Friday, February 27, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: 1-3

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: 1-3

If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  The article is expanded by including lengthy citations from the Old and New Testaments for easy comparison and analysis.  Since Dr. Price has put this on his website for public consumption, I do not mind reviewing it in a little more detail than I normally would.  So we have got about 300 pages of Old Testament midrash to slog through, so we better get started.  Dr. Price starts with the Gospel of Mark.  Let’s see how far I get:

1. Introduction Mark 1:1-3

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets:
“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”
3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”

The Gospel of Mark is likely the first gospel written, and if so, this is the prologue that introduced Jesus to the world.  Who did the author of this prologue think he was writing about?  Was he writing a history as he witnessed it, or was he writing history as he divined it from ancient scriptures?  “ it is written in the prophets…”  It looks to me like he is stating the source of his information up front.  It reads more like a creed or statement of Faith than an eyewitness source.  So what would be a sure sign that this New Testament narrative is derived from Old Testament midrash?  A phrase like “ it is written in the prophets…” could not make it more explicit.  This is explicitly telling the reader that the passage in front of everything is coming from the Prophet Isaiah.  Phrases like this seal the deal for me.  Dr. Price explains that the Evangelist Mark cobbled this prologue together from a variety of places, not just the Prophet Isaiah: Malachi 3:1, Exodus 23:20 and Isaiah 40:3.  With this explicit reference, there is no doubting that the introduction to the Gospel of Mark is composed entirely from various Old Testament passages.

2. Jesus’ Baptism Mark 1:9-11

The Gospel of Mark is likely the first Gospel ever written about Jesus.  As such, there is no story of his birth or childhood.  No idea of Bethlehem, his parents, wise gift-bearing magi, or mangers.  The story opens with Jesus being baptized by John, followed by an epiphany from the Heavens and the Spirit descending on Him.  Is this history?  Is it allegory?  Is it history derived from Old Testament Scriptures?

Nothing is explicitly referenced from the Old Testament, but Price instead gives several possibilities as a source.  Among these is a tradition in which the Persian Prophet Zoroaster baptizes himself in service of the god Ahura Mazda, and another Jewish tradition of Isaac, bound on an altar by his father, sees the heavens opened, with adornment from angels and a proclamation from God.  hmmm.   I have two objections.  I do wish Price would have cited the sources of this kind of non-Christian, non-canonical material.  I admit that this may simply be due to a non-standardized citation format for this kind of material, but it would have been useful to reference some original source, so that the reader can evaluate what Dr. Price is presenting.  I cannot imagine that it is very difficult thing to do when most all scriptures of every world religion, including Persian Zoroastrianism is now open source material and easily available online.  You can view the wealth of available Zoroastrian material HERE

My second objection is more problematic.  Assuming Price’s working model of midrash, why would the Christian author use Persian and Zoroastrian traditions outside of the milieu of Jewish sacred scripture and tradition?  I understand that new religious beliefs and traditions are formed from the syncratic mixing of various religious influences.  But this syncretism is a subtle process, and only obvious in hindsight.  I do think that the Zoroastrian religion did influence the Christian religion, but I do think it was more a product of cultural mixing than explicit citation and borrowing of religious texts.  Besides, I don’t think you need Zoroastrianism to explain the presence of baptism in Christianity.  It seems more probable to me that the religious ritual and symbolism of baptism is shared among many cultures as an obvious symbol of cleaning and rebirth.

Price does give more explicit Old Testament references that may have been combined by the Evangelist (e.g. Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, Genesis 22:12), and this gives us a stronger claim to midrash.  In fact, had Price not diluted his argument by including Zoroastrian and Targum traditions, I may have given this a grade of A.  See how subjective my whole ridiculous grading system is?  GRADE: C

3. The Temptations  Mark 1:12-13 ; 1 Kings 19:5-8
Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days and tempted of the Devil.  Moses was in the desert of Midian for - guess how long? Forty years is implied.  And after Elijah stomped on the prophets of Baal, guess how long before his sojourn to Mt. Horeb? (1 Kings 19:5-8)  You guessed it - forty days and forty nights!  It immediately strikes me that during my time as a Fundamentalist, I would have called this an instance of typology.  In fact, my church taught regularly taught that Old Testament references to things like forty days were there to foreshadow events in the life of Jesus.  Apologists like Herbert Lockyer called it Messianic Prophecy.   In fact, I suspect that as I go through this chapter in Dr. Price’s book, much of what Price will reference as cases of midrash are already well known to Fundamentalists.  We noticed ‘forty days’ in the Old Testament too.  We just thought it was validation of the Bible’s inspired nature, and divine origin.  Price argues that it is just tapping the wellspring of  sacred tradition.  The parallels to Mark 1:12-13 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have Jesus quoting Deuteronomy in his three rebuttals to the Devil.  Price notes that the three passages refer to “trials of the people of Israel in the wilderness (the manna, Massa, and idolatry), which they failed, but which Jesus, embodying a new Israel, passes with flying colors” (p. 65).  I find this contrast striking and I think it must be intentional from the Evangelists Matthew and Luke.  It would be even more convincing to me if a pattern could be demonstrated where Jesus always succeeds where the sinful people of Israel failed.

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.


Alice said...

Yes, we were very into the typology thing as well. The only cases of baptism I am aware of in the OT are of the Levites having to wash before entering the Tabernacle. I bothered me greatly, this baptism of John which was not spelled out explicitly in the OT.

HeIsSailing said...

Alice, did you think that everything in the Jesus story was modeled or prophesied in the Old Testament? Good ol Chuck Missler sometimes sure made me think so.

Alice said...

When I read your story, I noticed that your dealings with Mr. Missler were well before the internet. I actually found him one day from a link on a end times forum. The article was about how the ages of Church history parallelled the order of the Churches in the first chapters of Revelation. I'm sure you're well familiar with it:)I think we were supposed to be in the Laodicean age.

At the time, I was so hungry to prove that Sola Scriptura was true, that we needed no magisterium or popes or bishops, or anything like that to tell us what God wanted, it was all in this magical book. My years in the Catholic faith were quite disenchanting and I HAD to know that they were indeed wrong and the Bible was all we needed.

So when I came to something like John's baptism, which I learned was part of Jewish tradition (oh how I HATED that word tradition)it made me wonder if Bible only wasright.

Ugh so much time spent on it all.

Alice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HeIsSailing said...

Alice, that is really interesting. I first saw Chuck Missler speak at Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque around 1990 or so. The guy just blew my mind. He made me think that I was able to discover the secret mysteries of the Spirit Realm just by prayerfully unlocking the ciphers of the Bible. It was an exciting time in a lot of ways.

My church used to avoid the word 'tradition'. The Christian religion could not evolve from anything. To think there were outside influences ruined our perception that Christianity was created from nothing and completely independent of its surrounding culture. The Jewish culture was acceptable to me since Jehovah Himself dictated the rules behind that particular tradition. Baptism was not a problem to me for some reason. But I will tell you what I discovered to be very disturbing to me - drinking the blood of Jesus.

Jesus explicitly commands His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood, for there is eternal life for those who do this. "My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink" John 6:55

But how can this be a Jewish tradition? The Deity Jehovah gives an explicit command not to consume blood in Leviticus 17:10-12 . Jehovah will set His face from the person who consumes blood, and that person will be cut off from the people of Israel. I know the shedding of blood can be pictured in the passover festival, so the type could fit there. But drinking the blood? Why are we to drink the blood? What would prompt Jews to ignore the word of Jehovah and gain eternal life by drinking the blood of Jesus?

If there is really typology in the Old Testament, that little bit would contradict the entire Christian Gospel of blood atonement. But that bit of anti-typology seems to be ignored by Chick Missler and his friends. Oh well.

"Ugh so much time spent on it all. "

Try not to regret the time spent on all this discernment of magic and mystery. We are all trying to make sense of this maze of life.

Alice said...

I had huge problems with communion and baptism both and found myself secretly enamoured with The Salvation Army and Quakers who didn't mess with them. If it was about relationship then why the outward ritual?

As far as the Jews rightly not wanting to consume the blood, that is a very good point.

Hubby and I would prayerfully watch Missler's show on TBN for a time and he had us (at least me) mesmerized as well.