Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why Richard Carrier is Almost Certainly Wrong About Philo Holding the Logos Was Named 'Jesus'

I have nothing against Richard Carrier.  We are actually Facebook friends - a status I share with a number of other people who write and think about the Bible.  I don't consider agreeing all the time with someone as a prerequisite for being friendly with someone.  In fact, thanks to my 'indoctrination' in the writings of Nietzsche I would probably hold the opposite - I have learned a lot more in life through my disagreements than through my agreements with people.

In the end however Carrier said something during a radio debate that seems to have captured the interest of 'people that think and write about the Bible.'  Since I probably know about obscure ancient traditions than most, I thought I would shed some likelihood on the question of whether Philo really believed the Logos was named Jesus based on Zechariah 6:12.  The Hebrew text as we now have it is corrupt but there are of course some obvious arguments against this proposition.  Jews do not generally associate the figure of the anatole with the high priest Joshua, but rather Zerubbabel.  Christians working from the Greek text - when they do comment on the passage - tend to identify the anatole with Jesus the high priest.

Philo 'the Jew' was certainly not a Christian (despite Eusebius's best efforts to draft him).  There is no explicit statement to the effect that Philo thought that Jesus the high priest was the anatole in his surviving writings.  Carrier seems to have looked at the passage (whether in Hebrew or Greek he doesn't say) and thought that it might have been possible.  The problem of course is that Carrier ignored the explicit statement from the Hodêgos of Anastasius the Sinaite which explicitly shoots down that idea.

I refer to that passage in chap. 14 in which Anastasius reproduces part of a dialogue between Mnason the disciple of the apostles and Philo "the philosopher and unbelieving Jew" which reads as follows:

I am going to adopt and appropriate the role of Paul of Samosata for you, or, better, that of the unbelieving Jew Philo, the philosopher; for he argued against the divinity of Christ with Mnason, the disciple of the apostles, and called Mnason dichrota:

"What argument, what sort of argument, and from what source (comes) any argument to the effect that the Christ is God? Should you adduce his birth from a virgin, without seed as they say, the begetting of Adam (appears) more noble and more striking, a formation by the very hands of God and a vivifieation through God's own breath, and it was purer than the nine-month fetation of Jesus in his mother (terminating in) filth and wails and mess. Should you adduce the signs he performed after his baptism, I would say to you that no one on earth ever performed such signs and wonders as did Moses for a period of forty years. Should you then point out that Jesus raised the dead, well, the prophet Ezekiel raised up from the dry bones of the army of dead men a numberless people. Moreover, Jesus himself said that some men would perform greater works than he. Now if you tell us that Jesus was taken up into the heavens as God, surely the prophet Elias was taken up more gloriously in a blazing chariot and with horses of fire. Calling Jesus the God of heaven must be reckoned as the most outrageous of your blasphemies, for God Himself said to Moses that "No man shall see my face and live." Further, our Scripture witnesses that "No one has ever seen God. No man has seen or is able to see God." How is it that Christian preachers are not ashamed to proclaim Jesus as God? For it is said that God is a consuming fire. Tell me, then, does a God of fire hunger? Does a God of fire thirst? Does a God of fire spit? Is a God of fire circumcised and does he bleed? And does he cast on the ground bits of flesh and blood and the refuse of the stomach? All such things were cast to the ground by Jesus and were eaten up and consumed by dogs, sometimes by wild beasts and birds, and trampled on by cattle. Every bit of his flesh that was cast off and discarded, whether it was sputum or nail-cuttings or blood or sweat or tears, was a part and portion naturally associated with the body and sloughed off or discarded in due process of growth. Indeed you say that he was like men in all things according to the flesh apart from sin. Yet you preach that he who was dead for three days was God. And what sort of a God who is a consuming fire can die? Why his very servants, the angels, cannot die, neither can the evil spirits of the demons, nor, for that matter, the souls of men. To press the matter, I ask: What sort of God, having the power of life and death, would take to flight—as Jesus fled from Herod lest he be put to death as an infant? What sort of God is tempted by the devil for forty days? What sort of God becomes a curse, which is what Paul says of Jesus? What sort of sinless God commits sin? For, according to you, Jesus became sin for our sake. And if he is God, how is it that he prayed to escape the cup of death? And his prayer was not heard. If he is God, how can he speak as one abandoned by God: "O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Is God abandoned by God? Does God need God (as would appear) when he says "Do not abandon my soul to the nether world"? Is God (such as to be) tied up, and abused and despised and put to death? If he was indeed God, he should have crushed those intending to take him prisoner, just as the angel crushed the Sodomites (who threatened) Lot. But you call the helplessness of Jesus "long-suffering."

Of course this anti-Christian text has not survived outside of Anastasius's reference to the text.  Nevertheless the fact that he is associated with St Catherine's monastery, makes it quite reasonable that he had a text claiming to be from Philo to this effect.  This would also seem to have been a text of a similar nature known apparently to Photius who - reconciling claims of Eusebius with this negative evidence - assumes that the Jew who became a Christian must have later reverted to being an enemy of the movement.

Moreover, it isn't enough to simply write off the tradition preserved by Anastasius as 'pseudepigraphal.'  It is hard to believe that a Jew - or Philo in particular - could have imagined that his god had a 'name' - let alone a human appellation.  There is ample evidence to suggest that Philo was utterly consistent with Jewish notions of God not have a proper name and so, when you couple this with the fact that Philo was a leading Jew and thus 'normative' in some respect and the actual evidence from one of the greatest libraries in the world that Philo thought the idea that God was named Jesus blasphemous - it would seem that it is more unlikely than it is likely that Philo ever held that the name of the firstborn Logos was Jesus.

As I said, the fact that I don't think that Carrier is right about this in no way changes my thinking about him.  I bet almost anyone of average intelligence or better could prove someone else wrong from something they had said over the last year.  As such this is not something that I delight in or use to 'reject' a prominent member of the 'thinking and reading about the Bible' community.  It just happened to be a question I might be in a unique position to help clarify.

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