Recently Richard Carrier, who I am very impressed with when he says away from philosophy and sticks to Theology, appeared on the radio show out of the U.K. Unbelievable? Today. He mentioned in passing that Philo of Alexandria had already developed a theology in which he believed in a person named ‘Jesus’, an Archangel, who was the Logos, the High Priest, the Son of God, and yet who was not a historical figure. As such, Richard Carrier suggested that this kind of theology might help shed some light on Paul’s background when he speaks about Jesus as the Messiah, and thus a careful study of Philo’s ‘Jesus the Logos’ may vindicate the mythicist’s hypothesis about ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. Although Richard says he plans to publish a careful presentation of this evidence and his case from it in the near future, I thought I would offer a few thoughts as a knee-jerk response, without having yet heard any substantive case.
My first thought is that Carrier failed to mention that Philo also makes his ‘Logos’ out to be Melchizedek, as I have shown in a paper examining the exegetical traditions in Judaism prior to the letter to the Hebrews, with a particular focus on illuminating 11Q13 among the Dead Sea Scrolls (one can find that among my Academic Papers – though it may be in need of some editing due to some technical difficulties and loss of data with a previous computer, since I haven’t read it through thoroughly enough to determine whether that copy was my final draft; something to look into in the near future). Now, the other titles that Carrier is lifting from Philo sound closely related to the Theology in Hebrews. For instance, calling the Son of God an archangel recalls Hebrews 3:1. However, what strikes me as curious is that if Paul was working with the theology of Philo of Alexandria, in order to construct a character which later generations would come to think of as historical, he doesn’t import Philo’s language about this savior anywhere in his own writings! After all, Hebrews was pretty clearly not written by Paul, even if it is in line with Pauline theology (as tradition says it wasn’t, and the book never says it is, and the content of the book seems to suggest that it wasn’t written by Paul – for example the writer counts himself among non-eyewitnesses in 2:3, which Paul never does in his letters, instead considering himself an eyewitness and primary witness to Christ by revelation). There is not only an absence of Paul’s language about Jesus as Melchizedek, which is curious enough, but also an even more curious absence of Paul’s language about any divine Logos. I note that the Catholic Encyclopedia relates the following:
The term Logos is found only in the Johannine writings: in the Apocalypse (19:13), in the Gospel of St. John (1:1-14), and in his FirstEpistle (1:1; cf. 1:7 – Vulgate). But already in the Epistles of St. Paul the theology of the Logos had made its influence felt. This is seen in the Epistles to the Corinthians, where Christ is called “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) and “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4); it is more evident in the Epistle to the Colossians (1:15 sqq.); above all in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the theology of the Logos lacks only the term itself, that finally appears in St. John.
Well, even if the Theology was deeply consonant with the Logos theology articulated by Philo of Alexandria, it seems hard to imagine that Paul’s whole picture of Jesus as some kind of celestial being was inspired by Philo, and yet that Paul does not use Philo’s language to describe him. Finally, concerning Philo’s use of the name ‘Jesus’, the name literally means ‘the Lord Saves’ or ‘Savoir’, and thus I pessimistically suspect that Carrier simply means to point out that, in Philo, the Logos is the savior. Moreover, even if we granted for the sake of argument that Paul were inspired by Philo of Alexandria, and that Paul never took Jesus to be a historical figure, this leaves too much residue. For instance, it makes Paul’s language about Jesus born of a woman in Galatians 4:4 harder to explain (unless somehow that woman was celestial rather than earthly, and along with it the Davidic lineage was celestial rather than earthly), along with Paul’s language about Jesus being risen again (I remain convinced that it would have been entirely without sense for a first century Jew to speak of the resurrection in anything but the physicalist sense). How did Jesus come to be ‘Jesus of Nazareth’? Though interestingly Paul never calls the Jesus in his Epistles ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, but Luke and Acts do, and they are plausibly reflective of the Pauline community’s theology, as Luke and Acts claim to be connected to Paul. How, moreover, did the celestial Jesus become a historical figure, and why the concern among early Christians to refute the Jewish objection that the Apostles had stolen away the body of Jesus, why the women as the discoverers of the tomb without women being allowed to receive from Jesus the position of priestesses (common in the same milieu in the ancient world to all religions except Judaism)? Whatever Carrier proposes, or by whatever way he constructs his argument, it seems that he is going to have to convince us not only that it is more plausible than not that Paul believed in an a-historical celestial being inspired by Jewish theology like Philo of Alexandria’s, but also more plausible than the hypothesis that the early Christian movement got going with a charismatic leader named Jesus of Nazareth.
As a final note, Richard Carrier mentioned that a few years ago on his blog he said he would be willing to do any research project people requested if they could get some money together to help him pay for his student debts – he got 20,000$ to do a research project focusing on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, which he treated as a ‘research grant’. This raises a significant question in my mind: what am I doing wrong??? As a student struggling with major student debt, struggling my way through to my bachelor’s degree in Honors Theology and a Major in Philosophy, maybe I’ll offer the same! It would have to be done over the next summer season, but if anyone would like me to do some similar research project and could get some money together, I would be happy to accept such an offer. If anyone has any ideas, post them down in the comments section below, and if you’re willing, tell me how much you think you could raise to support that research project which you’d like to see me do.
I’m a bit skeptical about whether such a call can actually work, but maybe it could – I’ll treat this post as an experiment. Just for fun, if you aren’t able/willing yourself to raise any funds, why not just suggest whatever comes to mind, just to take a survey of where people’s interests lie.
My areas of competence include Natural Theology, New Testament Criticism, Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism scholarship (I have learnt some Greek and some Sahidic Coptic), Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship (I have learnt some Hebrew), God’s relationship to Time, and other areas besides. I am also very interested in pursuing Christian/Catholic Apologetics, the history and development of Christian of Liturgy, Catholic Canon Law, Ecumenical puzzles to be resolved for Eastern-Western Churches to reunite, issues surrounding the Catholic Church’s claim to be infallible, and others.
Although I am currently pursuing a Thesis on God’s relationship to Time, I had earlier considered doing a Thesis on Jewish Messianic Expectations, Jesus’ Resurrection, and Early Christianities in which I intended to survey the various Jewish messianic expectations before (and contemporary with) the time of Jesus, and then argue strongly for the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, followed finally by directly challenging the notion that there was never any normative form of earliest Christianity (against Scholars such as Bart Ehrman or Karen King) by appealing to the resurrection as a historical event to ground an ideologically primitive and normative form of Christianity. I would still like to pursue that someday.
Comments are particularly encouraged.