“God” Isn't in the Bible

Essay by Rev. Mark Sandlin on 8 February 2018 10 Comments

Language is more important than many of us realize. More precisely, the specific words we choose to use impact our way of thinking, our social behavior, and many other perspectives of our lives. It’s actually a fairly recent development in the human brain in terms of our long history as a species. The frontal lobes of our brains have actually expanded to handle its expanded work requirements.

Now, there are certainly folks who do understand and acknowledge the importance and impact of language. For example, at the progressive church where I minister, we have an exceptionally hard time picking out hymns for our Sunday service. I particularly struggle when it comes to the naming of God.

Far too many hymns use masculine or aggressive terms for God like Father, King, Lord, Shield, Defender, etc. It’s not just the controlling or combative image of God that concerns me, but also the way it prevents many people from seeing God in themselves. As my kids were growing up, the last thing I would have ever wanted would be for my daughter to get the message that God was more like her brother than her.

All of this is to say I think a lot about language and scientific evidence only reinforces with me that it is an exceptionally important task.

Recently, I’ve started having issues with a word that, well, I never expected to have problems with: God.

The roots of my problem probably started awhile back when I came across a disheveled looking street preacher who was holding a Bible high above his head and shouting out, “God will save you from the fiery pits of Hell.” At some point, he looked right at me and said, “Son, have you given your life over to God?” I answered him saying, “I think the God that you know and the God that I know aren’t the same God.” I pretty much regretted responding that way from the moment I said it, but the fact is, I said it.

As I’ve mentioned, I minister at a progressive church. During each of our services there is a time for the congregation to respond to the talk I give. Over time, it’s been very interesting to listen to how various individuals name/describe God. The truth is, if they use the name at all, very few only say, “God.” It’s much more likely that they say, “God,” then with a sort of apologetic look on their face for saying, “God,” they’ll add, “the Universe, the spirit/thing that’s larger than us,” or something like that.

Many of us have a theological issue with what the word “God” has come to represent. Conservative Christianity has always been the dominant social expression of Christianity in the U.S. Particularly, since our last presidential election, it’s become harder and harder to recognize the God that group worships as being anything close to biblical, particularly when it comes to the teachings of Jesus. So, it really isn’t all that surprising that progressive Christians have start having issues with the word “God.”

It turns out, that while it is perfectly understandable that we are having issues with the term “God” because of how conservative Christians are using it, we should actually have a bigger problem with the word for an entirely different reason: it isn’t in the Bible.

Yep. “God” is not mentioned in the Bible.

“The hell it’s not,” you say?

While it is true that even the earliest English translations of the Bible refer to the Hebrew/Christian deity as “God,” it’s not only a poor, but rather incorrect translation of the original Hebrew and Greek words used to refer to the deity. Worse yet, at least in my opinion, we’ve opted to use it as a proper name for God which is something the Bible never does.

In general, the Bible simply uses descriptors for God, particularly in the Old Testiment. Elohay Kedem –  the god of the beginning (Deuteronomy 33:27). Elohay Mishpat – the god of justice (Isaiah 30:18). Elohay Marom – the god of heights (Micah 6:6). Elohay Mikarov – the god who is near (Jeremiah 23:23). Elohay Mauzi – the god of my strength (Psalm 43:2). Elohay Tehilati – the god of my praise (Psalm 109:1). Elohim Chaiyim – the living god (Jeremiah 10:10). Elohay Elohim – the god of gods: (Deuteronomy 10:17).

You might notice the recurrence of Elohay/Elohim. They are the singular and plural forms of the Hebrew word for “deity.” Sometimes they are shortened to simply “El.” As in: El Yisrael – the god of Israel (Psalm 68:35). El HaShamayim – the god of the heavens (Psalm 136:26). El De’ot – the god of knowledge (1 Samuel 2:3). El Elyon – the most high god (Genesis 14:18). Immanu El – god is with us  (Isaiah 7:14).

By capitalizing “God,” modern English translations give the impression that the uses of El/Elohim are proper names rather than descriptors pointing to a deity. Not only that, it’s a translation whose roots stray from the intended understanding of Elohim. The Hebrew here indicates “might, strength, most excellent, greatest, unequaled.” However, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary tells us that the word “god” comes from a Germanic word that means “the invoked one.”

So, not only do most modern English interpretations suggest that “God” is the proper name for the Hebrew/Christian deity, the use of the word “god” betrays the original implications of the Hebrew description of the deity. As I said, we should have bigger issues with the word “God” than just how conservatives are using it.

In terms of the New Testament, most of the times we see the word “God,” it is replacing the Greek word, “theós,” which is simply the Greek word for deity. Interestingly enough, it is typically preceded by a form of the Greek definite article ho. Yet again seeming to indicate that it is not meant to be the name of the deity.

Admittedly, this is a relatively recent exploration from me. In most ways, I find it very freeing to recognize that “God” is not in the Bible. It feels much less confining and seems to give “God” a breadth of understanding that is much needed. I’m not saying others shouldn’t use the term “God” in referring to the Christian deity, I’m simply saying that it is not so easy to define and box “God” in when we don’t.

If anything, it should give us permission to play with descriptions of the god of the Universe, to vary how we describe the god of compassion in conversations, to not be so hemmed-in in naming the god who is and ever will be.

For me, it’s not just freeing, it pushes me to consider my understanding of the god who ties us together, in deeper more meaningful terms and that is an incredibly exciting journey to be on.

~ Rev. Mark Sandlin

 

Question

Is God a person?

Answer

Dear Scottie,

In my theology, “Yes, and…”

The universe began its intricate, gigantic, and truly awesome expansion 13.7 billion years ago. Humans arrived on the scene a mere 5 million years ago. Therefore, God is and has been many things, including humanity. Everything that exists now, or has existed in this span of time, originated within that first spark of Divinity. Each being I encounter is a manifestation of God – my neighbor across the street, the rows of earth teeming with vegetables, the flight attendant, the feral cats living near the bike path, the sea lions sunning themselves outside the aquarium, and on and on. All life forms hold particular intelligences and dimensions. Humans carry will and the ability to reason. Spiritual disciplines help us to both appreciate our abilities, as well as to take responsibility for the power and privilege they grant.

To reduce God to only being a person seems woefully short-sighted. God is life, and life perpetually pulsates around us, whether or not we sit in witness to each inhale and exhale. And then, God is in the negative spaces, too: the night sky following sunset, the patches of canvas that haven’t received paint, and the nano-second of “no-thingness” before one cell descends, becoming a root, and the other ascends, becoming a shoot. Perhaps, before anything else, God is possibility. Within possibility there can be creativity and there can be destruction. As carriers of God, we have been given the humbling task of discernment; of moving through the world not simply as entitled takers, but as deep listeners, responding wisely and with love to the needs and shifts of life’s unfolding.

So, yes, God is a person, manifesting as possibility in every human everywhere, and God is so, so much more.

~ Lauren Van Ham

__________________________________________________

Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

The Connection between the Crucifixion and the Passover, Part III
The Influence of The Jewish Festival of Sukkoth on the Passion Narrative

Spong

Western Christians find it hard to understand that the gospel writers were not writing objective history. Yet nothing we know about the formation of the New Testament supports that conclusion. Jesus lived between 4 BCE and 30 CE. He spoke and taught in Aramaic. The gospels came 40 to 70 years after his death and they were written in Greek. This means that almost everything that we know about Jesus lived in oral transmission and underwent one translation before we get to the earliest documents that we possess. During that time his followers had continued to worship in the synagogues of their ancestral Jewish faith before the movement that he had begun separated itself from Judaism in 88 CE and came to be called Christianity. They were originally called "The Followers of the Way."

Realizing these facts, our claim to possess objective history in the gospels begins to wobble. Next, we have become aware that after the writing of Mark's gospel in the early 70's, the written record of Jesus expanded about every decade with Matthew writing in the early 80s, Luke in the late 80s or early 90s and John in the late 90s. By reading these accounts in the order in which they are written, we can actually watch the story grow and the miraculous heightened.

The obvious question that these data raise is one that has been generally ignored by Christian interpreters. So let me pose it in several forms. Where did the sayings of Jesus, the parables of Jesus and the stories about Jesus reside in that oral period between the end of his life and the first writing of the gospels? In what context was the oral tradition maintained? In what ways did that context shape, change and transform the message? The reason these questions are seldom raised is directly related to the residual effect of the idolatrous worship of the Bible that we call bibliolatry. Bibliolatry gripped the early church and still resides in traditional parts of Christianity today. The gospels have for far too long been treated as if they are history and therefore are presumed to be accounts of what Jesus actually said and did. They have been invested with the literal claim that they are the dictated words of God. When people begin with that definition of the Bible, they are not disposed to study the origins of their sacred story. It is easier to make excessive claims for its inerrancy and to seek to maintain the now thoroughly discredited fiction that the Bible was received by divine revelation. Incredible though it may seem, after some 200 years of critical biblical scholarship, its impact, for the most part, still has not escaped the hallowed halls of academia. The insights gleaned from that study, and their impact on how the Bible can be competently and accurately read, are still largely ignored in both Catholic and Protestant circles. It is actually worse than that. Scholarly study of the scriptures is still being attacked in these circles as "godless heresy."

A preliminary study of the gospels will, however, reveal the obvious fact that the story of Jesus was repeated primarily in the synagogues during the years after the death of Jesus and before the gospels were written. The clue here is discovered in the wide use of Old Testament references that are both overt and covert in the gospel narrative. Paul wrote that Jesus died and was raised "in accordance with the scriptures." When Paul wrote the only scriptures he knew were the Hebrew Scriptures. In the gospels the prophets are quoted to show how Jesus fulfilled them. Micah is quoted to undergird the Bethlehem birth story. Isaiah is quoted to develop the story of the Wise Men. Isaiah had written that kings would come to the brightness of God's rising. They would come on camels, they would come from Sheba and they would bring gold and frankincense. In a book called the Wisdom of Solomon, Israel's most opulent king is quoted as having said, "When I was born I was carefully swaddled for that is the only way a king can come to his people." This line clearly shaped Luke's birth story of how the infant Jesus was wrapped in 'swaddling clothes.' We could illustrate this connection between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jesus story quite literally thousands of times. What we need to realize is that the only place the people heard the Jewish Scriptures read was in the synagogues. In those days, books were on scrolls, handwritten and very expensive. People did not own copies of the Hebrew Bible to read at their leisure. The Gideon Society did not place them in local hotels. If the Jesus story was interpreted by and understood through references to the Hebrew Bible, the only place that could have happened was in the synagogue where the reading of the Law and the Prophets and expounding on their meaning constituted the major part of their liturgy.

In this series of columns on the relationship between the Passover and the telling of the story of the crucifixion, I have suggested that even the sacred accounts, which propose to describe the final events in Jesus' life, are not the recordings of historical memory. Rather they are the later developed, synagogue-inspired liturgical interpretation of what his disciples had come to believe, that in and through the life of Jesus, they had experienced the eternal God. In the first of this series, I pointed out hints in the text itself that suggest that the original dating of the crucifixion narrative appears to have been changed. Passover came in mid to late March. There were no leafy branches that could have been waved in a Palm Sunday procession at that time in Palestine, even though the literal text suggests that Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem came just before the crucifixion. There was no fig tree whose failure to produce figs in late March could have elicited the killing curse from Jesus that both Mark and Matthew describe. The connection between Passover and crucifixion seems to be rather forced in the gospels.

Then we looked at the earliest version of the Passion of Christ narrative found in Mark (14:17-15:47) that appears to be a liturgical form based on the Passover but stretched into a twenty-four-hour vigil with the content of the story drawn not from eye witness memory but from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.

The next step in this consciousness raising enterprise is to look at whether the holy days of the Jewish liturgical year were also used to shape the story of Jesus. I now want to bring one of those holy days, about which Christians tend to know nothing, into our awareness.

In the fall of the year, the Jews celebrated an eight day Harvest Festival called Sukkoth (pronounced sue-coat), sometimes called the Feast of the Tabernacles or Booths which drew Jewish pilgrims from all over the known world to Jerusalem. Despite its enormous popularity Sukkoth is mentioned only once in the Bible in John 7 so most Christians have no idea of how this festival was observed. If they did they would recognize that the symbols of Sukkoth have been subsumed in the details of the Christian story of Palm Sunday. Listen to the similarities.

The worshipers at Sukkoth marched in procession round the Temple waving in their right hands something called a "lulab," which was a bundle of leafy branches bound together, made up of myrtle, willow and palm. As they marched they recited Psalm 118, the psalm of Sukkoth. Among the words of this psalm are these: "Save us," which is an English translation of the Jewish word, "Hosanna," and "Blessed is he who enters (comes) in the Name of the Lord." This psalm goes on to say, "Bind the festal procession with branches," and it contains other words later interpreted as referring to Jesus, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner." There is little question that the Palm Sunday story was dependent on the details of this harvest festival holiday of the Jews. Since Sukkoth shares common content with Palm Sunday, we have another piece of evidence suggesting that crucifixion and Passover were linked together for interpretive not historical reasons.

There are other symbols of Sukkoth that seem to have entered the crucifixion/resurrection narrative of the early church. While worshipers carried a lulab to wave in their right hand in the Sukkoth procession, in their left hand they carried an "ethrog" (pronounced e-trog), a box of sweet-smelling spices, usually the blossom, leaves or fruit of the citron tree, once again possibilities only in the fall of the year. I wonder if the sweet smelling spices, that the women were said to have carried to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning, are a reflection of this.

Also as part of this celebration, Jewish families were instructed to build a temporary booth outside their homes to remind them of the time their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt when they had no permanent home. This booth was to be a place in which they ate a ceremonial meal during the eight-day celebration. I cannot help but wonder whether this temporary and ceremonial dwelling place got transformed into a temporary tomb in Joseph's garden. I also wonder whether the shelter to which Cleopas and his friend turned aside to enter in Luke's Emmaus Road resurrection story, and in which they ate a ceremonial meal with the Risen Christ, was yet another echo in which the Sukkoth liturgy shaped the basic Christian story.

Once we begin to dig beneath the surface of the gospels we discover interpretive clues to which the literalism of the past has blinded us. This exercise may destabilize yesterday's literalism but it also open for us the real question that we ought to ask today: What was there about this Jesus that caused them to see him as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets; as the human life through which the holy God was experienced? How was it that they came to see his death as similar to the death of the paschal lamb of Passover and thus allowed the Passover to frame their telling of the Passion of Jesus?

To the issues raised by these questions I will turn next week as our journey towards Easter continues.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally posted February 16, 2005

 

Comments

 

10 thoughts on ““God” Isn’t in the Bible

  1. Loren,

    While I agree that God – to the best of our (progressive) understanding right now – is not a person like we are, I’m not sure what you mean by God has been many things since the dawn of the universe and then when you say all we encounter are manifestations of God and that God is possibility.

    Are you saying that God and the universe are the same and, therefore that God has been many things in the course of their coming into existence or are you saying that the universe has the possibility of manifesting ‘God’ and, seemingly then, is not God or not yet God? The former, to me, leans to pantheism while the latter leans to panentheism.

    I am not trying to pin you down to see who is right (such an effort would be absurd), rather I’m seeking a clarification because I am always trying to think more deeply about what we call ‘God’ as I believe it impacts how we act in the world (and these two ‘isms’ seem to be radically different).

  2. Mark,

    I agree that the term ‘God’ carries a lot of baggage and,also that today (as in times past), some try to co-opt it and present it in their image (so too, it is the theistic notion of God and, in particular, the conservative theistic notion that one rejects when they do not believe in God). I found your essay enlightening, however while it seems we have made it a proper name, it still seems that god is the repeated noun with various modifiers used by the Hebrews to say something about the (their) deity. And while I can see progressives getting your point, I can still imagine conservatives saying, it (god) is most definitely in the bible (especially given the translations of ‘living god’ and god of gods’).

    Even though not a proper name, as you have indicated, the biblical witness points to (a) deity and tries to describe that deity. And, we know from the Hebrews and the followers of Jesus, to use the German, this is indeed the ‘invoked one.’ I believe I get your point, and I also believe I disagree that “use of the word ‘god’ betrays the original implications of the Hebrew description of the deity” – although your essay should give us pause to think. Most of us still reach for modifiers (as did our religious ancestors) with words like Abba, One, Unity, Higher Consciousness, Universe, etc. So, although we might have made or accepted the word as a proper name, we still seek to say something more about our ‘deity.’

    There was one theologian, it might have been John Macquarie (not sure) who acknowledged the issues with the word but still thought it was the word we had in common so another would know what we are talking about – and then we can present a new understanding, new modifiers/descriptions to ‘make sense’ of what we call God. I lean toward that, and, as a father to a daughter also, recognize the need to come up with new and better adjectives to try to capture what we believe about ‘God.’
    I do agree wholeheartedly that it is not so easy to define and box “God” in – whether we use the word or not. Finally, I refuse to let conservatives or faux conservatives (present administration and some followers) co-opt the Name and what it means.

    Good essay, thanks.

  3. Hi Mark, Certainly it is helpful to understand that in most cases fairly generic language referring to deity is used in the Bible. However, if you look at a good Hebrew-English interlinear, such as Psalm 34, http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/psa34.pdf
    you will find that the Hebrew word transliterated as Yahweh does occur in some passages. I believe this is generally understood to be a proper name for the Hebrew tribal god. So I don’t think it is entirely true that the Bible, which isn’t really a book, but rather a large collection of ancient writings, with many books have multiple authors and editors, never makes use of the concept of a god that has a proper name. But I totally agree that the contemporary use of “God” as a proper name is a fairly narrow construct.

  4. Dear Mark: This is a good Essay!
    Going back to Jesus, I have found that Josephus Flavius describes one of the main “three philosophical sects among the Jews”, with a very detailed description.
    The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essens.Excerpts from his book (Wars 2 Chapter 8) include:”…the third sect, which are a severer discipline…these men are despisers of riches, and so very communicative as raises our admiration… And as for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary…”.
    I have found that a large part of the Pharisees is the primary group which combined other Jewish fighters to pick up their swords and to fight against the Roman soldiers in 68AD when many of the peaceful Jews of Essens were persuaded to fight with them while using the hills and valleys of Qumran as their fortresses.I believe that the Essens in Qumran could very well have selected Jesus and other yuung men as recruits during their effort to revuild Qumran in 4BC-to 20AD (There was a major earthquake in 31BC in the Jordan valley).The Essens in Qumran were mostly single men who were friendly, kind,and peaceful in nature.Then all lived using those larger buildings in what can be seen today in Qumran, right next to the Dead Sea,for their large dining hall and meeting rooms.There were as many as 4,000 people in the Qumran community, mostly residing in tents.They used the Qumran brooks, aquaducts,cisterns,pools and for their bathings and dor purification purposes,and for drinking.Essens came from Aramaic, the language which Jesus actually spoke when he preached to the disciples.The meaning of Essens might be “medicine men”who can heal”the sick.And we know that Jesus did a lot of healing which had been mistaken as miracles by the Gospel of Mark in the first C AD.
    Now about the Old T Bible,it has been proven by the extracted scrolls found after 1947 in the Dead Sea.They were found in 12 caves of Qumran: 15,000 fragments of scrolls were found during 1947-1956. They were later pieced together to produce 530 different scrolls, with about 200 books from the Old Testament.I believe that a very intelligent young Jesus who had joined the Essens in Qumran during his stay of more than 10 or 15 years of working and learning, reading those scrolls. That’s where he had memoried so much from the OT.That would have explained how he taugut like an expert while he just walked into those temples around Galilee and even in Jerusalem.It is interesting to find that the daily work for many Eheens was to turn the fruit of dates into honey in order to dell for money as their method for subsistance from the cities nearby.In fact,if John the Baptist (cousin of Jesus) had also gone to Qumran and stayed with the Essens,he could very well have brought some jars of honey from Qumran when he came out to preach for repentance along the river Jordan.I believe Jesus wore a white robe which was the standard carment amount the Essens of Qumran.The bathing by John the Baptist at the river Jordan was exactly what the Essens would have done everyday.In the early story by Gospel of John, after John the Baptist introduced those two younger disciples to Jesus, they asked him,”Rabbi where do you live?” John said Jesus took them to visit the cave where Jesus was staying,I used to wonder why? But now it seems th be natural for an Essen Jesus to dwell in one.(I have found out that there were 100,000 pits left behind in Qumran after 2000 years, evidence of their work to generate honey.In the extracted fining hall of Qumran was found several hundred sets of table ware which were used by the Essens when they had been massacres by the Romans after the revolt in 68AD was quashed. (This could be a continuation from last week.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  5. Well, Eugene, interesting I guess, but does it shine any light on Mark’s essay about the proper name (or lack thereof) God?

    Again, an interesting theory. but Jesus aside for a minute, what is the source for the Essenes recruiting ‘young men’ to rebuild after the earthquake (I remember reading somewhere that they ‘adopted’ children and ‘admitted’ adults)? And, more importantly, what are the sources for Jesus being recruited and the length of his stay? And, how young was Jesus when he was recruited, was he young enough to be adopted? And if he lived in a tent with the Essenes why are you not surprised he lived in a cave (“natural for an Essenes Jesus”)? Wouldn’t a tent have been more natural? And were John’s other followers (especially those soon to be followers of Jesus) also relapsed Essenes?

    Next, if the Essenes received baptism every morning, why did Jesus get baptized after he supposedly left the community and why didn’t he get baptized everyday? And where did he learn to read: at home, the synagogue or with the Essenes? Source for the white garment after he left the community?

    Also, in addition to the two scholars mentioned previously, Ehrman, in Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet, writes “….Jesus shared many of the Essenes apocalyptic views, even though he did not belong to their sect..” In addition, I went back to a number of other scholars and found it interesting that ‘belonging to the Essenes’ is never mentioned in their works – and these are not one note authors but among the best critical biblical and history scholars of the ‘Jesus era.” However, time permitting, I am still looking.

  6. Thomas: Thank you. I did say that the Essay by Mark is a good one. From the history of the Essenes I find:1.Pliny on the Essenes; 2. Philo on the Essenes;
    3. Josephus on the Essenes; 4. Galilaeans and Zealots in Josephus.
    These are the classical reports on the Essenes.
    Why are the “gospels” silent about the Essenes and the Zealots, though they introduce us to the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians? Could it be that the people at the centrer of the story were Essenes? Neither Paul nor any of the other writers of epistles in the New Testament mentions the Essenes—they might as well have not existed.
    But we know they did. Three writers from the first century AD describe the Essenes—Pliny, Josephus and Philo. We now also have the evidence of the excavations at Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Pliny was a Roman naturalist who wrote in about 70 AD;he described destruction of Qumran during the 6 years of “Jewish War”starting on 66AD.But he was mistaken about the Essenes in Qumran for “thousands of centuries”because the Essenes were mostly Men who lived among other men (very few women),with increases usually from young men driven away by poverty or by other reasons, such as in the case of Jesus who was born without the name of his father in a Jewish village.Pliny’s statement that the Essenes existed so long because they benefited from “the repentance of others for their lives,which links them directly with Jesus and John the Baptist who required people’s repentance.”
    The Essenes wake up at dawn and pray, with a well organized syructure for every one to go to work as according to the unified whole.Some of them do farming,some of them tend to the sheep and cattle, snd some of them work on the dates, which were pitted in order to make honey for sale.(The excavators found 100,000 pits of dates in Qumran.)The Essenes do not own or care for gold or silver; the share every valuable material together in a commune.There are the brooks of Qumran hills; the water from those brooks flow downwards by aquaduc into many large pools and about 12 cisterns.They draw from those cisterns for drinking and use those pools for bathing at the end of the working day when they have sweated. Then they all put on their clean,white robes to enter the large dining hall.A man of respect would say the blessing befote they all eat together.The total in number is more than 4,000 men at Qumran.They all studied the scrolls.
    I believe both John the Baptist and Jesus were poor and might have joined the Essenes about the same time.I believe that quite a few of them had lived in the caves of Qumran, but perhaps a larger number of them lived in tents. So it was natural when the jars containing those precious scrolls had been hidden in those numerous caves in Qumran as they were found later.(They were hidden from the Romans)
    Although I believe both John the Baptist and Jesus had spent time to study the scrolls,Jesus probably had spent more time in his studies,and probably discussed the old testament much more than John had done.Perhaps John had spent more time tending the sheep and cattle and working on pitting the dates to make honey.(He might have eaten more of it?)Who did Jesus discuss his understanding if the Hebrew bible with, you might ask? I think he most likely studied it with other elder Essenes of Qumran.(When they all sat in the classrooms, the younger men sat below the elder people with due respect.)

    Philo of Alexandria (born in Alexandria in 20 BC and died about 60 AD; probably an Essenian Jew himself) written about 20 AD broadly matches Josephus’s but sometimes he disagrees and occasionally adds something new. Thus he says that only mature men were admitted. He agrees with Josephus that the Essenes lived all over Judaea but maintains that they preferred to live in villages not towns.Josephus tells us they practise husbandry but Philo enlarges saying they are farmers, shepherds, cowherds, beekeepers, artisans and craftsmen, but they did not make weapons, would not engage in commerce and were no sailors. They rejected slavery, believing brotherhood to be the natural relationship of men but that it had been spoiled by covetousness. Though they read a great deal they were not interested in philosophy in general but only morals.The sick and elderly were cared for—the scrolls tell us that the infirm and the sick were already spiritually saved under the guardianship of the angels of holiness.They are guided by a threefold rule: love of God, love of virtue, and love of mankind. Of their love of God they give innumerable demonstrations, which is found in their constant and unalterable holiness throughout the whole of their lives, their avoidance of oaths and falsehoods, and their firm belief that God is the source of all good, but of nothing evil.Christians like to think that the great revelation that came to the world via Christ was love but here we find it is the central belief of an old Jewish Essenes sect, and curiously, one which Jesus shows every indication of having been a member of.They are above all men devoted to the service of God, not sacrificing living animals, but studying rather to preserve their own minds in a state of holiness and purity.Indeed so far as such a study takes in the contemplation of the existence of God and of the creation of the universe.
    They live in many cities of Judea and in many villages and grouped in great societies of many members.(They were hospitable especially to others like themselves; this would explain the teaching by Jesus to his disciples for them to go out two in each team,bringing no money, no food, and no extra pair of shoes or clothing with them; they were to stay in homes wherever they went,and just stump their feet on the dirt next to those who did not receive them.)This would also explain as to why the members of the other two Jewish sects might end up having those disciples killed by stoning or other means later.
    The Zealots, first mentioned by Josephus as the fighters against the Romans in the Jewish rebellion of 66-73 AD, apparently were of major significance in Palestine during the whole of the period of the gospels so the single reference to them (Simon, the Zealot) looks suspicious.Hyppolytus, writing about 230 AD, confirms that the Zealots were indeed a branch of the Essenes.
    Previously I’d thought Jesus had taught Simon, the Zealot into a peaceful person to give up his original plan in the fighting for greedom against the Roman soldiers, but now it seems natural for him bot to pick the sword at all because he has been an Essene man.They all preached the new gospel of God to be kind, peaceful, loving, and without hatred or killing of people. Their God was not “The Lord of Hosts”who would lead them to battles.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  7. You have said, definitively, what was coming through (yet also at times unclear) in your comments: this is your belief. That’s the sum of it. And you, of course, are entitled to that belief/opinion. However, where you provided information on the Essenes – you have none for Jesus as a member of the Essene sect. And, then, you doubled down, believing the entire NT is the product of Essenes. Again, okay as it is your belief.

    However, just as many Christians combine the birth stories of Matthew and Luke to basically create a 5th gospel, their own, that doesn’t exist – so too, you have created an alternate childhood and adulthood for Jesus, that is your own: it is not found in the NT and does not reflect the considered and careful research of critical biblical and early Christian (and Jewish) historians (who do not take Jesus out of Nazareth and place him in Qumran for upwards of two decades).

    Your belief seems to be part and parcel of the ‘lost years’ speculation that believes Jesus was in India, or Britain or, perhaps (now) in an Essene cave. You also, earlier, referred to Mark 6:3 and focused on ‘son of Mary’ but ignored ‘is this not the carpenter?’ If Jesus was with the Essenes for, as you speculated more that 10 or 15 years – or perhaps 18 or more(?)- he then was not a carpenter in Nazareth so how could he be identified as such by his own neighbors – who knew him? Luke 2:42 has Jesus at 12, then the lost years end then he reappears (in the NT) at, approximately 30 year old or so. If Jesus was ‘lost’ in India, Britain, Qumran or wherever – he was not a carpenter and could not have been identified as a carpenter. He probably couldn’t have been identified (or insulted) as the son of Mary – because he was lost since he was 12, probably thought to be dead and people moved on. Who would recognize him? We all typically change between the ages of 12 and 30. As you have, I am merely referring to what the NT presents.

    I ask for sources because I am intensely interested in this kind of information; I am even interested in speculation if there is a sufficient scholarly foundation for it. I have not found it for the ‘Jesus as an Essene’ theory – and I have, since the beginning of the threads on this topic, researched a good number of highly considered scholars. I again suggest Geza Vermes in his ‘Changing Faces of Jesus’ who does a nice job on the background of the ‘holy men’ surrounding the time of Jesus with whom he has, seemingly, much in common and yet is different.

  8. Thomas: I have listed 1.Pliny; 2. Philo;and 3. Josephus. And I believe what they said are good references for me about the Essenes of Qumran.I have never used the age 12 for Jesus to become associated with the Essenes.But the fact that Jesus spoke in the Aramaic dialect could place him being there.And in order for him to have read the original Jrwish literature in the Qumran scrolls in the OT to be able to startle the others in the synagogues and even in the Temple,as was reported in the NT,Jesus must have spent a great deal of time there. I am not sure whether Jesus had learned the carpentry craft before he left the village of Nazareth or after he went with the Eseens in Qumran,but it is not important.Perhaps he did continue doing carpentry with the Esseens as everyone had his job to do there besides reading and learning.And since there were beekeepers at Qumran,I’d like to change my statement about the Esseens making Honey from the pitted dates.I believe that it would be logical for them to make “honey dates”for sale instead.Any money Jesus might have made by selling the furniture or book shelces was probably sent in the common stock.And as a carpenter Jesus might have done a lot of reading,thinking,and discussing after he worked on the carpentry.
    Concerning John the Baptist and Jesus on the Jordan river, I think JB might have arrived in the river before Jesus did.As to how many days or months JB had already been preaching to the crowd for their repentence we don’t know.But perhaps he did declare about “the one who is coming–JB might not be worth to untie his sandals for him”.But we do know both of them bathed themselves in the Jordan river.(After walking on the dusty road for a long time, it would be great to get in the river to bath oneself.)
    The gospel writers all wrote at least 40-50 years after Jesus had passed away.Any deliberate attempt to ignore the existence of the Essenes of Qumran simplt cannot just be regarded as truth any more after the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and careful examination of writings about them before and during the “Jewish War”of 66-72 AD.Unless one can find better explanation or any new evidence about the life of Jesus prior to his appearance in teaching those fishermen,he said,”Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.”(Mark 1:17)
    And I believe that it was coming from the words of a teacher or Rabbi, not words fitting a carpenter.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

  9. Eugene,

    You have made the case – this is all your opinion and more and more – your imagination.

    There is no problem with the sources for the Essenes – they are the sources for all. The Essenes are not the issue.
    We all know when the gospels were written, and, again, it is you who are saying there was a deliberate attempt to ignore the Essenes (another new theory), to follow up on your previous new theory that the NT is written by secret Essenes. No one, no scholars ignores the existence of the Essenes (such a statement is absurd) and these same scholars were overjoyed with the discovery of the Scrolls. Nor did the NT writers ignore them, the Essenes were not the subject of their writing.

    As mentioned, as you used the NT to refer to John as the cousin of Jesus and to quote the people of his village, so too I used the NT for the age of 12. Did he go the the Essenes at 4, 8, 10, 12, 15, ever? All is speculation as is, if he went, how long and when did it end. No one knows – all is speculation.

    Aramic was the dialectic of the Galilee. Ehrman allows, if Jesus could read, he learned in his synagogue. And now you further speculate that he might have learned carpentry someplace other than Nazareth. Again, sources? After his carpentry work with the Essenes he might have also had honey beer with honey bread.

    Eugene, unless one can find new evidence? Yours is not evidence: it is speculation, opinion. Read some scholars, read Vermes: such ‘men of God,’ such teachers did not have to be from Qumran.

  10. I have a question about what Lauren Van Ham wrote in her article. It is in reference to the following, “Each being I encounter is a manifestation of God – my neighbor across the street, the rows of earth teeming with vegetables, the flight attendant, the feral cats living near the bike path, the sea lions sunning themselves outside the aquarium, and on and on.”
    If all these things are a manifestation God, then when a person gets bitten by a poisonous snake or spider and dies, or a drug addict breaks into our home and kills my wife, are these creatures and person the manifestations of God?
    agentle01@gmail.com

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