Typology and Jesus historicity

Jerry Russell

Staff member
I'd like to resume the discussion of typology here. Biblical typology is a very common mode of biblical analysis & exegesis. According to Theopedia:


Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation.
Within evangelicalism, the traditional view is that types occurred because God intentionally constructed pictures of Christ, and then placed those pictures within Israel's history.
The article also notes that "most modern liberal scholars continue to disregard typology altogether", which is presumably a manifestation of postmodern statistically-based skepticism. I feel that the relationship between Old Testament prophecy, and New Testament fulfillment, is generally very clear and unmistakable, although my efforts towards Bayesian statistical proof haven't been fruitful so far.

If 'typology' is defined as a specifically Biblical type of analysis, it's a sub-category of "literary mimesis", which is analyzed using "mimesis criticism". As explained in Wikipedia:


Mimesis criticism is a method of interpreting texts in relation to their literary or cultural models. Mimesis, or imitation (imitatio), was a widely used rhetorical tool in antiquity up until the 18th century's romantic emphasis on originality. Mimesis criticism looks to identify intertextual relationships between two texts that go beyond simple echoes, allusions, citations, or redactions. The effects of imitation are usually manifested in the later text by means of distinct characterization, motifs, and/or plot structure.
As a critical method, mimesis criticism has been pioneered by Dennis MacDonald, especially in relation to New Testament and other early Christian narratives imitating the "canonical" works of Classical Greek literature.
In order to circumvent the capriciousness of subjectivity, MacDonald suggests six criteria for determining whether a claim for a mimetic connection between texts is reasonable: accessibility, analogy, density, order, distinctive traits, and interpretability. The first two criteria concern the status of the text used as a model ("ante-text"); the final four concern the later text that may have used the antetext.
  • Accessibility: One must demonstrate that the author of the later text would have been reasonably able to access a copy of the text being imitated. Was the antetext well known or obscure at the time of the later text's composition?
  • Analogy: If one text is discovered to imitate a certain antetext, it is probable that other texts have also done so. Are there examples of other authors using this antetext as a literary model?
  • Density: The greater number of parallels one can induce between the two texts, the stronger one's case will be for a mimetic relationship between them.
  • Order: The more frequently the parallels between the two texts follow the same order, the less likely it becomes that the parallels are just coincidental.
  • Distinctive Traits: If there are parallels between two texts, but none of the parallels are anything but one would expect in their respective contexts, then it becomes difficult to argue for a mimetic connection. Especially helpful are non sequiturs or other unusual elements present in the later text which parallel the proposed model. It is also typical for authors to use significant names to alert the reader to the textual interplay.
  • Interpretability: A common motivation for imitating an earlier text is to rival that text, whether philosophically, theologically, politically, or otherwise. If one can determine such a motivation in a compelling fashion, then there is a stronger case for imitation.
As the article in Theopedia says, it has been widely recognized that Jesus Christ is typologically related to Moses, Adam, David, Esther, and Elisha. But, Richard Carrier has observed that many highly distinctive traits of Jesus Christ are also related to those of other religious heroes of many religious traditions.

From: On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Kindle Locations 9463-9532). Sheffield Phoenix Press. Kindle Edition.

...the most ubiquitous model ‘hero’ narrative, which pagans also revered and to which the Gospel Jesus also conforms, is the fable of the ‘divine king’, what I call the Rank– Raglan hero-type, based on the two scholars who discovered and described it, Otto Rank and Lord Raglan. [188] This is a hero-type found repeated across at least fifteen known mythic heroes (including Jesus)— if we count only those who clearly meet more than half of the designated parallels (which means twelve or more matches out of twenty-two elements), which requirement eliminates many historical persons, such as Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus, who accumulated many elements of this hero-type in the tales told of them, yet not that many. The twenty-two features distinctive of this hero-type are:
1. The hero’s mother is a virgin.
2. His father is a king or the heir of a king.
3. The circumstances of his conception are unusual.
4. He is reputed to be the son of a god.
5. An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby.
6. To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him.
7. He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents.
8. We are told nothing of his childhood.
9. On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
10. He is crowned, hailed or becomes king.
11. He reigns uneventfully (i.e., without wars or national catastrophes).
12. He prescribes laws.
13. He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects.
14. He is driven from the throne or city.
15. He meets with a mysterious death.
16. He dies atop a hill or high place.
17. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
18. His body turns up missing.
19. Yet he still has one or more holy sepulchers (in fact or fiction).
20. Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary (such as a king, giant, dragon or wild beast). and
21. His parents are related to each other.
22. He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor.
[....] I shall work from [these] traditional twenty-two. The fifteen people who score more than half of those twenty-two features, in order of how many they score (from most to least) is as follows: [191]
1. Oedipus (21)
2. Moses (20)
3. Jesus (20)
4. Theseus (19)
5. Dionysus (19)
6. Romulus (18)
7. Perseus (17)
8. Hercules (17)
9. Zeus (15)
10. Bellerophon (14)
11. Jason (14)
12. Osiris (14)
13. Pelops (13)
14. Asclepius (12)
15. Joseph [i.e., the son of Jacob] (12)
[188] Alan Segal (ed.), In Quest of the Hero (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).
[191] These scores are taken from Segal (ed.), Quest, pp. 138-44; except the scoring for Osiris is my own, based on the information in Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris; and I have reduced some scores based on my own examination of the evidence (applying the criteria must be reasonably rigorous to be meaningful: see earlier note on the Lincoln– Kennedy case).

As Carrier would agree, this does not preclude the existence of a 'historical Jesus' whose life was analogous to a grain of sand that lodged itself in an oyster, causing the accretion of a pearl. However, the similarity to many well-known mythical characters does raise questions about whether 'Biblical Jesus' should be regarded as a historical character in every detail, any more than Zeus or Oedipus are accepted today as historical characters.
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