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Christ as Son of God in Mark’s Gospel

In my previous post I indicated that by the early fourth century, the debates over Christ’s divine nature had become extraordinarily sophisticated and complex (though not as sophisticated and complex as in the two centuries to follow!).  At the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE the question was over whether Christ, the God who created the world, was a subordinate divinity to God the Father, one who came into being at some point in time, or if, instead, he was just as eternal, just as powerful, and just as glorious as the Father, completely “one” with him, even in his essence.  It was this latter view that won the day.

One of the things that I contend in my book How Jesus Became God, and in the debate I had in New Orleans with Michael Bird (as many of you will know by now) was that these issues were not at *all* what the earliest Christians were debating and arguing about, either with one another or with non-believers.

Our earliest Gospel is Mark, and a large part of its message concerns who Jesus is.  In fact one could argue this is its overarching message.   The Gospel begins with the words “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Much of the Gospel is meant to explain just how Jesus can be the Christ.  There was a clear and straightforward reason why this was an issue.  Everyone who knew anything about Jesus knew full well that he had been crucified as a criminal by the Romans.  And so how could he possibly be the messiah?  Mark’s Gospel is meant to answer that question.

I should stress – as if stress is necessary – Mark is not concerned to show whether Christ is co-eternal with the Father, equal with him, of the same essence as him.  These questions never once occurred to the Christians of the first century; or if they did occur to them, they never bothered to mention them.  Mark was dealing with a far more fundamental issue.  If Jesus was crucified (as everyone knew he was) how could he be the Christ?

This question never occurs to most Christians today for a very simple reason.  Christians simply assume that the messiah was *supposed* to be crucified.  Isn’t that what’s predicted in the Old Testament?  Won’t you find that taught explicitly in such messianic passages as Isaiah 53 (“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him; and by his wounds we were healed) and Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and … well, and lots of other places?   If the messiah had to suffer for the sins of others, and Jesus suffered for the sins of the other, then he’s the messiah, right?  Why don’t Jews see that?  Why don’t they just read their own texts?  Can’t they read?  Are they stupid?

So, the reality – which Mark knew full well – is that…

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A Less Weighty, Personal Matter
My Debate with Michael Bird Feb. 12 , 2016

65

Comments

  1. Avatar
    godspell  February 21, 2016

    The most interesting question is who Jesus thought he was.

    And here’s the thing–he knew he was a man. He never thought his birth was miraculous. He knew he wasn’t all-powerful. He knew he was not going to overthrow the Romans by military force. We have no record of him telling his disciples he was going to be a temporal ruler after God instituted His Kingdom on Earth (if he had, how could Mark get away with using this device of the disciples being so confused about who he was? He’d have TOLD THEM.)

    I think Jesus had a lot of different ideas about who he was, what his role was. I think he had this calling to preach, and he was reacting to what was going on around him–such as the death of John the Baptist, who Jesus might have at some point considered a possible Messiah)–and he’s looking for the answers. He doesn’t know. He knows he’s important, but he isn’t sure why.

    When he asks the disciples who they think he is, he’s genuinely interested in their responses.

    It’s one of the many things that makes his story so compelling. His quest for understanding. God has called him to deliver a message, that he knows. But in what capacity? A prophet, like Moses and Elijah? Prophets don’t suffer and die either, in the Old Testament tradition, yet John (who he must have considered a prophet) did. He certainly must have considered the possibility of his being Messiah, but he couldn’t have seen himself leading an army of conquest–the stories of him rejecting all violence (even in self-defense) are too unconventional to have been added afterwards. He rejected physical action, and he rejected material wealth. His kingdom truly is not of this world–not as the world was then, or is now.

    This is the burden any historian writing about him must shoulder–the very real possibility that we can’t understand him, because for all that he was a man, he wasn’t a man like any other. He was something different. A missing link. Somebody who showed us we can be more than just warring packs of killer apes.

    But most of the time, we don’t want to see it.

    • Avatar
      ffg  February 22, 2016

      Excellent and thought provoking comments, Godspell . I think there is much merit in biblical critical scholarship. I personally am convinced of many of the critical scholarship arguments about the New Testament as it relates to key aspects of Christianity such as the Virgin birth and Jesus being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy etc. I also am persuaded that the bible contains a significant amount of myth especially Old Testament accounts of creation, the fall , the exodus and the world wide flood. What makes your points so thought provoking is that to my mind there is still a very real possibility that Jesus was indeed more than a mere man. I think to echo your points, it is possible that even he did not fully understand that during his earthly ministry. The tragedy for me is that the gospel authors made it so difficult for us to separate the real Jesus from the Christ of faith.

      • Avatar
        godspell  February 23, 2016

        To me, the importance of Jesus is somehow diminished if he wasn’t a ‘mere man’. If he was any kind of divine being, or superman, what significance does he really have for us? He was able to be the person he was because he had special properties the rest of us do not have. That’s one reason, I believe, why Christianity has, as the saying goes “Not tried and found wanting, but not wanted, and therefore not tried.” I think we like to believe he was not a mere man because that lets the rest of us off the hook.

        “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.”

        He must have said that. Those are not words put in his mouth.

        He may have believed he had a special mission, but I see so much evidence he never believed he’d been given any special powers. He believed with all his heart that if we had faith, we could all work miracles. And much as that may not literally be true, it’s definitely not a lie. History shows us that very clearly.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 8, 2016

        1. I think if you read Genesis1-3 without any Christian lenses on, that you read nothing Christian into these chapters, you will see there is no story there of “the Fall.”
        2. Not sure what you mean by “more than a mere man”? Something more than an ordinary man as most great men and women are or something more than a Homo sapiens?

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  February 24, 2016

      I respectfully suggest that you consider my Kindle e-book series of historical novels, entitled “The Murdered Messiah,” in which all of your questions are answered (to my satisfaction, hopefully to yours). Bart may not approve of my hawking my work on his website, but after more than 20 years of research and multiple trips to the Middle East, I honestly believe I have something to contribute to this ancient dialogue.
      Len Lamensdorf

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 8, 2016

      I would quibble a little bit and, rather than say “God has called him to deliver a message, that he knows,” I would say, “that he believed.”
      I also am unclear on why you would say “He certainly must have considered the possibility of his being Messiah” if “he couldn’t have seen himself leading an army of conquest–the stories of him rejecting all violence.” If Bart is right (and I think he is) that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew, he would have believed the messiah (which I don’t capitalize in order to emphasize that Jews did not believe the messiah would be divine) would be a figure of power and grandeur. Getting rid of the enemies of the Jews would inevitably involve violence.
      Also, it seems to romanticize the figure Jesus to say we might not ever be able to understand him, because, although he was a man, “he wasn’t a man like any other. He was something different. A missing link. Somebody who showed us we can be more than just warring packs of killer apes.” I think he emphasized non-violence–even to the extent of turning the other cheek, it was not to build a new way of living in society but to get people to prepare for the end of days. Mark 13:30, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” In the years after the first century, Christians and others have taken such teachings more and more seriously as a way to conduct oneself. I think his teaching was a logical implication of what he called the second greatest commandment which was basically the Golden Rule, as Hillel had taught. I see maybe some reason to call Jesus a teacher, a reformer, maybe a prophet but “more than a man” I don’t get, once we separate out church mythologization of him from the Galilean Jew. Clearly, humans in many parts of the world had been taught or realize we could and how we could “be more than just warring packs of killer apes.”

  2. cheito
    cheito  February 21, 2016

    DR Ehrman:

    YOUR COMMENT:

    no one could figure out who Jesus was, not even that he was the messiah that had to suffer, let alone that he was a divine being rather than, or in addition to being a human being, how is it that after his death people started declaring that he was God?

    MY COMMENT:

    I think that the reason why “people” started declaring that Jesus was God is because of the eyewitnesses, i.e. Peter, John, Paul and 500 others, according to the testimony of Paul’s undisputed 1st letter to the Corinthians 15:5-8

    5-and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

    6-After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

    7-then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

    8-and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

    John 9:30-33

    30-The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.

    31-“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.

    32-“Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

    33-“If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  February 24, 2016

      Just because someone–even 500 someones–give what is claimmed to be eyewitness testimony, doesn’t make it so. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion there were hundreds of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem, not to mention non-Jews, a couple of Roman legions, etc. Wny didn’t Jesus stroll imto the Court of the Nations, and say, “Look folks, here I am.”?

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 8, 2016

      Nothing you write here supports your conclusion that people began declaring that Jesus was God. Being resurrected by God does not mean one is God. Both Elijah and, I think, Elisha performed, at the very least (according to the Hebrew Scriptures), the miracles of raising a person from death. That did not imply that they were divine in any way.

  3. Avatar
    teg51  February 21, 2016

    I’m not sure if i have mentioned this before Bart, but i have heard talks from a scholar named Eisemann- who you may or may not have heard before, who claims that there was much discord between Paul and the followers of Jesus-in particular James the brother of Jesus who was head of the jerusalem church. He goes on to claim that Paul was basically an impostor who viewed the disciples as inferior and went his own route in evangelizing the gentiles. As examples he mentions the disagreement Paul had with Peter in regards to circumcision and a few statements he made claiming he was superior to them. He also mentions that the disciples(including james) were actually more like the essenes or sicari.Now, I don’t know if you have the time but, I have found a video of him talking about this and was wondering what your opinion would be on a lot of the issues he brings up which are thought provoking. Here is the video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ypcyl7-lxjM

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      Eisenmann is a smart fellow and has done a ton of research. But he completely overplays the role of James in early Christianity and Judaism (including the Dead Sea Scrolls!)

      • Avatar
        Joshua150  February 24, 2016

        He does. Read all his stuff, and IMO with all the flak, circular reasoning, supposed ‘code’ breaking etc. Removed Could have been a provocative addition to overall scholarship. Sigh.

  4. Jeff
    Jeff  February 21, 2016

    “[these passages] were never interpreted as referring to the messiah. That’s for a very good reason. The messiah is never mentioned in them.”
    To me, the fallacy of calling them messianic prophesies is not that “messiah” is never mentioned (it could have been clearly implied without using the word) but that, in context, they are CLEARLY promises and/or warnings given for the benefit of contemporary actors! E.g., Isaiah 7:14 clearly refers to a young woman (alma) who was living at the time. Then, to bolster his interpretation, Greek-speaking “Matthew”–reading from a Greek translation–ignores the clearly NON-miraculous O.T. context and interprets the Greek word “parthenos” as “virgin” instead of “young woman” as it should have been.
    BTW, GREAT work on the Bird debate. You were so clearly the winner (with the crystal-clarity and impact of your arguments) that I actually felt sorry for the poor schlemiel!

  5. Avatar
    MMahmud  February 21, 2016

    PLEASE make this blog post open to non members. I think if there is something Michael Bird or any debater said in the debate you weren’t able to address then and there that you should put it in a blog post and keep it open.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      My view is that if people desperately want to read the post — they’ll join!!!

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 8, 2016

        Some people are also too desperate financially to do so.

  6. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  February 21, 2016

    I have read somewhere that some scholars believe that Mark was probably written in Egypt. Is that plausible? Even if it wasn’t Egypt, is it fair to say that Mark was written somewhere far away from Paul’s churches or even Jerusalem given the different Christologies?

    Thanks a lot.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 24, 2016

      I think it’s almost impossible to say where it was written. It is associated with Egypt because according to later legends Mark started the hurch in Alexandria — but I don’t think there’s anything historical in that. In some ways Mark has a similar view to Paul’s understanding of the death of Jesus, so it’s hard to know if he’s familiar with Paul’s teachings or not. But certainly his emphasis on Jesus’ life and teachings makes him very different from Paul!

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 21, 2016

    OT: Do you think it’s possible the “cleansing of the Temple” was not merely a minor fracas by our stsndards, but *never happened at all*? That *all* the stuff about the Temple and the priests was made up to cast blame on “the Jews,” when no one was really involved but Judas and the Romans?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 24, 2016

      My sense is that *something* happened in which Jesus showed his displeasure at the temple system, but that it’s been way overblown in the Xn sources.

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 21, 2016

    Another question: I remember reading, some years back, that the name “Matthew” means “disciple.” I’m not sure that’s right – I’ve seen some other claim more recently.

    *Does* it mean “disciple,” in Aramaic or Hebrew? If so, could the author of “Matthew” have thought that was the name of the “tax collector” when one of his “M” sources had merely meant to describe the tax collector as a disciple – not knowing his name?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 24, 2016

      Well, the word MATHETES in Greek means disciple, but I’m not sure it’s etymologically related to the name Matthew. (I’m away from my books just now) Maybe someone else can tell us?

  9. Avatar
    dragonfly  February 21, 2016

    “One thing that struck me is that my debate opponent, Michael Bird, did not present an alternative answer.”

    I think this is the most disappointing part of the whole thing.

  10. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  February 21, 2016

    I’m curious to know why he didn’t offer an alternative as well. Maybe he’s open to answering now since he posted your tweet to his page. I did ask him on his FB page what his response was to your explanation of the voice at Jesus’ baptism, the transfiguration, and the Roman soldier. If he answered it, it was at another time or I missed it.
    Someone on his FB page brought up that you misunderstood Michael. Michael hasn’t responded yet, but I honestly didn’t understand the poster’s point either:
    “Ehrman misunderstood Bird’s argument. “Adoptionism” doesn’t follow from declarations of Jesus being the son (regardless of the speaker). If it did, that’s three times. However, the larger point is, given the ancient context and closest parallels, the adoptionism would have been best taught, if such was Mark’s intent, at the crucifixion, not the baptism.”
    Of course, this poster doesn’t speak for Michael, but I thought I’d post it since I didn’t get what he was saying.

    I had a hard time following some of Michael’s points at different times throughout the debate. As far as the first night, all I got out of his response was that by your explanation, Jesus would have been adopted 3 times. You made it clear that wasn’t the case. After that, I believe it was the Q & A session. I thought I understood what was going on in this debate but maybe not.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      I”m afraid this respondent doesn’t understand my argument. But so it goes!

      • Avatar
        MMahmud  February 25, 2016

        I felt like Mike was rambling a bit and kind of throwing darts. It could be I am just a bad listener but I had an issue following along with his argument(s) as well.

  11. talmoore
    talmoore  February 21, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman,
    When social scientists study mass movements, esp. cults, they notice that the votaries tend to be far, far more (for lack of a better term) hardcore than the actual leader or leadership of the movement. That is to say, there is a certain zeal inherent in the die-hard follower that is occasionally lacking in the man or men on top. One possible reason for this is that the man or men on top are far, far more “in-the-know” than the followers, because while the followers have to speculate and take on faith who (or what) the leader is in esoteric, ontological terms, the leader actually has a pretty firm grasp on who he is. That isn’t to say that some, if not the majority of cult leaders do not come to buy into their own sense of grandiosity and self-importance. Indeed, a certain megalomania appears to be a pre-requisite to be a charismatic leader. But even with that level of self-deception, it never really comes close to the myopia, the delusion of a devoted follower. It’s for this reason that the post-crucifixion behavior of Jesus’ disciples: their frantic effort to make sense of such an unexpected event, their refusal to consider that they may have been following a false prophet, their raiding of scripture to find some authoritative justification for such a seemingless senseless turn in the progress of history. To me, your hypothesis fits perfectly within this framework of how the human propensity to deny, deny, deny forces us into a spiraling series of rationalizations and half-excuses, to the point where we can literally transform a (likely) charismatic but otherwise ordinary human being — over the course of centuries — into the all-powerful creator of the universe. And it all started with that one simple refusal to accept the possibility that Jesus was a nobody who died for nothing.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  February 25, 2016

      I think the early disciples knew what Jesus died for–and it wasn’t “our sins.” The members of the so-called Jerusalem church ( I guess church really means sect) remained in Jerusalem and participated in the temple rituals, but then somebody, presumably Paul, got hold of these stories and began the process of developing Christology into the imposing edifice(s) known as the various Christian religions, etc. Jesus was co-opted by these folks and defined and redefined into something he never claimed to be, and in fact would have opposed, not to say, despised. I can’t help wondering what the wretched Donald Trump will have evolved into, say, a hundred years from now. Will he be sitting at the left hand of Beelzebub?

  12. Avatar
    Chadevan  February 22, 2016

    The literary critic Harold Bloom is pretty keen on Mark (despite his apparently rather rough Greek–he actually compares him to Edgar Allan Poe as an oxymoronic “great bad writer.”) I agree there is something very potent about the gospel–others have compared it to Kafka. Do you agree? If so, do you think it’s power stems from it being the first and arguably most historical? What are your favorite New Testament books, whether in terms of historical interest or aesthetic power?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      I think Mark and Kafka are living and writing in such HUGELY different circumstances that it’s not fair to compare. For me its power resides in its subtlety.

      • Avatar
        Chadevan  February 24, 2016

        Synoptic gospel professor at Maynooth stressed exactly that: Mark’s subtlety.

  13. Avatar
    Chadevan  February 22, 2016

    Also, Bloom compares Mark to the Yahwist author of parts of the Torah, in particular in their respective characterizations of YHWH and Jesus. Granted that Mark of course would probably have regarded Moses as the author of the whole Pentateuch, do you think their is anything their in terms of shared sensibility?

  14. Avatar
    Omar6741  February 22, 2016

    Professor Ehrman,
    I just wanted to share an article you might enjoy, which argues that Richard Swinburne is, in fact, “a polytheist
    par excellence. This is a strange discovery, by my my lights, very strange.”
    The author goes on to wonder how “the person who is widely regarded as the most able defender of traditional Christian doctrine in the twentieth-century and beyond, and so regarded by many Christians over the past three decades, should turn out to be” such a thorough-going polytheist.
    https://www.academia.edu/19120707/Two_Peas_in_a_Single_Polytheistic_Pod_John_Hick_and_Richard_Swinburne_2016_

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 22, 2016

    Another clear post. I remain thankful for both your clarity and your amazing productivity. I have spent over five decades trying to write down my conclusions about Christianity. The end result is ten typewritten pages which I think are clear and concise, but certainly not earth shattering. Counting all of your various book, blog. and teaching projects, you must produce at least that much writing every day. I have no clue how you can be so clear and so productive, but I am grateful nevertheless. Keep plugging away and don’t dare let your critics on either side (atheists/mythicists as well as Christian fundamentalists) slow you down.

    I also noticed that Dr. Bird did not present an explanation, but I assume, from reading the book, “How God Became Jesus,” that his contention would be that God was incarnated as Jesus and that Jesus was always God as shown by His ability to forgive sins and by the fact that demons recognized Him. You have tackled in other places the question of whether one can forgive sins and not be God and the “demon” argument does not seem very convincing since what in the world are “demons” anyway?

    Ron

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      My point in the debate was that even if Jesus was the incarnate God, no one thought so until after the resurrection.

      • Avatar
        MMahmud  February 25, 2016

        Ok now I can isolate at least 3 of his points

        That whole “I think that if the disciples thought he ascended then they must have realized he descended”

        Really? How on earth does one necessitate the other?

        The same thing with the “demons realized it!!!”

        SO? What?

        “Ascension did not always signify deification”

        Yes…but it sometimes did. Jews and Romans were diverse in belief. Jews had a history of incredibly exalted words for certain kings and figures and Romans would literally deify the dead.

        ” the king would be God upon death not the son of God”

        This is like the only argument that truly stuck to me listening through the whole debate…and it is barely compelling. Who cares if Christians made a bit of an error in plagiarizing theology from Romans? The point still stands. They exalt him to Lord and son of God seated at the right hand of actual God. They make him level with Yahweh and in doing so, create their own movement. I thought it was weird they are discussing circumcision right after they have literally exalted their loved on to God status but it makes sense. Traumatized and greiving with guilty after what they believe to be his death they find a way to make it up, to cope. People don’t speak rationally when they lose a loved one and in this case, it was one who meant more to them than anyone else. He clearly touched their lives like no other.

        I might have mistated one or more of his arguments.

  16. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  February 22, 2016

    the bird said “you can still be an atheist”
    what did the bird mean by this parable?

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  February 22, 2016

    I ended up watching the debate again because I thought I missed something significant by Michael Bird. There’s too much to go through point by point, but it seemed like he didn’t understand what you meant by Moses being called god. He also said that someone who was resurrected didn’t mean they were thought of as God and gave some examples that weren’t similar to Jesus and his life: Job’s children and the testament of Abel <–never heard of it?

    The last thing that really threw me off was what Michael thought the term "Son of God" meant. I couldn't figure out if he thought Son of God meant someone who was anointed/the messiah or someone who was part of the Trinity. Psalm 2:7 was talking about David right? Or did Michael think that it was a prophetic scripture for Jesus? I don't know.

    Basically, what I surmised from Michael's lecturing points is that the term "Son of God" used in Mark and in Romans by Paul is proof that Jesus was thought of as God–third person of the Trinity– during his lifetime???

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      I thought he specifically said that Jesus did NOT go around saying this.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  February 24, 2016

        All Jews (at least the males) thought they were sons of God–made in his image, etc.–so it wasn’t unique for Jesus to claim sonship, even if he did. I’m absolutely certain, Jesus didn’t think himself divine.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  February 23, 2016

      Because I am obsessive about these things, I watched parts of Michael’s presentation again! It’s better than doing drugs right? Jesus didn’t say he was God, but Mark implied it because there was no adoptionistic Christology in Michael’s view. He pointed out that Paul believed Jesus to be pre-existing, and so did the readers of Mark. Michael didn’t address people not knowing that Jesus was God, but based on what he said about the divine voice, transfiguration, the demons knowing who Jesus was, etc…people were having moments of revelation that Jesus was God and that was demonstrated throughout the gospel. Moses being called god, the Romans’ view of adoptionism, resurrections, etc…none of those things can be used to prove anything because Mark knew about all of that and still believed Jesus to be God. Michael also said that only a Roman reader could imply adoptionism into Mark’s gospel but not the readers it was intended for–Christians.

      • Bart
        Bart  February 24, 2016

        Yup, I’ll be dealing more with this in the posts today and tomorrow.

  18. Avatar
    PeteSammataro  February 22, 2016

    Isn’t this where the resurrection comes in? At least some of the apostles apparently believed God physically had raised Jesus from the dead and took him, body and soul, into a divine realm. Thus, these apostles believed, Jesus was God.

    This wasn’t satisfactory for long, because a) it required an explanation that would be consistent with monotheism and b) it raises as many questions as it answers, in that the later Christians had to explain exactly when Jesus became God. Thus, Christians after the first century had to refine their theory.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2016

      They refined their views, but they continued to say that Jesus was God.

  19. Avatar
    sinetheo  February 22, 2016

    He claimed he was certainly devine in the Gospel of Thomas even though it was a gnostic gospel. Perhaps Jesus himself thought he was devine himself?

  20. Avatar
    prairieian  February 23, 2016

    I feel we have a bit of nomenclature problem here, and I am fairly certain I am confusing things myself. But, here goes…

    Messiah is a Hebrew term that has a monarchical element, as well as an insurrectionist element. That is a king who will come from somewhere to defeat Israel’s oppressors (whoever they may be – in the time of Jesus, the carpenter’s son – this would be the Romans). The issue of being the ‘anointed one’ is also part of this. My understanding of the function of being anointed is religious and would be performed by religious authorities and so is a formal process (e.g. the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the British monarch). All of the above rather implies someone of the upper echelons of society – the messiah would come from the Jewish ruling classes, not from the working class. The Maccabees, if I have this correct, were from such a background.

    Christ is a Greek term that means much the same as the above. The term ‘basiliskos’ is the Greek term for king in our modern sense (might be a bit off here, but I believe this to be more or less the case). Basiliskos has no relation to khristos or christ that I know of, which presumably implies that in Greek traditions the act of anointing was not part of the process of coronation. What was a “christ”?

    All to say we toss these terms around with abandon. Jesus=Christ (Greek)=Messiah(Hebrew)=King. It takes no great stretch of imagination as to why the man on the street in Jerusalem in, say 40AD, dismissed as absurd the early claims of the first Christians that this Jesus fellow, an executed journeyman carpenter (totally honourable trade, of course), was in the category of ‘king’.

    With this rather enormous introduction to my question – is there a real monarchical element to either term: Christ or Messiah? Did the Jews of the time (and to the present day, perhaps) anticipate a member of the noble families of Jerusalem to step into the role? Is this one of the reasons the initial claims were dismissed as absurd? Or, are the terms entirely religious in nature?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 24, 2016

      I think the only thing to stress is that being a King did not require aristocratic roots. Think King David. It was possible for a king to arise out of lowly circumstances.

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