The origins of Christianity are a subject that has attracted a considerable amount of ink over the past few centuries. For believers and non-believers alike it is a subject of great interest, but also controversy. Frequently, we hear of sensationalist books declaring some new theory about Jesus and the origins of Christianity, some fringe authors even declaring that Jesus was a mythological figure based on pagan deities. Whilst any full study would take multiple books, my focus in writing this dissertation will be on the socio-cultural background of the 1st century. This is a subject that has been oft neglected, and few scholars in recent years have attempted to tackle with these issues. One of the biggest problems of studying early Christianity is that many scholars have approached it from a 21st century Western perspective. It might seem obvious to the point of being trivial, but 1st century Greco-Roman social and cultural values were different.
Some scholars, however, have attempted to get closer to the 1st century mindset. It might seem initially surprising, but a number of American evangelical scholars have stressed various differences between 1st century culture and our own, such as a low view on women. British scholar and former Bishop, N. T. Wright, in his work The Resurrection of the Son of God, has offered a comprehensive survey of Jewish and non-Jewish beliefs from the Old Testament period, up until the New Testament period. A number of scholars, including but not limited to Richard Bauckham and Michael Licona, have compared the Gospels to other written works from the same time period. The problem with these writers is that these elements are only bought up in isolation, or are not the main focus. One group of scholars, however, known as the ‘Context Group’ have published a series of commentaries and volumes exploring 1st century culture.
The use of social science, however, has often been viewed with suspicion by theological faculties. This is presumably down to the fact that a number of non-Christian scholars have attempted a socio-cultural understanding of Jesus and produced results that conflict with these departments’ articles of faith. For instance, John Dominic Crossan claims Jesus as a Cynic Sage, whereas Bart Ehrman claims Jesus as apocalyptic prophet who believed the world was to end imminently within his own lifetime. One author has even attempted to analyse Christianity in Marxist terms as an outlook that arose through class struggle. I share their concerns, not because I am interested in upholding articles of faith (although I am myself a believer) but because the conclusions of these scholars are often at odds with the facts, and sometimes are contrary to their own methodologies.
It is my intent to provide a general survey of 1st century social and cultural values, from Christian and non-Christian sources. In the first chapter, I shall explore general features that were common to all societies within the region of the Near East and Mediterranean, looking at sources from the first couple of centuries. In the second chapter, I shall explore Christianity’s relation to those values and see how this impacted its development. For example, how would a 1st century Jew, or a 1st century Roman react upon hearing the Gospel message? How compatible was Christianity with these values, if at all? It is these questions that I aim to answer, and whilst I suspect some of my conclusions will no doubt be considered ‘controversial’ to some, it is my aim to provide a clearer understanding of Jesus and early Christianity.
Had I the space, I would spend time discussing methodology, philosophy of history, as well discussing the quality and quantity of the New Testament documents, and their transmission. However, given the focused and concise nature of a history dissertation, any treatment would have to be shortened for the sake of brevity, thus running the risk of being too superficial. I have thus chosen to omit such discussions, which can certainly be explored in future work. However, despite such restrictions, part of the subject matter under discussion does overlap partially in a few key areas. As such, I will comment on relevant issues, but not at the expense of running off-topic. I will be specifically commenting on ‘Higher Criticism,’ particularly ‘Form Criticism.’ The argument I will make is one that has been previously made by an American apologist named James Patrick Holding. It is his work that has inspired the subject matter of this dissertation.
His argument is that Christianity was so offensive to 1st century socio-cultural values that it could not possibly have succeeded unless there was convincing evidence that it were true. Holding, however, is not a historian, as his expertise is in library science. He has drawn upon the works of scholars, however, most notably that of the Context Group. It is my aim to explore this argument in more detail, and essentially present it in a more academic setting. Indeed, many of Holding’s critics have opined that he is not qualified to speak on the subject matter. Thus, it is my interest, as a historian, to test his argument and to fully develop his ideas along with my own. Some of my points will differ from Holding’s, of course, and I do reference some of the same material. I have, however, utilised a slightly wider variety of source material, most notably by providing primary examples in addition to the quotations of secondary works.
Chapter One: The First Century Socio-Cultural Landscape
To begin, it is first important to understand the kind of world in which 1st century Jews, Greeks, Romans, et al. lived. The first point to understand is that the people of the 1st century lived in a pre-industrial, or agrarian societies. To contrast, we today live primarily in industrial societies. There are considerable differences between these two types of society. In agrarian societies, roughly 90% of the population were rural, whereas in industrial societies, roughly 90% of the population were urban. In agrarian societies between 90-95% of the population were engaged in farming, and the gathering of raw materials, etc. In industrial societies, less than 5% are engaged in these professions. Birth rates and birth mortality were higher in agrarian societies, whereas life expectancy and literacy rates were lower. These differences reflect more than just differences in levels of technological sophistication, however.
The physical reality of the ancient world meant that society operated a certain way, and certain cultural values were upheld and in ways vastly different to our own, although the traces of these socio-cultural values can still be seen in regions of the world today, particularly the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. One of the first major differences between agrarian society of the first century and modern Western society is that they lived in what anthropologists referred to as a high-context culture. What this means is that they presumed “a broadly shared, generally well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing.” By contrast, we live in low-context societies where we often provide full details in our communication that can sometimes be excessive and extraneous.
To illustrate this difference in more depth, consider how one would go about relating an account of an event or set of events, and the people involved. A person from a high context society could describe a certain aspect of the story with only minimal details, as other members of their society would be able to ‘fill in the blanks,’ so to speak. I shall outline a few examples of this. Consider the following passage of Luke 1:35-36:
“And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will over-shadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.”Elizabeth’s barrenness is mentioned in passing, but what is not mentioned is the massive social stigma attached to barren women, as readers at the time would already have known such things. We modern Western readers would be more concerned about the medical aspect, and presumably would have no idea about the social aspect that is actually the focus of the reported miracle.
Something similar occurs in Matthew 15:21-28, where Jesus has an encounter with a foreign (Canaanite) woman who is seeking healing for her demon-possessed daughter. This story may seem puzzling to many modern Western readers, as Jesus initially ignores her, and when he does speak to her, he insults her publically. Again, this account leaves out many details that first century readers would take for granted. Men and women did not talk to one another in public if they did not know each other, and rabbis would not even talk to their own female relatives in public. Thus, Jesus is breaking a big social taboo even by talking to her. There is much more to the story than this, but the point is that there are many details of this story absent in the text, simply because of the high context culture.
An interesting example occurs in Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, where Josephus is discussing the actions of the high priest Ananus:
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so [Ananus] assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”The focus of this piece is on the action of the new high priest, Ananus, yet Josephus mentions in passing none other than Jesus. What is interesting is how Jesus is mentioned solely in order to introduce James, and is also referred to as being “called Christ.” The interesting thing is how Josephus makes no effort to explain whom Jesus was, or what the term Christ meant, implying he expected that his readers were already familiar with Jesus. Since Josephus is writing to a Roman audience, he includes more detail than he would if he had been writing to his fellow Jews.
The writings of Paul are similarly littered with such examples. For example, he used hymns and creeds as shortcuts for more detailed knowledge. One such creed occurs in 1 Corinthians 15:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.”Such a creedal statement constituted a form of shorthand for more detailed knowledge that Paul’s readers would already have been familiar with, as they constitute a compressed version of the Gospel narrative. Such compression is something that can also be found in Roman writers. For example, in reference to Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome, Suetonius devoted a mere single sentence.
This feature of agrarian societies in turn reflects and points to other features absent in modern Western society. Such a style of communication reflects the very close-knit inter-personal relationships that made up ancient societies. Ancient people were particularly group-oriented, or collectivist. What this means is that people considered themselves in terms of their group, and who they are is essentially determined by their interrelation with others within the group. Your identity was derived from the whole of the group, and so how others within your group saw you was of paramount importance. As such, ancient people formed distinct, exclusive in-groups that were defined primarily by kinship. By kinship I don’t just mean close family, but a larger group that included those with the same ethnic heritage and mutual acquaintances.
Those within the in-group are able to have interpersonal relationships with one another, but those outside would be treated impersonally. Because of such collectivism, people did not see themselves as individuals, but as part of the group, and that they had no identity apart from their group. As such, if a person from one group was to have dealings with a member of another group, then both would walk away feeling that they knew everything there is to know about the other group. Thus, one’s place of origin, your family lineage, and so on, were similarly important, as they were indicators of status.
We can see examples of this element of ancient culture present throughout the New Testament. For example, in John 1:43-46, Phillip is trying to persuade Nathaniel to follow Jesus, saying: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel’s response is simply to ask: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This was because that people were expected to act in accordance with their birth status, and so Nazareth, being a tiny and obscure village would hardly be considered capable of producing anyone of messianic status, thus making Jesus’ messianic credentials non-existent. Interestingly, both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain genealogies of Jesus, as well as accounts of his birth taking place in Bethlehem. These genealogies contain many famous personages from the Hebrew Bible, and Bethlehem was the city of David. Thus, by linking Jesus to Bethlehem and famous personages from the Hebrew Bible, these are status claims about Jesus.
Another pertinent example occurs in Mark 6:3, where Jesus returns to Nazareth to teach at the Synagogue there. The crowd, however, are incredulous at how Jesus is so learned, and question his background:
“’Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him.”Note how they bring up his family of origin and blood relations, but also his former occupation as a carpenter. A manual craftsman such as a carpenter would not have had a particularly high status in such a society, and so Jesus’ profound teachings were not in line with his place within society. However, there are more ways in which 1st century persons were different than this. Another significant difference is that social interaction revolved around honour and shame in such societies.
Honour and shame were pivotal values in the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean. Honour was essentially a combination of two factors: the value of a person in their own eyes, and the value of a person in the eyes of their social group. Honour is a claim to worth coupled with a social acknowledgement of that worth. Your honour was determined by a number of different things, such as your gender, your occupation, your family, your ethnic background, and your place in the social ladder. Thus if you made a claim to honour that was above your standing, you would be publically rebuked. Honour could also be bestowed onto people of lower status from people of higher status. However, honour could also be acquired at another’s expense by engaging in challenge-riposte. Essentially, it worked by someone publically challenging another, and the other person then having to defend their honour. Each participant goes back and forth until someone “loses.” This can be seen in the previous example of Mark 6:3. The people in the synagogue challenged Jesus, as his publically preaching was a status claim that elevated his honour. The reason why they are offended is because honour was seen as a limited good, and so if they granted Jesus honour, it would mean others in the community sacrificing honour.
This account is mirrored and elaborated on in Luke 4:16-28. In this account, it includes more details, such as Jesus’ reading from a scroll of the book of Isaiah, and claimed that the prophecy he had just read was fulfilled in himself. The prophecy in question comes from Isaiah 61:1-2, which was a Messianic prophecy. By saying that he had fulfilled this prophecy, he was essentially claiming to be the Messiah, and so was claiming for himself a considerable amount of honour. However, more than this, Jesus left some verses out, and included some verses from elsewhere in Isaiah. His reading disagreed with the community’s standard reading, and also served as a rejection of Jewish nationalism of the day. Whereas Jesus’ response is incredibly insulting, as he implies that outsiders are better able to judge the honour of a prophet than those who know him best. Such a negative challenge merited an immediate response, however, the crowd are apparently unable to provide a response, as they quickly resort to violence by attempting to kill Jesus.
Shame, on the other hand, was not necessarily a loss of honour, but rather was also an emotion one felt if they were dishonoured. People who were shameless in this sense, were considered dishonourable people who fell beyond the parameters of normal daily life. Such persons were to be denied all normal social courtesies. Thus, by addressing Jesus, the crowd at the synagogue are admitting Jesus as an equal, presumably because they were all from the same community, and thus probably were equals socially. It is Jesus’ negative response to their challenge, however, that causes them to seek violence against him. Jesus, by claiming messianic status, is dishonouring the community, but the question is, how? This leads me to another important socio-cultural value 1st century persons held.
Ancient persons believed that honour was a limited good, as I have mentioned previously, but what does this mean? This has to do with the physical reality of life in the 1st century. Roughly 98% of people back then would have found themselves “subject to the demands and sanctions of power-holders outside their social realm.” It was an accepted fact of life to such peoples that they were under the governance of a remote power that they had no control over. As such, it was likewise accepted that they had little, if any, control over their living conditions. Such an existence was determined by limited natural resources, and limited social resources. Thus, it was widely considered by such peoples that all desired things in life were similarly limited.
Honour, like wealth, was considered to be limited, and so thus it was perceived that honour was in limited supply. From this viewpoint, since honour was seen as limited, it meant that whenever someone accrued honour, in the eyes of 1st century persons, it meant somebody else lost honour. Thus, if people wanted to retain their honour, then they had to engage in challenge-riposte, as aforementioned. There are plenty of examples of Jesus engaging in such riposte throughout the Gospel accounts, including the previously cited encounter in the Nazareth synagogue. This may came as a surprise to some, but Jesus did not pull any punches when it came to heated discussions with his ideological enemies, such as the Pharisees. Whilst I have already sufficiently described and explained the counter-riposte dynamic, what I want to focus on now is how this relates to other concepts.
One important concept that is impacted by an agrarian socio-cultural outlook is that of love. When we read the New Testament, specifically Jesus’ command to love our enemies and so on, we typically assume a Western definition of love. It may surprise modern readers to know, but in such societies, love was characterised differently. In our individualistic Western societies, love is typically held to refer to positive inner emotion and feelings towards persons and objects. Whilst this definition may not be exhaustive, the important aspect here is that love is an internal feeling, whereas in agrarian societies, love is centred on actions rather than emotions. To love someone was to be attached and bonded to someone, and in such societies you did not love someone if your actions did not reflect it. Furthermore, spontaneous displays of such emotion, as well as holding certain emotions to be polarised extremes with no middle ground were a common part of such societies.
Whilst such love between persons may or may not have involved the warm feelings traditionally associated with love in modern Western cultures, the main point to understand is that love in agrarian societies did not require such feelings. This was because an open display of emotion, typically spontaneous, was merely one way of showing love. Moreover, group bonding and social cohesion were valued over individual satisfaction and needs, reflecting the centrality of group-centeredness in such societies. As such, one important manifestation of mutual love “was a staunch refusal to do what will bring harm to one’s kin (all the more as this, ultimately, is to harm oneself.)” Thus, whilst one might show love in a way we would identify as loving, it was possible to show love in a way that we would normally find unloving.
Since a person’s identity was ultimately grounded in and derived from group identity, as well as their place within it, actions would be taken to preserve the unity of the group as a functional whole. Corrective measures would be enacted against social deviants within the group, even against family members by family members.
“The group would exercise measures designed to shame the transgressor (whether through insult, reproach, physical abuse, confiscation of property – at worst, execution) so that the transgressor would be pressured into returning to the conduct the group approved (if correction were possible) and so that group members would have their aversion to committing such transgressions themselves strongly reinforced.”Before such social persecution would take place, then family members would certainly confront those were perceived as stepping outside of societal norms. This kind of ‘tough love’ is more in line with agrarian concepts of love rather than the modern Western conception.
I shall give some examples now of the challenge-riposte dynamic in use, which should hopefully illustrate some of the peculiarities of inter-personal relationships in the 1st century that I have discussed so far. One prominent example is Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees, of which I shall cite just a few. A subtle example occurs in Matthew 12, where the Pharisees are confronting Jesus over the fact that his disciples are plucking heads of grain for food on the Sabbath. Jesus responds by asking them if they had read about how David entered the temple and ate the bread reserved only for priests. This may not seem like it, but this is actually a tremendous insult to the Pharisees. These were highly educated, religiously trained men who knew the Hebrew Scriptures well! Of course they knew about the account that Jesus was referring to.
Another example occurs in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus addresses the Pharisees as follows: “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” This might seem confusing to Christians, who know well the commands to turn the other cheek, and so on. However, the reality is, such verbal sparring is not necessarily antithetical to love in such societies. As I have already mentioned, there was a strong emphasis on action in such societies. Feelings, in order to be considered genuine, had to be backed up by action. We see in the New Testament text, multiple reports of the Pharisees plotting against Jesus. They are usually seen trying to trick Jesus, and generally trying to do bad things to him. Jesus, however, whilst certainly not afraid of verbally challenging them, did not return such actions.
Thus, whilst the Pharisees were Jesus’ ideological enemies, Jesus did not seek harm against them, whilst at the same time directing riposte towards them. I shall now give examples of Jesus directing such riposte towards his disciples. One pertinent example occurs in Matthew 16:21-23, where Jesus is telling his disciples that he must be killed. Peter challenges Jesus, saying that such a thing would not happen, and Jesus responds by saying: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” People today would probably consider that a harsh and unloving reprimand, yet such a rebuke is in line with collectivist expressions of love. Another example occurs in Mark 4:35-41, where they are sailing with Jesus and end up sailing into a storm. They wake Jesus in a panic, only for him to rebuke them for not trusting him.
Such usage of challenge-riposte is continued by the Early Church Fathers, the successors to the New Testament authors. For example, Ignatius of Antioch, referring to heretics, wrote the following:
“I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to Christ's passion, which is our resurrection.”Deliberately withholding the name of the person you were referring to was a way of shaming people in such societies, and was incredibly insulting. A modern parallel may be found in the way a parent today might reprimand a child who has come close to harm. Such expressions were simply far more common in the ancient near east, and across a range of relationships. This was most likely the case because of how close-knit social groups were in the 1st century, and also due to the action-centred nature of emotional expression.
However, it is important to note that such rhetorical exchanges were limited to the public sphere of daily life. As we can see, inter-personal communication was very different in ancient societies than in our society, something that can be seen in the writing styles of authors from the time. The reason for this is probably due to the fact that such societies were primarily oral societies. Obviously, most people in the 1st century could not read or write, and so the primary means of communication would have been speech, rather than writing. When we analyse ancient documents, we can see clues and evidence that point to this. The Gospels are no exception, and we can see evidence of the oral origin for these documents. As aforementioned, challenge-riposte was limited to public exchanges.
As such, we can expect to find such exchanges in written reports of speech. However, we also see ancient writers employing such rhetoric in their own writing. This is because authors “expected their compositions to be read aloud to a gathered community, who would, in turn, use that material to establish a dialogue between themselves and, especially in the case of a letter, with the reader, who was often the writer’s official representative.” This was certainly true of the New Testament documents. The use of hyperbole was also relatively common in addition to the use of rhetoric. One example includes the aforementioned polarisation of emotions as opposites. This can be seen in Luke 14 where Jesus says: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Such a command was not meant to be taken literally. Such hyperbole was simply a part of the culture. Jesus is simply saying that you must put worldly relationships in second place to your relationship with God in order to be a true disciple.
The reason for the utilisation of such literary devices, in speech as well as writing, is that they made what the speaker was saying stand out more in the minds of the listeners. When we analyse the New Testament documents, we see a variety of such literary devices geared towards making the content memorable. Jesus often utilised stunning words and images, often hyperbolic, which would stand out in the minds of his listeners. Examples of such vivid word pictures can be seen when Jesus says: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you;” and: “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Like the previously cited examples, these were not literal commands, but figures of speech to ensure that the message being conveyed stuck in the minds of the listeners.
Jesus also used riddles and paradoxical images, for example Jesus uses the following riddle to describe his upcoming resurrection:
“Jesus answered and said to them, ”Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.”In order to teach his disciples about the meaning of charity, Jesus contrasts a poor widow with the wealthy, saying: “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury.” Further use of memorisation devices includes the use of proverbs, such as Mark 3:24: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” These examples are by no means exhaustive, but they should give an idea of the effects orality had on writing.
This by no means guaranteed verbatim recall, yet this is in line with what we know of ancient oral cultures. The utilisation of memorisation techniques and devices allowed for remembrance of the core message rather than the exact wording. Thus:
“…to apply the concept of original and copy to ancient documents is anachronistic… we must abandon the modern concept of authenticity and the modern requirement of exact verbatim correspondence down to the very punctuation.”This also helps shed light on the textual transmission of the New Testament texts. It is well-known that the canonical Gospels were written decades after the events they describe. Whilst contemporaneous reports are by no means the only valid historical documents, nonetheless, some have questioned why the Gospel authors would have waited so long to write these events down.
Given the oral nature of societies, there was no need to write down the Gospels right away. The utilisation of memorisation techniques combined with the fact that these accounts were constantly being relayed meant that the accounts would have been fresh in the authors’ minds. Presumably, the Gospels were written near the end of the authors’ lifetimes, to act as controls when they were no longer around themselves to act as authorities. This is where I would like to briefly spend some time discussing form criticism. Form criticism correctly operates along the basis that the Gospels originated orally yet makes the highly questionable assumption that, once the New Testament oral traditions began circulating, they automatically became the property of the community and subject to change.
Whilst this is going to be by no means going to be a full treatment of the arguments of Form Criticism, I do wish to briefly summarise some key points that stand against one of its core assumptions. Now, a brief summary of oral cultures in general does little to support this central premise of radical alteration as part of collective ownership. When we look at oral cultures from around the world, we typically see them as being geared towards memorisation, with rather little in the way of variation. It is important to stress that this does not necessarily involve verbatim memorisation, however. One example is that of Yugoslavian bards, where becoming a skilled practitioner involved learning enough of the material so that they could shape their performance from the material that they remembered. One particularly interesting example is that of Fijian dance songs, which were memorised, rehearsed, and subject to peer critique because there was a strong emphasis on divine inspiration that did not allow for personal interpretation.
The closest example I could find of wilful invention occurred in African Storytelling. Individuals would observe and remember what they had seen of an experience, from which a generally agreed upon explanation of the event’s significance would arise (although better told and more noteworthy experiences might survive two to three lifetimes.) Favourable and opposing parties would then circulate their own interpretations of the event, all of which could co-exist for up to 120-150 years before being formulated into a more highly structured account that was considered historically satisfactory to all. This would take up to 300 years, and more skilled historians and storytellers would invent details that would add lucidity to the accounts. So, this is a centuries long process that still involved memorisation of core details. What changed were small details, in an effort to provide a general all-encompassing account.
When we turn to specifically ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, however, we find even less to support the idea that such alteration was widespread or even common. In fact, what we find severely undercuts the very thing that Form Criticism assumes is part and parcel of oral tradition. Ancient study methods placed a high value on the preservation of ancient traditions. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, students were required to copy, memorise and recite a core curriculum in order to become well versed in their cultural tradition. Greeks too also placed a high value on recitation and memorisation. A sample of Greek memory retention techniques can be found in Aristotle’s On Memory and Reminiscence. One such example is the use of acrostics, for example early Greek Christians used the word icthus to give the message: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.
The Romans too used a variety of memorisation techniques in order to train public speakers, and teachers, since these professions required practitioners to memorise vast amounts if information. It seems as if there were a variety of approaches, however. Some orators memorised quotations from classical literature and used those to form their own speeches, others composed their speeches and memorised the wording verbatim, and others simply memorised the core arrangement and structure of their speech. In Israelite culture, religious education was particular important for pious families. Boys were taught from an early age at their local synagogue to read, write, and even to expound upon scripture. Disciples of religious leaders furthermore were not just learners, but were also called upon to memorise and recite the material they were taught.
When we consider that Jesus was indeed a religious teacher with disciples, it seems not just unlikely, but in direct contradiction to the evidence that Jesus’ followers would not have remembered his teachings, or that they would have freely edited and changed them. The presence of mnemonic devices in the very text points to an ordered and controlled transmission that stands in total contrast to the imaginings of the form critics. Again, I wish to stress that this is but a summary treatment, and is not as in-depth as I would like due to limitations of space. This is by no means a full critique, however, my arguments here can certainly be expanded upon in future work.
Chapter Two: Christianity and 1st Century Values
We have so far looked at core socio-cultural values of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean. Now we are going to look at ways in which Christianity related to and also came into conflict with these values, and what this implies for future study of ancient Christianity. What struck me the most was just how incompatible Christianity was with mainstream values. As Nagle and Burstein point out:
“That there was an intrinsic incompatibility between Christianity and classical values was apparent from the time Romans became aware of the presence of the new religion. Christians were criticized on a variety of grounds, but principally because they had rejected the gods of their ancestors and the civic values of the Greco-Roman world. Their religion was new; they had turned away from the traditions of their immediate ancestors, the Jews… In short, they did not fit into the system that had been sanctioned by centuries of classical use.”It is probably hard for individuals to grasp just how important a fact and a reality that this was. Even more interesting is how even scholars overlook or do not fully understand the implications of this. I shall do my best to expound on these issues now.
I shall begin with probably the biggest obstacle that lay between Christianity and potential converts, that of the crucifixion of Jesus. As I have mentioned extensively in the first chapter, the world of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean was an honour/shame-focused society. Crucifixion was the worst method of execution available at the time, reserved for the most heinous of criminals (at least in the eyes of the Roman state.) As such, it was an “utterly offensive affair, ‘obscene’ in the original sense of the word” and a “status degradation ritual.” It was meant to signify the victim’s loss of power, as well as the Roman state signifying its authority over them, as well as leading to other humiliating things, such as self-defecation. It was such an offensive affair that most pagan writers were simply too revolted to write about the subject, and the accounts we do have aren’t particularly detailed.
Crucifixion, furthermore, took on a new dimension in Judaism, in that the victim was considered cursed by God:
“…his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day; for he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God; that you do not defile land the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.”Various critics of Christianity, such as Celsus and Lucian of Samosata noted with malicious delight and pleasure the shamefulness of Jesus’ death. Their sentiments were also shared by members of the lower classes, as is evidenced by a piece of graffiti depicting a man kneeling before a crucified figure with the head of an ass, with the caption “Alexamenos worships god.” Indeed, the shamefulness of Jesus’ death was acknowledged by early Christian writers, such as Paul and Justin Martyr.
As deSilva notes “no member of the Jewish community or the Greco-Roman society would have come to faith or joined the Christian movement without first accepting that God’s perspective on what kind of behaviour merits honor differs exceedingly from the perspective of humans beings…” Both the Jewish and Roman authorities had assessed Jesus as being worthy of a shameful death, yet the Gospel narratives claim that God overturned this assessment by raising Jesus from the grave. Such a message was totally at odds with well-established beliefs regarding honour accrual and shameful behaviour. This alone should have been more than enough to stop Christianity from spreading beyond its original members. Yet, not only did Christianity secure a sizeable number of Jewish converts, it spread to the Greek and Roman gentile population also.
This dishonouring of Jesus by the Jewish and Roman authorities did not simply end with his death by crucifixion, however. Even in death, Jesus would have been further shamed. As scholar Byron McCane notes:
“By burying the dead and mourning their absence, members of a society affirm that someone significant had been lost. When the Romans did not permit the burial of crucifixion victims, then, they were doing more than merely showing off the power of Rome: they were also declaring that the deaths of these victims were not a loss to Roman society.”When we come to the Gospel narratives, however, they claim that Jesus was in fact buried, and by a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea. Are the Gospels, therefore, trying to suggest that Jesus was buried honourably? It would seem odd indeed if this were the case, especially given that the Gospels depict Jesus’ crucifixion, but the reality is more complex than this.
Whilst crucifixion victims were typically left on their crosses to be eaten by birds, sometimes the Romans did allow them to be buried for various reasons. One might wonder why a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin would petition to have Jesus buried. The Gospels narratives seem to suggest that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus who utilised his position with the Sanhedrin to fulfil this task so that he could secretly honour Jesus. This is indeed a possibility, but when we consider that it was prohibited in Judaism to leave a man hanging on a tree, then it would make sense for them, being observant religious Jews, to have Jesus buried. Indeed, by being allowed to bury Jesus, they would have been able to dishonour Jesus in their own way, and in a way that was not against the precepts of their religion.
How then, was such a burial dishonourable? Because he was buried away from his family tomb:
“To be buried away from the family tomb – by design, not by fate – was to be cast adrift from these cultural patterns, and dislodged from a place in the family.”Thus, by purposively being buried away from his family tomb, Jesus was indeed buried in shame. This has been challenged, however, most notably by eminent scholar William Lane Craig. Craig has argued that the language employed in the New Testament accounts suggests that Joseph of Arimathea used care in Jesus’ burial, and was trying to honour Jesus as a secret disciple. Furthermore, Craig has challenged the idea that being buried away from the family tomb as being necessarily shameful, arguing that Jesus died in Jerusalem miles from his relatives, and that poor individuals could hardly afford a family tomb.
The problem with these arguments is that they do nothing to challenge the contention that being buried away from the family tomb on purpose was shameful. If we accept that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple, then we are still met with the fact that the Gospel narratives state he buried Jesus away from his family tomb. We can accept that he may have done his best to honour Jesus secretly, but this would not have mitigated the dishonour of being buried away from the family tomb. Thus, we can freely accept Joseph of Arimathea being a secret disciple of Jesus, who did his best to honour Jesus, but ultimately this would not have been enough to counteract the dishonour. So, whilst Craig is right in the points he makes, they do not undercut the proposition that Jesus’ burial was dishonourable. Whereas, there is good evidence that such a burial would have been considered dishonourable when we consider the collectivist nature of such societies, and the strong emphasis on familial ties already discussed.
Interestingly enough, one other feature of Jesus’ burial would have been considered shameful, and that would have been the stationing of the guards outside the tomb. Such a guard would have been put in place by the state authorities in order to deny people from mourning at Jesus’ tomb. As McCane states: “…[t]o be unmourned by one’s nearest relatives was to be effaced from the cultural landscape. It was worse than unfortunate, it was a shame.” Thus, we are met by the very interesting case that the Gospels relate very culturally embarrassing details, and not only that, make these details the centre-piece of Christian faith. As the early Church Father Justin Martyr noted: “…they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God…” The crucifixion of Jesus is multiply attested by a variety of sources, with the Gospels being the most detailed of these, and the Gospels likewise contain additional culturally embarrassing details that nonetheless fit in with what we know about the practices of that time.
One may wonder, then, how Christianity ever got off of the ground. However, there are even more factors that would have made Christianity even more unappealing than this. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and Christianity essentially began as a Jewish sect. As such, it becomes hard to explain how it was able to successfully take hold amongst Greeks and Romans. The reason for this is because, Jews were typically viewed by the Romans and Greeks as being spiteful and superstitious. Romans in particular viewed their own system of beliefs as being superior to all others, viewing superstition (which Jewish beliefs were categorised as) as undermining the social order. The area of Galilee in particular was held in low view by Jews and non-Jews alike. To Jews, it was an area associated with farmers and ignorant yokels who knew little of the Torah, and to non-Jews it was infamous as being home to a number of Jewish rebels.
In addition to being a Jew from an area of ill-repute, Jesus was also from Nazareth, a city of absolutely no significance whatsoever. He was also a carpenter, which was regarded as a lowly and dishonourable profession, and associated with fishermen, tax collectors, and prostitutes, who were similarly held in low regard. Moreover, the Gospel accounts state that the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb were some of Jesus’ female disciples. In the 1st century, women were second class citizens, and their testimony was considered worthless. By placing the female disciples as the first witnesses to the empty tomb, the Gospels writers are admitting an incredibly culturally embarrassing detail. However, most of the male disciples would have been in a similar position, since most of them were of low social standing, and so the value of their testimony would be substantially lowered as a result.
Jesus was a rural peasant of low social standing in a world run by wealthy urbanites. He hailed from a city of low repute, in an area with a bad reputation, and he was of a people group that were despised by Greeks and Romans. He associated with undesirables, and was executed by the Roman State via crucifixion and was buried in shame. Furthermore, the chief witnesses to his alleged resurrection were women and country bumpkins. These alone should have been enough to bury Christianity, regardless of its teachings and doctrines. Yet, there are even more problems Christianity had to face. Christianity had the immediate problem of being new. Whilst in modern Western culture, people tend to favour novelty over tradition, in the ancient world, this was very much the opposite. Traditions handed down across generations from antiquity were regarded as the ideal standards of past generations of great personages that one was expected to live up to. Whilst the Romans recognised the antiquity of Judaism, Christians were regarded as “arrogant innovators.”
Christianity likewise made considerable ethical demands upon the individual that would simply have been unattractive to prospective converts. Ancient pagan cults typically appealed to people’s baser instincts, involving temple prostitutes, drunken parties, etc. Whereas Christianity called one to live a life of restraint. Ignoring worldly pleasures so that one can grow closer to God. Furthermore, Jesus was not just some deity that could simply be incorporated into the existing pantheon. As with Judaism, Christianity required its followers to be devoted to one deity and to one deity alone:
“The message about this Christ was incompatible with the most deeply rooted religious ideology of the Gentile world, as well as the more recent message propagated in Roman imperial ideology.”So, not only was Christianity massively culturally disadvantaged, its teachings were largely unappealing to non-Jews. Christianity would also have been unpopular due to claiming a man, Jesus, as being God, which would have been offensive to Jews and non-Jews alike.
We may also want to consider the alleged mode of Jesus’ vindication. The Gospels make a very specific claim in this regard, they claim that the God of Israel resurrected Jesus. This was a very specific mode of vindication that should not be confused with other means of living after or returning from death. In Jewish belief, resurrection was the returning of the dead to life and immediate transformation into un-perishing forms. Thus, this was not to simply re-animated, or even restored to your normal human form. You were essentially transformed into a new, immortal state. In his landmark work, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T. Wright documents various Jewish and non-Jewish beliefs regarding life after death. He notes that resurrection was not something believed to happen to just anybody. Resurrection was believed to be what awaited observant, religious Jews at the end of time.
Typical modes of pre-resurrection vindication for Jewish heroes usually involved being returned from death to their previous human form, or being bodily assumed into heaven directly. The belief in the resurrection at the end of time may not even have been a particularly widespread belief, given that there were prominent Jewish sects, such as the Sadducees, who did not believe in any form of life after death whatsoever. In the pagan world of the Greeks and Romans, however, a physical return from death to life was not something hoped for or imagined at all. Those who believed in afterlife hoped for a disembodied existence as a spirit, free from the material world as matter was considered ‘evil.’ The most common belief was simply that death was final. They most certainly did not think that a return from death to a physical form was something to look forward to. Resurrection was simply unattractive to non-Jews, and a resurrection occurring to a single individual prior to the general resurrection would have been hard for Jews to swallow.
Now, some have claimed that belief in a physically resurrected Jesus evolved from a belief that Jesus simply ‘lived on’ spiritually after his death. Given the socio-cultural data and the religious beliefs of the time, this makes absolutely no sense since existence in a disembodied spiritual state would have been easier for non-Jews to swallow. Furthermore, why was resurrection, a specific mode of vindication reserved for the end of time, chosen as the mode of Jesus’ vindication when there were more palatable options at hand? Moreover, why would a Jewish offshoot choose a form of life after death so out of sync with Jewish traditional beliefs? This is not even taking into account Jesus’ dishonourable status that he would have had after his death. It seems hard to imagine how such a mode of vindication would become associated with such an individual, and that belief in it would become so widespread.
Even aside from being culturally offensive, massively off-putting, and just plain bizarre to 1st century people, there would have been a price for following Christianity. By becoming a part of such a socially deviant movement, you risked being cut off from your social networks, most important amongst these being your family group. In the ancient world, this was no laughing matter, but one that had serious implications. As noted by Malina and Rohrbaugh: “…[s]uch a departure from the family was morally impossible in a society where the kinship unit was the focal social institution.” Furthermore, leaving the family meant forsaking material goods, since: “…[g]eographical mobility and the consequent break with one’s social network (biological family, patrons, friends, neighbours) were considered seriously deviant behaviour and would have been much more traumatic in antiquity than simply leaving behind material wealth…”
Christianity taught that it was acceptable to break family ties rather than give up your faith, which would have been a radical, outlandish proposition in the ancient world. Furthermore, it encouraged the breaking down of class distinctions, and promoted inter-racial relations, and also a higher place for women in society. It encouraged better treatment towards slaves, as well as suggesting that slaves were on the same standing as free-men. It is amusing that sometimes you will find critics of Christianity today complain that it did not clearly teach against the institution of slavery, whilst simultaneously making the argument that Christianity was popular amongst the lower classes because it promoted freedom from oppression. The statements Christianity did make were certainly radical for their time, and would have led to slave-owners giving up their slaves once they became Christians. Whereas, such statements, believe it or not, would NOT have been widely popular, even amongst slaves, as: “…[w]hen ancient Mediterraneans speak of 'freedom,' they generally understand the term as both freedom from slavery to one lord or master, and freedom to enter the service of another lord or benefactor...”
As noted in the first chapter, measures would be taken by one’s social group against you if you were deemed to be socially deviant. Such social persecution would have been widespread and immediate, with the goal of shaming you into returning to the accepted norms of the group. Given that such hard demands were placed on the individual and given the social hardships that would have followed, it becomes hard to see how Christianity spread beyond a handful of adherents. Christianity should have died out relatively quickly, but instead it survived and is now currently the world’s largest religion. Some form of explanation is thus in order. Contrary to the claims of modern critics, 1st century people were not narrow-minded simpletons who were easily swayed. In order for Christianity to have taken hold the way it did, there would have had to have been some convincing kind of evidence in order to overturn the cultural perception and social biases against it.
There is one factor about 1st century Near Eastern and Mediterranean culture that I have yet to mention, and it is one that is central to my argument here. In group-oriented societies and cultures “we must remember that people continually mind each other’s business.” Privacy was simply non-existent in such societies, as neighbours were expected to keep constant watch and constant vigilance over each other whilst simultaneously worrying about how they themselves appeared to others. In such a society, where nothing escaped notice, are we to believe that nobody would have checked the facts, especially when it came to such a radical religion as Christianity? Quite the contrary, people hearing the message of Christianity would have made efforts to seek the facts out, since, if the facts were not on the side of Christianity, then that would have been used to control the spread of the new movement.
It is thus my contention that Christianity would not have been able to succeed and flourish in such a hostile environment, unless there were some sort of convincing evidence that it were, in fact, true. Furthermore, there was no major editing of Christianity to make it more palatable, since its central claims were majorly offensive to cultural values. Moreover, there is no reason to suppose the stories were simply made up, since who in their right mind would have engineered such a story in an environment fundamentally hostile to such ideas? This is, of course, not even taking into consideration the other evidence that counters these two suppositions of modern critics, since I have, from the start, limited myself to discussing the socio-cultural data of the 1st century Mediterranean and Near East. This is by no means a conclusive ‘slam-dunk’ proof of any kind, but it is nonetheless a powerful argument, and one that deserves to be taken seriously.
My argument, and the central premise of this dissertation, builds upon the socio-cultural data of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean. Christianity was a religion that was hard, unattractive, and offensive to the socio-cultural values of its day, but nonetheless flourished. Given the hostility of such an environment, and the fact that persons such a group-oriented culture would have inevitably sought the claims of Christianity out, there must have been convincing evidence available that allowed Christianity to succeed. For if there were no evidence for Christianity, or worse, evidence that stood against Christianity, then it would have stood no chance at all and would have quickly been marginalised and eventually crushed. This is no doubt a highly controversial and explosive argument, and is also presumably going to be an unpopular one. However, I have based my argument on actual socio-cultural data.
As aforementioned, this argument is hardly decisive proof that Christianity is, in fact, true. It might be an argument in its favour, but it needs to be tested, and, moreover, combined with other academic areas, such as textual criticism, philosophy of religion and so on. It, does, however, underscore recent moves in Biblical studies away from the arguments and conclusions of Form Criticism and its adherents, and undercuts the arguments of many of today’s critics. Such an argument also reflects the recent renaissance of Christianity in academic fields, and the influx of serious-minded Christian scholars, most particularly in philosophy and Biblical studies. In the field of philosophy, scholars such as William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantinga have been developing sophisticated arguments for the existence of God. Plantinga has developed a unique version of Anselm of Canterbury’s Ontological argument, using modal language and framing the argument in terms of possible words.
Craig has developed a powerful version of Muslim philosopher Al-Ghazali’s Kalam Cosmological argument, taking new evidence from the field of astrophysics and cosmology to provide a scientific backing. In the field of Biblical studies, textual scholars such as Dan Wallace, and Michael Licona have provided convincing evidence for the overall reliability of the New Testament textual tradition. What needs to be done is to factor in these things together and weigh them as a whole. Christian apologists have long been seeking data across a variety of disciplines to provide a case, even going so far as to research psychology and physiology to determine whether the resurrection appearances could have been hallucinations and if Jesus could have survived crucifixion. It is now time for these issues to be discussed openly and fully, alongside the socio-cultural data I have outlined here. Further areas to be looked out, however, include seeing whether or not other religions survived the same level of hostility Christianity faced, without being radically altered.
Whilst paltry comparisons have been made between Christianity and variety of other religions before, albeit mostly in non-academic circles such as Internet discussion forums, no analysis has been made in terms of what difficulties these religions faced at their inception, and whether or not they had any advantages in their favour. We also need to look at the history of how these religions spread, as well as if they had to change to accommodate for public opinion and reaction towards them. For example, if a religion or cult had to change radically in order to survive, then it does not compare whatsoever. Whereas, if it can be shown that a religion survived the same level of hostility that Christianity faced, with being radically altered, and with no advantages in its favour, then that would totally undercut my argument.
To give a brief rundown then, in my first chapter I provided a general survey of the socio-cultural background of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean, providing examples within the text of the New Testament itself, as well as other texts from the same era. I specifically drew on the work of scholars Kenneth Bailey, David deSilva, Bruce Malina, Jerome Neyrey, and Richard Rohrbaugh in particular, as well as citing works by others who have come to the same conclusions. We saw that the 1st century culture was agrarian, and thus collectivist, and honour-shame focused. I also briefly discussed 1st century oral tradition, and noted how the conclusions of Form Criticism stand in contrast to the nature of 1st century Jewish and Greco-Roman oral culture. In the second chapter, I noted ways in which Christianity came into conflict with those values, drawing upon the data mentioned in the first chapter. The argument presented is essentially the same as one that has been made by American apologist James Patrick Holding, albeit with refinements.
Holding has drawn on the same group of scholars, yet his examples of 1st century socio-cultural values are more truncated for sake of presentation to a popular audience. After surveying the data in more depth, I have come to the same conclusion. However, in addition to supporting this main argument in favour of the truth of Christianity, I have likewise made arguments against Form Criticism and other forms of anti-Christian scepticism. Form Criticism suggests that Christianity evolved from a pre-existing ‘pure’ form that was freely edited and altered by different communities. Not only have I shown evidence that the oral culture would not have permitted such a thing, but it defies reason why Christianity would have evolved into such an offensive religion. It also defies reason that such an offensive religion was simply made up, since it would have gotten its adherents persecuted and even killed, as indeed Christians were. The plausibility of alternate hypotheses, such as hallucinations, need to be analysed in the same terms also.
This could definitely be explored at a higher level in future work. If given the opportunity, I would definitely like to build upon my work here on the MA and PhD level. I could pursue any number of avenues discussed thus far. Perhaps the most obvious choice would be to take a look at other religions, their origins, and history to see if they survived anything comparable to what Christianity went through and without being majorly altered. A second avenue of future research would also be to factor in textual analyses of the New Testament in comparison to other ancient documents, as well as in terms of its oral history and development away from the outdated patterns of the long since defunct Form Criticism.
I would furthermore also would like to take a look at methodological concerns, specifically factoring in recent developments and arguments from philosophy in regards to historiography and epistemology, given that there are those who insist that resurrection is a subject incapable of being analysed via historical research. Recent work by philosophers such as Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga regarding warranted belief, and the work of scholars such as William Lane Craig, and Michael Licona in regards to the philosophy of history would be of particular interest here. In closing, this is certainly an interesting topic that has opened up a variety of new avenues of enquiry, and should hopefully stimulate great academic debate. It is my intention in particular to get scholars thinking about these issues in more depth, and to work together to address the questions and concerns that will no doubt arise.
Bibliography: Primary Sources
Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008)
New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008)
Celsus, quoted in Origen, Contra Celsus, New Advent, Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04162.htm (2013)
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/index.htm#aoj, (2010)
Justin Martyr, First Apology, New Advent, Kevin Knight, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (2013)
Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm, (2010)
Tacitus, Annals, Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078&redirect=true, (2007)
Bibliography: Secondary Sources
Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and its Interpreters, T&T Clark, (2005)
Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, SPCK, (2008)
Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians, SPCK, (2011)
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony, Eerdmans, (2006)
James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Historical Jesus: Five Views, SPCK, (2010)
Darrell L. Bock, Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus With the Christ of Faith, Howard Books, (2012)
Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist Press, (1973)
Peter Carnley, The Structure of Resurrection Belief, Oxford University Press, (1987)
David Catchpole, Resurrection People: Studies in the Resurrection Narratives of the Gospels, Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd., (2000)
Gerald O’Collins, Easter Faith: Believing in the Risen Jesus, Darton, Longman, and Todd Ltd., (2003)
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics, B&H Publishing Group, (2009)
William Lane Craig, The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, Moody Press, (1981)
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008)
William Lane Craig, The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection, Southampton Guildhall, October 2011, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iyxR8uE9GQ)
William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Blackwell, (2009)
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins, (1994)
James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50 CE), Westminster John Knox Press, (2006)
Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall Sj., and Gerald O’Collins Sj., eds., The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus, Oxford University Press, (1997)
Gavin D’Costa, ed., Resurrection Reconsidered, Onesworld Publications, (1996)
David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, InterVarsity Press, (2000)
James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making: Volume 1: Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans, (2003)
James D. G. Dunn, Christianity in the Making: Volume 2: Beginning From Jerusalem, Eerdmans, (2009)
Paul Rhodes Eddy & Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Baker Academic, (2007)
Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999)
Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Harper Collins, (2012)
Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, InterVarsity Press, (2007)
Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, (2004)
Martin Hengel, Crucifixion: In the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, SCM Press, (1977)
James Patrick Holding, The Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Succeeded When It Should Have Failed, Xulon Press, (2007)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Shattering the Christ Myth: Did Jesus Not Exist?, Xulon Press, (2008)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Trusting the New Testament: Is The Bible Reliable?, Xulon Press, (2009)
James Patrick Holding, ed., Defending the Resurrection: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, Xulon Press, (2010)
Philip S. Johnson, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, InterVarsity Press, (2002)
Craig S. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts: Volumes 1 and 2, Baker Academic, (2011)
J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture, Kregel, (2006)
Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, InterVarsity Press, (2010)
Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry, Prometheus Books, (2004)
Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights From Cultural Anthropology, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001)
Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996)
Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Hendrickson Publishers (2000)
Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, (2006)
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress Press, (1998)
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, (2003)
Willi Marxsen, Jesus and Easter: Did God Raise the Historical Jesus From the Dead?, Abingdon Press, (1990)
James F. McGrath, The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to do With Faith?, Patheos Press, (2012)
Paul K. Moser, ed., Jesus and Philosophy: New Essays, Cambridge University Press, (2009)
Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Prometheus Books, (2005)
Robert B. Stewart, ed., The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman & Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, Fortress Press, (2011)
Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, Oxford University Press, (2003)
Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, Penguin Books, (2008)
A. J. M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection, SCM-Canterbury Press, (1999)
Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1984)
Peter S. Williams, A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism: God is Not Dead, Paternoster, (2009)
Peter S. Williams, Understanding Jesus: Five Ways to Spiritual Enlightenment, Paternoster, (2011)
N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, (2003)
 For example, see: William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd Edition, Crossway, (2008), p368; Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus, IVP, (2007), and Peter S. Williams, Understanding Jesus: Five Ways to Spiritual Enlightenment, Paternoster, (2011), p178
 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, (2003)
For a study devoted exclusively to Jewish beliefs regarding life after death in the Old Testament period, see: Philip S. Johnson, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, InterVarsity Press, (2002)
 Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, InterVarsity Press, (2010)
 These scholars include but are not limited to: Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, Jerome Neyrey, John Pilch, and David deSilva.
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, Harper Collins, (1994)
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Oxford University Press, (1999)
 James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50 CE), Westminster John Knox Press, (2006)
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, (1992), p6-8
 Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul, Fortress Press, (2006), p5
 Luke 1:35-36, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1363
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, (1992), p12, 288  Matthew 15:21-28, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1297-1298
 Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, SPCK, (2008), p220-225
 Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter 9, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-20.htm (2010)
 There is a reference to Jesus in Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 3, albeit with some minor interpolations. Whilst most scholars conclude that Josephus did reference Jesus in this earlier passage, there are one or two who maintain the passage is fabrication. Regardless, Josephus expected his readers to know who Jesus was, and so an earlier reference makes sense.
 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1509
 Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, 25.4, Bill Thayer, University of Chicago, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Claudius*.html
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p62-63
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p158-159
 John 1:45, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1423
 John 1:46, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1423
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress Press, (1998), p55
 Mark 6:3, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1337-1338
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, (1992), p212
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p30-31
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p28-29
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p89
 Luke 4:16-30, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1371
 Isaiah 61:1-2, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1105
 Kenneth Bailey, Jesus in Middle Eastern Eyes, SPCK, (2008), p164-169
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p212
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p309
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p25
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p48-49
 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World, Third Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, (2001), p89
 Jerome H. Neyrey, Limited Good, from John J. Pilch & Bruce J. Malina, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Hendrickson Publishers, (1998), p124
 Bruce J. Malina, Love, from John J. Pilch & Bruce J. Malina, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Hendrickson Publishers, (1998), p127-130
 John J. Pilch, Emotion/Demonstration of Feelings, from John J. Pilch & Bruce J. Malina, eds., Handbook of Biblical Social Values, Hendrickson Publishers, (1998), p56-59
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p214
 David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p36
 Matthew 12:1-8, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1288-1289
 Matthew 12:34, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1290
 Matthew 16:21-23, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1300
 Mark 4:35-41, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1336
 Ignatius of Antioch, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, NewAdvent.com, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm (Accessed 21st February 2013)
 Casey Wayne Davis, Oral Biblical Criticism: The Influence of Orality on the Literary Structure of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Sheffield Academic Press, (1999), p61-62
 Luke 14:26, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1396
 Matthew 5:29, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1276
 Matthew 7:5, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1279
 John 2:19-21, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1425
 Mark 12:43, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1350
 Mark 3:24, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1334
 Rosalind Thomas, Oral Tradition and Written Record in Classical Athens, Cambridge University Press, (1989), p47-48
 Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition: A Study of the Historical Methodology, Aldine, (1961), p15, 49
 Albert Lord, The Singer of Tales, Harvard University Press, (1960), p5, 16-17, 21, 25, 36, and Albert Lord, The Singer Resumes the Tale, Cornell University Press, (1995), p11, 20
 Ruth Finnegan, Literacy and Orality, Blackwell, (1988), p95-96, 102
 Joseph C. Miller, The African Past Speaks, Wm Dawson and Sons, (1980), p21-22, and Isidore Okpewho, African Oral Literature, Indiana University Press, (1992), p21-25
 David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, Oxford University Press, (2005), p8, 9, 27-29, 71-2, 95, 98
 Whitney Shiner, Proclaiming the Gospel, Trinity Press International Press, (2003), p4-5, 25, 103-108, 151-153, and Jocelyn Small, Wax Tablets of the Mind, Routledge, (1997), p82
 Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, InterVarsity Press, (1997), p38, 80
 D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History, Third Edition, Pearson, New Jersey (2006), p314-315
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977), p22
 Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress, (1998), p263-264
 Deuteronomy 21:23, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008) from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p237-238
 Celsus, quoted in Origen, Contra Celsus, Book Two, Chapter 33, New Advent, Kevin Knight, 2013, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04162.htm and Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm, 2010, (Accessed March 20th 2013)
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Fortress, (1977), p19
 1 Corinthians 1:18, and Hebrews 12:2, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Inc. (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1552, 1668 and Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 13, New Advent, Kevin Knight, 2013, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (Accessed March 20th 2013)
 David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p51
 Byron C. McCane, Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p433
 Byron C. McCane, Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p444
 William Lane Craig, Was Jesus Buried in Shame? Reflections on B. McCane's Proposal, The Expository Times September 2004 115: p404-409
 I asked Dr. Craig to expand upon his arguments at his lecture, The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection, Southampton Guildhall, October 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iyxR8uE9GQ, 0:41:10, (Accessed March 21st 2013) and also had the opportunity to speak to him a second time in Atlanta, Georgia.
 Byron C. McCane, Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial, from B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, Brill (1998), p444
 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 13, New Advent, Kevin Knight, 2013, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm (Accessed March 21st 2013)
 Tacitus, Annals, 15.44, Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078%3Abook%3D15%3Achapter%3D44, 2007, (Accessed March 21st 2013), Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX, Chapter 9, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-20.htm, 2010, (Accessed March 21st 2013), Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, Internet Sacred Texts Archive, John Bruno Hare http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm, 2010, (Accessed March 20th 2013)
 Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1985), p68
 Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus, New York: Viking, (2001), p241, and Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1985), p244
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p72, p82, and David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p33
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p82-83
 Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox, (1996), p164
 Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Yale University Press, (1984), p62
 David deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, InterVarsity Press, (2000), p46
 Jews would have been offended by suggesting a man was equal to YHWH, whereas pagans would have been offended by suggesting that a divine being could suffer as Jesus did.
 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, (2003) It is this work to which I am citing, referring to and using as a source for my points here. Rather than cite individual pages, I felt it better simply to list the work as a whole, since the data contained within is extensive and easily locatable.
 For example, see: Richard Carrier, The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb from, Robert M. Price and Jeffery Jay Lowder, eds., The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, Prometheus Books, (2005)
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress, (1992), p92
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress, (1992), p244
 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress, (1992), p313
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p163
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, Portraits of Paul: An Archaeology of Ancient Personality, Westminster John Knox Press, (1996), p183