Friday, July 9, 2010

So we have two groups. A group that practiced a ritual that involved the drinking of the blood of the savior, and a group that prohibited the practice of drinking blood.

Which ones were the Christians?

Christians are poorly attested in the New Testament. The word “Christian” appears three times.

1 Acts 11:26 RSV “…and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.”

2 Acts 26:28 “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time you think to make me a Christian!’”


1 Peter 4:15-16 “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify


Since Paul did not use the word we may assume that he did not know of a group called Christian and the name originated after Paul wrote. The word “Christian” does not appear in the gospels.


The name originated in the place where Peter participated at table until he was directed to abstain by men sent by James. They were practicing a communal meal ritual at Antioch that was in violation of the covenants if their practices conformed with Paul’s teaching.

“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Acts 13:1 RSV

Paul and Manaen, a member of the court of Herod, were leaders of the group at Antioch. The presence of the Herodian Manaen shows that the social network of the Antioch church extended to Rome. Manaen and Herod Antipas were brought up as syntrophos (foster brothers) and educated in Rome. (John the Baptist’s beheading was in response to John’s legal criticism of the marriage of Manaen’s foster brother, Herod Antipas.)


In Acts 26:28, the Herodian ruler, Agrippa II, grand-nephew of Antipas, certainly a collaborator with the Romans, is presented as being a candidate for conversion to Paul’s gospel.


1 Peter is believed by scholars to have been written in Rome and not by Peter.

The word “Christian” is associated in our sources with Antioch, Rome and Herodians. It is not associated with the disciples or family of Jesus. In fact, Peter was told not to follow the practices at Antioch where the word 'Christian' originated. It is not consistent with the evidence to call Jesus’ disciples “Christian”. That is a theological claim unsupported by the text.

We also find that Felix, a successor to Pontius Pilate in the role of Roman procurator of Judea, is eligible for salvation according to Paul’s gospel.

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess; and he sent for Paul and heard him speak upon faith in Christ Jesus.” Act 24:24.

While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, a Jewish friend of his, by birth a Cypriot, who pretended to be a magician. Simon endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry Felix; and promised, that if she would not refuse Felix, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted unwisely and, because she longed to avoid her sister Berenice's envy (for Drusilla was very ill-treated by Berenice because of Drusilla's beauty) was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix.

Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2

There is a stark contrast between Paul’s acceptance of impious Herodian marriage practice at the end of the story, approving of the marriage of the Herodian Drusilla to the Roman procurator, and the condemnation of the marriage of Antipas to Herodias by John the Baptist found at the beginning. If we assume that supernatural events are not the source of religious development and that religion is purely a social phenomenon, the likely explanation for the change that Christ's resurrection produced regarding God's attitude toward Herodian marriage practices would be that the Herodians produced the final versions of the texts. It would have served their interests.

Paul’s social network included the households of Caesar and Herod.

“All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” Philippians 4:22

“Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet my kinsman Herodion...” Rom 16:10b-11

Paul’s social network may have included Herodians due to familial bonds.

Paul is shown being given authority by the high priest to persecute “the way” (Act 22:4 Act 26:9). The high priest was appointed by the Herodian ruler. Paul’s mandate could not have been against Herodian interests or the priests would not have approved.

In Acts Paul is depicted as being a Roman citizen. In first century Palestine, Roman citizenship was granted only to members of Herod’s family and to other Jews who served Roman interests.

In the gospel accounts, it is mostly agents of imperial rule, tax collectors and soldiers, who recognize the supernatural significance of Jesus’ words and deeds.

Jesus followers are depicted as not understanding or remembering (at least partially) only later. Jesus’ disciples are portrayed as denying, doubting, falling asleep on the job, using poor judgment and being generally incompetent. They are not the heroes of the story or they would not be portrayed so negatively. The hero is the risen Christ who allowed the Herodians to break the covenant while remaining true to the tradition as modified by the new age of the resurrection described in the texts.

The winners were the Herodians and the winners write history. The Herodians were the first Christians. Christian theology is a Jewish theology that includes the idea of the One God and heeding the voice of the prophets, but ending the requirements of Torah and replacing it with a law the New Testament writers claimed to be of higher order than written law, the human conscience. The group that came to be known as Christian was zealous for the One God and the voice of the prophets, but not for the Law.