The Fruits of Monotheism

HILR Fall 2018

SGL: B Ruml

5. The Historical Jesus

Where are we? So far:

1. Cosmic monism's inability to handle the problem of evil has resulted in the new idea of a second antagonistic force: Satan.

Where are we? So far:

2. The introduction of personal piety (in addition to the animal sacrifices at the Temple on behalf of the community) has focussed attention on the inaccuracy of the prophets' claim that the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished in this life.

As a result: the new idea of the delivery of divine justice after death.

Where are we? So far:

These two new ideas, added to the certainty that YHWH was the superior cosmic force, led naturally to the idea of a final battle in which YHWH vanquishes the forces of evil forever and provides the final judgment of just deserts.

Where can one go with these ideas?

Jewish apocalypticism: Daniel, Qumran, Enoch (Watchers)

Gnosticism: Christian and non-Christian varieties


wide range of 2nd century groups;

believed that this material world was inherently evil and needed to be escaped from;

that such an escape would be possible only on the basis of secret knowledge;


matter (evil) v. spirit (good);

Is this "metaphysical dualism"?


The true God (pure spirit) could not have created this evil material world;

So, various stories about creation by an inferior evil supernatural being


A divine being (Sophia: wisdom) "fell" and generated a divine being outside the divine realm who was therefore evil;

This evil being created the world as a place to imprison Sophia in the bodies of some humans.


Those with the divine spark (the elect) wish to escape this world and can do so if they gain the (secret) knowledge.

This knowledge must come from outside this world.

Some gnostics considered Jesus to be the bearer of the secret knowledge.

Gospel of Thomas (2nd century)

114 sayings

no stories; no passion or resurrection;

eternal life depends on correct understanding;/p>

purports to be written by Jesus's twin brother;

How is Gnosticism like Jewish Apocalypticism?

conflict of good and evil;

present world controlled by the forces of evil;

reward elsewhere: afterlife or in escape from this world;

How is Gnosticism unlike Jewish Apocalypticism?

entire material world as evil (cf., "and it was good");

Kingdom of God not in the future;

means of salvation: knowledge v. keeping the Law;

Jesus's Jewish context


Roman domination;



Tiny minority of 3.5 million Jews

6000 Pharisees;

4000 Essenes;

2000(?) Sadducees;

Sects: Pharisees

Devout (esp. purity) and therefore separatist (no clout);

Followed the oral traditions about Torah (Mishnah, 200CE);

Believed in angels and resurrection;

Jesus rejected the importance of srupulous observance;

Sects: Sadducees

Jewish aristrocracy; close to priesthood (many were priests);

In their interest to accommodate Romans;

Rejected oral law: Torah only as divine commandments;

Note: opposite positions from Reformation!

No angels, no resurrection, afterlife in Sheol;

Why did they oppose Jesus?

Sects: Essenes

Also devout (esp. purity) and therefore separatist;

Temple profaned by non-Zadokite high priest;

Wrong (lunar) calendar being used;

Cosmic dualism; coming Messiahs; final battle;

Sects: Zealots

Active resistance to Romans;

Escallated revolt of 66CE into all-out war;

Roman Domination

Taxes of one-third! (e.g., Herod's Temple)

Widespread non-violent resistance;

Special tensions in Jerusalem during festivals (esp. Passover);

Ehrman on Origins of Apolcalypticism

Prophets claimed that political setbacks were punishment for disobedience;

Not an "adequate" answer in the face of inconsistencies (gentile prosperity);

Martyrdom under Antioclus: those keeping the Law were punished;

Satan was to blame.

Critical Addendum:

YHWH is ultimately in control;

But has yielded control temporarily;

For what conceivable reason?

Ehrman's Apocalypticism

Cosmic dualism;

Historical pessimism (helplessness);

Ultimate vindication (requires resurrection);


The Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke

Mark written first around 70CE

Matthew and Luke around 10 years later relying on Mark

"Q": what Matthew and Luke have in common but not in Mark

"M" and "L": what Matthew or Luke have uniquely

Sources for Matthew and Luke
Sources for Matthew and Luke

Was Jesus an Apocalypticist?

The earliest sources so describe him;

The later sources retreat (Luke, Joohn);

The latest sources deny a future Kingdom;

Criteria of Authenticity

Earlier is better;

Contextual credibility;


Independent Attestation;

The End