fragments
place emphasis on the Passover, and they express a cosmic understanding of
Jewish existence. Moses’ cosmic kingship implies a claim by the Jewish
nation to be the ruler of the
Accordingly, the opposing Egyptians who fought against the Jews, were
destroyed. The tragedy shows how an Egyptian Jew employs Greek literary form to
interpret Jewish self-understanding. The tragedy was written during the second
half of the third century or the first half of the second century B.C.2 2 This picture
of Moses’ heavenly ascent and divine kingship

shows that Philo’s corresponding understanding of Moses was not an innovation
made by him. Philo oscillates between military and spiritual warfare, but he
testifies to the continuation of a militant eschatology in the Jewish
community, ideas which probably inspired some Jews to take up arms at the death
of Gaius Caligula in A.D. 41, and in the revolts of A.D. 66 and A.D. 115-17.  (Peder Borgen – Professor Trondheim)

Today the study of Hellenistic thought and philosophy at the beginning of the Roman Empire reveals more clearly the syncretism and eclecticism which are characteristic of this epochPhilo borrowed Greek concepts which serve to explain what is the object of his faith and to express it to his readers. He does this unhesitatingly and with confidence.  (C. MONDÉSERT  – Professor Institut des Sources Chretiennes) 

The origins of Christianity are immensely complex. They have usually been approached in two main ways which, paradoxically enough, have not been mutually exclusive. One approach, not strictly historical, bearing the authority of a very long history and renewed with vigour in the First half of the twentieth century, has emphasized the radical newness of the Christian Gospel as a supernatural phenomenon breaking into the worldwith a startling discontinuity which defies rational analysis. The other approach, more characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has sought to understand the emergence of Christianity as a phenomenon to be interpreted within and over against the contemporary First-century religions. The second approach has generally forked in two directions,one leading to the Graeco-Roman world and one to the Jewish. TheChristian movement has correspondingly been illumined mainly in terms either of Hellenistic syncretism or of the Judaism of the First century. Only in the twentieth century has the recognition grown that the Hellenistic and Judaic cultures and religions of the first century cannot be easily separated but reveal deep interpenetration.  (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and E.P. Sanders Professor Oxford)

Historically Jesus was, of course, a Palestinian Jew. He taught the imminence of the kingdom of God, interpreted the Torah in a highly original way, taught wisdom and morality in parables, often performed miracles and criticized the piety of his contemporaries, as a charismatic radical. But this very Jewish figure, it may be claimed, under the influence of Greek culture mediated through Hellenistic Judaism, came to be interpreted in the Greek Gospels in categories familiar and congenial to the Graeco-Roman world. Jesus, a wandering charismatic healer and teacher, can, on thebasis of Mark in particular, be interpreted as a ‘divine man’, similar to other ‘divine men’. The tradition about him adapted him to the Graeco- Roman cultural milieu and thus came to present the divine figure found in the Gospels. (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and E.P. Sanders Professor Oxford)

A remarkably prevalent view is that Paul changed the religion of Jesus, a good
Jewish prophet, into the cult of a divine Christ figure
. [but]  The
idea that Paul was in any sense the founder of Christianity won’t wash.
Christianity was very much a going concern when he was converted on the
Damascus Road, which is why Paul was trying to eliminate it so
… … And the idea
that Paul the convert might somehow have invented the Christian gospel, and
then foisted it on the rest of the church doesn’t make sense for other
reasons.  He was in no position to impose his ideas on others, even if he
had wanted to:  Jerusalem was the Christian HQ, and after his conversion
Paul was a persona non-grata there. (David Wenham – Oxford)

In Christianity, God is said to have incarnated His son, Jesus, as a human; thus the essence of the Christian myth is that a divine figure became a human being. This follows the pattern of Jewish myth where it is angels who are incarnated as human. Genesis 6 describes how the Sons of God cohabited with the daughters of men, begetting giants. Rabbinic commentaries identify the Sons of God as two angels, Shemhazai and Azazel, who descended from on high, took on human form, and sought out human women for lovers.136 These angels revealed all kinds of heavenly secrets, including magical spells, and taught women the arts of seduction. In addition, the prophet Elijah, who was taken into heaven in a fiery chariot, is an angel who often appears in human form on earth.137 Another variant of this divine-to-human pattern concerns how the talmudic sage Rabbi Ishmael was conceived. It is said that Rabbi Ishmael’s mother was so pious that God sent the angel Gabriel to take the form of her husband and to meet her at the mikveh, the ritual bath, and to conceive a child with her. She, of course, had no idea that it was a disguised angel and not her husband who met her. She conceived that day, and when Rabbi Ishmael was born, he was said to have been as beautiful as an angel.138 This is the same theme of human women having intercourse with an angel, but here it is with God’s approval, while the angels Shemhazai and Azazel broke their promise to God that they would not fall into sinful ways. So too are there myths in which the patriarch Jacob is identified as an angel who came down to earth in human form. We can now see that this myth, so strange at first, is part of an explicit pattern in Jewish mythology, that of a divine figure becoming human. Sometimes these echoes even become overt. The first century philosopher, Philo, proposed that it was God who begat Isaac, not Abraham, although God made sure that Isaac closely resembled Abraham. Philo even says that this child was born to the “virgin” Sarah. Here we find a direct parallel to later Christian lore. Indeed, there are an extensive number of parallels with Hellenistic and Canaanite mythology. What this indicates is that Jewish mythology was not isolated from the other mythologies. It was resonant with the motifs that were the psychic currency of their neighboring cultures. (Howard Abraham – Professor University Missouri)

A line heard frequently in my youth went, “Jesus was a nice Jewish boy; Paul
was an apostate who organized Christianity into a religion in opposition to Judaism.” Since becoming an historian of the period, I have learned different. It’s probably more correct to say that the second
founder of Christianity was not Paul, but rather the apostles who saw the
earthly Jesus. Paul, writing in the mid-decades of the first century C.E.
before the Gospels were set down, rarely gives us any of Jesus’ words or any
information about the man Jesus. Instead, he gives us a record of his own spiritual
life and his faith in the crucified Messiah. He gives primacy to his
personal relation to Christ through revelations and visions. The Gospel
writers, influenced by those who knew Jesus, differed with Paul’s ideas about
resurrected bodies and Jesus’ Second Coming. We might even say that the Gospels
were redacted in part to “flesh out” Paul’s writings. Within the
Gospels we see the themes of immortality and resurrection that Paul provides,
but also a struggle to keep any extraneous notions of immortality out of the
story of the Christ. In the end, the Gospel writers won. Paul’s more mystical
view of Christianity did not predominate. To understand how the Gospels and
Paul differ, we need to look at Paul’s understanding of resurrection
bodies–both Jesus’ and that of believers. Paul’s mystical faith depended on
identifying his salvation with the risen Messiah. The identification was not
metaphorical, but a real transformation in the same form as the risen Christ in
heaven (the fancy word for this is ‘symmorphosis’). For Paul, Jesus’
resurrected body was a spiritual body… … … for Paul the very
fulfillment of the end of time … is a spiritual transformation in which the
flesh is left behind. As the Eschaton approached and as humans learned to be in
Christ, the kingdom of God would be actualized. And from his visions, Paul
knows that the process of transformation into a glorified, spiritual body has already begun and will be completed at the
last trumpet. Such a transformation is not clearly present in the Gospels, written in the decades after Paul’s letters. The Gospels reflect the religious needs of a later generation of Christians and their reflections on the issue of faith, religious authority,
and the afterlife. The Gospels are devices for the mission of the church, a
different and broader mission than envisioned by Paul. The Gospels may actually
attempt to correct some of Paul’s notions… … Not so for those working in the
apostolic tradition into which Paul fought so hard to be included. Their
writing starts appearing in the 70s of the first century and continues through
the beginning of the second century. They knew something that Paul could not
know–namely that Jesus’ Second Coming would not happen in the first generation
after Jesus–and they adapted to that fact. Part of this meant correcting for
Paul’s overly spiritual religious life and defending Christianity against the
errors of even more radical thinkers. For these proto-orthodox Christians, the
inward process became secondary and the redemption of the world primary. Faith
meant belief in those who had received their knowledge from the original
apostles, who sat at the feet of Jesus and witnessed his life, death, and
resurrection… For the evangelists of that apostolic lineage, Jesus’ resurrected
body was a literal, physical body revivified, not a spiritual body… Visions of
Christ were not wrong in themselves. The apostles had them. But, authority
based on visions is always dangerous in religious life, because anyone may have
them and claim their knowledge is equal to the leaders’, whereas not everyone
could claim they sat at Jesus’ feet… For these apostles, disciples, and
evangelists, Paul’s faith was too personal, too visionary, and too spiritual.
It needed supplementation, in the eyes of the evangelists.  (Alan F. Segal – Professor Barnard, Columbia University)

there is an old tradition in Judaism that anthropomorphizes God, usually by confusing
YHWH with his angel. The figure is given various titles like Son of Man or
Manlike in the theophany texts like Daniel. Philo knows the figure as “the
second god” or the “logos”. It is this tradition that lays the
foundation for interpretations of Jesus that make him out to be God. It is also
the tradition that was used by Gnostics to develop their demiurge. (from
synopsis of “Two Powers in Heaven” by Alan F. Segal – Professor Barnard,
Columbia University)

Segal explicates Jesus’ movement in the context of other varieties of first-century Judaism, and in particular in the context of Jewish apocalypticism and messianism, noting that pre-Christian Jewish speculation concerning the Messiah focused
on his role as the individual who would bring God’s justice to the world (p. 67). Like other Jewish groups, Christians sought to ground their world view through their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible -here, their understanding of the significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the suffering
Messiah. Christianity was able to transform itself from an apocalyptic sectarian
movement to a “religion of personal piety ” with broad appeal
to non-Jews, without sacrificing the strong group cohesiveness characteristic of apocalyptic and millenarian communities (p. 95). (from Barbara H. Geller Nathanson review of Alan F. Segal “Rebecca’s Children”)

The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible if it is read in its
historical context. Of course, one can find references to the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, even together
as a triad in Matthew 28:19. But the actual doctrine, which teaches
that the three are different “persons” who each share the
same “substance” of full divinity, took centuries to be developed,
elaborated, defended, and established as Christian dogma.
Christian theologians may be right if they say that the doctrine is at
least “hinted at” in the New Testament, and that the later church
was correct in “taking” the Bible to teach the doctrine, but that is a
theological position, not a strictly historical one. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

Through the centuries, Christians have needed to come
up with new versions of Jesus, made to fit their own times. Jesus the warrior
king. Jesus the prophet of love. Jesus the judge. Jesus the shepherd. Today in
America, many people make a single Jew out to be a man of family values. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

For the Jews who were the first Christians
(before they were even called so), two possibilities were open in order to
interpret the crucifixion of the Messiah.
Like Paul, one might accept this paradox and transform it into faith in
the suffering servant – after all a figure known in ancient Judaism.  But one might also refuse the  ignominious death of the son of god.  Such an attitude we know represents one of the oldest and most radical of the Christian heresies, Docetism:  Jesus did not die on the cross; he only appeared to suffer…. The
Pauline interpretation will win the upper hand in the combat against the
Docetist interpretation, insisting on seeing the crucifixion as a veritable
sacrifice that was carried out right to the end.  (Guy Stroumsa – Professor

The idea that Satan was a fallen, rebellious angel who was joined by
other fallen angels, who are the same beings as those
called “demons” or “evil spirits” in the New Testament, is not actually in the New Testament. It is an invention of Christians that began in the second century CE, and became important for Christian mythology and lore. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

[scapegoat ritual]  in all probability, the Israelite ritual was not indigenous but derived eventually from Northern Syria. At the same time, we also find aclearly related ritual in ancient Greece (Note also its occurrence among the Romans and in ancient India).. Moreover, there are strong indications that the ritual played a significant role in the development of the Christian doctrine of the atonement. (Jan Bremmer – Professor Groningen)

It was at the end of the second century that Christians first made substantial attempts to harmonize the religion of Jesus and Paul with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Clement of Alexandria published a set of Miscellanies, written in the style of table talk, in which he argued that the study of philosophy was not only permissible, but necessary, for the educated Christian. (Anthony Kenny – Professor Oxford)

De vita Mosis, [by Philo of Alexandria] which recounts in the manner of Hellenistic biographies the life of the character chosenin it Moses is presented in the same way as Hellenistic writers outline for us the portrait of an ideal sovereign,who should be wise, a saviour, a being of divine inspiration and a living law explaining the law of nature and of God.  (C Mondesert)  

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