Monday, May 22, 2017

On the historicity of the Crucifixion of Jesus, why there might be reason to doubt.

(Tip o' th' hat to Richard Carrier.)

Part 1 - Some findings and allegations by Michael Baigent in: The Jesus Papers.

In this part I discuss a finding of one or more documents that allegedly contained indications that Jesus was alive in 45 CE and the finding of another pair of documents that allegedly consisted of the response to a charge of blasphemy by one “Messiah of the Children of Israel” in his own writing.

In the first photo image in Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers [1], a depiction of the XIV (14th) Station of the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus remove the body of Christ AT NIGHT.  This image in the Church at Rennes le Château in the Pyrenées, south of France, manufactured in the 19th Century by a firm based in Toulouse.  The image was adorned and painted in a strange and peculiar style as authorized by the parish priest, the Abbé Béranger Saunière (p. 19).  It appears that Jesus is still alive in this scene because he is still pink and because he is still bleeding.

Baigent alleges that there were some documents that Jesus was alive and well in southern Transalpine Gaul (now France) in 45 CE (pp. 7-20).  Baigent interviewed the Rev, Dr. Douglas William Guest Bartlett, who was in Oxford in the 1930s and was friends with the Canon and Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, Alfred Lilley (1868-1948), who was an expert in Mediaeval French.  According to Bartlett, Lilley reported to Paris, the Seminary of St. Sulpice at their request, to help translate a strange document or documents that were believed to be in possession of the Cathars in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries ce. Bartlett reported that Lilley had become a disbeliever in the certainty of anything in the gospels with the implication hinted at by Baigent that he became so because of his early 1890s translation work and the alleged content of the documents.

St. Sulpice was a hotbed of (Catholic) Modernism--an informal school of thought within the Catholic Church at the time which also included Parisian Institute Catholique--and it was just prior to a crackdown against this Modernist thought in 1892 that Lilley was asked to help translate some strange documents, which Baigent alleges "to provide incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was alive in A.D. 45." (p. 16)

Baigent then cites Suetonius, who wrote that "'because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.'6" (p. 16) Then he hints that Chrestus may be the same as Christus: Greek Khristos, Aramaic meshiha, Hebrew ha-mashiah.

At this same time in the early 1890s the Abbé Béranger Saunière, priest of Rennes le Château, visited St. Sulpice.  After his visit to Paris he returned apparently wealthy for he had his parish church building renovated, a fashionable, well-appointed villa built for himself as well as a lavish garden and a tower that served as his study. This story, that the priest brought these documents with their supposed contrarian allegations cannot be proven, of course!  But the Rev. Bartlett thought it to be true. At any rate, Saunière came back with and subsequently expressed some peculiar ideas, especially in his renovation and redecoration of his parish church, done in a fantastic late-Nineteenth Century Gothic style.

Now regarding the 14th Station of the Cross, the full moon is up, indicating that Passover had already begun.

[No] Jew would have handled a dead body after the beginning of Passover, as this would have rendered him ritually unclean.

This variation of the fourteenth station suggests two important points: that the body the figures are carrying is still alive, and that Jesus---or his substitute on the cross---has survived the crucifixion.  Moreover, it suggests that the body is not being placed in the tomb, but rather, that it is being carried out, secretly, under the cover of night. (p. 19) 

Compare with John 20:1-2, esp. v. 2: "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." (New American Bible)  Station 14 as depicted in this church appears to testify to a secret heterodox knowledge of the fate of Jesus (p. 19).
Related to this is the discovery by one mediaeval Jewish rabbi in Narbonne in the Twelfth Century: "The famous Jewish traveller and writer Benjamin of Tudela visited Narbonne around 1166 and wrote of its Jewish community being ruled by a descendant of the House of David as stated in his family tree.'23" (p. 266)  Baigent then asks whether Saunière's document was a Mediaeval French translation of an earlier document, perhaps "dating from the first century A.D." [2]

The other pair of documents, a much more recent find in Israel, is brought to Baigent's attention by an anonymous Israeli Jew, a wealthy businessman whose true passion was for ancient objects of religious symbolism and for whom money was no object. This contact of Michael Baigent had uncovered a document that was in his estimation a reply to questions from the Sanhedrin about the ancient writer calling himself "the son of God."  He told Baigent the story of how he found these "'Jesus Papers'" and the controversy they engendered.  In the early 1960s he bought a house in the Old City Jerusalem, and excavated its basement down to the bedrock (pp. 267-272).

In 1961 he found the papyrus documents bearing an Aramaic text, together with a number of objects that allowed him to date the find to A.D. 34.

The papyrus texts were two Aramaic letters written to the Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin.  The writer ... called himself beni meshiha---the Messiah of the Children of Israel.

This figure ... was defending himself against a charge made by the Sanhedrin---he had obviously been calling himself 'son of God' and had been challenged to defend himself against this charge.  In the first letter, the messiah explained that what he meant not that he was 'God' but that the 'Spirit of God' was in him---not that he was /physically/ the son of God, but rather that he was spiritually an adopted son of God.  And he added that everyone who felt similarly filled with the 'spirit' was also a 'son of God.' (pp. 269-270)

So this "messiah," perhaps the called out by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews 20.200 [20.9.1] to be Jesus, the brother of a certain James, who was called the messiah (or the so-called or self-styled messiah), explicitly states that "he is not divine---or at any rate, no more than anyone else." (p. 270)
Compare John 10:33-35 in which some Jews are bent on stoning Jesus for blasphemy:

"You, a man, are making yourself God."

"Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods."'?  If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside,"

Baigent's contact had "showed them to archaeologists Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad and asked their opinion of them.  The both confirmed that these letters were genuine and important. They "also told some Catholic scholars---[probably] one or more members of the École Biblique, consultants to the Pontifical Biblical Commission" and Pope John XXIII was made privy to the information that they passed on.  He "sent word back to the Israeli experts asking for these documents to be destroyed." The contact refused to do this and has kept the documents under glass in safe storage ever since. It is to be noted that he did not want to stir up controversy between the Vatican and the State of Israel. (p. 270)
Michael Baigent was able to handle these glassed documents, each about eighteen inches long by nine inches wide.  He was unable to figure out what the letters said nor, apparently, was he able to photograph them.

Well Baigent's tome, which at first I found intriguing but since then far less satisfying, raises some interesting questions about the historicity of the Crucifixion, which is one reason why I tend to call it the Crucifiction.  But the manner in which he raises his questions makes his conclusions about Jesus living in Gaul to be rather dubious. [2]  But his testimony concerning the other documents he was able to view in Israel may be an indicator that whoever was calling himself messiah round-about 34 CE was able to avoid being convicted of blasphemy.  Other reasons to doubt are to be found in Josephus (i.e., the so-called Testimonium Flavianum and the statement about James) and in the New Testament itself.


Notes with numbers in brackets mine, otherwise Michael Baigent's with my addition of further bibliographic information from his bibliography.

[1] Michael Baigent, /The Jesus Papers/ (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), photo plate directly opposite p. 50.
6   Robert Graves, Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars (Harmondsworth, 1979), p. 202 [Claudius 25.4].
23  Arthur J. Zuckerman, A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France 768-900 (New York, 1972), p. 58.

[2] Baigent's work is filled with loaded questions such as this and it really gets to be really annoying.

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