James McGrath over at Patheos blogs his initial response to my findings. By way of response, to put it simply, the very first Gospel (Qn) that I’ve discovered for the first time in history is at its core the Gospel of Marcion aka Early Luke minus Markan content and few redactions made by the compiler of Early Luke.
Qn pictures Jesus as follows:
- Aesop, at the very opening of the Gospel. Aesop was antiquity’s most famous slave, a witty storyteller, folk philosopher, and brilliant thinker who had a knack for showing up those of higher social status and speaking truth to power. More than that, these first few poignant verses describe Jesus escaping from Nazareth, without any prior reason for offense. The opening of Qn is the story of a runaway slave.
- Bound to a Centurion, as his first introduced male companion. This could mean the centurion was a disciple, a protector, or even Jesus’ owner. Indeed, there is no reason why those three categories could not co-exist at the same time: the centurion could simultaneously be Jesus’ disciple, protector, and owner. Slaves were sometimes more educated than their masters in Roman society. … Caveat lector: the text of Qn here is currently unclear, and it will definitely be a heated topic debated by scholars. The shared scholarly reconstruction will need to be done with considerable care. But the presence of slave language across the Centurion passages in all four gospels may well hint that the layer beneath all the other layers pictured Jesus as the Centurion’s slave. Note that the centurion is also there at Jesus’ crucifixion in Qn and other gospels. Readers should consider why the centurion is there, from first to last in Qn.
- Charged with and executed for leading a revolt. Jesus wasn’t crucified for being extra nice and teaching about love. He was crucified, according to our best ability to piece together from Qn and the synoptic tradition, for being considered the leader of a revolt. What if that revolt included an effort to throw off the yoke of enslavement? The crucifixion narrative substratum of the Gospel traditions may well picture Jesus as a Jewish Spartacus, a hero and liberator to Galilean and Judean slaves. Jesus leading a Jewish slave revolt on Passover?!? What a very Passover kind of thing for Jesus to do!!!
In keeping with all of this, it struck me for the first time yesterday that the Kenosis hymn in Philippians 2, a song/hymn that predated Paul yet one he felt was important to quote in its entirety, may well confirm that the very earliest traditions about Jesus picture him as a slave. The mention of Jesus “taking the form of a slave” in that hymn is something I’ve only ever read as metaphorical. But what if it wasn’t a metaphor? What if it was our earliest statement about the actual social status of Jesus?
It should be noted that slavery in ancient Rome was not the same as slavery in the 16th-19th centuries in the US. Slavery in the ancient Roman empire was not based on race or skin color, but typically based on debt, the result of a people group being conquered, or just a more general practice of buying and selling people who did not have the family support, social status, or economic means to protect themselves.