Ottawa Historicity Debate: A Commentary

Video of my debate with Zeba Crook (an atheist professor of New Testament studies) on whether Jesus historically existed is now available online as Jesus of Nazareth: Man or Myth? A Discussion with Zeba Crook and Richard Carrier (produced by AtheismTV). I announced and discussed that here. But now you can watch the debate itself. The AV quality is not very good, but it’s manageable. As I note in the video, there was no way to respond to every point made, for want of time. Indeed, by the time I got to state my first rebuttal, I had to answer thirty minutes of Dr. Crook in just ten minutes. But I think both sides got to state their best case, and left the debate where further discussion is needed but at least moved beyond a lot of the usual sidetracking nonsense.

I shall place here below, and expand, what notes I had jotted down as the debate went on but didn’t have time to get to at the podium, including some comments on Dr. Crook’s final closing, which left loose ends unfinished, since he only at that point had any opportunity to respond to my rebuttal (at which point, he had five minutes to answer my ten, putting him at the disadvantage). Those notes I wrote in my own kind of abbreviated shorthand, but here I just spell them out in full sentences, with connecting sentences and whatnot (so don’t imagine I wrote all those words as-is during the debate; I captured those ideas in a much more abbreviated notation). Some of those notes will repeat what I said in rebuttals, some will expand on them, and some will be things I didn’t have time to talk about.

Certainly ask questions in comments here about anything you didn’t find resolved in the debate, or any arguments Crook made that you think I overlooked or didn’t adequately address (especially things that came up in Q&A, since I didn’t write notes then). But please first read the commentary below. It may already answer your question. In which case I’ll just tell you to read it.


The bulk of the slideshow I used is here (in PDF form). There were some eighty other slides besides those I may have sampled from during rebuttal and closing, so possibly not everything I brought up during the debate is in that download. But you can get most of it there.

If anyone produces a transcript, let me know. I won’t have the time to produce one myself. I shall have to punt to my book, On the Historicity of Jesus, although the electronic version of that will still not be available for some time (the print edition should be available by end of this June). Obviously that goes into much more detail, answers all of Crook’s remaining objections, and extensively cites scholarship and sources for everything I argued. It is far more authoritative than this debate, which is just a select précis and ultra-brief summary of a few key points.

I should note that one commenter on the video said “I think that the question, man or myth, is flawed. My personal best guess is man and myth.” This misses the point of the debate: both Dr. Crook and I agree (as one can surely tell from his opening) that it is either total myth or mostly myth. So the question being posed in this debate is that. The option that he is not myth at all is not even in contention. We both consider that position ridiculous.

From My Notes

[Note that if it isn’t mentioned below, nor in my turns at the podium, I probably agreed with Crook, or else what he said didn’t affect the probability of either hypothesis. Indeed, I agreed with 80-90% of his opening statement.]

(1) Crook did not lean much on the extra-biblical evidence.

He considers it inconclusive. The silences elsewhere are just evidence Jesus didn’t matter. Which is just as likely on either theory. I concur (if we grant the premise, as Crook does, that Jesus was a nobody, and thus the Gospel portrayal of him as famous is false).

(2) Crook leans mostly on the evidence in the Epistles. I concur with that strategy. I think that’s all historians have.

(a) First, that Paul says he got some teachings from Jesus.

As-is this is inconclusive, because Paul admits he got teachings from Jesus by revelation (thus we cannot confirm any came from a historical man). But Crook asks why Paul would admit some of his teachings didn’t come from Jesus. Why wouldn’t Paul just make it all up as coming from Jesus? I would argue this presumes Paul was lying. If he wasn’t lying, he could only claim as from Jesus what his visions produced, which being a product of his subconscious he would not have such control over.

But I would also argue this is just like the current status of the Pope’s limited use of Papal Infallibility. Why doesn’t the Pope just declare everything taught by him and the Church to be infallibly true? Is this an argument for Catholicism therefore being true? Obviously not. There are obvious political reasons to not do this (it runs the danger of destroying the Church by declaring infallible that which is subsequently refuted or has to be changed), and the same reasoning would apply to Paul. In effect, when Paul says his teaching is his own and not from Jesus, he is saying (a) he is not as sure he’s right as when he declares something “from the Lord” (and thus is reserving the right and thus opportunity of changing his mind or conceding he was wrong if he loses an argument over it, i.e. he is not staking his Apostolic authority on it) and (b) he is not presuming what he says must hold in all Christian communities or at all times (rather than the one church he is addressing, or only for the specific set of circumstances he is responding to).

But that’s all moot anyway. Crook acknowledges that Paul was getting some teachings by revelation. Yet Crook must concede those teachings were not coming from a historical Jesus. So even if there was a historical Jesus, and thus actual historical teachings, you are still stuck with having to answer the same question: Why didn’t Paul just credit all his new teachings to a revelation of Jesus? The historicist is in the same boat as the mythicist: if the latter cannot answer that question, neither can the former (whereas if the former can, so can the latter, in fact they can give exactly the same answer). So this cannot be used to argue for either position.

(b) Second, that the James Paul refers to meeting in Galatians is the actual biological brother of Jesus.

I already responded to this in the debate. It can only be argued from premises that originated as Christian faith doctrines, and not from independently-arrived at observations from the evidence as-is. As-is, the evidence is ambiguous and thus inconclusive. We do not know Paul meant biological brother, and the preponderance of evidence even weighs slightly against it.

Crook returned to this argument in his rebuttal to my opening argument. He seemed to argue that because Catholics doctrinally need this James not to be Jesus’ biological brother, that therefore mythicists are doing the same thing. This is a non sequitur. I have actual arguments and evidence for my conclusion, none of which Catholics use. I am not starting with a dogma to defend. I am reaching a conclusion independent of Christian faith doctrines, from the facts as they are. The analogy is therefore invalid. He must address my case. He can’t rebut the Catholic case and claim to have rebutted me.

Crook claimed Paul “wished” James wasn’t the brother of Jesus (because that made James a greater authority than Paul). There is no indication of that anywhere in the Epistles, at all (this is the same error I caught Mark Goodacre in: see my discussion in items 8 through 11 there). That is a Christian faith doctrine, that Crook has sublimated from having been taught “mainstream assumptions” in his field inherited by its progenitors, who were not analyzing the evidence objectively in the first place.

I do not recall Crook responding to my grammatical argument here, either. So that argument remained unrebutted altogether.

Crook claimed that this James being a biological brother of Jesus was not an issue of dispute, but I actually cited a peer reviewed paper acknowledging it’s in dispute (thus refuting his claim that it was not in dispute), a paper that has yet to receive any significant rebuttal (its only rebuttal fails to address the argument, as I explain in OHJ, pp. 587-92), and which cites some scholars disputing it, and even more are named in the academic commentary on Galatians by Betz (which I also cite in OHJ). [This paragraph has been edited for clarity, because there are two different disputes: whether James was the brother of Jesus, and whether James was an apostle.]

Crook only brought up 1 Cor. 9:5 at the end of the debate. Too late to address it. But it falls to the same arguments.

(c) Third, Crook vaguely questions how or whether Paul made everything up then, if there was no historical tradition to work from.

This was not articulated into a coherent argument.

I don’t think it can be, since Crook must concede Paul innovated the Torah-free Gospel, yet attributed it to Jesus–obviously by revelation. Thus, Crook must concede Paul was inventing Jesus tradition. Therefore, Paul did not need a historical tradition. And there is no evidence Paul ever thought there was such a thing (he never makes a distinction, for example, between what a historical Jesus said and what the revealed Jesus said). So again, this “evidence” is a wash. It cannot argue for either position.

I should also add that Paul could also have had a historical tradition to work from that did not come from a historical Jesus: everything learned from a “revealed” Jesus by the Apostles before him (such as that the crucifixion of Jesus could be located in scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; or that living Christians could be baptized on behalf of the dead: 1 Corinthians 15:29). Thus, even if we could show Paul relied on historical tradition rather than revelation at any point, that in itself still does not get us evidence of a historical Jesus.

(3) Crook argued it was a false dichotomy to claim either all Jesus tradition goes back to Jesus or none of it does.

I concur. The point is irrelevant. My case does not depend on any such dichotomy.

(4) That there was no birth narrative in Mark entails readers assumed a normal birth, which entails Mark believed there was a historical Jesus.

That may be so. That does not entail Mark’s belief was well founded, or based on any reliable evidence at all. People who write about the Roswell myth are certain a flying saucer and alien bodies were recovered there, and always write with that assumption. That is not evidence a flying saucer and alien bodies were recovered there.

But it’s also questionable. Insofar as Mark is writing a manual for Christian missionaries to help them teach the gospel and be inspired in their mission and have models of action to use in their ministry, he would have had no use for a nativity narrative, which serves no such function. [That Mark was writing in part with such an aim one can extensively show; I gave only a few examples during the debate, there are many more; cf. e.g. Proving History, pp. 156-57, and chapter 10 of OHJ.]

Crook challenged the claim that Mark was writing a manual for missionaries, but only before I had insufficient time remaining to respond, so as far as the debate goes, that was a wash. Readers will have to see the case laid out in OHJ. The dispute wasn’t resolved in the debate (just two competing assertions were made, although I did present some evidence for mine, which I do not recall Crook addressing).

Note that Mark never writes about how Jesus fulfilled scripture (except generically, in the same sense a cosmic Jesus did, e.g. that he would be crucified). That concern first appears in Matthew, who adds it as a redactional layer on top of a Markan text that had no such concerns. This shows that historicization of the narrative (away from allegorization as its original and primary purpose, as the reader is covertly told in Mark 4:10-20) was ramped up after Mark.

That is remarkable, considering that even Mark was not written until a whole lifetime after the cult began (average life expectancy for anyone who survived childhood was then 48 years; and someone who was thirty in 30 A.D. could expect to be dead, more likely than not, before 60 A.D…see Frier’s Life Table). Why did historicization (which leads to a need for such things as birth narratives, and arguments that a historical Jesus fulfilled scripture) only become a concern after Mark, indeed by all accounts, later even than 80 A.D. (the earliest year most scholars consider Matthew likely to have been written, Mark having been written most likely in the 70s)? The odds anyone who was thirty in 30 A.D. being alive still in 80 A.D. are less than 1 in 200. In other words, historicization only began in earnest after all living witnesses would have been dead.

(5) Having Jesus baptized by John the Baptist was too embarrassing to be made up, therefore it must be true, therefore there was a historical Jesus.

This is simply false. The first premise is not defensible. I made that point in the debate. But a full examination (including scholars who agree with me) is in Proving History, pp. 145-48. Indeed, in this context, the whole form of the argument (an Argument from Embarrassment) is fallacious, pp. 124-69.

(6) One story in Mark has Jesus trying to heal a blind man, who first sees people as trees and has to be double-cured, and this entails Jesus really existed.

Crook never made an intelligible argument out of this. I rebutted it in the debate. There is no such thing as curing blind men with faith, and even psychosomatic blindness does not have a middle-stage of seeing people as trees. The story is obviously fictional. It therefore cannot go back to an actual historical event. Therefore it is not evidence for a historical Jesus.

In any event, I believe the tree element in this story comes from Mark’s effort to paint Jesus as the new Moses (who once saw a tree before effecting a cure: Exodus 15:22-27), but showing that requires a literary analysis too time consuming for a debate. I give the full rundown in OHJ, pp. 414-18 (yes, I have the completed indexable proof now, so I can cite page numbers even in a book not yet in press!).

(7) Matthew makes Jesus look more amazing, therefore Mark is writing straight history, therefore Jesus existed.

This is simply a non sequitur. Mark’s Jesus is already implausibly and ahistorically amazing. So that Matthew made him more so does not argue for anything. I already made other points on this in the debate.

(8) Mark says Jesus couldn’t heal people in his own town, which is too embarrassing to write unless it really happened, therefore it really happened, therefore Jesus existed.

I already rebutted this in the debate. But I also demonstrate it is fallacious in Proving History, p. 178 (see also, most crucially, the general problems with its underlying assumptions: pp. 126-38).

Mark is simultaneously composing an allegory for why Jesus later authorized the Gentile mission (his hometown representing the Jews of Judea, and failing to heal representing failing to save the stubborn Jews with the gospel) and writing a myth about what to do when missionaries fail to effect a successful faith healing (thus providing the stock answer: blame the victim for not having enough faith; and a cover story justifying it: “even God’s Son himself couldn’t heal the unbelieving, so why should you expect us to?”).

Crook makes a point about Matthew cutting this story. But that just shows Matthew either didn’t understand its function, or didn’t agree with it. That Matthew found it embarrassing doesn’t mean Mark did. By Crook’s own reasoning, if its being embarrassing results in it being struck from the narrative, Mark would have struck it from his narrative just as Matthew did. Therefore, we should conclude Mark did not find it embarrassing. Which topples the argument from its central premise. Indeed, it would have been struck decades before even getting to Mark. That it is only first struck by Matthew argues that it first appeared in Mark (just as with the empty tomb story: Proving History, p. 128).

(9) Cites 1 Timothy 3:16.

A forgery, as even Crook would concede; and forged evidence is invalid.

Crook argued later scribes tried tinkering with the passage, but there is no coherent argument from that fact to anything in the original text being authentic. So this is a non sequitur.

(10) Cites Luke 2:41 and 2:43.

Never clear what his point was. Crook argued later scribes tried tinkering with these passages, too, but there is no coherent argument from that fact to anything in the original text being authentic. So this is also a non sequitur.

(11) Crook seemed to confuse euhemerization with mythologization.

It was unclear what he was arguing. But just because some historical persons were mythologized does not mean all mythologized persons were once historical. Zeus and Uranus were originally cosmic deities who were euhemerized later (by Euhemerus himself), i.e. set as historical persons in historical narratives within chronological history (and claimed to have thence been deified). This is what I am saying happened to Jesus. So the question remains, which it is, that, or what Crook argues. I agree if not that, then it’s what Crook argues. But that’s not what I think the evidence supports. So we have to look at the evidence. Past cases can inform prior probabilities…but once we admit that, the priors don’t go for Crook, either (most heavily mythologized persons were never historical).

(12) Seemed to mistake me for claiming Philo said the pre-Christian archangel named Jesus was equal to God.

Since I never said, argued, or implied that, it’s a moot objection.

Crook also never provided an alternative explanation of the evidence I did present.

He must therefore be de facto arguing that it’s a total (and thus extraordinary) coincidence that Paul’s Jesus and Philo’s Jesus have all the same peculiar supernatural attributes (a pre-existent being, the agent of creation, the image of God, the firstborn son of God, simultaneously called Jesus; likewise the Logos and God’s celestial high priest). By definition extraordinary coincidences are improbable. A shared pre-Christian tradition developed differently by both the Christians and Philo explains all the evidence without proposing any improbable coincidence. It is therefore by far the better explanation of that evidence.

(13) Seemed to mistake me for claiming Zalmoxis cult influenced Christianity.

I was arguing for a cultural trend, which was evidenced by multiple manifestations of the same phenomenon, only one of which was Zalmoxis cult (I named several others, which Crook did not address), in exactly the same way Christianity is. I did mention this point in the debate. As well as the fact that influence is even possible (yet still not required by my argument).

Zalmoxis cult resided in Thrace and was known to the Greeks well enough to have generated a mocking polemic (just as Christianity inspired from the Jews), centuries before Christianity. It was discussed in Herodotus, which at the time Christianity began was a standard school text in the ancient equivalent of “graduate school” in literary Greek, which Paul (and the authors of the Gospels) would therefore likely have read (being composers of such skilled Greek they must have advanced to that level in school). And the Thracian Celts (who worshipped Zalmoxis, among other deities) had invaded and settled Galatia centuries before Christianity. The Galatians Paul writes to in Galatians, would have been living in a Zalmoxis-worshipping cultural environment. And if Paul hailed from Tarsus, he himself would have come from a city that would have well known this. But most importantly, pilgrims to Judea every year came from all over, including Galatia and Thrace (and Greece and other places Zalmoxis cult was known), so even Palestinian Jews could not have been wholly ignorant of it. They were well aware of Inanna cult (Ezekiel 8:14). And could not have been ignorant of Romulus cult (which would have been celebrated prominently by Roman forces and authorities in surrounding cities like Caesarea and Tyre). Or Osiris cult (Alexandria being essentially adjacent to Judea on a major trade and pilgrimmage route, with many Jews traveling between, including Philo, and Josephus, who is not only well aware of the cult, but he even tells a tale that indicates many other Jews were as well). And so on.

The claim that influence is impossible is simply a Christian faith doctrine (born of Christian apologetics) that has perniciously filtered into a surprisingly credulous secular scholarship.

(14) Crook somehow fell for Christian apologetics when he mistook Greek anti-Zalmoxian polemic as Zalmoxian belief.

The claim that Zalmoxis was a Pythagorean trickster was not a belief held by his worshipers, but a joke invented centuries later by their opponents, and thus cannot be used as evidence of anything about Zalmoxis himself–just as the Jewish polemic against the Gospels a century later, about Mary having fooled around with a Roman soldier named Panthera, so as to mock the Matthaean claim that she was a Parthenos, a virgin, cannot be an argument in support of the historicity of Jesus.

I can only hypothesize that Crook somehow got this from Mike Licona. Because Licona is the only scholar I know who has ever argued this, and it is so contrary to fact it is extremely unlikely anyone else has been as foolish (and I am fairly certain Licona, a Christian apologist, has even retracted it since). In any event, if you want to see the folly of this mistake exposed (and that quite embarrassingly), see my debunking of the error in Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 100-05.

(15) Crook challenges my claim that Paul is talking about an allegory in Galatians 4.

Here I argued Paul’s whole argument is that being “born of a woman” means being born to a certain world order, and not a literal biological birth to a literal woman. As Paul says, “this is an allegory” (Gal. 4:24). That he only gets around to explaining that his argument in Galatians 4 is an allegory toward the end of his argument (“twenty verses later,” as Crook says) is irrelevant. One would not say the Gettysburg Address is not about slavery because Lincoln only gets to mentioning slavery twenty sentences in (even had that been the case). It’s a single, coherent, interconnected argument. You can’t pick and choose sentences and read them out of context. The argument is the context.

I do not recall Crook answering my argument from vocabulary on this, either. So that argument remained unrebutted altogether.

(16) Paul would have had to avoid talking about the historical Jesus, and therefore that’s why he doesn’t.

This argument, though typical, has never made any sense. If this was such a problem, Paul could not avoid talking about it. Because it would be thrown in his face constantly, requiring him to constantly rebut and overcome it. And that’s just a start of the reasons he would be compelled to do so. I discuss this more extensively in chapter 11 of OHJ. In fact, the absence of Paul ever being aware that this even was a problem, and never having to answer it, is evidence against a historical Jesus.

(17) Crook claimed Philippians 2 does not talk about Jesus being a pre-existent entity.

That’s just too obviously false to require rebuttal.


  1. Paul Jacobsen says

    Obviously, Crook is somewhat familiar with your argument, as he was debating you on it. But, your book isn’t out yet. Though you have mentioned some of your argument in abbreviated form in other talks you have done. So, I’m basically wondering, was he given a pre-release copy of your book to prepare from, or, did he just have your related talks to work from.? He presumably has read your older books, such as _Proving History_, yes?

    Do you expect ongoing dialog? You have posted rebuttals here. Do you expect it to lead to a continued dialog with him on the subject?

    • says

      Crook had an advance copy of my book. Although as I noted in comments on the pre-game post, it was finals week just before the debate, so he didn’t have time to read it (and that’s no fault of his). He had also not read Proving History (though I also provided him that in advance as well). I supplied him also a link to my briefest video précis of my case, although that wouldn’t have prepared him for nuances.

      As to continued dialogue, that will depend on his interest in the question (not all scholars in the field find this debate interesting). But he is certainly congenial enough. (He’s no James McGrath.)

  2. Randall Johnson says

    You would think by now that those who sponsor such debates would realize some large multiple of those actually present would be watching later on-line and that AV issues should be settled well in advance.

    If a debate is worth scheduling, it’s worth preserving in its original quality and spreading to as many as possible. It doesn’t cost that much to get it right. Sorry- it’s a pet peeve.

    • says

      I’m one of the organizers. Unfortunately, we *thought* we had it all well in hand, but the room apparently used a different jack than the people doing the recording had anticipated. We tried to correct as much as possible with ambient mics, but those are never as good. Believe me, we’re kicking ourselves for the error.

  3. Geoff says


    It seems to me that the historicist reading of Galatians 4:4 renders Paul’s argument here incoherent. If Galatians 4:4 is not taken allegorically and refers to the fleshly birthing of Lord Jesus, I have trouble making sense of these verses:

    Gal 4:29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.

    Gal 4:30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”

    If we read 4:4 in historicist terms, then Jesus is “the son born according to the flesh.”

    In 4:19, Paul writes that he himself is “in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

    The whole passage is shot through with allegory.

    The terms “born of a woman, born under the law” seem completely out of place in the whole context of Paul’s coherent argument in Galatians that it is difficult to place it as authentic to the original writing.

    • Latverian Diplomat says

      Yes, he seemed to be arguing that Paul would have labeled all his allegorical passages explicitly as allegory, which seems an unfeasible argument. I think he felt the need to address this point but the limited time did not allow him to develop a better counterargument, a problem with the debate format in general.

  4. Giuseppe says

    Good post.

    In any event, I believe the tree element in this story comes from Mark’s effort to paint Jesus as the new Moses

    Is it possible too a derivation from Judges 9:8-15? There the trees allude to riot people of Israel.

    The blind man sees ”men as trees walking”, and soon after Jesus rebukes Peter (”vade retro satana”) ”seeing his disciples”(Mark 8:33), then Jesus and the blind man see the same thing: blind people that want a king-messiah for themselves (you can see the allusion to Judges 9 about riotous trees).

    The miracle in two steps to regain the sight is parallel to the process in two steps to identify Jesus as Christ by Peter & co (Mark 8:27-30).

    In this way, the blind man becomes more close to God (and more similar to Jesus) than the same disciples, the true blind men of allegory (who has a name, is indeed blind, and who is anonymous, sees better).


    • says

      An allusion to Judges 9:8-15 has always been an intriguing hypothesis. But to work it must make the story in Mark interpretable (and/or meet other criteria, see Proving History, pp. 199-204). I couldn’t find an interpretation that worked. But others may have. I did not extensively check the literature for previous efforts. There may have been a successful one in there somewhere. Yours is pretty good, IMO, but isn’t quite obvious enough to meet the usual expectations from how Mark would have been taught to compose, or that matches his usual style (when Mark wants one story to comment on another, he wraps them around each other, e.g. the withering of the olive tree is wrapped around the clearing of the temple, the healing of Jairus’s daughter is wrapped around the healing of the bleeding woman). But I only say that from the evidence you adduced. There may be more, that someone else has spotted. So it’s worth looking into. In short, I would say yours is a possible interpretation of Mark’s intent, but not made sufficiently probable by this evidence to be sure. But it’s the right kind of thinking, IMO.

    • kcrady says

      I look forward to reading your new book and the more in-depth explanation of the link between the healing of the blind man and Moses’ miracle with the tree. However, at this point it seems quite a stretch to link the two. One is a healing miracle for a blind man, the other is about purifying a spring, and the only “link” seems to be that both sorta involve trees. It seems very tenuous to me.

      Couldn’t the healing of the blind man simply be an allegory of the conversion/initiation process into the sect? First, Jesus goes to Bethsaida (“House of Fish”) and draws the man out of the town (compare with “I will make you fishers of men”). Then, he mimics the Genesis 2 creation story (where Yahweh made Adam out of clay) by mixing his spit with soil and rubbing the mixture into the man’s eyes. As a new convert to the sect, the man is a “new creation,” but his “sight” is still weak and blurry–he sees people, but they look like tree trunks. This is the first stage of membership in the sect, where converts are told the parables and allegorical stories, but not their true, inner meaning. Then Jesus lays hands on the man again, this time without any physical mud-manipulation–the higher, spiritual initiation. After this, the man sees clearly. Jesus then tells him not to go into the village, IOW, not to go back to his old life as a “fish,” i.e., unsaved person.

      This seems much more parsimonious to me, and still fits (better, IMO) with your general model. Does OHJ spell out reasons for the more Byzantine interpretation involving the link to the story of Moses purifying the spring?

    • says

      The link to Moses emerges when you see this miracle is part of a 5×5 miracle sequence that doubles the miracles of Moses and pairs them.

      But yes, indeed, the miracle certainly has an allegorical function as well. The Moses connection is where the model for the narrative comes from, not what it means. What it means can in part be discerned by where it comes from. At the highest level of abstraction, it means Jesus will save the faithful who stop focusing on the Torah and go beyond it. But that is compatible with an induction / fishing for men metaphor as you suggest. They are not at odds.

  5. Kingasaurus says

    —-“That Matthew found it embarrassing doesn’t mean Mark did. By Crook’s own reasoning, if its being embarrassing results in it being struck from the narrative, Mark would have struck it from his narrative just as Matthew did. Therefore, we should conclude Mark did not find it embarrassing. Which topples the argument from its central premise.”—–

    Richard, where do you think this defense comes from? I mean, the idea that Scriptural writers in general were so trustworthy and honest and so committed to historical accuracy, that they would be willing to retain an historically true yet embarrassing idea rather than excise it? Frankly, I find it baffling and ridiculous. Is it, as I suspect, just a holdover from Faith tradition that says the authors are somehow divinely unique in history and not subject to the same foibles and whims as non-Scripturall authors? Do you have any other ideas about that?

    (As an aside, I find your opponent’s name a bit awkward. In my mind, I am constantly and inadvertently Spoonerizing it into “Zebra Cook”)

    • says

      I concur.

      P.S. I’m fairly sure it’s Zeba Crook with a soft e, to rhyme with “Get a Hook” (although I realize zebra is indeed pronounced with a soft e like that in British English; in American it’s a hard e; so maybe the brain twister is more of a UK thing?). Also, it may help to think of Crook as in Hook literally (a Shepherd’s crook; as opposed to, say, a burglar). That might get your brain rolling in safer ruts.

  6. gshelley says

    I only heard his introduction and the first half of yours before my phone ran out of power, so some of my observations may be addressed (I have seen you before mention that we only see Paul’s “last Supper” as evidence of a historical one because people read the gospels into it for example), but I wanted to comment before I forget them. Of course, I will be listening to the rest once I have power.

    1) He seems to be presenting much the same evidence that Bart Ehrman did, but doing so far more honestly

    2) The pattern of Jesus becoming more godlike through the gospels is a problem that mythicists should address, but not insurmountable (nor necessarily even difficult)

    3) After hearing his introduction, I can’t see why he would be confident, it makes a case for plausibility, but is certainly not a slam dunk.

    3b) On the same thought, I don’t think he realised it, but he was arguing for the plausibility of the historicity of Jesus. Even if the claims he made about Paul making historical claims were true (and I don’t think they are, you dealt with at least some of them), that doesn’t make Jesus historical, or counter the mythicist argument, just makes it weaker and is something that should be addressed. However, even if there was no answer to this, it still doesn’t make Jesus historical or likely historical. To do that, you would also need to look at the passages where Paul clearly describes a mythical Jesus, see what the Historicist explanation is and judge all the evidence.

    It’s a bit like a trial, you can’t hear the prosecution evidence and decide on guilt without hearing what the defence has to say. Of course, there are limits. For every claim, the fundamenalists have some ad hoc explanation of why it isn’t true, so we should probably compare the best historical explanation of all the facts to the best mythicist explanation and see which is the better fit

    4) It was a little odd that he included examples such as the nativity and the miraculous healings that he presumably think s are fiction as examples showing Jesus wasn’t fiction. This was kind of like something Ehrman did, which I found infuriating, to acknowledge that there is a lot in the gospels that is not historical and was made up by the authors, based on various sources, but then insist that the stuff we can’t be sure of a direct precedent must be historical

    • says

      He seems to be presenting much the same evidence that Bart Ehrman did, but doing so far more honestly

      Indeed, I think Crook’s argument is better. For example, he didn’t attempt to argue for “Aramaic eyewitness sources dating to within a year or two of events.”

      I think his is the best case anyone could muster. I also think it falls short, of course. But it’s at least what has to be argued to have any chance of not falling short, IMO.

      The pattern of Jesus becoming more godlike through the gospels is a problem that mythicists should address, but not insurmountable (nor necessarily even difficult)

      Note that this tracks Jesus becoming more equal to God, not more godlike. Which even historicists agree was happening in church theology (even on historicism, Jesus was not thought fully equal to God until the end of the first century or even later). Thus, it is not evidence of anything to do with historicity, but changes in theology long afterward. The rest are attempts to make Jesus seem even more historical than earlier Gospels. Which is quite the reverse of what we should expect on historicity.

      As if no one realized how to date the birth of Jesus until the third Gospel written, for example; and that, by even contradicting the Gospel it’s redacting. This is not evidence of historicity. It’s evidence of fabricating (a more convincing) historicity.

      After hearing his introduction, I can’t see why he would be confident, it makes a case for plausibility, but is certainly not a slam dunk.

      He might agree with you. Crook did not make the kind of hyperbolic assertions of certitude that the likes of Ehrman do. I think he was pretty consistent in saying he was arguing for what he merely thought was more probable, and not for what was so certain only a crank would oppose it.

      I think he would also agree all the evidence mythicists present still has to be explained by historicists (and adequately). That he might not have done that in every case in this debate could easily have been a consequence of time constraints. So not too much can be judged by that.

      It was a little odd that he included examples such as the nativity and the miraculous healings that he presumably thinks are fiction as examples showing Jesus wasn’t fiction. This was kind of like something Ehrman did, which I found infuriating, to acknowledge that there is a lot in the gospels that is not historical and was made up by the authors, based on various sources, but then insist that the stuff we can’t be sure of a direct precedent must be historical

      Ehrman did it even more ridiculously (the healing of Jairus’ daughter by a magic word actually happened? really?). Crook at least tried to make a plausible argument out of these cases. In the case of the nativity, he was not arguing the nativity stories were historical, but that the absence of one in Mark implies Mark wrote something closer to straight history (i.e. telling the story before legends like the nativity arose). That still doesn’t work, but it’s not ridiculous. And psychosomatic blindness responding to charismatic cure is at least historically plausible (in the way resurrecting girls with magic words is not), as long as you ignore the fact that the story doesn’t fit known cases of that and is manifestly literary (the Jairus case is only more obviously so). And so on.

      [P.S. FYI, indeed, your original comment disappeared. So good move submitting it again (this is your second one; I just removed your initial sentence explaining that).]

    • gshelley says

      I re-listened and took some notes

      I don’t think you really addressed the argument he made from the gospels. He attached greater importance to them than you seem to give credit for. His argument, if I understood it, was that the pattern Human – magical human who is adopted as god’s son – man who was god’s son from birth – person who is actually god makes much more sense than the mythical view of pre-existing divine being – human adopted etc
      This can probably be addressed, but pointing out that Mark’s Jesus was amazing doesn’t do it, as the problem for him was that Mark’s Jesus was flawed – there are things he doesn’t know, things he gets wrong, he needs belief to pull off his tricks and this is changed for the later writers. To an extent this is addressed by positing Mark as a missionary manual, but his point, such as it is, still holds.

      Of course, his argument depends on the idea that Mark was constrained by a real Jesus. One thing I’d like to have seen asked was how much of Mark he thought was actual historical and how much fictional, and related to that (from both of you), how much Mark made up and how much came from circulating oral traditions. If he thinks Mark is entirely fictional, it is a weaker argument to then say, “but this fiction was constrained by the memory of a real person” than if there are genuine traditions in them. Similarly, I’d like to have seen his explanation for where, when and why Mark was written, as this also affects his argument – Mark written in the 50s, in Palestine for a local community (as far as I am aware, pretty much disproved on all three levels) might be constrained by a real Jesus. Mark written in Rome in the 90s for missionaries likely has much more freedom to ignore whatever it doesn’t like, as there would be no one to refute it

      I’m also ot sure if he was working from the criterion of embarassment as such

    • says

      The problem is that Crook ignores the fact that the sequence does not begin with the Gospels, and Euhemerization already explains the normalization in Mark. In the beginning Jesus was a cosmic being, a pre-existent superbeing who became incarnate. That’s what he is in Paul. But he was still also adopted by God in Paul, not literally his son. Thus Mark allegorizes this. Only later Christians started imagining Jesus to be a literal son of God, and took an interest in making him a literally amazing historical man (not a concern of Mark, who is only interested in crafting his allegory). In Paul, Jesus is a cosmic being who had no ministry worth mentioning and performed no miracles worth mentioning, and who does not ever even appear to have lived on earth. Mark then invents a ministry and miracles for Jesus for their allegorical function. So the actual sequence does not match Crook’s reconstruction. It matches mine.

      But yes, to clinch this, one needs to see laid out how fictional and literary Mark’s narrative is. I do this extensively (based on actual existing scholarship) in OHJ, chapter 10.

  7. pofarmer says

    I was reading posts on about Bruce Molina and his contention that the Book of Revelation is based on Ancient Astrology. It’s the only explanation of revelation that ever made sense. Given Paul’s apocalyptic tones and passages that would seem at home in revelation, is there some change that Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem were getting some of their revelations by rethinking astrological references?

    • says

      Revelation was written in the 80s AD, by no one from the original cult, and after all the original apostles would probably have been dead. So its use of astrological motifs for its intended allegory can have no bearing on explaining the origins of Christianity.

      P.S. It’s Malina, not Molina. Alfred Molina is an actor (an outstanding one, but I doubt he’s written any books in biblical studies). 😉

    • pofarmer says

      I am merely saying that the ideas in revelations seem to have influenced some of Pauls writings, not the book itself. I am assuming that Apocalyptic Astrology had been going on for a while. Could be wrong.

  8. Latverian Diplomat says

    Question about the meaning of Euhemerize:

    There seem to be at least three definitions in play

    You use it to mean inventing historical narrative about a mythological figure (presumably to add veracity to and exert doctrinal control over the myth).

    Crook defines it as turning a historical figure into a god (e.g., Augustus).by adding fantastical elements to their biography. You refer to this as mythologization.

    Merriam Webster defines it as interpreting a myth according to Euhemerism. This seems like something scholars do after the fact. As I understand it, this is what Euhemerus did. In some cases it is the attempt to unwind the process Crook calls Euhemerization. Perhaps this is the source of his confusion?

    All three of these are important concepts deserving a word of their own.

    Is there consensus among scholars as to which is the meaning of the term “euhemerized”? And if so, is there a similarly convenient term for the alternative process that Crook describes?

    Are you using standard terminology that Crook is unfamiliar with?

    • says

      You use it to mean inventing historical narrative about a mythological figure (presumably to add veracity to and exert doctrinal control over the myth).

      If by “mythological” you mean “non-existent,” then yes. That’s what Euhemerus did, which is why it’s called Euhemerism.

      Zeus and Uranus did not historically exist. Euhemerus created a claim that they did (complete with fake biographies), and that they were subsequently deified. This was then done to other non-existent persons (e.g. Romulus, Osiris). It was therefore a trend. And Christianity arose right in the middle of that trend. This is the only sense of the term that is relevant to any claim I made in the debate.

      Turning a historical figure into a god is, by contrast, deification (technical term, apotheosis).

      There is no confusion about this among experts in the subject.

      One can conceivably use “euhemerism” in a very broad sense to mean any act of someone interpreting a mythical figure as being a deified historical person, whether that is actually what happened or not, which may be what Crook was doing. But that only gets you a non sequitur in the context of our debate, since it doesn’t answer the question of whether that’s what actually happened or not. The question is whether Jesus was euhemerized–in the same sense as Euhemerus–not whether modern scholars are now euhemerizing him (in the broader sense). Because the latter can have nothing to do with the early history of the Church (modern scholars not existing at the time).

  9. Geralde says

    Richard, just to clarify, what of the early “apostolic fathers”, such as polycarp, ignatius and clement, who some claim personally knew the disciples of Jesus? Is this just a claim made later by certain traditions and theologians, or are there details of such persons writings indicating that they really did know the apostles? Or possibly errors implying that they didn’t?

    • says

      In am not aware of any actual examples.

      Clement (of Rome), in the only letter that has any claim to authenticity (1 Clement; other letters, being forgeries, cannot be used as evidence here), never mentions disciples (just as Paul does not). He equates Paul and Peter as apostles without distinction. And like the Pauline letters, 1 Clement lacks any clear evidence of knowing about a historical Jesus (I have a whole section on it in OHJ).

      Clement (of Alexandria) lived in the 3rd century (so he can’t possibly have claimed to know any disciples).

      And as far as I know, Polycarp and Ignatius never mention knowing any such people (not even any apostles), and almost certainly could not have (they lived in the middle of the second century; Ignatius is traditionally claimed to have written c. 110, but several scholars rightly dispute that; I have a whole section on this in OHJ).

      The only (non-forged) author I know who claims something close to what you mean is Papias, and he doesn’t claim to have met any of the apostles or disciples himself, but to have met people who claimed to have met them. But this comes from a guy even Eusebius calls an idiot; and “I knew a guy who knew a guy” is the most dubious of evidence. Indeed, Papias is even ambiguous as to that: he says he inquired of those who “followed” the elders, which can mean people who followed or understood their teachings, not necessarily those who personally knew them (Eusebius, Hist. Ch. 3.39).

  10. says

    Doesn’t the fact that this dubious “historical” figure with a Hellenized name “Ishus”, mythological birthdate, birthplace, lineage, scant hagiography, composed decades, if not centuries, later, antecedently-traditional crucifixion, and resurrection ( directly plagiarized from Plutarch’s Disciplina Etrusca) pretty much overwhelming conclude we are dealing with a mythological figure? From a theological standpoint is it not ludicrous to suggest that the supreme god of the Hebrews would assign a nonsensical “Greek” name to his only begotten son? Or, that the same god of the Old Testament who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah, caused Noah’s flood, handed down the Decalogue, punished King David for adultery would then turn around and impregnate another man’s wife ( a pastime more characteristic of Zeus than Yahweh). Or, taking into account the strict codes for animal sacrifice and offerings as specified by Mosaic law, that the same Yahweh would turn the sacrifice of his “divine son” over to unclean Roman hands for slaughter? ( A Kosher hot dog is afforded more Rabbinical supervision. ) Or, that his Great “Gospel” would be composed in Greek by Greek writers and not Hebrew? Is it not preposterous to suggest that Christianity is in any way, shape or form a continuance of Judaism, but rather a pseudo historic hotchpotch of Zorastrian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Celtic mythologies?

    • says

      You are confusing the Gospels with Christianity. Paul wrote in the 50s AD, decades before the Gospels, and within decades of the cult’s origin, and his letters attest he was most definitely a Jew trying to make changes to a Jewish cult (Paul himself says the sect he came upon and started retooling was Torah-observant and based in Jerusalem; they would have therefore been evangelizing in Hebrew and Aramaic, and beyond Judea, in whatever language was the lingua franca).

      Also, measured across the whole Roman Empire, a great many Jews spoke and wrote Greek and not Hebrew (legends aside, that’s the real reason they had to translate the Torah into Greek, for Jewish communities with members who no longer understood Semitic languages). And even those who knew Hebrew, routinely wrote in Greek, even for fellow Jews (e.g. Paul’s contemporary Philo of Alexandria; the deutero-Maccabean literature; and so on).

      What happened after Christianity arose and was retooled by Paul can have no bearing on how Christianity began or was originally formulated.

  11. says

    Richard, do you think it’s possible that Mark (or his sources) envisioned Jesus as having come to earth as an adult human, like the Marcionites did?

    • says

      I think it’s impossible to tell. Mark is too coy, and his entire treatise is deliberately fabricated, so what he himself really thought about that question is not accessible from the evidence we have. Even Matthew is obscure on this point–it’s clear Matthew, unlike Mark, definitely intended his readers to believe Jesus existed as a historical man; but that does not entail that’s what Matthew himself believed, or knew with any certainty. Origen attests the Christians were using a doctrine of double meaning, using literal interpretations to persuade the masses, while the elite were (often secretly) taught that these were just allegories. 2 Peter was written to attack Christians who were claiming the latter (that the histories were just made-up allegories). We get to hear nothing else from or about those Christians. Medieval scholars erased them from history.

    • says

      Thanks for the reply. Is that Origin’s Homily on John (in which he admits the Gospels are full of contradictions), or another work you have in mind?

    • Michael Macrossan says

      That’s what I always think when i read the beginning of Mark – out of Nazerth. That’s my idea of how Hercules comes to Earth, like the terminator Arnie coming from the future, or the crew of the Enterprise dropping in.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    Somewhere along the late-1st-century line, per Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities and other histories, a major fad erupted in which people would write up their pet cosmologies and ethical schema and attribute them to Jesus.

    This seems somewhat orthogonal to the historicity question [at least if you concede, as above, that no such person was (in)famous previously], but it raises interesting, possibly crucial, historical questions. Was this an effect of Paul’s proselytizing, widespread but unremarked circulation of something like the Q document, oral folklore among the urban underclass of the eastern Mediterranean, or maybe a rash of “fish” puns?

    Today we see people publishing their thoughts under the names of Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, George Carlin – anybody with a quoteworthy rep. The pseudo-Pauls alone show the same tendency existed 20 centuries back. But why did the name of Jesus become so potent after its namesake (if any) died in obscurity?

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      To try to put it as clearly as possible: why the apparent boom in Jesus stories a generation or more after JC’s purported death?

      Suppose all of a sudden this year saw a rash of stories and sayings from multiple sources but all attributed to, say, Max Headroom or John Lennon. Seeing that, we might look for reports of a trove of old material recently uncovered, or a new movie, or an obscure artist riffing on ’80s motifs whom we weren’t hip enough to catch when the cool kids did.

      Something of the sort seems to have happened ~19 centuries ago, influencing writers and speakers from “Mark” to Marcion. The roots and form of this post-Pauline Jesus meme had a more lasting impact than anything possibly done or said by a hypothetical rabblerouser decades before. Why did the highly varied wannabe teachers of that era all package their ideas in Jesus, instead of Isis/Mithra/Zalmoxis/Glycon-the-wonder-snake?

      Or perhaps they did, but only the Jesus jive sold enough to reach critical mass – again, why? Did the urban underclass reach some crisis point where they felt an urgent need for a hero-figure of humble origins and humiliating end? Maybe some Roman (Empire) intellectuals reached an impasse where only monotheism could satisfy, but they needed a handle to wrench the concept away from Judaism and Zoroastrianism?

    • says

      Four redactions of the same story over the course of fifty years is not a boom.

      If we include other gospels (there were at least forty or so we know about), then the span of time we have to count is two centuries, with the bulk of redactions and retellings produced over 120 years after the cult began. The increase in these corresponds to the increase in size and fragmentation of the church. Meanwhile, the original impetus for telling any stories at all appears to have been the Jewish War.

      As to why the myth was told the way it was (it does not have a humiliating end, any more than the tales of Romulus or Osiris or Attis or Adonis or Inanna do), that’s a long story. I cover the scholarship and details on this in OHJ.

  13. Koray says

    (In the following I’m assuming “brother of the lord” means fictive kinship.)

    Why would “born of a (non-allegorical) woman” by Paul be a strong evidence for historicity? Is it because we believe Paul is writing in 50CE, (presumably) a few decades after Jesus was crucified, therefore, for Paul to say anything at all on such an issue, he’d have to have known Jews who knew Mary? After all, Paul doesn’t exactly say “I knew his mother”. He just firmly believes that Jesus was born of a woman.

    Couldn’t Paul be just echoing the preexisting beliefs of Christians at the time? Why would we expect that Paul would go about interviewing aunts and uncles in Galilee? What if the alleged events took place more than a few decades earlier? Perhaps there was nobody that Paul could even find who knew Mary. Maybe Jesus was already euhemerized way before Paul came along, there was no account of a ministry per se with sermons and such, but just the earthly birth and crucifixion?

    (having trouble posting comments. the site is showing the mobile version of the page for some reason.)

    • says

      The argument historicists like Crook are making is not that Paul knew Mary, but that a belief that Jesus recently actually existed (with family and everything) could not possibly have existed so early.

      Yes, that is a bit over-confident (such legends can indeed arise that quickly; Roswell did). But I agree with a moderate form of the argument: such rapid historicization is less likely and thus reduces the probability of mythicism. Certainly historicizing myths could have existed from day one (Mark would not be wholly out of place in Paul’s hands; he just shows no signs of knowing of any such narrative), but insiders like Paul would know they were allegories and not literal histories, and Paul is mostly writing to insiders, who would likewise know that (at that early stage anyway).

      P.S. Tech issue: there is a button in your browser or browser page to switch between mobile and standard browser mode. Where that button is varies from browser to browser. It sounds like it was accidentally switched at some point. You just need to switch it back.

    • Koray says

      I get the feeling that you think Paul believed that Jesus died a few decades before he came along, which is why you are saying “recently, early, rapid development.”

      But, don’t we get that timeline from Acts and the gospels? Or is it because of 1 Corinthians 15? Does it imply that Jesus appeared to Cephas “necessarily shortly after” he was raised?

      It sounds like Jesus had been appearing to people over quite a time (some of the 500 already fell asleep). Isn’t it possible that Cephas is just the most seasoned apostle that Paul knows? Perhaps there were others before Cephas?

    • says

      A few decades before his extant letters were written (not a few decades before Paul joined the cult). And that is based on data from the epistles themselves, not Acts.

      Meanwhile, if there were apostles before Cephas and “the twelve”, they would be listed in 1 Cor. 15. Paul does not say Cephas is listed first because he is the most seasoned apostle. He lists him first because he was first. And Paul is the last (that was probably a political doctrine, designed to stop further interlopers–Paul was the last to persuade the original leadership to accept him as an apostle, and that was with difficulty). Moreover, Paul says Jesus’ resurrection was the firstfruits of the general end-times resurrection, and thus one of the signs the end was nigh, which entails Paul believed that resurrection had occurred recently (at least within his lifetime).

  14. Bertie says

    Someday, I’d like to see Richard Carrier do a debate with a historicist who is primarily an Apostle Paul specialist. Goodacre and now Crook do most of their work on the synoptic gospels, I think, and while Crook did deploy lines of reasoning that used the gospels (unlike Goodacre who in his debate more or less conceded the irrelevance of his own specialty), I’d enjoy seeing a historicist better able to defend the historicist side of the Paul-centered problems: the born/made thing, the “received” traditions, the Brother of the Lord, and so on.

    (Not that these things aren’t addressed in print in various places, but in so far as some people get their introduction to the historicity of Jesus question from these debates, the more focus on the main battleground, the better.)

  15. Daryl Carpenter says

    I think the baptism by John does pass the embarrassment criterion. Picture the situation: Jesus is striking out for the first time on the public scene, and he’s probably feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. He goes forward to receive the baptismal rights from John. And then the sky opens up and… it’s his old man! How mortifying! It’s like having a parent show up at the high school prom.

    • afzal says

      Luke 3:22 :and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove…

      Why has there never been an ‘avian creed’: fully God/ Fully bird?

      Two incarnations at the same time? Perhaps Luke was a keen pigeon fancier/ ornithologist and had in mind the Phiippians’ ‘taking on the form..’ motif.

      Aquinas says that the father could’ve incarnated though it would’ve been the same as the Son’s incarnation..but here you have the Holy Ghost’s ‘in the realm of the flesh”.

      I wonder what happend to the bird – spatchcockt in the end?

    • says

      The dove comes from Mark (1:10), and both he and Luke use the preposition that means “like a dove,” not “in the form of a dove.” Luke could be taken as saying it looked like a dove, but that would just be an embellishment of Mark, who just says “as if” and doesn’t mention it being in a bodily form. We really don’t need to read much into this, since the dove was a common biblical metaphor, so Mark is not necessarily meaning anything deeper by “descended like a dove” than Shakespeare meant by “Juliet is like the sun.”

  16. hannahs dad says

    In reference to point[6] above:

    I kinda like relating Mark 8.22-26 to Alcetus of Halice who saw the trees in the precinct after the god Asclepius cured him of blindness at Epidaurus and in gratitude recorded such in an inscription there.
    Denis Nineham “Saint Mark” pelican NT Commentaries Penguin 1963 calls it “A fairly close Hellenistic parallel” page 219

  17. afzal says

    Galatians 1:18 Licona makes a big deal of the word historesai: was Paul getting the investigative skinny on Jesus’ history from Peter?

    Seems a bit of Charles Berlitz exegesis…

    And then 14 years later., did Paul’s wobbly faith worrant getting reassurance lest his preaching had been in vain?

    In Chap 3: Paul starts his letter to the Gauls in his homeland..:

    “You foolish Galatians who has razzle dazzled you? You before whose eyes Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified’

    ‘Portrayed’? What’s Paul on about?

    Is this some sort of docetism?

    Reminds me of the Qur’an 4:157 ‘They did not kill him (Jesus) nor did the crucify him..but it was made to appear so”.

    • says

      (1) We can’t draw any conclusions as to what Paul inquired about from that sentence, only that he made an inquiry (see the L&S definitions). So the verb in Gal. 1:18 doesn’t get us anywhere.

      (2) The verb in Gal. 3:1 is mis-translated in several bibles as “portrayed.” The word is actually “forewritten,” i.e. Paul is saying he showed them the scripture passages (see the L&S definitions).

  18. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,
    in 1 Cor 9:5 why Cephas/Peter is distinguished from the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord (under the hypothesis that Paul lists only separate groups and separated from each other) ?

    Cehas is apostle, too, but he is a Pillar. It’s because this?
    But in this way the ”brothers of the Lord” are the Pillars that aren’t apostles like Cephas (i.e, James and John) ?

    If the thing about Cephas is complicated to explain in only a comment, I will willingly look your book.

    very thanks,

    • says

      I don’t quite follow you. Paul specifically says Cephas is an apostle in Gal. 1 (and it’s entailed by 1 Cor. 15). As to what is meant by the Peter verse in the following chapter, scholars are divided. There are a number of possible interpretations. I discuss it and cite the literature in OHJ. As to what’s going on in 1 Cor. 9:5, Cephas was evidently married, and thus chosen as a specific example for that reason (consult the context). Paul is not saying Cephas wasn’t an apostle. He is saying even that apostle gets treated a certain way, Paul is his equal, therefore Paul should be treated the same way. Note that in Greek the conjunction translated as “and” (kai) also means “even,” as in, “the apostles and brothers, even Cephas.”

  19. paradox 616 says

    The allegory is Gal. 4:22-23. Gal. 4:21 is an introductory line, indicating a new sub-topic. I agree with Crook that allegoreo in 4:24 cannot plausibly be extended to include 4:4.

    In 4:23, ‘born’ is gennao. In 4:4, ‘born’ is ginomai.

    • says

      Yes, Paul means we were literally born (4:23) to an allegorical mother (4:24); and that Jesus was manufactured (4:4) with the same allegorical mother (the one born under the law: 4:21). Thus, we are literally born; Jesus was not. That’s the implication of the vocabulary. And the implication of the argument is that being born to a woman under the law means being born to Hagar and not Sarah, the old Sinai and not the new Jerusalem. In Gal. 4 Paul is trying to persuade backsliders into Torah-observant Christianity to not do that, because it is moving backwards and not forwards, because Jesus was only subject to the law (via a manufactured body of flesh) in order to abolish it, so we don’t have to follow it anymore, if we bind ourselves to Jesus.

  20. Glenn says

    Richard, perhaps you could expand on the issue over Philo as this is where my own lack of knowledge is becoming apparent.

    As I understand it Crook (56.30) seemed to be saying that your case about Philo (i.e. Philo saying there was a pre Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being called Jesus) was an accumulation of some cherry picked passages from Philo? You did cover Philo again in your response (1:18.00) but I’m not sure you covered the point he was making.

    [Just as a personal note, very much looking forward to your book, I’ve been trying to follow these sorts of arguments over the last few years – starting from reading Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle after reading your review of it – and find the idea of a non-historical Jesus very interesting]

    • says

      The point he was making wasn’t clear to me. So without more clarity, I don’t know what to respond to.

      If he meant cherry picking literally, then he is easily refuted by just checking the passages (until OHJ becomes available, these are listed in Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-51 w. notes there). Philo clearly says he is talking about the same superbeing in all those passages, and thus he is giving us a window to a particular element of Jewish theology at the time (since he is not simply inventing this, but interpreting it; so the theology predates him; which we can also conclude because otherwise we would have to posit an unbelievable coincidence, between his theology and Paul’s).

      But I’m not sure that’s what Crook meant.

  21. paradox 616 says

    Dr. Carrier:

    One would not say the Gettysburg Address is not about slavery because Lincoln only gets to mentioning slavery twenty sentences in (even had that been the case).

    The Gettysburg Address is ten sentences. (The rhetorical fashion was for long sentences.) It doesn’t mention slavery.

  22. says

    First I must say that I think Crook made a pretty good argument, and an honest one. It’s the clearly best debate on the subject that I have seen.

    I agree though with a point you made about Crook relying on Christian dogma that ‘informs’ his interpretations of the evidence. One such example comes at 53:30 when he talks about Paul writing about “James the brother of Jesus”. But of course Paul never does this, he writes about “James the brother of the Lord”. If the text had actually said “Jesus” rather than “the Lord”, I think it is pretty clear that Crook’s case would have been stronger. I’m not saying Crook is not aware of this, and I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but I think it is a very clear illustration of allowing your conclusions to skew the evidence that you believe you are using to arrive at those conclusions in the first place.

  23. says

    When it comes to the “born of a woman” passage, there is one point that I think seems to be missing. So I agree that there is allegory going on in this passage, however this doesn’t necessarily mean it could not also be taken literally. Even allegories can inform us about how the author views things, for instance the story of the “fox and the grapes”, even when understood as allegory, makes it plausible that Aesop (correctly) believed that foxes actually do eat grapes.

    However, in my view the phrasing is inherently problematic from a historicist perspective. Consider applying it to any actually historical person: “Barack Obama was born of a woman”. Who would write such a thing? If we believe that X was a historical human being, then it is just stating the obvious, it provides no actual information. We would perhaps write that X was born to a particular woman, with a particular name, or some other information attached to her. But if we write only that “Barack Obama was born of a woman”, the only plausible use of such a phrasing would be in a scenario where someone seriously doubt this, eg arguing against someone seriously entertaining the idea that Obama may actually be a lizard from outer space. So we might expect someone to write that Hercules was “born of a woman”, since his father was said to be a god (Zeus) and thus it is not obvious that his mother was said to have been a (human) woman. So in the end, I would argue that such a statement, even if we want to treat it as being not entirely allegorical, would thereby rather place Jesus in the class “beings that are not obviously born of a woman”.

    Also, Crook appears to be making a leap: being born of a woman -> being made of flesh -> ?? -> being historical. Just because Paul believed in a fleshy Jesus – and clearly he did – does not place Paul’s Jesus on Earth.

  24. paradox 616 says

    If Galatians 4:4 is not taken allegorically and refers to the fleshly birthing of Lord Jesus, I have trouble making sense of [Gal 4:29-30].

    If we read 4:4 in historicist terms, then Jesus is “the son born according to the flesh.”

    If 4:4 is read literally, it is not part of the allegory of 4:22-23, which is commented on in 4:29-30. The problem you suggest arises from an allegorical reading of 4:4, not from a literal one. More precisely, it arises from assuming that 4:4 is not only allegorical, but specifically part of the same allegory as 4:22-23. I’m wondering how you do make sense of the passages under that assumption. I don’t think Dr. Carrier has explained that, in the debate or the notes.

    In 4:19, Paul writes that he himself is “in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

    The conversion of the Galatians is analogized with childbirth in 4:19. In 4:1-3, conversion is analogized with a child reaching adulthood and becoming free of parental control. In 4:4-5, conversion is analogized with a slave being freed (‘redeemed’) and adopted by his former master. In 4:30, allegorically interpreting the OT story of 4:22-23, conversion is analogized with Isaac reaching adulthood and receiving his inheritance. These are four different figures, not a single allegory.

    The terms “born of a woman, born under the law” seem completely out of place . . .

    I agree that ‘born of a woman, born under the law’ is superfluous to the train of thought in 4:4. But I don’t see it causing problems for interpreting other passages, because it is superfluous, not relevant. It is a parenthetical observation.

    . . . in the whole context of Paul’s coherent argument in Galatians that it is difficult to place it as authentic to the original writing.

    Interpolation is worth considering, but I think more evidence is needed to make a strong case for it.

    The core of my disagreement, with you and with Dr. Carrier, is that I don’t think Gal. 4 has a single argument or a single allegory. There are three arguments, 4:8-9, 4:11-20, and 4:30-31. There are two allegories, 4:1-2 and 4:22-23. Each allegory is followed by commentary, 4:3-7 and 4:24-29 respectively. The first and third arguments build on the previous allegory and commentary. The second argument, 4:11-20, is a sentimental plea by Paul for the Galatians to prefer his teaching because of their mutual love and shared experiences. It does not depend on either of the allegories.

    Gal. 4:4 is part of the commentary on the first allegory. I don’t see that you or Dr. Carrier have made a case against reading it literally.

    • says

      That case is made in OHJ (as I pointed out). But it actually shouldn’t be so difficult to figure it out–for anyone who actually reads the whole of chapter four, and treats it as a single coherent argument, and thus then asks why Paul is saying the same things about Jesus in 4:4 that he is saying about Christians in later verses, with the exact same vocabulary. If you don’t see how chapter 4 is a single argument, my advice is to work on that first. (It seems the problem here stems from your being unfamiliar with how arguments operated under the rules of rhetoric taught in ancient schools. Paul is composing an argument by well-known rules of the time. The units you distinguish are all part of a single argument that builds from beginning to end. Just like the Gettysburg address.)

      And then, of course, we still have the vocabulary argument as well, which Crook did not really answer.

  25. rapiddominance says

    I think argument #5 is worthy of respect. If you’re making up a story about a sinless “god-man then why would you DARE have him undergo a repentence ritual? (Unless, of course, you had to).

    Crooks argument on #6, however, betrays his on view of the mortal Jesus. Oddly enough, this argument would be more effective if made to defend the existence of a divine Jeus–but then the Christian might be challened as to why God’s Son couldn’t “get it right” the first time.


  26. abcxyz says

    Dr. Carrier, what’s the real scoop on Paul’s collecting money from the various Gentile Christian churches and sending this money to the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem?

    Would it be fair to say that Gentile Christianity originated, at least partly, as a quasi financial scam?

    • says

      That’s been speculated. See the chapter on precisely that question by Derrett in The Empty Tomb. It’s only complication is that we usually can’t reduce any religion to “just” a financial racket, because it appears all religions are financial rackets. So there usually has to be something more that explains the origins of a religion at a specific time and place and in a specific form. Just saying “it’s a racket” is as much a non-explanation as saying “God did it.”

  27. Steve Watson says

    If someone were lying about my brother in the pub, I would stomp them; lying about him all over Europe…
    The same for a close friend I had been knocking about with for years.
    Now James and Peter might have taken on board the ‘turn the other cheek’ thing; but you would think ‘I’m Jesus’ brother; Pete’s his best mate: this guy fell off his donkey and hasn’t been right in the head since.’ would trump the parvenu Paul, no?
    Another dog that doesn’t bark in the night.
    I note Professor Crook refers to ‘the brother of Jesus’; I may be mistaken but isn’t the phrase in Paul ‘the brother of the Lord? The latter is ambiguous; the former leaves a lot less wiggle room. Didn’t I hear someone mention ‘Eisegesis’?

    • says

      He quotes the verse that does, and says that verse, about that man (whom the rest of the same verse names Jesus), is talking about his Logos figure.

  28. Giuseppe says

    I have read and like only now all your comments in this post (the title of the post cites the name of an ‘always-loser-against-you’ Christian apologist and thus I haven’t find it a priori interesting) and my only question that arises is how you compare your thesis:

    brothers of Lord = all baptized christians

    with this thesis:

    brothers of Lord = the Pillars = the biological brothers of Jesus called Christ.

    Specifically when I see that:

    regarding brothers of Lord=the Pillars this goes against the Gospels, but Price agrees, with Eisenman, about the12 that most of them are ”aliases and replacements for the brothers of Jesus” to the purpose to eclipse them (although for Price the brothers are only the 3 historical Pillars) and the idea that Mark did something of this kind is plausible (didn’t he cast James and John in allegorical ”son of Zebedee” against all evidence from nothing? What can prevent him from being a liar about the brothers of Jesus, too? )

    regarding Pillars = the biological brothers of Jesus called Christ it’s not ad hoc to observe that after the death of a leader, to take the power is his direct relative (his son or his brother) and not other people: you can see Muhammed, for example.

    These arguments I think are the same of Robert Price, “James the Just: Achilles Heel of the Christ Myth Theory?” in The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems, pag. 333-352.

    Very thanks,

    • says

      This is all too elaborate and ad hoc (so it’s prior is low), and has no basis in evidence (so its consequent is low). Death knell for any theory. In any event, I explain the best alternative and why it doesn’t suffer either problem in OHJ.

  29. paradox 616 says

    Dr. Carrier:

    As Paul says, “this is an allegory” (Gal. 4:24). That he only gets around to explaining that his argument in Galatians 4 is an allegory toward the end of his argument (“twenty verses later,” as Crook says) is irrelevant.

    Crook also said ‘it refers to a whole different story.’
    Video, 1:12:27.

    • says

      Which is not relevant. The story is not isolated from the argument. It is integral to the argument. The story he means (from the OT) is explaining what Paul means by mothers throughout chapter 4. At no point does he mean a literal actual mother.

  30. paradox 616 says

    Dr. Carrier:

    Which is not relevant.

    Your opinion. My point is that “twenty verses later” wasn’t Dr. Crook’s only argument on this issue.

  31. abcxyz says

    Richard, what historical facts do we know about Peter and Paul, besides that they were Jewish Pharisees?

    • says

      The only things we know about Peter that we can remotely trust are what Paul says about him (and that is itself a vexed question, and even vexation aside, very little). We have no evidence Peter was ever a Pharisee (not even in later legend).

      As for Paul, the only things we can remotely trust are what Paul himself says in the seven traditionally authentic letters (or six, if you have doubts about Philemon), which of course can be influenced by his own distortion and lies.

      The hypothesis that Paul’s letters were forged (and the man a fabrication) has little to commend it. Although it’s not wholly impossible (I wouldn’t bet my life against it), it’s relatively improbable. But I’ve already commented on that before.

  32. Michael Macrossan says

    A small point on presentation: I think it might be better if you didn’t say “outer-space” but said something like “in the lower heavens” or whatever would be how it was said then. You could add “below the moon”, or even “i.e. outer space” if you must, but I think “outer-=space” is distracting. – We think “did people then think like that?”. We get a lot of ideas and images from the words “outer-space”, but what we want is to know how they thought of it.

    • says

      Actually, there is a reason we need to use “outer-space.” I discuss it in the book. Modern notions of heaven are what are anachronistic and misleading. When people today think and talk about heaven, they are not at all close to what Paul and the ancients were thinking of and talking about. What they meant is what we understand as outer space. They just filled it with stuff.

    • says

      I agree that it is important to point out that ‘heaven’ is not what it used to be. However I also agree with Michael Macrossan that just talking about ‘outer-space’, depending on context, may be detrimental to your argument if not framed correctly. It is one thing to use this term in a book where you have explained it well, and something else to use it in a debate. The problem with ‘heaven’ and derived terms such as ‘lower heavens’ is of course that most people nowadays don’t see it as a physical location but probably more like an alternate dimension or such.

    • says

      But I seem to recall I did explain in the debate that outer space was then understood to contain people, places, gardens and things.

      So I don’t see how that could confuse them into mistaking me for saying an empty, lifeless radiation-filled vacuum (?).

    • says

      I don’t think the problem is that people believe you mean a vaccum, but rather that some will perceive it as nothing more than atheist snark: “So what you really mean is of course heaven, but you just choose to call it ‘outer-space’ to be denigrating”. I think in order to avoid this reaction completely you may need to spend some time explicitly make the point that ‘heaven’ in Paul’s time was not what we think of heaven today, and that their relation to ‘heaven’ was perhaps more like what we would understand as ‘outer-space’. And that this is important because many people assume ‘heaven’ to refer to some sort of non-physical alternate dimension, which leads to faulty conclusions such as thinking a belief in a physical Jesus necessitates belief in an Earthly Jesus.

    • says

      Anyone who reacts that way, is already going to be reacting badly to calling the Gospels fiction, Jesus a myth, and 2 Peter a forged lie. So I think your concern is misplaced.

      The more so since “heaven” is simply inaccurate. Nothing could die in the heavens, which were beyond the realm of corruption. Only in the “firmament,” the space that held up the heavens, was death possible.

      And in addition to that, as you yourself say, “this is important because many people assume ‘heaven’ to refer to some sort of non-physical alternate dimension, which leads to faulty conclusions,” like, say, that someone couldn’t possibly die and be buried there.

      You are thus making my argument for me.

  33. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,
    about King Arthur I have read this summary of work of an Arthur-mythicist, Thomas Green. In particular, these words:

    The interpolation of Arthur into the Historia Brittonnum as the victor of Badon instead of Ambrosius, … is puzzling. Using Green’s thesis, we might consider the two-way process that is apparent in this work. The author of Historia Brittonnum seems to have mythologized an historical Ambrosius, equating him with a pre-existent youthful Celtic divinity in the mould of Mabon/Maponos, as a releaser of otherworldly powers, while at the same time historicizing a mythic Arthur.

    If the same thing happened with Jesus, i.e. the Jesus of Paul is entirely mythical but the Gospels refer to a unique historical person named only after his death ”Jesus” (from the name of pauline Christ), this counts as mythicism or historicity?

    OHJ will compare Jesus and King Arthur?


  34. paradox 616 says

    Richard Carrier:

    Nothing could die in the heavens, which were beyond the realm of corruption.

    Is this a reference to Aristotle’s hypothesis of a fifth, unchanging element composing the heavens? Or is it an older idea, for example found in Jewish apocalyptic works prior to Aristotle?

    Greek cosmologists prior to Aristotle thought the heavens were composed of the same four elements as the world below. I think Anaxagoras pointed to meteorites as empirical evidence of this.

    • says

      The (Platonic-)Aristotelian scheme became pervasive all throughout ancient religious cosmology of the period Christianity arose in (Talmud, Philo, Plutarch, etc., and implicitly assumed in Hebrews and 1 Corinthians 15; notably the Talmud, which often records dissenting views, records no dissenting view about this).

      Only atomists opposed it–and almost all religions opposed atomism–and some Stoics and dissenting Aristotelians (who together comprised a minority). Christian literature (as much of Jewish) is consistently Platonic-Aristotelian from its earliest date (with some lifts from Stoicism, e.g. their theology of the holy spirit; their ekpyrôsis theory of the end-times; etc.). So that’s the context Christianity originated in.

      But certainly, there were dissenting voices among ancient scientists, even of the time (i.e. the turn of the era), to the dominant Platonic-Aristotelian paradigm. But they tended to be the sort of voices spiritualist cults like Christianity rejected, or even despised. Indeed, later Christians fairly consistently destroyed all their writings and preserved only works by scientists who agreed with Christian cosmology–and that meant Platonic-Aristotelian cosmology (there are a very tiny number of exceptions that got through, but only from philosophers who didn’t practice a science, e.g. Lucretius, Seneca).

    • paradox 616 says

      Thanks for the informative response.

      ‘Christianity is the poor man’s Platonism.’ I had a philosophy professor who liked to quote that. I don’t recall the original attribution. An on-line source says Nietzsche, but I think I would have remembered if my professor had said that.

      As a youth I read a translation of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura. It’s quite a fascinating window on how the smartest people thought about the world in those days. There’s a crude anticipation of Darwinian natural selection, and a remarkable array of arguments for the atomic hypothesis. I would like to know how Aristotelians responded to the latter.

      I think the copyists preserved Lucretius for his verse style. It reminds me of a reminiscence I once read, by a lady who went to school in the American south in the days when their biology classes normally omitted Darwin. She said one of her English teachers assigned some Darwin readings, because she thought they were fine examples of mid-nineteenth-century English prose.

      Is the ‘firmament’ below the first heaven part of Aristotelian/Platonist cosmology? I don’t recall seeing that anywhere except the Ascension of Isaiah. I thought it was an awkward attempt at reconciling the layered heavens with Genesis 1:6. In Genesis, the ‘firmament’ seems to be the sphere of the fixed stars, which would correspond to the outer boundary of the seventh heaven.

      Does Paul ever mention the firmament? For Paul, like Philo, the demonic realm seems to be all of the ‘air’ (Ephesians 2:1).

    • says

      Aristotle was a creationist, and an eternalist. The latter term means Aristotle believed the universe (and the earth and all species) were always as they are. They just constantly form from the immanent influence of God on the universe (in a less meddling way that Christians conceived; more similar to Taoist cosmology), which has never changed (so, no Big Bang, no Genesis).

      Otherwise, for a survey of what we have (across the philosophies) on the subject of ecogenesis see Sedley’s Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity.

      The Epicureans did get a lot wrong, and were actually less scientific than Aristotelians (Aristotle actually dissected animals and ran experiments); but at the same time the Epicureans had, perhaps, more right “guesses” than the Aristotelians did, while the Aristotelians got a lot more right when they engaged direct empirical study. This means Epicureans were less empirical but had a better organizing theory from which to derive hypotheses.

      In any event, religionists despised Epicurean physics as cold, atheistic and devoid of the spiritual. So it generally didn’t influence theologies the way Aristotelianism did.

      As to “the firmament,” the term is Jewish. It originally was meant literally: an actual bronze dome that held the heavens up and kept them from falling onto the earth, and held up by pillars; and not the farthest, but the nearest boundary between earth and the heavens: they actually thought the heavens were beyond the stars, which in some accounts were pinholes in the firmament through which shined the ethereal light of the heavens above.

      When more advanced (science-based) cosmologies came onto the scene (from Greece, predominantly from Aristotelians, as most astronomers then favored that school so far as we can tell), “the firmament” was reinterpreted as the atmosphere, which holds up the heavens via air pressure (so no pillars required, and no embarrassing notion of a bronze shell). Part of the shift was due to the astronomical discovery (c. 4th-3rd century BC) that the stars are not close by but in fact vastly farther away than the planets, which were in turn vastly farther away than the moon. Jewish theologians had to completely rethink their primitive cosmology, and thus “reinterpret” their scriptures (just as modern Christians still do). The firmament had to be nearby (no further than the moon), transparent and permeable, and no longer held up by pillars (as by then it was well known the earth was a sphere; and there were no gigantic pillars holding up the floor of heaven). Pagan cosmology afforded easy solutions to all those problems. And the firmament thus became equated with the atmosphere.

      Paul does not talk much about cosmology, but we know he adopted the common views, because he refers to there being a third heaven in which was located the Garden of Eden (2 Cor. 12), which was a standard (and peculiar) feature of the new pagan-improved Jewish cosmology, and embraced the cosmically layered distinction between corruptible and incorruptible realms (1 Cor. 15), and accordingly distinguished heavens from atmosphere (1 Thess. 4). The earlier pseudo-Paulines mention the demonic air theory of Philo (Eph. 2:2). And Hebrews outlines the Philonic doctrine of perfect original objects in the heavens and corruptible objects below (Heb. 9). Etc.

      So the inference of what cosmology early Christianity was hinged on is pretty easy to make.

  35. Steve Watson says

    This might be a naive question, but what happened? There is a whole lot of thinking going on, a whole lot of engineering, followed by a millennium sojourn in Woo until Roger Bacon and the Renaissance. Why?