Richard Carrier on the Logos or Son-of-God from OHJ


Element 40: In fact, the Christian idea of a preexistent spiritual son of God called the Logos, who was God's true high priest in heaven, was also not a novel idea but already held by some pre-Christian Jews; and this preexistent spiritual son of God had already been explicitly connected with a celestial Jesus figure in the OT (discussed in Element 6), and therefore some Jews already believed there was a supernatural son of God named Jesus— because Paul's contemporary Philo interprets the messianic prophecy of Zech. 6.12 in just such a way.116 This is the prophecy about a high priest crowned king in heaven named 'Jesus Rising', God's 'servant', who will 'rise' from below and be given godly authority and somehow be involved in cleansing the world of sin.

As discussed in Element 6, in Zechariah 6 we have a man named Jesus being crowned king, 'rising' from his place below, and building up God's house, which is a feasible description of our Jesus; and this same Jesus appearing in Zechariah 6 also appears in Zechariah 3, where he is given supreme authority over God's domain (just as our Jesus was), and somehow ends all sins in a single day (just as our Jesus does), and this same Jesus is in both passages called a high priest (as was our Jesus). Discussing this Jesus figure in Zechariah, Philo argues:

"Behold, the man named Rising!' is 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 is none other than the divine image, you will then agree that the name of'Rising' has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the Universe has caused him to rise up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn. And he who is thus born, imitates the ways of his father. [117]

In the same book, Philo says that even if no one is 'worthy to be called a Son of God', we should still 'labor earnestly to be adorned according to his firstborn Logos, the eldest of his angels, the ruling archangel of many names'.[118] Elsewhere Philo adds that 'there are two Temples of God, and one is this cosmos, wherein the High Priest is his Firstborn Son, the divine Logos' (whom Philo elsewhere identifies as the primordial 'image of God'). [119]

And Philo also says this 'divine Logos' is the being whom God used 'as an instrument' to create the universe, and the one whom God appointed the Lord over all creation.[120] We know Jesus was also called the firstborn of God, the Logos, and God's high priest in the heavens, and the one through whom all things were made, and who was appointed Lord of the universe, and was the true image of God; and Christians were also called upon to try and emulate him and adorn themselves like him, just as Philo is calling us to do.[121] This is far too improbable to be a coincidence. Philo and Christianity must have this notion from a common tradition preceding both.[122]

Of course, our Jesus is only explicitly called "the Logos' in Jn 1.1, a very late document (see Chapter 7, §4). But he is recognized by Paul as the 'firstborn' son of God (Rom. 8.29), and the 'image of God' (2 Cor. 4.4), through whom God created all things (1 Cor. 8.6), and therefore a preexis-tent being (evident also in Phil. 2.6-8 and 1 Cor. 10.1-4).[123] It's likely Paul just never had occasion to use the title of 'Logos' to describe Jesus (just as Philo doesn't trouble himself to mention it every time he speaks of the same being). Because otherwise these certainly appear to be the same man. Just because this one connection is first explicitly stated in the Gospel of John does not mean its authors introduced it. Likewise, in Hebrews Jesus is not only the firstborn son of God, but also God's high priest in the heavens and again the image of God, the supreme of all angels, a preexistent being through whom God created all things (Hebrews 1 and 8), all just like Philo's celestial Jesus. [124] And Col. 1.12-20 says its Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, the image of God, through whom God created all things, too. So it cannot be a coincidence that Philo says his 'Logos', 'the firstborn son of God', God's incorporeal high priest in outer space, is also none other than 'the image of God', and God's agent of creation, again connecting this 'Logos' creature to Paul's Christ, who is also the 'image' of God and God's 'firstborn son' and also a preexistent being of the highest rank—since Paul says it is Christ, and no other being, through whom God created all things.

This also suggests Philo is saying this firstborn Logos is in fact the true Adam (as discussed in Element 39), which is corroborated by Philo's explanation elsewhere that the earthly Adam was made in the image of the second Adam in heaven, the divine Logos, who was in turn the image of God; and we know (from the previous element) that this celestial man who was the image of God and of whom the earthly man is a copy is indeed that first-created Adam.[125] Likewise, Philo calls this high priest and divine Logos 'the man for real' of whom the earthly priests are but a copy, again connecting this divine being with the 'true Adam' in outer space.[126] This also explains why this firstborn celestial son is called the Logos (meaning 'Reason'). In every passage where Philo explains that the first-created Adam is the 'image' of God, he further explains that this is because the image of God is not the human body but the intellect—hence 'reason' is the image of God. Therefore it would be obvious that any incorporeal being created as the true 'image' of God would be called (indeed would be) Reason, and therefore the Logos. We cannot therefore see this as a late development in Christology, but as in fact already a pre-Christian feature of Jewish theology. If it was known to Philo, it had to have been known to Paul.

Jesus therefore must have been known as the Logos even in Paul's time. It's clear in Paul that the first Christians regarded Jesus to be the preexistent 'image of God' through whom God created all things (2 Cor. 4.4; 1 Cor. 8.6); and that can only ever have been understood to be the Logos, not only as the Reason which was and necessarily had to be the 'image' of God (unlike the human body, which obviously could not), but also as the Word (the second meaning of Logos) by which God created all things (Gen. 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Even on these considerations the probability that Paul would understand Jesus in any other way is vanishingly small. But the fact that Paul also understood Jesus to be the firstborn son of God as well as the preexistent image of God only further lines this creature up with Philo's Logos, who is similarly identified. It is even further in support of this conclusion that pagan theology had a similar concept—the savior god Osiris was also called the Logos and the one through whom all was created and governed—thus demonstrating the notion was ubiquitous (and might even have been a common element of mystery religion).[127]

I have heard doubts whether Philo (or his source) was aware of the whole sentence he quotes from Zechariah and thus of the name 'Jesus' being in it. But such doubts are unwarranted. Nearly the whole sentence in Zechariah, in the Greek translation quoted by Philo, reads:

You shall make crowns, and set them upon the head of Jesus the son of Jehovah the Righteous, the high priest, and say to him, 'Thus says the almighty Lord, "Behold, the man whose name is Rising [anatole] and he shall rise up [anatelei] from his place below and shall build the house of the Lord, and receive power, and sit and rule upon his throne' (Zech. 6.11-13).

The whole sentence (of which Philo quotes only the part here in bold thus identifies the man spoken of as both God's son and high priest, and in the very same sentence names him Jesus. This creates a series of coincidences far too improbable to imagine on any other conclusion than that Philo and Paul were talking about the same figure: Jesus the Son of Jehovah the Righteous, the image of God, God's agent of creation, God's high priest and firstborn son (see Elements 6 and 10).

Paul identifies his Jesus with all the same attributes (except the detail of his being high priest, which we find in Hebrews), which is a very unlikely coincidence: two cosmic men named Jesus assigned all the same unusual attributes; and two of those attributes (sonship and high priesthood) are stated in the same sentence in Zechariah that Philo quotes from, a quote about a man Philo himself then links to Philo's own notion of God"s firstborn son and high priest, another improbable coincidence— unless Philo (or his source) was well aware of the rest of the sentence and taking it into account in his interpretation. Philo even makes use of the same pun (between the noun and verb forms of anatole) in his (or his source's) interpretation that the sentence in Zechariah plays on. Indeed, it ought to be absurd to suggest that Philo, a very erudite biblical scholar, had never read Zechariah and thus didn't know the remaining content of this passage, or where the line even came from. Thus we can safely conclude Philo (or his source) was aware of the fact that this cosmic firstborn son was named Jesus. Because denying that (no matter by what excuse) requires asserting a series of improbable coincidences, whereas affirming it does not.

There is another significance to all this. Philo says of the earthly high priest that he wears "an emblem of that Logos which holds together and regulates the universe, for it is necessary that [the earthly high priest] who is consecrated to the Father of the Universe should have as his paraclete His son, the most perfect in virtue, to procure forgiveness of sins'.[128] Notably the Gospel of John, which explicitly calls Christ the Logos, also calls the Holy Spirit the 'paraclete' whom Christ will send (Jn 14.6, 26; 15.26; 16.7). The word parakletos most commonly meant a 'legal advocate', and so in the epistle I John we're told that 'if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous' (1 Jn 2.1). this time calling Christ himself a paraclete, and also connecting him to the 'Father' of the Universe and with supreme virtue and with his role in 'procuring' forgiveness of sins (Paul also calls Jesus our 'advocate' in Rom. 8.34, but using a different word).

From Philo we can see that there is nothing novel about any of this. Philo's remarks prove that some Jews already believed that God had a firstborn son in heaven, a preexistent being through whom God created the universe, the very image of God, the supreme of all beings next to God, whose name could already be identified as Jesus (per Philo's explanation of Zechariah 6), and who advocates on our behalf to procure forgiveness of sins, and that all earthly priests were but a copy of him. Not only is this clearly the same deity as Jesus in Christian documents such as the canonical book of Hebrews (see Chapter 11, §5), [129] but it is clearly the same deity worshiped by Paul and all Christians he had any communication with. It is therefore, so far as we can tell, the same deity Christianity began with. Any theory of the origins of Christianity must take this into account.



116. Philo. On the Confusion of Tongues 62-63.

117. Philo. On the Confusion of Tongues 63.

118. Philo. On the Confusion of Tongues 146-47.

119. Philo, On Dreams 1.215: see also Philo. On the Giants 52. That the 'divine Logos' is the 'image of God' is also explicitly declared in Philo, On the Creation 31 as well as in Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 62. 97 and 147: On Dreams 1.239; 2.45; The Special Laws 1.81; On Flight and Finding 101. That this is an intermediary being (per Element 36), see Philo, Who Is the Heir of Things Divine? 205-206. For more sources on this Jewish doctrine of the 'Logos' as a divine being, which Christianity simply co-opted, see Daniel Boyarin's commentary in Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (eds.), The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 546-49.

120. The one through whom the universe was created: Philo, On Allegorical Interpretation 3.96 and The Special Laws 1.81. That over all the universe "God put in charge his own true Logos, his firstborn Son. who is to take charge of his sacred flock, like the prefect of a great king', see Philo. On Agriculture 50-52. Curiously, Philo immediately goes on to say that we can know this is true because 'it is written. 'Behold, 1 am he and I will send my messenger [lit. "my angel'"] into your presence, who shall guard you on the road; which is a partial quotation of Exod. 23.20 (concluding 'and bring you to the place which I have prepared"), which happens to be the very scripture with which Mark begins his Gospel: 'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: as it is written in the prophets: "Behold. I send My messenger into your presence, who shall prepare the road for you'" (Mk 1.2), which Mark alters at the end to mean John the Baptist, but the original scripture clearly indicates (just as Philo understood it to) that the messenger (lit. 'angel') is the one who will protect us and bring us to salvation (and, according to Philo. that was the 'firstborn son of God', the Logos), not the one who will "prepare' the way for him. I can only speculate, but must wonder: is it possible that in the original text (whatever may have been Mark's source), the Gospel began with this verse referring to Jesus (and thus quoting Exodus correctly), and that this was altered by Mark so as to fit John the Baptist into the story (where evidently he had not been before)? Unfortunately we cannot know for sure.

121. That we ought to imitate Christ: I Cor. 11.1; Rom. 8.29: 1 Cor. 15.49; 2 Cor. 3.18.

122. See Hultgren. 'Origin of Paul's Doctrine', pp. 350-54.

123. See Sean McDonough, Christ as Creator: Origins of a New Testament Doctrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). McDonough provides a considerable survey of relevant background knowledge establishing the very early development of the Christian doctrine of Christ as the agent of Creation (which is only corroborated by the evidence I survey here and in Element 10). although I believe his analysis of the Gospels has things the wrong way around (e.g. Mark was not inspired to believe Jesus is the Creator by any actual historical reports: rather. Mark is inventing narratives that cast Jesus in the role of Creator: see, e.g., on how this would have originated the idea that he was a carpenter or the son of a carpenter, in Chapter 10. §4).

124. Jesus is God's 'eternal high priest' in later Christian thought as well (e.g. Polycarp. Philippians 12).

125. Philo. Questions and Answers on Genesis 2.62.

126. Philo. On Dreams 1.215 (hopros aletheian anthropos).

127. Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 54.373b: 67.377f (Osiris is also called 'the first" and 'the lord', 2.351f-352a). The idea of a divine 'Logos' was a widespread cross-cultural theological meme in antiquity: see Glenn Chesnut. 'The Ruler and the Logos in Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Late Stoic Political Philosophy'. Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt II  16.2 (New York: W. de Gruyter. 1978), pp. 1310-32.

128. Philo. On the Life of Moses 2.134-35. In On the Life of Moses 2.99. Philo also says God has two 'powers', the one that is called God (the Creator), and the one that is called Lord (the king and judge): it's reasonable to see how God could assign the second power to a subordinate (Jesus), thereby making him Lord. There are numerous passages in Paul that would confirm this theological model, but it's not important to the present discussion.

129. As Hugh Anderson concludes for the book of Hebrews, its "author shared the same thought world as Philo. and that he drew on the same Greek rhetorical and philosophical sources for much of his vocabulary and many of his ideas is irrefutable": Hugh Anderson. 'The Jewish Antecedents of the Christology in Hebrews', in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (ed. James Charlesworth: Minneapolis. MN: Fortress Press. 1992). pp. 512-35 (518).


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