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Rethinking Jesus' Jewishness
James H. Charlesworth
Informed Jews and Christians no longer approach the gospels as if they are biographies. But in the face of what is perceived to be insensitive or excessively liberal criticism of the gospels, some students do tend to read the New Testament as if Jesus' actions and words are recorded without alteration. This approach has been exposed as improper by Protestant and Roman Catholic New Testament scholars for well over one hundred years. Unfortunately, many today are confused by what they perceive to be a choice between Jesus' "authentic" actions and the Church's "inauthentic" redactions. I shall attempt to show why these are false alternatives.
Some scholars will assuredly wish to ask the following question: Is it not obvious that one conclusion of New Testament research is that nothing can be known assuredly about the Jesus of history? The answer seems to be "no": not even Bultmann and Tillich espoused that utter pessimism. Their ideas are not to be confused with those of Bruno Bauer, Paul Couchoud, G. Gurev, R. Augstein, and G.A. Wells, all of whom denied the existence of Jesus. Bultmann and Tillich, as radical as they were, affirmed the existence of Jesus and the undeniable fact of his crucifixion in Jerusalem before 70 C.E. Moreover, failure to grasp the historical particularity of Jesus, and all the scandals this entails, reduces a religion to a philosophy of existence, precisely as intended by Fritz Buri in his critique of Bultmann.
The major impediments in our search for the historical Jesus have lightened. First, the theological one has crumbled. It had been constructed out of a twofold claim: some critics argued that faith alone is sufficient for the Christian, others added that Jesus the Christ is known solely existentially. Now, the best minds perceive that faith without some historical knowledge is faithless to Jesus. Only responses to him that, like the early creeds and hymns, are impregnated by historical data, are paradigmatically different from superstition, no matter how sophisticated they appear.
Second, it is now obvious to the leading New Testament scholars that pre-Easter data are preserved in the gospels. If we are impeded in our search by the confessional dimension of the gospels, that is because the early Christians were not crippled by the crucifixion but empowered by the resurrection. Embarrassing data, moreover, are preserved in the narratives - notably, Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, and Jesus' crucifixion. Such data shaped the Church; they were not created to serve the needs of the Church. The only persuasive explanation for Simon of Cyrene's identification as the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mk 15:21) is because of their importance to - and perhaps presence in - Mark's community.
We must grasp that history is accessible only via tradition; and it is comprehensible only via interpretation. Redaction criticism is possible only because traditions were extant to be edited.
Third, formerly we were lost in a wasteland of history, which was caused by the paucity of sources from pre-70 Judaism. Now - since the 1940s - we possess hundreds of documents that are pre-70 and Jewish. I refer to the apocryphal documents and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Somehow, in the decades of confused apologetics and well-meaning attempts to refine an infallible methodology, we forgot two essential dimensions of the search for Joseph's son. Historical research is scientific by method but not by conclusion; the historian at best can provide us not with certainty but with probability. Hence any discourse on searching for ipsissima verba Jesu (Jesus' own exact words) and absolute certainty about recovering them is imprecise, imperceptive, and impossible.
The new research on Jesus will be different from and more informed than previous attempts primarily because of the increased documentary evidence and the phenomenal archaeological discoveries; hence, it is pertinent to organize an assessment of where we are according to these categories. Our discussion will focus on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and Archaeology. Since the field to be covered is broad and complex, the approach must be focused and selective; and this course obviously demands many personal judgments which cannot be explained here. Suffice it to state that only two questions will be addressed to each of these divisions in research: Are the data significant in our search for the Jesus of history? If so, why and in what important ways?
The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
In 1913 Clarendon published the first English edition of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha1. It was selective and directed to scholars. In 1983 and 1985 Doubleday published the two volumes of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha2. The first English edition contained seventeen pseudepigrapha; the new one has fifty-two documents plus thirteen writings preserved only in ancient quotations and added as a supplement to volume 2. The astronomical leap from seventeen to sixty-five documents will upset scholars who have grown content with a normative view of Early Judaism; younger scholars excited by new challenges will thrive on the vast new territory for exploration. They will find that it is now even more difficult to separate Jewish from Christian writings; and they will grow to perceive what it means to state that "Christianity" for at least forty years, from 30 to 70 C.E., was a group within Judaism. In seeking to understand the Pseudepigrapha they will ultimately be forced to confront the issues related to Jesus and his place in first-century Judaism. As always with sensationally new and exciting developments, there have been misrepresentative statements. It is clear that Jesus' warning to let an answer be merely "yes, yes" or "no, no", according to Matthew, and his reference to many mansions in heaven, according to John, is paralleled impressively in one pseudepigraphon probably from the late first century. It is called 2 Enoch. One author (C.F. Potter, in Did Jesus Write This Book?) became so excited about these parallels that he claimed "it may well be that" Jesus "wrote" 2 Enoch, or part of it"3. Fortunately, no scholar has been guilty of such sensationally absurd claims.
In assessing the significance of the Pseudepigrapha for Jesus research, one aspect is noncontroversial and indeed obvious. Many of the Pseudepigrapha are roughly contemporaneous with Jesus and are Palestinian. Along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are major sources for describing the religious phenomena in pre-70 Judaism. Unlike the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls, however, the Pseudepigrapha are not primarily or merely the literary products of one small Jewish group which had withdrawn and isolated itself in the desert. The early Jewish Pseudepigrapha clarify the intellectual landscape of first-century pre-70 Jews, like Jesus. And that is exceedingly important because creative geniuses like Jesus enjoy horizons that extend beyond one country. They live in an intellectual world.
What is the significance of the early Jewish Pseudepigrapha for Jesus research? It is amply demonstrated by considering the ways these writings help us understand Jewish apocalypticism and eschatology.
Kasemann, as is well known, concluded that the mother of all Christian theology is "apocalyptic" thought4. The brilliant German New Testament scholar reminisced that the study of apocalyptic thought was simply not a suitable topic during his years as a student and almost all of his long career as a professor. Today, however, this vast field is a focal point for New Testament research. For example, Professor J. Christiaan Beker has astutely seen that the heart of Paul's theology is shaped by Jewish apocalyptic thought5.
In essence, the vision of the apocalyptists is that the righteous can go home again. They can return home, not into the womb a la Freud, and not back to an esoteric world via gnosis. They can return back to paradise that is to be - or is already - reopened for them (see esp. 4 Ezra 8, 2 En 8-9). Then and there they shall have full and peaceful fellowship with all, especially once again with God.
The Pseudepigrapha, and the apocalyptic literature collected within it, is decisive for understanding Jesus of Nazareth; but he obviously was not one of the apocalyptists. They were repeatedly exhorted to write down what they had seen and heard. Jesus wrote nothing. The apocalyptists were often scribes, who worked in a beth midrash, were influenced by Wisdom literature, and were preoccupied with encyclopedic and scientific knowledge. Jesus was an itinerant teacher, who proclaimed the nearness and importance of God's Kingdom. The apocalyptists were vengeful, often calling upon God to destroy the Jews' enemies (but see 2 En 52). Jesus was more concerned with inward dispositions and an attitude of compassion and outgoing love - he even exhorted his followers to "love your enemies" (Mt. 5:43). The apocalyptists tended to denigrate the earth. Jesus celebrated God's creation, and used the lilies of the field as examples of God's concern for his people (Mt. 6:25-33). The apocalyptists talked about the future age drawing closer. Jesus - sometimes in conflicting ways, according to the evangelists - affirmed that only God really knew the time of the end (Mk. 13:32), but that it appeared already to be dawning in his ministry (Mk. 9:1), especially in the miracles and proclamations (Mk. 1: 14-25). Most importantly, the apocalyptists tended to situate God far from the living world of humanity. Jesus stressed the nearness, indeed the presence, of a compassionate Father, who should be called Abba (the Semitic noun for "father").
Yet the apocalypses and apocalytic literature are important for understanding Jesus. Both the apocalyptists and Jesus shared a feeling for the oppressed (cf. I En 102-04 and 2 En 63); and both uttered woes against the complacent and oppressive rich (I En 94:8-9, 96:4-8, 97:8-10; Mk.10:2325). Both presupposed a profound dualism, especially of two categorically different ages. Both were ultimately optimistic; God's promises and the greatest of all human dreams - peace and harmony throughout the universe - would be realized by God's own actions, perhaps through an intermediary. Both transferred allegiance to another world and redefined priorities. For example, Jesus claimed the first shall be last (Mk. 10:3). Both sided with the poor (Mk. 10:21) against the wealthy, exhorted righteous conduct (e.g. 1 En.104:6; 2 En 61), uttered beatitudes (viz.2 En 42,52; Mt.5), and demanded purity of hearts (cf. 2 En.45; Mk.7:14-23).
The most surprising - and to many, astounding - development in research on the Pseudepigrapha is a paradigm shift on the evaluation of the date and character of the Parables of Enoch (1 En 37-71). This book is exceedingly important for New Testament scholars because it describes the heavenly Son of man, the Messiah, the Elect One, and the Righteous One. I am convinced these are four terms for the same intermediary of God6.
J.T. Milik, who was responsible for publishing the Aramaic Enoch fragments found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, emphasized that the Parables of Enoch, so clearly aligned with Jesus' reputed words, was unattested among the Aramaic fragments. He judged that it was a Christian composition from around the beginning of the third century C.E. Practically all New Testament scholars were persuaded by his judgment and refused to use 1 Enoch 37-71 to assess Jesus' life and the theology of the earliest Christians.
Today no specialist on the Parables of Enoch accepts Milik's judgment without major qualifications. During international seminars in Tubingen and Paris, more than a dozen experts on this book agreed that it is certainly a Jewish document7. All members of these seminars except one were convinced the Jewish work - the Parables of Enoch - must predate the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Hence the term, and perhaps title, "Son of man" was already developed by Palestinian Jews long before 70.
Since the Son of man is almost always found in the New Testament in collections of Jesus' words, is it not possible that this phrase derives authentically from Jesus himself? Are there not some of these Son of man sayings that may help us understand Jesus and his perception of his mission? Is it not difficult to categorize all the Son of man sayings either as circumlocutions for the first-person singular pronoun, or as another means of referring generically to humanity? What indeed was denoted and connoted by "Son of man" during the early decades of the first century C.E.? And what did Jesus mean by these words?
One additional comment should be made in passing. As is well known, Jude 14-15 contains a quotation from what was considered long ago to be - perhaps - a lost Jewish document. Now we know the author of Jude quoted from 1 Enoch, chapter 1. And unexpectedly, the very quotation is now discovered in Aramaic on a strip of leather found among the Dead Sea Scrolls8.
Biblical theologians, and others, will now be forced to reassess our understanding of canon, since a book in the Christian canon quotes as prophecy a passage in a book rejected from the Protestant and Catholic canon, although it is in the Falasha canon. Obviously, in the first century there was considerable fluidity regarding the limits of canon, Scripture, and inspired words.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The so-called Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in the late 1940s in caves just to the west of the Dead Sea. The first photographs and translations appeared shortly thereafter, but the largest Scroll was obtained by Y. Yadin in the mid-1960s and was not translated into English until 1983. A voluminous body of fragments has not yet been published; as of the present I count more than 223 important "sectarian" Scrolls and portions of documents; less than a dozen of these are well known9.
No collection of ancient literature has excited the imagination of our contemporaries so fully as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This excitement has led to sensational claims and ideological counterclaims. The scholarly jargon for the exchange is the "Qumran fever".
The claims about the importance of the Scrolls for Jesus research have been excessive; some critics recently revived the old justly discarded opinion that Jesus or John the Baptist was really the founder of the Qumran community, the Moreh ha Sedek, or Righteous Teacher. Those who hold these views are writers masquerading as scholars.
The Scrolls do not support the opinion that Jesus was an Essene or even significantly influenced by them10. Yet, it is difficult to agree with William S. LaSor's judgment, in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, that the Essenes and Jesus, along with the early Christians, simply represent Jewish "sectarian" movements "moving in different orbits"11.
One must distinguish between what is in the New Testament from what is behind it. What is in the New Testament are the theologically edited reflections of the early Christians; what is behind the New Testament are the earliest historical individuals and communities that were created out of historical events, namely the experience and memory of Jesus' life and horrifying death, and the claim to having been confronted by a resurrected Jesus. The "in" is not a categorical antithesis to the "behind" but they are distinguishable categories. The failure to perceive this distinction has invalidated much New Testament research over the last two hundred years.
Jesus' death in 30 C.E. predates the first gospel by about forty years. The crucial issue is not the comparison of documents, namely the Scrolls which predate 70, and the gospels which post-date it. The critical questions concern Jesus and the Essenes and the more than forty years when the Essenes and Jesus and his followers shared the same territory, nationality, chronological period, and adversaries - namely, the Romans and Sadducees, and intermittently the Pharisees and the Zealots. Can there have been no relationships between the Essenes and the Palestinian Jesus Movement when both emphasized the sinfulness of all humanity and the need for God's grace, the eschatological time, the establishment of the New Covenant according to Jeremiah 31, the presence and power of Satan and the demons, and the clarion call of Isaiah 40:3? Is it not clear that both groups emphasized essentially the same hermeneutical principle: all Scripture and prophecy pointed to the present - the endtime - and directly and especially to their own special group? Did not both groups, mutatis mutandis, exhort a sharing of possessions? Has it not become palpable lately that both groups were products, and to a certain extent examples, of Jewish apocalypticism? Do not both groups, and only they, stress the living presence of "the Holy Spirit" in their community? Can all these similarities be dismissed legitimately as mere coincidences? These reflections thrust before us one major question: What were the relationships between Jesus and the Essenes?12
According to both Philo and Josephus, four thousand Essenes lived in Palestine. Since no more than approximately two hundred Essenes could have lived at Qumran and nearby, the vast majority, or around thirty-seven hundred, dwelt elsewhere. Philo and Josephus also stressed that the Essenes lived in villages and cities, preferring to congregate on the fringes. The reference to the Essene gate in the walls of Jerusalem by Josephus is now apparently confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries and a passage in the Temple Scroll13. We must confront the growing evidence that Essenes lived in the southwestern sector of Jerusalem.
These perspectives are significant. Jesus probably would have met Essenes during his itineraries, maybe he talked with many of them. Perhaps they discussed common values and the need for full dedication to God and his Covenant.
Three similarities between Jesus and the Essenes may be briefly sketched. First, Jesus shared with the Essenes a theology that was thoroughgoingly monotheistic and paradigmatically eschatological. The present was the end of time. He, of course, preached a somewhat more imminent eschatology, but one should talk about the difference between the Essenes and Jesus in such a way that Jesus' eschatology was more "realizing" in terms of degree, not kind.
Second, Jesus shared the Essenes' utter dedication to God and Torah. Perhaps he was referring to the Essenes, the only celibate group known in Early Judaism, when he praised the men who became eunuchs for God's Kingdom (cf. Mt. 19:10-12).
Third, according to Mark, Jesus proclaimed that divorce is forbidden. This apodictic statement is difficult to comprehend and so Matthew relaxed it and made it casuistic (Mt. 5:31-32, 19:9). Jesus' view on divorce, according to Mark,was until recently unparalleled in the history of Jewish thought.
Now, a prohibition of divorce is found in the Temple Scroll. According to this document, the king must remain married to only one woman: "and he (the king) must not select in addition to her another woman because she, herself alone, will remain with him all the days of her life" (11 QTemple 57:17-18). What is demanded of the king, is even more stringently required of others.
Only two Jews denied the possibility of divorce: Jesus, according to Mark, and the author of the Temple Scroll. Since the Temple Scroll antedates Jesus and appears to be the quintessential Torah for some Essenes, the relationships that may have existed between Jesus and the Essenes should be raised again for fresh discussion14.
Any comparisons between Jesus and the Essenes must ultimately be grounded in a recognition of vast differences. The Essenes were extreme legalists and, for the sake of purity, they quarantined themselves from all others; Jesus rejected the legalistic rules that choked the Sabbath, and involved himself with all ranks of humanity.
Most importantly, he emphasized the need to love others, an attitude illustrated in Luke by the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and developed into a new commandment in the Johannine writings. It is conceivable that Jesus may have been thinking about and rejecting the exhortation to hate the sons of darkness, when he stated, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate the enemy"' (Mt. 5:43). The best, and possibly only real Jewish parallel to the rule to hate others is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In fact, according to the Rule of the Community at the time of the yearly renewal, Essenes chanted curses on all the sons of darkness, specifically those who were not Essenes, including Jews who masqueraded as Essenes.
Without a doubt the most significant and uncontroversial importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Jesus research is the light they shine on a previously dark period. To enter into the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls is to become immersed in Jesus' theological environment. The Scrolls do more than simply either provide the ideological landscape of Jesus' life or disclose the Zeitgeist he knew. Along with the data unearthed by the archaeological excavations of Qumran, they give us some indication of the social settings of pre-70 Palestinian Jews.
In addition to these brief comments, the Dead Sea Scrolls - along with the Pseudepigrapha - enable us to begin to appreciate the distinctive features of Jesus' theology. These early Jewish texts supply the framework from which the theologian can evaluate the uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth. The contours of the historical Jesus begin to appear, and it is startling to discern how true it is that the genesis and genius of earliest Christianity, and the one reason it became distinguishable from Judaism, is found primarily in one particular life.
In summation, we can report that Ernest Renan's oft-quoted dictum, that Christianity is an Essenism that succeeded, is simplistic and distortionistic. Christianity did not evolve out of one "sect" on the fringes of a normative Judaism. Christianity developed out of many Jewish currents. There was no one source or trajectory. Jesus, of course, was not an Essene; but he may have shared more with the Essenes than the same nation, time and place...
Josephus' writings are well known and have been important for New Testament Studies for over one thousand years. Some early Christian scholars before Chalcedon (451) revered him excessively. Jerome (c. 342-420) saluted him as "the Greek Livy" (Ep. 22 ad Eustochium 35.8).
Josephus and Jesus were Palestinian Jews who were intimately linked with Galilee. Although Josephus lived later in the first century than Jesus, his early career was characterized by the struggle against, and eventually the war with, Rome. It is difficult to discern what transpired during the fifteen hours prior to the crucifixion, but it is clear that Jesus was crucified by the Romans, probably because he seemed to them a political insurrectionist. He and his followers were certainly seen as a threat to the precarious peace that existed around 30 C.E. in Palestine.
The significance of Josephus for Jesus research does not reside in the man Josephus, however; it lies in his literature. He is the historian of Early Judaism. He describes the turbulent times in which Jesus lived15.
Most significantly, he referred to Jesus. His reference to Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum, may be translated from the Greek as follows (clearly Christian words are in italics):
About this time there was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising16 works (and) a teacher of people who with pleasure received the unusual17. He stirred up18 both many Jews and also many of the Greeks. He was the Christ19. And20 when Pilate condemned him to the cross, since he was accused by the first-rate men among us, those who had been loving (him from) the first did not cease (to cause trouble),21 for he appeared to them on the third day, having life again as the prophets of God had foretold these and countless other marvelous22 things about him. And until now the tribe of Christians, so named from him, is not (yet?) extinct.
The above translation attempts to bring out the meaning most likely intended by the first-century Jew. We can be assured that either a Christian scribe added this passage in toto, or that one or more Christian scribe edited and expanded it.
A study of the Testimonium Flavianum leads to speculations, on either option, that ultimately fall short of convincing proof. It appears probable that Josephus referred to Jesus, but certainly not in the form preserved in the Greek manuscripts. Hence, many critics refuse to take a stand on the issue of reliable Josephus words in this section of the Antiquities. The passage is virtually ignored in research on the Jesus of history23.
For years I yearned for the discovery of a text of Josephus' Antiquities that would contain variants in the Testimonium Flavianum. Then perhaps we could support scholarly speculations with textual evidence.
In fact, this very dream was recently realized when a tenth century Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum was discovered in Agapius' Kitab al-n wan. The translation of this passage by S. Pines,24 who drew attention to it, is as follows:
Similarly Josephus (Yusifus), the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance (?) of the Jews: "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders"25.
What is immediately obvious - when one compares the Arabic recension with the Greek one - is that the clearly Christian passages are conspicuously absent in the Arabic version.
The two recensions of the Testimonium Flavianum should be studied by theological students, clergy, the laity, and seminary professors. The Greek recension, minus the clearly Christian interpolations, reveals how a first-century Jew, probably categorized Jesus: He was a rebellious person who performed "surprising", perhaps even wonderful works. And he was followed by many Jews and gentiles. The Arabic version provides textual justification for excising the Christian interpolations and demonstrating that Josephus probably discussed Jesus in Antiquities 18; but, in its "complete" form, it is certainly too favourable to Jesus. The focus of both recensions then helps shift the spotlight back on the Jesus of history, and that fact is of phenomenal importance. Our gaze is pulled away from preoccupations with ideas to confrontations with a first-century Galilean. We are momentarily protected from the perennial threat of docetic dogmas and freed to reflect on the particularity of one person, Jesus. Neat paradigms are scrambled by an unnerving confrontation with realia. Historic dreams become anchored in historical drama.
The search for the historical Jesus has been predominantly a German-centered European concern: from Reimarus to Strauss, from Strauss to Schweitzer, from Schweitzer to Bultmann, and from Bultmann to Kasemann, Bornkamm, and Hengel. This entire area of research has focused upon the New Testament writings, a study of the meaning of myth, the literary sources inherited by the evangelists, and the pre-gospel origin of the Jesus tradition. Except in the publications by J. Jeremias and M. Hengel, singularly absent has been awareness of the importance of archeology for a perception of Jesus' time and the early Palestinian Jesus Movement.
In the three decades, however, spectacular discoveries are proving to be significant in our search for the historical Jesus. I shall draw attention to only two that I am personally convinced are unusually important for Jesus research. At the outset, however, I must caution that it is very difficult to move from the first century Palestinian milieu, now being partly revealed by archeologists, to Jesus' own thoughts and actions.
A most significant archaeological discovery for Jesus research is the recovery of the bones of a man, named Jehohanan, who had been crucified26. His heels (tuber calanei) remained attached to the wood portions of the simplex, because the spike driven through one of them bent when it hit a knot in the olive wood cross. His forearms, or his wrists, were tied to the patibulum. The man was crucified in his thirties, in Jerusalem, and near the time of Jesus' own crucifixion. Previous to this archaeological find, we possessed no remains of one who had been crucified.
The significance of this discovery for Jesus research is obvious. We have a grim reminder of the horrors of crucifixion. Jehohanan's legs had been bent, and he was forced to push upward from his spiked heels to breathe. Death could have come far more rapidly than we had imagined. We can now better understand a report found only in Mark; this verse was not copied from Mark by either Matthew or Luke because they did not understand it or - more probably - were disturbed by the polemical use of it. Mark reported that Pilate could not believe that Jesus was "already dead" (ede tethneken, Mk 15:44).
Also, the old hypothesis that Jesus' corpse must have been dumped into a pit set aside for the corpses of criminals and insurrectionists and not buried is disproved. Jehohanan's bones had received a proper Jewish burial.
As I stated twenty years ago:
It is not a confession of faith to affirm that Jesus died on Golgotha that Friday afternoon; it is a probability obtained by the highest canons of scientific historical research27.
Before the crucifixion Jesus had been nearly beaten to death by Roman soldiers during approximately ten hours of all-night scourging. Reflections on this dark episode in history are difficult and disturbing for the Christian; but they expose the weakness in the claim - revived in 1982 by G. Cornfeld - that Jesus only appeared to die: "Jesus never died"28. Such a position cannot derive from sane and critical reflection; it emanates from polemics and was promulgated in the second century by Celsus, the Roman polemicist against Christianity (see Origen, Contra Celsus 2:56).
The most significant archaeological discovery for Jesus research is the growing proof for the site of the crucifixion. Jesus was crucified around 30 C.E. just outside Jerusalem's walls, as the author of Hebrews stated (Heb 13:12).
Today pilgrims are shown "The Garden Tomb" near Gordon's Calvary; both are just north of the present Turkish walls of the Old City. Most lay Christians choose this serene spot, clearly outside the present walls, as the location of Jesus' own burial. Calvary is assumed to be nearby.
The traditional site for Calvary is not attractive. It is a noisy menagerie of competing ecclesiastical authorities within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and within the present walls of the Old City.
When I was living in Jerusalem, K. Kenyon discovered proof that the wall now encompassing the traditional site lies, in places, on a foundation that was constructed probably in 41 by Herod Agrippa. Hence, in 30 the traditional site would have been outside the city. Also, in the late 1960s Pere C. Couasnon showed me in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre columns in situ from the fourth century Church of Constantine29; hence, the traditional place can be traced architecturally to the early centuries of Christianity. And, moreover, prior to the nineteenth century there were no competing sites for Golgotha.
In the late 1970s excavators exposed part of the foundations of Hadrian's Roman Forum in which the Temple of Aphrodite was constructed around 135 C.E. This temple had buried Golgotha, and perhaps Jesus' tomb. Now, major discoveries confirm, in my opinion, that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the rock on which Jesus was crucified.
A rock inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and traditionally called Calvary, still rises approximately thirteen meters above bedrock. The exposed rock, moreover, bears the marks of ancient quarrying: It is a rejected portion of an ancient pre-exilic Israelite white stone (malaki) quarry 30. By the first century B.C.E. this area had evolved from a seventh - or eighth - century rock quarry, to a refuse dump, and finally to a burial site, since Jewish tombs clearly predating 70 are visible. It is possible that the final phase in the first century before 70 was a garden as described by the author of John (see Jn 19:41).
I am convinced that it is on this exposed fist of rejected rock that Jesus had been crucified. It was outside the walls and near a public road in 30; hence it fits all the Jewish (see Lev 24:14, and Mishnah Sanh 6.1) and Roman requirements of a spot for executions.
Perhaps the early Christians living in Jerusalem knew what archaeologists only recently have discovered. It is possible that they celebrated Jesus' crucifixion by reciting Psalm 118:22,
The stone which the builders rejected; this has become the head of the corner.
In fact this tradition, recorded in 1 Peter (2:7), is also attributed by Luke to Peter, when he spoke to the high priest in Jerusalem: "this is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner" (Acts 4: 11). The pronoun "this" could be a double entendre for both Calvary and Jesus.
Although we must not succumb to the naive fascination and lure of "the holy places" as have unenlightened pilgrims, we must not miss the significance for New Testament research of recent archaeological discoveries. These have been simply phenomenal. The foregoing discussion reveals that a purely theological and literary approach to the New Testament or Christian origins is improper and misleading, and results in unscholarly conclusions and bankrupt theology. An examination of documents roughly contemporaneous with Jesus and archaeology, of course, must never be portrayed improperly as if they can prove or support any faith or theology. Authentic faith certainly needs no such shorting up. Philologists, historians, and archaeologists cannot give Christians a risen Lord, but they can help Christians better understand Jesus' life, thought and death31.
The search for the historical Jesus over the last two hundred years has been a rocky road with many dead ends and detours. Many Jewish and Christian scholars have served us well; and it is now obvious the journey is both possible and necessary. From D.F. Strauss we learned about the multidimensional nature of myth and the importance of honest methodology. From M. Kahler we apprehended that the gospels are post-Easter confessionals; but from P. Benoit, N. Dahl, and E. Kasemann we perceived that pre-Easter tradition did come to the post Easter community and shaped its redaction.
From A. Schweitzer we recognized that any attempt to understand Jesus must allow him to belong to the first century; we must not throw around him the garb of modern respectability. Moving away from Schweitzer's exaggerated emphasis on eschatology and confused perception of apocalyptic thought, we are on the right track in stressing, with E. Kasemann, G. Bornkamm, H. Anderson, G. Vermes and D. Flusser, that we can know more of the historical Jesus than the form critics, especially R. Bultmann, had allowed.
The search for ipsissima verba Jesu evolved from a misperception of the circumscribed arena of probabilities in which the historian works. Jesus' teaching was characterized by parables and the proclamation of God's rule (or the Kingdom of God). These two phenomena, and the Lord's Prayer itself, however, are deeply Jewish and paralleled abundantly in literature roughly contemporaneous with Jesus.
In this chapter I have focused on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha. This limitation should not be taken to undermine my firm, and published, conviction that rabbinic literature also preserves many edited essentials for grasping the religious life and the liturgy of first-century Jews, like Jesus.
Certainly N. Perrin, and the large group of scholars who followed him, had the proper intent but the wrong perception of Early Judaism, and - most importantly - a misleading methodology. Jesus' authentic words were sought within a net that released all Jesus' sayings that were paralleled either in Judaism or in the Church. A strict application of this method produces a Jesus who was not a Jew and who had no followers. Yet, if two facts are unassailable today, they are Jesus' deep Jewishness - he was a Jew - and his paradigmatic effect on Jews and gentiles.
Jesus did exist. He was a real person who lived in Palestine, grew up in Galilee, had some relationship with John the Baptist (who certainly baptized him), centered his public ministry in Capernaum, healed the sick, and finally moved southward to Jerusalem, where his life ended ignominiously on a cross outside the western wall of Jerusalem in 30.
Past research and present data contain tacitly a demand for a renewed dedication to Jesus Research; a request for an unbiased exploration of Jesus and his time by Jews and Christians; an appeal to be informed methodologically, textually, and archaeologically; a call to enjoy the inclusiveness and preponderance of the interrogatives within the elusive probabilities of the historian's sphere; and a plea to realize that the historian and the theologian are not necessarily antagonists.
In the latter part of the twentieth century a new appreciation of Jesus and of his Jewish roots has been acknowledged by more than the specialists. In fact, this perspective is coming to be assumed by most of those who are interested in the creative forces that defined the first century C.E. and in turn shaped Western culture. It may be too early to report that Jesus is no longer a major impediment on the road to better relations among Jews and Christians. It can be stated, however, that no longer is it considered intelligent and informed to claim that he was an Aryan, or to question the fact that he was a Jew. It is also no longer popular to disparage Jesus' teachings, as if they are often silly and impractical. These two gross distortions of historical truth are no longer typical of what is deemed the product of careful research and reflections32.
Today every New Testament scholar I know realizes that Jesus was a first century Jew. Most of these scholars are Christians, and many are ordained Protestant ministers or Roman Catholic priests. Jewish scholars today, using scientific methodologies stress the brilliance of much of Jesus' teachings. Some see him as one who emphasized in his life and thought the extreme demands of the Law (Torah). Each group of scholars is working non-confessionally with historical and scientific methods. Neither began moving in this direction in order to improve the relations among Jews and Christians. The conclusion is not dictated by such contemporary concerns. The perspective, which is now a presupposition underlying much research on first-century times, does, however, become the foundation for bridge building among contemporary Jews and Christians.
The task now is to instill in the mind of the public these refreshing new insights. Surely our world and culture will be more peaceful, enjoyable, and protected from past gross injustices and fears if it becomes common knowledge that Jesus was a first-century Jew, that his proclamation of God's Rule (or the Kingdom of God) and his prayer are clearly Jewish. His disciples were all Jews, and many other Jews were attracted to his life and thought. Like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, the Palestinian Jesus Movement was a distinct Jewish group which helped shape the vibrant world of pre-70 Jewish culture. Jesus - and the origins of Christianity - are inextricably linked with Judaism.
* James H. Charlesworth is the George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and Editor of the Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project. He is author of Jesus Within Judaism, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The O. T. Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, and numerous other books.
(Printed with some amendments from Chapter 7 of Jesus' Jewishness: Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Judaism, ed. J. H. Charlesworth [New York: Crossroad and the American Interfaith Institute, 1991]. By permission of the AII).
1. R.H. Charles (ed.), The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1913; reprinted frequently since 1963).
2. J.H. Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y., 1983-85).
3. C.F. Potter, Did Jesus Write This Book? (New York, 1965) p. 27.
4. E. Kasemann, "On the Subject of Primitive Christian Apocalyptic", in New Testament Questions of Today, trans. W.J. Montague (Philadelphia, London, 1969) pp. 108-37.
5. J. Chris. Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia, 1980; reprinted 1984).
6. asee the articles by Charlesworth, Black and VanderKam in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis, 1992).
7. see Charlesworth, Gli pseudepigrafi dell'Antico Testamento e il Nuovo Testamento (Studi Biblici 91, Brescia, 1990).
8. For a photograph and further discussion see Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (Anchor Bible Reference Library 1; Garden City, N.Y., 1988) pp. 44-45.
9. See the comprehensive edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being prepared by the Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project. The publisher is J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) pf Tubingen and Westminster/John Knox Press of Louisville.
10. See the contributions in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Charlesworth and others (Anchor Bible Reference Library; New York, 1992).
11. W.S. LaSor, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich, 1972) p. 254.
12. The question is explored by a team of international experts; their work was published in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
13. See the article by R. Riesner in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
14. See the article by O. Betz in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
15. See L. Feldman, "Palestine and Diaspora Judaism in the First Century", in Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, ed. H. Shanks (Washington, D.C., 1992) pp. 1-39.
16. Gk. paradoxos "strange, surprising, wonderful". Josephus would have meant "surprising"; a Christian would have assumed he meant "wonderful". The Slavonic version mentions "astonishing and powerful miracles".
17. Following H. St. J. Thackeray's emendation suggested in Josephus, the Man and the Historian (New York, 1929) pp. 144-45. Christian scribes would have changed taethe "unusual, strange", to talethe, "truth".
18. The Greek verb, epago, has a pejorative innuendo; however, as a strong aorist middle, it could have been interpreted "win over" (to himself).
19. As some scholars have speculated, something like "according to their opinion" preceded, and was deleted from, the confession, which obviously in its extant form in Greek cannot be attributed to Josephus. Another suggestion is that the Greek legomenous, "so-called", may have been before christos, but was omitted intentionally. See G.C. Richards and R.J.H. Shutt, "Critical Notes on Josephus" Antiquities", Classical Quarterly 31 (1937) 176.
20. An adversative kai is possible: "but".
21. Not "did not forsake him". One must add something to explain what Jesus' followers did not cease to do. See F.F. Bruce, "The Evidence of Josephus" in Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1974) pp.39-40. Immediately prior to this passage Josephus discusses a riot (the stasis), immediately after it he discusses "another affliction" (heteron ti deinon). One must see the framework for the Testimonium Flavianum.
22. Gk. thaumasios "wonderful, admirable"; hence probably not an assessment of Jesus by Josephus.
23. See Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, pp. 90-102, and J.P. Meier, "Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal", Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990) 76-103.
24. S. Pine, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its implications (Jerusalem, 1971).
25. The last sentence could also be translated, "He was thought to be the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recorded wonders". See Pines, An Arabic Version, p. 71. I favor this rendering; it is supported by the Syriac recensions of the Testimonium Flavianum.
26. See Charlesworth and J. Zias, "Crucifixion: Archeology, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls", Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 273-89.
27. Charlesworth, Exp T 84 (1973) 150.
28. G. Cornfeld (ed.) The Historical Jesus: A Scholarly View of the Man and his World (New York, London 1982) p. 187.
29. C. Couasnon, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, trans. J.P.B. and C. Ross (London 1974) p. 29 and Plates XVI, XVIII, XIX.
30. See the photographs in Cornfeld (ed.) The Historical Jesus, pp. 202, 212.
31. See the chapters in What has Archeology to do with Faith?, ed. Charlesworth and W. Weaver (Faith & Scholarship Colloquies; Philadelphia, 1992).
32. See now the following important works: R.K. Ericksen, Theologians under Hitler Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emmanuel Hirsch (New Haven, London, 1985) and T. Weiss-Rosmarin (ed.) Jewish Impressions on Jesus: An Anthology (New York, 1977).