Historicity News: Notable Books

This is the second of three posts covering news in the historicity-of-Jesus debate (for the first see Thallus et Alius). I recently finished reading the latest books by John Crossan and Dennis MacDonald. They inadvertently support the mythicist case with their latest arguments (despite making some weak, almost half-hearted arguments for historicity), and are worth taking note of. I don’t have time to write a full review, but here are some observations of interest to the historicity debate…

1. Undermining Historicity

Cover of Crossan's book The Power of ParableCrossan’s new book, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus (Harper 2012), is superb, well-written for laymen, yet astute enough for scholars. And I am not generally a fan of Crossan (even when he agrees with me, I usually find his arguments ill-informed), so this is high praise coming from me. In Power he argues that the Gospels are essentially extended parables about Jesus, based on things he said or that the authors wanted to say about him, and thus are fundamentally fiction, not history. He demonstrates that this mode of writing was well known within Judaism (and beyond) and thus not novel, and then argues how some of these parables about Jesus were invented and why. This ranks right up there with Randel Helms’ Gospel Fictions. I recommend it for all readers.

Cover of MacDonald's new book Two Shipwrecked GospelsMacDonald’s new book, Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord (Society of Biblical Literarure 2012), argues that the whole Q hypothesis is demonstrably wrong, and that in fact there was a previous lost Gospel called The Logoi of Jesus [“The Words/Tales of Jesus”] that lacked a nativity, passion, or empty tomb narrative, and that was used by all the Synoptics, not just Matthew and Luke. Mark is therefore a redaction of this lost Gospel, and so are Matthew and Luke, who also incorporate and redact material added to it by Mark (such as the passion and empty tomb narratives). He also provides more than convincing evidence that Luke knew and redacted Matthew as well (and thus was not written independently).

MacDonald’s case is not entirely convincing to me. Contrary to the promise it showed when I saw earlier versions of it, he commits a number of fallacies in applying his own criteria to establish his case. I think all his evidence can be explained just as well by the standard Farrer hypothesis (see On Dispensing with Q), much more easily than MacDonald maintains. But even if, like me, you remain unconvinced by his central thesis, his book remains essential reading for experts in three respects:

(1) This is now the most recent and thorough translation and scholarly treatment of the fragments of Papias in English, and in fact anyone who wants to write or theorize about Papias simply must read this book’s chapters on him (mainly chapter 1 and Appendix 5, which provides a complete text and translation of all the fragments of Papias);

(2) MacDonald’s evidence nevertheless abundantly proves Luke’s dependence on Matthew (so anyone who wants to maintain otherwise simply must interact with this book’s evidence, in addition to that already detailed by Mark Goodacre in The Case Against Q [with its associated website and the famous article by Michael Goulder, “Is Q a Juggernaut?“]); and

(3) if MacDonald is right about the lost Gospel he recovers from Mark and Luke and Matthew, then his ancillary argument is also true, that this lost Gospel is essentially a rewrite of Deuteronomy (in fact, the Septuagint text of Deuteronomy), casting Jesus in the role of Moses and reversing or altering much of its message.

That last is a fact that does not bode well for historicity advocates, although MacDonald does not pose it that way–just like his previous work showing that Mark is a retelling of Homer casting Jesus in the role of Odysseus (in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark). These two theses together explain pretty much the entire content of the Synoptic Gospels. Once you identify the whole primary content of the Gospels to be intentional literary fiction, the Gospels go out the window as evidence for Jesus; just as Mickey Spillane’s novels go out the window as evidence for the historicity of Mike Hammer.

However, unlike Crossan’s book, MacDonald’s book is very dense and advanced. Clocking in at over 700 pages, most of it is a detailed textual commentary on the Greek text of the Gospels (and the merits of many of his arguments require a knowledge of Greek). I recommend it only for hardcore readers in Biblical studies.

2. Supporting Historicity

Both Crossan and MacDonald are aware of the danger their books pose, and thus make a conspicuous point of inserting brief, half-hearted sections arguing for the historicity of Jesus. These really serve little purpose other than to reassure their colleagues and peers that they are still rubbing the totem and thus haven’t defected to the other side…which their colleagues and peers might definitely fear after hearing out their arguments for the character of Jesus being a literary creation. I’ll address each of their arguments for historicity.

Crossan’s argument is more concise and organized, but wholly unsound (pp. 247-50). It consists of concluding historicity from two premises: one based on external evidence, the other on internal evidence. His “external” premise is the testimony of Josephus (93 AD) and Tacitus (116 AD). Of course, the testimony in Josephus is fabricated (I am certain, and can prove to a strong probability, that Josephus never mentioned Jesus, in either passage where he now appears), and the testimony in Tacitus most obviously comes from Christians deriving their claims from the Gospels, which Crossan just got done arguing are fiction.

But even Josephus’ testimony, if granted authenticity, derives from the Gospels (this has been demonstrated for the main passage by G.J. Goldberg, in “The Coincidences of the Testimonium of Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative of Luke,” The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 [1995]: 59-77; the allusion to James later on can just as easily be an invention of Christian legend gullibly reported by Josephus, but I demonstrate that in fact it is an accidental interpolation in Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 [Winter 2012]).

Therefore, even at their best, the material in Tacitus and Josephus cannot logically “corroborate” the Gospels. Crossan’s external premise therefore falls.

The internal case, Crossan says, begins with the question, “If you are inventing a nonhistorical figure, why invent one you cannot live with, but must steadily and terminally change into its opposite?” (p. 250), a question he can’t answer so he finds it “much more likely that Jesus was an actual historical figure whose radical insistence on nonviolent distributive justice was both accepted and negated by the tradition it engendered.” But this is a non sequitur. If Jesus could start a movement with such radical ideas, then anyone could. And they could do that by inventing a Savior character (“Jesus” essentially means “Savior”) as its celestial or mythic mascot. Then, as the movement grew and these radical ideas became less popular (and more obviously unlivable), the movement had to start changing its central message, and thus its central character.

Therefore the fact that this happened (even granting that it did; not all scholars buy Crossan’s version of the original Jesus) provides zero evidence that it started with a historical Jesus. Because that same evidence is just as expected if Christianity began with (let’s say) a historical Peter touting a revealed Jesus telling him these same radical things. And then just as Paul got rid of Peter’s Torah-insistent Jesus, so did later generations gradually get rid of Paul’s egalitarian Jesus, eventually ending up with John’s Jesus, the most uncharitable asshole version of Jesus ever devised…until someone invented the Infancy Gospels (which finally turned Jesus into that horrid boy from The Omen).

Therefore, the fact that Christian ideas changed (and Christians changed their stories of Jesus to match) does not support historicity any more than nonhistoricity. Crossan’s internal premise therefore falls.

Crossan therefore has no logically sound case for historicity to offer.

MacDonald’s argument is a bit of a shambles but at least gets more into the evidence (pp. 543-53). He starts with the claim that Paul attests to his “extensive interaction with Jesus’ family and followers” (p. 543), although that begs every question (whether these people were his followers and actual family, as opposed to a metaphorical brotherhood), and even MacDonald is forced to admit that somehow “little of this information” [that Paul should have gotten from them] “has seeped into Paul’s letters,” a curiosity readily explained by there being no such information (Jesus being solely a revealed figure; after all, Paul himself seems to know of no other).

MacDonald then says his reconstructed “lost Gospel” (the Logoi) had accurate knowledge of Galilee and came from a bilingual (Semitized) environment, which are mutually consistent with a Galilean origin. But each is a non sequitur–as is the whole inference “Galilean author => historical Jesus” (as if Galilean authors can’t invent; and yet MacDonald himself admits the Logoi is substantially fiction).

MacDonald acknowledges that’s a problem. But if such an argument were pressed, it is just a cascade of fallacies: first, even granting the premises, the conclusion of historicity doesn’t follow; and second, the premises themselves are already questionable. Even granting that the Logoi does show a reliable knowledge of Galilee (which is more debatable than MacDonald claims), that was available to almost anyone (especially from Palestine or Syria or Arabia or Egypt or anywhere in the Diaspora, where pilgrims and people familiar with the Holy Land were always available). Likewise, Semitic loanwords are not uniquely indicative even of Palestine, much less Galilee (see Proving History, pp. 185-86, with my remarks on Ehrman [A] and [B]), a point with which, notably, MacDonald agrees (p. 544).

Cover of the new book Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of AuthenticityMacDonald thus does not lean on this, realizing it’s a weak thread. He instead admits that even in his reconstructed Logoi genuine facts about Jesus are “buried” and “difficult to mine,” requiring the standard “criteria” to extract, a method I and others have already thoroughly refuted–so he is still behind the times here. In addition to my book Proving History, which cites many other scholars agreeing with me on this, see the latest salvo: Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T&T Clark 2012). MacDonald’s attempts to apply these criteria fail in all the ways I already document in Proving History (e.g., the claim that the authors would not invent a baptism by John the Baptist is refuted on pp. 145-48; and so go all other such arguments, e.g., pp. 155-57).

Likewise, in any sound Jesus Myth theory the “sayings” of Jesus (or the ideas that inspired their formulation, p. 545) would have come by revelation, and therefore proving their originality cannot establish the historicity of Jesus (PH, pp. 123-24) even if their originality could be proved, which it rarely can, owing to our tremendous ignorance of first century Judaism (PH, 129-34). Because again, if Jesus could innovate, anyone could. Therefore innovation is not evidence of Jesus. Confusingly, yet again, MacDonald confesses this is true, concluding “Because of the author’s debt to rhetorical invention [in the Logoi], it is impossible to attribute any of these sayings with confidence to the earthly Jesus” (p. 552). So he knows no case can really proceed from this argument, either.

His next argument is that all the Gospels contain incidental details that serve no literary or religious purpose, and those must surely then be historical. For example:

There is no reason to challenge the accuracy of the following information: Jesus’ home was in Nazareth of Galilee; he traveled to Judea, was baptized by John, returned to Galilee, conducted a ministry in [specifically named] towns and villages there…and traveled with several male disciples; he was considered a teacher, exorcist, and wonder worker…met hostility from Torah-observant Jews, and was crucified by Romans with encouragement of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. … [B]ecause it is not religiously weighted, [this summary] probably reflects reliable traditions about him.

He makes no argument either for these being “not religiously weighted” or for that being any indication of their being historical. So already the argument is logically unsound, for having premises nowhere established. In fact, the premises are insupportable.

MacDonald’s claim that there is no religious purpose for any of these details is false. Nazareth and the baptism by John have identifiable origins in mythmaking (see Proving History, pp. 142-48); Christian missionaries themselves “met hostility from Torah-observant Jews” and were teachers, exorcists, and wonder workers, and thus needed a mythic model to follow and validate those roles (see PH, p. 174); fiction would be no more likely to attach female disciples to Jesus than actual history would; and the whole Romans-encouraged-by-Jews crucifixion narrative (which MacDonald admits originates with Mark, being absent from his reconstructed Logoi) is unintelligible as history (see PH, pp. 139-41). That leaves just one element: situating the narrative in Galilee. But any fictional narrative has to be situated somewhere.

Cover of Brunvand's book The Vanishing HitchhikerIn actual fact, incidental but geographically and culturally accurate details (like the names of towns in an area) naturally accumulate in myths and legends, as demonstrated by Jan Harold Brunvand, in his famous study of urban legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (1989). He found that in fact the more specific and incidental details there are in a strange story, the more likely it is to be non-historical. That’s right. Because storytellers add and accumulate just those kinds of things; the story doesn’t feel true without them, so they get added (but to a legend-hunter like Brunvand, they’re a dead giveaway).

There is no rhyme or reason for the details added, other than that they add verisimilitude (they are thus called “validating details”), except for one thing: they do tend to match a specific geographically localized “color,” wherever the story is crystallized, which can often be in different places for different versions of the legend. It is thus notable that, just like urban legends, a completely different version of the Jesus narrative arose, placing Jesus’ execution, by Jewish stoning, in Lydda and dying a hundred years earlier. Even the Gospel of Peter has Jesus crucified by Herod, not the Romans. So the story could be told in all manner of ways. Just like any other legend. For perspective, just look at all the “incidental details” in the many Apocryphal Acts…yet no one would claim those details must then be historical. Those are works of total fiction.

The fact is, the Christians had a scriptural reason to set their messianic fable in Galilee: Isaiah 9:1-7 says to. And Jesus being a “Nazorian”(Nazôraios) provided an obvious basis for putting him in the Galilean town with the nearest-sounding name: Nazareth (Nazareth). Even though those words are not in fact related. So MacDonald’s argument here does not hold up. He recognizes this is true for many other arguments, pointing out, for example, that there are far fewer independent sources than most scholars claim (so “multiple attestation” is not an effective criterion: see PH, pp. 172-75; note how Ehrman tried, illogically, to make exactly the opposite claim: see [A] and [B]), and that multiple attestation doesn’t confirm historicity anyway (p. 551), and that the Gospels are full of examples of “the expansion of sayings [of Jesus] into narratives” and thus they routinely fabricate stories (note that I have pointed out that this was a typical way of fabricating biographies generally, a fact well established in classical studies).

MacDonald then cites Josephus. Which really should be a non-starter as an argument (as I already noted above). He even exposes why when he admits any attempt to reconstruct a “genuine” Testimonium Flavianum can only be hypothetical (p. 547), and it should be obvious how that negates it as evidence (because a hypothetical premise only gets you a hypothetical conclusion: garbage in, garbage out; likewise, even if authentic, the supposition that any of its content derives independently of the Gospels can only be hypothetical–and in fact, as I noted above, is most improbable).

MacDonald even admits that the phrase “the one called Christ” in the second Josephan passage about a certain executed James “may be another Christian gloss” (p. 548). He tries to salvage it anyway by saying no other Jesus could be meant, but as there are many men named Jesus in Josephus, and indeed one in particular in this very narrative (the high priest Jesus ben Damneus, who is obviously the Jesus here meant), that argument is simply invalid. My peer reviewed demonstration of that (in JECS, cited above) will appear this Winter.

Lastly, MacDonald cites corroboration in Paul of some few details and sayings, but we already know that sayings of Jesus came to Paul by revelation (likewise to other apostles of his generation), and the only other details Paul gives of Jesus are unwitnessed mythic facts that Paul fully confesses are derived from scripture (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3-4) or revelation (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:23; cf. Gal. 1:8-12 and Rom. 16:25-26). In other words, without addressing alternative hypotheses for these details in Paul, no argument for historicity can logically proceed from them. Only a proper comparative argument can attain logical validity here. MacDonald gives none.

And that’s the sum of his case. And it’s probably, really, the best case anyone could make (although it could be organized better). Perhaps you can see why more and more of us are finding historicity doubtful.


  1. says

    I’m surprised that Thomas Brodie’s latest “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus” did not make it into this list. Here’s part of the amazon description:

    “In this fascinating memoir of his life journey, Tom Brodie, Irishman, Dominican priest, and biblical scholar, recounts the steps he has taken, in an eventful life in many countries, to his conclusion that the New Testament account of Jesus is essentially a rewriting of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, or, in some cases, of earlier New Testament texts. Jesus’ challenge to would-be disciples (Luke 9.57-62), for example, is a transformation of the challenge to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19), while his journey from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond (John 2.23-4.54) is deeply indebted to the account of the journey of God’s Word in Acts 1-8. The work of tracing literary indebtedness and art is far from finished but it is already possible and necessary to draw a conclusion: it is that, bluntly, Jesus did not exist as a historical individual.”

    I haven’t read the book yet, so Brodie may be a mythicist or he may be saying no more than that the Jesus of the gospels is ahistorical (but Christianity still had a founder who was named Jesus, he just didn’t have much in common with the guy in the gospels).

    • says

      That was already slated for my third news item. I haven’t received the book yet so can’t review it. But I am going to mention what you just did.

      (Although I just got word the book will soon be shipped, so expect a review in a month or two.)

  2. CJO says

    So, does MacDonald continue to hold the earlier thesis, that Mark is rewritten Homer, or does the Logoi that he now says it’s based on obviate that? I haven’t read the earlier work, but I’ve been curious to. I’m skeptical of the Homeric idea because practically every writer of Greek in antiquity (other than autodidacts, who surely were rare) had been taught to use Homer as a model, so we should expect echoes and snippets here and there, as well as typical mimesis, rather than be surprised by them or interpret them in a given case as more beholden to the epic tradition than any other given work. It seems over-interperative. Then again, the author of Mark is a decent candidate for that rare status of autodidact in Koine given the style. MacDonald must go into the centrality of Homer in Greco-Roman pedagogy in the Homeric Epics book, so maybe this is all dealt with. Anyway just curious to know how the two ideas (redactor of proto-gospel and rewriter of epic) fit together.

    • says

      MacDonald argues that the Homeric layer comes from Mark. In effect, the Logoi rewrote Deuteronomy, then Mark rewrote parts of the Logoi by adding over it the Homeric narrative (thus preserving many of the Deuteronomic markers, which MacDonald claims can be even more clearly seen in how Matthew and Luke redacted the Logoi, each in their own way). Note that MacDonald has also shown that parts of Acts were written from a Homeric model (and of course he is renowned for proving this was done as well in the Acts of Andrew, but as that is noncanonical no one complained). So it wasn’t just Mark. But he doesn’t argue for any such elements in the Logoi.

      And yes, MacDonald covers the role of Homeric emulation in education over several pages in his first book (Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark). I agree many of his examples in Mark are inconclusive (indeed they might not even be casual mimesis like you suggest but just coincidences), but several are undeniably strong (and cannot be explained away as casual mimesis). He develops sound criteria to tell the difference, he just has no standard by which to measure strength; but you can apply them yourself, assigning your own weighs, to test the strength of each case (I demonstrate the logical validity of his criteria, and give a method for assigning ballpark weights to them, in Proving History, pp. 192-204).

      One simply has to read Homeric Epics and the Gospel…and remember to control for the natural human cognitive error of reducing the probability of a conclusion the more weak arguments you hear for it (weak arguments at worst add zero, and at best add small amounts to the probability; they can never, in any logical universe, reduce the probability of the conclusion, yet humans have a natural tendency to unconsciously react to a conclusion as if they do). Ignore all weak arguments and focus only on the strong ones. Then go back and look at the overall thrust of Mark’s narrative decisions in light of what those strong arguments entail (e.g. why does Jesus spend so much time at sea and why are all the Disciples who ever have any speaking or acting roles all sailors?).

  3. Will says

    Great post Richard! I find it extremely interesting how more and more scholars are basically being dragged kicking and screaming towards the mythicist conclusion while maintaining weak and irrational reasons for refusing to take the final step. I guess there must be some kind of internalized paradigm for what is acceptable in the field thus saying “this far, but no further”. I think you have demonstrated in this post just how difficult it will be for mainstream scholarship to solidly maintain historicity. I think they will eventually be forced to acknowlege the plausibility of mythicism or they will have to disengage and pretend that it doesn’t exist. With the appearance of books like those addressed in this post, do you forsee an opening at the margins of the field for mythicism to gain a foothold in respectable scholarship? I wonder because I think the field is populated by alot of Christians who have difficulty letting go of an HJ of some kind.. it was probably difficult for many of them to even get to the secular historicity position. Making that extra leap towards nonhistoricity a personally wrenching experience for those that hold a sentimental attachment to the HJ. Anyway, this is just kind of trivial speculation on my part, but I am curious as to your sense of the situation as more and more scholarship inadvertently undermines historicity. Thanks.

    • says

      Spoiler alert: you just presciently anticipated my third news item in this series (which will go up next week).

      As to your question, the story of Thomas Thompson (which I will link to in that article next week) is the model for what’s going on now: as in OT minimalism, there was irrational dogmatic hostility for many years, followed by gradual acceptance, ending in the current state of things, which is begrudging near-universal acceptance (even conservative Christian professors have to admit now that their resistance is faith-based and cannot be honestly argued on the evidence, so even they teach the consensus minimalism as the norm even as they insist it’s wrong). That took a total of about twenty years. (There is still debate over monarchy minimalism, but I am speaking of patriarchal minimalism.)

      I hope my next book (if not Thomas Brodie’s new book) will start the same process for NT minimalism. So check back and see where we are twenty years from now. :-)

  4. Roo Bookaroo says

    I have encountered this info:
    There are at least twenty distinct Jesuses in Josephus.
    Somebody, somewhere, must have the exact count.

    The mention of the title “Is Q a Juggernaut?” made me smile, as this may have been the source of Earl Doherty’s using this image earlier this year in one of his essays refuting Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?
    “…and the Juggernaut overflowed its banks”

    An unforgettable image, a pendant (not yet met, but possible) being
    “…while the tsunami was crushing the devotees under its wheels.”

    That’s what you produce when you are an autodidact!

    • says

      No Sermon on the Mount or any such sentiments (John’s Jesus does not teach anyone to be nice; no egalitarian principles are advocated; in fact, practically no moral principles or social ideals are ever voiced), wields weapons (he beats people with “a scourge of cords,” 2:15), mouths off to his mom (3:4), is no wimp at the cross (compare his cross march and final cry with the synoptics), and does not hide the fact that he is the Son of God and Messiah and God’s equal, but preaches constantly about it and pushes it in everyone’s face (e.g., 4:25-26, 5:18-47, etc.; unlike Mark’s humble messianic secret Jesus), in fact almost everything Jesus preaches in John is all about him and how awesome he is (whereas in the Synoptics it’s mostly about the kingdom of god and how to receive the gospel, and about moral rules and social ideals…get a red letter edition and just read the speeches in Matthew and then the speeches in John and be appalled at the difference).

  5. Steve S says

    Speaking of notable books, have you had a chance to read Mark Goodacre’s recent “Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Synoptics?” If you have, I would be curious what your thoughts on it are.

    • says

      I have not yet. But I’ve seen bits of its argument, and expert reviewers are unanimous that it makes pretty much an unassailable case. Even those who are still too attached to the alternative thesis to admit it’s dead say his argument will have to be addressed if the alternative thesis is to be maintained…and then give no suggestions for how it could possibly be rebutted. So it sounds like the alternative theory is just dead, and only wishful thinking is keeping it alive. But I can’t say for certain until I see a copy (I’m waiting for it to be acquired by one of my local research libraries).

    • Sili says

      I’m just a nobody, but I thought it was excellent. As with his Case Against Q, I’m shocked by what goes for scholarship in that business. The ‘arguments’ he has to address are hopelessly fallacious and backward.

      Goodacre’s treatment is exemplary and clear, and I suspect it would actually lend itself neatly to the Bayesian approach.

      He is polite and courteous throughout, but it’s obvious from the footnotes who the bad guys are. He’s just not as expressly disdainful as Richard Pervo was in his writing – I realise he turned out to be a horrible person, but his Dating Acts was in hilarious in places, when chewed into the opposition.

  6. Sili says

    Please excuse me if this is already dealt with in Proving History, but I have yet to read that.

    What is your opinion of Alvar Ellegård’s interpretation of the Resurrected Jesus as the Qumran Teacher of Righteousness? His thesis appealed to me when I read it on my holiday. It certainly swung me away from minimal historicity again.

    But I’m not comfortable with his early dating of sources, since they seems so far out of the mainstream. Luckily he does not rest his argument strongly on Q or the Gospel of Thomas, but I’d like to see someone else show that Barnabas, Hermas and so on are really 1st century works.

    • says

      That’s an example of the possibiliter fallacy (axiom 5, Proving History, pp. 26-29). His thesis is possible (and does not require his early dating scheme), but arguing it’s probable requires much more evidence than he has. Ellegård is also something of an amateur, so there is a pall of uncertainty over how seriously his work should be taken. I think his work is no worse than many a Ph.D. in NT Studies. And his overall thesis is compatible with the evidence. But going from that to “is the most likely explanation of that evidence” (given all we know at the present time) is not something he can accomplish; but to be fair, neither have historicity defenders accomplished it (despite being so certain they have).

    • Sili says

      I think his work is no worse than many a Ph.D. in NT Studies.

      You sure know how to damn with faint praise.

      Of course I understand that possible does not mean probable. That’s why I’m curious about what could be down to test the hypothesis. It may not need his early dating, but my impression was that if those documents could be shown to be early, it would add probability to the claim that ‘Christianity’ existed before the supposed crucifixion.

    • says

      if those documents could be shown to be early, it would add probability to the claim that ‘Christianity’ existed before the supposed crucifixion.

      The trouble is with the “if.”

      In fact, if those documents were shown to be early, that would not just add probability to the claim that Christianity existed before the supposed crucifixion; it would prove the claim that Christianity existed before the supposed crucifixion. Thus, I assume you mean that the higher the probability that those docs are early, the higher the probability that Christianity preexisted Pilate. Which is true as a general rule, but that’s of no use knowing. As I explain in Proving History (p. 138) for the bootstrapping fallacy: until that increase in probability becomes significant, it’s irrelevant.

  7. Niklas Bergström says


    What do you think of David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed? Is it worth of reading?

    • says

      For a beginner, yes. It doesn’t prove Jesus didn’t exist (despite some of the ad copy), but it does show up common “myths” held by the public (and many Christians) about the matter that mainstream scholars agree are mistaken. Think of it as a debunking of the Christian Jesus (the godman), rather than of the reconstructed secular Jesus (the ordinary man).

  8. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,

    an apologist pointed me to this post of an aggressive anti-mythicist


    It is totally incorrect to strike the Fitzgerald’s book (which is only useful to debunking the godman, not the ordinary man) to actually strike you (that want debunking the same ordinary man).

    But what do you think of what he has to say about the passage in Josephus on James ”called Christ”?

    This means, according to Carrier’s reading, the very man whose brother Hanan had just executed and who had replaced him in the priesthood has, a couple of sentences later, become friends with his brother’s killer because he was given some gifts. This clearly makes zero sense.

    but this giving gifts to the victim’s brother by his murderer is typical of the contexts in which the main objective is to try to save a fragile political balance.

    Was not Pompey fought by Caesar, despite having married his daughter?


    • says


      But he’s also confused. He has mistaken different people with the same name.

      See my remark here (and keep reading that thread from there down to see more nailing the point, thanks to helpful commentators).

  9. Giuseppe says

    I have seen from function ”read inside” of Amazon a portion of the book where there is the article ”the Testimonium and martyrdom of James” of Zvi Baras (the scholar that the anti-mythicist Tim O Neill thinks to use against Richard Carrier), and I have read this (p.343):

    But although Josephus’ importance for Origen lay mainly in the fact that he was a contemporaneuous historian (”a man who lived not long after John and Jesus”), Origen did not quote him directly; only in indirect speech (oratio obliqua) did Origen summarize Josephus’information. How, then, could Origen have arrived at such a conclusion, attribuited by him to Josephus, and whence could he have found support? The lack of such a version in the extant text of Josephus has induced scholars to explain it in different ways. One is the assumption that Origen’s version of James’ martyrdom indeed appeared in Josephus’ original text, but has not been preserved. Such an assumption overlooks the question of why the Testimonium passage should have remained in Josephus’ text, while the story of James’ martyrdom – neither disdainful nor defamatory toward Christ — should have been excised from Josephus’ writings.

    (from Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity edited by Louis Harry Feldman, Gōhei Hata; the key words I used are ”hoc post hoc feldman”)

    Until this all OK with what already Earl Doherty tell us: the ”lost reference” was only a legend, never present in original Josephus.

    But after the article reads:

    The other generally accepted explanation is that Origen confused the accounts of James and John the Baptist in Josephus and Hegesippus and followed the latter, who associated James’ martyrdom with the siege of Jerusalem. We reproduce here only the last few relevant lines of Hegesippus, as quoted at lenght by Eusebius: ”Such was his martyrdom. He was buried on the spot, by the Sanctuary, and his headstone is still there by the Sanctuary. He has proven a true witness to Jews and Gentile alike that Jesus is Christ. Immediately after this Vespasian began to besiege them.” Could Origen have confused the sources? Such negligence on the part of so meticolous a scholar is unaccettable. I have already pointed out elsewhere that is seems more likely that the sequential events (hoc post hoc) in Hegesippus — namely, James’martyrdom and the siege — became for Origen causal events (hoc propter hoc).

    Pardon??? ”Sequential events” in Hegesippus and not ”causal (i.e. theological) events”? It’s impossible. In that ”Immediately (euthys) after this Vespasian began to besiege them” that euthys is implicitly establishing a causal link between ”James’martyrdom and the siege”.

    But why this Zvi Baras needs to remove the causal (theological) link (hoc propter hoc) from Hegesippus? Because in this way only Origen can be the author of that theological reading of actual Antiquities 20:200 :

    In fact, I believe that we can now point to a specific place … in Josephus, which led Origen to say that Josephus should have corrected his historical interpretation. I refer to Antiquities XI, 297-305, where the remarks of Josephus may have served Origen as guideposts in leading him in the direction he took.

    This explains because Hegesippus (or some other christian before Origen) has not the right — for Zvi Baras — to see the *causal* link death of James—>siege: he had done this, Origen would be not more the *single* creator of the ”causal” link about James/siege (and then of the construct ”who is called Christ”, that otherwise will have a distinct origin from the Josephus read by Origen, more plausibly in Hegesippus).

    Thank you for your remarks above,

    • says

      Such negligence on the part of so meticulous a scholar is unacceptable

      Note that in my article in JECS (which I will soon be reproducing in an anthology) I refute this claim by demonstrating Origen makes exactly these kinds of mistakes elsewhere.