Where does this leave us?

Let me first admit some traditions that I believe to be based on fact:

  1. Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married at the wedding feast at Cana. This makes the story of her alleged later adultery all the more poignant.
  2. The town of Nazareth dates from the third century. In Aramaic the word could have meant Victorious. After the destruction of the Temple this would have had a hollow ring, so translating it into Greek as if it was a placename would have removed an obstacle for Greek-speakers. There was a tendency in the early church: suppress or modify inconvenient passages, which is evident from the text of the gospels that has come down to us, and in the writings of such as Eusebius.
  3. I have seen it persuasively argued (Bernard D Muller: Historical Jesus) that Jesus' baptism was in 27 AD and the crucifixion in 28 AD.
  4. I believe that the Holy Family spent some time in France between 28 AD and at least 38 AD. There are many ancient artefacts showing the Holy Family in a boat (as a man and a woman and one or more children). A Christmas carol to this effect (I saw three ships come sailing by) is widely sung to this day. But Jesus was dead by 43AD when Paul was conducting his mission.

Putting this perspective together with the foregoing study of the Biblical texts, I end up with the following:

  1. Resurrection stories were quite common at the time, and there are several in the gospels. So bringing back Jesus from the dead does not make him unique or particularly special. The empty tomb is admitted by many witnesses. Nevertheless I have problems with the resurrection story, which seems to me an elaborate deception. Various fabrications surround it (e.g. Mt 28:2-4,11-15). But as with the Transfiguration, and the preparations for the Passover, the provision of the tomb, and the ascension, I consider the unexpected appearance of someone with authority from on high should not too readily be identified as an angel (or conversely, regard this sort of intervention as what is meant here by angel). To me it all looks like something hidden from the disciples but very well planned, linked to the divisions within the Sanhedrin about the Roman occupation, and to Pilate's machinations.
  2. I share many other people's misgivings about the stories surrounding the entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. But as a piece of theatre engineered to provoke the Romans and justify a crucifixion it is perfect. They could not persuade Jesus to enter, warrior-like, on a horse, but could use the biblical texts to claim this as a greater threat. See the reference to the Sanhedrin debates on these points in John 11:47-48.
  3. I believe that the account in Galatians of Paul's dispute with Jesus' brethren (James and the other "pillars" of the church), and Luke's version of it in Acts 15, indicate a real split between the followers of Jesus as King of the Jews and the gentile Christians, which came out in the open during the Jewish revolt that led to the destruction of the Temple. Indeed many Christian communities today rely on Paul's words (in Corinthians etc) rather than on Jesus'. Paul is quite a prophet, but he is not greater than Jesus.
  4. I believe that almost all the prophecies in the New Testament have already been fulfilled (as usual with prophecies, to a greater or lesser extent). Many of Jesus' prophecies directly relate to the destruction of the Temple, and most of his other words that some people take to refer to the end of the world are instead about the same events, the end of the age. Likewise the book of Revelation, mostly written about 67-70AD, relates mostly to the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
    Parts of the Gospels may have been written before this - dates as early as 47 AD are feasible - but a date for Mark's gospel of 70AD is quite persuasive. In any case here is a lot of evidence of additions being made to the Gospels and other writings up to105 AD, and these additions probably include most of these prophecies.
  5. The books of the New Testament contain many references to the Lord coming again with power and great glory, but this was a misunderstanding of the humility of teachings (the kingdom of God as mustard seed) and the idea of entering Jerusalem on an ass's colt. His power and his kingdom were and are heavenly rather than earthly, as he and John Baptist announced right at the beginning. (Note that Paul in Romans 1:4 seems to suggest that the coming with power refers merely to the resurrection.) I doubt if many of his hearers, or those who survived the destruction of the Temple, felt that the coming of such a kingdom, or its prince of peace, was good news, more as an impending calamity requiring immediate repentance.
    I confess to some suspicion that Constantine saw, or was encouraged to see, himself as the new Messiah, ehose kingdom would have no end.
  6. I believe that Jesus is aptly named as Victorious Saviour ("Jesus of Nazareth"!). Although at the start of his ministry, many of his words come from John Baptist, there is soon a very great deal that is fresh and unique: the parables, the beatitudes (to be contrasted with Psalm 37), "my yoke is easy and my burden light", the commandments of Jesus etc, and these are the words of salvation.
  7. Thus his eschatological elevation in the Trinity whose eternality both predates and postdates man's era is therefore justified. I am happy with Paul's summary in Romans 1:1-6. I am therefore comfortable with sayings such as "I and the Father are one" and "All power in heaven and earth has been delivered to me" (even though as it happens the style of these two sayings fits badly with their context and strongly suggests late additions). I am happy with the idea of a final judgment for me against the words of salvation, and hope for redemption and the forgiveness of sins. However I find the idea of eternal rest much more appealing than eternal life.

Malcolm Crowe, 25 April 1999-30 Sept 2001