BOOK AND ARTICLE REVIEWS
THE CASE FOR THE JESUS MYTH
ONE HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE CHRIST
by Alvar Ellegard
Century, London 1999
The year 1999 saw the publication of at least five books which concluded that the Gospel Jesus did not exist. One of these was the latest book (The Jesus Myth) by G. A. Wells, the current and longstanding doyen of modern Jesus mythicists. Wells' invaluable work has influenced an entire generation of those who research and write on this subject, but probably none more so than Professor Alvar Ellegard, former (retired) Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Professor of English at the University of Goteborg, Sweden. Three decades of contact with Wells and his books led Ellegard into research of his own on the subject of Christian origins, producing theories about Jesus which not only follow in Wells' footsteps but go a few steps further in regard to the key question: who or what was Jesus in the minds of Paul and the earliest Christians?
Mythicist ranks seem to fall into two distinct camps—though, as I have said elsewhere, this distinction is "non-essential" and does not affect the bottom line, that the Gospel story is invention and that the man envisioned by 19 centuries of Christian faith had no historical existence. The distinction centers on the nature of the early Christian Christ. Was he entirely a mythical figure, a spiritual Son (as I see it) who lived and operated in the supernatural world, like all the other savior gods of the time, or did Paul and his fellow believers envision him as a man who had lived on earth, but at some more distant time in the past, earlier than the first century CE?
Professor Wells has always maintained that this is the way Paul regarded his Christ Jesus, as a heavenly, pre-existent figure who had come to earth at some uncertain point in the past and lived an obscure life, perhaps one or two centuries before his own time. This conviction Paul had supposedly drawn from perceived revelations and a study of scripture. Wells does not suggest that any such man as Paul believed in had actually lived or contributed to later Christian traditions. Professor Ellegard, however, has taken Wells' idea a step further and has identified the Jesus of the early Christians as an actual historical figure known to us from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Teacher of Righteousness of the Qumran Essenes.
The Teacher himself is a shadowy figure, and we know very little about him from the few references to him which the Scrolls contain. It is even possible that he too is a later construct by those first century Essenes, to explain and cast their origins in terms of a seminal man. (Sectarian impulses are ever at work.) But assuming that he was indeed an historical figure, he can be placed around the late part of the second century BCE, and it is this man whom Ellegard suggests the earliest Christian apostles have in mind when they preach a Jesus who was resurrected from death and now fills a salvific role as Son of God and Messiah.
The argument in Jesus — One Hundred Years Before Christ moves along two parallel paths, one being the identification of Jesus with the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, the other being the removal of the Gospel Jesus from the realm of history, that common ground shared by all mythicists. Each researcher to the field brings his or her own approach and insight to this aspect of the argument, and Ellegard's contribution to it is significant. Chronologically, he places Paul and most of the Pseudo-Pauls before the writing of the Gospels, along with six closely examined documents which he regards as more or less contemporary with Paul: The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, 1 Clement, the canonical Book of Revelation and epistle to the Hebrews, and the epistle of Barnabas, the latter being somewhat later in time, a little after the Jewish War. He proceeds to show that in none of these documents can the Gospel Jesus be detected.
In some cases, his dating of these six documents is not overly controversial. An alternate dating of Revelation (from its usual placement in the 90s) is in the opening years of the Jewish War, and Hebrews has probably more often been placed prior to the destruction of the Temple than after it, since there is no perceptible reference to that event in the epistle. But so early a dating in regard to 1 Clement, Hermas, and even the Didache, is unusual.
In many cases, I find that Ellegard's arguments for such earlier dating can be quite persuasive, though I might offer a few qualifications. One very effective argument he uses covers the entire range of early Christian documentation. He looks at the occurrence of certain important terms as distributed throughout the epistles and Gospels, as well as the non-canonical writings. One of these is "synagogue." While a writer like Philo may use the word (and another like it) in the sense of "community" or "gathering," in the different sense of "building" where services are performed Ellegard has pinpointed a distribution of usage which "can be tentatively employed as at least a rough dating criterion for Christian texts" (p.32). As it turns out, the word in the sense of "building" is rare or entirely absent from all the texts identified as first century writings, but appears frequently in the Gospels and other texts which can generally be dated to the second century. He notes that MacKay (Sabbath and Synagogue, p.250) says: "There is no archeological or epigraphic evidence that points unequivocally to the existence of synagogue buildings in first-century Palestine." Ellegard uses this phenomenon to date the Gospels later than the bulk of the epistolary record and those six documents mentioned above. In fact, he argues for an entirely second century dating for all the Gospels (a point I'll return to later).
Another key term is "Saints" (hagioi), referring to members of the Christian communities. It is frequently employed by Paul and the six documents, whereas it appears only once, and that incidentally, in the Gospels (Mt. 27:52), plus a few places in Acts in reference to Paul's activities. The "Church of God" is another characteristic term in the first century documents which virtually disappears in the second. Later in the book, Ellegard also points to the very telling observation (made by myself as well) that the word "disciples," while used throughout the Gospels and Acts to refer to the earthly followers of Jesus, never puts in an appearance in that earlier record of Christian correspondence. Such criteria of expression, when applied as a general overview, certainly suggest that we are dealing with two distinct phases of Christian development, something which supports the view of a significant dividing line between the Gospel and the non-Gospel record. These clear divisions of usage, that great gulf between the Gospel and non-Gospel record which manifests itself in many other ways than just the distinction in terminology, cannot be ignored.
In moving the date of 1 Clement up some three decades from the more usual placement around 96 CE, Ellegard has to overcome a few problems. He is right to point out the basic unreliability of Eusebius, on whom the more usual date is dependent; and his argument that chapter 41 refers, on the surface, to a temple cult which still conducts sacrifices and thus requires a pre-70 date, is compelling, while the ways commonly used to get around this point are not. This and other arguments he puts forward, however, do not change the fact that a pre-70 dating runs into difficulties on other scores. In 1 Clement 5, the writer speaks of Paul in a way which suggests an intervening passage of time since his death which is more than just a few years. In 47:2, Clement refers to the time of Paul as "the beginning of the gospel," meaning that the movement began with his work (not, we should note, with the work of Jesus), and this, too, may seem inconsistent as a reference to a phase under Paul which has virtually just ended. (K. Lake, in the Loeb Apostolic Fathers, Vol. I, p.90-91, takes a different meaning from the Greek en archei tou euangeliou: "from the beginning of his (Paul's) preaching," which would get around the objection. This is not the most natural translation and is probably chosen by Lake to avoid Clement's difficult implication!)
Further, in Ellegard's dating, he must reinterpret the 'recent persecution' mentioned at the opening of 1 Clement, often taken to refer to one under Domitian, as a reference to the Neronian persecution after the great fire of Rome in 64, as mentioned in Tacitus. While there is a problem in regarding the latter persecution as a reliable, historically-based tradition (often used to cast doubt on Tacitus' Christ passage), the same problem exists in regard to a reputed persecution under Domitian. On balance, I would say that none of these objections is conclusive, and I would be willing to consider Ellegard's new placement of 1 Clement as feasible. (Another objection, that the term "ancient church of the Corinthians" in 47:6 would hardly be used for something only a couple of decades old, is not valid in the context of the no-historical Jesus paradigm, as we have no way of knowing how long before Paul came along such a church might have been in existence; certainly Paul did not found it. Ellegard rightly points out that the entire Christ movement could have been a going concern since the early decades of the century.) There is no clear sign of an historical Jesus in this Roman epistle, and several indications against it. (I may post an 'interim' 1 Clement article on this question in the near future.)
Nor is there anything conclusive in the Didache to disprove a mid-first century dating, and certainly not for its "core parts," even though most place it toward the end of the century, some even well into the second century. Ellegard is correct in pointing to the very primitive and thoroughly Jewish nature of the Shepherd of Hermas, with its mystical character in keeping with Paul (though not Pauline-based) which could support a similar early dating. As for Barnabas, its clear reference to the past destruction of the Temple must place it after 70, which Ellegard does, though not long after. (The reference to the imminent rebuilding of the Temple in 16:4, which some take as indicative of a date around 130 when some possibility of such a thing seems to have arisen, is not regarded as reliable by other scholars who ignore the verse, even as a possible gloss, in dating the document anywhere from 70 on.) Here, however, I would balk at a date much before the end of the first century, as I feel that the writer of this epistle, while having no knowledge of a written Gospel, seems clearly to envision a 'theoretical' Jesus on earth. This is a view which would better coincide with those developments (and disputes on the question) evidenced in Ignatius and 1 John 4, that Jesus Christ had been here in human flesh. As far as Hebrews is concerned, I fully support its dating before 70.
Ellegard's placement of the Pauline corpus (except the Pastorals) along with his six additional documents firmly within the first century serves to support that first path of the book's argument: establishing the severance between early Christianity's view of Christ from the picture of Jesus of Nazareth contained in the Gospels. This, together with his view that the Gospels are to be regarded as allegory or "pious fiction," and not history, is a key element in most approaches to the no-Jesus position. Ellegard also offers some good discussion and insights on several topics: Gnosticism and its relation to Christianity, messianism and Essenism, some important documents in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, the Cynic background to many Gospel traditions, and a close examination of Gospel characters, especially the apostles and Jesus' family.
That first line of argument, however, is intimately tied up with the second path the book follows, namely the claim that the Jesus of the early Christians was identified with the Essene Teacher of Righteousness. I will use the remainder of this review to examine the merits of that claim and how it stacks up against the contrary one (being my own), that the Jesus of Paul and his contemporaries was envisioned as an entirely spiritual entity, a figure who had not yet set foot, in any form, on earth. This examination will be broad enough to encompass the general Jesus-on-earth position as held by G. A. Wells, who does not identify such a Pauline view of Jesus with any historical figure.
The Essene Teacher of Righteousness or A Divine Mythical Son
As an underlying plank in his thesis, Prof. Ellegard must first address the general question of the Essenes and their status in the world of the Roman empire. For he sees Christianity as a movement growing out of an Essene "church of God" which is widely established in the Diaspora Jewish community, founded on traditions about the Teacher of Righteousness who appears in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While allowing that an important community of such a church would have existed in Jerusalem (the Pauline "pillars"), Ellegard locates the origins of Christianity essentially in the Diaspora, for here is where the documentary record must be placed, not only in regard to its writers, like Paul, but the audiences to whom these documents are addressed. The picture of a Palestinian Jesus, working in Galilee and Judea, is a second century product of the Gospels, one that is not detectable in the earlier record. Nor does the Aramaic language surface in any way within that record, a significant anomaly in the context of a presumed Palestinian origin.
While he makes a bow to more recent theories (notably of Norman Golb) that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the mirror of "a much wider spectrum of Jewish religious thought than we could expect from a small and isolated sectarian community" (p.97), and that the Scrolls placed in the Qumran caves may have come from Essene libraries in Jerusalem, Ellegard maintains, and one must concur, that some of their content relates to a sectarian mentality which cannot simply be equated with current "Palestinian Judaism as a whole." An essential feature of the Scrolls is that at least some of the writings were produced by a group which has disowned and broken away from the established observance of the Temple cult. And some scrolls are undoubtedly to be identified in some way with the Essene movement, even if it is no longer certain that they proceeded from a monastic community located at Qumran in the area where the Scrolls were found.
How widespread was the Essene movement? Josephus makes it one of the three major "philosophies" of the Jewish world in the first century. Philo (in That Every Good Man is Free) describes them as a "pious" group, and deals extensively (in On the Contemplative Life) with a sect called the Therapeutae, which are judged by modern scholars to be a branch of the Essenes. While focusing on their community in Alexandria, Philo makes it clear that "they were an empire-wide movement" (p.83, n.21). Ellegard also enlists (as part of his equation of early Christianity with the Essenes) Pliny the Younger as a witness to a widespread Essene movement, for his description of the Christians of Bithynia as having strong Essene characteristics. He effectively addresses the apparent contradiction between the relatively 'harmless' impression of the Essenes as created by Josephus and Philo, and the picture of greater militancy and messianism along with a strong dualistic philosophy (dichotomies between Light and Darkness), as presented in the Dead Sea Scrolls. As always, motives for such 'spin-doctoring' were probably political and personal. Ellegard concludes that the Scrolls may indeed give a truer picture of the Essenes, which would, in the context of his argument, bring them into line with the messianism and End-time apocalypticism of the early Christian movement.
The meager evidence we have would suggest that Essenism was a fairly widespread movement in the Jewish Diaspora, though the specifics of its distribution are anything but ascertainable, and how active and influential they were remains uncertain. (Should we regard the Jews expelled from Rome by Claudius in the 40s, apparently for some kind of messianic agitation, as Essenes? Are the groups that produced 1 Enoch and the Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs Essene?) Having laid this groundwork of Essene presence throughout the empire, Ellegard interprets Christianity as a movement arising out of these circles. It was based on a reinterpretation of the Teacher of Righteousness—courtesy of Paul and others—in which the Teacher was elevated to the status of heavenly Son and Messiah through a conviction that he had been resurrected from death, a death which now served a redemptive purpose. These new convictions were the product of visions of the Teacher in heaven which Paul and others underwent around the 30 CE mark, visions induced by scriptural study. Such visions are recorded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.
In other words, Essenes that were spread throughout the Empire up to that time regarded the Teacher of Righteousness mentioned in the Scrolls as the founder of their movement; he had been a great teacher and prophet, but a human one. Now, as a result of those visions, Paul and other apostles spread a new faith among those Essene circles (and beyond them) that the Teacher had been resurrected and elevated by God to divine status, given the name Jesus (or perhaps had previously been known by that name), and was now to be regarded as a Savior Messiah, forgiving sins through his death and guaranteeing resurrection to believers through his own.
Ellegard calls the Diaspora Essene presence in which Christianity developed "an Essene matrix" (p.119); it is "a branch of the para-Essene church of God in the Jewish Diaspora" (p.45), among "liberal-minded Diaspora Jews" (p.245). These Jewish Essenes believed in revelations from God and were "convinced that God had revealed deep truths to their revered Teacher of Righteousness." Pointing to certain Qumran texts, he says that it is beyond doubt "that the memory of the Teacher of Righteousness was still treasured among the Essenes a century or more after his presumed death, and his stature as an interpreter of the Prophets had, if anything, increased" (p.119).
The figure of the Teacher is undeniably there in certain Scrolls. The Damascus Document refers to the raising up by God, from the newly-formed 'remnant of Israel,' "a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart." (CD 1, see G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p.83.) And certain 'Pesharim' (commentaries interpreting biblical texts) point to the Teacher as the source of the Essene doctrines and even as the object of certain scriptural prophecies. But if the Teacher was such an established, revered figure, it is curious that we find no reference to him in either Josephus' or Philo's descriptions of the Essenes. The former, in Jewish War 2.8.6, speaks of the Essenes doing things "according to the injunctions of their curators," and of "taking great pains in studying the writings of the ancients," but no mention is made of a Teacher who was considered the highest and sole authority for such things. This is not to say that the Scrolls must be erroneous in their references to the Teacher of Righteousness, but it does cast doubt on the existence of a strong and widespread tradition, within the Essene Diaspora circles which Josephus is describing, of treasured memories and allegiance to a founder Teacher, something which is required within Ellegard's scenario as the setting within which the Pauline elevation of such a figure is premised to have taken place.
A similar void exists in the Christian record. Ellegard speaks of certain documents, supposedly reflecting the Essene-Christian community outside Palestine, as containing a picture of the Teacher/Jesus as a "prophet and teacher." Here he includes Hebrews, 1 Clement, the Didache and Hermas. However, these documents reveal little basis for this evaluation.
Let's take the Didache. In my review of J. D. Crossan's The Birth of Christianity (and in Appendix 8 of my book), I have demonstrated that none of the teachings found in the Didache, many of which are placed in Jesus' mouth in the Gospels, are attributed to him. All references to "the Lord" are to God, which places the source of even the Lord's Prayer at the feet of God, not Jesus. In Chapter 11, which discusses the criteria by which the teachings and behavior of wandering prophets are to be evaluated, there is no mention of a standard based on Jesus himself as a prophet and teacher. The sole references to Jesus are in the eucharistic prayers of chapters 9 and 10, which present Jesus as a "child/son" of God who "makes known" certain (unspecified) mystical insights about "life and knowledge" proceeding from the Father. In the face of the blanket silence about a human Jesus which resounds in the rest of the document, these references are better interpreted as referring to a divine Son regarded as a revealer and channel of God on a spiritual level.
Much the same situation exists in Hebrews. No teachings are attributed to Jesus, and the "speaking through the Son in this final age" (1:2) is never illustrated in historical terms. In fact, when the writer speaks of Jesus "saying" anything, it is always a quotation of Old Testament verses. Ellegard suggests that these quotations represent, for the Essene-Christian communities, a kind of revelation of the teaching of the Teacher, whose actual words had not survived—they were "valid evidence" (p.44) of those teachings. But nothing in the document hints at this meaning. The Shepherd of Hermas, too, contains no concrete references to Jesus the Teacher, and its Son of God (there is no use of the names "Jesus" or "Christ") is a highly mystical, rarefied spiritual entity, an hypostasis of God's "potencies," even equated with the community of Saints as a whole. Thus, it is difficult to see how this could be an expression of Essene preservation of traditions about a human teacher and prophet. In Ellegard's favor, Parable 5.6.3 says that the Son "showed them the ways of life and gave them the law which he received from his Father." But the latter role in Jewish mystical literature is often given to angels, including the archangel Michael, and in fact the very next verse refers to the Lord taking "his Son and the glorious angels as counsellors." In Parable 9 the Son is even equated with the Holy Spirit, a regular communicating aspect of God. So the Son as a past human "teacher" in Hermas is far from clear.
1 Clement has a passage in chapter 13 which seems to paraphrase certain maxims of the Sermon on the Mount, which "the Lord Jesus" is said to have spoken "in teaching." Since Clement shows himself to be woefully ignorant in regard to other Gospel data and teachings, I suggest that we might interpret this as a 'teaching' through spiritual channels of revelation.
On the question of Jesus as prophet, there is nothing in the early record which makes reference to such a role. In the Scrolls, the Teacher of Righteousness was remembered chiefly as a prophet and interpreter of scripture, the sole authority for all meaning to be found in the sacred writings. Yet not a single early Christian (non-Gospel) author looks to the Teacher/Jesus as an authority for the interpretation of a scriptural text, nor, in this highly messianic and apocalyptic movement is Jesus once pointed to as a prophet of the End-time.
Parts of my book and website focus on Paul's pervasive silence on the teaching human Jesus, his attribution of important moral precepts to God (1 Thessalonians 4:9, a sentiment echoed by most of the documents Ellegard surveys, eg, Barnabas 21:1, Hebrews 5:12, Didache 8:2), and his silence about Jesus as a prophet. It is difficult to see any evidence in the pre-Gospel record of a widespread tradition or revered memory about a human founder who was a prophet, teacher and interpreter of scripture.
One could point to the same deficiency in the view of G. A. Wells. We get no sense from the early Christian (non-Gospel) record that their Jesus was looked upon as having been a prophet, a teacher, a miracle-worker. Nothing ties him to an earthly career. Even if that career had taken place in the obscure past and not within recent memory, we would expect, in principle, that something, teachings, miracles, prophecies, would in some measure be attributed to him. Yet the documents are silent. (Paul's couple of "words of the Lord" in 1 Corinthians—7:10-11 and 9:14—are on insignificant topics compared to the great ethical teachings, and are often regarded by scholars as directives he believes he has received directly from Christ in heaven.)
Ellegard faces the same problem as orthodox apologists do, as to some extent does Wells in his more general position of a remote human Jesus. If Paul is elevating a human man, why is that elevated figure spoken of in entirely mythological terms, with no link made to a human precedent, recent or remote? (I have dealt with that small handful of kata sarka type passages, such as Romans 1:3 and Hebrews 2:14 elsewhere, especially in my Supplementary Article No. 8, Christ as "Man", and will not repeat those analyses here. See also my Note and link at the end of this review.) If Paul is recasting the Teacher of Righteousness as a heavenly redeeming Messiah, one would think that his preaching would be forced to involve mention of such a man—with that man, moreover, as his starting point. Instead, Paul and the epistle writers speak of belief in a Son of God, not that anyone was the Son of God. Ellegard states (p.25) that "the chief link between Paul and the (Essene) Church of God was the person of Jesus." Yet that person is never referred to by Paul in his letters to those churches. He admits that "he (Paul) makes no obvious connection between the earthly Jesus and the heavenly one," and that when the early Christians speak of Jesus' coming at the End-time, it is never in terms of a second coming.
We know from certain Scrolls that those Essene writers expected a future Messiah (or Messiahs) of a particular nature. If Paul and the others, as a result of their visions, were now declaring a Messiah who had already been here in the past and was to be identified with the Teacher of Righteousness, some discussion of this discrepancy would be required. Paul would certainly not be permitted to so thoroughly ignore the historical man. Ellegard, as do so many, misreads (or rather, 'reads into') the key passage of 1 Corinthians 1:17-24 that Jews and Greeks were hampered by the 'folly and stumbling-block' of "a crucified prophet (being declared as) the promised Messiah" (p.177). But Paul makes no such declaration. He never says that any man or prophet, crucified or otherwise, is or was the Messiah. The "folly" he is preaching is his belief in a Messiah who was crucified, which is something quite different. No historical man or prophet is introduced into Paul's picture. His Messiah, I maintain, was a divine and supernatural one, like the other savior gods. (Another folly that would have required defending is Paul's application of the divine title "Lord" and other indications of divinity, to the human Teacher, something that should have horrified any Jewish Essene, as would the general concept of a sacrificed god.)
By the same token, if a writer like Paul is declaring that the Teacher of Righteousness had died in circumstances which made it a redeeming act, and that he had been resurrected, one would think he would be forced to offer some speculation about those events, as historical events, rather than place them in some higher world mythological setting. Certainly the death would have to be regarded as taking place on earth, even if the rising was spiritual. The same objection applies to Wells' view. Ellegard suggests that so little was known about the Teacher in terms of his historical circumstances that nothing could be made of such events and thus the early Christians turned to scripture and portrayed them in mythological terms. But this explanation is compromised by two general considerations.
First, if so little was known about this founder figure, how did he fuel the movement and its spread across the empire? Why would a man so obscure (one who is not even spoken of in the role in which he is reputedly so enduring, that of teacher/prophet) have subsequently given rise to visions or convictions that he was divine, had pre-existed with God before the beginning of time, helped create and sustain the universe, and had risen from death and was redeemer of the world? Why would so shadowy a figure drive men like Paul to elevate him to such a cosmic degree, or devote their lives to preaching him?
Second, as a corollary, why did not artificial traditions, in the pre-Pauline phase, develop and become attached to the Teacher? If he was reputed to have been a prophet and teacher, sectarian impulses would inevitably have led to the practice of imputing all the movement's ethical principles, their prophetic expectations, their interpretations of scripture, to him. All and sundry would have been placed in his mouth, and thus when we encounter documents like the Didache, the movement's doctrines and sayings would be attributed to the Teacher (whether he was named Jesus or anything else). Personal histories would likely have been invented and attached to him as well. (Can we believe that such things did not exist among the writers of the Damascus Document, even if they are not recorded or have not survived?) The explosion of Gospels, various Acts of Apostles, dialogues with the teaching Jesus in the Gnostic vein, forged letters, etc., all of which arose from the second century on and were applied to the new Jesus of Nazareth and other figures of Mark's tale, demonstrates the absolute inevitability of such a phenomenon.
Yet nothing like this can be found in the earlier, pre-Gospel record, either in the 'Essene' stage or in the post-visionary stage which Ellegard sees as the elevation of the Teacher to Messiahship. Instead of simply pressing scriptural passages like Isaiah 53 into service, such indicators would have been translated into legends and imagined historical events; such passages would have been compared to historical data about the Teacher built up from these and other sources or simply invented. This historical data would be presented as a fulfillment of the prophecies. But before the Gospels and Justin Martyr in the mid second century, such a thing is only alluded to in the epistle of Barnabas, and even there the equation lacks a concrete latter side. Both of these considerations are similarly applicable to Wells' more general thesis of Jesus as a perceived human incarnation in the past.
Another set of unanswerable questions arises in connection with the presumed point of 'mutation' (my term), those visionary experiences of the Jerusalem Essenes (as Ellegard would style them) and Paul, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. Considering the rapidity with which this dramatic change in the view of the Teacher of Righteousness subsequently spread all over the eastern Empire, from Damascus to Rome and probably south to Alexandria, such a mutation would have been a profound phenomenon. And it seems to have taken a multitude of forms, for the documentary record of the first hundred years of the new faith shows all manner of theological views about Jesus, some incompatible with each other. The christology of Hebrews inhabits a different world than that of Hermas, or the Odes of Solomon, or even Paul. The sheer vitality of this compulsion to translate a long dead human teacher and prophet into every conceivable spiritual format (while at the same time abandoning all interest in those human roles) is astonishing. Although little is known about the Diaspora Essene movement, we have no reason to suspect it of such great and incompatible variety, and yet after the moment of mutation it seems to have dashed madly off in all directions.
Is it really possible to envision such an explosion as the result of visions experienced by a handful of men in Jerusalem? What authority would they have possessed, what energy would they have had to expend, in order to produce such a rapid response from so many communities over so wide an area? We look in vain for evidence of such a powerful influence exercised by the Jerusalem group, or reports of their missionary activity to all parts of the empire. Ellegard admits (p.197) that they did not hierarchically control the movement. If the Jesus idea began out of visions undergone by the Jerusalem pillars and Paul, we would also expect to find an apostolic movement focused on themselves, tracing its authority by appointment from a Jerusalem center. Instead, Paul gives us a picture of a level playing-field of independent, rival apostles, all claiming personal 'spirits' from God, few of whom show any connection to Jerusalem (see 2 Corinthians 10 and 11).
We would also expect to find a greater uniformity of doctrine, of christology, if the movement arose out of one 'event' (the visions) and relatively unified group of people. But some expressions of early Christ belief (The Odes of Solomon, Hermas, Hebrews) do not even include the concept of resurrection. This is only a slight variant on the expectation we would have if the movement had, in the 'orthodox' view, proceeded out of a genuine historical Jesus of Nazareth and his group of followers—an expectation which I have elsewhere shown is dashed by the record.
We might further ask, what spurred such visions in the first place? This is another variant of that major objection to the idea that the initial cosmic Son phase of earliest Christianity was a response to a humble Galilean preacher of a counter-culture 'wisdom' philosophy. What would have led the Jerusalem Essenses to experience their visions? If all concrete memory of the Teacher of Righteousness had been lost, and no invented traditions had arisen to fill the void, what fuelled such an experience, what produced the lofty convictions about him? Can there be any feasible line of development between the Damascus Document (or Jesus of Nazareth) and Hebrews 1:1-3 or Colossians 1:15-20? Such a quantum leap is almost unfathomable—especially in the absence of any discussion of this development in the record, or indeed any mention of the Teacher or Jesus of Nazareth himself.
Ellegard has an interesting aspect to his scenario. The figures of Mary, Pontius Pilate and John the Baptist appear for the first time outside the Gospels in the letters of Ignatius, usually dated around 110. Ellegard sees this as the bishop of Antioch's own invention, an effort to anchor Jesus firmly in earthly history. The Gospel story subsequently arose as an enlargement on the groundwork laid by Ignatius, using his biographical 'data' as a starting point. This is one reason why Ellegard places the Gospels all within the second century, following Ignatius. My own preference has been to see Ignatius' primitive biography as impressions he has received from the first stirrings of the Gospel story beyond the Markan and other Synoptic communities where it was first developed. (Ignatius clearly does not possess a written Gospel.) My dating of the first Gospel somewhere in the period 85-90 is conversely—to Ellegard—determined in part by the need to place it before the time of Ignatius. Ellegard's view raises the question of why, if Ignatius is constructing biographical data about the Teacher he does not at the same time attribute any teachings to him. And why did he place the elevated Teacher in the time of Pilate, rather than in the period he originally belonged to?
This, in fact, is the other significant anomaly which Prof. Ellegard must address, one which equally applies to the views of G. A. Wells. If the Essenes of the Empire followed the authority of a great teacher and prophet who had lived and died around the late second century BCE (or if Jesus was simply regarded as a man who had lived earlier than the first century), how did the movement end up producing a tale of that founder which was set in the much more recent past of Pilate's time?
We have to presume that the apostles of Paul's generation still preserved some idea of when the Teacher had actually lived; certainly, it was not within their own lifetimes. Yet by the end of the century, that knowledge had been lost and could be supplemented by the picture that he had actually lived in the time of Paul and those earliest apostles. If even this basic tradition could be lost to memory, it is difficult to envision that the Teacher traditions could have been very enduring and thus we can question the whole vitality and survival of the movement. Both Ellegard and Wells suggest that the upheavals of the Jewish War were at least partly responsible for this loss of memory, but that would have been applicable only in Palestine. The War would hardly have had so disruptive an effect on Essene groups across the Diaspora, or in such blanket a fashion. If the simple process of elevating the Teacher to supernatural status, while leaving behind the human antecedent, is held responsible for this loss of memory, one is looking at a true mutation of ideas, which is not outside the realm of possibility. But still I question whether such a loss would be so universal, occurring in every center of Essene-Christian faith that has produced a surviving documentary record. For there is no hint that any group anywhere preserved or argued for an earlier-placed view of the Christian Jesus.
One can understand, as Wells has laid out, why a Gospel story, if starting from scratch, would place its Jesus figure in the time of the earliest apostles of the movement; or because the incorporation of traditions about the Galilean Kingdom of God movement of the mid-first century would require it to be placed at that time. But when this would clash with a presumed earlier tradition that he had lived over a century prior to that, in circumstances much different from the Gospel setting, the scenarios of both Ellegard and Wells face serious difficulties.
Those difficulties are compounded by the language with which Paul and the other early writers speak of Christ and the beginnings of their faith. Why would the Teacher Jesus be spoken of as a "secret" hidden by God for long generations? Why would he be said to be "revealed" for the first time in these last days? What would be the significance of casting him as a spiritual channel through which God now worked upon the world: Paul's ubiquitous phrase "in Christ Jesus"? Such concepts belong in the spiritual realm, attached to a spiritual force which contemporary philosophy and mystery cult tradition—part of the universal language of the time—has awakened in the minds of visionaries like Paul.
If so many aspects of the Pauline Christ clearly parallel the expression of the mysteries and their savior gods, and yet the Christian Jesus was uniquely a savior who had been on earth, either as the teaching, miracle-working Jesus of Nazareth, the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, or Wells' more obscure incarnation, why is no notice taken, or use made, of such a unique distinction from the cults? If the Teacher was the "ultimate prophet" and interpreter of scripture, why would a visionary who interpreted those scriptures to elevate the Teacher himself make no appeal to the Teacher's precedence and authority in that very role? Would it not be better to see the Pauline type of revelation from the scriptures as representing the first knowledge anyone had of the divine Christ Jesus, building on such concepts as personified Wisdom, Judaism's great hypostasis of God, and the Greek world's counterpart concept, the Logos?
That handful of human-sounding passages, so often entailing internal contradictions and employing vague, stereotyped phrases, is open to other interpretations in line with the Platonic thinking of the period about counterpart realities in the higher spiritual world, and salvific homologic relationships between spiritual gods and material humans. Ellegard admits that in the ancient mind there was no rigid division between the spiritual and material parts of the universe. If such cryptic references are really all we have to impel and justify the urge to cling to a human Jesus, this support is extremely weak when weighed against all the other evidence which denies such a figure. We ought not to surrender to the demands and more familiar concepts of our modern mindsets, but rather let the first century speak for itself.
Essenism may well have been flourishing across the Jewish Diaspora, and it may have had some things in common with the incipient Christian faith, but were those things specific and numerous enough to justify equating the two movements, or was Christianity a different outgrowth from a certain amount of shared background? Did Essene ranks supply that astonishing variety of those who could speak (sometimes blasphemously where Judaism is concerned) about a High Priest Jesus who sacrificed his blood in Hebrews' heavenly sanctuary, about a non-sacrificial Word/Son/Messiah who fed the water of God's knowledge to the Odist, about a descending Son who took on only the "likeness" of human flesh to suffer at the hands of Satan and his evil angels (the Ascension of Isaiah 9 and 1 Corinthians 2:8), and many other variations besides, with every indication that each group has independently developed its christology from scripture and concepts which were in the air of the time? Was Christianity as we first see it, driven by rival apostolic revelations about a new deity, "born in a thousand places"? I suggest that the evidence more strongly points to such a picture.
While my evaluation of Prof. Ellegard's central thesis may be a negative one (our views cannot both be right, after all) his book contains much valuable information and insight, even in those areas where we disagree. Again, our bottom lines, along with that of G. A. Wells and other recent investigators of Christian origins, are the same, and perhaps it is an indication of how broadly the idea of Jesus' mythical nature is starting to take hold, that a healthy discussion can take place among mythicists themselves as to how to recast certain elements of the new paradigm.
While intrinsically interesting and even important in their own way, as a means of arriving at an accurate picture of the beginnings of Christianity, the differences in those two camps of the mythicist position are indeed "non-essential." They might be compared to the ongoing and changing opinions found in the study of evolution. No one of sound scientific mind can doubt that life on this planet has evolved over eons of time through natural processes, and not as the recent product of some biblical Creator. But the exact nature of those processes is still imperfectly known. Scholarly theories about them are regularly refined or supplanted; occasionally they clash. That is not a weakness of the discipline, or a discrediting of the basic position that life has evolved, but simply the normal workings of science and reason, in that evidence is constantly being sought and examined, theories reevaluated, and no ironclad, infallible "truth" is ever declared. The overwhelming evidence in the Christian documentary record, measured against our knowledge of ancient ideas, is that Christianity did not begin out of the figure or circumstances presented in the Gospels. How it specifically began, in all its details, is yet to be clearly established.
But in the matter of Christian origins, we are all evolutionists.
[Note: The question of the placement of Paul's Jesus myth in the spiritual world, and the evidence for it, is dealt with at some length in the first response of my new Reader Feedback file, rfset14.htm.]
A RESPONSE by Professor Alvar Ellegard to my review of
- One Hundred Years Before Christ
On the historical and the spiritual view of the Jesus figure of earliest Christianity
I quite agree with Earl Doherty that the most important result of research carried out by writers like Wells, himself, Freke and Gandy, and myself, is the demonstration that the Jesus figure of the New Testament Gospels and Acts is a fiction, without any real evidential support. The earliest Christian documents, by Paul and many others, if interpreted on their own terms, yield a very different picture of Jesus, and indeed of the origin of Christianity as a whole. If we are largely right, the whole history of Christianity has to be radically rewritten. It has to be based, not on the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, but on the relevant first century literature, which is quite extensive.
But we "mythicists," as Doherty names us, disagree on how the early Christians envisaged Jesus. Was he seen as a real historical figure—like Abraham, Moses, and the Old Testament prophets—or was he seen as a purely spiritual figure, whose sphere of action was consistently the supernatural, heavenly world? However, I think Doherty exaggerates the difference between us. The early Christians, those who called themselves the Church of God, were not a homogeneous group. Some of them were Gnostics, who obviously saw Jesus as a spiritual being. The "docetists" among them believed that Jesus' appearance on earth was only "seemingly" a man of flesh and blood. In my Overview (p. 262) I say: "Christianity did not originate in Gnosticism, nor did Gnosticism, contrary to the early Church Father Irenaeus' assertions, arise as a perversion of Christianity. The two movements developed in parallel, and partly coalesced." (I discuss the problem more fully, pp. 186-201). It should be noted that several of Doherty's arguments are based on Colossians and Ephesians, which have a strong gnostic coloring. Their Pauline origin is frequently questioned.
Yet though I maintain that Paul and others looked upon Jesus as an historical figure, but one long since dead, I do not believe that they actually modeled their own Jesus figure on that historical person. Instead, they built on the Old Testament passages that the Church of God, inspired by their founder, the Teacher of Righteousness, interpreted as Messianic prophecies. It was probably only at a later stage that Paul realized that what was known (or surmised) about the Teacher showed remarkable parallels with the Messiah figure construed out of Old Testament passages that their Church interpreted allegorically as referring to the Messiah.
Unlike Doherty, and of course many conservative theologians, I do not think we should make too much of the fact that Ignatius, in 110 CE, placed Jesus's death in 30 AD, whereas the Teacher probably belonged to the preceding century (cf. e.g. M. O. Wise, The First Messiah, 1999). In the first place, probably nobody at the time of Ignatius had at his disposal written documents about the Teacher. Secondly, what they knew about him was, presumably, that he was their chief interpreter of the Bible. They thought he lived in the "indefinite past," as Wells has put it. When Ignatius wrote in his letters which date Jesus' death at the time of Pilate, the Jewish War had devastated the Palestinian social fabric. Without any human memories from the early part of the first century CE, and without written records, Ignatius' assertions were not likely to cause any raised eyebrows.
The Essenes did not at first regard the Teacher of Righteousness, their founder and inspirer, as the Messiah. However, the allegorical readings of the Old Testament practiced by the community must have been seen as the Teacher's legacy to their Church, which they called the Church of God. Accordingly, their conceptions of the Messiah, which were built on their allegorical readings of OT passages, ultimately came to be connected with the Teacher of Righteousness. As the priestly leader of a movement which the priestly establishment regarded as heretical, the Teacher was harassed and ultimately removed from his position in the priestly hierarchy. Yet the Essene movement lived on, and gradually attracted more and more followers in the Diaspora. They began to regard the Teacher, especially after his death, as a martyr. The Church of God treasured their possession of OT passages regarding the Messiah, which they surmised ultimately came from the Teacher. These were among the secrets, the "mysteries" of God, that the church hierarchy, inspired by the Teacher, had discovered. Hence the church found it natural to say (as evidenced in Hermas' Pastor), that salvation was only to be found in the church. In fact, if the church was the sole possessor of the true interpretation of the OT, God's word, it could also be held to be in communion with God's Wisdom, and/or the Holy Ghost. Both of these were sometimes called God's Son, e.g. in Philo. Against such a background it is not surprising that Hermas characterizes the Church of God as God's Son. Within the Church of God, a group of sayings, mainly from Isaiah, the Psalms, and 1 Enoch, were especially treasured as interpretations concerning the Messiah: they were collected in "florilegia" which were called "the gospel of God." They obviously influenced the Church's view of the Messiah figure.
As the Jewish Messiah figure was taking shape in the centuries around the beginning of our era, it gradually acquired more and more supernatural features. It is hardly surprising that the term Son of God was then transferred from the Church of God to the Messiah figure itself. The more so as the concept of Son of God had a strong position in several contemporary mystery cults, effectively documented by Freke and Gandy in their book.
After joining the church, and thus learning more about its founder and inspirer, the Teacher of Righteousness, Paul could not fail to notice that the Teacher's life, which the Church preserved as traditions (see e.g. the Qumran Habakkuk pesharim) exhibited several parallels with the picture arising from the Messiah passages collected in the Gospel of God. Against this background, Paul's vision (1 Cor. 9:1) of what he took to be the Teacher of Righteousness, proved to him that the Teacher was indeed the promised Messiah. This was for him a momentous insight. Everything fell into place for him: the Teacher, the prophet and founder of his Church, was himself the Messiah that was set forth in the Gospel of God. The Teacher's harassment by the priestly hierarchy paralleled the tribulations of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. His persecution by the priestly authorities confirmed his status as a martyr.
This revelation had far-reaching consequences. The Teacher's unique knowledge of how the OT should be interpreted became understandable. If he was the Son of God he certainly knew what God's intentions were. Paul's insight implied a tremendous change from previous Jewish (including Essene) views of the Messiah. Instead of being seen as an avenger of the injustices that Israel's enemies had inflicted on the Jews through the ages—a view very clearly brought forth by the Qumran War Scroll—Paul's Messiah offered peace and reconciliation. His suffering and death meant redemption for repentant sinners, rather than revenge for past injuries, with no distinction between Jew and Greek. His resurrection, implied by Paul's vision of him as raised to heaven, confirmed the hope of eternal life for whoever believed in him. This was indeed a new religion: Christianity.
Paul's ideas about the earthly and heavenly worlds, and about things spiritual and things physical were of course, like most of metaphysics, pure fantasy. But they had a certain inner consistency which made them reasonably intelligible. The Platonic metaphysics of a world of ideas serving as a master pattern for what happened in the world of material things was equally fantastic. Similar metaphysical constructions can be found in pre-scientific societies all over the world and in all ages. Let us consider some passages culled from Paul's letters which hopefully shed some light on Paul's thinking on these matters. On the whole, Paul appears to me as a fairly typical Jewish theologian.
Certainly it is possible to apply a sophisticated, perhaps Platonic interpretation, to all these passages. But the straightforward interpretation that was without doubt the one that countless generations had applied to their reading of the Bible, for instance, those dealing with God's interaction with his people, Israel, works excellently with these passages. Moreover, it was by means of that kind of interpretation that Ignatius could insist on a Jesus figure which was both concretely human, and spiritual like God. Ignatius presumably had a realistic view of the metaphysical ideas of his contemporaries. It is quite obvious, and indeed quite natural, that Christianity in its formative stage was influenced both by Platonism and by the Salvation ideas current in contemporary mysteries. The former is especially stressed by Doherty, the latter is very effectively brought out by Freke and Gandy. However, to my mind the influence of Jewish ideas, reflected above all in their heavy reliance on the Old Testament, was far more important. To the Jews, the Bible explained the history of Israel. The earliest Christians were Jews, and took over their views of history. The Messiah concept itself was elaborated in a Jewish context. The Messiah of the Church of God was constructed on the basis of a by no means self-evident reading of the Old Testament. Indeed, if deprived of its Biblical foundation, the Christian movement could hardly have survived. Marcion's attempt to remove the Old Testament from the Christian canon did not succeed. Altogether, the Jewish tradition preserved within Christianity the concrete, historicising view of the relation between God and man, between the world of the Spirit and the world of the flesh.
My reply to Prof. Ellegard:
I thank Prof. Ellegard for providing an interesting exchange of views. He is, of course, correct in suggesting that the early Christian documents lend themselves to a variety of interpretation. In listing passages in the epistles which suggest that Paul was "a fairly typical Jewish theologian," he admits that it is possible to apply a Platonic interpretation to these passages, but maintains that a more "straightforward interpretation" in keeping with Jewish tradition is the one that should be brought to them. However, one must keep in mind that Christianity was essentially a Diaspora phenomenon, and a highly sophisticated one to judge by the early epistles. Its debt to Greek philosophy and to the pagan mystery cults is evident, especially in Paul. While Jewish elements were undeniably present in the mix, Paul was anything but a "typical" Jew in his beliefs about Christ, the sacramental meanings he gave to the Christian rites, and his attitude toward the Law. Nor is it entirely accurate to simply say that the earliest Christians were Jews. The Pauline letters are concerned to a great extent with gentile members of the movement, and the struggles with "Judaizers" (who are not necessarily Jews themselves) show that the movement was deviating from normal Jewish traditions and meeting strong opposition, including internally.
The nature of the "gnostic" element in early Christianity can also be overstated. Simply regarding Christ as a spiritual being does not constitute "docetism" if that being is confined to the heavenly world (in whose lower sphere "death" could take place for such a spiritual being, and where "the dead" were located). Such disputes only arose in the second century when Christ was placed on earth. At best, the first century writings can be said to contain "proto-gnostic" elements that would flower into mature Gnosticism only in the second.
Many of the passages from the Pauline epistles which Prof. Ellegard quotes relate to mystical views of the relationship between the believer and Christ. They show that Christ is viewed as a spiritual entity, the image of God, the channel to a knowledge of God. This is entirely in keeping with Platonic philosophy and the theology of the mysteries. The Pauline Eucharist is thoroughly hellenistic, indeed it is anathema to Jewish attitudes. Within such a context, then, it is necessary to explain a few concepts which superficially seem to entail human and earthly elements, uses of the word "man" or "body" and the like. Here, the "straightforward interpretation" Prof. Ellegard advocates may ultimately relate more to our own, modern disposition, than to a thoroughly hellenized first century Jewish Diaspora with a high gentile membership. I will not repeat here my arguments for such an understanding of passages like Galatians 4:4 or phrases like "the likeness of flesh." (I refer the reader again to my Reader Feedback file No. 14: see the end of the Review proper; and also see below.) But I will take the occasion to quote and discuss two passages in connection with the use of "man" in the epistles in reference to Christ. The first is by Philo:
"There are two kinds of men. The one is Heavenly Man, the other earthly. The Heavenly Man being in the image of God has no part in corruptible substance, or in any earthly substance whatever; but the earthly man was made of germinal matter which the writer [of Genesis] calls "dust." For this reason he does not say that the Heavenly Man was created, but that he was stamped with the image of God, whereas the earthly man is a creature and not the offspring of the Creator." [from Allegorical Interpretation of the Law, 1.31]Clearly, for Philo, this "Man" is neither material nor earthly, and he is thoroughly Platonic. When 1 Timothy refers to Christ as "anthropos," is his thought in the line of Philo? 1 Timothy is no doubt based on the lengthier discussion of Christ as "man" in the 'genuine' Paul: Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and 45-49. Here, Christ is set against Adam, the "man" at the other end of the comparison. In the third Pauline passage, Paul describes Christ—along with his "body"—this way:
"If there is (such a thing as) a natural/physical body, there is also a spiritual (body). And so it is written: 'The first Adam became [meaning, was created as] a living soul'; the last Adam (was) [meaning, was created as, not 'became'] a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual (body) is not first; rather, the material (one is), then the spiritual. The first man (was) out of the earth, of earthly (material), the second man (is) out of heaven. As the man of earth (was), so also (are) those of earth; and as (is) the man of heaven, so also (will be) those of heaven. And as we bore the image of the one on earth, we shall also bear the image of the one of heaven. [1 Corinthians 15:44b-49]The words in round brackets have to be understood, as they are not supplied by Paul, which opens the door to translations that have been based on Gospel preconceptions. (See my Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man" for a thorough discussion of this passage and the entire question of whether Paul envisions Christ as a human being.) We can see that Paul presents the two men and the two bodies as completely different. One is spiritual, the other is physical. Adam's was made of earthly material, Christ's of heavenly material. The resurrected body of the Christian will be like that of its prototype, namely Christ's heavenly body. ("Flesh and blood," Paul goes on to say, "cannot possess the kingdom of heaven.") Nothing here or in the other "anthropos" passages suggests that Christ once possessed an earthly body like Adam's. Indeed, if he had, it would have seriously compromised Paul's comparison and necessitated a clear statement by him dealing with Christ's earlier, earthly form. It is passages like this which suggest that Paul is a 'theologian' in the Platonic line and not in the 'mainstream' of Jewish tradition; and that he is speaking of a Christ who was entirely spiritual, inhabiting the spiritual world. (That Article No. 8 also deals with the two passages most often declared 'problematic' for this view, Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4, along with the concept of "flesh" as used in the epistles generally.)
Professor Ellegard reflects our modern understanding—in fact, the understanding of the second century on: that Christ, in order to 'guarantee' our resurrection, has to himself have undergone death and resurrection in a physical body. (Ignatius is perhaps the earliest surviving writer to reflect this new way of thinking.) But this was not the case in the thought of the mystery cult system, or in the 'paradigmatic' soteriology of the Jewish apocalyptic tradition. Quite the contrary. The 'parallel guarantee' process takes place between heavenly and earthly counterparts, the former being the 'paradigm' of the latter. The archetype of this concept first emerges in Jewish thought in Daniel 7. There, in a vision of symbolic events in heaven, "one like a son of man" is given power and dominion over the earth. This "son of man" is a heavenly figure (he may originally have been envisioned as an angel), but he possesses material characteristics in his 'likeness' to material humanity. What he undergoes will be paralleled by his earthly counterpart—he is their 'paradigm'—in this case the Jewish righteous who are the ones who will receive dominion over the earth. The similar "Son of Man/Messiah/Righteous One" in 1 Enoch's Similitudes is also a spiritual figure, waiting in heaven for the End-time, when his counterparts on earth, the human (i.e., Jewish) righteous, will undergo their exaltation to heaven and join him. The Book of Revelation seems to have a similar type of paradigmatic soteriology (with the addition of a sacrificial element for its Christ, such as Paul held as well), between the saved on earth and the heavenly Christ/Lamb "who was slain," a sacrifice which neither Revelation nor Paul ever places on earth.
This parallelism between the heavenly champion/deity and the devotee linked to him is the basis as well of the mystery cults, in the initiate's state of 'being united' with the god, which is precisely how Paul speaks of the relationship between Christ and Christian. He, too, shows a saving paradigmatic parallel between Christ and the baptized believer: "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:5).
Thus, my interpretation of the early Christian Christ, based on passages like these and their comparison to contemporary thought and religious expression, is that Paul and the early Christians had no historical figure in mind, recent or distant. In the end, both Prof. Ellegard and myself can only commend our own particular interpretations to the reader.
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