James, the Brother of Jesus, by Robert Eisenman (LentBooks 2013 #7)

jamesI was not long into the project of writing a novel about James, the brother of Jesus, a few years back, when someone asked me if I’d read Robert Eisenman’s massive scholarly work on the subject, James, the Brother of Jesus (which is the same title the publishing house ended up giving my novel, though it was not my working title). I hadn’t read it at the time and didn’t read it while I was researching the book, because I was specifically interested in writing about James from within the framework of the little that the New Testament said about him, and not drawing in extra-Biblical source material.

However, I have always felt a little guilty about not having read this book, and fascinated as I am by James, I decided that this would be my “big book” for Lent this year, as during my six-week fiction fast I usually try to tackle at least one book that’s long, heavy and a bit more “scholarly” than my usual reading.

Often such books present views and perspectives that are well outside the conservative-Adventist-Christian framework of Biblical interpretation that I’m familiar with. Although I frequently disagree with some of their conclusions, I always enjoy tackling big, meaty works of Biblical scholarship that challenge my ideas. I inevitably learn something and broaden my thinking even if I don’t come away agreeing with the author. Notable books of this type that I’ve read in the past include John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and Finkelstein and Silberman’sThe Bible Unearthed.

I include this background information both to show what kind of reading experience I was expecting/hoping to have with Eisenman, and also to defend myself against the charge that “You just didn’t like it because it doesn’t fit with your orthodox beliefs.” Yes, my beliefs are pretty small-o orthodox, but I’m more than willing to read, think about and engage with non-orthodox ideas and scholarship. So my dislike of Eisenman’s James was not based on it being “too heretical” for me; it was based on it being a terrible piece of writing, full of argumentative holes through which one could drive a camel train, were one so inclined.

Disclaimer one: I’m not a scholar, just a moderately well-read layperson. These are my unprofessional, lay-reader responses.

Disclaimer two: This gets long.

First, let’s look at some of the claims Eisenman makes which are totally unremarkable and well-known even to someone like me, who has lived my whole life in a fairly conservative mileu of Biblical interpretation.

  • Jesus had brothers.
  • One of those brothers was James.
  • James was the leader of the early church, more important in this leadership role than either Paul or Peter.
  • James was known as “the Just” and highly revered in some early Christian circles, though his role has been downplayed by others.
  • James’ direct family relationship to Jesus was downplayed (and he was sometimes demoted to being a cousin or stepbrother rather than a full brother) because of the Roman Catholic insistence on Mary’s perpetual virginity.
  • During Paul’s ministry, he often found himself at odds with James’s leadership because of James’s insistence that Gentile converts to Christianity follow Jewish practice as well and that traditional separation (especially at the table) between Jews and Gentiles should continue within the new Christian communities.
  • Early observers in the Roman world saw Christianity only as a sect of Judaism and did not clearly differentiate between Christians and Jews.
  • Christianity, having become largely a Gentile religion, followed Paul’s theology rather than James’s; small groups of “Jewish Christians” who survived (and who revered the memory of James) were later viewed as heretical.

There’s nothing remotely controversial in any of this material, though Eisenman sometimes writes as though there is and he is revealing previously unimagined truths. However, don’t worry, he has plenty of revealing to do.

The most striking of Eisenman’s innovations can be summed as follows (at least, this is what I, a non-scholarly reader, got out of arguments I did my best to follow): There is almost no real historical material in the Gospels, except for the few fleeting references to Jesus’ family which come through despite the Gospel writers’ best efforts to obscure them. Rather than a travelling teacher with 12 disciples, Eisenman pictures “Jesus” as part of a Jewish revolutionary family (possibly Essense, or Sicarii, or Zealots — depending on who’s using these terms and how they’re defined), of whom the other three brothers – James, Judas and Simon – are far better attested to in extra-Biblical sources than Jesus himself, who may not even have existed. The family of Jesus was part of the same group represented in the Qumram scrolls – Jews devoted to purity, separateness, and resistance (including violent resistance) to the Roman overlords. James is the “Righteous Teacher” in the Qumram scrolls; the “Enemy” alluded to in those same texts is the same character known in the New Testament as Paul.

In Eisenman’s recreated version of early Christianity, Paul (whom he views as being the same person as “Saulus” in Josephus) is a member of the Herodian family who opposes James’s movement and promotes accommodation with the Romans (much like Josephus, upon whom Eisenman relies heavily as a source despite recognizing his biases and shortcomings). Paul reimagines James’ brother Jesus (dead by this time, one way or another) as a supernatural god-man he calls “Jesus Christ” and creates a spiritual, Hellenized mystery-religion which poses no threat to Rome and directly opposes everything James teaches. Due to the ultimate defeat of the Jewish nation under Rome, Paul’s “Christianity” is the one that has survived (Rabbinic Judaism, which also survived, is viewed by Eisenman as another religion in the same accommodating vein as Christianity, rather than a heir of the truly revolutionary Jewish nationalism). Companions and followers of Paul write or rewrite the book of Acts and the four Gospels specifically to obscure and obfuscate the real Jesus and cast Paul as the hero of early Christianity. Almost every incident in the Gospels and Acts is not only false but a deliberate and sloppy rewriting of a real incident which can be uncovered through painstaking study of the Qumram scrolls, Josephus, non-canonical gospels, and later historians (relying on allegedly earlier sources).

In other words, as the Weird Al song goes, “Everything you know is wrong.”

Why do I find these arguments so unconvincing? Eisenman and those who admire his exegesis would no doubt say it’s because I’ve been so thoroughly brainwashed by traditional Christian readings of the canonical texts, and maybe I have, but I try, as I said, to keep an open mind. It’s the arguments themselves, and the way Eisenman constructs them, which I find suspect. I’m certainly no expert on the ancient texts he’s discussing (and it’s worth noting that most people who are experts on this period consider Eisenman to be way out in left field, particularly on his dating of the Qumram documents, which he considers to be much later than most scholars date them). I’ll try to summarize my main quibbles with him in a few brief points:

1. The issue of names is absolutely key to every argument Eisenman makes, and at the root of every one of those arguments you will find the same basic premise: if two individuals have the same name, they are probably the same person.

Even if you were talking about today’s world, this would be patently ridiculous. In the ancient world, where people generally had far fewer first names to go around (the upper-class Romans had something like five first names for men, I believe, not including the ones that were just numbers like Tertius or Quintus), it’s madness. The “James” mentioned repeatedly in the gospels as the brother of John, son of Zebedee, cannot exist, Eisenman argues – he’s obviously an “overwrite” for the real James, Jesus’ brother, who pops onto the scene in Acts 12. Multiple Johns, or Simons, or Judases, or Stephens, are consistently written off as “nonsense,” as is any character who’s only mentioned once in the New Testament – it must really be someone else under a different name! The Saul/Paul of Acts must be the “Saulus” that Josephus writes about even though there are almost no similarities between the two characters. The Epaphroditus by whom Paul sends the letter to the Philippians must obviously be the same Epaphroditus who mentioned in extra-Biblical sources as Nero’s secretary – because there could only be one Epaphroditus. This identification neatly cements Eisenman’s picture of Paul as a man with high-level Roman connections – even though it’s very clear from the context of his passing mention in Philippians that Epaphroditus comes from Philippi and is returning there to his home church with Paul’s letter. Eisenman is highly contemptuous of a verse in the gospels that seems to suggest that Jesus’ mother Mary had a sister also named Mary: on this supposed “nonsense” he hinges most of his theories about the family of Jesus although, even in more recent times (think Tudor era with all those Marys, Annes and Elizabeths!) it would not be difficult for a woman to have a half-sister, step-sister or foster-sister with the same first name. Even Biblical characters with similar names, in Eisenman’s view, are very often probably the same person.

It’s almost as if, once Eisenman’s reduced the cast of characters by eliminating all those with the same or similar names, he imagines the entire Roman world with only about thirty or forty people running around in it … or, if there were more people, the rest of them were named Fred, Bruce, Lester or Tiffany.

Encountering this exegetical method so early in the book put me on the defensive, I’ll admit, because the connections Eisenman makes between people with the same or similar names are so tenuous as to be, in many cases, simply incredible. I can’t overemphasize how heavily he relies on this one tool: if you took away the connections he makes between people on no other basis than similarities of name, his entire argument would collapse like the house of cards it is.

2. The “overwriting” charge is leveled against almost every canonical text Eisenman discusses. Beneath almost every story in the Gospels and Acts (most of which he dismisses as simple-minded nonsense or malevolent parodies) lie real events, which can only be deduced by extremely tenuous parallels in other texts (texts which most scholars consider to be much later or, in the case of the Qumram scrolls, much earlier). What is so difficult to swallow about this charge is not the idea that someone could wholly fabricate major religious texts to prove their point (though the idea that such texts could be expected to be convincing to readers who lived within the lifespans of the people involved in the original texts is a bit of a stretch). The real problem is that they could have done it as badly as Eisenman pictures them doing. Virtually every real event that he considers important in this time period was “overwritten” to serve a pro-Pauline Christian agenda – by writers who he pictures as being incredibly knowledgeable, crafty and skillful – yet these writers let embarrassing gaps show through, gaps which allow Eisenman to unlock their method.

For example, if part of your agenda is to obscure the role of Jesus’ brothers in the early church, you might conceivably play around with names and identities so that three brothers are expanded into twelve fake disciples. You might even add in scenes where Jesus rejects his brothers and says that his disciples are his true family. But if your goal is to erase the family of Jesus from history – why leave them in there at all? Why not simply excise the handful of verses that mention Jesus’ brothers by name, rather than doing all that clumsy rewriting? Why not delete later references to James as “the Lord’s brother”? And if you’re trying to establish your orthodox theology, why not do a better job of it? All this rewriting and overwriting apparently took place in an early Church that already revered Peter as first Bishop of Rome, so why is Peter’s role so downplayed in Acts? Why is he never even shown as being in Rome? Eisenman points out these gaps but does not explore how they fit with his whole “overwriting” scenario. The writers and/or editors of Acts, as Eisenman pictures them, were certainly the least effective writers in the ancient world.

Also, there were numerous examples where Eisenman seemed to misread or misunderstand the canonical New  Testament text as it stands. I don’t mean just that he interprets it differently: he doesn’t seem capable of reading it as it appears on the page in front of him.

3. There’s also a subtle elitism and snobbery in Eisenman’s reconstruction of the early Christian scenario which bothered me. He makes much of the fact that Paul must have had important contact in Imperial Rome because he sends greetings to and from those of Caesar’s household. But we know from other sources that early Christianity appealed largely to slaves and people of the lower classes (something Eisenman never mentions); the possibility that the Christians to and from Paul was sending greetings were slaves in Caesar’s household never seems to occur to him. Likewise, the depiction of Jesus’ disciples as fishermen, or Jesus himself as a carpenter, or a character in an extra-Biblical source as a “simple stone-cutter,” must always be a political or polemical code: it’s impossible that such key figures could be simple lower class working people. Although he makes much of the use of the term “the Poor” as used at Qumram and in Ebionite Christianity as a code-word for the in-group, he never considers the possibility that any of the references to “the poor” in, for example, James’s epistle (which shouldn’t even have made it into the canon if Eisenman’s view of a completely Paul-dominated Christianity triumphant is correct) could refer to, you know, actual poor people. And the Gospel stories about Jesus eating with tax-collectors and prostitutes are, in Eisenman’s view, Pauline propaganda to show that Christians approve of the Herodian rulers (exactly the opposite of what Eisenmann says the real Jesus and James would have done) – not, in any sense, a suggestion that the founder of Christianity might have hung out with actual marginalized, lower-class people.

4. The technique of privileging non-canonical over canonical texts is so widespread in Biblical scholarship as to be almost unremarkable (the Jesus Seminar scholars’ preference for the Gospel of Thomas is a classic example), but Eisenman does take it to new heights, especially when he so often privileges later texts, arguing that they must be based on earlier sources – not because of any textual evidence, but because they agree with his hypothesis. A typical example is when he compares scenes in Acts to scenes that he considers parallel in the Pseudoclementines. Eisenman argues that although the Pseudoclementines are generally considered later than Acts, both are based on an earlier source and that the Pseudoclementines are more faithful to that source – even though we have no idea what that source was or what it said. The Pseudoclementines are “more faithful” to an earlier source because they better fit the picture Eisenman is painting.

Because of his slavish devotion to this picture, it’s impossible for him to admit to an early date for any of the canonical New Testament texts except for Paul’s letters. He questions over and over why Acts includes no account of either James’s or Paul’s deaths (implying that they are left out because the real story would be too embarrassing to early Christianity – though why this would be a problem for a writer/editor who “overwrites” any events he doesn’t like is not explained. Why not just write better death scenes for Paul and James?). He never considers the obvious answer: that Acts was written while both Paul and James were still alive – which it seems, in the interests of intellectual honesty, should at least be considered as a hypothesis.

5. “I’ve said it four times so it must be true.” Eisenman uses this technique over and over: posits a connection between two people or events based on the most tenuous evidence (or no evidence at all), then repeats it over and over until finally he’s stating it as fact, despite having added no additional evidence. This reviewer does a good job of giving examples, so I’ll save space and just say that I, too, was irritated by this technique.

I could go on and on, but this review is already much too long for a regular book review. However, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to reading this book, and told a few people that I would read it and respond to it, and I know from experience that with this type of book I’m not going to remember the problems I had with it as sharply after a little time has passed.

There were a few good things about this book. Eisenman does give a very good overview of every reference to James in extra-Biblical literature (though it is necessary to filter out references that Eisenman believes are to James, such as the Righteous Teacher in the Qumram texts, where James is never actually named). He also suggests some intriguing links between Ebionite Christianity, Judaism in the region after the fall of Jerusalem, and the emergence of Islam. This is something I’ve always been curious about and would like to know more about.

Another thing Eisenman does well is remind the reader that the worlds of Second Temple Judaism, Judaism after the destruction of the Temple, and early Christianity, were very complex worlds with many different sects and many competing texts telling the same stories in different ways. Traditional, orthodox Christianity has privileged the texts that it considers canonical – following either the authority vested in the Church (if you take the Roman Catholic view) or the guidance of the Holy Spirit (if you take the Protestant view). Secular Biblical scholarship normally privileges the texts it believes are older or more authentic. Writers with an axe to grind privilege the texts that support their hypothesis, regardless of canonical status or textual evidence. I’m afraid I have to put Robert Eisenman firmly in the latter category.

As I found his arguments so specious, reading became tedious as the pages wore on, and finishing this massive tome took up a disproportionate amount of my reading time this month. I’m more than ready to get on with some very, very light reading in April. And I really wish that when I was taken with the urge to read a book about James, the brother of Jesus, I’d picked up John Painter’s Just James instead, as it’s better regarded by scholars and, crucially, only 320 pages long. All the same there is a feeling of accomplishment that comes with having finished this book — though I can’t say I feel any great need to pick up Volume II.




Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

8 responses to “James, the Brother of Jesus, by Robert Eisenman (LentBooks 2013 #7)

  1. Life is a Journey

    Trudy, I am very impressed that you got through the whole book! Dr. Eisenman’s writing is sometimes not the clearest to understand and he does talk about and even belabor every detail! I do want to make a few points, though.

    It bears keeping in mind that Dr. Eisenman is WAY more learned than I am (and I suspect you as well) when it comes to Israel and the DSS. He has been very instrumental in getting the scrolls released so the public can read them. He is involved in current Israeli issues and has a background in Judaism that we could never hope to understand to that degree. I have to respect that and realize that his “educated guess” is very likely going to be more accurate than a Protestant who is far-removed from anything Jewish. That is why I would seriously consider his viewpoint and try to learn all I can about why he thinks certain things are so. Do I accept everything? No. But it bears further study.

    Now, to my points in response to your review. First, if “The Bible” is the standard by which you are judging all other early writings and viewpoints, then it is no wonder that you do not like his book. It does not hold up the Bible as infallible. You discussed Dr. Eisenman’s “elitism and snobbery” yet this same attitude is displayed by Christians every day. “The Bible holds the whole truth, the entire truth, and nothing but the truth. It is historically correct in every detail because it is the Word of God and God would NOT let errors populate into the Bible.” This “snobbery” is accepted and even encouraged in Christianity. So if someone has this viewpoint of the Bible, then they will surely not like a book such as Eisenman’s which challenges or even dares to refute the current Christian status quo.

    Eisenman’s point that the “James” who was Jesus’ disciple was the same person as the “James” who all of a sudden rather randomly pops up in Acts makes a lot of sense to me. When choosing a “replacement disciple” for Judas, the disciples were careful to choose someone who had witnessed Jesus’ whole ministry on a close, personal level. If James the Just had not been involved in any way in Jesus’ ministry, he would not have been accepted by the others because the authority would not have been there.

    The thought that James was the “Righteous Teacher” referenced in the DSS made a good deal of sense to me simply because according to Josephus, James was SO influential that his death caused Jerusalem to fall. That is a VERY highly regarded man! Jesus was said to say that “for James heaven and earth came into existence”. An exaggeration, to be sure, but I do not think we can discount the influence and authority and high esteem that was held by James.

    As far as Paul is concerned, Paul himself references the problems he had with Jesus’ own disciples who walked with him. 95% of Adventists who become “formers” do so because of the writings of Paul. Adventism indeed has a love/hate relationship with Paul because of this. There is enough IN the Bible to condemn Paul for putting forth views that Jesus himself did not endorse (consider, for example, and let me know, is it okay to eat foods offered to idols?), In addition, some of these extrabiblical writings are pretty damning (and you don’t have to read Eisenman to locate these writings). Again, though, if you are looking at the Bible as the “default”, the “standard”, then you will not be open to considering that Paul might not have been the soldier of God that Paulianity – er, Christianity – has made him out to be.

    For myself, I would much rather listen to the words of Jesus than the words of Paul. Jesus came to reform Judaism; Paul came to start a new religion starring Jesus. Jesus promotes good works and actions (consider the parable of the sheep and the goats, and the instruction to “follow the commandments”) while Paul promotes a religion of ritual and belief (basically, that one is saved by one’s beliefs, not that one will be rewarded according to one’s actions as is endorsed by Jesus and many others in the Bible).

    Bottom line is, what helps us be more productive members of society? Focusing on having “right beliefs” or focusing on if our ACTIONS are actually helping those around us? Is it easier to teach our children that God must have BLOOD to forgive, or believing that God is loving and compassionate and wants us to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly? These are questions everyone eventually has to answer for themselves.

    Christianity says “God is loving” while insisting he needed the death of millions of animals AND his son in order to forgive. There is a cognitive dissonance there that is not logical to me. So locating others who have noticed this as well is a real relief! Reading the same in early writings that have been shunned by Christianity is also notable.

    • You make some good points, but I think you’re missing some of what I said in my review. Yes, I do accept the Bible as God’s inspired word — all of it — but I don’t use that as my standard of judgement when I’m reading works by secular scholars because I know THEY don’t accept it as inspired. I read books like Crossan’s, or Finkelstein and Silberman’s, and I don’t judge them as “wrong” because they don’t believe in Biblical inspiration the way I do. I’m interested in what scholars have to say about archeology, history, anthropology, and the provenance of texts. I can disagree with people’s ultimate conclusions and still think they make a good, solid, informative argument.

      That’s the standard by which I’m judging Eisenman — not whether he agrees with my (admittedly faith-based) opinion of Biblical inspiration, but whether he makes a sound argument on his OWN grounds — letting the texts speak for themselves. And as outlined above, I really don’t think he does. I think his arguments are poorly constructed and often farfetched.

      Also, the elitism and snobbery I was referring to was not towards texts themselves — I was talking about elitism based on social class. He seems to have a very deep-seated underlying belief that Jesus (if Jesus existed), James, Paul, etc., must have been powerful people with important connections because he doesn’t seem to be able to accept the fact that important religious movements could be started by common people of the labouring class. And that is one of the things I find most attractive about the gospel message (which Paul, whatever his differences with the gospels, is in perfect agreement) — it’s the story of a king born in a stable, the story of God using the weak things of the world to confound the strong, the upside-down-kingdom that challenges the rule of Caesar, Son of the Gods.

      Your point about Eisenman being FAR more knowledgeable in his field than I will ever be is certainly very true!! But it does interest me that most of the other people who are knowledgeable in his field don’t agree with his conclusions. Of course, the majority is not always right, but I’m automatically suspicious of anyone who paints himself (or whose followers paint him) as the “misunderstood genius” in any academic field. Of course, there are a handful of real misunderstood geniuses out there, but the nutbar with the poorly supported theories who would like us to think he’s a misunderstood genius is by far the more common paradigm — and that’s the category into which I’m tempted to put Eisenman (though I’d have to read a lot more in the field to genuinely be able to evaluate how out-there his theories are. But to a moderately well-read amateur like me they seem pretty far-out indeed).

      I’m still a little puzzled by why, if you admire the religion of Jesus more than the religion of Paul, you admire Eisenman’s work? Eisenman’s Jesus is so flimsy as to be almost nonexistant — in fact it seems irrelevant to his theory whether Jesus existed or not — and he suggests that virtually everything we read in the gospels is a later fabrication not reflective of the actual historical Jesus (or James). So what is there to admire in the teaching of Jesus as proposed by Eisenman? The “Jesus” he offers (if he offers any Jesus at all) may have been an anti-Roman freedom fighter, which is perhaps admirable if you don’t mind the use of violence to achieve your aims — but also appears to have had a very narrow view of the world, accepting only Jews as God’s people and only those Jews who followed the strictest of purity codes. There would no room for Gentile believers in a religion following THAT Jesus … so where’s the appeal for a Gentile like me?

      I don’t know what your current religious practice is but as you describe your beliefs, with the emphasis on being rewarded for good works, it sounds much more consonant with modern Judaism than with either the Essene/Zealot/Sicarii framework Eisenman is proposing, or with modern (Pauline?) Christianity. In that case, why Jesus at all? Why not just be Jewish?

  2. Life is a Journey

    My “emphasis on being rewarded for good works”, as you state, is based far more on the message of Jesus than anything else. Jesus says belief requires deeds (i.e. action) to be saved and that if “we want to enter [eternal] life we must obey the commandments.” (Matt 19:17) There are multiple, multiple Bible texts promoting a “justice based on our actions” approach. How else do you explain texts like the following?”

    “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.” 2 Sam 22:21, 25; Psalm 18:20, 24

    “The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good rewarded for theirs.” Prov 14:14

    What was the Bible song we used to sing in Sabbath School? “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Prov 20:11)

    How about Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 16:27? “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

    What distinguishes the sheep from the goats in Jesus’ parable? Their actions!

    When these things are brought up as significant, as you yourself brought it up about me, the person quoting these texts is generally told that they are trying to “work their way to heaven” and that they, as you stated, “sound much more consonant with modern Judaism than with Pauline Christianity.”

    Really? Doesn’t this bother you just a little bit? Shouldn’t Christianity be patterned after the message of Jesus rather than condemning those who lift up that message as being “too Jewish”?

    Eisenman’s viewpoint of James (and many other extra-canonical writings) helps show an exciting, vibrant, and compassionate vision of someone very closely connected to Jesus himself. Learning more about Jesus’ brother and his significance to Jesus’ followers helps me see that rather than being a passive victim of the Romans Jesus was an active leader and a compassionate thinker; someone who saw that the leaders of the day were leading the people the wrong way and did whatever he could to correct that understanding and offer the people hope, at any cost. I see a visionary whose message of love and hope resounds to this day. I see a man who was worth more than just being “born to die” – his message itself was what was foundational.

    Paul never met this “Jesus” – he had his own version of the messiah based on Mithraic tradition and NOT on the historical person of Jesus. Albert Schweitzer, the German theologian and missionary notes:

    “Where possible Paul avoids quoting the teaching of Jesus, in fact even mentioning it. If we had to rely on Paul, we should not know that Jesus taught in parables, had delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and had taught His disciples the ‘Our Father’ [the Lord’s Prayer]. Even where they are specially relevant, Paul passes over the words of the Lord.”

    This issue indeed lends substantial merit and credence to the fact that compared to Jesus’ personal disciples, Paul may have really known very little about the actual life and ministry and teachings of the historical Jesus. Other renowned philosophers and theologians have also noted this about Paul, including the English politician and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who wrote in 1823, Not Paul But Jesus,

    “It rests with every professor of the religion of Jesus to settle with himself, to which of the two religions, that of Jesus or that of Paul, he will adhere.”

    Thomas Jefferson, another Christian deist, felt much the same way. He felt like the teachings of Paul completely obscured and changed the simple gospel of ACTION promoted by Jesus.

    Re: Eisenman: While I appreciate Eisenman’s scholarship, I certainly do not pattern my religious beliefs after him. I appreciate him bringing supplementary information and opening up the DSS for those of us who will not ever see them or be able to read them ourselves, but do not share his very Israeli nationalist focus. And as far as what I “classify myself” as, why classify myself at all? I’m a follower of the Most High. God sees me. God knows me. That’s enough for me.

    • OK, I see what you’re saying a little more clearly. You don’t need to convince me that Jesus in the Gospels places a great deal of emphasis on how we act, specifically how we treat each other, and that this emphasis is present in much of the Hebrew Scriptures as well. I was just trying to connect this to Eisenman’s depiction of Jesus, because I don’t see that in what he’s saying at all.

      Of course, despite his emphasis on grace, Paul also spends a lot of time talking about how Christians ought to behave. I see more continuity between Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s than you do, and an emphasis on love, grace, inclusiveness and acceptance in both — which I see very absent in the James and Jesus Eisenman pictures, where the “works” are very much works of piety, ceremonial observance, and keeping oneself separate from the world.

      • Also, I agree it’s not necessary to classify or label what type of believer you are. I hedged a bit because I was asking the question, “Why keep Jesus in the equation at all, why not just convert to Judaism?” and I was afraid you’d answer with “Ah-HA! I AM Jewish!!!!!” I didn’t want to feel stupid. Although after ploughing through EIsenman I don’t know why that would have bothered me. Reading big books always makes me feel overwhelmed by all the things I don’t know.

  3. Life is a Journey

    I can understand that. The seclusiveness of Qumran is not exactly “a light on a hill”, is it? I guess I tend to read Eisenman and apply a filter of “what Jesus said in the gospels” to it. Eisenman’s book provides just one piece of the puzzle but it is a very interesting one.

    I will say that from a personal standpoint, one thing I really appreciate about RobertEisenman – and James Tabor for that matter – is that these textual criticism scholars who have gone to great lengths seeking further information about what happened in this particular time period and with Jesus and his family are both pursuing a personal path of compassion. They are both vegetarian (as some writings state Jesus and James were) and are both very concerned about the welfare of animals.

    A friend of mine who is a Karaite rabbi feels the same way. He has written a book called “The Land of Meat and Honey” that talks about how Judaism itself has gotten so much WRONG when it comes to compassion for animals, based on a lot of information in the Scriptures that was added in by scribes with an agenda at a much later time. He offers some amazing insights into the “Old Testament” that those of us who haven’t grown up with a Jewish perspective would be very surprised to hear. And not surprisingly he promotes much of the same “God does not and did not every want sacrifice” message that you hear from me. It’s kind of funny, because he and I grew up in totally different circumstances and followed totally different religious paths but came to the same ultimate conclusion about God, based on compassion!

    At the end of it, that’s what it comes down to for me – the nature of God. Adventists are FABULOUS about looking at the nature of God when considering whether or not hell is “forever torturous burning” or “until the punishment is complete”. They rightly, IMO, postulate that a compassionate God would not torture someone forever for even 80 years worth of sin. Yet the doctrine that “God cannot forgive without being presented with an offering of blood” doesn’t ring any warning bells at all! This is where I grow frustrated. Look at your own family members – if your HUSBAND required you to kill the family pet if you offended him – REALLY, how loving would he be??? Logically, I think you – and any other compassionate person – would abhor that understanding. Yet we still embrace it coming from God!

    Sorry. Rabbit trail there. 🙂 At any rate, thank you for the dialogue and once again, I am seriously impressed you got through that whole book!

  4. Life is a Journey

    Just saw your last remark. I don’t think I’d be considered a good Jew either! lol. Unless VERY reform? 🙂 I’m just not exclusionary enough, and am not nationalist enough, and the entire culture of worship is foreign to me. I would personally love something that would probably be called “Judianity” – praise songs and music and a service like you find in a contemporary SDA or Christian church, but that don’t talk about blood, sacrifice, atonement, etc. It’s not like I’ve found that anywhere, though. Pretty much don’t fit in anywhere. Which is sometimes painful, because I used to be VERY involved in the SDA church. I still feel Adventist in my heart… I know, that probably sounds weird. Maybe VERY reform Adventist? 😉

    If I were to fit in any group at all it would likely be Christian Deism because of their emphasis on Jesus’ message, but even that doesn’t exactly fit because I feel God is more personally involved than deists usually believe.

    P.S. I gotta admit I felt REALLY dumb plowing through Eisenman’s book! I even had to look up some of the words. lol. (And I am a “word person”!)

    • Here where I live I’m surrounded by a lot of people who describe themselves as “recovering Catholics” so maybe being a Recovering Adventist is the same way? I think some religious groups have such a strong cultural component that even if you leave the beliefs behind, you still feel that attachment. Certainly Adventism is that way for a lot of people.

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