Brodie on Jesus

Cover of Brodie's book "Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus"Last month I completed Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery by Thomas Brodie (Sheffield Phoenix, 2012) and have only just now found the time to review it here (I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had internet access for most of the last two weeks–buried in the moors and quaint villages of England–sorry about that!).

In this book Brodie (a major biblical scholar) drops a bombshell: he has been convinced that Jesus never existed as a historical person since the 70s. Only now (in this much-anticipated book) has he felt free to say so publicly, and explain the path of discovery that took him there. This book is as the subtitle says: a memoir. It isn’t really a good book for arguing his case. In fact, it’s terrible at that. Consequently, I cannot recommend this book to anyone who wants to see a good case for Jesus not existing. You simply will not be convinced by his treatment of that here. All it does do is explain, autobiographically, the steps that took him to this conclusion, with some brief outlines of the kind of arguments he could perhaps gin up if he were to do a full-force defense of the thesis.

However, even were he to write that hypothetical book, I still don’t think he’d have a case. Not that there isn’t a good case for the conclusion (that Jesus probably did not really exist historically as the Gospels claim). Rather, I think Brodie has come to that conclusion invalidly, from a rather weak series of arguments. Cover of Hector Avalos' book The End of Biblical StudiesOthers will complain of his theology, as he attempts to argue in Beyond that he can still be a good Catholic (and a member of the church hierarchy) even if he believes there was no historical Jesus. His attempt to make sense of that is nonsense, IMO, worse even than the dubious “have it both ways” theology of the Episcopal skeptic, John Shelby Spong. But I really don’t care about that. That’s for the superstitious goons at the Vatican to argue over. Atheists can be satisfied with the gut punch to all such kinds of hyper-liberal reasoning in Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies (which smartly treats and refutes both conservative and liberal attempts to rehabilitate the bible as anything but awful ancient woo).

My interest is in this book’s value toward advancing the historicity debate. Assessment: it unfortunately won’t. It’s one merit is its honesty, and its setting an example that one major well-qualified expert does not deem the notion of Jesus’ ahistoricity to be implausible or out of bounds. I cannot say it adds to any argument from authority. Since his case is invalid in my opinion, his being a proponent of ahistoricity does not itself support ahistoricity, only its respectability. Why? Well, he rests on one non sequitur and one false premise.

The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. The premise is true (many have well proved it already, but I will marshal the best evidence in my book on this next year). But the conclusion does not follow. Brodie also does not make a very good case even for the premise in this book, though I know he can. His treatment in The Birthing of the New Testament does a better job of that, albeit flawed in the same ways MacDonald’s Homeric argument is: the case is made with enough strong arguments, but those are buried under many weak arguments, so people tend to dismiss the whole thesis because of the latter, not taking proper note of the former. But in any case, if you want to see the best case for that, Beyond is not it. I don’t think he will convince anyone with what’s presented here. It’s possible I’m too jaded, though, and that the material in Beyond will be fresh and intriguing enough to someone not already familiar with the Brodie thesis.

Meanwhile, the false premise has to do with his treatment of the Pauline epistles. Really the only evidence for historicity there is is a scant few obscure passages in the Pauline epistles (e.g. references to “brothers of the Lord”), so they are really the most important evidence to deal with, and he deals with them almost not at all. In fact, his answer to them is to declare them all forgeries, and Paul himself a fiction. Brodie makes no clear case for this conclusion, and what arguments he does have are fallacious (e.g. the letters have certain features that forged letters sometimes share–except, so do authentic letters), and the position as a whole is too radical to be useful. Not that it hasn’t had serious defenders before this. But it constitutes a whole additional fringe thesis one must defend successfully first, before one can use it as a premise in an argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus. And I am skeptical that that can really be done (see my comments here and here). Certainly none of his arguments in Beyond are convincing on this subject.

To be clear, Brodie’s view appears to be that the authentic Paulines were written in the early first century by Christians who would have known the original apostles. So he is not advancing the Detering thesis, for example, that they are all mid-second century forgeries. But he doesn’t explain how their contents can still make sense within the context of a non-historical Jesus. In fact, Brodie presents absolutely no theory of Christian origins at all. And that is perhaps this book’s most decisive failing. You simply cannot argue successfully for ahistoricity without testing a theory of Christian origins without Jesus against the best (i.e. most defensible and least speculative) theory of Christian origins with Jesus.

So, methodologically, this book is just as unsound as Ehrman’s book arguing the contrary (which is rife with fallacies cover to cover). Does it have any merits? As autobiography, it is very informative. As a précis of why he believes what he does, it’s adequate, just not persuasive. His treatment of the presumption of an oral tradition behind the Gospels is spot on (no one has summed it up quite so well in so short a space: pp. 115-19, cf. also p. 156). His rebuttal to Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? is over-brief but on point (pp. 226-31). And he has sound opinions on the criteria used to defend historicity (they suck: p. 157) and the extrabiblical evidence (they prove nothing: pp. 16-68; I disagree with some of his premises here, but his conclusions follow all the same, e.g. here you will find the best argument that Josephus doesn’t matter even if everything he says is authentic). And there are occasional gems (e.g. he has an intriguing thesis as to why Jesus was mythically construed to be a carpenter or the son of one: pp. 159-60; and his conclusion of Josephus is eminently quotable: “it is not possible, in any reliable way, to invoke Josephus as an independent witness to Jesus. Unreliable witness cannot be used to condemn someone to death. And neither can it be used to assert that someone lived.”).

But these do not constitute enough of a merit to warrant recommending this book to most readers, who will not much benefit from it, I’m sorry to say.


  1. bobwahler says

    What IS the best case for ahistoricity? I am reading Doherty, “Neither God nor Man”. It’s good, but so far kind of overbroad, IMHO. Ehrman, I agree, really blew it. Did you get to Bath when you were abroad? Southern England is beautiful.

    • says

      Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle solves the overbroad problem. It’s a much more concise and effective defense of his thesis. Neither God nor Man is more like an extended appendix to Puzzle (and as such has its merits, it’s just not the first book I’d read; Puzzle is much better as an introduction).

      I’m not happy with any of the defenses of historicity in print; none are the “best” defense one could make. That’s partly why I’m trying to write one.

  2. says

    Sad that you’re disappointed. I might check it out regardless.

    I have to also say that after watching your Skepticon 5 presentation that I’m inclined to become a follower of Isis.

  3. Roger Parvus says

    You write: “To be clear, Brodie’s view appears to be that the authentic Paulines were written in the early first century by Christians who would have known the original apostles. So he is not advancing the Detering thesis, for example, that they are all mid-second century forgeries.”

    I am wondering what you think of the theory that the letters were indeed written in the early first century but by Simon of Samaria and were reworked by the proto-orthodox in the second century in order to co-opt them for proto-orthodoxy. The reworking would have included a change in the name of the sender from Simon to Paul.

    This solution is attractive for a number of reasons:

    First, it would explain the many inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and the general choppiness of the Pauline letters. These problems largely occur in passages that deal with items about which early gnostics differed from the proto-orthodox: the Law, sin, the flesh, the visible world and its maker(s). Scholars lay the blame on Paul’s impulsiveness and peculiar circumstances. He was a missionary—not a theologian— they remind us, so we shouldn’t expect theological consistency from him. But it strikes me that proto-orthodox tampering with letters that were proto-gnostic in origin could also account for their sad state.

    Note that the accusation that the letters were tampered with is not something mythicists have recently and conveniently come up with to undermine Christianity. The accusation was put forward by Marcion at practically the same time that the extant record makes its first mention of a collection of Pauline letters. Marcion claimed that the Gospel and Pauline letters had been interpolated by Judaizers: “This fundamental conviction was at the very heart of the Marcionite movement, the idea of re-establishing what had been falsified. Marcion was convinced that there had been a great Judaising conspiracy going on in the world aimed at perverting the Gospel by pretending that Christ belonged to the Creator.” (Sebastian Moll, The Arch-Heretic Marcion, p. 83)

    Marcion claimed that the author of the Paulines was an adherent of a god higher than the creator god of the Jews. And that it was this inferior creator god who enacted the Jewish Law in order to enslave mankind. Now, these beliefs bear a definite resemblance to those which, according to the proto-orthodox heresy-hunters, were first taught by Simon of Samaria. Marcionism looks to be a simplification of Simonianism. Where Simon picked, chose, and allegorized certain Old Testament passages to justify his adherence to a god higher than the Jewish god, Marcion sticks to an interpretation that is literal but still more than sufficient to show that the god of the Old Testament cannot be the Father of Jesus. Otherwise, the views of Marcion and Simon regarding the Law, sin, the flesh, and the world are quite similar.

    And despite the proto-orthodox proclivity to locate the times of their heretical opponents as late as possible, there is one notable exception: Simon of Samaria. They concede that Simon existed at Christianity’s first hour. Acts of the Apostles acknowledges that he received Christian baptism. Irenaeus too acknowledges that Simon was a Christian, albeit a phony one. And he was said to have preached among the Gentiles, ultimately making his way to Rome.

    Moreover, the proto-orthodox curiously know Simon’s line of succession better than their own. They say that Simon’s successor was Menander and that he too was from Samaria although he operated out of Antioch. And that Basilides of Alexandria and Satornilus of Antioch were pupils of Menander. And that Marcion was orthodox in belief when “in the first flush of faith” (Adv. Marc. 4,4) he made his donation to the Roman church, but that he was subsequently corrupted by a Simonian named Cerdo. Cerdo came to Rome from Antioch in the late 130s.

    And what I also find strange is that the first proto-orthodox heresy hunter, Justin, arrives on the scene so late. Were there no proto-orthodox heroes to refute Menander in the late first century? Did they allow Simon’s heresy to go uncontested from 70 to 140 CE? The proto-orthodox written reaction to heresy began with Justin’s Syntagma. That is kind of late in the game. And it makes me suspect that it was only around 140 that the proto-orthodox decided to co-opt and sanitize the Simonian letter collection.

    So I am wondering if the history of the earliest collection of Pauline letters went something like this:

    1. The original letters, exhortations, instructions, and so on that make up the letter collection were written between about CE 50 and 130 by Simon himself and later Simonians (e.g. Menander, Satorninus). The so-called “Pauline school” was, in reality, the later followers of Simon.

    2. In the early 130s a proto-orthodox Christian came into possession of the letter collection and made significant changes to it—including the name change to “Paul”—to turn the letters into proto-orthodox ones.

    3. In the late 130s a wealthy shipowner named Marcion came to Rome and converted, embracing proto-orthodoxy briefly before making the acquaintance of a Simonian named Cerdo. From Cerdo Marcion learned that the letter collection was not in its pristine state, that it had been interpolated by judaizers.

    Such a scenario could explain other apparent anomalies in the early record. For example, Justin mentions Simon several times, but never Paul or his letters. And the document(s) underlying the pseudo-Clementines mentions Simon but not Paul. In the pseudo-Clementines Peter faces off with Simon, while in the New Testament Peter faces off with Paul at Antioch (and possibly at Corinth). But it is only in much later literature that the two apostles to the Gentiles, Paul and Simon, ever face off with each other. If A (Peter) faces off with B (Paul), and A (Peter) faces off with C (Simon, whose beliefs resemble those of the Marcionite Paul), one cannot help but wonder whether B and C are different versions of the the same person.

    Simon claimed to be “someone great” (Acts 8:9), and was viewed by the Samaritans as “the power of God that is called Great” (Acts 8:10). It may have been his enemies who made him into a magician by saying: “He was a Magus, not a Megas.” But the ultimate insult was to turn the letters of the heretical Great One (Megas) into proto-orthodox letters of the Small One (Paul).

    • says

      That theory is too needlessly complicated. But someone is welcome to try and prove it a better theory than the standard one by a sound method someday. It’s just not presently a good way to argue for ahistoricity.

    • bobwahler says


      Have you read Robert Eisenman? His method is to analyze different source material and see who fits who in the others. It works amazingly well. After noticing he connects Stephen and Judas to events in the life of James, I took his m.o. a step further and looked into the ‘Betrayal’ scenario for evidence of more overwriting. Guess what. I found it in spades. The entire Judas ‘Betrayal’ in all four gospels and the Gospel of Judas, as it turns out, is really an overwriting of JAMES as successor to Jesus. I took up every line in all 4 gospels and researched all the so-called prophecy quotations from the OT (actually misquotations). Eisenman just didn’t finish connecting the dots, perhaps because his Jewishness refuses to see James as a master like ‘Jesus’. In Gospel According to the Hebrews, it is JAMES, not fictional Judas, who gets the bread at the Last Supper – symbol of passing of mastership.(“I know whom I have chosen” is the choosing not of ‘betrayer’ Judas, but successor James.)

      The ‘headlong fall’ Judas takes, as another example, is according to Clement’s Recognitions (LXX), James being THROWN from the Temple steps (origin of the Devil’s Temptation in the Wilderness) breaking his legs. The ‘Pella Flight’ followed. Lazarus, another cover character, is to be KILLED by the Priests for causing ‘the people to go after Jesus’ (John 12). This is exactly the charge against James, leading to his conviction of blasphemy by High Priest Ananus in Hegesippus. The stoning follows (‘Stephen’ in Acts 7), with the clothes of the condemned, not ‘witnesses’, laid at the feet of Saul, who is James’ nemesis, Paul. James would not disavow his Master, Jesus, even though for the masses he was no longer ‘the Messiah’ (he WAS for James, so he could not disavow him). The crowd does the stoning after Paul whips them into a frenzy (Clement).

      The “Strike the Shepherd” proof text from Zechariah 13:7 in the Betrayal scenario is mistranslated, and even so in Zechariah. It should be “Strike, O Shepherd ..”, from a mystic perspective, the reforming of the devotee, seen as ‘refining by FIRE’ in the verses to follow. The Qumran Essenes’ “Spouter of Lying” was Paul, the R.T., James. The details are all there in the Pesherim, and all throughout the ‘Betrayal’. Eisenman simply missed the latter.

      I think Robert Price may be on to something in ‘Jesus’ as a titular cognomen for John the Baptist. In any case, Jesus assumes many of the most famous sayings of James, such as “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (spoken by Stephen in Acts 7 and said by Hegesippus to be spoken by JAMES), and “You will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven and in power”. What you are saying about Paul and Simon Magus is not new, but has much to recommend it. The one Simon duels with in Rome, flying all around, etc., is Peter. The point is that it always comes back to the hiding of James as the reason for the writing and codifying of the New Testament. Pauline Christianity co-opted the gnostic forces and ran the Jamesians out of town to Qumran. The rest as they say, is history. The NT will never be the same for me, thanks to Dr. Robert Eisenman.

    • Roger Parvus says

      Understood. But I wasn’t really arguing for ahistoricity in my comment. I was just proposing an origin for the Paulines that can plausibly be made to fit information provided by the earliest anti-heretical writings.

      The ahistoricity part would come in if it can also be shown that the earliest written gospel was Simonian in origin. That is to say, that the proto-orthodox co-opting of Simonian Christianity involved not only the reworking of a Simonian letter collection, but also of a Simonian gospel. My view is that the original gMark was written by a Simonian. He composed an allegorical portrayal of the apostolic career of “Paul”/Simon of Samaria and joined it to an earlier succinct myth about a divine figure, the Son of God, who briefly descended to this world to trick the princes of this world into wrongfully crucifying him. In that earlier myth the Son transformed himself and surreptitiously switched places, as Simon Kyrenaios, with a failed Jewish Messiah being led out by the Romans for crucifixion. The seam between the two parts of the gospel is Mk. 15:15, the release of Jesus Barabbas (the Son of the Father). That a Simonian would compose such a two-part life of the Son of God was fitting, for Simon claimed to be a new manifestation of the Son “who seemed to suffer in Judaea” (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 6, 19).

      In this scenario the Son who heard the words “You are my beloved Son” (the vision and “unutterable words” of 2 Cor. 12:4) was Simon/”Paul.” And Galilee of the Gentiles was the allegorical stand-in for the Gentile world he roamed preaching deliverance from the world-making angel and his Law. It was Simon/”Paul” who preached a hidden gospel (2 Cor. 4:3) and was never understood by the hard-headed Twelve. And they abandoned and denied him when he went up to Jerusalem for the last time. Thus, the incidents in the gospel are allegorical presentations of incidents in the life of Simon/”Paul.” For example, Jesus’ trip to Tyre where he frees the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman from possession by unclean spirits is an allegorical portrayal of Simon’s trip to Tyre where he freed Helen from the spirits holding her captive. The author of the episode drops the hint the woman was “Hellene” (Mk. 7:26) Calling her a dog (Mk. 7:27) was another hint, referring to the fact that Helen had even undergone reincarnations in the “bodies of beasts” (Panarion, 2,2).

      It would take too long, of course, to lay out fully in a comment how gMark is a Simonian riddle. I have posted some parts of the theory over on Neil Godfrey’s Vridar blog. But in short: A good case can be made that gMark is an extended riddle that asks: “Who do men say that I am?” And the correct answer is: “Paul”/Simon of Samaria.

      It was expected that only those on the inside (Mk. 4:11) would recognize the true identity of “Jesus.” For, as Basilides put it, “not one in a thousand, nor two in ten thousand” knew their doctrine. But the key to the riddle did ultimately leak out. And that, in my opinion, is why there are competing synoptic gospels. GMatthew and gLuke were proto-orthodox responses, written not to supplement but to replace the Simonian Gospel. They took it and manipulated it in various ways to suit their own proto-orthodox purposes. At some point too gMark was touched up to become canonical Mark.

    • Paul D. says

      I think Dr. Robert M. Price’s new book, released this week, focuses on the question of Paul and Simon Magus.

    • Roger Parvus says


      I’ve read Eisenman but am not convinced the DSS and Qumran have anything to do with Christian origins. I do continue to read what Eisenman writes and try to keep an open mind.

    • bobwahler says


      Like Richard said, that’s kinda complex. It is interesting, to be sure, what little I could comprehend. I can help you with the DSS and Christian connection. The DSS Pesherim were EXPRESSLY written to counter Paul and Pauline teaching. Period. The Damascus Document, Habakkuk Pesher, and Nahum Peshers for sure. Probably a few others. Paul and – only Paul – is the target (and his Roman friends). They dovetail with the Nag Hammadi gnostic gospels in important ways and together point the way to uncovering the most important un-explored story in the canon: the hidden James in the Betrayal myth. I uncovered this only after Eisenman pointed the way with the Stephen and Judas to James connection. Turns out, there are a bunch of cover characters, like Lazarus and beloved disciple, and naked young man. The mystic details of successorship are the key to unpacking this amazing tale. It is the subject of chapter Six in my book, “The Bible says ‘Saviors’ -Obadiah 1:21”. Vermes is a roadblock. I just got an email this morning from Eisenman after asking for his help with his publisher Penguin, and his commment was forget it–Vermes has gotten to them and they have turned against Eisenman, so I guess even he is not being pushed there. What a shame. Eisenman is right, NOT VERMES. The carbon dating does not do what he and Schiffman claim: date the Pesherim to BCE. They DO NOT. They are first century CE, and it is easily shown from internal material.

      I predict this will one day become the most important discovery not only in biblical studies, but in ALL the history of mankind: The successive incarnation of mystic Masters. How about THAT?

  4. marella says

    If Bart Ehrman couldn’t write a good defense of the historical Jesus I wonder if it is actually doable. I will be interested to see how you fare.

    • says

      If by “good” you mean “successful” I am not aware of any way that can be done on present evidence. It seems very unlikely to me. Though it hasn’t exactly been tried yet (using a sound method, that is). But if you mean just “factually accurate and mostly non-fallacious,” I am certain a much better case can be attempted than Ehrman accomplished. Though I won’t be creating such a case myself, I will be outlining it in my next book. It’s really the job of historicity defenders to actually do it. But I’ll do what I can to help them, if they’re serious about being logical.

  5. F [disappearing] says

    The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist.

    Yes, this is a horrible way to make an argument. If this were a valid method, we’d have to call into question the existence of, say, Ronald Reagan.

    • says

      That’s not a valid analogy. That would only be nearly analogous if we had no historical documents about Reagan other than a small collection of anonymous hagiographies written forty to eighty years later…and we had no reason to expect there to be more available to us. (Although a more fitting analogy would be a tad more detailed than that; see my contrafactual analogy “Hero Savior of Vietnam” in Why I Am Not a Christian, pp. 48-52, for example).

  6. bobwahler says

    You know, Richard, that might not be a bad idea. YOU write the best case. The Mythicists are better at this than the Historicists. If you write it, it will probably be as good as it can be, and that still won’t be good enough! Make sense? It would blow their minds, that’s for sure.

    • Sili says

      This is more or less what Mark Goodacre does.

      He presents as honestly as possible his opponents’ best case – and then he destroys it while cackling with glee. (I may have made part of that up.)

      I do hope, though, that a better case can be made for a historical Jesus than it has been for Q and the independence of Gospel of Thomas, for those two were pretty pathetic in light of the evidence.

    • Sili says

      I won’t pretend I know much, but I think Goodacre makes a very good case for Thomas being familiar with both Luke and Matthew – as well as the Bar Kochba revolt – and the reviews I’ve seen agree that his case is good.

      An important point is that many people conflate Thomas the work with Coptic Thomas the exemplar. We have evidence of Thomas in Oxyrhincus and the verbatim agreement with the Synoptics is strong.

  7. says

    What do you think the implications will be for Brodie “coming out of the closet” so to say? Do you think this will encourage other possible ahistoricists hiding in academia to also publicly express their doubts about the historical Jesus? I’ve heard it on hearsay that there’s a non-insignificant number of scholars who doubt the existence of Jesus, so it would actually be pretty interesting if that hearsay wound up being true…

    • says

      Yes, there are probably more agnostics than are “out” at present. But the situation of each is different; Brodie can be punished by the Catholic church, but is so near to retirement, they probably can’t hurt him much. That is not the case for others who can be hurt either by their churches (if they are religious or working for religious institutions) or even the secular academic community (if attitudes like Ehrman’s prevail), e.g. by being denied tenure or even fired or just not hired, or in more subtle ways (like giving them shit offices and excess committee assignments and otherwise making their life miserable; or having their books or papers denied publication; etc.) or less tangible ways (like being mocked publicly and thus losing status and reputation). In the 70s both religious and secular scholars and administrators were complicit in punishing Thompson and any institution that hired or worked with him. I don’t think it will be that bad now (the zeitgeist has so changed), but I can see how many scholars might fear it could be. And the reality doesn’t matter as much as what is feared.

      That said, I’m optimistic more will come forward in the coming decade, at least as far as allowing ahistoricity to be counted as a respectable enough theory even if false (the way most claims about the historical Jesus are treated now).

  8. says

    Why are you so judgemental?
    You say:

    “Others will complain of his theology, as he attempts to argue in Beyond that he can still be a good Catholic (and a member of the church hierarchy) even if he believes there was no historical Jesus. His attempt to make sense of that is nonsense, IMO, worse even than the dubious “have it both ways” theology of the Episcopal skeptic, John Shelby Spong.”

    All of us make our own choices in life and we choose what we believe has value.

    I am a Catholic. I also know that an historical Jesus Christ did not exist. I cannot bring myself to recite the creed. I cannot bring myself to recite the Hail Mary. But I still take an active role in Church life. It is rarely a problem.

    The debate on the historicity or otherwise of Jesus from the little I have read, seems to centre on the credibility and authenticity of those references to him by early scholars.

    However, if the mythicist argument is to be credible, it must, to my mind:

    a. Convincingly explain the etymology of the name “Jesus Christ”.

    b. Provide a convincing allegorical interpretation for the Gospel of Mark (the earliest Gospel).

    This is my explanation for (a) which I hope you find compelling.

    A character of enormous significance in the writings of Josephus is Judas the Galilean:

    “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.
    They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord.”

    [Josephus: Jewish Antiquities 18:1:6]

    “… a certain Galilean, whose name was Judas, prevailed with his countrymen to revolt, and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and would after God submit to mortal men as their lords.
    This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own, and was not at all like the rest of those their leaders.”

    [Josephus: Jewish War 2:8:1]

    From reading about Judas, it is clear to me that he was an anarchist and he would have promoted an idea of a society without authority.
    Judas would have been disparaging about a Messiah (or Christ) and instead would have asked people to look for the Messiah in their own hearts.

    There is compelling evidence in Acts that the early Christians were anarchists.

    However, some anarchists are wont to inflict violence on those who do not share their ideals. In first century Judaea, some became Sicarii and assassinated Jews of wealth and influence. Some scholars see the name Iscariot being derived from Sicarii. It was Judas Iscariot, of course, who betrayed Jesus.

    The ideology of Judas was superseded by James and the central message of his letter is a call to restraint. The value of patience in the face of trials is emphasized at the start of the letter. This message is re-emphasized at the end:

    “Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

    [James 5:10-11]

    At times in his letter, James seems to be the spiritual heir to Judas the Galilean asking people to follow their own heart.

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
    [James 1:22-25]

    At other times he puts great store on the Law:

    “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”
    [James 2:10-11]

    Joshua was Moses’ apprentice and he accompanied Moses part of the way when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments [Exodus 32:17]. Eventually Moses appointed Joshua to succeed him as leader of the Israelites. [Joshua 1:1-9]

    James sees Joshua as being the one who takes the Law to the Gentiles and his Yeshu Messiah (or Jesus Christ) is a composite figure – a God of freedom (following the Word) and a God of restraint (following the Law).

    It is brilliant but too abstract for most Gentiles who were used to worshipping a god with whom they could identify.

    Suetonius writes that in 49CE:

    “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

    Shortly after, the Jerusalem council convened, presumably to establish the rules permissible for the preaching of a non-threatening Christ and the conversion of gentiles

    According to Mark’s gospel, Joseph of Arimathea was
    “a prominent member of the Council”.

    The significance of Joseph of Arimathea is explained by understanding his name.

    “Arimathea” means “Lion dead to the Lord”. The Lion of Judah was the symbol of the tribe of Judah. Indeed it was from the tribe of Judah that David came and he replaced Saul as the King that met the challenge of the Philistine incursions with military might and re-united the twelve tribes into the kingdom of Israel.
    In the Book of Genesis, Joseph is the son of Jacob and receives from his father a multi-colored coat. Philo sees in the reference to that coat an indication that Joseph is the consummate politician:

    “And it is not without a particular and correct meaning that Joseph is said to have had a coat of many colors. For a political constitution is a many-colored and multiform thing, admitting of an infinite variety of changes in its general appearance, in its affairs, in its moving causes, in the peculiar laws respecting strangers, in numberless differences respecting times and places.”
    [Philo: On Joseph]

    It is significant, of course, that it is Joseph of Arimathea who asks for the body.

    The name “Simon” is derived from Shimon (Hebrew) meaning “he has heard”.

    The Simons referenced in the Gospel are:

    Simon (Peter)
    Simon the Zealot (Paul)
    Simon the Leper (Paul again)
    Simon of Cyrene (author of Gospel)

    About Jesus, Mark himself writes:

    “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?”
    [Mark 6: 2-3]

    This, I believe, is how the incarnate Jesus Christ came to be… If you want to discover the true beauty of Mark’s gospel, buy my book.

    Christianity without an historical Christ

    Just don’t be judgemental!!!!!

    Kind Regards


    • says

      Why are you so judgemental?

      If by that you mean “why do I make judgments about the epistemic merits of arguments” the question is silly. I should hardly have to answer it.

      If you mean something else, then I don’t know what you are talking about.

      All of us make our own choices in life and we choose what we believe has value.

      That you value something does not make it true. And that you value a conclusion does not make it the conclusion of a logically valid argument.

      Values are therefore irrelevant when the question is “Is that true?” or “Is that a logically valid argument?”

      Or rather, values then have one single relevance: you only will care about those questions and their answers if you value rationality and the truth. If you disvalue rationality and truth, you are wasting your time here.

      I am a Catholic. I also know that an historical Jesus Christ did not exist. I cannot bring myself to recite the creed. I cannot bring myself to recite the Hail Mary. But I still take an active role in Church life. It is rarely a problem.

      If the Pope is okay with that, then bully for you. I’m just skeptical he will be. And since by definition the Pope and his cronies get to define who is a good Catholic or not (via condemnation or even excommunication), you don’t really get much of a say in this.

      Unless, of course, you mean by “Catholic” something other than what the Pope means. But then we’re getting into the bog of dubious semantics, whereby even outspoken atheists get to be Catholics if they just value calling themselves Catholics for any odd reason. That renders the word “Catholic” meaningless.

      You seem well in that territory when you claim to be a Catholic who rejects the creed that defines “Catholic” as anything different from “Protestant.” And cows don’t have udders, horses don’t whinny, up is down, and sideways is straight ahead.

      But as I said in my article, that’s for Catholic theologians to argue about. I really don’t care who “is” a Catholic or not. I’m here only interested in whether a case can be made that Jesus didn’t exist, and whether Brodie has made one.

      Convincingly explain the etymology of the name “Jesus Christ”.

      Anointed Savior.

      Provide a convincing allegorical interpretation for the Gospel of Mark (the earliest Gospel).

      The last hundred years of scholarship has effectively done that (each pericope serves a missionary purpose that does not require any of it to be true, even if the author wanted his readers to believe it was true).

      See examples in chapter five of my Proving History. But no one has collected all the best of that scholarship in one place yet. I will partly do that in my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. But we have to look to what we can prove, and only describe the rest as what it might be, not what we are sure it is.

      There is compelling evidence in Acts that the early Christians were anarchists.

      If we were to trust Acts, we’d have to conclude they were communists (Acts 4:32-35) who killed noncompliant members (Acts 5) and otherwise upheld all laws (the whole gist of the entire narrative from beginning to end). That’s not “anarchy” but quite the opposite. Luke is actually at pains to “prove” that the Christians were peaceful law-abiding subjects of the Roman Empire.

      Alas, however, Acts is fake history. See Pervo’s Mystery of Acts. So we can’t really draw any conclusions from it about what was “really” the case.

      Our only plausibly reliable source on earliest Christianity is Paul, and he does not paint Christians as an anarchist community, but quite the contrary (Romans 13, 1 Corinthians 5 and 7 and 14, etc.).

      The significance of Joseph of Arimathea is explained by understanding his name. “Arimathea” means “Lion dead to the Lord”.

      Perhaps in Aramaic or Hebrew (you’d have to present the evidence), but in Greek it means “Town of Best Doctrine.”

      At any rate, your overall theory is too speculative. It does not make a logically valid leap from “possible” to “probable.” And historical fact only exists in the probable–not the merely possible.

      Nevertheless, I am in agreement with you that there was probably no historical Jesus. I just don’t think we can know as much about what really happened to start it all as you might want.

    • bobwahler says

      You should put your email address on your Amazon page so we can reach you. Email me at ‘sahansdal’ at yahoo. I would like to talk with you about your book and the ‘miracle lessons’. I, too, have one, but I resist placing it on these blogs when possible.

    • Matt Gerrans says

      There is compelling evidence in Acts…

      It seems really dishonest to call it “evidence.” It is fine to say “it says in Acts” or the like, but to call it evidence is just a dishonest use of leading language. William Lane Craig likes to use equivocation tricks like this in his debates, where he starts out with “facts” about the gospels, eg. “the fact that Matthew says Jesus walked on water”), that then subtly segues into fact the fact that Jesus walked on water.

      If you accept Acts as “evidence” then you should also accept The Book of Mormon as “evidence” and the Qur’an, etc.

      This is not to say that writings can’t contribute to a body of evidence, but a single extremely biased religious writing with a clear agenda that is not corroborated by anything doesn’t really qualify, so it is not just incorrect, but dishonest to call it “evidence.”

  9. Giuseppe says

    Hi, Dr. Carrier,
    What do you think about Annales 15:44 and (in particular) about auctor nominis eius…? Is secure the authorship of Tacitus? Or is it probably an interpolation? I know Christian apologists and Zealot Hypothesis proponents (like Eric Laupot) who blindly believe in Tacitus.

    Kind Regards
    Giuseppe F.

    • says

      I used to side with them (that Ann.15.44 was entirely authentic, or if inauthentic we could not claim to know it was). Until I actually read all the scholarship on the question and realized that there is a very strong case to be made that the key line in it is probably an interpolation (but not the whole thing; the original passage was about a Jewish revolutionary group first launched under Claudius that had nothing to do with Christianity).

      I have written a paper for peer review on the subject and am revising it for submission, probably in January (it’s not my top priority right now).

      In the meantime, the best peer reviewed case in print so far is Jean Rougé, “L’incendie de Rome en 64 et l’incendie de Nicomédia en 303,” in Mélanges d’histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1974), pp. 433-41. That’s not easy to get ahold of, and you have to be able to read French. The next best case is in Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God nor Man (Ottawa: Age of Reason Publications, 2009), pp. 596-630. Doherty essentially summarizes key points in Rougé plus points made by other scholars and by Doherty himself, not all of equal merit, but enough to get a gist.

  10. Dana Garrett says

    It certainly doesn’t follow necessarily that because a narrative is written mythologically that all or any of the personages posited in the narrative have no historicity. But is that really the argument that is made? (I don’t know) Or is the argument less ambitious, something like because the characters are written mythologically , there is no compelling reason to believe in their historicity absent any other compelling evidence?

    • says

      Brodie doesn’t quite make the second argument. He perhaps assumes it, but to see what it would mean to actually make it, is to look at a version of that argument advanced by philosopher Stephen Law. That does have some merit. It still isn’t sufficient (because “absent any other compelling evidence” is debated), but it’s at least an argument worth considering. Brodie, on the other hand, appears to just assume myth = fiction, without arguing why we are to assume that (for example, why we should assume Jesus is fake, but not Pilate or Caiaphas). Law attempts to answer that question, and IMO crafts a good philosophical argument for the very thing you were thinking.

  11. adambrayart says

    Hi Dr. Carrier,

    Brodie makes a claim I have never encountered before:

    “…by close examination of the transmission regarding the appearances of the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15.1-8). The account of the appearances has such closely studied dependence on the Old Testament, particularly on God’s appearances at Sinai (Exod. 19.3b-11) and on the various climatic appearances of Numbers (Num. 11.25; 12.5; 14.10; 16.19; 17.7), that it is best seen not as the spontaneous listing of an eyewitnesses but as a very careful literary synthesis of older texts.”

    I looked up the indicated passages, but nothing jumped out readily. Is there any validity to this claim?

    • says

      He has an argument, but it’s (IMO) weak (cf. p. 35). He also doesn’t consider that the credal appearance list was designed that way not literarily but cultically (i.e. that the appearances were arranged, or remembered, to evoke the Sinai sequence) or that the literary links were just inserted or used to describe actual events. He also assumes the text has been reliably transmitted, when there are reasons to suspect it has been tampered with, reasons at least as good as that it was a literary invention (e.g. Empty Tomb, pp. 192-93 or even pp. 69-104).

      The links, for him, are the third day motif (Ex. 19:11) and the implied presence of a James (Ex. 19:3) and an implied presence of a twelve (Ex. 19:7, there being twelve elders, one for each tribe; except there were actually seventy: Ex 24:1, 24:9; as Brodie should know, since he himself cites Num. 11:25) and there being the same vocabulary of appearances of the Lord (e.g. Num. 16:19). But these links fail almost every pertinent criterion (even his own: Proving History, pp. 192-204).

      So I don’t buy it.

      [For interested readers, we’re talking about pp. 35 and 150 of Beyond the Quest]

  12. Roger Parvus says

    Regarding the Comment 3 hypothesis that the letters were indeed written in the early first century but by Simon of Samaria and were reworked by the proto-orthodox in the second century in order to co-opt them for proto-orthodoxy: I am developing this hypothesis in a series of posts for Neil Godfrey’s Vridar blog (http:// The title of the series is “A Simonian Origin for Christianity.”

    • says

      For my readers, that series starts here. Parvus is a skilled biblical scholar (a Catholic priest and seminary lecturer), whose book on the Ignatian epistles I highly recommend (it is academic quality, and I think its thesis is not there conclusively proved, but is well argued and has merit; IMO it can’t be ruled out on present evidence either, and like many a good book, even if you disagree with its thesis, you will learn a lot and gain access to a relevant bibliography for exploring further).

      As for this new thesis, Parvus admits it is “speculative,” and that’s my take on it as well. It should also be divided between core thesis and elaboration (e.g. naming specifics like “Appelles wrote GJn” is unnecessary to the core thesis, e.g. any Appellean or similar-thinking author would do, or indeed not even that, since even if GJn wasn’t written by any such kind of author, the thesis that the Paulines were originally the Simonians would be unaffected–thus adding such specifics reduces the overall probability; the core thesis thus will have a much higher probability than the fully-elaborated thesis Parvus develops, although even that higher probability I don’t think gets close to 50%, much less above it, but one would have to do a full Bayesian analysis to test that, which I’ll leave for someone else to do–my next book will provide a model for how).

    • Roger Parvus says

      Thank you, Richard, for the recommendation of my book. I want to make clear, however, that I am only an amateur. It is true that I am a former Catholic priest and I did teach Sacred Scripture in a traditionalist Catholic seminary in the 1980s. But the circumstances were a bit unusual and involved. I was basically filling a hole until a better qualified professor could be obtained. My training was only the standard seminary education all Catholic priests received back then.

      But if any of your readers are hesitant to buy the self-published book of an amateur, my Ignatian thesis (in revised form) can be read for free at the Vridar blogsite. It is laid out in a series of ten posts with title “The Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius of Antioch.”

  13. says

    I just want to add to what I’ve said before about the James to Judas connection. Eisenman originally pointed it out in Acts 1 pretty clearly and convincingly with “Joseph Barsabbas [‘son of father Joseph’] JUSTus” and Clement’s use of “headlong fall” for James in Rec. 1:70, among other details. I have been comparing First and Second Aopcalypses of James from Hag Hammadi to the gospels ‘Betrayal’ scenario and the Gospel of Judas, and find that the Apocalypses were likely the model for the Betrayal (inverted). Thew details are abundant when you lay them side by side, including the Malchus ear-cutting episode (a veiled initiatory reference).

    This line of investigation is the best one for debunking historicity. If ‘Judas’ was James (inverted tendentiously), what does that say about ‘Jesus’?

    • says

      I can barely make sense of anything you just said. But that it contained the word “Eisenman” is worrying. It also looks like a stream of bizarre ad hoc speculations of little merit, represented as facts. It also appears to state factual inaccuracies (Barsabbas is not “son of the father”; that’s “Barabbas”; Bar Sabbas is “son of Sabba [or Sabah]”). And Judas (the name is actually Judah) was an extremely common name. So trying to make hay of multiple people having it is bad reasoning, at least with nothing else to recommend it. So I think you might have been misled by Eisenman’s tinfoil hat here.

  14. bobwahler says


    There is plenty to recommend James as Judas. I mistakenly overstated Eisenman’s case, not Eisenman:

    “All such ‘Barsabas’, ‘Barnabas’, and “Barabbas’ surnames are important and often connected to the names of Jesus’ family members. ‘Barabbas’, for instance, in the Gospels is something of a stand-in for Jesus himself. He is the man who had been arrested ‘in the Uprising’ for committing ‘treason and murder’ (Mark 15:7 and pars.) for John 18:40, this makes him ‘a Bandit’ (Lestes), the word Josephus always uses when talking about Revolutionaries and the person the crowd is depicted as preferring to Jesus. In some texts he is even called ‘Jesus Barabbas’, thereby correctly recognizing Barabbas as an Aramaic cognomen with the meaning ‘Son of the Father’.

    Barsabas has no such ready equivalent in Aramaic, except the ‘Saba’/’Sabaean’ terminology we shall encounter having to do with daily bathing. Barnabas, if it is a real name, and not another circumlocution, would mean something like ‘son of the Prophet’. The point is that such names often overlap the members of Jesus’ family or Jesus himself. For example, Barnabas is often associated with ‘Joseph’, the name of either Jesus’ father or brother. ‘Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed JUSTus’, the losing candidate in the ‘election’ to fill Judas’ ‘Bishopric’, as we saw, is an obvious write-in for James the Just. In this regard, the addition of the cognomen, ‘Justus’ to his name and the use of the word ‘Episcopate’ to describe the ‘Office’ he is to fill are determinate.

    In other words, we have in these passages at the beginning of Acts an election by lot for some leadership position of the early Church represented here as being because of the treachery and suicide of someone called Judas or ‘the Iscariot’, and the defeated candidate turns out to be someone called Justus — here, curiously this Latin version of Justus’ cognomen is transliterated into the Greek. The victorious candidate, too, like Judas Iscariot himself, bears the peculiarly Maccabean name of ‘Matthias’, even though there is one ‘Matthew’ listed among the Apostles. Even Matthew is alternatively called ‘Levi’ the son of Alphaeus’ in Mark 2:14, ‘Alphaeus’ being another of those names such as ‘Lebbaeus’, ‘Cleophas’, ansd ‘Oblias’, associated with Jesus’ family members. Like the Joseph ‘called Barsabas surnamed Justus’, this Matthias is never heard from in Scripture again except to fill in this somewhat artificial Twelve-man apostolic scheme.”

    This is a done deal, Richard. “Judas” is a fictional cover for James. Eisenman is extremely sharp. I know him personally. ‘Judas’ was James in Acts 1 (Eisenman) and he is James in the ‘Betrayal’ (me). The canon is a coverup of James’ Mastership. Eisenman does not understand Mastership, BUT I DO. I HAVE one (Charan Singh). The First and Second Apocalypses of James from Nag Hammadi are the model for the Betrayal. The links are so numerous as to not be denied. But you need to understand Mysticism. Don’t be such a destroyer. You don’t know as much as you think you do. If you want to learn about it, I’m only too happy to teach it to you.

    • says

      This is just more tinfoil hat from Eisenman (who IMO is insane, as I’ve told you before). You should stop reading him. Just for a start, Barabbas and Barsabas are different names, and neither is ever connected to the family of Jesus in any way. So right from the start, we’re in a bath of crazy here. There is no need to heed any of this.

  15. Steve Watson says

    He’s nuts but entertainingly nuts. Huge numbers of the non-consensus seem to be away with the Faeries; Eisenman is James the Just most extreme example. He does deserve some credit for outing the Scrolls debacle, however. Is it all completely barking or does any of his earlier work have credibility?
    Steven C Watson.