The Cosmic Seed of David

Nicholas Covington just produced an intersting article on the cosmic seed hypothesis that so vexes Jonathan Tweet (see Jonathan Tweet and the Jesus Debate). In Seed of David, Take Two, Covington makes two valuable points: he correctly frames the logic of the argument (and thus what Tweet needs to argue), and he presents a valid analog (in Zoroastrian mythology). The whole article is reasonably brief and worth reading. And it’s inspired me to do a more detailed write-up of this fascinating digression. Full discussion, and citation of sources, verses, and scholarship, you’ll find in On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 11.9 (supplemented by Covington’s resource list).

Summarizing the Problem

The problem posed is that in Romans 1:3 Paul says Jesus “came from the seed of David according to the flesh,” which historicists insist proves Paul knew Jesus was an ordinary man once living on earth, because this verse proves he believed he was a descendant of David. And a cosmically incarnated Jesus could hardly be descended from David.

But there is in turn a problem with that.

Paul does not say Jesus descended from David or was a descendant of David. Paul never says anything about his even having a father. Or being born. He only ever says his flesh, upon his incarnation, “came from the seed of David,” and was therefore Jewish and messianic flesh. He does not ever explain what he means by “came from.” The word Paul uses can sometimes mean birth in some other authors, but it is not the word Paul ever uses for birth (gennaô); instead, it’s the word he uses for God’s manufacture of Adam’s body from clay, and God’s manufacture of our future resurrection bodies in heaven (ginomai). Neither of which are born or have parents or are descendants of anyone.

In short, what Paul says in Romans 1:3 is, for Paul, weird. It’s weird even if Jesus existed. Christians even found it so weird themselves, they tried doctoring later manuscripts to replace this word that Paul only uses of manufacture and “coming to be,” with Paul’s preferred word for birth. So saying this passage is also weird if Jesus didn’t exist leaves us at a wash.

What I think is most likely is that Paul means what the first Christians he is mimicking no doubt meant, that God manufactured Jesus out of sperm taken directly from David’s belly exactly as prophecy declared he would (a concept already more rational than God manufacturing Eve from a rib taken directly from Adam’s side). Which, if Jesus didn’t exist, would most likely have occurred in outer space (although that’s not necessarily the case—ahistoricity is also compatible with earthly events imagined in distant mythical places, like Eden: OHJ, Ch. 11, n. 67—but the cosmic hypothesis has more evidence and precedent). More on that later. But it is this “cosmic sperm” hypothesis that Tweet thinks is implausible. He ignored, of course, all the evidence I presented in OHJ establishing it is plausible, and indeed the most plausible hypothesis yet on offer. But for now let’s just grasp the nature of the problem before we examine the solution.

The best response a historicist can make to Paul’s choice of phrasing is that Paul must be echoing an early belief in some kind of virgin birth theology that was already being attributed to Jesus, that he is describing God manufacturing Jesus’s body in the womb of Mary using Davidic seed. Though Paul never says that exactly (he never mentions Mary, and only mentions Jesus having a mother in an extended argument elsewhere that declares the mothers he is speaking of are allegorical). But notably, this is exactly what the Gospel nativities display: in neither Matthew nor Luke is Jesus biologically descended from Davidic seed (Joseph never imparts that seed to Mary); he is directly manufactured in the womb of Mary by God (or by the Holy Spirit, acting as God’s agent).

So how can even the Gospels mean Jesus was born of the seed of David? They must be assuming exactly what I propose: that God took the seed of David and used it to manufacture a body for Jesus. In other words, miraculously. Not biologically. And if they can imagine God doing that, Paul could imagine God doing it. And if Paul imagined God doing it, he could as easily imagine God doing it in outer space as on earth. Because where a miracle happens is no longer bound to reality. It’s no longer actually a historical event (just one believed to be, but we well know never happened), hence no longer limited by earth biology.

Getting the Logic Wrong

I noted in my response to Tweet that his obsessing over the cosmic seed hypothesis is already a fallacy because that theory isn’t logically necessary for mythicism to explain Romans 1:3. In OHJ I mention there is another possible theory that does just as well, based on the same reasoning Paul uses in Galatians 3:29, where he declares that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Meaning, even non-Jews become born “of the seed of Abraham” at baptism. In other words, Paul is saying we come from the seed of Abraham allegorically, not literally; spiritually, not biologically.

Continuing to explain what Paul means by that, the text eventually gets to the crux of his entire argument backing his claiming such an astonishing thing, in Galatians 4:23-26, when Paul references the Old Testament story of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham (two mothers and a father):

One, the child of the slave woman, [Hagar], was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, [Sarah], was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.

Note here Paul outright says the one means being born “according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 and 4:29), rather than being born according to the spirit. Which parallels exactly Romans 1:3, where Jesus is, like us, also born both ways, by the spirit (becoming God’s heir and viceroy), and according to the flesh (becoming incarnate; acquiring flesh); and in the same order as us (first, by the flesh; then, by the spirit). In Galatians Paul here reveals these women, and thus their names (Hagar, Sarah; also Abraham), are allegorical, not literal actual women (and not literal actual Abraham or literal actual semen). Hence when Paul says Gentiles become by adoption “the seed of Abraham” he again means allegorically, not literally. So, when Paul says Jesus was born according to the flesh and from the seed of David, he can just as easily mean allegorically here as there, when he says this of us being born to Hagar and the seed of Abraham.

So we don’t actually need to posit a literal reading of Romans 1:3. Paul already routinely applies allegorical readings to directly parallel statements elsewhere. Hence when I side instead with the literal cosmic reading, I do so not because I need to, as if mythicism requires me to. I do so because I think the evidence establishes it’s more likely. If we followed Tweet’s logic, that Paul can’t ever have meant something so weird, therefore he can’t have meant literal cosmic seed, we would not end up with historicity. We would end up with the next most plausible hypothesis: that Paul is speaking in allegory, concealing yet another mystery, among so many mysteries he says he is hinting at throughout his Epistles. Which again leaves us at a wash.

Did Paul mean “seed” allegorically (as he does mean elsewhere when he speaks of seeds and births), or is he referring to a claim of biological descent (even though his vocabulary does not match such an assertion, but that of direct manufacture)? At best it’s 50/50. We can’t tell. We just aren’t given enough information to know. Consequently, we can’t use this verse to argue for historicity. We can’t use it to argue for myth, either, since it can still be referring to a miraculous but actual birth (or even, if Paul was going against his own idiom, a mundane one). But that leaves us back where we started: not knowing which it is.

Getting the Logic Right

Unlike Tweet, Covington gets the logic right. He starts with an analogy that isn’t quite right, but it gets us closer to the correct way to model the problem. A Creationist, Covington points out, will argue like this:

If our hypothesis is that “all major plant and animal families were created 6,000 years ago,” and “the fossil record shows clear patterns of different life in successive rock layers,” then “Noah’s flood must have had a mechanism for sifting these fossils into the pattern we observe.”

This is ad hoc reasoning: the evidence contradicts what the hypothesis predicts, so we invent an ad hoc excuse for why it does that, an excuse we just made up and have no independent evidence for. I’ve shown in Proving History (index, “gerrymandering”) why this actually reduces the probability of a hypothesis rather than rescues it. So in a similar way, one has to worry whether the “cosmic seed” hypothesis is a gerrymander.

The analogy is not fully apt, because in our case, we are talking about a belief everyone in this debate agrees is false, rather than an actual fact of the universe—unlike the Creationist, who is trying to explain actual facts with another actual (proposed) fact. A more apt analogy would be that the Creationist is posed with two beliefs he needs to maintain: that God made everything all at once 6,000 years ago; and that the fossil record is stratified. We can then validly predict from this, that the Creationist will believe Noah’s Flood did something to cause that. Note that now we actually have a valid argument: we have correctly anticipated a belief (it is exactly something we expect the Creationist to write in a letter, for example), from a conjunction of other beliefs. In no way are we saying that belief is true. We are just saying it’s no surprise to us that that belief exists.

And this is what’s happening in our interpretations of Romans 1:3. In no way are we arguing Jesus actually was spawned by cosmically stored seed direct from David’s belly. Rather, we are observing that, if Jesus didn’t (really) exist, then the first Christians were posed with two beliefs they needed to maintain: that the messiah received a body of flesh (to die in) by divine manufacture; and that God promised, by scriptural prophecy, that the messiah would come from the seed of David. We can then validly predict from these two facts, that such Christians will believe God did that directly (manufactured the cosmic messiah’s body directly out of the seed of David). In direct parallel, once again, we actually have a valid argument: we have correctly anticipated a belief (it is exactly something we expect Paul to write in a letter, for example), from a conjunction of other beliefs.

Note that only if that prophecy didn’t exist (and/or it wasn’t true that messianic Jews would not dare reject or contradict a Torah prophecy in any system of beliefs they constructed), would Romans 1:3 be unexpected on mythicism, and thus only then would the cosmic seed hypothesis be a gerrymander. Unlike a gerrymander, our background knowledge (b) conjoined with the hypothesis (h), in this case mythicism, entails the observation. It has a near 100% chance of being observed; indeed you could have reliably predicted it ahead of time with the same information. Because (b) includes those two indisputable facts: that prophecy said this; and messianic Jews made their systems of beliefs conform to prophecy. Those are not conjectures. Those are established facts. And that’s different from the Creationist’s “the flood caused it” gerrymander. If the Old Testament actually said, even as written thousands of years ago, that the flood had stratified animals in the pattern matching what we actually now observe, only then would “the flood caused it” not be a gerrymander.

It is methodologically crucial to grasp this distinction. We must understand the role of background knowledge in determining the probability of observations on a given theory (like that Paul would write what’s in Romans 1:3). Because P(e|h&b) describes a conditional probability: the probability of the observation (e), in this case the content of Romans 1:3, given the existence of (h) and (b) together. And (h)+(b) entail Paul would believe and thus say what’s in Romans 1:3 (regardless of what he thus meant; whether the cosmic seed hypothesis, allegory, or anything else), to an extremely high probability (as high a probability as any messianic Jew would make his belief system match a prophecy in the Torah).

Hence it is here that Covington then corrects Tweet’s error by constructing what actually could be wrong with this reasoning:

If some ancient person came up with the notion of a celestial Christ, let us consider all the possible outcomes that might obtain:

1. Random ancient sage (the apostle Peter?) comes up with a celestial Christ idea, and he gets rebuked by an elder who says that the messiah must be the seed of David and therefore terrestrial. This leads to the ancient giving up his idea because he sees no reconciliation.

2. The ancient sage doesn’t give up his idea: instead, he finds a way to meld [the] descent-from-David [prophecy] with the celestial Christ belief.

Covington acknowledges a third possibility, that “the sage” abandons the prophecy, declaring it false. But Covington rejects that as unlikely enough to disregard. And as that strategy is rarely seen in Jewish treatments of prophecies, prophecies in the very Torah itself, that don’t fit the facts, I concur with Covington’s judgment on that. They almost never took that route (I can’t even think of an example). And we should add a fourth possibility: “the sage” comes up with some other way to interpret the prophecy as fulfilled by the cosmic incarnation. For example, interpreting the prophecy allegorically. And that wouldn’t be the only possible option, as we see so many creative ways this kind of problem gets solved in early Jewish history when prophecies don’t easily match the facts. They knew boundless creative ways to do that.

Of those four outcomes, which exhaust all possibilities, “reinterpreting the prophecy” is vastly more likely than “rejecting the prophecy.” And “reading the prophecy literally” is the most parsimonious means of “reinterpreting the prophecy,” and thus inherently the most likely. In other words, faced with having to reinterpret the prophecy, an interpretation that relies on no other assumptions, but simply takes the prophecy exactly as written, is the most likely reinterpretation, the one we should soonest expect to have happened. Everything else requires resorting to more and more epicycles of ad hoc suppositions. Which is not impossible (we have countless examples of Jews doing that), but it is still less probable than a perfectly parsimonious solution, when such was available. And in this case, it was.

This then leaves us back with the remaining two options: rejecting that savior belief entirely, or reinterpreting the prophecy in the most literal and simplest way possible, to rescue that belief. As Covington puts it:

If the first scenario [abandoning the belief] is more likely than the second [reinterpreting the prophecy], then that means that Carrier’s celestial Christ theory predicts that Christianity should not exist [i.e. the belief would more likely have been abandoned rather than preserved], which would be a problem for his theory (obviously).

And that’s precisely the right way to frame the problem. Otherwise, Romans 1:3 presents no evidence against the celestial Christ theory. So the Tweets of the world need to argue that it is more likely that someone who came to believe in a celestial Christ narrative, would abandon that belief as soon as they were confronted with the Davidic seed prophecy, than that such a person would simply reinterpret the Davidic seed prophecy to match their celestial Christ narrative.

It does not matter how “weird” the reinterpretation is. Christianity and Judaism are full of weird reinterpretations of prophecy when confronted with prophecies they can’t otherwise make fit the facts or their most cherished beliefs. The Gospels’ nativity narratives are evident examples: they don’t even try to depict biological Davidic descent; they instead choose the far weirder solution of direct divine manufacture of the body of Jesus. Which nevertheless is therefore still declared to be Davidic. If that’s not weird, then neither is a cosmic version of the very same thing.

It’s Actually Not Even Weird

But really, this isn’t even weird. What Tweet keeps failing to mention is all the evidence I presented in OHJ that it wasn’t.

I show cosmic semen-banking was a known belief of ancient Jews, who imagined it physically possible and happening, without contradiction or challenge…indeed, I show that Jews even believed David’s sperm was cosmically banked! By demons; but no Jew would imagine God couldn’t do for good, what demons did for evil. I also show second century Christian sects advanced even stranger cosmic seed scenarios for the birth of Jesus (thus proving it can’t have been unlikely, if it was commonly being contrived). I show Paul uses the same vocabulary for this incarnation scenario as he does for that of Adam and our future selves, which are likewise cosmic manufacturing: Eden, where Adam was first made, resides in outer space, not only according to known Jewish apocrypha of the time, as I show in OHJ (e.g. in the Life of Adam and Eve), but according to Paul himself, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-5; and our future resurrection bodies are likewise manufactured in outer space according to Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.

Covington now adds to this background knowledge by pointing out that:

The Zoroastrians believed that the final prophet would be born of a virgin who would become pregnant after bathing in Lake Kasaoya, which contained the miraculously preserved semen of Zoraster.

And Christianity evolved from a sect of Judaism heavily influenced by Zoroastrian beliefs (see Not the Impossible Faith, Chapter 3). The very concept of an eschatological messiah and an end-times resurrection of the dead are actually Zoroastrian (as are belief in a burning hell, and a Satan as God’s adversary), imported into Judaism by cultural diffusion just a few centuries before Christianity arose.

Note how absurd and implausible both beliefs are. A mass resurrection of all the world’s dead!? An immortal superhero coming from outer space to save us!? (Indeed: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) If Jews had no qualms about adopting those absurd beliefs, they could hardly have scrupled against adopting notions of cosmic sperm banking. As we know other Jews did, and Zoroastrians as well, even specifically in their messianic model, the original messianic ideology the Jews developed theirs from. If other Jews and Zoroastrians could easily adopt such a belief into their system, Christians could easily have done as well. There simply isn’t any case to be made that that would be “too weird” to have happened. It’s not even too weird to be probable.

Covington adds another apt observation, pointing out that Revelation 12:1-5 “may even be a confirmation that the early Christian community believed in a Jesus who was born (and presumably conceived) in the heavens,” since that’s essentially just what it says. The mother of Jesus is there a celestial figure giving birth to Jesus in outer space, and there hunted by a ravenous space dragon. What part of this is allegory and what part their real belief? What is the mystery, and what the veil behind which the mystery is hidden?

As Convington puts it:

I think it remains to be adequately explained why John, the [purported] writer of Revelation, would have written this, unless he thought this was how it happened. Why place Jesus’ birth in a heavenly realm for symbolic reasons? On the other hand, it seems peculiar that in Matthew 2:13-23 we read a story about a wicked earthly ruler (Herod) trying to kill the savior after his birth. Carrier thinks the gospels [might contain] stories about what happened in heaven disguised as (fictional) stories about what happened on Earth. It’s a funny thing that Revelation presents us with a story of a heavenly Savior being sought for slaughter by an evil heavenly ruler (Satan), and later Matthew writes a (provably fictional) story about an earthly savior being sought for slaughter by an evil earthly ruler (Herod).

Whether that’s what Matthew intended or not, the crucial point is that Christians had no trouble imagining weird things; and they had no scruple against fabricating fake stories that never happened, to symbolize secret things they taught really did. I provide ample evidence of both throughout OHJ. So there isn’t anything weird about the cosmic seed hypothesis: it was a readily available belief anyone of that time could adopt, from known precedents and understanding. But even if they didn’t, they would have adopted something that reconciled prophecy with their beliefs (whether interpreting it allegorically or any other way). Because the prophecy they always had to believe.

The Prophecy

As I wrote in OHJ (p. 576), “scripture said the prophet Nathan was instructed by God to tell King David” the following:

When your days are done, and you sleep with your fathers, I will raise up your sperm after you, which shall come from your belly, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build for me a house in my name, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. [2 Samuel 7.12-14]

This prophecy, read literally, says most plainly that God promised this of David’s own son. Hence as I observed:

If this passage were read like a pesher ([OHJ, Ch. 4,] Element 8), one could easily conclude that God was saying he extracted semen from David and held it in reserve until the time he would make good this promise of David’s progeny sitting on an eternal throne. For otherwise God’s promise was broken: the throne of David’s progeny was not eternal ([OHJ, Ch. 5,] Element 23). Moreover, the original poetic intent was certainly to speak of an unending royal line (and not just biologically, but politically: it is the throne that would be eternal, yet history proves it was not); yet God can be read to say here that he would raise up a single son for David who will rule eternally, rather than a royal line, and that ‘his’ will be the kingdom God establishes, and ‘he’ will build God’s house (the Christian church: [OHJ, Ch. 4,] Element 18), and thus he will be the one to sit upon a throne forever—and this man will be the Son of God.

That sure sounds like Jesus. And if one then had read it as such, it explains why Jesus now sits on an eternal throne. And taking the prophecy literally, as written, it just as clearly says this Jesus would be David’s son directly, and not just some distant heir. The author of the prophecy was surely speaking poetically—and he meant, surely, Solomon and an unending series of heirs. But when someone convinced of a cosmic Christ looked at this verse, they would sooner read it literally. Because it’s the most parsimonious way to fit the prophecy to their belief. And clearly that’s what they did—even if Jesus existed, the first Christians saw the eternal throne in this prophecy as sat by the son of David, and not an unending line of descendants. That’s the entire Jesus cosmology, even on historicity. So there is nothing unexpected of it being read the same way, just as literally, on mythicism.

Hence as I concluded (OHJ, p. 577):

When the prophecy of Nathan is read in conjunction with subsequent history, this would be the most plausible way to rescue God’s prophecy: God could not have been speaking of David’s hereditary line (as no one ever established or sat on an eternal throne), so he must have been speaking of a special son who will be born of David’s sperm in the future, using the sperm God took up ‘from his belly’ when David still lived. For the prophecy does not say God will set up an eternal throne for the one born of sperm from a subsequent heir’s belly, but of sperm from David’s own belly.

Note how this actually means the cosmic seed hypotheses rescues this prophecy better than any historicist could. God promised the throne would be eternal. It wasn’t. So how could God have been telling the truth? It’s not a very good fit to say God didn’t mean “throne” but meant that dethroned scions hiding out for centuries uncrowned would be the thing that’s eternal, only later to set up an eternal throne with a final immortal king (albeit one who rules only from outer space, as is the case even on historicity…Jesus never sat any real throne).

That’s surely what many Jews had to resort to to rescue the prophecy. But it’s awkward. What isn’t awkward? Taking the verse literally: the seed God took from David’s “belly” will indeed itself, without cessation or break, sit an eternal throne and be “the Son of God.” And that requires a cosmic sperm bank. Because history left a huge gap of no throne sat. The cosmic seed hypothesis is thus the only one that makes God tell entirely the truth. So it surely would have been attractive, indeed it surely would have felt so brilliant as to be divinely inspired, to anyone who needed it.

And that may indeed have been the historicists as well as the mythicists. Since they, too, appear to have imagined God directly manufactured the body of Jesus. But be that as it may, any cosmic Jesus messianist would easily adopt the cosmic bank solution, because it’s elegant, it’s the most parsimonious and literal reading of prophecy, it matches known understandings of the things gods could do, and is actually far less weird than the cosmic seed hypotheses of later, more elaborated Christian sects (who obviously felt no scruple against their beliefs being too weird to contrive). But even if you are too head-hurt to follow all of that, it’s not the only way to make that prophecy match that belief. And that they would have made it do so somehow, is as near to 100% certain as makes all odds.

Why the Tweet Argument Fails

The thing Tweet needs is for option 1 to be likely (abandoning the cosmic Christ belief when confronted with the prophecy), and not just likely, but more likely than option 2 (reinterpreting prophecy to fit that belief). But that’s simply not the case.

Once someone “had a revelation” that the cosmic Jesus event had occurred, and has at last saved everyone, and now signals the end-times, and solves all our present political troubles (OHJ, Ch. 5, Elements 23 through 29), and even more so if they found that belief confirmed by what they would have felt were divinely inspired readings of scripture (through the Jewish technique of pesher the Christians we know for a fact employed), abandoning that belief when confronted by the seed prophecy is literally the least likely thing they would do. On all precedents in the history of religions.

And this is equally true even if they made it up: because they would only do so if they fanatically believed it was a necessary solution to their present troubles; as also every precedent establishes—as one can assume Islam and Mormonism were fabricated, yet never abandoned in the face of any difficulty, even by their fabricators. In the Christian case, the prophecy had to be true. No matter what. Whether genuinely feeling inspired by revelation, or committed to a noble lie, a religious fanatic convinced of a thing, does not abandon it, ever, on any such technicality as that. I can’t even think of a single example of that ever happening in the whole of human history. Which is as low a prior as you can get in mundane affairs.

That leaves option 2. Since option 1 has near zero probability on our background knowledge of how religious fanatics behave. The cosmic seed hypothesis is just the most parsimonious way a superstitious Jew of that time would reinterpret the prophecy to match their prior belief, and thus the most probable way they’d realize option 2. The way scripture gets weirdly reinterpreted in the Qumran pesherim, and in later Christian treatises like Hermas, proves there is nothing unusual at all about it. “It’s weird, therefore improbable” clearly has zero predictive success as a heuristic. “It’s weird” is so normal as to be everywhere, in both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic thought. A far cry from improbable. And the cosmic seed hypothesis is the one reinterpretation that requires no ad hoc assumptions. It relies solely on a literal, plain reading of prophecy, and nothing but then-“known” supernatural options for gods to effect their plans.

But minimal mythicism’s probability would be unaffected by it being the other way around. The prophecy could have been interpreted as fulfilled in some other convenient way (such as allegorically). What we know for certain is that it would have been interpreted to fit somehow, and thus affirmed as true. On virtually every possible historical model of cosmic messianism. All other options have a prior probability approaching zero. Essentially no Jew would declare the prophecy false, or abandon their inspired plan or belief in the face of it; essentially every Jew would instead make the prophecy fit, as all precedent establishes they always did. So we are left with exactly my math in OHJ and none other. Even if the direct manufacture model is false.

Conclusion

Hence note what I originally wrote about this (OHJ, pp. 577 & 581):

The notion of a cosmic sperm bank is so easily read out of this scripture, and is all but required by the outcome of subsequent history, that it is not an improbable assumption. And since scripture required the messiah to be Davidic, anyone who started with the cosmic doctrine inherent in minimal mythicism would have had to imagine something of this kind. That Jesus would be made ‘from the sperm of David’ is therefore all but entailed by minimal mythicism.

[And that’s why m]inimal mythicism practically entails that the celestial Christ would be understood to have been formed from the ‘sperm of David’, even literally (God having saved some for the purpose, then using it as the seed from which he formed Jesus’ body of flesh, just as he had done Adam’s). I do not deem this to be absolutely certain. Yet I could have deduced it even without knowing any Christian literature, simply by combining minimal mythicism with a reading of the scriptures and the established background facts of previous history. And that I could do that entails it has a very high probability on minimal mythicism. It is very much expected. So my personal judgment is that its probability is as near to 100% as makes all odds. At the very least, the probability that Paul would only ever speak of Jesus’ parents so obliquely and theologically on minimal historicity is no greater than the probability that he would imagine Jesus was incarnated from Davidic sperm on minimal mythicism, making this a wash. But arguing a fortiori, I shall set the latter probability at 50%, against a 100% probability on minimal historicity. Thus, although I do not believe this counts as evidence for historicity at all, I am willing to allow that it might, in those proportions. In other words, although I doubt it, these vague passages might be twice as likely on historicity.

And Tweet knew all this. He knew how I showed the cosmic seed hypothesis is not a weird conjecture but logically entailed, and backed by precedent. He knew I nevertheless allowed Romans 1:3 to be evidence for historicity anyway, even despite all of that. Because unlike Tweet, I actually know how to be charitable to my opposition and try to see things from their POV, to control for any possible biases I may have. Hence not only did I not say mythicism requires the cosmic seed hypothesis (I earlier mentioned the allegory thesis; and could have adduced yet others), but I even counted it as unlikely already in my math, just to be generous to historicity. Even though the evidence clearly establishes this account is not unlikely at all. Yet Tweet conveniently neglected to tell anyone any of this. And that’s dodgy. But whatever.

The bottom line is, (b)+(h:mythicism) entails the probability is near enough to 100% that any original Christians who were convinced by revelations and divine inspiration that a cosmic messianic incarnation and sacrifice had occurred (or who saw claiming that had happened as a useful way to try and improve the direction of their society, as we have sound basis to suspect as well: again, OHJ, Ch. 5, Elements 23 through 29), would make that belief conform to all Torah prophecies it had to; and the content of Romans 1:3 is thus 100% expected, because there is no credible way they wouldn’t say that. All precedent establishes that apocalyptic fanatics don’t abandon beliefs that contradict prophecy; they reinterpret prophecy to conform to their beliefs.

So there is no sense at all in which Romans 1:3 is an unexpected verse on mythicism. And all other data and precedents, and Paul’s chosen idiom for constructing it, conforms more closely to the cosmic seed hypothesis than to any other approach imaginable. It conformed to known understandings of what gods could do. And it’s a direct, literal reading of prophecy that would solve that prophecy’s failure even for historicists (and may indeed have been exactly the same way the historicists solved it, as we see even the Gospels didn’t interpret it as signaling descent, but direct manufacture).

3 comments

  1. if the gospels were portraying a divine manufacture of Jesus from Davidic seed in Mary, what then is the significance of the genealogy of Joseph as being descended from David? It is also rather bizarre that they list a genealogy of Joseph then claim he isnt the biological father of Jesus. (Cue Maury Popovich: Joseph, you are NOT the father!!!)

    Reply
    1. The peer reviewed literature most commonly agrees the genealogies are symbolic (they are in essence a bible code with a meaning only insiders were given). This is why so many manuscripts have so many wanton alterations and changes. It’s not as if someone had access to better genealogical records for Jesus. So why keep changing which names are there and why? Why did Luke completely revise the one in Matthew? Etc. (And 1 Tim. 1 and Tit. 3 both admit to Christians faking up numerous different genealogies for Jesus in “myths” of him.)

      The names mean things, and communicate something about the Gospel. Scholars disagree on just what the names meant, but many attempts at interpreting the various family trees are in the literature. In a sense it’s like the fig tree: there is no sane or logical reason why even supernatural Jesus would curse one for not bearing figs out of season; it’s obvious the author did not intend that story to be taken literally. Likewise the genealogies. They are a smokescreen. For people who want to take the text literally, thus misdirecting them so they can’t be saved by the text (the “outsiders” Jesus condemns as fooled and thus damned in Mark 4; in contrast to the “insiders” who are told the secret real meaning of everything). One has to be saved by joining and becoming an insider. Being taught then the secrets, the mysteries, of the kingdom of God.

      It’s also possible the genealogies served the double truth model, which dominated in the second century and after, over the damning of outsiders model, as I show Origen explaining in OHJ Element 14 (Ch. 4). In that model, as Origen outright says, the literal text is for the weak and unenlightened, to save them efficiently; while the real meaning is understood by the ranking enlightened initiates of sufficient education. As such, the genealogies could have been composed to “Save the weak” rather than to “Exclude the outsider.” In short, someone who needed to believe in a savior with the right pedigree (by adoption, Joseph’s stepson would still be heir to the throne: the Christian model of spiritual descendance is thus symbolized even here), would be saved by the genealogy being there; everyone else would be saved by understanding the esoteric cosmic truth of what God really did.

      And finally, the first genealogy was invented by Matthew, who is creating Jesus as a new Moses, complete with new Pentateuch (the Five Great Discourses). It’s long been noted (most especially by MacDonald and Brodie but they aren’t alone) that Matthew is in many ways a sophisticated rewrite of Deuteronomy. But as a “new Moses,” Moses had a genealogy (in the Pentateuch) and was adopted and made an heir to a throne (albeit by the Pharaonic family, the reverse of what happened to Jesus). In fact most mythical heroes, pagan and Jewish, had elaborate genealogies students in school often were made to memorize. It was a thing. An expected trapping of any hero myth. Luke then is trying to rewrite Matthew into a Gentile-friendly super-Gospel that encourages cooperation between them and Jewish Christianity rather than exclusion or hostility, so he uses his rewrite of the genealogy to be a part of that message as well.

      These explanations are not mutually exclusive. But it’s evident the genealogies were not created to establish biological descent. Just as the withering of the fig tree story was not created because someone remembered it happening (and “there must be a withered tree we can go see to confirm it”). The purpose was other. And possibly multiple. And whatever it was, as we did not get to be inducted into the Christian mysteries in the communities whose Gospels these were, we may never know what those purposes were. That oral lore was lost forever.

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  2. David Booker October 19, 2017, 1:17 pm

    “When your days are done, and you sleep with your fathers, I will raise up your sperm after you, which shall come from your belly, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build for me a house in my name, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. [2 Samuel 7.12-14]”

    I find two interesting things about this quote (this being scripture that would have influenced Paul’s and other early Christians expectations of a Davidic messiah). The first is that most modern translations of “I will raise up your sperm after you, which shall come from your belly” have been adjusted to instead say “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood” (or something along these lines), which tailors the prophecy to a modern Christian interpretation that removes the weirdness about it (the weirdness being that sperm would be raised up from the belly of David after he died, as opposed to simply referring to a descendant).

    The second thing is more telling in how an early Christian would interpret this, and something you touch on. If the referenced eternal throne was clearly not established on earth (which would have been obvious by then to Jews/Christians living in the first century), then where was it, or where would they have conceived it existed? The answer is found by looking to where Jesus resides post resurrection, something any Christian today should be able to tell you: in the heavens, at the right hand of the father, upon his cosmic throne. So if the second part was (and is currently) determined by Christians as referring to a heavenly, cosmic throne, then it actually follows that they could and would have conceived the first part as also referring to heavenly, cosmic events. Not only is this plausible, it’s actually logical.

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