• On the Historicity, Part 12.

    I am filing this under my review series of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Even though this isn’t really a review of the book, it is so closely related to the other things I have written that I felt it belonged with the series. The other parts of the series can be found here.

    In Philo’s Book On the Change of Names (chapter 21) he says this:

    Moses also changes the name of Hosea into that of Joshua; displaying by his new name the distinctive qualities of his character; for the name Hosea is interpreted, “what sort of a person is this?” but Joshua means “the salvation of the Lord,” being the name of the most excellent possible character.

    This provides new support for the Price-Couchoud theory that Christ received the name ‘Jesus’ — not when he was born — but after his resurrection and ascension (In Greek the name Joshua is the same as ‘Jesus’). Notice the parallels here with the Philippians hymn. In Philippians 2, Christ “made himself of no reputation” (verse 7) and later receives “the name that is above every name” (verse 9); Philo’s character is originally of no reputation (his name means “what sort of person is this?”) and later received the most excellent name, the name of Jesus. That parallel may or may not be significant, but what is certainly of interest is that Philo seems to connect the name Jesus with the heavenly Adam. Philo later comments:

    But it happens to the arch-prophet to have many names: for when he interprets and explains the oracles which are delivered by God, he is called Moses; and when he prays for and blesses the people, he is called the man of God; and when Egypt is paying the penalty of its impious actions, he is then denominated the god of him who is the king of the country, namely, of Pharaoh.
    (Chapter 22, On the Change of Names).

    Who is the ‘Archprophet’? The Archprophet has many names, just as Philo says that the Logos does (Chapter 28, On the Confusion of Tongues).** Moreover, though, the arch-prophet cannot be identified with any one particular flesh-and-blood man, as he is identified both as Moses and Pharaoh. The arch-prophet must therefore be transcendent, as only the Logos is.

    Right after Philo explains that Hosea was given the name Jesus, he speaks about Caleb’s transformation of the heart, and how Caleb had “‘a new spirit within him,’ as if the dominant part in him had been changed into complete perfection.” The man of complete perfection: the logos. Therefore, Philo was speaking about Hosea and Caleb emulating the logos. If Hosea’s change of name coincides with his becoming more like the logos, it is very probable that ‘Jesus’ was one of Logos’ many names.

    Here’s a good way to understand Philo’s thinking: If you go into a kindergarten classroom, you will see the kids imitating the perfect forms of all the letters of the alphabet in their workbooks. Their imitations of these letters will be sloppy, crooked forms of those letters. In like manner, righteous humans imitate the perfect man (Philo’s Logos). We can see this clearly in Philo’s comment that Caleb, after being transformed in his whole heart, has a new spirit, “as if the dominant part in him had been changed into complete perfection.” Hosea had become a much better (though not perfect) imitation of the Logos, and was given a name befitting his new-found imitation of the Lord: the name of Jesus.

    This argument (that there was a pre-Christian Jesus) corroborates my previous arguments for their having been a pre-Christian Jesus, which are:

    (1) Since the Christian community believed that Christ was the logos, and further believed that this logos was a heavenly high priest who built the heavenly temple, this would mean that Jesus was the heavenly counterpart to the Joshua [Jesus] of the Old Testament, the high priest who builds the earthly temple in Zechariah 6 (recall that in Greek Jesus and Joshua are the same, and recall that Christians believed there was a heavenly counterpart to everything on earth, see discussion here).

    (2) The ancient philosopher Philo says:

    Now, the following is an example of the former kind: “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East,” not of terrestrial but of celestial plants, which the planter caused to spring up from the incorporeal light which exists around him, in such a way as to be for ever inextinguishable. I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” (Zechariah 6:11-13) A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

    (On the Confusion of Tongues, 61-63, note that all the attributes of this incorporeal figure are exactly how the earliest Christians described Jesus, as demonstrated here).

    Although Philo might be quoting Zech. 6:11-13 without intending to connect the logos to the Jesus (Joshua) mentioned in Zechariah, this is unlikely: when the early Christians quoted OT passages out of context like this, as when Matthew quotes the passage “out of Egypt I have called my son” and applies it to Jesus (although in context the passage refers to Moses) they usually saw deep connections between the two figures: it is well-established that Matthew portrays Jesus as a sort of ‘New Moses.’ It follows that Philo probably saw a deep connection between the logos and the OT Jesus.

    (3) The Enoch literature is probably an independent evolutionary development on ancient traditions that also gave rise to Christianity, which entails that Jews did believe in a supernatural figure who was the same as the figure later called Jesus and believed to be crucified. (This argument is justified here).

    Also of note: Romulus, who shares a number of odd features with Jesus (son of God, suffers and dies, darkness at death, later appears to his followers, then ascends into heaven, among other things) also receives a new name after his ascension into heaven: the name of Quirinius.***


    ** The Metatron, who is also a ‘second Adam’ and probably the same figure Philo discusses, is also said to have many names, see here.

    *** On the parallels between Romulus and Jesus, see Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal of Biblical Literature, v. 129, no. 4 (2010). John Loftus created a helpful summary of it here. On Romulus receiving a new name after his ascension, see Plutarch, “Life of Romulus” in Parallel Lives, chapter 28. Also see chapter 6 of M. David Litwa’s Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God in which he demonstrates that receiving a new name was a widespread motif in the ancient Mediterranean world.

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    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, Politics and what I call "Optimal Lifestyle Habits."