On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier Part 8 of 12

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Mark

Pilate freeing Barabbas (a name which literally means “Son of the Father”) has no basis in history (the Romans never freed prisoners like this). Rather, it is patterned on the scapegoat ritual of Yom Kippur (Mark also has this take place during Passover so it’s a combination of two different Jewish holidays). Some manuscripts of Mark actually give his name as Jesus Barabbas, so the crowd is deciding between two Sons of the Father, making it even more clear that this is an allegorical, not a historical, story.

Mark based his crucifixion account on Psalm 22 as well as other Old Testament texts. Mark also used targums (Aramaic translations of the Old Testament which added in additional material). Mark bases much of his Jesus story on the Elijah/Elisha narrative from Kings.

Mark uses literary characteristics like unrealistically dense disciples, and ring composition which employs nested cycles of themes. He also uses chiastic structure, a form of poetic repetition which would be very unlikely to occur in history, but is common in myth.

Jesus not being accepted in his hometown reflects Jews not accepting Christianity while gentiles do. The miracles of Jesus echo the miracles of Moses. When Jesus cures the blind man, the blind man sees trees at first instead of men in order to reference the magical tree miracle of Moses. The demons he exorcises are named Legion to echo the miracle of Moses defeating an army.

The beginning of Mark is reversed by the end. For example, when Jesus performs miracles, he often asks people to remain silent, but they speak anyway. However, at the end, the women at the tomb are told to speak, but instead they remain silent. The baptism and crucifixion narratives parallel each other as well.

In Mark, Jesus was crucified on Sunday to coincide with the Day of Firstfruits, so Jesus also becomes the firstfruits of the resurrection. (The fact that John felt free to change the day of crucifixion for his own symbolic reasons further proves how unhistorical the gospels are.) In reality, trials and executions could not take place on holy days.

Chapter 12 mimics Passover haggadah which is the discourse acted out during Passover seder. The sequence of the Passover narrative is based on the tale of Jesus ben Ananias (Jesus of Jerusalem) as recounted by Josephus in The Jewish War (written between 74 and 79 AD). There are twenty significant parallels, so it can’t be coincidence. They both come to Jerusalem during a major religious festival, enter the temple area to complain about the temple, quote the same chapter of Jeremiah, preach daily in the temple, declare ‘woe’ unto Judea or the Jews, predict the temple will be destroyed, get arrested by the Jews but make no defense, get beaten by the Jews, are taken to a Roman governor and interrogated, asked who they are but again make no defense, get beaten by the Romans, get killed by the Romans after the Roman governor decides he should release him, utter a lament for themselves before they die, and both die with a loud cry.

The scene where Jesus cleanses the temple is not believable. There would have been hundreds of merchants and money changers, the temple grounds were enormous with acres of public space, and it was heavily guarded. The scene is more likely based on Jeremiah in which the destruction of the first temple is predicted to parallel Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of the second temple.

The framing story of the fig tree is symbolic of the ending of the sacrificial system that takes place in the temple. Just as it’s no longer the season for figs, it’s no longer the season for the temple. Mark was also influenced by Homer, although Mathew and Luke often remove the Homeric features when they copy from Mark.

It’s strange that Mark names the sons of Simon of Cyrene, but not the sons of any other characters. Did none of the disciples have noteworthy sons? The reason for this too appears to be literary. Jesus tells Simon Peter to take up his cross, but in a typical Markan reversal, a different Simon is the one who actually does so. Some think the story about demons being cast into swine being named Legion refers to the Roman legion stationed at Jerusalem whose emblem was a boar, however 2000 isn’t big enough to be a legion, so this story is more likely about the revolt led by Jonathan. The city of Cyrene was known for this failed rebellion, as well as worldly philosophy. Thus, the sons of Simon of Cyrene are named Alexander (to represent the great military conqueror) and Rufus (a reference to the philosopher Musonius Rufus).

The unnamed woman who anoints Jesus with $18,000 worth of oil is a literary figure. Why would Jesus say she’ll always be remembered, when her name isn’t even given? As an interesting aside, Carrier tells us Judas actually doesn’t betray Jesus in the Gospel of Peter.

The fact Jesus has brothers isn’t necessarily a historical fact either. After all, Osiris had a family and genealogy, but he didn’t exist. The names of Jesus’s brothers are all famous Old Testament figures. Jesus’s brothers are only mentioned twice to make the point that biological family should be replaced by symbolic family.  Mark is unaware that the brothers of Jesus will later be thought to be involved in the early church.

Mark is entirely a literary construction from start to finish. If there is any genuine historical information, we have no way of unraveling it from the symbolic narrative.

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