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Stephan Hermann Huller, Jesus the Good Samaritan [unpublished manuscript]

Reviewed by Robert M. Price

The book is very, very fascinating, just the sort of thing I relish for its ability to force us to throw the puzzle pieces up in the air and let them fall into new configurations. A new paradigm. As always, the main question that arises with regard to a new paradigm is how naturally it makes sense of the evidence? How much of the framework seems to arise inductively from a consideration of the evidence before we have to shift gears and begin showing how the remainder of the data, which perhaps does not so clearly call forth the paradigm, can be read in light of it. It is a shift from inductive to deductive reading, The more of the theory that seems to make sense as inductively and naturally read off from the evidence, the stronger and more compelling the paradigm will seem. The more the data needs to be harmonized with the paradigm, the weaker it is.

A similar consideration that arises in mind is whether we are really being asked to accept more than one paradigm. Will one part of the offered theory make sense if you don’t accept another section of it that is really complex and controversial? We can’t cheat and accept one enormity just because we are attracted to another.

How many bridges must the reader/scholar cross before he can arrive safely at acceptance of the theory? The fewer the better. The more, the more speculative the theory. The more speculative, the greater the degree of tentativeness necessary. That may represent the ambiguous state of the evidence more than any weakness of a comprehensive theory. It may be that any and all reconstructions of Christian origins can only be entertained as possibilities. We cannot transfer the certainty we long ago felt as believers in a creed about Jesus to a new, scholarly theory about Jesus simply because we are used to having certainty in these matters. I think too many historical Jesus scholars do this, i.e., fail to draw the distinction.

Having expressed the sort of thing circulating in my mind as I read Jesus the Good Samaritan, let me begin evaluating. The first thing that hit me is to separate the various questions, the first and foremost being, what strong evidence implies Jesus was a Samaritan and that Christianity began as a Samaritan schism? From your presentation, what strikes me as simple and strong evidence would be the following:

1. The pro-Samaritan texts of Luke-Acts and John. These might just represent a friendliness of these evangelists to the Samaritan mission in the early church (which is what I always thought), but it could just as naturally be read as polemic for “our” side, if “we” early Christians are Samaritans.

2. The enemies of Jesus charge him with being both demon-possessed and a Samaritan; he denies the first but not the second. Quite striking!

3. Jesus is shown in John 4 as proclaiming his identity as the Samaritan Taheb and is received as such by the Samaritans. There is no note here of the Samaritans somehow, in some sense, converting first to Judaism, or of Jesus being a Davidic messiah. And it is useless to argue that John is simply ignorant of major Samaritan/Jewish differences, since he shows himself familiar with dietary contagion rules governing the two communities’ interaction.

4. The very name Jesus at least being natural for a Samaritan messiah because of the Joshua-Messianism of Samaritanism. I am even open to the possibility that “Jesus” was a Samaritan messianic title.

5. The Transfiguration comparing and contrasting Jesus with Moses and Elijah, but not with David.

6. The astonishing similarity between Samaritan Mosaic Logos “Christology” and that of early Christianity (though much of this is found in Philo, too; his creative Logos is heavenly Adam, heavenly High Priest, firstborn Son of God). I’m sure you are long familiar with Michael Goulder’s article on Samaritan Gnosis as a source of Christian Christology in The Myth of God Incarnate.

7. The astonishing similarity of the Last Supper words of Institution and the Samaritan Passover liturgy.

8. The sense it would make of the “Verus Israel” dispute between Christians and Jews if it were not merely analogous to, but actually the consistent continuation of the old dispute between North and South.

9. The sense it would make of Jesus’ words against the Temple, his gloating over its doom, and his own plans to be the end of it. And of course, as does the whole Brandon-type approach, your theory is able to make sense of the obvious embarrassment of the evangelists over the report that Jesus said he would destroy the Temple.

Similarly, the spin you put on (or the light you shed on) the “say to this mountain, ‘Be thrown into the sea,’” saying as referring to Mount Zion, i.e., the Temple, is brilliant!

The logic of the raid on the Temple is brilliant: if the god inside no longer received his feedings, he would be unable to keep up his strength and his world would no longer be maintained! Fascinating!

Plus, I like what you do with the evidence that Jews were believed to be worshipping mere archons in the Temple, and that the cherubim were in sexual embrace. I have only read of this elsewhere in Patai’s striking book The Hebrew Goddess.

10. Stephen’s speech (a la Johannes Munck) and Hebrews have both been understood as Samaritan-influenced before by others not arguing your case (important, because it shows your assignment of them to Samaritanism is seen not to be merely a function of your larger theory).

          On the other hand, your theory makes it hard to understand why anyone would have been scandalized at Jesus associating with tax collectors and sinners. If he were a Samaritan, the Pharisees would have been happy to consign him to the same sewer. But then I have no trouble understanding such traditions as polemics on behalf of a later Judaized Christianity seeking to explain the stubborn memory that Jesus associated with outcasts because he was one. 

As for Paul being Simon Magus, many will choke on this, but not me. I see the cogency of Baur’s identification of the two figures, something made even more likely once one understands Rene Girard’s theory of mimetic doubling. It also helps us understand the Ebionite slur that Paul had not been a Jew! It seems hard to believe that he had no connection with what we think of as Judaism, but if he were attached to Judaism obliquely as a matter of Samaritan allegiance, it all seems more natural. I had, however, assumed that the Samaritan business was synonymous with Paul being considered a heretical double/rival of Peter, but your reading makes sense. To be honest, I don’t see it as compellingly better, but when I ask myself, “Is this viable?” the answer is yes.

Another important point: making Paul the fountainhead of heresies as the church fathers said Simon was (Tertullian calls Paul by name of course, “Apostle of Marcion, and of the heretics,” though he imagines they have misappropriated him) is no stretch, especially since Basilides claimed direct apostolic succession, once removed, from him. The Clementines, as you note, make Paul into a distinctly Marcionite Simon, so the equation of Marcionite Paulinism as Simonian Samaritan “heresy” is quite plausible. From Hermann Detering’s The Falsified Paul I have been linking Paul, Simon, and Marcion more and more closely anyway. So it is no problem for me, as it may be for others, to accept your twin paradigm shift of making Simon into Simon Magus the Marcionite. In fact I wonder if “Saul” in Acts does not serve as a transitional form/conflation for “Simon and Paul.”

Why would Samaritans accept a doctrine of Law-free religion, and of a second God? You are persuasive here, too, I’d say, by (in effect) taking the reasons people like C.K. Barrett posit or Jews turning to Gnosticism after 70 CE: the Samaritans had long since had reasons to abandon the overrated god of the Old Testament who had not protected them in a very long time. They were writing “After Auschwitz.” And the bind they were in: how can they keep the Law of sacrifice without a temple? Granted, they might have spiritualized the matter as did the Qumran sect and the Rabbis did, but this is no less likely a possibility.

Was John the Baptist a Samaritan? Might have been. The baptizing at Aenon near Salim does seem to place him in Samaria. And I find it plausible, as many unfortunately will not, that the Slavonic Josephus may here and elsewhere be considered a serious historical source.

Here are some points where I have trouble seeing it your way, but where this presents no real problem with the larger thesis. I think it important to draw this distinction; some reviewers don’t and dismiss theories too quickly that they ought to agree with.

1.  I aim next to read your on-line Against Polykarp; I haven’t yet, so I admittedly do not now know the whole argument (pointing up the need, by the way, for both to be published). But I find it slightly strained to take Pauline references to “my gospel” to refer to a written text, especially since he says it was what he “preached” or “proclaimed.” I guess you could say there are written proclamations, but can we imagine him getting a congregation to sit still long enough to listen to a whole written gospel?

          But then it seems to me one need say no more than that Mark is a Paulinist gospel, perhaps even a Marcionite one (“Thus he declared all foods clean”), and I have wondered if perhaps the evangelist Mark were in fact Marcion. Our Mark could be read as a shorter version of Luke, after all, and some of the Patristic mud-slinging about Marcion cutting Luke’s text may stem from a time when synoptic relationships were not so well understood, and when some of ours were not even familiar. So even if it were not Paul himself writing this and that about Jesus, it might still be early Paulinist tradition.

2. Likewise, I find it hard to paste together the distinctively Johannine and Lukan styles to make them into pieces of a single original gospel, or to assign any part of John’s gospel to Paul. But then it is nothing new to see John, too, as Paulinist or similarly Gnostic. I don’t think your case really depends on assigning so many writings to particular “big names.” I think instead of assigning writings, a la Baur, to certain camps and tendencies. Others may, too, but that doesn’t count against you. (And I like very much what you say about the tendency to discredit and vilify Peter in the gospels as factional polemic, not biography.)

3. Did Polycarp single-handedly redact all that early Christian literature? Again, I look forward to reading your other book on this, but in the meantime, I would say that even if you are over-simplifying the matter, choosing a single name for what is really a shadowy collective or group, your point is still a good one. If so inclined, a reader might simply substitute for your Polykarp Bultmann’s nameless “Ecclesiastical Redactor” or Loman’s “Paulus Episcopus.” Doesn’t seem to matter. Similarly, when you say Polycarp has created new gospels to overbalance the Pauline gospel, this may be a bit much to credit this single church father with. But how much different in effect is John Knox’s theory (in Marcion and the New Testament) that the emerging Catholic church chose the already existing non-Paulinist gospels of Mark, Matthew and John and padded and sanitized Marcion’s Pauline gospel of (Ur-) Luke?

Now on to more substantial hesitations. Mainly on the substitution of martydom/martyrion for sacrifice. I am first tempted to just dismiss the idea as a never-explicit exegetical phantom, one  derived by extrapolation of imagined implications. For instance, your eye-opening exegesis of the Good Shepherd metaphor--doesn’t it imply he is leading them to slaughter? Clever, thought I, but surely a perverse inference. But then I remember that overt call to martyrdom: “If anyone would be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” We have some work to do if we want, like conventional exegesis, to make this say something figurative! And there is the prediction that Jesus’ disciples will be persecuted, seeming universal in scope, implies an expectation that all will, not that some might, be martyred and should be ready. So you certainly have solid and clear textual evidence on your side.

But then so do those who say Jesus told everyone to give up all possessions. And yet it is hard to imagine a real social movement in which everyone did this, and there is even textual evidence that many so-called disciples did not. I wonder if in both cases you had some sort of “Plan A and Plan B” system (as in Buddhism, where only the elite monks and nuns actually tread the 8-fold path). There must have been early Christians who renounced wealth to live on the alms given by those Christians who did not! And likewise, don’t we see an early church in which confessors and martyrs were idolized by the larger majority who benefited from the formers’ bodhisattva-like charity? In the same way, Marcion required his members to renounce sex, but they could delay baptism and have sex in the meantime. Medieval Cathari required self-starvation, but only for the Perfect, not everyone automatically. Could something like this have been going on in the Pauline churches?

“The age of the apostles was filled with thousands upon thousands of executions of Christians by the hands of the Jews... in every corner of the Empire. The reason we have no information on this period...“ I wonder of persecution of Christians, especially by Jews, was all that common in the early days. I have been reading lately how some scholars see the persecutions as part of early Christian mythology of origins. If we have no information on the period, what is the basis for your claim? There may well be some, but this seems puzzling.

And sometimes I am left uncertain how passages you cite really say what you say they do, e.g., some Nag Hammadi and Mandaean texts that you say show a belief that the Temple would be destroyed. And when you make Ephesians (“We struggle not against flesh and blood but forces of wickedness in heavenly places”) I just cannot see the destruction of the Temple as in view at all. This seems to be one of those places where unsuspecting texts have a theory forced on them like a too-tight hat. Ditto re the use of the “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” text as referring to the relative freedom from Samaritans and Jews from Rome and from the Torah strikes me as very arbitrary, eisegetical. Again, to read the sayings about treasure in heaven, good trees and bad fruit, and the mote and the beam as dealing with the obsolescence of the Torah strikes me as arbitrary.

Here are some other notes:

You ask why, if Jews glorified failed heroes, as Christians assert, Bar-Kochba was not similarly glorified. He may have been, according to the plausible suggestion (all it is, of course) of Geza Vermes that Bar Kochba has in fact survived in Jewish eschatology as Messiah ben Joseph, who dies in battle to atone for Israel’s sins, clearing the way for Messiah ben David’s victory.

You say how the warring sects of Christians had so much in common despite what separated them, that they must have derived the common material from Jesus himself. I’m not sure about this. They may have split (soon after foundation) over some single point over which they differed. Like the Latter Day Saints and the Reorganized Church of LDS. Like the Free Will Baptists and the Original Free Will Baptists. The unity on their common points implies nothing re the origin of that common body of belief.

That Jesus was being sarcastic in advising disciples to make friends by means of unrighteous Mammon strikes me as a tactic of desperate exegesis, as it always does when scholars employ what I call “the irony dodge.” He did not mean it because, on my theory, he cannot have meant it. If there is a gross inconsistency with what he seems to say elsewhere, I find it much more natural to make one of the colliding logia an inauthentic saying.

Would a Samaritan have said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John”? Didn’t their canon lack the Prophets? Pardon my ignorance, which is probably the problem here. Similarly, weren’t Elijah and Elisha prophets of Israel, not Judah?

I am not at all clear on what you mean by saying Lazarus’ spirit passed into Paul/Simon. Could you clear this up for me?  Also: “Simon [Paul] died in the struggle in the temple.” Huh?

Surely you are right that the writer of the gospel of John means the reader to accept him as the Paraclete.

I’m intrigued by your suggestion that originally the Good Samaritan laid into the thugs and was killed by them! But is there any possible evidence for this? Why should we think it is true? It is certainly a fascinating midrash if nothing else!

“Yet we as scholars cannot be so simple-minded as to argue that ‘Jesus must be true; therefore whatever makes sense from the developments one hundred years after his crucifixion was his “true account.”’” I’m not sure I know what you mean here. Do you mean that the normativity of Jesus for Christian faith tempts scholars to assume they must be able to come to some true account of the historical Jesus by delineating some synthesis of (actually already corrupt) century-old traditions? That they can’t seem to leave it at agnosticism even if the evidence calls for it. Is that the idea?

Also: “Do we invite a resurrection of true Christianity...?” What do you think this would look like?

When you connect up the Rich Man who ignored poor Lazarus and the Rich Man of Luke 16, I have to wonder if you are not being over-subtle. If so, it is a mark of great insight and ingenuity, like that of the rabbis who found they could combine separate verses of scripture to yield new sense implied by neither of the originals (like harmonizing the two Genesis creation accounts to come up with Lilith!). I wonder if we are not doing this when we think to reconnect what may never have been joined before. Some would say the same of Bultmann’s rearrangements of John's gospel is more of the same. Hard to say. But I can fully sympathize with what you say about the sheer irresistability of some such (re)combinations: “there are so many resonating revelations that I find it hard to control myself from drawing attention to them.” (II:7:8)

And the result of linking Luke 16 with John 8, making Father Abraham the warden of Hell is striking! Wow!


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