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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

refutation of Doherty's Evolution of Jesus (4 of 7)


Doherty assumes what we have just disproved, the latter development of Cross and tomb, in order to assert a fictional Q community that lacked knowledge of Jesus and set up the basic Q document:

"If, on the other hand, the "biography" of Jesus of Nazareth was something unusual which went against the grain of current knowledge and belief, one can understand how early versions of the Gospels, written around the turn of the century, would have enjoyed only limited use and isolated reworking for at least a generation."
The Gospels would certainly be limited in acceptance even if the cross and the tomb were early and well known. Doherty wants us to think its because something totally new is being introduced into a tradition that never had it before, and that is true, but that doesn't mean the new element is the cross/tomb part of the story, nor is it an earthly Jesus. What's new is the introduction of written sources as more authoritative than oral sources. Papias complains that he likes to hear the spoken word better than the written word, this indicates that even as late as the early second century some oral tradition was still lingering. The Gospels do not have to have been written by their namesakes to be inspired but even with Apostolic backing they would still take time to spread, and still take time to gain authority. No one thought of these sources as scripture. We have always known scripture, for the early church, meant the Old Testament, not what we call "the New Testament." The gospel authors didn't think of themselves as writing "the Bible." Of course the whole assertion has been disproved anyway because the early Christian writings were full of quotations and allusions to the Gospels.

At this point Doherty makes one of his most crucial moves, grounding the canonicals in the Q tradition. He tries to establish the primacy of Q as an older and more authoritative source, then he will try to separate it form Jesus completely and argue that the Christians took it over form some other group noting to do with Jesus to begin with. We shall examine this on the next page
The core of the historical Jesus precedes the Gospels and was born in the community or circles which produced the document now called "Q" (for the German "Quelle," meaning "source"). No copy of Q has survived, but while a minority disagree, the majority of New Testament scholars today are convinced that Q did exist, and that it can be reconstructed from the common material found in Matthew and Luke which they did not get from Mark.
Of course this is very misleading because there is no Q document. What we have are traces of some tradition, but it could as easily be a version of Matthew or Matthew's "Logia" (of which Papias speaks) or Thomas, or even non existent. A lot of scholarly movement is found back in the direction of anti-Q feeling, and one need not abandon Marcan priority to abandon Q (Mark Goodacre "Fallacies at the Heart of Q" and Alen J. MacNichol "Has Goulder Sunck Q?"). Trying to attach Q to a historical community is especially amazing since we don't even know what Q was.

Doherty rightly points out (according to theory) that Q was not a narrative but a "saying source," and in that sense not a conventional "Gospel" as we think of Gospels. It was filled with ethical sayings and prophetic utterances, but none of the statements about the cross or the tomb fall within the Q range of sayings. Of course that would be true because they are used in all three synoptics. If Q is automatically assumed based upon material shared by Matthew and Luke but not in Mark (of course they do allow for overlaps but that's another issue) then automatically the tomb and cross would be excluded because it's in all three. That in no way proves that it was missing from Q. Its' just a matter of dogmatically excluding such sayings from that which we call "Q." Since don't have a copy of Q it makes it very easy to say "the cross and the tomb were not in Q."

In accessing Q's origin Doherty says: "It was the product of a Jewish (or Jewish imitating) sectarian movement located in Galilee which preached a coming Kingdom of God." Koster warns to be careful of the assertion that it was from Galilee. The assertion is based upon the only place names in Q, but there could be other reasons why those are the only place names used:

Helmutt Koester (remember page 1? Doherty quotes him as an authority) warns us not to do exactly what Doherty is doing, assuming a fictional group based upon the cynical sounding nature of some Q passages!
Helmut Koester:

Q 10:13-15 announces the coming judgment explicitly with the view to two Galilean towns, Chorazin and Bethsaida: even Tyre and Didon will be better off in the coming judgment. And the same saying threatens that Capernaum will be condemned to Hades. Except for the lament over Jerusalem (Q 13:34-35) and the localization of John the Baptist's activity in the area of the Jordan (Q 3:3), these are the only names of places which occur in Q. It is, therefore, tempting to assume that the redaction of Q took place somewhere in Galilee and that the document as a whole reflects the experience of a Galilean community of followers of Jesus. But some caution with respect to such conclusion seems advisable for several reasons. One single saying provides a very narrow base. Polemic against the Pharisees cannot confirm Galilean provenance - Greek-speaking Pharisees could be found elsewhere in the Diaspora, viz., Paul who persecuted the church in Greek-speaking synagogues, probably in Syria or Cilicia. Even the sayings used for the original composition of Q were known and used elsewhere at an early date: they were known to Paul, were used in Corinth by his opponents, employed perhaps in eastern Syria for the composition of the Gospel of Thomas, and quoted by 1 Clement in Rome at the end of the 1st century. The document itself, in its final redacted form, was used for the composition of two gospel writings, Matthew and Luke, which both originated in the Greek-speaking church outside of Palestine. (Ancient Christian Gospels, p. 164).
Doherty links the first layer of Q with counter cultural non Christian movements, (as Koster warns against) hatching out for himself a bogus history for his fictional Galilean cynical non Jesus worshipping Q community:
Scholars have concluded that Q was put together over time and in distinct stages. They have identified the earliest stratum (calling it Q1) as a set of sayings on ethics and discipleship; these contained notably unconventional ideas. Many are found in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes, turn the other cheek, love your enemies. A close similarity has been noted (see F. Gerald Downing, "Cynics and Christians," NTS 1984, p.584-93; Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence, p.67-9, 73-4) between these maxims and those of the Greek philosophical school known as Cynicism, a counterculture movement of the time spread by wandering Cynic preachers. (Mack has declared that Jesus was a Cynic-style sage, whose connection with things Jewish was rather tenuous.) Perhaps the Q sect at its beginnings adopted a Greek source, with some recasting, one they saw as a suitable ethic for the kingdom they were preaching. In any case, there is no need to impute such sayings to a Jesus; they seem more the product of a school or lifestyle, formulated over time and hardly the sudden invention of a single mind.
He's making the assumption that Q is the oldest Christian teaching, because it has an older strata. But that in no way means it's the oldest of Christian teaching. Just because Q goes through a development form cynical sounding ethical sayings to concrete history of Jesus life in no way indicates that the church's understanding went through that evolution. The PMR that embodied the Tomb/cross tradition could be just as old. Here we are comparing narrative action with ethical teaching. If one has only a concept of writing down teachings and sayings, not story lines, how does one include a narrative in a list of sayings? That doesn't prove the narrative didn't exist. All it proves is that Christian literary consciousness expanded. It moved from the static saying source to a dynamic narrative account, but this took several decades. No one had ever written a Gospel before, the communities that invented the Gospels invented the literary form. There is a good reason why the ethical saying would be older than the narrative too, because they originated out of Jesus own teachings while he was alive. That's a very good reason why the group of original disciples would have Jesus ethical says already memorized and already being copied before they got to any narrative action. They probably already had them memorize before Jesus went to the cross. So of course the body of ethical teachings could be set aside as a separate unit and preserved in the memory of the group apart from the story.

Let's consider this argument. We have indications that in the latter part of Jesus ministry he began to attract a lot of people. Women were following the camp and taking care of things (cooking, cleaning). Lots of people were always about. Jesus sends out 72 disciples (Matthew 13) to preach and work miracles. Where did he get them? From the body of followers that had began to surround him. Matthias replaced Judas. The Apostles said "he has been with us from the beginning." So clearly there were other disciples who followed Jesus and who made a camp and regularly around him. wouldn't these people, and new followers as well, want a list of the teachings they were signing up to learn and follow? Jesus was telling them how to live, so they were memorizing sayings about ethics and daily living. The Sermon on the mount was a classic example of Jesus' ethical teaching and thus we find ethical teachings in Q. What if Q represents a list of ethical teachings largely compiled before Jesus had even died? That would be a good reason for it to leave out the cross and the tomb. It may have been used to teach new camp followers about the ethical system Jesus was teaching. After Jesus died they would save the list, they would copy it and pass it on. It is our conditioning to think Jesus = Gospels, that conditioning tells us they had to add a narrative. There is a very good reason why they would not have added the narrative to the sayings list. They were not running a six o'clock news program, they all knew he died. They knew about the empty tomb. They were probably re-telling the women's finding of the tomb every night in their communal meals. There would be no need to add these things to list of teachings, but the sacrosanct nature of the teachings given by the Master before he died and went away would be reason enough to keep the list intact. I'm not saying this is anywhere near proven, but it's alternative that explain the situation without the radical conclusion that the early community did not have knowledge of the cross or the tomb.

Doherty is also assuming from the outset, dogmatically, that they are not Christians in the sense of having a Jesus story. He assumes that Jesus emerges from their ranks and the sect was already going as a cynical group oriented around some body of ethical teaching. He has absolutely no reason to assume this whatsoever, and it seems the Galilee is a major part of his assumption, and of that Koester warns us not to make too much. Of course that's convenient for Doherty because it "explains" why Jesus would come from Galilee. The group put him forward, Doherty will argue because they needed a heroic figure to counter John the Baptist. But we will get to that latter. The fact of the saying having a cynical flavor in no way means they were not Jesus' teachings or that there was any original group to which Jesus belonged. It could just as well be that the cynics were on to something and Jesus' actual teachings coincide with theirs. Of maybe he liked the cynics. That doesn't create Doherty's fictional group. Actually, the sayings are not that close to the cynical mind set. They no more the cynics than any number of ethical view points. At that point Doherty has no reason to assume that these sayings were taken over by a Jewish group with eschatological expectations. He needs this to explain the rise of the Jesus myth form this group (the need for a leader). But there is no reason to assume it. He can't show a reason why a Jewish eschatologically oriented group would be concerned with cynical teachings.

There probably had to be a group that produced the Q document (assuming there was a Q document) but to assert that it was cynical, that it was pre Christian, that it knew nothing of Jesus, is all uncalled for and to assert that it did not know Jesus death is just plain wrong. The Burton Mack assumption that Q lacks a death of Christ is totally wrong, and this opens the door to the notion that the cross was expunged from Q material. But be that as it may, there is good reason not to understand these cynical sounding Q statements as indication of a group producing Q material prior to a Christian group.

David Seely argues that the cynical expression had become so popular among Greek speaking Jews that it could be found everywhere, and that it was used as a means of framing the Jewish understanding of prophetic death. Jesus death was then dealt with by early community in way that the deaths of the OT prophets were dealt with, which means framing it in a cynical outlook:

David Seeley


[This article first appeared in New Testament Studies 38 (1992) 222-34; it appears here by permission of Cambridge University Press. The Greek of the original has been transliterated.]
The Sayings Gospel Q is notable for lacking an account of Jesus' death./1/ It is surprising that one early Christian document is apparently so indifferent to an event which plays a profound role in others (e.g., Romans, Mark). Scholars have, to be sure, observed that the issue of persecution and/or death is often referred to in Q, and many have come to believe that these references are casting an implicit glance at the death of Jesus himself. According to this line of thought, early Christians would have used the deaths of the prophets to connect Jesus' death with those of his followers. I do not intend to argue against this. Rather, I will propose that there is also another view according to which Q related Jesus' death and those of his followers. This view involved common, Cynic-Stoic ideas of the time.

The Deuteronomistic-Prophetic Understanding of Jesus' Death in Q In Q, there are six passages which deal with the issue of violent persecution and/or death (Q 6:22-23, 6:27-29, 11:47-51, 12:4, 13:34-35, and 14:27)./2/ Three of these mention the prophets./3/ Q 6:22-23 cautions Jesus' followers not to sorrow over being persecuted, for the prophets received similar treatment. Q 11:47-51 refers to the deaths of the prophets and apostles. Q 13:34-35 refers to the deaths of the prophets alone. These verses imply that Q may have understood Jesus' death in terms of the deaths of the prophets. This implication has grown easier to follow in light of O. H. Steck's work. Steck has argued that, by the first century CE, two important ideas had coalesced: 1) a belief that prophets were habitually killed by the recalcitrant Israelites; 2) the deuteronomistic view of Israel's repeated disobedience against God's laws./4/ Steck has termed this coalescence the deuteronomistic-prophetic view. According to it, the Israelites would sin, God would send his messengers to admonish them, and the people, compounding their sin, would kill those messengers. Nehemiah 9:26 provides important evidence for Steck's argument: "[the Israelites] were disobedient and rebelled against thee [God] and cast thy law behind their back and killed thy prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to thee, and they committed great blasphemies."
In conclusion Seely argues that the framing of Jesus death in this way would have been a very widespread element throughout Jewish culture of the time:
This article has done three things. First, it has pointed out that Q 14:27 does not match the deuteronomistic-prophetic interpretation of Jesus' death, even though the verse seems to address that death more directly than other Q passages. Second, it has proposed that 14:27 does match Cynic-Stoic views on the nature of a teacher's death and its relationship to disciples' deaths. Third, the article has asserted that this kind of influence is plausible from a cultural, chronological, and social standpoint. Though the arguments presented here are obviously not the only ones that can be entertained concerning this verse, they nevertheless deserve serious reflection./50/
Meanwhile, Doherty moves on to the next stage in the development of Q. He's trying to hitchhike his bogus notion of the fictional Jesus story being born out of this evolution of the Q group. He's trying to graft one on to the other.
This formative stage of Q scholars call "sapiential," for it is essentially an instructional collection of the same genre as traditional "wisdom" books like Proverbs, though in this case with a radical, counterculture content. Later indications (as in Luke 11:49) suggest that the words may have been regarded as spoken by the personified Wisdom of God (see Part Two), and that the Q preachers saw themselves as her spokespersons.
Here he is making several major assumptions not in evidence. He's making a connection that shouldn't be made, he wants us to think that because some wisdom traditions embodied a personification of wisdom, that must be the case with all wisdom literature. Solomon's Ecclesiastes is a wisdom tradition and that uses the vehicle of the wise but flesh and blood Solomon as it's author, not some idealized wisdom figure. Doherty wants to splice together these ideas of the idealized personification of wisdom with the eternal Jesus because group needed a wisdom figure. But this way of doing it is so clumsy and so contrived. I want Doherty to show me one example of any group anywhere in the world that ever did things this way. As I have argued before, he has mythology running backwards. No group first exists as an amorphous blob loosely connected to some set of ideas, decides that it needs a mascot to focus it's ideology and then drafts some ethereal being and then shapes it into a concrete historically bound story.

One also wonders what the group was about in the first place. He has a group of cynics, apparently organized around a set of sayings, and those saying are taken over by a Jewish eschatological group, which then has a crisis of leadership and needs to make up a wisdom figure to embody the sayings and give the group a new leader after the loss of the old one (John the B) but wouldn't the first set of sayings require a leader to say them to begin with? How could they just take over this group of sayings from a pagan religion and then work them into the fabric of their group separate and apart form the teachings of their own leader, then cram them into the mouth of their new fictional leader. How would all work for group cohesion in real life?

He pulls this splicing of ethereal Jesus with need or wisdom figure in the coincidence of the prophetic layer of Q.
The next stratum of Q (labeled Q2) has been styled "prophetic," apocalyptic. In these sayings the community is lashing out against the hostility and rejection it has received from the wider establishment. In contrast to the mild, tolerant tone of Q1, Q2 contains vitriolic railings against the Pharisees, a calling of heaven's judgment down on whole towns. The figure of the Son of Man enters, one who will arrive at the End-time to judge the world in fire; he is probably the result of reflection on the figure in Daniel 7. Here we first find John the Baptist, a kind of mentor or forerunner to the Q preachers. Dating the strata of Q is difficult, but I would suggest that this second stage falls a little before the Jewish War.
Here He has the community turning to the prophetic as a means of attack against the rejection they have already encountered. Who would reject and who would identify with this amorphous blob oriented around a few sayings of the Greek cynics? If there was pre Christian Q community that was oriented around the Greek cynics, they would probably have been placid and boring; the cynics were akin to the stoics, they took everything in stride and avoided emotions, if they lived in a Rodenberry universe, they would be Vulcans. Why were they rejected exactly, prior to finding this mascot (Jesus) what drew them together as a group? Just for a few cynical sayings? I think we have to do better than this. Of course its much more likely that Jesus emerged as a real flesh and blood person out of Galilee because that was a political hotbed rife with revolutionaries. It's far more likely that Jesus had this burning concept of the prophetic because real people who actually lived in Galilee thought that way, not like the placid cynics or stoics; It's really much more likely that Jesus was into this prophetic frame of mind because the Jews were into that way of thinking at that time, and because the Galilee was the hotbed of such thinking. The placid nature of a group oriented around cynicism would not fit the revolutionary zeal of the Galilee. Cynicism was popular and could fit into a larger background, but Doherty is assuming the group was oriented around the Q sayings which are cynical in nature, but he can't furnish us with a notion of the nature of the original group. Of course one might argue that if Jesus existed Christians must accept that he really thought those things so he had to more than just a revolutionary, but a thinker deeper than mere politics. That's true, but it works better with a real person. That's the kind of inconsistency one finds in real people. It's harder to see how it would it capture the imagination of a group without a real leader.

The only real clue Doherty can give us about the nature of the group is that it would be Jewish, and thus oriented around some notions of Messianic expectations of the end times. To that extent it seems a contradiction in character that their whole ethical teaching would be based upon the cynics. Now one might argue, "hey but Jesus has the same problem." But Jesus was as a real flesh and blood man could draw criticism and be seen as a challenge to authority and gain the ire of others, but as a fictional mascot who knows? Doherty assumes that the Q group would delve into the end times, understands that the son of Man comes from Daniel but seems oblivious to the fact that this was a standard epithet for the Messiah. So when Jesus speaks of himself as "son of man" in third person he is actually saying "I am the Messiah." This would have been a commonplace for the Jews.
There is good reason to conclude that even at this stage there was no Jesus in the Q community's thinking. That is, the wisdom and prophetic sayings in their original form would have contained no mention of a Jesus as speaker or source. They were pronouncements of the community itself and its traditional teachings, seen as inspired by the Wisdom of God.
one can only wonder why, Out of a hotbed of revolutionary zeal a placid cynic-stoic group (cynicism and stoicism when hand in hand) with a bland message (Love your neighbor) suddenly feels put upon, when in reality they would have been totally ignored in the revolutionary world of the Galilee? One wonders why they would muster prophetic sayings anyway with nothing more than "love your neighbor" and the like as the center of their group identity.

Doherty hitchhikes on the back of Q in seeking to play textual critic. He tries to show a disjunction between the persona of Jesus of Nazareth and the ethical says and the "son of man" statements of Jesus. He's arguing that these statements are being put in Jesus mouth, and this is supposed to prove that the Q group existed without any Jesus in their ranks and separately from any idea of a flesh and blood earthly rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth.
For while Matthew and Luke often show a common wording or idea in a given saying core, when they surround this with set-up lines and contexts involving Jesus, each evangelist offers something very different. (Compare Luke 17:5-6 with Matthew 17:19-20). This indicates that Q had preserved nothing which associated the sayings with a ministry of Jesus, a lack of interest in the source of the teaching which would be unusual and perplexing.
Or it could indicate that the evangelists organized their material in terms of the needs of their contemporary community. That's what scholars think they did, how then can this be evidence for the addition of a fictional Jesus? I think what he's talking about is what scholars call "pericopes" (per-ic-op-pees) which are independent units of story. An example would be Jesus healing the leper. That can be taken out and put in any number of places and not ruin the flow of the overall narrative. We find this happening all the time. For example In John Jesus cleanses the temple at the beginning of this ministry, in the synoptics he does it at the end as part of the Eastern weekend, and high drama leading up to the arrest. For John cleansing the temple serves to kick off Jesus ministry, for the synoptics it serves as a plot device to lead to the arrest. The evangelists weren't too concerned with chronology of each saying or each incident. They had more or less a free flowing narrative. Doherty sees this as proof that there is no history to the Jesus story, most scholars see it as an indication that these guys were not historians but preachers. They did not have a concept of writing history but were writing sermons for the community. Moreover, this device, the pericope was brought out by Bautlmann in his development of form criticism. It probably developed in this manner as indicative of oral testimony. In trying to memorize a long story one works with small independent units. Then in writing it down the redactors realized that they could play with the chronology of the units. Again this is proof, not that the Jesus story evolved over time as though it was fiction, but that the church learned, little by little, how to write.

Let's examine the two passages Doherty mentions:
Luke 17:5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Mat 17:19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

Mat 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
These are clearly very similar statements but not identical. For one thing Jesus might actually used these two different illustrations at different times. Of course the structure of the statement is close enough that they are clearly following a pattern. No one talks in such a way as to use the very same syntax over and over again. Still the fact that there is a minor difference (one is dealing with a tree, the other a mountain) might indicate that there is a reason why similar statements are put in two different contexts. To just conclude "O well its' because it's all made up and there' no history to base it on" is absurd. Looking at the context one can see that the notion of fitting the statement to the needs of the community is probably the answer.

Doherty sees the content of Gospel discourse infused with material from a pre-Christian sect devoted to Jewish prophetic expectations in Greek cynical format. He finds that the "son of man" sayings are indicative of this barrowing. The "son of man" is a common euphemism for Messiah, it probably comes from the statement in Daniel that the prophet saw in a vision "one like unto a son of man" (meaning he was extraterrestrial but looked human). Doherty sees the third person usage of this terminology as barrowing because it is as though Jesus is referring to someone else:
Nor are the apocalyptic Son of Man sayings (about his future coming) identified with Jesus, which is why, when they were later placed in his mouth, Jesus sounds as though he is talking about someone else. When one examines John the Baptist's prophecy at the opening of Q (Luke 3:16-17), about one who will come "who is mightier than I," who will baptize with fire and separate the wheat from the chaff, we find no reference to a Jesus or an enlightened teacher or prophet who is contemporary to John. Rather, this sounds like a prophecy of the coming Son of Man, the apocalyptic judge, a prophecy put into John's mouth by the Q community.
What Doherty is unwittingly doing here is stumbling onto Jewish Messianic expectations, since he doesn't know anything about them, he's making assumptions based upon surface appearance. First of all, the statements about the "son of man" as they would be used in Daniel and in inter testamental literature would not be connected to any particular person. Secondly, of course there is a link between John's "one who is coming" and the son of man, of course both do represent the Messiah. John does not detach them from Jesus. They were detached as they appear in other venue, but since John questioning Jesus directly he's connecting them to Jesus. That just leaves the mystery as to why Jesus speaks of the "son of man" In third person. It could be a sort of royal we. I have always felt this is what I call 'signature fulfillment.' Certain things Jesus did that make no sense except as a way of leaving a finger print; he's saying 'I am the Messiah!' One example is before the arrest telling the disciples to buy a sword so they would be numbered among transgressors. What a useless idea, and they didn't even intend to use it. why would he do that? To be numbered among transgressors was a Messianic expectation. Why does he go out of his way to make a self fulfilling prophecy? Because he's signing his name, he's saying "I am the one about whom this was written." So in referring to himself as "son of man" he's saying "I am the son of man." Would we have him speak in an awkward fashion and say "I will come, btw I am the son of man" rather than "when the son of man comes." He doesn't have to add "that's me folks" because we know by the fact that when we read it we think "hey but that's him, why is he speaking of it in third person when it's him?" Doherty's argument about it proves the point, it's efficacy in forcing one to confront the signature. It serves its purpose when it makes us think, but wait, the "son of man" is supposed to be him, so why is he using third person?"


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