2016-06-30
Q1. Submitted by Dwain Miller and others:

Does any evidence exist that would give us clues about the "missing years," that is, what Jesus did between the ages of 12 and 29? In particular, does anything support the claim that Jesus spent time in India?


Ancient biographies often start with the public life of their protagonists. The earlier parts were either unknown, irrelevant, or simply left out. Caesar Augustus, for example, starts his own autobiographical summary with these words: "At the age of 19..." So also with Jesus. The gospel "biographies" all begin with his public life. What comes before that is always Overture rather than Act One. An overture summarizes the key themes of what is to follow. They are not First Acts after which there are missing Second and Third ones. Matthew and Luke, for example, both write infancy narratives as their overtures. Since each of them has a different gospel, each of them must have a quite different overture. They both work from common traditions (some not otherwise known) such as the names and places connected with Jesus' infancy and birth. In Matthew's infancy-as-overture, for example, Jesus is portrayed as the Mosaic fulfillment (murderous Herod equals murderous Pharaoh, etc.) and that infancy-as-overture (which is in my mind a parable, not history) sets up the life of Jesus--which will begin formally with the Sermon on a new Mount Sinai giving the fulfillment of the Law. In plain language, everything is "missing" before the public life--everything, that, is in terms of history as distinct from parable.

There is no credible evidence that Jesus spent time in India. There is, of course, lots of evidence that he spent time in Ireland. That presumably is where he got his sense of humor, unless he got it from his Father.

Q2: Submitted by billnashe:

What do you think of the Shroud of Turin?

My best understanding is that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval relic-forgery. I wonder whether it was done from a crucified dead body or from a crucified living body. That is the rather horrible question once you accept it as a forgery.

There is, however, a more basic question about such an object. Let us imagine, for the moment, that it is exactly what it claims to be. Let us further imagine, for the moment, that everything in the last chapters of the gospels is historically accurate. Wouldn't the Shroud of Turin make those events understandable as exaltation, rather than resurrection? Exaltation means that Jesus (like Enoch, Moses, Elijah, etc.) was taken up to God as a special act of divine graciousness because of who he was. Resurrection is an apocalyptic concept which means not the destructive end of the material earth, but the transformative end of this unjust world. Christian faith in resurrection means that such a transformation began with Jesus. It also means we should be able to show that visibly and publicly to the world. Otherwise, we would have exaltation at best, but no resurrection.

Q3: Submitted by viamedia:

Are you a believing Christian?

I cannot respond to this question without a commercial message. Yes, I am a "believing Christian," although I would probably say--and prefer to say-- that I try to be a "beliving Christian." I would ask you, however, not to judge me by that bald (pun intended) assertion, but by my writings. In this decade alone, I have about a million words out there about the historical Jesus. You would have to judge whether the person who wrote those is or is not a beli(e)ving Christian.

My own experience has been that if you get the history right, the theology becomes possible, not inevitable, but at least possible. Or, in other words, if you get the first century right, 21st-century faith may follow. Finally, if you would like to read and judge me for yourself, please rush out immediately and buy umpteen copies of my recent book, "A Long Way From Tipperary: A Memoir." What do you think of the person who wrote that? Christian or not? Consider it Irish stew for the mind rather than chicken soup for the soul.

Q4: Submitted by kyle garrity:

Is there any evidence of pre-Constantine (pre-4th century) Christian violence used to keep orthodoxy intact, or at least sustain leadership?

Think of violence as coming in two types, one rhetorical and the other physical. Rhetorical violence is what I call "lite hate," and physical violence is what I call "heavy hate." But, of course, the former prepares the ground and invites the harvest of the latter. I am not sure about any evidence of intra-Christian physical violence in the pre-Constantine era, although it might be there and I just can't remember it. But I am certain there was already intra-Christian rhetorical violence, because it is all over our present texts. I am not even speaking about rhetorical violence between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews, but rhetorical violence within Christianity itself. Paul, after all, calls Peter a "hypocrite" and others "false brethren."

Q5: Submitted by jay endicott:

How plausible would it have been for an influential Jewish council member to ask for the crucified body of Jesus and have Pilate grant the request?

We know from both archaeological and textual evidence that a crucified body could have ended up in the family's burial plot. It was possible, in other words, either by bribery or patronage, to get back the body of crucified persons (Josephus got three back from Titus when the average was 500 a day unburied). My own conclusions are that the story of the burial, as you can see it being copied from Mark into Matthew and Luke and thence into John, does not represent a story of history. Rather, the story is one of hope-what those who fled, who did not know what happened, would have dreamed about. Maybe, surely, some pious and influential Jew must have buried Jesus to fulfill the command of Deuteronomy (no body to be left on the cross after sunset). Is it possible that such an event took place? Of course it is, because the person (Mark?) who created that story knew about contemporary possibilities. Is it historical? Not in my own considered judgment (for more details, see my book "Who Killed Jesus," pp. 160-188). Non-burial was the ultimate horror-component of a Roman crucifixion; it was not simply about a terrible amount of pre-death suffering. And, by the way, what happened to that body of Jesus tells us absolutely nothing, one way or the other, about the resurrection.

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