New  religionsgeschichtliche Schule

Religionsgeschichtliche Schule is a term that has dominated the study of Christianity in academic circles for 150 years. It is translated from the German as “History of Religions School.” In this case it means ‘school of thought’ rather than a physical place, and is a reference to a group of influential scholars. They are important because most of their core ideas are still going strong on the internet and are currently taught in the Religious Studies Departments of many universities. 

A number of bad ideas got their start with the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, including “Pagan origins” of Bible stories and the idea that the divinity of Jesus developed late in the history of the Christian movement.

A colloquium was held at the University of Edinburgh a few weeks ago, titled “Varieties of Theism in Antiquity, and amounted to a series of new scholarly papers presented by a group of academics who celebrate the countervailing views that have debunked the ideas of the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule.

One of the keynote presentations was by Larry Hurtado, and was titled “New religionsgeschichtliche Schule at Thirty: Observations by a Participant.” The term “New religionsgeschichtliche Schule” has been used for the past twenty years or so to refer to the scholars who have been pushing back against the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule.

So one of the core members of this group of intrepid scholars dates the beginning of the push-back scholarship to the 1980s. Which reveals that the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule had their ideas accepted in academic circles for well over a century before solid scholarship began to catch up to them. Part of the reason for this was that many Christian scholars had abandoned secular academia and chose instead to teach in seminaries. Another reason is that a lot of the evidence cited by the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule was hard to access in order to verify findings. Much more evidence is now available that conflicts with the theories of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule.

History of the “History of Religions School”

In the early nineteenth century a number of non-Christian papers were published that criticized the Bible as a collection of fables. This was an outcome of the Enlightenment; the Christian West had all agreed to discard their blasphemy laws.

By mid-century several authors with academic credentials were describing their conjectures as “scholarship.” Several Germans began calling themselves religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Albert Schweitzer published A Quest for the Historical Jesus in 1906. He reviewed a lot of the work of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule papers from the previous century, and criticized some for faulty logic or lack of evidence, but he gave his approval to some of them. His stature and fame boosted the anti-Christian cause.

A German professor named Rudolf Bultmann became a hugely influential Bible critic, who wrote of “demythologizing” the New Testament in the 1920s and continued to advance anti-Christian New Testament scholarship into the 1960s.

There were a few scholars who criticized the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, but who failed to get traction in academic circles. Mainly they were brushed off because they were Christians. Anti-Christians said that the findings of Christian scholars should be held in low regard in academic study of Christianity.

In the 20th century there was a proliferation of universities, and by the 1960s most of them wanted a religious studies program. Specifically, they wanted anti-religion Departments of Religious Studies, in which religion was studied as an anthropological discipline, from the point of view that ‘no religion is true, but all religions reveal something about human life and culture.’ Nearly every university today has highly-credentialed professors whose business it is to spread the work of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule. They earnestly study liberal theology and evangelize Secularism.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the ideas of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule were promoted by a group of theologically liberal American scholars who named themselves the “Jesus Seminar.” Most of those heretics claimed to be Christian, but spent all their energy writing that Jesus is not divine, did not rise from the dead, and should just be considered a misunderstood prophet.

Renewed energy kept these ideas in circulation when the “New Atheists” became publishing and media darlings in the 1990s.

 

Pop religionsgeschichtliche Schule and ‘Pagan Origins’

It was not long ago that I saw yet another Atheist saying on a popular blog site that Christian teachings in the New Testament were derived from Pagan ideas in the surrounding cultures. That was one of the principle teachings of the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule. Books to this effect have been published in a steadily-growing stream for the past hundred years. All sorts of “Pagan origins” theories can be found going around on the internet.

Also there are many books from theological liberals who are preaching their self-developed moral code as superior to the moral teachings found in the Bible. Theological liberals are also working in the wake of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, which taught that much of the Bible was man-made traditions put into a fictitious “thus saith the Lord” form.

 

New religionsgeschichtliche Schule

For about forty years, a small but steady stream of solid scholarship from dedicated historians have thoroughly debunked the “Pagan origins” tales. About twenty-five years ago a group of these scholars jokingly called themselves the “High Early Christology Club.” By that they meant that they had sifted the evidence and concluded that the idea that ‘Jesus is deserving of worship along with God’ is an idea that sprang up right at the very beginning of the Christian movement, arguably within a year or so of the Crucifixion/Resurrection, and not generations later as has been alleged by a number of the “Pagan origins” proponents.

These scholars find a very early pattern of worship among the Christians of the first two decades after the Resurrection. This was a very Jewish monotheistic worship pattern, but it elevated Jesus alongside God as the recipient of worship, which these historians express as “high Christology.”

Manuscript evidence

Some of the material that the ‘New religionsgeschichtliche Schule’ is working with is an explosion of new evidence. Beginning a hundred years ago new caches of ancient manuscript fragments came out of Egypt. Though they have been known for a century, it is only in very recent decades that high quality photography of these fragments has become widely available for scholarly study. Previously, a scholar had to travel to a dozen cities spread all over the world to track down relevant manuscripts or papyrus fragments. Even then, some important pieces of evidence were just not available at all. Researchers had to rely on the initial descriptions and initial transcriptions of those sources.

For example, an academic paper about a very early manuscript of the Gospel of Mark was just published last month, though it had been unearthed in an archaeological dig in Egypt in the nineteen oughts.

One thing that has happened is that in recent years a number of bad transcriptions or bad translations have been corrected. Also, dating has improved, and new discoveries made about the relationships of some fragments to each other.

Larry Hurtado summarized a couple of main findings of the New religionsgeschichtliche Schule:

The two main conclusions of the newer  Schule  are these: 

(1) a remarkable devotion to Jesus as in some way sharing in divine honor and status, and also in ritual practices, erupted initially among Jewish believers and in Judean settings, not (as [Wilhelm] Bousset contended [in 1913]) in diaspora settings; and

(2) in the context of second-temple Judaism and the wider Roman environment, this Jesus-devotion is historically novel and noteworthy.  Differences of emphasis and particular points remain among scholars who agree on these points, however, and the [Varieties of Theism in Antiquity,] colloquium discussion illustrated this.

Christian origins are Jewish, not Pagan

Christianity began as a movement within Judaism. Its roots are Jewish, its first adherents and proponents were Jewish, their appeal was to Jewish scriptures, and their concepts of morality, worship and the afterlife are derived from Jewish ideas, not Pagan ideas.

The divinity of Jesus is indicated from the very earliest record of the early Christians, who worshipped Jesus together with God but kept this worship as an exclusive “monotheist” practice.

I am really happy to see solid scholarship that grounds Christian history where it belongs.

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14 thoughts on “New  religionsgeschichtliche Schule

  1. A decade ago Ben Witherington began writing obituaries for the original religionsgeschichtliche Schule:

    https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/bibleandculture/2009/11/schools-out-forever-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-relgionsgeschichte-schule.html

    According to Dr. Hurtado, the colloquium hosts are preparing to publish a book with the papers that were presented. They are partnering with Baylor University and hope to go to press before the end of this year. Univ. of Edinburgh has partnered with Baylor U. on other projects, so that is not all that surprising, and letting Baylor take the lead on publishing avoids any publishing delays that might be caused by Brexit.

    Here is a blog post by Dr. Hurtado that lists the twelve papers:

    https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/varieties-of-theism-in-antiquity-the-two-day-colloquium/

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  2. It’s news to me that anyone ever seriously denied that Jesus was a Jew and that his ministry arose within the context of the Jewish messianic tradition. (If that’s what you’re saying…)  But then, I never studied “comparative religion” as an academic discipline; my background is cultural anthropology and folklore.  And this scholarly piece with the untypable German title convinces me that my discipline is far more comprehensive and reality-based.

    i dont think it can be questioned that : there are a limited amount of “stories” (mythological tropes and themes)  among humans, and the Old Testament —mirrors? Comports with?many of them.  I have never understood why Christians find this so threatening. (Actually I don’t know whether Jews concern themselves with this issue at all. ) Surely an eternal God, like the Phantom of the Opera, would have  been “heeeere! Inside [our] mind!”  throughout human history?   And all things come of Him, including our beloved and timeworn themes and stories.

    Additionally, it can hardly be gainsaid that the idea of a deity impregnating a human woman who gives birth to a new divine creature,  often in humble or inauspicious circumstances, was not new by the time the Common Era began.  Jesus’ origin story fits this type of folkloric hero.

    But— so what is/was new about Jesus and early Christians? This might sound like I’m channeling Marianne  Williamson, but : I always thought: love.

    Charity toward one’s fellow humans regardless of rank simply because all men are equal before God.  There was an outbreak of plague in the 1st or 2nd Century, wasn’t there, and Christians got out there in the lazarettos and sucked people’s boils.  That kinda thing really stood out in the Roman world, which wasn’t exactly warm’n’ cuddly (see Mary Beard’s great book SPQR). 

    The passage which is framed by the device of Jesus’ repetition of the phrases “ye have heard it said…but I  say unto you “,  illuminates the differences between the old world sensibilities, and that of the  new which Christianity would usher in.

    (This isnt to ignore the “hard sayings” .  Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.  But it is the , kinda Bowdlerized, popular, beliefs about Jesus’ teachings, which have had the greater influence. )

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  3. Hypatia:
    (This isnt to ignore the “hard sayings” .  Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.  But it is the , kinda Bowdlerized, popular, beliefs about Jesus’ teachings, which have had the greater influence. )

    Taking the last first.   Yes; Christian love is not about how you feel.   The call to love your neighbor is a call to care for your neighbor, not a call to feel warm and fuzzy about your neighbor.   When you are down at the downtown Mission, mopping puke, that warm and fuzzy feeling you get is more like a hot cloudy day at the compost heap, but it is love that you are expressing.

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  4. Hypatia:
    But— so what is/was new about Jesus and early Christians? This might sound like I’m channeling Marianne  Williamson, but : I always thought: love.

    I will return to this point later.   For now, I want to observe that the first notable new thing about the early Christians is monotheist worship that is very Jewish in its characteristics and exclusiveness, but it is worship of God the Father and Jesus together.   As one of the “High Early Christology Club” historians put it: the early Christians worshipped Jesus together with God, considering Jesus to be the “Principle Agent” through which God dealt with mankind.

    This point runs counter to the religiongeschichtliche Schule, which taught that the Jesus story is myth and the only thing to be learned from the New Testament is love.

    Charity toward one’s fellow humans regardless of rank simply because all men are equal before God.  There was an outbreak of plague in the 1st or 2nd Century, wasn’t there, and Christians got out there in the lazarettos and sucked people’s boils.  That kinda thing really stood out in the Roman world, which wasn’t exactly warm’n’ cuddly (see Mary Beard’s great book SPQR).

    The passage which is framed by the device of Jesus’ repetition of the phrases “ye have heard it said…but I  say unto you “,  illuminates the differences between the old world sensibilities, and that of the  new which Christianity would usher in.

    Thank you for citing the Sermon on the Mount.   In Christian hindsight, the words of Jesus are the application of the love of God, as described by the Prophets, to the Law of Moses.   If we are to be God’s holy people, then we must perfectly keep God’s Law as it would be understood through perfect love.

    It was the example of Christians acting out love, expressing gratitude to God by helping their neighbors, that spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire.   Even though it was an outlaw religion, by the time of Constantine historians estimate that about 40 percent of Romans were Christians.

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  5. Hypatia:
    It’s news to me that anyone ever seriously denied that Jesus was a Jew and that his ministry arose within the context of the Jewish messianic tradition. (If that’s what you’re saying…)  But then, I never studied “comparative religion” as an academic discipline; my background is cultural anthropology and folklore.  And this scholarly piece with the untypable German title convinces me that my discipline is far more comprehensive and reality-based.

    If you look at Christianity through the lens of cultural anthropology, then you are looking through a lens that is thoroughly colored by the teachings of the religiongeschichtliche Schule.   Their approach begins with ‘Jesus is not God,’ and then tries to work out theories as to how those early Christians came to worship Jesus.

    Rather, start with “why did those early Christians worship Jesus?,” and come away with the conclusion “because He rose from the dead, and was exalted by God to the Throne of Heaven.”

    i dont think it can be questioned that : there are a limited amount of “stories” (mythological tropes and themes)  among humans, and the Old Testament —mirrors? Comports with? many of them.  I have never understood why Christians find this so threatening. (Actually I don’t know whether Jews concern themselves with this issue at all. ) Surely an eternal God, like the Phantom of the Opera, would have  been “heeeere! Inside [our] mind!”  throughout human history?   And all things come of Him, including our beloved and timeworn themes and stories.

    More religiongeschichtliche Schule.  The Old Testament is not derivative of Pagan tales, but opposes them and turns them on their heads.   This is exactly the stuff I wanted to oppose with this post.

    Cain was not hunted down and killed in retribution for his crime.  Noah was not chosen because he was a brave conqueror or a talented shipwright; he was chosen because he had faith.   Abraham was not chosen because of his fabulous accomplishments; rather, he was chosen because of his faith, and his fabulous accomplishments were given to him by God and not earned through his own merits.   In fact Abraham was a fearful liar, but God used him anyhow.  Likewise Jacob was a sneak who was prospered by God in spite of his faults, and the sons of Jacob who sold their little brother Joseph into slavery were used by God to become the Patriarchs of the Twelve Tribes.   Moses was a fearful murderer.  David was guilty of murder to cover up his adultery.   The Old Testament stories are not comporting with Pagan thought, but directly oppose the ways Pagans look at life.

    The whole Old Testament testifies that, very much unlike Pagan tales, the heroes of the faith were sinful men, and God used them despite their faults.   None of them are portrayed as larger than life.   If you read the Pagan tales and then go looking for parallels in the Old Testament, you may think you find what you are looking for, but the fact is that the differences are stark and overwhelming.

    Christians do not find the religiongeschichtliche Schule theories to be threatening to us.   We find them to be threatening to you.   If you embrace that way of thinking, then you are setting yourself on a spiritual path that leads to spiritual death.

    Additionally, it can hardly be gainsaid that the idea of a deity impregnating a human woman who gives birth to a new divine creature,  often in humble or inauspicious circumstances, was not new by the time the Common Era began.  Jesus’ origin story fits this type of folkloric hero.

    This also comes from the religiongeschichtliche Schule.   But it will take a separate post to debunk the “Pagan Origins” myths that have encrusted the Nativity.

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  6. I’m not saying Christianity had  “pagan” ( by which I guess you mean , any other possible source) origins.  But it cannot be denied that there are many mythologies which parallel the narrative.  Or, not unless you wanna say the earliest ethnologists deliberately fabricated those mythologies just to test our faith.

    And furthermore, the examples from the OT which you give are parallel to, not  opposite to, various themes, characters and folk heroes in other mythologies.  To name just my faves:   Why does God “mark” the murderer  Cain? Well, in many tribes, when one person kills another,  the murderer has to be disguised so the ghost won’t recognize his killer to take revenge. “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” The “Mark” is to protect the murderer. Jacob is a classic “trickster” type.  U bet he’s sly and dishonest, that’s his whole schtick.  But he gives The People its name (although it’s not at all clear which deity he wrested it from.)

    Im not arguing with you that the first Christians were Jews.  I’m not sure we’re  arguing at all.  Christianity could not have arisen except out of the Jewish scriptures.  Nor, I learned in my Bible class, could it have spread across the globe if it hadn’t arisen within the far-flung empire of Rome.  That period was “ the fullness of time”.

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  7. Hypatia:
    I’m not saying Christianity had  “pagan” ( by which I guess you mean , any other possible source) origins.  But it cannot be denied that there are many mythologies which parallel the narrative.  Or, not unless you wanna say the earliest ethnologists deliberately fabricated those mythologies just to test our faith.

    And furthermore, the examples from the OT which you give are parallel to, not  opposite to, various themes, characters and folk heroes in other mythologies.  To name just my faves:   Why does God “mark” the murderer  Cain? Well, in many tribes, when one person kills another,  the murderer has to be disguised so the ghost won’t recognize his killer to take revenge. “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” The “Mark” is to protect the murderer. Jacob is a classic “trickster” type.  U bet he’s sly and dishonest, that’s his whole schtick.  But he gives The People its name (although it’s not at all clear which deity he wrested it from.)

    I’m not arguing with you that the first Christians were Jews.  I’m not sure we’re  arguing at all.  Christianity could not have arisen except out of the Jewish scriptures.  Nor, I learned in my Bible class, could it have spread across the globe if it hadn’t arisen within the far-flung empire of Rome.  That period was “ the fullness of time”.

    You may not be arguing that the early Christians were not Jews, but you are arguing that the Jewish religion of those early Christians had been derived from precursor Pagan cultures.  (Why do you doubt Pagan?   What other sort of religious influence was there in the Middle East in the period 2000 BC – 70 AD?)

    I do not think that this can be shown from the evidence.

    You cite the example of the mark on Cain, and say “in many tribes” a murderer is marked to disguise him from a ghost.   Which tribes are those?   Is there any evidence for this from before the time of Moses?  I don’t think so.   Have you got a citation for this?

    Likewise, do you have any specific citation for how Jacob is parallel to some figure from ancient mythology?   Just saying that there are some parallels does nothing to impute that the story of Jacob is derived from non-Jewish sources.

    I am really unhappy at the current sorry state of “Bible class” in modern universities.   They pass along conjectures as if they were facts, just because the guys who dreamed up those theories have vaunted credentials.

    Which is the whole point of my post.

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  8. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    I’m not saying Christianity had  “pagan” ( by which I guess you mean , any other possible source) origins.  But it cannot be denied that there are many mythologies which parallel the narrative.  Or, not unless you wanna say the earliest ethnologists deliberately fabricated those mythologies just to test our faith.

    And furthermore, the examples from the OT which you give are parallel to, not  opposite to, various themes, characters and folk heroes in other mythologies.  To name just my faves:   Why does God “mark” the murderer  Cain? Well, in many tribes, when one person kills another,  the murderer has to be disguised so the ghost won’t recognize his killer to take revenge. “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” The “Mark” is to protect the murderer. Jacob is a classic “trickster” type.  U bet he’s sly and dishonest, that’s his whole schtick.  But he gives The People its name (although it’s not at all clear which deity he wrested it from.)

    I’m not arguing with you that the first Christians were Jews.  I’m not sure we’re  arguing at all.  Christianity could not have arisen except out of the Jewish scriptures.  Nor, I learned in my Bible class, could it have spread across the globe if it hadn’t arisen within the far-flung empire of Rome.  That period was “ the fullness of time”.

    You may not be arguing that the early Christians were not Jews, but you are arguing that the Jewish religion of those early Christians had been derived from precursor Pagan cultures

     

    No, not really.  But undoubtedly there were influences.  The Jews were getting Hellenized, right, it was one of the main reasons for the Maccabean Revolt which established the Hasmonean dynasty.

    Why do you doubt Pagan?   What other sort of religious influence was there in the Middle East in the period 2000 BC – 70 AD?)

    I don’t “doubt” it, it’s just that there were many distinct religions.  People usually sort out various threads that might’ve been an influence. 

    I do not think that this can be shown from the evidence.

    You cite the example of the mark on Cain, and say “in many tribes” a murderer is marked to disguise him from a ghost.   Which tribes are those?   Is there any evidence for this from before the time of Moses?  I don’t think so.   Have you got a citation for this?

    Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament

    Likewise, do you have any specific citation for how Jacob is parallel to some figure from ancient mythology?   Just saying that there are some parallels does nothing to impute that the story of Jacob is derived from non-Jewish sources.

    I didn’t say he was “derived”.  The idea of the trickster type is so well-known in anthropology and folklore that I can’t tell you who invented it…the trickster is often a culture-bearer, as Jacob was. But if I point out that Jacob has certain characteristics in common with, say, Loki, that does not mean I’m saying Jacob was copied from the Norse myths, nor they from the OT.  These are just patterns scholars have observed.

    And it is fascinating that human societies in widely separated areas of the globe have developed mythologies and cosmogonies, apparently independently! in which similar themes and  patterns can be discerned. 

    I am really unhappy at the current sorry state of “Bible class” in modern universities.   They pass along conjectures as if they were facts, just because the guys who dreamed up those theories have vaunted credentials.

    Well, I never studied Bible in college.  I’m talkin’ about my extremely Presbyterian high school .  It was part of God’s plan that Jesus become incarnate at that time and place, because Rome  had already conquered quite a bit of territory, and would over the next few centuries spread its influence and culture, which by then included Christianity, even farther, throughout Europe, building roads that facilitated travel and communication…..that’s why it was the ideal time for the Incarnation.  

    That may very well have been just a conjecture on my Bible Studies teacher’s part; who can remember?  (Well, of course it was; she didn’t claim God had revealed it directly to her, so yuh, it’s just her or someone else’s theory!) But it made and makes sense, doesn’t it?  And I would think it’d make you happy rather than not.  

    But if you prefer: okay, He coulda come 360 years earlier and converted Alexander the Great, who then coulda spread the Gospel by the sword.  It would’ve worked out fine either way. 

    Which is the whole point of my post.

    …and a scholarly and interesting post it was.  At least to me!  So far I’m your only interlocutor.

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  9. Hypatia:

    Bubba:
    You may not be arguing that the early Christians were not Jews, but you are arguing that the Jewish religion of those early Christians had been derived from precursor Pagan cultures

    No, not really.  But undoubtedly there were influences.  The Jews were getting Hellenized, right, it was one of the main reasons for the Maccabean Revolt which established the Hasmonean dynasty.

    Influences?  I suppose, but the Jews were not getting Hellenized until after the Romans came.   The Jews rebelled against Hellenization; that was what the whole Maccabean Revolt was about.   The Maccabean Revolt amounted to civil war against Hellenized Syria that lasted for ninety years.   That is a pretty serious expression of rejection of Hellenic ways, and indicates that the religious leaders were not internalizing Hellenic thought, but strenuously reacting against it.   Keep that in mind when looking for “influences.”

    Why do you doubt Pagan?   What other sort of religious influence was there in the Middle East in the period 2000 BC – 70 AD?)

    I don’t “doubt” it, it’s just that there were many distinct religions.  People usually sort out various threads that might’ve been an influence.

    Of course.   Because looking for threads that might have been an influence is the key.

    But when I read about the Pagans, and read what the Pagans wrote, they all seem very similar to me, at least in the way they look at things.

    Neo-pagans are different, but more like ancient Pagans than like theists.

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  10. Hypatia:

    Bubba:
    You cite the example of the mark on Cain, and say “in many tribes” a murderer is marked to disguise him from a ghost.   Which tribes are those?   Is there any evidence for this from before the time of Moses?  I don’t think so.   Have you got a citation for this?

    Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament

    Thank you very much for the citation.   I went and found the chapter on Cain and read it.

    Likewise, do you have any specific citation for how Jacob is parallel to some figure from ancient mythology?   Just saying that there are some parallels does nothing to impute that the story of Jacob is derived from non-Jewish sources.

    I didn’t say he was “derived”.  The idea of the trickster type is so well-known in anthropology and folklore that I can’t tell you who invented it…the trickster is often a culture-bearer, as Jacob was. But if I point out that Jacob has certain characteristics in common with, say, Loki, that does not mean I’m saying Jacob was copied from the Norse myths, nor they from the OT.  These are just patterns scholars have observed.

    And it is fascinating that human societies in widely separated areas of the globe have developed mythologies and cosmogonies, apparently independently! in which similar themes and  patterns can be discerned.

    Similar has limits.

    That was the thing about J.G. Golden Bough Frazer’s books.   He went on and on at length about similarities, and then concluded that there were no differences.   But he had deliberately glossed over significant differences.

    Frazer’s work is not used by modern scholars, on the basis of gaping methodological flaws and faulty logic.

    I sincerely hope you were not pointed to Frazer by anyone at a Presbyterian school.

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  11. Hypatia:
    …It was part of God’s plan that Jesus become incarnate at that time and place, because Rome  had already conquered quite a bit of territory, and would over the next few centuries spread its influence and culture, which by then included Christianity, even farther, throughout Europe, building roads that facilitated travel and communication…..that’s why it was the ideal time for the Incarnation.

    That may very well have been just a conjecture on my Bible Studies teacher’s part; who can remember?  (Well, of course it was; she didn’t claim God had revealed it directly to her, so yuh, it’s just her or someone else’s theory!) But it made and makes sense, doesn’t it?  And I would think it’d make you happy rather than not.

    Lots of people have made the same conjecture.   There are many reasons to think that way.  The Bible says it was “in the fullness of time,” but does not elaborate.   There was an amazing set of circumstances that helped the Gospel spread like wildfire.   I lean towards agreement, with caution (because I always hesitate to go beyond the clear words of Scripture).

    But if you prefer: okay, He coulda come 360 years earlier and converted Alexander the Great, who then coulda spread the Gospel by the sword.  It would’ve worked out fine either way.

    Which is the whole point of my post.

    …and a scholarly and interesting post it was.  At least to me!  So far I’m your only interlocutor.

    Thanks for your support.

    I have received messages from two lurkers who say they enjoy the back and forth we have.   But I am hoping to do more than entertain; I want to persuade.

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  12. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    …It was part of God’s plan that Jesus become incarnate at that time and place, because Rome  had already conquered quite a bit of territory, and would over the next few centuries spread its influence and culture, which by then included Christianity, even farther, throughout Europe, building roads that facilitated travel and communication…..that’s why it was the ideal time for the Incarnation.

    That may very well have been just a conjecture on my Bible Studies teacher’s part; who can remember?  (Well, of course it was; she didn’t claim God had revealed it directly to her, so yuh, it’s just her or someone else’s theory!) But it made and makes sense, doesn’t it?  And I would think it’d make you happy rather than not.

    Lots of people have made the same conjecture.   There are many reasons to think that way.  The Bible says it was “in the fullness of time,” but does not elaborate.   There was an amazing set of circumstances that helped the Gospel spread like wildfire.   I lean towards agreement, with caution (because I always hesitate to go beyond the clear words of Scripture).**

    But if you prefer: okay, He coulda come 360 years earlier and converted Alexander the Great, who then coulda spread the Gospel by the sword.  It would’ve worked out fine either way.

    Which is the whole point of my post.

    …and a scholarly and interesting post it was.  At least to me!  So far I’m your only interlocutor.

    Thanks for your support.

    I have received messages from two lurkers who say they enjoy the back and forth we have.   But I am hoping to do more than entertain; I want to persuade.***

    **Exactly.  See, I thought you’d like it!

    ***Yuh, we get  that!

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  13. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:

    Bubba:
    You cite the example of the mark on Cain, and say “in many tribes” a murderer is marked to disguise him from a ghost.   Which tribes are those?   Is there any evidence for this from before the time of Moses?  I don’t think so.   Have you got a citation for this?

    Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament

    Thank you very much for the citation.   I went and found the chapter on Cain and read it.

    Likewise, do you have any specific citation for how Jacob is parallel to some figure from ancient mythology?   Just saying that there are some parallels does nothing to impute that the story of Jacob is derived from non-Jewish sources.

    I didn’t say he was “derived”.  The idea of the trickster type is so well-known in anthropology and folklore that I can’t tell you who invented it…the trickster is often a culture-bearer, as Jacob was. But if I point out that Jacob has certain characteristics in common with, say, Loki, that does not mean I’m saying Jacob was copied from the Norse myths, nor they from the OT.  These are just patterns scholars have observed.

    And it is fascinating that human societies in widely separated areas of the globe have developed mythologies and cosmogonies, apparently independently! in which similar themes and  patterns can be discerned.

    Similar has limits.

    no argument there.  But, so what?

    That was the thing about J.G. Golden Bough Frazer’s books.   He went on and on at length about similarities, and then concluded that there were no differences.   But he had deliberately glossed over significant differences.

    Frazer’s work is not used by modern scholars, on the basis of gaping methodological flaws and faulty logic.

    i knew you’d say that.  The great Sir James has been maligned and ridiculed by the deconstructionists (ironically in this context, often for unconscious Christian  influence) but folklorists  still, as they say, “mine” his work.

    Thank God for those scholars like him, now dismissed as “armchair anthropologists”,  who collected reams of data about remote human societies when globalization was still in its infancy—or all that knowledge would have been utterly lost to us. Yes, they relied on other ethnologists’ fieldwork—one lifetime wouldn’t have been enough to gather all that data.

    I sincerely hope you were not pointed to Frazer by anyone at a Presbyterian school.

    I can’t help laughing about this, remembering mandatory Bible class in my tiny little “ladies’ seminary!

    I do  remember being introduced to the idea of Biblical “typology: how do you feel about that? Y’know, Joseph is a “type” of Christ, etc .?   That is a  sort of internecine specie of the kind of theory we’re discussing.

    No, it was in the  course of acquiring my BA in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr.

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  14. Hypatia:
    The great Sir James has been maligned and ridiculed by the deconstructionists….

    Justifiably so, but I have encountered quite a bit of frustration here.   I find all sorts of places that say Frazer was “thoroughly discredited,” or some similar disparagement.   However, while Frazer’s books are aged out of copyright protection and are now public domain and easily found on the internet, his critics are still under copyright protection but long decades out of print.

    I can say that the logical flaws in his chapter on Cain are easily spotted.   I saw several footnotes to seventeenth and eighteenth century works that would not surprise me to discover are lost to history.   Travelogues, mostly.   It is impossible to judge whether he treated his sources reasonably.

    I will try to dig a little further on this.

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