Stating the problem:
What was it about Jesus that caused these Jews (the first Christians) to wrap their sacred history around him? (Moses, Elijah, Passover, Yom Kippur, etc.)
Stated thusly, it seems a fair enough question to ask. After all, devoted Jews just don't go around claiming that someone is greater than Moses everyday. (Have you ever read Hebrews?)
But what if the question is assuming that which it has yet to demonstrate? How do we know they were fully "Jewish"?
Most folks seems content to assume, because the authors appear to be familiar with some of the liturgical symbolism of the Temple cult and with the scriptures in general, that they must have been "Jews."
But if you recall, it wasn't the "Jews" who were the rallying masses behind this new messianic movement, but the gentile converts, with whom it resonated strongest (by all accounts). And by the time most books in the New Testament were being composed, the schism was already complete.
In my reading of the material, I see it spreading like wildfire in this its hellenic variation, but, in its original Jewish setting, the community consisted of an insular group of semi-ascetic Law-observing Jews who, though they tolerated Greek god-fearers-cum-"christians" being around, did not hold to the missionary standard that these hellenists held to and probably wished (a hunch) the hellenists would stop messing with their traditions. The initial Jerusalem Nazarenes, headed by Jacob, were in fact indistinguishable from their Jewish neighbors because they WERE fellow Jews for all intents and purposes. Being Jews, they weren't prone to proselytize and therefore did not "spread like wildfire" like the gentile school, but rather stayed in Jerusalem and simply continued to be Jews who upheld the memory and teachings of their "guru", Jesus, and were allowed to, just as those who kept the memory of Rabbi Hillel or of Rabbi Gamaliel or of Rabbi Akiba were allowed to commemorate their respective teachings and legacies. But these sages were never elevated to the point of surpassing even Moses in importance, even to the point of deification like Jesus eventually was.
The book we know as the Gospel of Matthew's obvious lifting of the Mosaic parallels and pentaform structure is fascinating in light of this.
Still the above question looms.
What could have made Jews proclaim Jesus exalted above all names, even that of Moses?
I find it hard to believe that an "orthodox" Jew would make that leap. Ask yourself what it would take for a Muslim to elevate some newcomer to a position higher than that occupied by Mohammed in that worldview? What would it take for a Christian to supplant Jesus with some modern supposed Second Coming (though, notably, over the centuries, there has been no lack of contenders for that particular title, I know—e.g. Montanus, Haile Selassie, Hong Xiuquan, Charles Manson - jk :P )?
But . . . . if you'll allow me an anachronism here . . . .
A Jew-for-Jesus could have easily made such a theological blunder.
That's what all of this has me thinking of.
Follow me here . . .
It seems plausible to me that it (GMatt et. al.) could have been written by a community of hellenist initiates into the Pauline mysteries who were resentful of having been kicked out of the Temple for their irreconcilable (downright heretical from a Jewish perspective) views (the dating of this severance - that is, of the expulsion from fellowship of those who held to these mysteries - Jamnia, circa 83–90 C.E., sounds just about right when Mathew came to into being (by current consensus, it is right in the strike zone).
I bring up the contemporary Jews-for-Jesus movement here because they serve as a good modern example of a devotional community that has co-opted the traditions (though only superficially) of another pre-existing group to the extent that they view THEMSELVES as the true advocates of the tradition.
We admit that there's something very "non-Jewish" about proclaiming Jesus as the Übermoses. A Pharisee would have been really annoyed by this teaching.
Of course, one could just accept that miracles did happen and that they vouchsafe the messianic claims. But, instead of thinking of the early kerygma's allure as simply resulting from reports of miracles and apocalyptic preaching (history must prefer confessions of ignorance to invocations of the supernatural, or necessarily fall outside of the scientific paradigm—and besides, miracle workers were a dime a dozen in those days) it seems more plausible (at least probable) to me that it might perhaps not "sound" Jewish simply because it ISN'T Jewish.
Yes, there is some genuine knowledge of Judaic forms and symbols reflected in Matthew. These, however could have been simply a result of the close contact these proselytes had had for half a century with the Jewish host tradition. These symbols were co-opted by these outcasts who then proclaimed themselves to be the true, newly-fulfilled Judaism (having bought into the Pauline mysteries necessitated borrowing Abram's Bossom for it to work, after all), yet very quickly (amazingly quick in fact) these symbols were grossly misinterpreted by subsequent initiates. I have had several discourses with Jew-for-Jesus missionaries in which I noticed that the symbolism is not only co-opted, it is sometimes misrepresented.
I have been thinking it out for some time and this might explain why the texts utilize elements of Jewish symbolism and metaphor and borrowed forms while at the same time audaciously ascribing divinity to a mortal man. It is no wonder to me that these people got kicked out of the synagogues for their views.Thanks to the theological ruminations and innovations of Paul and those who influenced him (wouldn't it be so lovely to have something from Apollos or from Barnabas or from Thecla?), this salvation was now not only available to all, but its implications essentially rendered the Judaism which inspired it more or less obsolete.
To those who would insist on the genuine Jewishness of the authors, just one question for now:
Why would the early church not latch on to the initial reference to the scapegoat motif of Yom Kippur and instead choose a literal interpretation of the Barrabas episode? How Jewish were these people, that they so quickly and completely forgot their inherited iconography?
Still, the textual evidence that the authors had deep knowledge of Judasim seems to testifiy to their "Jewishness". No?
Well, not necessarily.
Take my next example (just so Jew-for-Jesus won't be the only folks offended by this humble post . . . :)
The Mormons, in their sacred writings, display a profound understanding of Christianity. No? They freely borrowed the phrasing and symbolism of that religion which they claim to be a splinter of. Indeed, they felt entitled to do this as the true inheritors (by their own self-definition) of the gospel.
Can one deny that a deep familiarity and even understanding of Christianity is evident in their texts?
Oh, yeah . . . except for that bit about Jesus appearing in North America during his three days missing from Jerusalem after his crucifixion, while he was dead (the orthodox church line says he went to hell - the Mormons must think that North America must be hell, then, by logical reasoning . . . o_Ó . . .). Oh . . . and that little bit about how he was actually a brother of Lucifer . . . . Oh . . . and that little thing about men earning their godhood (and a planet of their own to boot) through piety and righteousness in this life. These digressions are blasphemous to most orthodox Christian traditions.
Are Mormons Christian? Well . . . their texts reflect a deep understanding and dependence on the New Testament, so . . . surely . . . . they MUST be Christians. No?
But I'm not gonna argue whether I think Mormons are Chritians (I think they're not— in the same way that Christians are not Jews—which is not to say I object to their existence—I wanna be careful to not be painted into an anti-Mormon corner) . . . Regardless, they co-opted the sacred texts of the religion which they splintered from and added their own teaching which misinterpreted those texts they co-opted. This paralells the early Christian situation (to my eyes) and I think this might be the kind of thing that happened when hellenist converts persuaded themselves that they were the "New Jerusalem".
As you can tell . . . I see a problem with taking for granted the Jewishness of the New Testament authors just because they utilize Jewish themes and symbols despite their idolatrous (from a Jewish perspective) exultation of Jesus.
To hold that those bits that are un-Jewish were adopted because the orthodox community was convinced that God had stepped into history to raise Jesus . . . requires an enormous leap. It needs a supernatural intervention for it to work. My model at least attempts to explain the un-Jewishness of the texts in a way that leaves the supernatural out of it (Yes, I am an unashamed naturalist).
The greek precursor of the concept we now call Ockam's razor was the "think horses" axion. In ancient greece, medical students were exhorted to think horses - not zebras - when they heard the sound of hoofbeats coming (my point here being that invoking the supernatural is like thinking zebras).
Again I must insist that most Jews rejected the claim of his followers that he was the Messiah, and, except for the small group led by Jacob in Jerusalem, who were pretty much left alone (and even respected). To keep insisting that the early spreading Christianity was comprised of mostly genuine Jews who only blasphemed against their god because miracles compelled them to is to beg a lot of questions, in my opinion.
Anyway . . . I'm gonna chew on this for a while.