"The Earliest Footprint of Jesus: What We Have Heard” opens by following the Apostle Paul in the story of his confrontation with Athenian community leaders at the Are-op′agus hill. Paul’s reality is compared to that of Jesus. The world of Jesus is further investigated by research into his likely attitudes towards the divinity and varying socioeconomic conditions on the ground.
Palestine's social makeup, archaeology, and the crucial impact of mass illiteracy on the life and times receive special emphasis.
That Yeshu-ha-Notzri was a historical figure is beyond any doubt. That he was a devout Judaist familiar with temple and synagogue is hardly news. For that matter, at some point we should face the reality that his message was essentially Jewish in nature and fulfillment. That may perk the ears of some readers. But not those few experts who specialize in the demythization of Near Eastern antiquity. And self-consciously pass this theme by.
In this study we face a real intellectual dilemma. A dilemma that has been either unaddressed or effectively ignored for more than two centuries. One might add, by the best-educated among us. A dilemma that, at all costs, must avoid pursuing a well-familiar later dialogue of post-Palestine, Hellenized intrigue. Masquerading as early tradition. For casual readers, what are we talking about? The synoptic texts are loaded with accounts when weighed against a legitimate historical background would have been extremely late narrative additions. Almost certainly created beyond the Land of Israel. This topic is examined in some depth throughout this two-book series.
Or the bulk of Paul's ecstatic visionary world. Dogmatic religious themes that formulated adulatory praise to a divine or semi-divine Hellenized figure. This Pauline interpretation had nothing to do with the Palestinian experience of one Yeshu ha-Notzri. A practicing rabbi from an anonymous speck of a village in the remote Nazareth valley. This area of concern will also – to some extent – be investigated.
We will come to realize that these somewhat Hellenistic profiles emerged long after original oral memories began forming in exclusively Hebraic village settings. The Hellenistic outlook transpired beyond territorial Palestinian borders. Beyond the altruistic worldview of rural villagers entirely devoted to temple, rainfall, and tilled soil.
Paul's "Christian" experience was urbanized from the start. Largely patterned around a mature, hellenistic, cultural mythos. And to some degree, we might add "educated" and "literate." As far as we know, Paul was born into the cosmopolitan pagan world of Tarsus in the Roman province off Cilicia. The key to competently filling in the blanks: the story of Jesus would have been initially cast against an entirely Judaic cultural backdrop.
In particular, Paul's Hellenistic thought-world would have been largely unrecognizable. Certainly, in the northern territory of Galilee. Not only that. But among rural villagers, many of Paul's conceptual ideas, if explained, would be insistently frowned upon. Even ridiculed.
Within the Nazarene's timeline, Israelites were looking for answers to Roman occupation and collusion from their own aristocratic overseers. They (partially) found them in numerous social activities that revolved around cultic "purity" concepts. As a consequence, during the first century the native population presented a steady, growing, nationalistic drumbeat. The Land of Israel increasingly resented the Roman takeover. And corrupt Judaic officials. A set-in-stone social profile that never let up till sometime in the second century with the complete dismantling of the Jewish state.
The subject of orality is enormously important for gaining a proper understanding of numerous historical themes related to Jesus and his mission. The book closes with multiple chapters focused on this rarely mentioned motif.
Today, the shady side of New Testament scholarship is met in rather curious interpretive trends. In academic research the familiar religious icon we call "Jesus the Nazarene" has been reimagined in life settings at times seemingly reserved by cranks and simpletons. For that matter, much of biblical research often follows a similar trend. In brushstrokes, these two books attempt to reconstruct an authentic historical past.