The writer of Mark’s Gospel adopted stories about Jesus handed down in the Jesus Groups

Istanbul, Theodosian Walls, gate
Istanbul, Theodosian Walls, gate

led by James, John and Peter. Cf. in detail Johannes Neumann, War Markus ein Dichter? in: Neumann.: War Jesus Statthalter von Galiläa?, p. 43-92, here p. 51-62.

The evangelist adopted stories about Jesus from Galilee that originated as oral traditions handed down in the individual churches. The Jesus stories from Jerusalem are based on interpretations of Jesus’ death by the individual churches and their cultic application.


In the Jewish interpretation, Jesus as sacrifice is compared with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb: in John’s Gospel

Athens, mosaic: Madonna
Athens, mosaic: Madonna

Jesus dies at the time the Passover lambs are sacrificed, as a Passover lamb: cf. Paul in 1 Cor. 5:7.

In another Jewish interpretation, that of the Synoptics, Jesus set up the Last Supper as a memorial meal for his death, in the form of the Passover meal.

Here too, parallels are drawn between Jesus’ death and that of the Passover lamb: the meal itself appears to be taken as a memorial meal, although the words of interpretation refer back to the self-sacrifice of the God of which Jesus is a part according to John 1:1ff.


Anyone in classical times who took part in a violent rebellion aiming to kill the representatives of public order

Patmos, Monastery of St. John, monks
Patmos, Monastery of St. John, monks

forfeited his life if the rebellion failed. To that extent, all those who took part in Jesus’ rebellion were guilty and faced death when Pilate conquered them.

However, Pilate only crucified Jesus and a few other leaders; most of the simple participants were able to go home. In that sense Jesus (and the other leaders) did indeed die on behalf of his many followers.

The statement of faith died for us is based on this historical experience of people who took part in Jesus’ movement.

This experience of the actual representative death of the noble, therefore godlike, Jesus was interpreted in different ways in the early Christian groups. One version was the Persian interpretation of God’s self-sacrifice as known to the groups in the Mithras cult.

This interpretation is expressed in the words explaining the Last Supper in Matt 26:26-28par; This is my body, this is my blood.

Paul and his tradition put it in a similar way: Christ died for us, for our sins: Romans 5:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:3.


V  13   The myth of Christ’s self-sacrifice

The dominant narrative about the origin of the Christian myth of Christ’s self-sacrifice can be summarised as follows: religious geniuses

Patmos, Monastery of St. John, visitors
Patmos, Monastery of St. John, visitors

have emerged at various times in history, who announce God’s will to people: for example lawgiver Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament.

Jesus of Nazareth appeared at the dawn of the new age and proclaimed God’s kingdom. People felt his religious power and the divine wisdom in his pronouncements and formulated the idea that Jesus was the son of God, in line with the mythical ideas of their time.

When Jesus died on the cross they believed that God had sacrificed his son Jesus for their sins, as the Jews sacrificed Passover lambs for their sins.

I advocate the following thesis on the origin of the Christian myth: Jesus was Prince Antipas’ deputy, which made him equal to a god in the eyes of the people. Compare the statement of Phil. 2:6; Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God (KJV).

Jesus’ divine figure and his equality with God are not presumption; they do not simply express the community’s faith; they are primarily the description of a social reality, a social class, that of the nobility. Jesus belonged to this social class by birth and through his position as governor.


Joseph is not the name of Jesus’ father. Mark 6:1ff does not mention the name of Jesus’ father, only that

Ephesus, row of columns
Ephesus, row of columns

of his mother Mary. The father’s name only appears in the later birth legends in Matt. 1f and Luke 1f.

Where does the name Joseph for Jesus’ father come from? Father figures are often called Joseph in the New Testament: in addition to Jesus’ father, we can mention Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:57) and Joseph of Cyprus, called Barnabas, an early Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 4:36).

Joseph Barsabbas, the Apostles’ chosen candidate as the 12th Apostle to take Judas’ place, may also belong to this group (Acts 1:22).

Josephus, who describes Jesus as a Samaritan pseudo-Messiah, mocks the name of Jesus’ father when he claims: if things are going well for the Jews, the Samaritans call themselves sons of Joseph; if not, they say they are descended from foreigners: Ant. 9.14.3.


Beyond the Jewish world, the political message did not fall on fertile ground. The Christian message became

Troy, Roman theatre
Troy, Roman theatre

a purely private, religious affair, a matter of how to lead your personal life. The Apostles outside the Jewish world did not develop ambitions to follow Jesus as Messiah.

The various lists of disciples are later concepts that were backdated to an earlier period. This includes Jesus’ twelve disciples (Mark 3:13ff) with varying names, but always headed by Peter, James and John – as a list of Peter’s church and later the whole church – corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel or the ecliptical twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Other lists of disciples include Stephen’s circle (Acts 6:5) as the disciple list of John’s church with seven members, corresponding to the seven planets, and Jesus’ brothers in Mark 6:3 representing an early list of James’ church. In Acts 13:1 Luke seems to be quoting a sound source: the elders of Antioch. However it is doubtful whether Saul/Paul really belonged to this group at an early stage.


The great disciples James, John, Peter and Judas formed Jesus Groups

Troy, excavations
Troy, excavations

within their original movements: Judaism, Baptists, Gnostics and rebels.

The Jesus Groups later linked up with the early Christians; the original movements Judaism, Baptist sect, Gnosis and rebels remained autonomous.

In the Jewish world around them the disciples formed political movements that were only loosely linked to the early church and carried out independent missions even outside their Jewish world.