When Did You Last See Your Father? Part 2Michael Walker
Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here)
Although the book is not polemical or sensationalistic, still less speculative (de Benoist is no Dan Brown), it is nevertheless provocative. There is provocation in the very title chosen: L’Homme qui n’avait pas de Père, the man who had no father. If there is originality in this book, it is in its insistence on the importance of closely examining Jesus’ family tree, of stressing its importance and weighing up the evidence of his parenthood and family relations.
Biblical discussion and dispute tends to center on what the gospel accounts tell us Jesus said and did, whether they were true accounts, whether they are reliable, which might be “authentic” and which not, and on how they harmonize with one another or not. Less tends to be said, certainly in Christian circles, about issues arising from the claim made in the Mark and Luke gospels of a virgin birth, Mary and Joseph’s parenthood, Mary’s martial status, and whether Jesus had siblings, and if so, what his relationship with them was like. De Benoist closely examines those very issues and reminds us that the gospel accounts tend to skim over many such important questions, seeming to regard them as distractions from the big story. The lack of interest in these questions in Christian accounts is unsurprising, however. The gospels are not concerned with Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Joseph in Mark and Luke plays an important role as surrogate father, but he disappears from view in all the gospels as though he had never lived after his role as “father” at the time of the birth is fulfilled.
There is no record of Jesus and Joseph speaking together. Joseph is obviously of no interest to the gospel after the story of the nativity. There is no mention of his death or even whether he died before his “son.” After his walk-on part at the beginning of the Matthew and Luke gospels (he is not even mentioned by name in Mark and only twice in John), nothing is heard of him. Like the three Magi, after his part has been played Joseph is discarded as someone of no further interest. This makes some sense. If Jesus was/is God incarnate, born of a virgin, his brothers and sisters, his legal “father,” and the visiting kings pale into utter insignificance. Their role strikes this reviewer as theatrical and symbolic, not historical.
Such little interest is shown by Christian teachers in Jesus’ family that many people brought up as Christians may be forgiven for supposing that Jesus was an only child. Jesus certainly had brothers and sisters, however, at least according to the very gospel accounts which the Church insists upon as revealed religious truth. That is also what we would expect of any Jewish family, especially one of the time. De Benoist devotes a subchapter to Jesus’s siblings. The canon gospels refer to the siblings in four separate episodes. They are also referred to in the Acts of the Apostles (1.14) and in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (1.19). The names of Jesus’ brothers, with minor differences of spelling in Mark and Matthew, are James, Simon, Jude, Joseph, and Thomas. The sisters, of whom there were at least two, since they are referred to in the plural, are not given names in the four Bible gospels, presumably because women were considered much less important than men, and nothing is known about Jesus’ sisters. Names have been given to the sisters in the non-canon gospels, however; for example, Miriam and Salomé in the Gospel of Philip.
Jesus is referred to as Miriam’s (Mary’s) “first-born son” in Luke 7. De Benoist, who seems to be fluent in Greek, notes that the word prototokon in Greek is unequivocal in its meaning of “first born” and is not a loose term for “cousin,” as some Bible scholars have argued, in order presumably to explain away the unwelcome existence of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. According to the Gospels, Jesus was the first-born, the eldest, of a large family.
The notion of Jesus being the eldest of a large family immediately offers a different perspective from the one that many people have of Jesus as a sort of heroic, timeless loner. It begins to place Jesus in a historical and cultural context which is clearer than the one traditionally evoked in the canon gospels. Bible accounts center on Jesus the man, the son of God, whose surroundings seem more part of a film set or a theatrical stage created for his benefit as “superstar” rather than the necessary religious and cultural context in which Jesus developed and preached, and above all, which formed Jesus himself. The thrust of de Benoist’s account is thus to show Jesus as someone living very much as a man of his time and place and whose attitudes, assumptions, priorities, and understanding of the world were colored and shaped by his social, cultural, and religious environment. This portrayal jars with the Biblical focus on a man who was God immortal and for whom the cultural and social milieu is offered as a kind of stage set for his theatrical appearance: for his miraculous birth, prophesy-fulfilling life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection.
This is arguably why the Churches tend to play down the historical normality of Jesus’ life. Everything about Jesus is made to seem extraordinary and special. Although lip-service is given by the Church to the fact that Jesus was not only God but at the same time “fully human,” since to deny either the divinity or humanity of Jesus would be heretical, nevertheless the stress of the gospel accounts remains indisputably the uniqueness and above all unique divinity of Jesus. Indeed, the uniqueness, because divine, of Jesus Christ is the essence of Christian revelation.
De Benoist’s examination of the account of Jesus’ life suggests a man who may have been extraordinary, but for whom there is no clear evidence whatsoever that he was historically unique as a person, still less God incarnate. His uniqueness consists in the God-man created by his followers out of their accounts of his life, notably with accounts of miracles (of which there is no extant record whatsoever outside the gospels) and the alleged resurrection.
Were the four Bible gospels actually written by people who were alive when Jesus lived? Did the people who wrote them know Jesus personally? Were any of them his so-called apostles? Even that is far from certain. In the case of Luke, the writer of the gospel states clearly that he was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. The matter regarding the other three canonized gospels’ names is less clear. The earliest writing which include the names of the alleged gospel writers date from the late second and early third centuries. De Benoist notes that, among early Christian writers, the word “gospel” generally appears in the singular. For de Benoist, the gospels tell us much about what their writers thought of Jesus but offer no historically reliable or very credible account of the man’s life, and do not reveal who wrote each original gospel:
It is only at the end of the second century, specifically in the Adversus haereses (Account of Heresies) of Saint Jerome which appearing around the year 185, that the four gospels are listed together with the names of the apostles with which each gospel has been subsequently associated. The ancient manuscripts giving a title to the gospels (according to Saint Mark, etc., and not by Saint Mark) are all later than the year 200. As Bart Ehrman stresses, before that time there is nothing to suggest that the gospels were known as the four gospels, or whether they belonged to accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (p. 167)
In other words, there is a gap of about 150 years between the death of Jesus Christ and the attribution of the authorship of three of the four canon gospels to people who personally knew Jesus. De Benoist stresses that the expression “according to” — kata in Greek — does not necessarily mean that the account is by the writer, but that the account is gathered under the name of the writer. So, if I say “according to Thomas Hobbes, my next door neighbor is likely to beat and rob me if there is not a law to prevent him,” I am not claiming that Thomas Hobbes said or wrote those words. I am simply saying that it reflects Hobbes’ opinion or view of things as I interpret his opinion or views. In addition, de Benoist points out that the notion of authorship today, with the implication of copyright, is quite different from what it was then, with writing “put under the patronage,” as de Benoist terms it, of a historical figure. The notion of forgery and plagiarism did not carry either the opprobrium or clarity which it does today.
So while we can in no way be sure of having complete or faithful texts, we cannot even be sure who actually wrote the gospels, nor even in what language they were first written. The gospels (meaning godspell, or good news) are given to us “according to” a respective evangelist. On the basis of the evidence we have, de Benoist concludes that it is unlikely that any of the gospels were written by someone who knew Jesus, or even by the person who now bears the gospel’s name.
What about language? The reasonable assumption is that Jesus normally spoke Aramaic, the vernacular of the class and place into which he was born and in which he grew up, but it is not proven. Were the Gospels originally written in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or even Coptic? Again, nobody knows. The earliest extant gospel writing in fragment form, like most but not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls, are written not in Aramaic but in Hebrew. If the gospels were originally written in Aramaic, then why are there two instances, one in Mark 5:41, Talítha Cumi (“maiden arise”), and in Mark, Eloi, Eloi, lema Sabachthani? (“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice: Eloi, Eloi, lema Sabachthani, My God my God why hast thou forsaken me?”), specifically given in Aramaic, if the original gospels were composed in Aramaic anyway? To confuse matters more, in Matthew 45 Jesus cries out not in Aramaic, but in Hebrew: Eli lema Sabachthani (Eli is Hebrew, Eloi is Aramaic), so perhaps Matthew was originally in Greek? On the other hand, if the four Bible gospels were first written in Greek or Hebrew, it is to say the least remarkable that the apostles of Jesus and or the gospel writers, all supposedly humble folk, knew either Greek or Hebrew so well that they could write their accounts of his life and death in either language, since neither Greek nor Hebrew would have been their mother tongue. Furthermore, Greek and Hebrew were the languages of the wealthy, the educated, and the powerful. Perhaps the gospel accounts were written by well-educated people conversant in Greek or Hebrew? In that case, especially given the anti-elitist tone of all four gospels, why?
The Churches probably play down the existence of Jesus’ brothers and sisters for another reason, too. When we acknowledge that Jesus was not an only child, the question of the virginity of his parents or foster parents immediately arises. There are three possible explanations. It can be denied that Jesus had brothers and sisters at all, or it can be accepted that Joseph and his wife did not remain virgins. Alternatively, Joseph can be posited as the father of Jesus’ brothers and sisters by a previous marriage, and that he had somehow met and married (?) Mary, who then miraculously bore Jesus without having “known” Joseph and who subsequently bore no children (in that case, why not?). No gospel account states where or when Joseph and Mary married, although the Biblical “betrothal” might possibly mean married.
On the other hand, de Benoist notes that a couple were only fully married under Jewish law after they had “known” each other. If Joseph had married before (and why does no Bible gospel writer see the need to mention that fact if it is so?), then Jesus’ brother and sisters would be his older half-brothers and half-sisters. The reference to “first born” would then mean Mary’s first (and last?) born child. De Benoist examines this question and the exact meaning of “first born” in detail (pp. 358-361). His knowledge of Greek leads him to conclude with a degree of certainty that is relatively rare in his book that “first born” means exactly what it says: namely, the first child in a family of many children all born of one and the same mother.
Matthew and Luke (not John or Mark, which say nothing about Jesus’ birth) assert definitively that Miriam was a mother while at the same time a virgin, having been conceived of an undefined “Holy Ghost” at the time that she was “betrothed” (married?) to Joseph. In Matthew’s account she became pregnant before Joseph “knew her.” This would put her in danger of condemnation to death under Hebrew law (stoning for adultery or fornication), and Joseph would have been forced to hide her away and would presumably only later have claimed to be the father. According to the Matthew and Luke story, an angel announced to Joseph that although the woman he was with/betrothed to/married was pregnant, and he had not “known” her, he need not be concerned, for she was still a virgin. This conveniently fulfils a prophesy in the Book of Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The New Testament abounds in events and statements which are intended to demonstrate the fulfilment of prophesies out of the Hebrew Bible. For Christians, of course, this is evidence of the “truth” of the gospels.
As de Benoist points out, Matthew states that Joseph did not “know” his wife until after Jesus had been born, thereby implicitly acknowledging that he did “know” her subsequently; indeed, he must have done so if Jesus’ brothers and sisters were not all the children of a virgin birth as well, or if Jesus’ siblings were not the children of another mother.
It is ironic that whilst there is no account in the canonical gospels of Joseph’s being married before he married Jesus’ mother, such a claim is made in some of the apocryphal gospels which the Church does not recognize as the word of God. De Benoist refers to the proto-Gospel of James (p. 364), in which the statement is made that Joseph had indeed married before. In that case, Jesus’ many siblings would have been half-brothers and half-sisters. The Gospel of Peter, part of which was discovered in 1886, apparently also referred to another marriage, at least according to the Greek historian Eusebius of Caesaria, but the extant fragments of Peter do not include any such reference (p. 365).
However, de Benoist considers a first marriage of Joseph as “not unimaginable but not very credible” (p. 365). He points out that it runs contrary to Luke’s insistence on Jesus’ primogeniture. If Joseph had already been the head of a family when he married for a second time, he would not have been permitted to present Jesus in the temple following his birth, since only a man’s first-born child is accorded such a privilege (Luke 2:23). A man could only present his first-born to the temple once. Presenting a first-born by a second marriage was not acceptable. Furthermore, notes de Benoist, quoting from the Book of Exodus, the “first-born” always refers to the first-born of the father, not the mother.
Examining the mores and customs of the time and quoting extensively from the Bible, de Benoist affirms Luke’s statement that Jesus was the first-born is incompatible with the existence of children by an earlier marriage. This is an example of the way in which de Benoist skillfully fixes Jesus in a time and place, gives him a historical environment, and weighs up the probability of the gospel accounts. The placing of Jesus in a specific historical and cultural milieu is a major achievement of de Benoist’s study.
It is generally known and also accepted by Christian scholars that John was written at a later date than the three other gospels (called the synoptic gospels), and if it is not in disharmony with the synoptic gospels, at the very least it must be acknowledged that John’s account stresses very different aspects of the Jesus story, notably in three respects: It is “the Jews,” not “the scribes and Pharisees,” who are the objects of scorn and condemnation and responsible for Jesus’s arrest and condemnation; secondly, hostility between Jesus and his own brothers is highlighted; and thirdly, there is stress on the inner man in the teaching of Jesus rather than on a reforming mission among the Jews.
De Benoist is convinced that the dispute between the disciples of Jesus and his family was a decisive factor in the history of early Christianity, and that the triumph of the “Paul faction” over Jesus’ own family, led by his brother James, was a triumph of those who wanted to take the message of Jesus beyond Judaism. John, according to de Benoist, stressed the breach between Jesus’ disciples and his family. In this light, Paul and others (de Benoist believes that Saint Paul’s letters were written before the gospels) sought to create a religion based on Jesus’ life and death which would affirm the teachings as being more than Jewish, in order to create the basis of a new non- Judaic religion. This is in sharp contrast in particular to Matthew (10), in which we read of the exclusivity of the message to the Jews and the belief in a coming apocalypse:
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
So much for the message about the Good Samaritan in Luke, which incidentally Douglas Reed in his The Controversy of Zion offers as an example of Jesus’ rejection of the religious and racial laws created by the priests of Zion and composed and included in the books of Moses during the Babylonian captivity.
De Benoist believes that a major objective of Matthew in his gospel was to demonstrate that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesy. He points to the circular argument embedded in this “fulfilment of prophesy”:
Matthew describes events prophesied in the Old Testament as if they had really taken place, which enables him to subsequently “ascertain” enough to make sufficient “proofs” that the events correspond to Scripture. This is obviously a case of circular reasoning: Jesus was born in Bethlehem to fulfil prophesy, and the proof that his birth was a fulfilment of prophesy is that he was born in Bethlehem. To do this Matthew employs pesher (commentary), a technique which consists of lining up a passage of Scripture out of context, taking the view that events related in the Torah not only refer to the past but announce or prepare the way for other events taking place in the present or which will take place in the future. (p. 229)
De Benoist continues in some detail to show how Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus is drawn from Old Testament stories, notably the life of Moses.
He also points out that many writers and thinkers consider Saint Paul to be the true founder of Christianity. It is Paul who created the name Jesus Christ. Jesus is a Greek rendering of the Jewish Yeshoua, and Jesus’ name as a child would have been Yeschouah ben Yosef, or bar Yosef in Aramaic (little Yeshua, son of Joseph). Christ means “the anointed one” and is Greek, a translation of the Hebrew word Messiah (Mashiah in Aramaic). The Hebrew word is first found in Leviticus. The opinion that Paul and not Christ was the true founder of Christianity was shared by August Comte and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Paul is an enigmatic figure in his own right. There is no contemporary historical record of his life apart from what he says about himself in the epistles and what is written in the Acts of the Apostles, which were supposedly written by the same enigmatic Luke of the Gospel of Luke.
De Benoist reminds readers that, remarkably, Paul is not mentioned by Flavius Josephus in his History of the Jews. With his linguistic knowledge, de Benoist states that, contrary to popular belief, there is no linguistic connection between the names Paul and Saul. Saul, Schâoul, means requested, demanded. Some people see the name Paulus as simply the Latin for small. Claiming to be a Hebrew and member of the tribe of Benjamin, Paul was a Roman citizen “by birth” (Acts 22:18). He did not cite the Hebrew Bible, however, but the Greek translation, called the Septuaginta, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was composed about 250 BC. Schâoul/Paul suffered from a disfiguring disease which de Benoist thinks may have been syphilis (p. 147), one which is considered by those adhering to the so-called “pre-Columbian” theory to have existed unnamed in the Old World long before it was identified after Columbus’ sailors brought it to Europe.
More commonly, it has been suggested, as it has been of Muhammad as well, that Paul was an epileptic, and the famous conversion on the road to Damascus might be the account of an epileptic fit. Once again, de Benoist has to write truthfully that “we simply don’t know” (p. 148). What is certain is that Saint Paul, who writes about Christ without ever giving the source of his information, wrote before the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. Paul makes no mention of the gospels anywhere, which supports the belief that he wrote before the gospels. Paul’s epistles are remarkable for their lack of interest in the life and teachings of Jesus, concentrating instead on the fulfilment of Christ’s ministry, the founding of a church, and the absolutely essential message of Christ’s resurrection. In Corinthians 1:14 and 1:15, Paul writes that if Christ did not rise again, “our message is empty and so is our faith.” That is why, according to de Benoist, “Paul stressed the language and symbolism of the cross against the wisdom of the world.” De Benoist cites Carlos Puente that, thanks to Paul, “[t]he crucifixion becomes the symbol of messianic redemption as universal expiation” (p. 161).
Paul, who according to his own account was a converted Pharisee, was opposed to those, notably Jesus’ own family and especially Jesus’ brother James, who taught Jesus’ message in the name of a reform movement within Judaism. It is in this light that de Benoist interprets the account in John, where Jesus on the cross confers the protection of his mother to his “best beloved disciple.” De Benoist writes:
The historical validity of this pericope (Jesus on the cross conferring his mother to the care of his “favorite disciple”) is, to say the least, to be treated with caution; it is not mentioned in the synoptic gospels, which on the contrary state that neither Mary nor any disciple were at the foot of the cross, but also because the brothers of Jesus are clearly mentioned in the same gospel (7:5) in an entirely negative manner. “Not even his own brothers believed in him.” The passage (in John) is only comprehensible when we take into account the rivalry between the family and the disciples of Jesus after his death. John is seeking to undermine the authority of the family, specifically of Jesus’ brothers, who are accused of not believing in him. That is why in John Jesus is represented as conferring his mother on his most loved disciple. . . . In the nineteenth century, David F. Strauss wrote that the intention of John was to erase the very presence of the brothers, using their lack of faith as a pretext and transferring the role of son to the spiritual brother and favorite disciple. . . . The John Gospel was written at the time that the Church, Paulinian and Gnostic, was beginning to separate itself from Judaism.” (pp. 372-373)
Christian interpreters prefer to see the conferring of Mary to the protection of John as evidence that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were not Mary’s children, because otherwise she would naturally be looked after by Jesus’ siblings — if they were really siblings. De Benoist casts doubt on this, considering that it is anyway very unlikely that such a statement as reported in John was made in the first place, as it fits so very conveniently with John’s anti-Judaic narrative. Questioning the truth of John’s account is a reminder that in all the gospels, we cannot be sure in any way of what was said or what was not said. Much of de Benoist’s book is devoted to the likelihood of one account or statement compared to another, but the ineludible fact remains that in every gospel account, whether in the Church canon or not and with no exception, we “have to take the writer’s word for it,” accepting the account only out of Christian faith if we insist that we “know” it happened the way it is described in the gospels.
De Benoist additionally makes the very valid if obvious point that some gospel accounts of what Jesus or others said in certain situations must necessarily be speculative, because no gospel writer could conceivably have been present at the given moment to record them; this includes the account of the birth, obviously, as well as the visit of the Magi and the account in Mark of how the dancer Salome, who is not mentioned in the gospel by name, demanded the head of John the Baptist. (Only Mark gives the lugubrious account of John’s head on a platter at the request of a dancing girl. De Benoist claims that the account in Mark of Salome’s dance and her bloodthirsty reward is likely to be a transcription of the Greek version of the Book of Esther, with Herod Antipas replacing Ahasuerus, but this seems very fanciful to this reviewer.)
Other necessarily anecdotal accounts include the flight into Egypt, the annunciation, and the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilatus. None of the disciples — of whom all but Luke, according to Christian dogma, wrote their gospels as personal reminiscences — could have been present in person to remember those events. Who was supposed to have heard what Jesus said on the cross, if indeed he was on a cross at all? Who other than Jesus and the woman caught in adultery could have heard what Jesus said to the woman, since we are specifically told in John that all her accusers had departed? Who heard the discussion between Judas and the Pharisees, or between Jesus and Pontius Pilatus? There are many more examples where not even the disciple whose name is given to the gospel (and de Benoist doubts that anyone who knew Jesus personally wrote any of the gospels) could have been present at events which the Bible recounts and which the Church insists is true because it is “the word of God.”
What must we conclude? The New Testament is a collation of accounts of accounts. It is what today we would call a collection of urban legends about one man.
Leaving aside the miracles, which are not de Benoist’s concern in this book, there are a number of accounts that are supposedly historical but for which there is no evidence other than in the gospels themselves. These include the Massacre of the Innocents, an event unique to Matthew given that there are no other mentions of this supposed event anywhere else. This doesn’t bother Christians, however; they say that if one of the apostles wrote that something happened, it must have happened.
There is another aspect to that distasteful account which deserves attention, however, and is an aspect of the gospels as generally “fulfilling prophesy.” De Benoist discusses it in the context of Christ’s nativity and the necessity of Christ being born into the House of David. Jesus was the son of Joseph in order to fulfil prophesy and belong to the tribe of David, yet Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. Events are sometimes described by the gospel writers to conveniently fulfil prophesies made in the Hebrew Bible, or as events of symbolic value. In this perspective, there is the obvious parallel between the infant Jesus escaping a fate which overtook others and Moses escaping from the massacre in Egypt. There is a darker side to this in the Jewish notion of sacrifice, which is such an immensely important feature of both the Old and New Testament: the strong sense that thousands of deaths are useful and were used in fulfilling the work of God, never mind how innocent the victims (Massacre of the Innocents) may have been. The innocents are massacred while the Christ child, who is infinitely more important than they, escapes. There is the symbolic aspect as well: Herod does not follow at all the gospel message “be not afear’d.” Herod — and this is confirmed by Josephus — became increasingly paranoid and acted in the very opposite way to Christ’s teaching: hating his enemies, being mightily afear’d, and never looking beyond this life. This example shows the symbolic value of many of the gospel stories.
Another unconfirmed historical account, unique to Luke 2:1-5: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” There is no record of any such census; in fact, the one and only record of this census anywhere is found in Luke. It necessitates that Joseph and the heavily pregnant Mary implausibly “returned” to Bethlehem (“of the house and lineage of David,” Luke 1:2), where Jesus is born. However historically dubious this is, it does conveniently fulfil the prophesy of Micah 5:2: “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Matthew recounts that the family fled after the birth in Bethlehem (Matthew makes no attempt to explain why they were in Bethlehem) to Egypt to escape from the frantic and cruel Herod. Luke is not only entirely silent about any such flight, but in Luke, the family goes straight to Jerusalem. The reader can take his pick.
Jesus in the gospels refers enigmatically to his “father in heaven.” This sounds like — and de Benoist believes is — a rejection by Jesus of his biological family, even the rejection of the primacy of family as such (and as such an outrage to Jewish cultural and religious sensibilities); one only has to think of the warning words in Luke 14:25: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Here Jesus is showing his contempt for that very “nuclear family” which Christians insist lies at the heart of the good Christian life. De Benoist notes that Saint Paul also hated the family, not to mention women, and considered that a man’s marrying was a necessary but regrettable escape from the deep sin of his unbridled cupidity. Jesus violates tradition by rejecting family in general and personally in his own life. Matthew and Luke, and there only in their prologues, say that Joseph was the legal husband of the mother of Jesus. Was the enigmatic Joseph, who is recorded in Matthew as accompanying Mary into Egypt, really Jesus’ father? Logically, it would seem the obvious conclusion, but of course that conclusion is rejected by Christian dogma and implicitly by Jesus himself in the gospel accounts of his words. (“My father is in heaven.”) That dogma insists that Miriam was a virgin, that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and that Joseph was not Jesus’ father in any meaningful sense of the word. He was, one might say, an alibi father.
De Benoist’s book is a huge achievement of scholarship, but it suffers, as this reviewer has previously mentioned, from a lack of a clear introduction and clear conclusion, and remarkably, there is no comprehensive index. Furthermore, there is a literary aspect to the gospel tales that is entirely ignored in de Benoist’s work. Specifically, he ignores the gospels’ immense poetical and symbolic input, but when we see how important the poetic and dramatic fulfilment of prophesy actually is in the gospels, and when we understand the gospels more as poetry and drama than as history, we are enlightened as to the nature of the accounts and why the mysterious gospel writers wrote as they did.
Although de Benoist specifically refers to the technique of pesher in Matthew (why only in Matthew), he overlooks or does not concern himself with the fact that the gospel stories are works of art and that the life of Jesus is a theatrical composition, whether Jesus actually existed or not being irrelevant to the gospels as a literary creation in which events are made artistically to harmonize with ancient sayings and projections. The whole story becomes a cosmic saga in which truth and fiction are inseparable and in which the higher truth is the saga of human destiny. Ecce homo. Without grasping and acknowledging this, the conversion of millions of human beings and continued — sometimes desperate — attachment to implausible (to put it mildly) tales of walking on water, rising from the dead, being born of a virgin, and much more is the most truly incredible aspect of the entire Jesus saga. Did the “Son of Man” really cry out Eloi, Eloi, lema Sabachthani?
Perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps we should simply admire the beauty of the setting and the terror of the event; fiction, if we will, but a superb work of art in any case and the inspiration of centuries of Western artistic genius.
Faults it has, but Alan de Benoist’s book indisputably possesses one supreme quality: It takes the reader dispassionately into the world of the gospels and compels him or her to pose some of the most important and intense questions that can ever be asked, questions concerning the history, religion, and cosmic vision of European man and his destiny.
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Reviewing the Unreviewable
Buddha a Führer: Mladý Emil Cioran o Německu
The Machiavellian Method
Trevor Lynch’s Classics of Right-Wing Cinema
A “Novel” Approach to the Understanding of Evil
John Fante’s Ask the Dust
The British Brass Band
The Abolitionists as Virtue-Signalers: Nehemiah Adams & A South-side View of Slavery
I think the Jesus Christ is a rich textual and sumptuously illustrated drama as you pointed out. A satire of the Jews by a Greek that touches on how temporal leaders like Pilate and Ciaphas rule the mob or ride the Tiger of the fickle masses. Innocent people catch it in the neck when high priests guard their treasury, vaccinating appointed government officials cuck out and the crowd cry out for more blood to be spilled. It is a perfect tragedy, comedy and farce: a sacred mythopoetic story.
Thanks for this review, of a fascinating book that my own linguistic incompetence will prevent me from studying. If I may add a few points:
De Benoist’s discussion of Jesus’ family reminds me of his comment in On Being a Pagan, that unlike pantheistic religions, monotheism presents us with god who is totally unlike us, having no parents, siblings or children. (The “sons of God” in the OT, which intrigue certain UFO enthusiasts, are remains of the original Hebrew pantheon, lesser gods below El, one of which, YHVH, became supreme, the others being retconned as “angels” and including, perhaps, Christ, later “God’s son”. Fundamentalists like to point to all these angels as guest appearances in the OT by Jesus, God’s “only” son, of course).
I haven’t heard of the the syphilis theory for Paul, but it would make for a very interesting comparison with his great adversary, Nietzsche. It would also explain his rather ascetic views on sex and marriage. (The more favorable view of marriage in the “pastoral” epistles shows they weren’t written by Paul, but later, when the Church had become an institution that didn’t expect Jesus to be coming back any time soon).
Saying “de Benoist believes” that the Epistles came before the gospels, while true, makes it sound as if this is his own opinion, perhaps based on some sound reading, when actually it seems to be “settled science” as far as “the mainstream” goes, a bedrock discovery of higher criticism.
In fact, perhaps the strangest thing about the Epistles is how little Paul “knows” about Jesus. You would think that Paul would be settling arguments with “Jesus says…” but he never does. He doesn’t even know about his own “Damascus Road” experience! Luke provides the story, and rather than “he must have gotten it from Paul himself,” it appears to be based on Euripides’ Bacchae; indeed, many gospel stories are homages to the Greek classics, as was customary at the time, and would have been recognized by anyone able to read Greek (the teaching of which was through reading the Great Books, not some Berlitz class or YT videos). So yes, it’s right to consider them to be “theatrical performances”; some scholars have tried to show how Mark’s gospel seems to present the script for a pageant of some sort — sensible, considering how many, then as later, were illiterate. Mythicists would argue that this is what Paul means by “Christ, whom you have seen crucified” : not a reference to a historical Jesus, but to a passion play or “stations of the cross” type of ritual.
Thanks again for this review!
My books are stored away but I think it was the Lamsa Bible that has “for this I was born” rather than “why have you forsaken me.” Interesting article though.
Thank you for the review Michael. The Jesus Question is a mystifying and tantalizing one. I’ve had Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus on my shelf for a long while now, I need to pick it up..
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