As described in the previous articles the third tenant of Paul's doctrine of salvation as recorded in the New Testament is that of the violent death of a divine savior.
The New Testament itself endeavors to find a Jewish background for the idea of the violent death of the Messiah by grounding it in the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. Thus John 19.37 quotes Zechariah 12.10, 'They shall look on him whom they pierced,' as a prophecy of the execution of Yeshua.
Most Christians will recognize the above verse from Zechariah 12:10 which is quoted by John 19:37. There is only one major problem you need to know: The Hebrew Masoretic Text as taken for the JPS Jewish Tanakh and the Stone Edition Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) does not "say" what is recorded in the New Testament as a supposed "quote" or "translation". If you have a Jewish Bible you only need to compare for yourself and ask yourself: "Isn't the Christian Old Testament supposed to be translated the same as the Jewish Old Testament since is comes from there?
I don't have the space to get into it here but on this website is a detailed examination and comparison of the Hebrew text of Zechariah 12:10 as compared with how the text was changed in the Greek Septuagint and later English translations of the Old Testament. This is a very important issue which the believing Christian needs to address. You need to understand that if this text as recorded in the Greek and English Bibles can be shown to be "creative fiction", and it can, then building a doctrine of the violent death of a Divine Savior, as taken from this verse for instance, is totally flawed. See the article.
Again in all fairness I must acknowledge to you that indeed a few rabbis of later years (after the destruction of the Temple) also explained this verse in a somewhat similar way when they said that it referred to the death of the 'Messiah son of Joseph' (b. Sukkah 52a). But we must understand that following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the scattering of the Jewish race then many generations of Jews would grow up in non-Jewish countries where Hebrew was a dying language. It was not too long before these Jews could no longer read Hebrew or have access to Hebrew Bibles. They were forced to read the Greek Old Testament and it would be in this corrupted translation that many passages like Zech. 12:10 had been altered and these Jews no longer knew it because they had no Hebrew to compare against. It is just that simple. Thus they, like you, read what they had and what they "believed" was the incorruptible Word of God unsuspectingly. They, like many of us, read the Greek Bible believing all that was written was "inspired" Such was not the case however.
As if failure to maintain and read the Jewish Scriptures in Hebrew was not problematic enough, some rabbis stated that this Zech 12:10 passage in the Septuagint was a reference to a tradition that there would be two Messiah-figures, one descended from Joseph and the other descended from David, of the tribe of Judah. These few rabbis taught that "the Messiah son of Joseph" would be killed in an apocalyptic battle. As a Christian take notice that the "dying Messiah" was to die in an eschatological battle at the end of time. This surely does not fit the life of Yeshua. These rabbis also maintained that "the Messiah son of David" would then be successful in establishing a messianic kingdom throughout the world following the judging of the Gentile Nations which had persecuted Israel for thousands of years. Again this does not fit the life of Yeshua. So these rabbis were wrong in their understanding concerning the Messiah. But again these are late ideas that surfaced only after the destruction of the Temple. This tradition appears to be an attempt to reconcile different streams of tradition about the Last Days deriving from the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms.
Of major importance for the Christian believer is that these Messiahs of post-destruction Judaism are purely human figures and never were connected with the idea of a Divine Dying and Sacrificial Messiah. The death of the Messiah son of Joseph, a non-sacrificial death in battle, carries no connotations of supernaturalism. The Messiah son of David, who brings salvation in a political sense, does not die, except eventually of old age. This you need to know before you try to draw parallels to the death of Yeshua and claim that the rabbis prophesied of a dying Messiah. Let us be honest about what they said and not put words in their mouths they never spoke. One "Messiah" was to die NOT as a "sacrifice" and the other of "natural causes". Remember they were both believed to be "mortals" and not Divine Immortals. This has major implications for the Christology of the Christian Church which denies the total humanity of the Messiah
But the Pauline conception of the death of the Messiah, or Christ, is totally removed from Jewish conceptions, since it involves the death of a heavenly visitor and not a moral human being.
The notion of a supernatural being entering human flesh, in which he suffers a violent death, is nowhere to be found in Jewish sources.
Yet not to be found in Biblical Judaism or Sinai faith, this is really Paul's central concept. It is strange that those who are concerned to argue that Paul's ideas all have their roots in Judaism never seem to feel the need to argue for a Jewish origin of this central concept of a supernatural being who entered human flesh. It seems that this is overlooked as if it were a merely historical event rather than an important mythological theme. That Yeshua died on a Roman cross is undoubtedly an historical event; but we are concerned with the mythological use made of this event, particularly by Paul, and in this mythological context, Paul's characterization of the death of Yeshua as Messiah invites comparison with deaths of supernatural beings in other mythologies and other Pagan Mystery Religions. Our first point must be that in the Jewish mythology it has no equivalent. The Christian needs to know this!
The idea that gods can die, and can sometimes die violently, is a commonplace in pagan mythology and is not to be found at all in Biblical Judaism. It contrasts profoundly with the Jewish concept of an undying and an aternal God.
The dying and rising gods of paganism correspond to a cyclic conception of life. Since nature shows continual death and rebirth, and the pagan gods are part of nature, we should expect a pattern of death and rebirth in them too. The God of Judaism, however, is not part of nature, but its Creator. He stands above and apart from the cycle of the seasons, which continues to operate not by affinity to him, but by the fiat and guarantee of his word (Gen. 8.22).
Paul, however, did not identify or equate Yeshua with the God of the Hebrew Bible, but thought of him as a somewhat lower deity, whom he called the 'Lord'. This subjugation of "lesser deities" to "greater deities" is uniquely characteristic of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, Paul thought of Yeshua as much superior to the angels. Indeed, every Christian who was saved was superior to the angels, and would 'judge' them (I Cor. 6.2). This conception is very similar to that of Gnosticism, in which the Gnostic elect would rise to the status of the higher powers of the pleroma, and be superior to the Demiurge (the term Gnostics used for the God of creation) and his associated supernatural powers. Such beings could very well be thought of as gods, since they had powers and knowledge far above that of mere angels. Paul's conception that one of the higher powers, Christ, descended to earth to suffer death is thus not quite so far removed from Judaism as the later Christian conception that made Yeshua part of a triune Godhead, and equal partner with God the Father. Even in this later conception, however, the impassibility of God the Father himself was somehow preserved by insulating him from the suffering of the Christ (except in the heretical Patripassian doctrine).
Thus it would not be an adequate derivation of the death of Christ from Judaism to point to the fact that, in some Jewish traditions, angels are not immortal. Indeed, according to rabbinic opinion, most angels perish as soon as their commission has been fulfilled (Gen.R.s. 50). Such angels are little more than hypostatizations of the commissions themselves. Even those angels who have achieved full personality and even individual names may be obliterated by God at any time he wishes. In rabbinic opinion, angels are more powerful than human beings, but spiritually inferior, being without the power of moral choice. Thus, while in Gnosticism and Paulinism human beings may become greater than angels when liberated from the flesh, in rabbinic Judaism, human beings are already greater than angels, precisely because, being in the flesh, they have the power to overcome bodily temptation; also, the very fact that humans are in the flesh gives them opportunities for the service of God that are denied to angels. In Judaism, however, angels could succumb to temptation and thus become fallen angels or devils. In all circumstances, however, their deaths were those of created beings, not of gods, and cannot be compared with those of either pagan gods or the Paulinist Christ.
Answer for yourself: Where then can we find the antecedents of the death of Christ?
Well, there is no sufficient analogue in Gnosticism, because here the body is of no real significance. We have to look for embodied deities whose bodies form an important part of their personalities, so that when the body is tortured and killed, this is indeed a cosmic event, not, as in Gnosticism, a matter of indifference. A satisfactory analogue to the Pauline account of the death of his Christ can be found only in the mystery religions. Here we find again and again the violent death of a saviour deity: a death that is experienced in its full agony and that has cosmic significance.
Dionysus is torn to pieces by the Titans; Osiris is dismembered by Set; Adonis is gored to death by a divinely-sent boar; Attis, afflicted by a divinely-sent madness, kills himself by castration; Orpheus is torn to pieces by Maenads. All these figures, and more, are the centres of rites in which their deaths are rehearsed for some salvific purpose. Nowhere in Judaism can we find such figures though we can discern them in the pagan background of the Hebrew Bible. Thus Isaac appears to be heading for such a fate, but the sacrifice is cancelled. No doubt in the earlier story from which the Bible version was edited, Isaac did suffer death, and then experienced a resurrection and divinization, as a recently discovered Midrashic fragment indicates. But the Hebrew Bible resolutely turns its face against such a version, since its doctrine is that only the One God can save; He forbids human sacrifice, whether actual or notional, and endures no other deities or mythologies as His rival. In the figure of the Pauline Christ, however, we find a reversion to the pagan cults and their religious beliefs which were outlawed by the Hebrew Bible, and a new violently-dying saviour emerges from Paul's theology. The lack of this knowledge that the death of Christ as characterized by Paul in only the "reinvention" of the pagan's rising and dying god myths is solely due to the lack of scholarship and study on the part of the vast multitudes of Christians who lack the zeal to study such issues.
Now we must turn our attention to the question of whether, in the mystery cults, the victim is already a god, or only becomes one through his violent death.
Answer for yourself: Is the pre-existence of the Pauline Christ as a high supernatural power echoed in the victim-figures of the mystery cults?
At first sight, the answer is that the mystery cult victims are not pre-existent gods, but mortals who only achieve divine status through their deaths. This is certainly true of Attis, Adonis and Orpheus. But in all fairness we encounter some variation in other "pagan gods" where we find a mixture of "pre-existence" linked with "mortality". Dionysus and Osiris are more undecided figures, having elements of pre-existence and also of mortality. Notice the mixture of Divine and humanity in Dionysus who has one divine parent, and one human parent; Osiris is a human king of Egypt, but may have descended from on high. Indeed, this uncertain status is characteristic of mystery cult saviours. Even Attis, Adonis and Orpheus have some peripheral features of preexistent divinity The reason is that their sacrifice must be a real one; a Gnostic abandonment of an unreal shell of a body would have no sacrificial efficacy. On the other hand, someone who becomes a god must have some special quality that fits him for such a role, some affinity for godhood. The necessity for human status may be explained as deriving from a prehistoric background of the mystery cults in rites of human sacrifice; or, alternatively, if one adopts the rites-of-passage theory of the mysteries (as argued by Jane Harrison), as deriving from the initiation-ceremony of a human adolescent. But whichever explanation we adopt, both human and divine quality are required, and this creates the problem of when the transition takes place. The near-ideal solution is that the victim is of demi-god status when born, having a human mother and a divine father. This prepare him for the agon through which he becomes fully divine, without reducing the reality of the sacrifice.
Paul, the pioneer of the fusion between Gnosticism and mystery religion in his presentation of Yeshua in the New Testament. Paul gives Yeshua full pre-existent status, and this creates many problems in theology for later generations, and paves the way for the Docetic heresies. The problem is how to conceive of a supernatural power who dons a human body without ceasing to be god-like. If he retains self-awareness as supernatural, his suffering in the flesh lacks full reality, since his body is a receptacle rather than an integral part of his personality; here we see the germ of theories of kenosis. The Gospels inherit this problem from Paul and deal with it in different ways. The Synoptic Gospels, on the whole, reject Paul's doctrine of pre-existence and move the story into a fuller mystery religion dimension. The trappings of a mystery religion passion play are presented: the birth from one divine parent, the triumphal entry, the betrayal by a colleague, the donning of royal robes, the ritual scourging, the mourning by a concourse of women - all elements lacking in Paul. Only the acosmism (the world is essentially evil) and moral pessimism by which Yeshua is presented, like a Gnostic visitant, as surrounded by malice and incomprehension, derives from Gnosticism. In the Fourth Gospel, however, Pauline Gnosticism triumphs. Yeshua has become a preexistent power of the pleroma again, and his death hovers on the border of Docetism, which the author has to ward off' by polemicism, since even he is anxious to preserve the reality of the sacrifice.
Here we must also give attention to the sacramental communion meal that features in every mystery religion. This meal, represented in Pauline Christianity by the Lord's Supper (later re-named the eucharist), involves eating the body of the god who has died the violent death, so acquiring his divinity and immortality. This meal is relevant to our enquiry about the pre-existence of the god. For the communion meal harks back to an earlier pagan stage in religion when an animal was torn to pieces and eaten raw in community in order to transfer its mana to the tribe. In this earlier form of the mystery rite (traces of which still linger in the later, more sophisticated and spiritualized rites), the dead animal did not become divinized by its death. It was because it was already divinized, by the possession of mana, that the rite took place at all. This pre-sacrificial stage (where the victim is killed for its own sake, not as a propitiation of a higher deity) contributes a primitive element of pre-existence to mystery deities even when their myth insists that they were born as humans.
It is often said that the sacrificial death of Yeshua has Jewish antecedents in the Jewish sacrificial cult, i.e. the animal sacrifices of the Temple. This argument is found in the New Testament itself, especially in the post-Pauline Epistle to the Hebrews, but also in Paul's own comparison of Yeshua with the paschal lamb (I Cor. 5.7). The idea that the sacrifice of Yeshua is the 'fulfillment' of the Jewish sacrificial cult is indeed ingrained in Christian thinking of all periods, but it is totally invalid. Elementary but fundamental distinctions need to be made between animal sacrifices and the sacrifice of a man-god. These two forms of sacrifice belong to two different worlds, and two profoundly different theories of sacrifice. In Judaism, in both biblical and rabbinic thinking, animal sacrifices were not salvific. Their function was to effect a final 'cleansing' (kapparah) for sin; not in the sense of removing sin itself, which could be removed only by repentance and reparation, but in the sense of making friends with God and restoring good relations with him after the breach caused by a sin. It was a meal shared with God to signalize the resumption of favor and friendship. Thus, according to the rabbis, sacrifice never atones for deliberate sin, only for unwitting sin ( b. Shabb. 70a). In the case of deliberate sin, repentance and reparation to the injured party (Lev. 6.1-7) have the effect of turning a deliberate sin into an unwitting sin, which then requires the final kapparah of sacrifice.
In Pauline Christianity, however, the sacrifice of Yeshua atones for sin in a much more direct way; the sacrificed person (Yeshua) suffers the death deserved by the sinner. This is a throwback to the kind of pagan sacrifice that Judaism rejected. It is not the 'fulfillment' of the Jewish sacrificial cult, but a return to pre-Jewish notions of sacrifice. And Christianity, since they know so little about Judaism, misses this very important point of difference between sacrificial offerings and the death of Yeshua. If you wish to see this for yourself I suggest Keil/ Delitzch Old Test Commentaries by Christians no less. It is excellent.
This is not to deny, of course, that considerable change and development in attitudes to sacrifice is reflected in the Hebrew Bible. In the very earliest stratum, preceding the composition of the Bible, we can detect the practice of human sacrifice, as mentioned above in connection with Isaac. When human sacrifice was banned and regarded as an abomination, as in the denunciations of Jeremiah, animal sacrifice, which took its place, was regarded at first as a vicarious atonement; this stage appears in the ritual of the Day of Atonement. Later strata of the Hebrew Bible, however, abandon the notion of vicarious atonement and substitute the idea of a shared meal of friendship and reconciliation with God through repentance, confession, prayer, almsgiving, and restitution. This development in the direction of rationality and human responsibility is abandoned, however, in Pauline Christianity, which returns to the primitive level of vicarious atonement through a human-divine sacrifice. Understand that the Bible is a progressive revelation and if one charts the move of God He moves away from animal sacrifices saying He desires mercy and not sacrifice. This is the sacrifice of one's heart to God and not his animal. That is why God always provided atonement to Israel even when in captivity when they no longer had the aid of the Temple. Israel was never without a sacrifice. Christians are not aware of this since so few really know the Old Testament.
In answer to our question of the influence of Judaism on Paul, we might answer that there is such an influence, but only in the form of Paul reverting to primitive Judaism. Paul responds to the Hebrew Bible, which he read in the Greek of the Septuagint, by reading back into it attitudes which it had outgrown, but vestiges of which remained in the text. Paul, in a way, sees, like a modern anthropologist, the primitive background from which the sophisticated editors of the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish commentators were trying to escape, and proceeds to assert it as the true meaning of the text. But he is enabled to do this because of the influence of contemporary pagan cults which retained as a living reality the concepts found as dead vestiges in the most primitive layer of the Hebrew Bible.
To better acquaint yourself with the ideas expressed in the Old Testament concerning forgiveness and atonement I suggest you read our web page on these issues entitled: The Death Of Yeshua...What Did It Actually Accomplish...to be found at: http://faithofyeshua.faithweb.com
One last though if I might.
Mal 3:6 6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.
If you like I believe the above verse and trust its validity then our God does not change. Well if you read these articles you can see that Paul's teachings are often a complete contradiction and in opposition to what was given through Holy men of Old as recorded in the Old Testament. Something sure changed. Coupled with that is the evidence I presented as to the origin for Paul's "changes" as taken from Gnosticism and Pagan Mystery Religions the conclusion is inescapable. If you consider yourself a thinking believer then you easily see that what is recorded in the New Testament and in the Pauline corpus of writings are "changes" from God Word as collected in the Jewish Scriptures. This God which changes not gave us these truths through the Jewish nation and are the backbone for which the church is to founded upon. This God says He changes not. That means His Word does not change as well. Well something did. You now have the facts and can make an intelligent decision on this matter. It is time to return to the faith once given to the saints...Biblical Judaism where the non-Jew is grafted into Israel and not as its "replacement".
On to the next article.