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On Bermejo-Rubio’s Dispassionate Plea for a Historical Jesus

Fernando Bermejo-Rubio is one of the most impressive new scholars in biblical studies. His work on the “quests” for the historical Jesus is paradigm-challenging and superb (see The Fiction of the Three Quests). It is thus no surprise that he would publish the only defense of the historicity of Jesus against its opponents that is actually worth reading. Usually such tracts are awash with errors, distortions, a substitution of assumptions for facts, or blatant fallacies, or bundles of all of these–even when coming from experts who ought to know better (like Erhman, McGrath, and so on and so on and so on–and on and on–even Goodacre, a little, who otherwise did the best job I know short of Bermejo-Rubio, and indeed the two together make the strongest case overall).

Biblical scholars often read the online trade periodical The Bible and Interpretation (I have published with them myself, and have cited other articles there on my blog before). It’s somewhat informal, but run and read (and usually only contributed to) by serious scholars. Respected bible scholar Phillip Davies (himself a historicist) published his plea to take the question of historicity more skeptically there. Now, Bermejo-Rubio has published his best defense of historicity there: Prolegomena to a Dispassionate Plea for the Historicity of Jesus the Galilean. It’s not the best conceivable (since it isn’t comprehensive in the way I’d want the best defense to be), but it commits far fewer errors than any others I know.

I had read this months ago, but could only find time now to write about it (evidence of my backlog). But for anyone keen on hearing my response to his case, here you go.

The Ideal Pro-Historicity Position

Right from the start Bermejo-Rubio’s approach is singled out by “trying to tackle this issue in a rather irenic and respectful attitude,” and by making clear he is not a Christian and has no skin in the game. Indeed, I would add, as his paper on the “Three Quests” shows, he is more than happy to tear down beloved traditional views in the field. He is not cowed by consensus and does not appear to fear for tenure or backlash. As he outright says, “too often I have realized that common opinion, including in the field of Jesus scholarship, is based on wrong assumptions, and I myself maintain some views on the historical Jesus…which are in a minority.”

Indeed some of his views, I have to agree with the majority, are wrong (although I fear he may be right about the fiction of the “three quests”). But like Mark Goodacre, he knows what it is like to openly defend a minority position and be attacked for that, and thus he sympathizes with anyone in the same position, more so than comfortable snipers at the top of the tower ever do. He knows full well, as we do, that the privileged often become arrogant, and terrified of interlopers who would crumble everything they thought was certain and have based their careers on.

Bermejo-Rubio also rightly criticizes mythicists for often undermining their cause by constantly repeating false information (or, I would add, not using valid logic), and often having as much an anti-religious bias as apologists have a religious one, but he knows this cannot be used as an argument to dismiss them. I’ve often made both points myself (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here). Lay readers may be curious to know what the German says in Bermejo-Rubio’s fifth note on this point, about Bauer–often touted as the original mythicist–so I’ll translate it:

[Bauer's mythicist stance probably sprung] from the impression the German Christian apologists of the time, as they stood against Strauss [the first widely influential skeptic and critic of traditional views of Jesus--ed.], must have made in any rigorously honest and deep thinking person. Consequently, he amused himself with a certain demonic pleasure witnessing their helplessness after breaking the crutches of pseudo-science and tossing them aside [...] a wild desire, in other words, to rob the theologians of everything, tore Bauer much farther away [from their position] than his critical knowledge [alone] would have led him.

That’s arguably true, and I think true for most mythicists today: justifiably outraged, even betrayed, by the constant and egregious lies Christian apologists employ in defense of their historical Jesus–repeated even by secular scholars fooled by Christian rhetoric and too lazy or conformist to check their facts or logic first–many a mythicist goes balls out to destroy and embarrass them. They are thus led to extreme and immoderate views. After all, it’s hard to have sympathy for such an absurd and dishonest and illogical position, and it can be satisfying to assume everything they argue is likewise false. But that’s not the reality. In reality, some of what critics of mythicism and defenders of historicity say is true, and mythicists ought to exercise more caution and care, and be more self-critical and self-reflective in building their position and their case for it.

Like historicist Phillip Davies (whose editorial I linked above), Bermejo-Rubio wants to elevate mythicism, or at least agnosticism regarding historicity, to a position that can be at least treated as a respectable, honestly debatable position within the field, even if he personally isn’t persuaded by it. That requires effort from both sides: from establishment scholars, it demands attitudes like those of Davies and Bermejo-Rubio; from mythicists, it demands more rigor, caution, and humility.

Towards an Ideal Pro-Historicity Case

Bermejo-Rubio rightly characterizes the Gospels as very problematic evidence to build a case for historicity from. Although he does not dismiss them as evidence entirely (he constructs his own theories of the historical Jesus from details within them, based on his own assumptions about how those texts were composed and for what purposes), he admits “the Canonical Gospels are indeed extremely biased sources, and their accounts are too often scarcely credible,” hence he approaches them with “deep distrust.”

This is an honest admission even some secular scholars are too afraid to make, although I think it is now the most commonly held view among them (it is thus not even controversial anymore to say, as he does, that “the Jesus (or rather the Jesuses) proclaimed by the evangelists and their present heirs–preachers and theologians–did never exist”). But such pervasive distrust of the Gospels is certainly a view Christian scholars have every reason to fear taking themselves, which is why their opinions in the matter can hardly be trusted. They cannot be honest about this, because to do so would be tantamount to admitting their faith is built on fiction. And one can only do that by abandoning one’s faith first (or at least so radically altering it that it no longer rests on anything the Gospels say, except as metaphors for abstract truths about the human condition: welcome Shelby Spong and Thomas Brodie).

Bermejo-Rubio also agrees “mythicists are right…that some material which is often used as supporting the historicity of Jesus is not helpful for that aim,” such as the passages in Josephus, which he believes may be authentic (I could not more confidently disagree), but rightly perceives are utterly useless, since their most plausible source is Christians referencing the Gospels (by one route or another), so Josephus cannot be used to corroborate the Gospels.

Nevertheless, he maintains the following conclusion: “I think that the (by far) most probable thing is that a single identifiable person named Jesus lies at the root of the Gospel tradition.” So how does he reach that conclusion, having admitted the evidence so pervasively sucks? He gives basically three arguments, and they are in some respects novel, in that they aren’t the legs usually rested on (although neither have they not been voiced before, yet I think never have they been stated so well). He says he has more arguments that he omitted for word count, but I cannot speculate what those would be, so I shall comment on the three he states. Indeed, he intimates that his others are sufficiently weaker than these that if these should fail, so will they.

Argument the First: Bermejo-Rubio starts with “one of my main arguments against the non-historicity of Jesus,” which is “that–after having analyzed sine ira et studio quite a few works of the proponents of the idea, since Bauer to the very present–[I] have found no compelling arguments in its favor” and “although this, of course, is not an argument, I am not alone in this judgment: I know quite a few agnostic and atheist scholars in Europe who do not harbor serious doubts about Jesus’ historicity.”

The latter of course is, by his own admission, not an argument. Every change in the consensus begins with a view contrary to what every other expert thinks. We have a model for this already: the idea that the Old Testament Patriarchs were mythical started as a fringe view against a firm and broad consensus; it is now the mainstream view. Consensus is a valid argument for laypeople to side with that consensus until enough experts disagree with it to represent a serious debate (or there are at least enough to warrant not yet taking sides without examining each side’s best case), but it cannot be an argument for an expert not to side against the consensus, as otherwise that would become circular, and prevent all progress in knowledge. We then are looking at dogma, not a quest for knowledge.

So Bermejo-Rubio’s only argument here is that he has not yet been persuaded. I am not surprised, as so far most mythicist literature is confused, flawed, and full of excessive speculation in place of fact. Although I do wonder if he has yet read Earl Doherty’s works, which in my opinion are far more persuasive (being far more carefully constructed and argued), I have noted before why even his might dissuade experts, by creating his own straw men. For example, in The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty rests his case on a complex and implausible theory (albeit from a mainstream scholar) of the layering of the hypothetical Q document (which I don’t even believe existed), so anyone who doesn’t buy that premise can easily, albeit mistakenly, reject his entire thesis–such is the inherently defective cognitive machinery in every human brain, that the idea of reconstructing his thesis without that premise won’t typically be tried in one’s own mind before rejecting the thesis altogether, even though that is precisely what one ought to do (and I have done: hence my book, On the Historicity of Jesus–from Sheffield-Phoenix: I cast away all unnecessary speculations and premises and build a case solely on what can be strongly demonstrated to be true).

So my response to this argument is simply: let’s see what Fernando Bermejo-Rubio thinks after reading my forthcoming book–and its essential prequel, Proving History, which will challenge his confidence in the method of criteria that he still relies on too much.

Argument the Second: although “the question whether everything in [the Gospels] is to be reduced to myth and legend” is “a possibility that, a priori, should not be discarded,” he still thinks he can find “a core of material that does not seem to have been concocted or shaped according to the mold of older stories” and “the best and most natural explanation for this material is that it corresponds to a historical figure.” My forthcoming book will deeply challenge that assumption, particularly chapter ten, which will likely show him a lot of what he thought was genuine is obviously mythical–and the more one realizes that, the less confidence one retains in the remaining material, as I know from experience: that is precisely what has happened to me. Already Proving History exposes the difficulties, or indeed impossibility, of discerning truth from fiction in the Gospels if even there were any. I would be curious to know if reading even that will weaken his confidence in his premise here.

But he does not rest merely on this dubious premise (that he can “identify” authentic information hidden in the noise of these fictionalized narratives). He gives three corollary arguments:

He claims he is even more convinced by this premise because “the figure which is thereby reconstructed corresponds to a quite concrete, individualized person,” “unmistakably a Jew of his age, and at the same time it is a person with his own personality.” That is a fallacy. The same criteria applied to Odysseus would give us a “figure which corresponds to a quite concrete, individualized person,” “unmistakably a Greek of his age, and at the same time it is a person with his own personality.” But alas, that affords zero evidence that Odysseus was a historical person. He almost certainly was not. So the same reasoning cannot function for Jesus.

A more important error in this thinking is that it is entirely circular: one “finds” a plausible person in Jesus by using criteria specifically designed to discard everything implausible about him. I should hardly have to explain why that method would find every fictional character in the history of literature to be a historical person. Whereas, when we look at Jesus as actually written, he is in fact massively implausible as a person–indeed, virtually none of what he says or does makes any plausible sense on any known human psychology. That’s the character that was written. Does that make his existence more likely or less? I would argue less. But certainly not more. When we read a story about someone who behaves not at all like any human being we know, our proper inclination is not to be persuaded a real person is being described.

His other arguments are equally fallacious:

That a fictional person would be “quite plausibly ascribed to the period in which [he] is supposed to have lived, and faithfully reflects the socio-political, religious and historical circumstances of that period” is exactly what is expected of fiction written near that time and place, about that time and place. And yet, often the stories told of Jesus do not in fact accurately match the time and place, by exactly the degree to which the author is distanced from it. Thus, for example, none of the accounts of the trial of Jesus make any plausible sense in the actual legal context in which they are supposed to have occurred, and the original Gospel author, Mark, can’t even get the geography right, while even Matthew–indeed even the supposed author of the hypothetical Q–doesn’t even use the Bible in Hebrew or Aramaic (not even when having Jesus quote it), using instead, and even basing arguments on, the Greek translation of it. So, insofar as the Gospels in fact do not show accurate knowledge of the time and place they set their scenes in, they refute Bermejo-Rubio, and insofar as they get anything right, that is already to be expected of fiction written within decades of its setting by educated people culturally near to the context imagined. It is the fallacy of selection bias to ignore the misses and count only the hits and then use the hits as an argument for authenticity. By that device I could prove any historical fiction to be genuine history.

Finally, that his imagined portrait of Jesus “is convergent and consistent,” after having used a method designed to cause exactly that result (and thus would do so on any fictional character ever) is enough to show the fallacy in this reasoning. Likewise, that this reconstructed Jesus “does not fit well–in fact, it ultimately debunks–the exalted image of the figure conveyed by the evangelists themselves” is yet more circular reasoning: using a method that casts off all the things that make a figure exalted, obviously what you will always end up with is a contradiction to the exalted figure originally described. You would get that same result for any demigod in history. That doesn’t make them historical; rather, it just makes you good at inventing more believable fictions than the original authors did.

I point out much more along these lines in Proving History, and address Bermejo-Rubio’s other implied arguments (such as intimating that Jesus having named siblings in the Gospels makes him historical–as if mythical heroes never had named siblings in Hellenistic and Jewish literature) in On the Historicity of Jesus.

Argument the Third: Bermejo-Rubio’s best argument is that “a basic rule of method in scientific research is that (all things being equal: the ceteris paribus clause must be respected) the simplest explanation that also covers the largest amount of data is to be preferred,” and therefore, at least prima facie:

…the explanation that an all too-human being named Jesus did indeed exist as a first-century Galilean Jew, that his unexpected failure triggered among his followers a considerable reinterpretation of his fate and that, despite the inflating and divinizing process which was carried out by them, traces of his historic personality and activities remain embedded in our biased sources is, in my opinion, by far the simplest and most cogent explanation for the whole available evidence.

Because “the alternative hypotheses contrived to oppose this solution happen to be somewhat convoluted–and not infrequently far-fetched, often requiring further auxiliary hypotheses and implausible conjectures.” Indeed, I quite agree with him: most mythicist theories suffer this enormous defect (hence my point earlier about how even Doherty straw mans himself). But that is precisely the defect I have removed in my new formulation of the case in On the Historicity of Jesus.

And it’s worth dwelling on the methodological point here. Many complications adhere in any application of Ockham’s Razor (which is what Bermejo-Rubio is talking about here), as I explain in Proving History (index, “Ockham’s Razor”). Bermejo-Rubio is at least aware of this generally (hence his remark about the importance of ceteris paribus). But one has to be more specific, because here many an error is commonly made. An “auxiliary hypothesis” is only ad hoc when it is not independently confirmed in evidence as true or probable. Only auxiliary hypothesis that are posited without that support, posited merely “out of the blue” as it were, reduce a theory’s plausibility (= prior probability) compared to alternatives that rely on fewer such presumptions. That’s why Ockham’s Razor does not tear down the Periodic Table: the theory that there are only four elements is vastly simpler than that there are over ninety, yet a slew of very well confirmed auxiliary hypotheses establishes that the four element theory just can’t explain the evidence anywhere near as well as the Periodic Table can. Thus a vastly complex theory ends up being, in fact, the simplest.

Thus we must admit that the historicity of Jesus also depends on hundreds of auxiliary hypotheses, and not only ones that can be independently confirmed in evidence as true or probable (such as background facts about the ancient world, ancient Palestine, sectarian Judaism, and so on), but also ones that are in fact ad hoc: such as all the assumptions underlying the “criteria” Bermejo-Rubio himself relies upon to “reconstruct” a historical Jesus. Mythicists do not have to adopt any of those assumptions (assumptions for which there is not only no evidence, but often evidence against, and thus are not merely not probable, but are often outright improbable: see Proving History for numerous examples). Thus bare mythicism starts off, in fact, much simpler.

Historicists also need a lot of “out of the blue” assumptions to make sense of a lot of the data: the trial of Jesus makes no sense as-is (Proving History, index “Criterion of Crucifixion”), and therefore one has to devise a complex hypothesis (and I mean complex: no simple hypothesis fits, any more than four elements can fit the evidence of chemistry) about what actually happened and how it got altered into the stories we now have; likewise the betrayal and suicide of Judas (Proving History, index “Judas”); or how a crucified convict could be so immediately quasi-deified by Jews; even more so to explain how Christians east of the Roman Empire believed Jesus was executed a hundred years before the Gospels claim; or how no clear mention of the historical impact of Jesus appears anywhere in Paul’s 20,000 words (Paul appears to know only of a celestial Jesus known only by revelation and scripture); and so on and so forth. In short, historicity is plagued with ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses. It is therefore not a simple hypothesis.

Hence in On the Historicity of Jesus, I show that a minimal mythicism can rest on far fewer ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses than even a minimal historicity, and that all other auxiliary hypotheses minimal mythicism requires are as well established as those historicity depends upon. Mythicism thus becomes the simpler hypothesis, ceteris paribus. That’s why it’s compelling.

Thus, while Bermejo-Rubio claims “we can easily explain Jesus, we cannot so easily explain those people who would have invented him,” this is not actually true.

To begin with, there have been hundreds of mythical persons historicized in history, in fact it was a particularly popular trend for demigods and in antiquity precisely where and when Christianity originated (it was called Euhemerism). So why do we think it’s hard to explain this? It can’t be any harder for Christianity than for any other instance (from the invention of Moses and elaborate biographies of him, to the invention, likewise, of Hercules, Romulus, Osiris, and so on; for a rather good explanation of this, see Noll’s chapter in Is This Not the Carpenter?).

By contrast, explaining a historical Jesus is extremely hard. Too much evidence is simply too baffling. We can imagine simple earthly Jesuses later mythicized, but so too can I imagine simple cosmic Jesuses later historicized. But to get them to fit the evidence is no simple business. Prima facie, it can’t even be done, for either. Bermejo-Rubio would like to use circular logic and just arbitrarily discard all claims about Jesus that he doesn’t find plausible, and then inexplicably declare surprise that what he has left is plausible, and therefore a simple explanation of all the evidence. It isn’t. A mythicist could do the same: just arbitrarily discard all claims about Jesus that he doesn’t find plausible, and then inexplicably declare surprise that what he has left is plausible, and therefore a simple explanation of all the evidence. That the same method vindicates both is enough to prove the method invalid.

Thus, prima facie doesn’t work. We can only reach a valid conclusion secunda facie. We cannot easily explain Paul’s (authentic) letters on historicity, but we can easily explain them on mythicism. We cannot easily explain the incredibly rapid and massive legendary development around Jesus in the Gospels on historicity (as well as, already in Paul, his immediate quasi-deification), but we can on mythicism. We cannot easily explain the complete absence of such a rapidly glorified man in the historical record (outside the cult of mythmakers recording his stories) on historicity, but we can on mythicism. We cannot easily explain how two different branches of Christianity placed Jesus in history in different periods a hundred years apart on historicity, but we can on mythicism. On historicity, we cannot easily explain why Jesus’s entire family (including his mother and all his brothers and sisters, even James) vanish from the entire history of the church in Acts as soon as the cult goes public, whereas on mythicism, that’s exactly what we would expect. And so on.

Historicity might look sound prima facie. But secunda facie, not so much.

-:-

On arguments for and against historicity, see remarks and linked materials here, and view my presentations here. Meanwhile Proving History builds out half the case. On the Historicity of Jesus completes that case.

Comments

  1. gshelley says

    I have been hoping to read a well formed, non circular argument for the historicity of Jesus, so hopefully this will be a start. At least by taking mythicists arguments seriously, and responding to what the actually say, rather than some bizarre strawman version that is easily debunked by reading the mythicists books or website (a la Ehrman) this might be possible.

    Not that he seems to actually do this, but at least he seems to accept that the existence of Jesus isn’t self evident.

    “The explanation that an all too-human being named Jesus did indeed exist as a first-century Galilean Jew, that his unexpected failure triggered among his followers a considerable reinterpretation of his fate and that, despite the inflating and divinizing process which was carried out by them, traces of his historic personality and activities remain embedded in our biased sources is, in my opinion, by far the simplest and most cogent explanation for the whole available evidence.”

    Do we have any examples where this is known to have happened? Where someone who didn’t claim to be a god was made into one after death, or would this require the person to have actually claimed to be one?

    “I am not a faith-based scholar, and I am not intellectually or emotionally committed to the existence of Jesus the Galilean”

    Given that Ehrman made exactly the same claim, I don;t thinkwe can take this as reassuring on its face.

    Curiously, I had just started today Van Voorsts “Jesus outside the New Testament” (as with so many of these books, based on your recommendation) and while his treatment of the mythicist position is much better than Ehrman’s, it seems to pre-date Doherty’s arguments that Paul talks of a heavenly Christ and doesn’t really address the argument from silence in Paul, other than to say we shouldn’t expect historical details

    • says

      It’s still mostly circular. But at least it avoids most of the bad arguments. And arguments 1 and 3 are important: 1 because it demonstrates mythicists need to take the standards of professional history more seriously and look at ways to make a strong argument as a research goal, so experts can’t claim anymore not to have seen a good case; and 3 because a discussion about how many assumptions even historicists are resting on (and how many mythicists actually really need) and whether all assumptions are equal is precisely the kind of discussion historians on both sides of this debate need to be having.

      Do we have any examples where this is known to have happened? Where someone who didn’t claim to be a god was made into one after death, or would this require the person to have actually claimed to be one?

      Not enough data to answer this as far as how often it happens. But it can happen. I know one famous case: Haile Selassie (he was even deified in life despite refusing it publicly). I discuss that case in my book, because it’s an important one for the historicist argument. Another is Prince Phillip.

      Your assessment of Van Voorst is correct. I make the same observations in my forthcoming book when I discuss his case, which IMO is a very good representative case, free of hyperbole and blatant error. Yet even more easily rebutted than Bermejo-Rubio’s.

    • Friendly says

      A Wiccan — more skeptical than many others of her faith — has informed me that one of the 20th century founders of Wicca (possibly Gerald Gardner?) is already in the process of being mythicized and that it disturbs her.

    • Friendly says

      I was offering another response to gshelley’s question, “Do we have any examples where this is known to have happened? Where someone who didn’t claim to be a god was made into one after death [...]?”

  2. Randall Johnson says

    I do see some strength in the third argument though it is not a proof per se.

    I see Jesus as Elmer Gantry. Clearly, Elmer Gantry did not exist but it is highly unlikely the author could have made him up from whole cloth without having seen one or more charismatic evangelical preachers on which to base him.

    This might, in the Jesus case, even account for some of his contradictory preachments. The author of Mark must have seen one or been told of one as a model and those gospel writers who followed might have stuck in things they had heard different raving holy men spout.

    So I’d say “loosely” based on a real holy man or perhaps a gaggle of them.

    • says

      An “Elmer Gantry” effect is a plausible hypothesis. I think the Gospels mostly are basing Jesus on their imagined idealizations of their own missionaries; much as Dirty Harry is an imagined idealization of a rogue cop–no such thing actually exists, but people imagine they do, or could, and construct them out of what they know cops are like but mostly what they, perhaps not openly, wish cops were like. I suspect the Gospel Jesus is more like that. Analogs in this case come from Christianity itself: accounts of Saints are all ridiculous as history (and thus even when the subject existed, their narratives cannot be but barely historical, because they don’t act like real people), and the Gospels are really just an early edition in the same genre. But there were also certainly lots of holy rollers to draw on for ideas in constructing (and then idealizing) a historical Jesus.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I don’t mind someone articulating Bermejo-Rubio’s first point: the state of the research, whether the past research be good or bad, is such that the consensus has recently been a historic Jesus existed and for the purposes of a given scholar’s work it may be taken as the null hypothesis.

    I think that’s not always warranted, and I think the state of the research is so biased in this case as to make it not warranted in this case specifically, but I don’t mind someone taking that stance, even in this particular case. One must start somewhere, and a fully open mind is implausible and infeasible (Is it just as likely that jesus was a space-alien myth planted here by the long-lived space-alien father of Douglas Adams who later narrated the Hitchhiker’s series to his half-human son, with both Jesus stories and Hitchhiker’s stories an elaborate practical joke? How many other hypotheses must we simultaneously juggle?)

    But while I’m not a scholar in this area, I have read reputable scholars and they do tend to rely on just the methodology you critique: I find this plausible, I find this implausible. Sometimes they even give quite good reasons for the implausibleness of a given statement, theme, character, event, or idea. Nonetheless, it boils down to: “If I can determine some things to be implausible, the things that I fail to demonstrate are implausible must be true! Otherwise I, a good scholar, would have tracked down evidence of their implausibility!”

    It renders the conclusions of so many smart persons to be thoroughly incredible and unreadable.

    • says

      I think that’s not always warranted, and I think the state of the research is so biased in this case as to make it not warranted in this case specifically

      That’s a good point. I’m glad you mentioned it, because I actually make a similar point in chapter one of Proving History (and draw on that point in OHJ): when (as PH demonstrates) the consensus is uniformly based on demonstrably invalid methods, the value of that consensus plummets considerably. My point still was that we bear the burden nevertheless of proving that (i.e. that the consensus is uniformly ill formed), and I forgot to make that distinction in the present article.

      I don’t think the problem so much is bias (we could simply disregard all Christian scholars and still get a historicity consensus), as much as a failure to critically examine their own methods and influences and step back and rethink their hidden assumptions, assumptions hidden even to themselves (this has been pointed out before, e.g. Jesus in an Age of Terror analyzes secular biases in historicity research, and that’s by a renowned scholar in the field). For example, it’s not bias that led Goodacre to actually think certain things are in the epistles that in fact aren’t there–he really believed those things were in there, because it’s been taught and repeated for so long that if no one stops to ask if those things are even true (and then checks), everyone honestly thinks they are true–without even having to be a believer.

      Nonetheless, it boils down to: “If I can determine some things to be implausible, the things that I fail to demonstrate are implausible must be true! Otherwise I, a good scholar, would have tracked down evidence of their implausibility!”

      That is a quotable observation, IMO.

  4. Tige Gibson says

    Would there be any point to distinguish mythicism, as the idea that the person Jesus is a complete fabrication, and let’s say legendism, as the idea that there probably was a person upon whom the character Jesus was based but about whom we can say effectively nothing, since everything that is documented about him is surely false?

    Sort of like the historical Jesus is to Jesus Christ as Joseph Bell is to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, except if there were no record of Joseph Bell whatsoever.

    • says

      What you call legendism is included in what I (and Bermejo-Rubio and all mainstream, i.e. non-fundamentalist, scholars) refer to as historicity, although with an analogy like Holmes, there is that fuzzy borderline between a mountain and a hill.

      That said, the position you describe is voiced by several experts, although they are willing to accept the moniker of agnostic, i.e. if it’s the case that we can’t know anything about Jesus, then it’s realistically possible there wasn’t even a “Joseph Bell” Jesus, we just can’t say that for sure. I think we can go further (that we can show there was no “Bell”), but agnosticism counts as allowing mythicism equal odds (i.e. historicists can’t cite agnostics as counting on their side when reckoning the consensus), and there are many more agnostics than will go on record saying so (in addition to those I’ve listed as having gone on record, I know several major figures in the field who rate themselves a such, but as they haven’t said so publicly, I respect their anonymity on that point).

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … or how a crucified convict could be so immediately quasi-deified …

    Which brings to mind a question raised by my recent reading of Ehrman’s Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, which lays out clearly that the idea of Jesus had many conflicting interpretations from very early in the game.

    Setting aside the question of a historic individual, something happened during the first century to popularize the name of Jesus and to set a wide variety of wannabe mystics, preachers, and activists to attribute their multiple visions to same. We have lots of ripples – perhaps Saul/Paul was the first, or at least the earliest of whom we have any record – but nothing to reliably describe the pebble which caused them, except that it had Jewish aspects and splashed into the Palestinian puddle almost 20 centuries ago.

    My personal hunch is that the gospel-Jesus represents a composite of various stories and ideologies, possibly including the Jeshua bar Ananias I’ve brought up here previously. But no scenario I’ve so far imagined explains how and why that name suddenly became the core of so many contradictory, passionately asserted legends.

    It’s not as though either deities or martyrs were in short supply at that time and place.

  6. CJO says

    Regarding the relative parsimony of the two positions, a couple things. In the absence of primary evidence, positing a specific, named individual with a given career profile and biographical details HAS to be ad hoc compared to commonplace cultural activity like writing stories to express theological beliefs. It’s akin to the cognitive bias brought out by the kind of thing where you list some facts about a (fictional) person and ask, Is it more likely that the person is a bank teller, or that the person is a bank teller and a Democrat, where a bunch of the facts are of the sort that would make you think the person is liberal in attitude. It’s always more likely to be just the one thing than two or more arbitrarily chosen details, but we’re biased toward filling in the gaps and making connections between those details to paint a coherent picture.

    The other is that most of the time defenders of historicity seem to lose track of what the evidence is actually being called on to explain, which you get at with the prima facie/secunda facie distinction. Yes, due primarily to Josephus, it’s easy to see that madmen and rabble-rousers in the role of messianic charlatan at hat time and place were not unheard of, and so sure, you can say that a minimal HJ is not implausible. But that’s not at issue. What is, is whether such a figure would likely have given rise to the phenomena that we’re tying to explain, viz. the early church and its literary artifacts.

    • says

      For my readers’ benefit, CJO is referring to a famous logical fallacy in probability reasoning called the Conjunction Fallacy. And CJO’s proposal is a good one–that fallacy definitely applies; although I see mythicists falling into it just as often as historicists do, that’s all the more reason to be on guard against it. I actually devote two whole chapters in OHJ to specifically working out how to avoid it in constructing our hypotheses to be compared (minimal historicity and minimal mythicism).

  7. Andrew Brown says

    “The explanation that an all too-human being named Jesus did indeed exist as a first-century Galilean Jew, that his unexpected failure triggered among his followers a considerable reinterpretation of his fate and that, despite the inflating and divinizing process which was carried out by them, traces of his historic personality and activities remain embedded in our biased sources is, in my opinion, by far the simplest and most cogent explanation for the whole available evidence.”

    I think you are being too charitable to Bermejo-Rubio. Anybody who repeats that tired tripe that I quoted is firmly stuck in the seminarian paradigm. It amazes me that these people simply refuse to consider the alternative, that the euagellion of Kurios Christos Sotor is not the result of an “inflating” of a real man, but rather a *deflation* of a god from his previous theological existence. In fact he’s existed since the beginning of time, according to multiple early Christian writers, from Revelation to Justin Martyr. But after the Temple fell, they searched the LXX to construct “prophecies” for Kurios Christos Sotor’s “life” on earth, with a timeline based on tendentious readings of Daniel backed up by Josephus — not any real historical memory by the evangelists. It was all mysticism and prophecy, as Paul, Hebrews, Revelation, Hermas, and 1 Clement make abundantly clear. It’s certainly difficult to find a recently deceased carpenter within the complex theological fantasia of Revelation or Paul.

  8. Andrew Brown says

    One more thing, regarding this from Bermejo-Rubio:

    “the Canonical Gospels are indeed extremely biased sources, and their accounts are too often scarcely credible …”

    Would he say the same thing about the Book of Daniel? No: Daniel’s genre is prophetic theological pseudo-history; expectations about the book’s “credibility” or “bias” of its “sources” would be ridiculous and irrelevant. Scholarship on Daniel has moved on beyond such credulity and apologetics. It’s well past time for scholarship on the Books of Kurios Christos Sotor to move on as well. As long as scholars are stuck in the pre-critical mindset that the gospels were written with historic intent, no real progress can be made in this field.

    • says

      I concur with your analogy and employed it in OHJ. Ditto even such treatises as Deuteronomy and Exodus (which are essentially Gospels of Moses). I really attack head on the idea that the Gospels were historical records. That idea has to go. It’s long past time.

  9. Vince Hart says

    If there is a persuasive argument for the existence of a historical Jesus, I think it will have to lie in some broadly observable phenomenon. For example, with each successive gospel, Jesus seems to get more and more supernatural. Perhaps a reasonable argument could be made for extrapolating back to a purely natural person at the beginning.

    Another thing I have wondered about is why Paul didn’t just make a clean break from the group in Jerusalem given how little he seems to think of them in Galatians. Why are Paul’s communities supporting Jerusalem? Would we expect that from a collection of mystery cults or does it suggest something more substantial before Peter and Paul to which they both owe allegiance?

    I’m not sure whether either of these arguments would stand up to scrutiny, but I doubt that any historicists are going to bother to look in these kinds of directions since they already know that Paul met Jesus’ brother.

    • says

      If there is a persuasive argument for the existence of a historical Jesus, I think it will have to lie in some broadly observable phenomenon. For example, with each successive gospel, Jesus seems to get more and more supernatural. Perhaps a reasonable argument could be made for extrapolating back to a purely natural person at the beginning.

      Two problems with that approach:

      (1) The first Gospel Jesus is already wildly supernatural (he magically withers fig trees, walks on water, calms whole storms at a single command, ends a woman’s menses with a touch of his garment, magically radiates light from his clothing, has repeated conversations with demons, and once with the Devil, raises the dead, miraculously predicts the future, conjures food for thousands, magically produces fanatical disciples with a single sentence, clears dozens of acres of hundreds of people in a confined space guarded by a battalion of armed soldiers, magically kills two thousand pigs, summons God’s voice from the heavens, has angels descend from heaven to serve him food, is visited by dead people from outer space, blots out the sun, telekinetically tears a giant curtain in two, and rises from the dead–and that’s just the short list).

      (2) Jesus is already wildly supernatural decades before any Gospel was even written: in Paul’s epistles Jesus is a supernatural pre-existent cosmic being possessed of the powers of a God, who in fact actually created the universe (at God’s command) and was later assigned God’s powers over it, and who communicates from outer space and bestows supernatural powers on his followers. Conspicuously absent is any mention of his ever having been an earthly man, much less a charismatic preacher in Galilee.

      Another thing I have wondered about is why Paul didn’t just make a clean break from the group in Jerusalem given how little he seems to think of them in Galatians. Why are Paul’s communities supporting Jerusalem? Would we expect that from a collection of mystery cults or does it suggest something more substantial before Peter and Paul to which they both owe allegiance?

      Paul’s communities were probably supporting Jerusalem because he didn’t form them. Paul doesn’t ever explicitly say he did (neither does Acts, incidentally: it mentions making converts, but never being the first to have done so, or having established communities; Paul’s letters, meanwhile, were written twenty years after Jesus is supposed to have died, and thus the churches he is writing to could well have existed half a generation before Paul came and expanded them with new converts). Thus Paul may well have just come to already-existing congregations, teaching a new gospel (just as Apollos then did, which Paul then has to accommodate, Paul then being in the same position Peter and gang were with respect to Paul). But even if he formed any new congregations, he was already known to have been an enemy of the church he was promoting and then converted…had he continued acting like an enemy of that church (by trying to split it), his missions would have failed (those who received the first revelations of Jesus would then claim he was an interloper and pretender, and he could not argue otherwise, since they “saw Jesus” first and were preaching Jesus years before he came along and tried to suppress them), so Paul had to get their endorsement. That was the only way he could gain power and influence and not be pegged as a pretender and usurper out to destroy the true church (which he almost was: that is why he has to convince the Galatians the original apostles were not denouncing him as a pretender).

      Paul also needed this to maintain support from the entire church network (Paul frequently refers to his financial skimming and mooching on the system, which he was only able to get away with by kicking back a percentage to the Jerusalem gang: see Derrett’s chapter in The Empty Tomb), and the most sociologically plausible motivation for Paul to switch sides was to gain the power, influence and access to resources it would afford (moving him from a peripheral low-ranking position among the Pharisees to a powerful high-ranking position within the Christian sect: a definite promotion), which goal would be completely thwarted if he didn’t seek to plug himself into the existing network as a leader of it, but instead tried to start his own new system entirely from scratch (which task would not even require him to convert: he could just have done that by starting his own new sect entirely, without any reference to Christianity, but more importantly, that was extremely hard work and very uncertain to succeed, whereas jumping into a leadership role in an already built-up system was a huge and instant promotion: the money, influence, and adulation was already built-in and he didn’t have to create it from scratch).

      As to your question about “a collection of mystery religions,” I don’t know what you mean by that. Christianity was a single mystery religion, networked into a system of congregations (as other mystery religions were). Schisms began as attempts to change the whole system, but only when that failed did they become breakaway cults (or simply dissolve). Paul sought to change the whole system, and succeeded. For the reasons noted above, or (or also) for more altruistic motives: insofar as we presume Paul saw in Christianity a laudable way to fix serious social and moral defects in mainstream Judaism (as he clearly claims to, so if we take him at his word…), it follows that Paul would obviously want to co-opt the whole existing system and expand it, not dodge it and try building from scratch his own separate system. For the good of humanity, he had to try to reform the existing church, not start a new one.

      What is telling is that he succeeded (sort of: there was a break, but those who broke away from the Pauline sect were so small and uninfluential that their sect barely had any presence ever again). That is a task that should have been impossible on historicity, as then how could Paul claim to be such an authority to know better what Jesus wanted than the men Jesus hand-picked in life and taught in person? Only if Jesus was only ever known to anyone by revelation could Paul ever have succeeded at what he did, as then Paul’s access to Jesus was identical to theirs (he was being hand-picked the same way they were, and hearing Jesus teach the same way they did, and they could not gainsay him on either point, as long as he continued to pass the moral test that was their only test for false prophets: see chapter 17 of Not the Impossible Faith).

      I doubt that any historicists are going to bother to look in these kinds of directions since they already know that Paul met Jesus’ brother.

      Paul says all baptized Christians’ were Jesus’ brother. So meeting one of those tells us nothing about historicity.

    • Vince Hart says

      That Mark’s Jesus is already quite supernatural wouldn’t negate the trend we see in subsequent gospels towards greater supernaturalism. I’m not sure whether Paul’s Jesus is supernatural or not because all he talks about is the risen Christ. If Paul did think that Jesus was in fact a real historical person prior to the crucifixion, he might have thought that he was the most plain and ordinary of men since nothing he said or did seems to be of any importance in Paul’s writings.

      I agree that historicity could be a hindrance to Paul breaking away, which is why I think some argument for historicity along those lines is probably more promising than anything the historicists are trying to sell. It certainly looks to me from Galatians that Paul would like to tell the guys in Jerusalem to take a flying leap, but something is holding him back. Nevertheless, I also agree that there could be an awful lot of other things that explain why Paul chose to go the way he did.

    • says

      I’m not sure whether Paul’s Jesus is supernatural or not because all he talks about is the risen Christ.

      Paul says Jesus existed at creation and did the creating we hear about in Genesis.

      You can’t get more supernaturally grandiose than that.

      he might have thought that he was the most plain and ordinary of men since nothing he said or did seems to be of any importance in Paul’s writings.

      That’s self-contradictory. If people thought he was the most plain and ordinary man, they would never have come to believe he was a preexistent superbeing who created and now rules the entire universe.

      You can’t have it both ways. Either Jesus was so incredibly charismatic and impressive that he could actually convince people he was a superbeing, or he wasn’t. If he wasn’t, then Christianity would never have happened–unless Jesus didn’t exist and he was a celestial superbeing from the start.

      Paul would like to tell the guys in Jerusalem to take a flying leap

      Only about one single thing, though: whether Christians had to convert to Judaism. That is the only dispute he has with them.

    • Vince Hart says

      Paul says Jesus existed at creation and did the creating we hear about in Genesis. You can’t get more supernaturally grandiose than that.

      Yes, but he also said that he humbled himself, and if that humbling did include becoming an actual historical person, Paul doesn’t seem to think that that person said or did anything anything particularly interesting prior to getting himself crucified.

      Either Jesus was so incredibly charismatic and impressive that he could actually coirnvince people he was a superbeing, or he wasn’t. If he wasn’t, then Christianity would never have happened–unless Jesus didn’t exist and he was a celestial superbeing from the start.

      Or perhaps it was the visions of Jesus returned from the dead that convinced people he was a superbeing and it really didn’t have anything to do with what anyone knew about him prior to that point regardless of whether they interpreted those visions as the appearances of a superbeing who had never been anything other than a spiritual being or as the appearances of a superbeing who had in fact walked the earth for a time as an actual historical person.

      Only about one single thing, though: whether Christians had to convert to Judaism. That is the only dispute he has with them.

      And how do we know that this was the only gripe that he had with them?

    • says

      Yes, but he also said that he humbled himself, and if that humbling did include becoming an actual historical person, Paul doesn’t seem to think that that person said or did anything anything particularly interesting prior to getting himself crucified.

      I should make sure readers are aware that the leading mythicist theory is that Jesus was believed to have assumed a human body, because scripture and revelation said so (not because someone actually met him to confirm the fact).

      But yes, Paul’s gospel summaries (like that one) conspicuously lack any knowledge of any ministry on earth.

      Or perhaps it was the visions of Jesus returned from the dead that convinced people he was a superbeing and it really didn’t have anything to do with what anyone knew about him prior to that point regardless of whether they interpreted those visions as the appearances of a superbeing who had never been anything other than a spiritual being or as the appearances of a superbeing who had in fact walked the earth for a time as an actual historical person.

      Christian apologists have already rightly refuted this option, because if Jesus was just some unremarkable man resurrected, he would just be a resurrected man (a la Lazarus), not the Creator of the Universe and Lord Almighty now to be Worshipped as a Proxy for God. That’s such a vastly wild leap it would make zero sense–it would be very much contrary to any expectation (and that means: very improbable). Whereas if Jesus started out as the Creator of the Universe and Lord Almighty, who merely underwent a quick incarnation sacrifice to effect a special mojo in outerspace, no great leap is required. And for historicity to be as credible, you need an incredibly charismatic and influential man, enough to convince fellow Jews he was not just some resurrected guy but the Creator of the Universe and Lord Almighty now to be Worshipped as a Proxy for God. But an incredibly charismatic and influential man, enough to do that, would have produced a great deal more evidence of his earthly life and influence (i.e. for all that to disappear is very much contrary to any expectation–and that means: very improbable).

      And how do we know that this was the only gripe that he had with them?

      Because he says so in Galatians 1-2. He could not be lying about that too significantly, since then his letter would have exactly the opposite effect on the Galatians Paul intended (since such a lie would be immediately exposed, and thus Paul discredited as a liar). But even apart from that (and the fact that no other dispute with them is ever mentioned in 20,000 words, so Paul evidently never had to answer any other charge connected to them), one cannot simply “invent” a non-attested dispute and use that as a premise in an argument. If there were other disputes, we know nothing about them. So we can’t argue from a premise of there being any.

    • Vince Hart says

      And for historicity to be as credible, you need an incredibly charismatic and influential man, enough to convince fellow Jews he was not just some resurrected guy but the Creator of the Universe and Lord Almighty now to be Worshipped as a Proxy for God.

      If there was a historical Jesus, at the time some of his fellow Jews became convinced that he should be worshipped as a proxy for God, he was dead. Therefore, he would have been decidedly uncharismatic and ineffective. I suspect that the charisma and influence of those who had visions of the risen Christ would have been what mattered under either the mythicist or historicist hypothesis.

      If there were other disputes, we know nothing about them. So we can’t argue from a premise of there being any.

      I don’t think that I have made any arguments that were premised on there being any other disputes. I was just wondering how you knew that there weren’t. My hypothesis is simply that the letter evidences substantial tension, which would provide Paul with motivation to break with the crowd in Jerusalem if feasible. My hunch would be that there was something more to the tension that just doctrinal differences, but I don’t think that it is a necessary premise.

    • says

      I suspect that the charisma and influence of those who had visions of the risen Christ would have been what mattered under either the mythicist or historicist hypothesis.

      First, if that is your theory, then what need do you have of the historicist hypothesis? If visions are wholly responsible, then what use do you have for a historical man to explain anything?

      Second, and more importantly, why would people have deifying visions of a wholly unremarkable man? That they would have deifying visions of an archangel already known to be a celestial superbeing is intrinsically likely. That they would have deifying visions of some dull do nothing hillboy is far harder to explain. So your historicity hypothesis is making the origins of Christianity harder to explain, not easier.

      I was just wondering how you knew that there weren’t.

      Because Paul says there weren’t. In Galatians 1-2. And there is no evidence to the contrary. (I am not referring to trivial disputes over church policy or minor details of doctrine, but notable disputes, which we would expect to appear in the record–being, by definition, notable.)

      My hypothesis is simply that the letter evidences substantial tension, which would provide Paul with motivation to break with the crowd in Jerusalem if feasible.

      There isn’t any plausible basis for that assumption, as I explained. Paul would have had no sound reason to want to do that, for all the reasons I listed. Otherwise, he would have just founded his own sect, not coopted one already up and running. And Christianity (as we know it) would never have existed.

      The only tension between Paul and the Jerusalem sect related to his saying Jesus told him that Gentiles could become Christians without converting to Judaism. Which he reports in Galatians they ultimately endorsed (and thus evidently could not gainsay…which is strange if they were hand-picked by Jesus in life and could thus point out he never said anything about this then–whereas if all they know of Jesus’s commands is by visions, then they could not gainsay Paul’s visions without undermining their own, unless they could catch Paul in some sort of immorality–instead, Paul secured their endorsement with kickbacks).

      My hunch would be that there was something more to the tension that just doctrinal differences, but I don’t think that it is a necessary premise.

      This is disingenuous. Your entire argument was that historicity had to be true because there was something more to the tension than just doctrinal differences. Otherwise, if we know of nothing more to the tension than just doctrinal differences, then we cannot say “there was something more, therefore there must have been a Jesus,” and if we cannot say there was something more, then all we know is that it was the dispute Paul records, which in no way entails historicity (and by its nature even argues against it), therefore “all we know is something which in no way entails historicity (and by its nature even argues against it).” And that cannot be gainsaid by “hunches.” That would be argumentum ad ignorantium.

    • Vince Hart says

      My argument is not that historicity has to be true—not for a minute is that my argument. My argument would be that the sources are so problematic that to do anything more than lay out some possibilities is to go beyond what the evidence will bear. I think that one of the possibilities is some sort of minimal historical Jesus, but I highly doubt that anything can be known about him. Your hypothesis about the pecuniary relationship between Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem is interesting, but it is hard for me to see it as more than one possibility.

      I think the reason someone might have deifying visions of a unremarkable man is the same reason someone might have deifying visions of an executed messianic claimant—cognitive dissonance reduction. There were doubtless any number of devout Jews who fervently prayed that God would send a champion to liberate his people from the Romans and who got their hopes up every time a new challenger appeared on the horizon and who sunk into depression each time a challenger was crushed. The idea that a champion needed to be crushed as a part of God’s plan to atone for the sins of God’s people would have been an effective rationalization for many people. I suspect that a large part of the reason that Christianity was a successful is because it helped unremarkable people rationalize why their lives sucked.

      Joseph Smith had visions of the Angel Moroni without any prior knowledge of his life as a man. I don’t see why we should think it necessary for someone to have some prior knowledge of Jesus either as a historical man or a supernatural being before having visions of the risen Christ. Do we really have enough data on deifying visions to know what the most probable cause of them is?

      My reading is that Paul is telling the Galatians that there is no reason for them to listen to anyone from Jerusalem because Paul’s revelation was independent from theirs and the guys in Jerusalem agreed that the gentiles were Paul’s turf. Frankly, I cannot imagine any circumstances under which Paul could be gainsaid by the apostles in Jerusalem as long as Paul was telling the Galatians that they didn’t have to be circumcised. I would think that would give Paul an awful lot of leeway to do whatever he wanted and there wouldn’t be any need for Paul to mention any other areas of disagreement.

    • Vince Hart says

      It may well be that Paul didn’t found the Galatian communities, however, I don’t think that he would be using the tone he takes in his letter to the Galatians unless his authority there was pretty well established. Also, I gather from Paul’s letter that circumcision was not originally a practice among the Galatians but was being pushed upon them by the crowd in Jerusalem. Wouldn’t that at least suggest that the Jerusalem gang wasn’t responsible for establishing the Galatian communities since they would have required circumcision from the beginning?

      In defense of my “hunch,” I would like to note your use of the phrases “may well have” and “could well have” in describing Paul’s situation. In my experience, for every “may well be” there is a “may well not be” of comparable force. We have so few pieces of the puzzle that is the origin of Christianity that some conjecture and speculation is inevitable.

    • says

      Paul taught the Galatians that they didn’t have to require circumcision (more precisely, that new members didn’t have to become Jews to join).

      Someone told them that was bad information.

      Paul tells them whoever told them that was lying and they should shun him. And then goes into explaining that the bigwigs in Jerusalem ultimately agree (although he winges a bit with a story of internecine drama, to explain how someone could have been claiming to have come from the bigwigs arguing Paul had it wrong).

      That’s what Galatians shows us happened. But that first step is compatible with either the Galatians community being a Pauline creation or a Jerusalem satellite that he re-schooled. We just can’t tell from what he says. But either way, they would have been paying dues to the Jerusalem church like every other one of Paul’s churches. Because Paul needed the network. He couldn’t depend on a breakaway sect of his own creation, for the reasons I laid out.

      There is no reason to believe otherwise, and that’s the key point: we can’t argue for anything on premises we don’t know to be true. We can argue from probability only, constrained by the data we actually have (and not data we imagine).

      In short, speculation in, speculation out. There lies agnosticism.

    • Vince Hart says

      Personally, I think that a good deal of agnosticism is warranted. I agree that we can only draw inferences from that which we know to be true, but the fact that Galatians gives us only one side of what seems to have been a pretty contentious relationship seems to me to be a good reason to be circumspect about what we think we know to be true.

  10. Giuseppe says

    When I read the historicist sentence

    “we can explain Jesus, (but) we cannot explain those people who would have invented him”

    sincerely the first thing I think is the lack of any archeological evidence of the celestial, mythical Christ in I° CE, against the survival of some pagan idols, in spite of the later Christian censure. If Jesus was an other Osiris, Attis, etc., where are the pictures of that mythological Christ, the early visual art of the authentic pauline cult? The Jews did not need idols, but the gentile Christians? How do you explain this absence?

    An example of ad hoc auxiliary hypothesis (and then not correct) can be the attempt to explain the different timeline of Janneus Christ ? The Talmudist deliberately changed the times so that the Christians do not accuse the Jews of deicide and the same Jews are made innocent of that murder, not recognizing the true HJ behind the Janneus Christ died hundred years before Pilate.

    thank you,
    Giuseppe

    • says

      Christianity was a Jewish mystery cult. It thus would have begun with the same adaptable trappings as Judaism. A dislike of depicting the divine in art being one of them (it is not as if abandoning strict adherence to Torah law meant discarding all moral sentiments whatever and living like dissolute anarchists with no respect for the divine). And Paul’s sect was not Gentile but ecumenical: it combined Gentile and Jewish membership in a common congregation, and endeavored to make peace with its Jewish neighbors (rather than provoking and outraging them). So your premise is without foundation.

      But even if for some reason they radically broke with Jewish tradition and became enthusiastic for painting angels on rocks, why do you think any of that would have survived to the present day for us to know of it? If such art could survive, then even more likely documents attesting historicity would have. But historicity is refuted unless you presume those documents were lost. And if you presume they were, you certainly must presume art would have been, which unlike texts, are not easily reproduced, and for a tiny sect, are easily lost. For a discussion of this point (especially the question why we have not discovered any Christian churches from the first two centuries…and surely you do not mean to claim even churches didn’t exist) see MacMullen’s The Second Church. I’d also note that the earliest recovered Christian inscription (late second century) of any sort whatever is Valentinian…and thus not even from “orthodox” Christianity. Both its lateness and its content illustrate why your required unstated premise about what evidence would have survived is also false.

      The Talmudist deliberately changed the times…

      And you know this because…?

      Apart from the fact that you just made that up (whereas the alternative premise, that when different isolated Christian groups later placed a mythical Jesus in history they would likely have done so differently, follows necessarily from the mythicist thesis and known facts about the world and thus is not ad hoc), you also have your facts wrong.

      The Jews did not make up the Jannaean Christ. It was a doctrine of Eastern Christians called the Nazôraians (incidentally the original Christian sect, as attested in Acts). When the Babylonian Jews wrote to rebut Christianity, the only Christians they evidently knew were the ones in Babylon, who were or were descended from the Nazôraians attested in Epiphanius, and thus the Jews assumed the Nazôraian Christ story was the correct one, and thus that is the only one they rebut. Notably, their rebuttal would have been immediately ineffective if they tried to use it on a Pontian Christ belief, since the obvious counter would then be that they are talking about the wrong guy. Your theory meanwhile makes no sense, since the Jannaean Christ is killed by the Jews even in the Talmud…in fact, only by the Jews (there is no mention of the involvement of any foreign power like Rome)…so they can’t have invented that to get off the hook for killing him.

      So, nice try. But we call that a fail.

    • Giuseppe says

      About Paul and Pillars, you write above (in reply to Vince Hart) this:

      If there were other disputes, we know nothing about them

      …who were the ‘christian’ enemy of author of book of Revelation? Were they Paulines? Were they Simonians? Other gentile heretics? Who is the Second Beast?

      It’s possible that after death of Paul and Pillars, the divergence Paulines versus Judeo-Christians grew so much that we can see this sectarian conflict in Book of Revelation?

      Bruno Bauer thinked that the theology of Revelation is very ancient, around 70 EC.

      it presents a group of Jews (not Christians) that believed the end would come soon. There is no Trinity, for Jesus is subordinate to God, and certainly no Holy Spirit. There is no docrtine of original sin, no baptism or sacrament of communion, no justification by original sin, no baptism or sacrament of communion, no justification by faith, and no elaborate story of the death and resurrection of Christ. And there is no religion of love, for the author preaches sound, honest revenge on their persecutors.
      (from ”The German Pestilence” by Roland Boer in Is This Not the Carpenter?, p.52)

      And K. Noll, in the same book, in a note, writes:

      I suggest that the Jerusalem pillars preached a Jesus that … expected to wage holy war on behalf of the Jewish god
      (p.252, note 62)

      Because the more radical and unorthodox view is probably the more ancient, it’s possible that the Pillars believe in a mythic Christ that is anti-Roman and xenofobe, and that Paul changed this last ‘defect’ (for him), making later (more violent) conflict against Pillars (or his followers against the Pillars followers) that will culminate in Book of Revelation?

      I fear that if you see much ‘peace’ between Paul and Pillars, you can not explain the exasperated conflict in Revelation againt these ”that say to be Jews and are not Jews” (I go on memory and excuse for my English).

      Thanks,
      Giuseppe

    • says

      Revelation was written by the anti-Pauline sect half a century after Paul and the Pillars were dead (it was composed between 81 and 95 AD). It’s therefore of no relevance here.

      I never said there was “peace” between Paul and the later breakaway faction that opposed him. There is simply no evidence that that faction was led by any of the Pillars. If any were leading it, it was not until decades after they endorsed Paul’s innovation (since we have no knowledge of what happened near or after the end of Paul’s life). That breakaway faction remained active for centuries, but too small and insignificant to command any presence (at least within the Roman Empire). Basically, they lost.

  11. robro says

    Just recently discovered your site…tho I’ve read PZ for a while…while searching for critiques of the historicity of Jesus. Thanks for your analysis, the info, and the reading list. I look forward to checking out your books.

    A question I’ve been wondering about along these lines concerns Paul. Where does the historicity debate stand on the subject of this near messiah? Any suggestions would be interesting to see.

    And thanks again. I’ll keep tabs.

    • says

      I assume you mean to ask whether anyone challenges the historicity of Paul. The answer is yes (most famously Hermann Detering), but they number even fewer than mythicists, and their views do not stand on sound logic, IMO. I would say it’s possible but improbable. See my past comments here and here.

    • Giuseppe says

      Vince Hart before:
      I don’t see why we should think it necessary for someone to have some prior knowledge of Jesus either as a historical man or a supernatural being before having visions of the risen Christ. Do we really have enough data on deifying visions to know what the most probable cause of them is?

      I remember to have heard that the apparitions of Fatima, Lourdes (and Medjugorje, perhaps), the first thing that every ”seer” has ”seen” is just a mysterious entity, without a name. Only from the second time, then they started to associate to the entity the name of Mary of Nazareth.

      I wonder if this is a point pattern: first one has an appearance of an anonymous entity and after interprets it with the tools that the same people has in that time. The shepherd children at Fatima could only identify their entities in the Madonna, but only because they were poor and ignorant (they did not know of the existence of aliens, for example), and only from successive appearances.

      This could be a similar case: In the case of the first Christians, after Mark they began to recognize in their archangel ”Christ Jesus” the same Jesus of Nazareth described in the Gospel. But only after reading Mark (and accept it as true Gospel), not before.

  12. Chris S says

    Richard,

    One of the facts that makes me resistant to full-blown mythicism is the existence of the various Jewish-Christian sects in the early centuries AD. I can understand the concept of Euhemerization, but I have trouble conceiving the process whereby a certain segment of the early Christian tradition reduced the status of Jesus from demigod to “just” a divinely-appointed but human prophet. Do you have a take on the evolution of the Ebionites and other such groups from the mythicist perspective?

    • says

      I have trouble conceiving the process whereby a certain segment of the early Christian tradition reduced the status of Jesus from demigod to “just” a divinely-appointed but human prophet. Do you have a take on the evolution of the Ebionites and other such groups from the mythicist perspective?

      We have no evidence what you say ever happened. Even Mark portrays Jesus as a celestial supernatural agent of God who will defeat all sin and death in the universe and enact God’s vengeance from above in the near future. We have no reason to believe Torah-observant sects ever thought differently. Matthew, for example, was written by a Torah-observant sectarian and is even more cosmically grandiose than Mark (having Jesus literally and magically manufactured in Mary’s womb, and not merely adopted by God ceremonially). The first time Jesus is ever reduced to merely a man (by anyone other than an enemy of the cult) is Thomas Jefferson’s bible thousands of years later.

      When you read in references that the Ebionites rejected the divinity of Christ, this is misleading when read in the context of modern Christian theology. All they did was reject the later equation of Christ with God. Even Paul (and Mark and Matthew) never equate Jesus with God, they consider him an agent (a supernatural subordinate) of God, essentially an archangel, a separate being, never called “God” (though technically, really, a second god within a henotheistic system, semantic policing prevented calling him such). Thus, the Ebionite view (which Epiphanius reports explicitly called him an archangel) is actually closer to the original mythicist thesis: Jesus was a celestial being, not an ordinary man.

      All we know of the Ebionites is through the filter of Christians who had abandoned that view and believed in a historical Jesus who was identical to God, so we have to understand how they misread Ebionite texts: Ebionite Gospels would mythologize their view, but historicists reading them would read them over-literally and interpret them the wrong way. So a lot of what we are told about Ebionites is false. Example: Justin Martyr thinks the Ebionite Gospel(s) have Jesus born naturally and not supernaturally, but read carefully and what he says is they believed Christ was a preexistent celestial being who descended and “possesed” the body of this Jesus. This is just another version of a historicized incarnation belief no different from that foun in Matthew, only there the possession occurs during a fetal formation by God rather than a later baptism as in Mark, but either way the Christ is an angelic superbeing who comes from heaven and is not really a man, and the “man part” is just a disposable shell. That is the same as on mythicism (or the only plausible form of it, per Doherty).

      Thus, the Ebionite Gospels are just another variant of euhemerization essentially following the same process as the canonical Gospels but just coming up with arbitrarily different ways to do it (just as the Babylonian Christians did by placing Jesus in an entirely different historical period). The original Ebionites (if such there were) would, like Paul, have not taken any of that literally but as parable and metaphor, and only later Ebionites started taking it literally (if in fact they did: we can’t really know, since we never get to hear from them, just what their enemies confusingly thought about them, and that it appears solely from reading their Gospels and not ever having had met a single one of them, much less from having been one and thus privy to their secret teachings).

    • says

      McGrath is an embarrassment. See here and here and here and here (as for example).

      He doesn’t know what he is talking about half the time, and is so lost in a delusional faith-based epistemology desperate to defend his religion, I have never found anything he writes on this subject to be worth the bother of reading.

      Just FYI.

    • gshelley says

      That was embarrassing. apparently, facts and reason aren’t important, you can just call someone incompetent and that is enough to dismiss them.

      There’s an odd discussion in the comments, claiming you reject the Josephus reference because Jesus second name isn’t used. Or at least I think that is what they are claiming

    • says

      I assume you mean “discussion in McGrath’s comments.” I can’t warrant wasting time reading those. But if you are accurately reporting what they are saying, then that is yet another example of McGrath doing nothing to correct false claims [edit: unless he doesn't read comments on his site often enough to gainsay nonsense there]. I have published my argument in a peer reviewed journal. He damn well knows what I have actually argued and why I actually reach the conclusions I do.

      But–and again assuming you have accurately reported the case–it sounds like a confusion of two different arguments: I have said with regard to the passage in Tacitus (not Josephus) that it cannot be claimed Tacitus was citing a legal record because there is nothing in it indicative of such a record, like Jesus’s legal name (so a different argument twice over); and with regard to Josephus’ shorter passage I have argued that the original patronymic was replaced or sidelined accidentally with “called Christ,” but that the original patronymic indicated an entirely different Jesus was meant (so a different argument twice over again), and the reasons for reaching that conclusion are numerous and laid out in my article (which is reproduced in HHBC). As it happens, I have also become convinced the reference to Christ in Tacitus was similarly doctored, and that Tacitus was also speaking of someone else there, and my peer reviewed article on that point is also reproduced in the same work just linked.

    • gshelley says

      Thanks, that makes sense. It wasn’t McGrath who made it, but one of the people in the comments. He didn’t say anything, but I don’t follow his blog, so don’t know if he tends to step in when people are using bad arguments. In a way, it points out much of the difficulty in this area. Someone makes a frankly bizarre claim about what a mythicist argument is, and it is uncritically accepted, presumably because in most people’s minds, the historicity of Jesus has been so thoroughly demonstrated, that only a crank could argue against it, and they’d have to use bad arguments.

      “Josephus was referring to the Jesus written about in the Bible because Jesus didn`t have a proper name and there were many “messiahs” Josephus refers to.”

      Carrier loves to use what I call “ad-hoc” approaches to try to support his arguements. No one in that time period had last names, if that’s what Carrier is trying to impose. That’s also misleading to say that Josephus was referring to many “messiahs”. Josephus did refer to many Jesus, but it’s very obvious that Josephus is referring to Jesus Christ of Nazareth in both the Antiquity of the Jews, and the Testimonium Flavianum.

      Is the actual quote. As you can see, it bares little resemblence to your actual arguments, and I suspect you are right that the commenter is mixing up a couple of arguments. I just bought HHBC, so I’ll be able to read the actual argument for myself

    • says

      He didn’t say anything, but I don’t follow his blog, so don’t know if he tends to step in when people are using bad arguments.

      That’s a fair point. He might not.

      Is the actual quote. As you can see, it bares little resemblence to your actual arguments…

      Worse, it bares little resemblance even to an intelligible comment. “Josephus is referring to Jesus…in both the Antiquity of the Jews, and the Testimonium Flavianum” is a particularly funny comment. “Why, NASA not only faked the moon landing, they also faked the lunar landing!” It’s also wildly false that “no one in that time period had last names” (so Caesar wasn’t named Julius and Josephus wasn’t named Flavius? Even Jesus of Nazareth would have been named Jesus ben Joseph, hence had a last name: Benjoseph).

      His remarks sound vaguely like a very badly garbled regurgitation of my argument about there being many Jesus Christs (even though never so named) in Josephus’ accounts of various messiahs, in my Rapture Day talk, which ironically presumed and even provided an argument for the historicity of Jesus, not against.

  13. BradC says

    I ran across an argument I hadn’t heard before, in opposition to the mythicist position:

    The Total Lack of Evidence for a “Mythic Christianity”

    Essentially, it’s because it’s the most parsimonious explanation of the evidence we have. Early Christianity, in all its forms, and the critics of early Christianity agree on virtually nothing about Jesus, except for one thing – that he existed as a historical person in the early First Century. If there really was an original form of Christianity that didn’t believe this, as all versions of the “Jesus Myth” idea require, then it makes no sense that there is no trace of it. Such an idea would be a boon to the various Gnostic branches of Christianity, which emphasised his spiritual/mystical aspects and saw him as an emissary from a purely spiritual world to help us escape the physical dimension. A totally non-historical, purely mystical Jesus would have suited their purposes perfectly. Yet they never taught such a Jesus – they always depict him as a historical First Century teacher, but argue that he was “pure spirit” and only had the “illusion of flesh”. Why? Because they couldn’t deny that he had existed as a historical person and there was no prior “mythic Jesus” tradition for them to draw on.

    Similarly, the memory of an earlier, original Christianity which didn’t believe in a historical Jesus would have been a killer argument for the many Jewish and pagan critics of Christianity. Jesus Mythicists claim this mythic Jesus Christianity survived well into the Second or even Third Century. We have orthodox Christian responses to critiques by Jews and pagans from that period, by Justin Martyr, Origen and Minucius Felix. They try to confront and answer the arguments their critics make about Jesus – that he was a fool, a magician, a bastard son of a Roman soldier, a fraud etc – but none of these apologetic works mention so much as a hint that anyone ever claimed he never existed. If a whole branch of Christianity existed that claimed just this, why did it pass totally unnoticed by these critics? Clearly no such earlier “mythic Jesus” proto-Christianity existed – it is a creation of the modern Jesus Mythicist activists to prop up their theory.

    (From this article by Tim O’Neill, he also has a pretty extensive critique of David Fitzgerald’s “Nailed”)

    Is he correct? Are there hints that any early Christian sect might have viewed Jesus as a celestial deity?

    • says

      Paul only knows Jesus as a celestial deity. A preexistent one at that.

      So, that argument is a non-starter.

      The Gospels (which O’Neil is talking about) were composed decades after Paul.

      So he has the sequence backwards.

      There are in fact many more hints in other evidence that the sequence was indeed Pauline archangel –> Galilean man and not the other way around as O’Neil claims (I collect it in my forthcoming book). But just in the surviving Christian record itself that’s the order of events, not what O’Neil says.

      His other claim that no one would need a historical version is not only refuted by the entire trend of Euhemerism (why was everyone historicizing their celestial gods back then if there was no need to?) but also by the arguments of Noll (in Is This Not the Carpenter?). And he also doesn’t have a good grasp of chronology. He talks about “Gnostics” adopting a historical Jesus, but the only “Gnostics” he means are late second century–we don’t know what the “Gnostics” of a hundred years earlier thought, because all their documents were destroyed…as well as all documents about them. (There are a few important exceptions that refute O’Neil, but that’s a long story, and you’ll have to await my next book.)

      O’Neil is something of a disgruntled hack. He doesn’t really have any relevant competence in this field, and doesn’t make much of an effort to check his armchair claims before making them, and is well known to argue dishonestly. See David Fitzgerald on this point.

      In fact, O’Neil is a documented liar (although the thread in which he blatantly lied has been, so far as I know, removed, I have a screenshot of it in my files; it’s referenced in the last paragraph of my comment here).

    • Steve Watson says

      I have just had cause to read two translations of The Testimony of Truth from Nag Hammadi for a course on the Gnostics I am auditing. The section The Descent of the Son of Humanity (30,18-31,22) in the International Edition (2007), p617 has this Son of Humanity come down from Heaven, witnessed by John at the Jordan, which “immediately turned back”, apparently flowing back on itself toward the Golan. The riverbed is dry: there is no water, never mind a baptism. Does that read as if this particular Gnostic knew of an historical Jesus? Drop the restorations in the text and it reads to me at least that part of the document’s purpose is to scoff at even a docetic understanding of Jesus. He appears by the Jordan direct from “an imperishable realm”. This isn’t very far removed from Doherty’s Christ who makes a descent to the region of the moon. This looks like yet another document read with Christian tinted glasses. All these documents need rereading without assumptions, just like the Pauline Epistles and others that have lately been found wanting.

    • abcxyz says

      Richard, what about O’Neil’s second point though? Does it have merit? It seems like a strong argument on the surface.

      Similarly, the memory of an earlier, original Christianity which didn’t believe in a historical Jesus would have been a killer argument for the many Jewish and pagan critics of Christianity. Jesus Mythicists claim this mythic Jesus Christianity survived well into the Second or even Third Century. We have orthodox Christian responses to critiques by Jews and pagans from that period, by Justin Martyr, Origen and Minucius Felix. They try to confront and answer the arguments their critics make about Jesus – that he was a fool, a magician, a bastard son of a Roman soldier, a fraud etc – but none of these apologetic works mention so much as a hint that anyone ever claimed he never existed. If a whole branch of Christianity existed that claimed just this, why did it pass totally unnoticed by these critics? Clearly no such earlier “mythic Jesus” proto-Christianity existed – it is a creation of the modern Jesus Mythicist activists to prop up their theory.

    • says

      Since we have no texts from critics of Christianity (Jewish or otherwise) or even descriptions of their contents until the mid-2nd century at the earliest, no argument can proceed from what people in the preceding century “would have” been arguing. We literally don’t know what they were arguing. Because no one tells us. (Thanks to the conveniently selective preservation of evidence.)

      As for myth-advocating Christians after that time, we do have (canon-defending) Christian treatises against them (e.g. Irenaeus describes sects that believed Jesus lived and died in outer space among the heresies he attacks in his famous treatise against all heresies; 2 Peter explicitly attacks Christians who were teaching all the stories about Jesus were made-up myths; etc.).

      As usual, O’Neil is not very good at research, doesn’t seem very facile with Greek, and often doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  14. sigurd jorsalfar says

    More and more it seems to me that historicity rests entirely on inertia – the inertia that comes from thousands of years of believing that Jesus was both a man and the son of a god.

  15. Bruce Grubb says

    I have been going over the Christ Myth theory and I have noticed a variant that can best be described as deny the story but not the man.

    Remsberg (1909) seems to be the oldest example of this but it is Archibald Robertson in his 1946 _Jesus: Myth Or History_ with regard to John Robertson’s 1900 work that sums it up: “The myth theory is not concerned to deny such a possibility [that a flesh and blood man may be behind the story]. What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded”

    This view is effectively restated in the 1982 and 1995 editions _International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J_ regarding Jesus: “This view [Christ Myth theory] states that the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes…” There are modern examples of stories of known historical people “possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes”–George Washington and the Cherry Tree; Davy Crockett and the Frozen Dawn; Jesse James and the Widow to mention a few. King Arthur and Robin Hood are two more examples of suspected historical people whose stories are most likely fictional in nature.

    Even Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in his 2004 _I Believe in the Historical Jesus_ states there are two ways to see Jesus as historical: Jesus existed, rather than being a totally fictional creation like King Lear or Doctor Who, or that the Gospels give a reasonable account of historical events, rather than being unverifiable legends such as those surrounding King Arthur.

    How do you feel about this broader definition of Christ Myth theory?

    • says

      It’s just a different theory. Although as defined above, it’s essentially historicity agnosticism (there is a “possibility” a real man lay behind it) so it isn’t exclusive to the Doherty thesis, just a larger umbrella that the Doherty thesis fits under (G.A. Wells I believe is now more in that camp, of historicity agnosticism).

      I personally find little merit to the “possibility” theory because it doesn’t explain anything (Paul’s letters become less explicable, for example, as also certain other evidence in and outside the NT), whereas the cosmic Jesus theory explains so much. So I would certainly allow for the possibility some actual Jesus started it all. I just consider that very improbable on currently available evidence.

  16. KiloPapa says

    Richard,

    In 1 Corinthians, when Paul recites the ‘Lords supper’, he states that Jesus, after the meal, gave instructions.

    Regarding the cup Jesus supposedly says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

    Ultimately, Christian followers were the intended recipients of those instructions, but it stands to reason that someone must have been at that table with Jesus when he (presumably) spoke those words.

    Could a “celestial” Jesus really be behind the Lords supper? To whom was Jesus speaking when he gave those instructions?

    Roger Parvus wrote a couple of interesting posts on Neil Godfrey’s blog Vridar recently in which he made the case that the earliest Christians believed that a celestial Jesus came down from heaven specifically to be a blood sacrifice for humanity. He became flesh and blood for his time on earth and then returned to heaven in his resurrected body.

    If true, that could also explain an earthly meal with disciples/apostles/believers (whatever)

    I would appreciate your thoughts on any of this if you have the time.

    • says

      When Paul recites the ‘Lord’s supper’ he says he learned it directly from Jesus. In other words, by revelation. He also conspicuously does not mention anyone being present when Jesus said those things. This is just like the banquet vision reported for Peter in Acts. No one was actually there. It was revealed in the heavens. Only when the story is historicized in the Gospels do Jesus’ words get changed into a conversation with named persons present. Just like all of Jesus’ revealed teachings to Paul do.

      As to the Parvus theory, it fails to explain how such a person could convince any fellow Jews to fanatically believe such a bizarre and grandiose thing about him, yet have no significant impact on their memory of him and thus his biography and decisions and acts in life never feature at all in debates about him in Paul’s letters.

      If such a man existed, Paul would not keep saying the only way anything is known about him is through scripture and revelation. Indeed, there is no way Paul could have kept saying that.

      There is more evidence besides that. But it gets complicated from there. You will have to await my book.

      But the abstract element of the Parvus theory I believe is correct: this cosmic Jesus was believed to have assumed a body so as to undergo a ritual blood sacrifice so powerful it would render the annual Yom Kippur sacrifice obsolete and thus replace the Temple as the center of worship (that is explicitly said in Hebrews 9). The question is where did they think that sacrifice occurred. That is where the Doherty thesis comes in. And there is evidence in support of it.

  17. Cat Rancher says

    Dr. Carrier,

    Since it was brought up in the post and thread, I’ve been looking for something to fill me in on the Jannaean Christ. So far all I’ve found is Mead’s work, “Did Jesus Live 100 BC?” from a hundred years ago. Do you have a good book to recommend on this Christ figure?

    Thanks in advance.

  18. says

    You don’t need to be “an impressive scholar” to figure out the New Testyourmentality. You just need familiarity with Mysticism. The NT is an inverted theme cover-up of Mastership succession, the “Betrayal” being the centerpiece, where James the Just was deep-sixed by invention of a fictional “Judas”. Dr. Eisenman started the ball rolling with Lukan Acts 1, Judas as James. I just rolled it along to the canonical gospels, where Judas is James throughout. Masters come in endless procession — the church thought you should not be told, is all.

    Fernando Bermejo Rubio, one of the contributing scholars to the Gospel of Judas conferences, is more on track than the rest, but still off the mark on the identity of the ‘sacrifice’ in the Gospel of Judas. It isn’t Jesus sacrificed, but JUDAS — sacrificing himself, like any good Gnostic would.

    Robert Wahler

    judaswasjames.com [email protected]

    • says

      I don’t find any of that plausible. There are far simpler explanations of what Judas represents in the story. Ockham’s Razor cuts down the rest.

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