The Risen Lord:
The Jesus of History As the Christ of Faith
He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. — SAMUEL SMILES
THE real Introduction to The Risen Lord; The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith is my earlier book The Great Angel; A Study of Israel’s Second God, which showed that the religion of the first temple had not been monotheism. Yahweh, the LORD, had been the second God, the guardian angel and patron deity of Israel, the Son of El Elyon. Once the Deuteronomists had introduced monotheism into the life, and more importantly, into the records, of the people of Judah, Yahweh and El Elyon were no longer distinct. The older beliefs, however, did not disappear and the evidence of Philo confirms that this second deity was still known in the period of Christian origins. Many of his titles were taken over by the early church to describe Jesus. The earliest Christian beliefs must have been rooted in those of the first temple (hence the title of my first book; The Older Testament), and when Jesus was proclaimed as the LORD, the Son of God, the original Palestinian church used imagery derived from the temple cult (as I showed in my book On Earth as it is in Heaven).
This theory broke away from many conventional assumptions about the nature of Israel’s religion and I was pleased that it was so well received. Some readers, however, misunderstood me and my ideas were at times misrepresented. In order that such misconceptions do not cause further confusion, the conclusions of The Great Angel, which form the premise of The Risen Lord, are these: some, perhaps most, of the heirs to Israel’s ancient religion continued to believe throughout the second temple period that Yahweh, the LORD, was the Great Angel, the Second God. These people identified Jesus as that second divinity and they did not become a small sect (another misrepresentation of my views) but were the original Palestinian church. When they proclaimed ‘Jesus is LORD’, they meant ‘Jesus is Yahweh, come to save his people’.
In The Risen Lord I argue that this belief originated with Jesus himself. Again, I am breaking away from many conventional assumptions about the nature of Christian origins and the arguments are complex and inter-related. I have therefore given an outline of the theory in the text and kept detail in the notes. As with The Great Angel, so here, I present no more than a sketch of vast possibilities consequent upon the basic paradigm shift which I propose: that Jesus’ resurrection was his own mystical experience and that the ministry recorded in the gospels was the life and teaching of the Risen LORD.
Having lived with these ideas and developed them over many years, their very familiarity has made it difficult to reconstruct the stages by which I reached my conclusions. I hope there are not too many gaps. I console myself with the words of J. H. Charlesworth: ‘I once stood in admiration of New Testament scholars who are cautiously reticent until they can defend virtually infallible positions. Now I have grown impatient with those who feign perfection, failing to perceive that all knowledge is conditioned by the observer … and missing the point that all data, including meaningful traditions, are categorically selected and interpreted phenomena. Moreover, such scholars have severely compromised the axiom that historians do not have the luxury of certainty; they work at best with relative probabilities’ (Jesus within Judaism, p. 17).
The original Christian proclamation did not originate on the cluttered desk of a biblical scholar looking for a new way to read texts. One of the first things a preacher has to learn is to make the message relevant to the needs of the congregation. So too with any theory of Christian origins; it cannot assume that the Christian proclamation was just a great leap forward in the history of ideas. There must have been numbers of people in first-century Palestine who recognized that this proclamation was more than a creative re-reading of the text. It spoke to their situation and was presented in terms they could understand and recognize as fulfilment.
In The Risen Lord I have not attempted to find a place for all ideas and methods of reading scripture known to have existed in first-century Palestine; I have taken and developed one set of ideas which could reasonably have been known at that time and in that place. This one set of ideas is exemplified by the Qumran Melchizedek text. Some people were thinking and hoping in that way. They looked for a heavenly priest figure from the cult of the first temple who would bring salvation and atonement in the last days. As Psalm 110, the Melchizedek Psalm, is the most frequently used text in the New Testament, it seemed an obvious place to start. In The Risen Lord I show that this one set of ideas is compatible with the earliest Christian beliefs about Jesus and thus most likely to have been their matrix. The bones of the argument use only texts and ideas which could have been known in first-century Palestine although explanatory details have been drawn from other times and places.
The first four chapters of this book were originally delivered as the Scottish Journal of Theology Lectures, 1995, in the University of Aberdeen. I should like to thank Dr. Iain Torrance for inviting me to deliver them and for his hospitality and encouragement. The fifth chapter is an expanded version of ‘The Servant in the Book of Revelation’ which was published in the Heythrop Journal 36.4 (1995). Some related material has been published as ‘The Secret Tradition’ in the Journal of Higher Criticism 2.1 (1995) and some read as a paper to The Society for Old Testament Study in 1994, and published as ‘Atonement. The Rite of Healing’ in the Scottish Journal of Theology, 49.I (1996).
I am, as always, indebted to friends who help in so many ways: Ernst Baimmel, George Bebawi, Robert Murray, Gerard Norton and Nicholas Wyatt. I should like to dedicate this book to a fellow preacher who has supported me with wise counsel.