McGrath on the Amazing Infallible Ehrman


James McGrath responded to my reply to Ehrman’s intemperate and badly worded assault on the theory that Jesus was mythical (McGrath: Responding to Richard Carrier’s Response to Bart Ehrman), and as such represents exactly what is wrong with defenders of historicity: carelessness, post hoc rationalization, and factual error. I shall examine these flaws in detail, because they are important: they demonstrate how bankrupt historicity is as a position (or at least “unyielding” historicity…a historicist who allowed for the possibility of myth is a creature I rarely meet).

McGrath’s overall thesis he asserts in his conclusion: “Ehrman did not make mistakes in his piece.” Except that he did. In every respect I documented. McGrath actually couldn’t refute that (not in one single instance did McGrath even purport to correct any factual claim in my post), so he has to try other tactics to get a success out of a fail.

Making Excuses

McGrath begins by trying to make excuses for the atrociously inaccurate wording of Ehrman’s article by claiming the editors did it, and that this is normal. That is simply false. I have written for numerous periodicals as well as other websites as guests, and always I am given a proof and asked to correct any errors in it. Consistently, they correct any errors I say there are, including confusions of wording. And I have never had an editor edit my wording so egregiously as McGrath’s argument requires (the only thing that comes close is a religious organization “editing” an essay of mine without my consent). It is in fact a fundamental requirement of journalistic ethics to ensure that an article accurately represents the true thoughts of the author. My publishers have always been very concerned with this, and with making sure I fully approve of what posts.

Here at Freethought Blogs we have several contributors to The Huffington Post, and they actually tell me that HuffPo editors do little to no editing, in fact only reinforcing standards and practices and correcting for typos and suggesting improvements for readability. They don’t rewrite your articles. They certainly don’t rewrite them and publish them without even consulting you as to the accuracy or acceptability of the result first. As our own Chris Rodda told me by email:

I’ve been a blogger on HuffPost for nearly four years, and they have almost never edited any piece that I’ve written, and on the rare occasions when they did they were very minor edits (grammar and spelling corrections, breaking up long sentences, etc.). Out of all the many, many pieces I’ve written there, there was only one where the editors wanted to make any significant changes, and in that case they contacted me first and sent me a draft of their proposed changes for my approval prior to publishing the piece. So I do not believe for a minute that HuffPost would edit anyone’s piece in the way they’re being accused of.

That McGrath would attempt such an absurd and bogus defense suggests that he, too, is very worried about how badly worded and inaccurate Ehrman’s article is, but can’t bring himself to admit it. I have to wonder why.

Wait, What Was That about Academic Freedom Again?

McGrath says my post will only persuade mythicists, and thus completely dismisses my defense of the principles of academic freedom. It is most strange that McGrath says nothing in favor of academic freedom, not even to insist he supports it and wouldn’t dare think of doing the things Ehrman’s post intimates their industry does or would do to suppress it, not even to agree that it is inappropriate to ridicule and assault the character of qualified peers in an attempt to intimidate others from supporting them. In short, he doesn’t even acknowledge that historicists ought to agree with everything I said about that. No, my defense of academic freedom “will only carry weight with people who desperately want there not to have been a historical Jesus.” That’s disturbing. Particularly as it actually proves everything I said. Thanks, James McGrath.

Wait, Why Does the Order of Evidence Matter Again?

McGrath then launches into a rebuttal to my remarks on the evidence. The weirdest thing about this is not that he tries the fallacy of “poisoning the well” (and that the very first thing he does, which is indeed a recognized tactic: it’s exactly how a dishonest opponent is supposed to use that fallacy! Nice, James McGrath) by intimating that I am engaging in the nefarious and dishonest “tactics” of the crank mythicists (and thereby implying I am no different than them, as if my methods and motives and qualifications were no better). No, the weirdest thing is that he turns a logical order of discussion into evidence of evil nefarious purposes:

Carrier engages in a common mythicist tactic also used by promoters of other forms of pseudoscholarship: begin with the less strong evidence and sow doubt, in the hope that when you get to the stronger evidence, your audience will be inclined to accept your implausible dismissal of it. Carrier describes as “Ehrman’s only evidence” Paul’s reference in Galatians to having met “James the brother of the Lord.”

What he means to say is that the James passage is his strongest evidence (I appreciate his admitting this, because it helps my point), and so I put that last, and lead with the other stuff, to “sow doubt.” (“Sowing doubt” meaning what anyone else would call arguing a case.) Rather than the actual reason I did that, which was to hold off the longest digression and the most disputed question until the end, so I could wrap up the easy stuff first and keep readers engaged. It is a perfectly logical sequence to address the clear points first, then close with the strongest point of debate. Instead of acknowledge that, he uses my ability to organize essays as evidence of my evil (and therefore disreputable) intentions. This dastardly scholar is trying to corrupt your mind with a wicked use of logical order.

The irony is, this is the kind of tactic I’d expect from a fringe myther. McGrath, like Ehrman, has become the very thing they despise: a logic-dismissing conspiracy theorist. I will get back to this James thing. Once again, last.

Wait, Why is Being a Roman Author Relevant Again?

McGrath amusingly argues that Ehrman made no mistakes, then assiduously attempts to explain all his mistakes (so, which is it, did he make mistakes that require an explanation, or is everything he said unmistaken?). For example, McGrath astonishingly attempts this defense of Ehrman:

Ehrman points out that Roman sources do not mention Pontius Pilate. Presumably he does not mean writers of the Roman era, but Roman authors in the strict sense, since there is no way that Ehrman could possibly be unaware that Philo and Josephus made reference to Pilate.

But Pilate references Pilate. Pilate is a Roman source. So, fail. But that’s not even the most pertinent point: the distinction McGrath is attempting here makes absolutely no sense in the context of Ehrman’s argument. What does it matter whether a source is Roman or not? A source is a source. Ehrman gives no explanation of why someone being a Roman matters to his point–nor could he have, since it doesn’t, and never logically could. It’s just worse that in fact Philo and Josephus were Romans (Josephus was certainly a Roman citizen and lived in Rome itself for part of his life; and, as I explained in my article, Philo was almost certainly a Roman citizen as well). So is McGrath saying Jews can’t be Romans? That would seem to mean Jews can’t be Americans, either. And even if such a strange thing were true, it would again be irrelevant. Yes, Philo and Josephus were not descended from Italians nor native speakers of Latin…so? McGrath’s whole argument here is fantastically illogical, and reeks of desperation. The more so as it ignores the fact that Pilate is descended from Italians and a native speaker of Latin (and a Roman government official), and he attests his own existence as an eyewitness thereto, by one of the best pieces of evidence historians of antiquity can ever have.

McGrath just can’t bring himself to admit that Ehrman so badly miswrote that he stated in a public article that will be read by millions of people a factually false claim. I agree that is not a lie or evidence of ignorance. It’s just terrible, terrible, terrible writing. Which is just as incompetent, just as careless, and just as warranting a correction.

Wait, What Was That about Only Officials Erecting Inscriptions?

McGrath betrays his ignorance and incompetence as a historian of antiquity with his next monstrous foot-in-mouth gaffe:

Carrier’s mention of inscriptions leaves off the obvious reason why we have no inscriptions referring to Jesus: prefects and procurators and governors and kings made inscriptions, as did other public functionaries. When, where, and why would a figure like Jesus have made an inscription, or had one made that referred to him? Mythicists regularly and frustratingly fail to compare like with like.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that. (And not because I didn’t say Jesus would erect an inscription; read my article again, James.) McGrath’s claim about who erected inscriptions in antiquity is false. Now, it is bad enough that McGrath didn’t know that. What makes him incompetent is not his ignorance, though, but the fact that it didn’t even occur to him to check this claim before making it. This is a classic example of a very error many mythicists make that annoys McGrath, yet here he is, doing the exact same thing.

Okay. Epigraphy 101: Who erected inscriptions in antiquity? Nearly every kind of person with money. Yes, government people and public functionaries erected inscriptions. But the vast majority of ancient inscriptions were made by private citizens. Not just in graveyards, either. But we do have those, tens of thousands of funerary epitaphs, by all manner of not just wealthy but also middle class folk, celebrating their freedom from slavery or their profession or even, in many cases, their philosophy or religion. But leave those aside; I’ll also exclude graffiti; or marks on tombs or ossuaries (as the Jesus Tomb nuts…notably, historicists, not mythicists…keep claiming we have for Jesus). Even after leaving all those out, we still have inscriptions by practitioners of nearly every major religion in antiquity: pick your god, there is probably an inscription somewhere, by someone, celebrating them (the inscriptions attesting the miracles at Epidaurus, commissioned by those healed there, is just the most famous example; but we have thousands of inscriptions by Mithraists, and likewise by those of other cults, including Jews, e.g. the Revelation of Gabriel is one of those most recently discovered, and is an example of precisely the kind of thing we have from a fringe Jewish cult that we don’t have from Christianity); we also have inscriptions by philosophy enthusiasts, celebrating and broadcasting their philosophy to the public (something you’d think Christians were most keen to do, being evangelistic missionaries and all).

To give you just three pertinent examples (of dozens I could discuss):

(1) Diogenes of Oenoanda, a private citizen, commissioned a massive public inscription detailing his salvific philosophy for the good of mankind, declaring as its purpose “to help those who come after us” by publicizing “the remedies of salvation.” This was an Epicurean, who didn’t even believe in an afterlife or a coming end of the world to warn people about, yet he spent his own money to publish his gospel. Obviously Christians would be unable to do this in Judea, but they would have been free to in pagan cities for at least two centuries (contrary to the usual claims, Christianity was not actually outlawed and was rarely persecuted by Romans, as Acts routinely demonstrates and as we can tell even from Tacitus’ account, in which Christians had to be accused of arson to finally prosecute them; see Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 8, pp. 219-20).

They never erected any, for at least two centuries. Well, except heretics: evidently a Valentinian in the late second century finally got around to it. But no one else? Never for a hundred and fifty years? (I shouldn’t have to remind you that that latter inscription is a direct refutation of McGrath’s generalization that no Christians would ever do this. How is it that he didn’t hear of it? It was quite a big news item in our field last year.) And please, let’s not hear fallacious rebuttals to the Diogenes example (e.g. don’t tell me a Christian inscription was unlikely to be as elaborate and expensive as that of Diogenes; I am not saying it would be). And again, please, don’t ignore what I already said about this (in my original post I already listed reasons why such an inscription might not have been commissioned; that it “definitely would be” is not what I’m saying).

(2) We have an inscription (at Lanuvium, Italy) stating the rules of a private dinner club; these were religious associations that represent one of the models that early Christianity followed (and which they could even have done legally, had they wanted), in which members would have their burials charitably assured by their membership (among other charitable aims from the pooling of member resources), and in which they often shared fictive kinship (they were brethren), and shared communion in the form of regular divine meals (often of fish, bread, and wine) in celebration of a savior god. The Lanuvium inscription preserves the rules of order for one of these, which notably reflect some of the same concerns Paul faced with his dinner clubs (those rowdy Christian eucharist parties: see 1 Corinthians 11:16-34), and for which Paul voiced some of the same solutions, which (like at Lanuvium) must only have become more elaborate and codified over subsequent decades.

No Christians, in a hundred years of practicing, across seventy or more churches, ever once thought to write up their rules on a house wall, like pagan dinner clubs had? Nor even so much as to carve or scrawl “Jesus is Lord” on anything, anywhere? Note that I did not say we should necessarily expect them to; I listed many reasons why they might not have gotten around to it (and any such inscription would not have been as elaborate as at Lanuvium, which followed the law and sought a license to operate from the state, and so on, so I am not implying they would be identical, but that the same purpose would be served by minimally equivalent behavior). But for McGrath to give a reason they wouldn’t do this that is actually blatantly false (‘only state officials did that’) simply illustrates why historicists just aren’t thinking rationally, nor acting like careful scholars in this debate. Which tells you something about the merits of their position: it is more based on careless, irrational thinking than on careful, logical arguments.

(3) In chapter 4 of his excellent history of Christianity in its pagan context (Pagans and Christians, sadly out of print), Robin Lane Fox discusses an example of a private cult erecting an inscription to record the fact that they had recently been having a spate of revelations from God (and had consulted an oracle about it and were publishing its reply). This was in the city of Miletus; the cult was that of Demeter; and the celebrant who commissioned it was Alexandra, who was in a position similar to that of Peter: the inscription reads (in part) “Ever since she has taken on her priesthood” the “gods have been appearing in visitations as never before” either to or in the form of “girls and women, but also, men and children.” The inscription asks, “What does such a thing mean? Is it the sign of something good?” (the oracle’s answer was basically yes).

Here we have visions, seen as an exciting new event, being celebrated in stone. Christians could easily have done the same, erecting all manner of messages, in honor of their god, or to advertise their gospel, or to warn people to repent, and many other possible things. To suggest only “public functionaries” could do this is simply false. I have given talks in which I use two other examples illustrating the same point: a brief inscription by the wizard Harnouphis celebrating a “manifestation” he had experienced of the goddess Isis; and the Memnon inscriptions, where a famous moaning statue in Egypt became covered with privately-commissioned inscriptions celebrating each witness’s experience of the miracle (even dating when it happened).

Of course by the third century onward we have Christian inscriptions and artwork in the catacombs as yet another example. But they would not have been limited to that location or medium. To argue that private citizens and religious adherents didn’t erect inscriptions pertaining to their religions is simply ridiculous, and one of the most boner mistakes I’ve yet seen from someone claiming to know what he’s talking about.

Wait, What Does the Word “Have” Mean, Again?

McGrath attempts to salvage Ehrman’s disastrously misleading wordage by claiming it wasn’t misleading at all. Which would suggest McGrath is a lousy teacher, as anyone who instructs students or deals with the public would be appalled by Ehrman’s sloppy phrasing, knowing full well how misleading it would be, and how badly it will miseducate those who hear it said. McGrath says:

Carrier makes much of the statement “we have” but once again there is no sense in which Ehrman could reasonably be thought to be claiming that he has a copy of Q, for instance. His meaning is not ambiguous, nor is it mistaken.

Experts like McGrath and I know that “Ehrman could not reasonably be thought to be claiming that he has a copy of Q,” but all other readers of that article won’t know that. Exactly as I said originally: I am now going to be met with people for years and years who repeat to me that Ehrman said we have “multiple” Aramaic sources dating to the 30s A.D. That was a massively irresponsible way to word his sentence. McGrath won’t even admit that. Even though it was obvious to dozens of readers, as confirmed in comments on my blog and elsewhere. McGrath would never accept this kind of misstep from a mythicist. Nor would he accept his own excuse for it. So once again McGrath becomes the very thing he opposes.

Fact is, Ehrman’s wording is ambiguous. In fact, worse than, because it literally says what Ehrman did not mean to say. That’s not ambiguous; it’s false. The only saving grace is that Ehrman cannot have intended it that way. But that’s what makes his writing here atrocious to the extreme. What is actually ambiguous is the fact that it’s not even agreed that Q ever existed (likewise anything else he could have meant). Ehrman gives no hint whatsoever that that is true, but instead declares this source exists with absolute certainty and beyond any doubt. But it’s worse than that even, because, as I pointed out, Ehrman went on to declare that this non-existed document whose existence is still debated amounts to amazing proof of the historicity of Jesus, which is not in any possible sense a logically correct inference to make. Indeed, he even confidently declares that it dates within a “year or two” of Jesus! That is the exact kind of obfuscatory triumphalism McGrath loathes from the mythicists. But as soon as a historicist commits the same sin, now it’s not an error in even the slightest possible respect. See where this is going?

 Not Getting the Point

That covers most of McGrath’s failed attempt to rehabilitate Ehrman’s article. But before I get to the last item, I have to pause to discuss how McGrath routinely fails to get the point of what I’ve said. Here is a good example of what I mean…

He quotes me saying this:

The consequence of this is that you must accept that Philo’s silence argues against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels. One must therefore conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus. I don’t think Ehrman disagrees with that conclusion, but he loses sight of it in his attempt to mock the importance of this kind of evidence, the silence of external sources.

To which McGrath responds:

This is (apart from the very last clause, perhaps) a wonderful statement of the very point Ehrman is seeking to make, as Carrier seems to realize. Yet for some reason, Carrier aligns himself against Ehrman and mainstream scholarship even when articulating the evidence in favor of its conclusions.

Thus demonstrating he completely missed the point. He at least gets that I actually agree with Ehrman that silences are not alone sufficient to demonstrate Jesus didn’t exist (I have always made this point, for years now, and McGrath surely knows this). But my point here is that Ehrman’s dismissal of silences as irrelevant to any conclusion about historicity, by suggesting we would never have any attestation outside the Bible, throws the baby out with the bathwater. Ehrman is actually destroying the very argument McGrath is here trying to rehabilitate: that such silences are indeed significant. In precisely the way I state, and McGrath affirms: they argue “against the existence of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels” and we therefore must “conclude the Gospels substantially fictionalize the story of Jesus.” That conclusion does not follow if we accept what Ehrman says about silences in other sources. Do you see the problem? Ehrman is actually attacking the very premise of McGrath’s own argument. I do not believe Ehrman intended to do that, but in his intemperate zeal to mock arguments from silence, he didn’t even notice that he was attacking himself.

McGrath does stuff like this many times, painting me with the same brush as all mythicists, when in fact he knows better. For example, I completely agree with him that Christianity is far more a product of its Jewish roots than its pagan inspirations. I have said this repeatedly for years now, and again I know McGrath knows this. So why does he write as though he is schooling me on that point, when in fact I have been schooling mythicists on it myself? He also knows that I argue Paul got his commandments “from the Lord” directly, by revelation (and in my post that he is replying to, I gave examples and referenced passages proving this). Yet he argues Paul quotes Jesus, therefore proving Jesus exists (even though I devoted a whole paragraph in my post to why that is an invalid inference; McGrath says nothing in response to it).

McGrath likewise says “Ehrman is clearly correct that there was no expectation prior to the rise of Christianity that a Davidic Messiah – i.e. the one who would restore the kingdom to the line of David”  (a distinction Ehrman did not make; you see, like a biblical fundamentalist, McGrath has to correct his oracle before claiming it is infallible) “would be executed by the foreign empire ruling over the Jewish people,” but this ignores the argument I actually made, that nevertheless a messiah who would die to atone for the sins of Israel was expected by some Jews (McGrath doesn’t even mention this or interact with any of my evidence or argument for it). You can’t push that fact under the rug with yet another no-true-Scottsman fallacy.

The irony is that as soon as McGrath introduces this element (of the role of a Davidic messiah), he destroys Ehrman’s argument: because Christians did believe in Ehrman’s messiah in that sense…for Jesus was on his way to do exactly what Ehrman says all Jews expected a messiah to do: destroy the enemies of God and reestablish home rule. You see, McGrath confuses Ehrman’s argument that no one would countenance a dying messiah, with the argument that Christians didn’t believe in a militarily triumphant messiah. They obviously did. Thus, McGrath’s attempted revision of Ehrman’s argument fails, and it fails precisely because Ehrman was wrong about Jews not imaging this messiah could die first.

McGrath thus routinely misses the point.

Another boner example is what he finally does say about academic freedom:

Carrier doesn’t address whether he thinks people ought to be allowed to pursue young-earth creationist or intelligent design research in mainstream academic contexts. But his argument is one that proponents of those views have used to argue precisely that.

This is a false analogy (the evidence for evolution is vastly greater, billions of times greater, than that for historicity), but more importantly, it ignores what I said in some detail: McGrath is committing the very sin I labored to explain Ehrman was, that of confusing a theory with a method. Should professors be free to pursue “creationist or intelligent design research” using valid methods? Yes! It would be completely wrong to reject all works submitted to peer review just because they argued for ID, even when their facts are correct and their methodology sound. Likewise it would be wrong to fire them or otherwise persecute them because they did that. It’s just that that hasn’t happened yet. No one has produced a pro-ID argument based on correct facts and sound methodology.

Which brings us back to that false analogy thing. Creationists want an exception to be made that allows their fallacious methods and false claims equal respect; I do not want that for mythicism. I want mythicism to be treated equally with all other theories about Jesus, by the same standards of method and argument. Ehrman’s sin is in acting like that is a priori impossible and therefore all mythicism is creationism. He is therefore setting up an untouchable dogma, all who even contemplate questioning it be damned–literally, by every institutional means available; McGrath agrees with Ehrman on that, because he just said we should be treated like Creationists. Whereas I made the crucial distinction that bad methodologies warrant that treatment, not debatable theories; McGrath epically fails to get the point.

Yet another example is where I actually agree with McGrath, and again it is worth pointing out why, because it reveals how badly he misses the point. McGrath says “if one is willing to posit interpolations where the manuscript evidence does not show evidence of such interpolation, then one can draw any conclusion,” so we can’t rely on that. I agree (see my previous comment on this; although McGrath is wrong to say one must have manuscript evidence, as even mainstream textual critics like Ehrman accept non-manuscript evidence; I can only assume McGrath was being hyperbolic, as otherwise he should know this). I did not argue the evidence should be dismissed because it could be an interpolation; I said the evidence was shaky because it could be an interpolation. That is, the probability of it being one (even if low, it is not vanishingly low) makes resting one’s entire case for historicity on this one single use of two Greek words in a document collection known for harmonizing and dogmatic interpolations, should be alarming, and not grounds for inviolable certainty. McGrath doesn’t seem to understand the weight of that point. But as David Hacket Fischer demonstrated (in Historians’ Fallacies), historians tend to be logic challenged.

So I guess in ancient Rome, “Misser of Points” would be McGrath’s cognomen (I thereby dub him Iacobus Magrathius Amissoquaestio). In the same vein, McGrath also ignores maybe 90% of the things I said (facts, arguments, essential points). It’s always interesting to compare what a critic responds to, with what they ignore. It’s usually all the things that refute their claims and generalizations. Take a look for yourself: read his critique, then go back and read the article he is criticizing.

That leaves one last thing (that same thing I covered last the first time)

James the (Adopted/Biological?) Brother of the Lord

I argued that all Christians were “brothers of the Lord” because: (a) they were all adopted sons of God, (b) Jesus was an adopted son of God, and (c) that by definition made them all the adopted brothers of Jesus; and (d) Christians called each other brother, therefore they would have called each other brothers of Jesus, too. I also showed (e) that they believed Jesus had explicitly called them his brothers and (f) they explicitly said Jesus was only “the firstborn among many brethren.” Another important point I made is that Jesus became Lord at his adoption, so Christians would be brothers of the Lord specifically, a uniquely Christian concept (and one that could only have been uttered after the origins of Christianity; e.g., even if James was the biological brother of Jesus, he would never have been called “the brother of the Lord” until Christians invented that phrase for him).

McGrath does not challenge any of the above (which is fortunate, because it is all proved conclusively from passages in Paul, which I cited profusely). The argument then follows: all Christians were the brothers of the Lord; so it would be confusing to call James a brother of the Lord. Because which do you mean? The James who is the biological brother of the Lord, or the James who is the adopted brother of the Lord? And even if we can guess, why use the confusing phrase at all? Why would a phrase that was equally true of all Christians, ever be used to uniquely identify biological brothers? Christians would only do that if somehow they policed the phrase and prevented Christians from using it of themselves (even though it would be correctly used that way otherwise), and restricted it only to specify biology, and that somehow all Christians knew this (it’s ability to uniquely identify being the only point of Paul using the phrase at all, on the historicist thesis). Even though this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone.

I explored other possibilities, but McGrath is too easily distracted so I won’t reiterate those. He can only handle one argument at a time. So let’s do that. We have two theories: (1) that Paul is merely saying James is a Christian (hypothesis), because all Christians were brothers of the Lord (established fact) and (2) that Paul means to say James is a biological and not adopted brother of Jesus (hypothesis), because Christians policed the use of the phrase in such a way as to make that a practical way to indicate that distinction (not in evidence). The fact that (2) requires assuming something ad hoc, but (1) does not, makes (1) initially more probable than (2). To borrow McGrath’s own words, “the phrase is clear.” All Christians are brothers of the Lord, James is a brother of the Lord. You do the math. If we have to add to it something whose probability is not 100% (the assumption of policing behavior), the probability drops. For example, if that policing behavior has a 50% chance of being true, while Christians being the brothers of the Lord has a 100% chance of being true (as I proved it did), then P(1) = P x 1 and P(2) = P x 0.5. If we start without presuppositions, i.e. before examining any evidence in the case, (1) and (2) are equally likely. So if (2) is reduced by half, and (1) is not, (2) is initially half as likely as (1), so in total probability, the relatives priors for (1) and (2) are 0.67 and 0.33, respectively (if we assume no other theories have a significant prior probability). There is no getting around this. That is the logic of evidence.

Now, initially likely does not mean ultimately likely. We have to examine the remaining evidence. But there, if we reject the Gospels as myth (as well as much later legends), all we have are the letters of Paul. And nowhere in those letters does Paul mention Jesus having had specifically biological brothers. But he frequently talks about Jesus having adopted brothers: all Christians. That is exactly what we expect if (1) is true. But if (2) were true we would have some expectation the evidence would be different; it would not be a certainty, but there would be some probability that Paul would more clearly mention Jesus having biological kin. Therefore, the probability of the evidence we actually have on (2) is somewhat less than 100%. Let’s say it’s 90% (I’m just picking a number; it has to be something less than 1, the difference representing the probability that Paul would have mentioned this more clearly, in this arbitrary case I’m saying that probability is 10% or just 1 in 10). But the probability of the evidence we actually have on (1) is arguably 100% (or near enough). If we assume no other theories have a prior probability even near 1%, then this gives us a Bayesian result of P(2) = (.33 x .9) / [(.33 x .9) + (.67 x 1)] = .297 / (.297 + .67) = .297 / .967 = 0.31, only a 31% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and a nearly 69% chance the mythicists are correct on this one. [And if we make a case that P(e|(1)) is less than 100%, as subsequent comments have attempted, then for this passage to be evidence for historicity, P(e|(1)) has to be less than 45%, but that’s when e includes all evidence pertaining to the case, not just what’s in Paul–and that’s assuming P(e|(2)) = 90%, which is already unreasonable, especially when e includes all evidence pertaining to the case, not just what’s in Paul.]

This is how James attempts to reply:

There is no evidence for any Jews in Paul’s time speaking of God having a brother, and so the most natural reference is to Jesus being the Lord here, as indeed Paul refers to him often with this title.

This doesn’t respond to anything I argued. I never said God had a brother, or that Lord meant God. I said Jesus is the Lord, and as such was the adopted son of God (not brother of God), and as such all Christians, who were also the adopted sons of God, were the brothers of Jesus (in his role as Lord). McGrath’s failure to even grasp my obvious point calls into question his ability to evaluate any arguments whatever.

Moving on…

Carrier then follows mythicists like Earl Doherty in trying to suggest that “brother(s) of” can mean the same thing as “brother(s) in.” But the two phrases are obviously distinct in meaning, and based on the evidence available, it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as “brothers of the Lord.”

McGrath is making things up here. There is no instance anywhere in Paul’s letters of him ever saying such a thing as “brothers in” anything (much less brothers “in the Lord” or in Christ or in Jesus; claims to the contrary notwithstanding). Yes, the two phrases are obviously distinct in meaning. Which is precisely why Paul would never use “brother in the Lord.” Christians were not brothers in the Lord, they were actually the brothers of the Lord.

McGrath seems to be confusing completely different phrases, that don’t relate here. See, for example, Romans 16:8-19, where Paul is describing the virtues of various brethren, but not once calling them by the appellation brother (or sister), except in verse 14, which conspicuously omits “in the Lord/Christ” despite that being commonly used in the other sentences. Notice how the meanings there don’t work the other way around: is Ampliatus Paul’s “beloved of the Lord”? No. Is Urbanus their “fellow-worker of Christ?” No. Is Apelles “the approved of Christ”? No. Are those in the household of Narcissus “of the Lord”? No. Do Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis “labor of the Lord”? No. Was Rufus “the chosen of the Lord”? No. In each case they are in the Lord (literally: see The Empty Tomb, pp. 144-47, e.g. Romans 8:1 and Romans 12:5 and 2 Cor. 5:17), or they are these things in respect to the Lord.

Let’s look at the very different case of kinship: are Christians only brothers in the Lord? No. That would mean they were all brothers of each other because they were physically in the body or care or bosom of the Lord (by having faith in the Lord: Gal. 3:25-29) but that they weren’t thereby the brothers of the Lord. Just as above: every time you are something because you are in Christ, this is because you are not that something of Christ. You do not share equality with Christ in that respect, you are simply a part of him. But this is not the case for kinship. Jesus calls Christians his brothers; Christians called Jesus the firstborn of many brethren; Christians regarded themselves as the adopted sons of God and regarded Jesus as also the adopted son of that same God. Thus all Christians were in fact the brothers of the Lord, not just brothers of each other in the Lord.

To suggest otherwise is to insist that Paul defied all conventions of the Greek language, all common sense, all literal truth as he understood it, and chose to avoid the natural expression “brother of” for some unexplained reason even when it was correct, without any evidence he ever did that, or would. McGrath somehow thinks that is a more natural way to read the text than what I just explained above. You decide.

It’s pretty clear to me. If the Lord said you were his brother, you were the brother of the Lord; why would it ever occur to any speaker of Greek to think or say otherwise? McGrath pulls the same stunt Ehrman did, and references on his behalf evidence that doesn’t exist: “it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as ‘brothers of the Lord’.” Custom of the time? Based on what? We only have the letters of Paul. How does McGrath know what the custom of the time was, except by reference to the letters of Paul? We can clearly infer from all the evidence I presented (notice all the verses I listed; McGrath lists not one) that this was in fact the custom of the time; and the evidence shows Christians were all called brothers, and believed themselves to be the brother of Christ, and the one thing that would distinguish their brotherhood from any others, was that they were his brothers. In fact Paul twice refers to Christians as “brothers of the Lord,” unless McGrath circularly assumes he doesn’t.

Thus, circular arguments, and generalizations based on no evidence, purporting to know the contents of sources we don’t have, to arrive at a conclusion contrary to obvious logic. That’s bad argument 101. This is what historicists attempt to stand on. And they are surprised they are losing clout with their audience?

[Ironically, amateurs have suggested better counter-arguments here than McGrath, although those also fail: see my comments on stylistic usage, generic usage, and objective reading]

The Succinct Conclusion

The irony is that, when we consider everything I examined above, McGrath proves he is the one who “is clearly and unambiguously trying to make a case for a predetermined conviction, not follow the evidence where it leads” (his own words, fallacious projected onto me, when they clearly describe himself…and Freud is smiling in his grave).

Comments

  1. Steven Carr says

    ‘Which is precisely why Paul would never use “brother in the Lord.” ‘

    Does Philippians 1:14 use ‘brothers in the Lord’?

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      I checked an interlinear, and Philippians 1:14 does use the phrase “ton adelphon en kurio.”

    • says

      You can’t quote the words out of context. Here is the translation from the RSV Bible:

      …most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.

      The Greek reads tous pleionas tôn adelphôn en kuriô pepoithotas, where we have the verb pepoithotas (the pluperfect participle of peithô), which takes an indirect object with en, in this case kuriô.

    • Pitch says

      Richard, it is apparent by now that you are not investigating the situation to find any kind of historical truth, but are now digging in your heels to defend a position.

    • says

      As my article above proves, your remark well describes James McGrath. But how does it describe Carr? What evidence do you have that he has not “investigated” the situation or is not investigating it?

    • Nikos Apostolakis says

      It’s been a while since highschool — and I wasn’t paying much attention to ancient greek lessons anyway — but couldn’t ἐν κυρίῳ modify τῶν ἀδελφῶν and the indirect object of πεποιθότας be τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου? So that this translates to something like:

      most of the brothers in lord, being convinced by my bonds, are more
      bold to fearlessly speak the word?

      A quick search shows that most translation interpret it like that.

      BTW, as somebody else also commented, this reaction is typical of McGrath’s interactions with mythicists. For example there are periodic skirmishes between McGrath and Vridar’s author Neil Godfrey, where McGarth demonstrates an embarassing lack of reading comprehension and basic logic skills.

      (This is a reply to Richards comment #3 in this subthread, not sure how to reply to an answer).

    • says

      That’s grammatically possible but contextually improbable. This is how the RSV translates:

      12: I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
      13: so that [i.e. because] it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for [lit. in] Christ
      14: and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.

      A generic “have confidence” would not have the same meaning (they have confidence in what? The word, peithô, in the passive like this, has the more basic meaning “believe/trust,” so “trust in the Lord” etc.). Whereas the way Paul constructs the sentence indicates an intended play on “Christ is Lord,” using the semi-parallel chiastic structure “my imprisonment is known to be in Christ” and so the brethren are “made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment.” The clever structural device is clearer in the Greek: the corresponding material, with the structural units marked off for emphasis, is as follows in lines 13 and 14:

      [tous desmous mou] phanerous en christô
      en kuriô pepoithotas [tois desmois mou]

      So we have the structure:

      [chains] [descriptive adjective] [indirect object, “in Christ”]

      [indirect object, “in Lord”] [descriptive adjective] [chains]

      The fact that Paul repeats the same “the chains of mine” twice in the same sentence, in mirror order, clues us in to the chiasmus (the second “descriptive adjective” is a preposition, but that’s the adjectival form of a verb; hence the structure shown above). In both lines the “in Christ/Lord” is an indirect object of a verb (an infinitive in the first instance, the preposition in the second), and not a descriptor of the subject (Paul is not “in Christ,” thus neither are the brethren “in Lord”; rather, Paul’s chains are in Christ, and the brethren’s confidence is in [Christ being] Lord, because of those chains).

      The chiasmus is even more elaborate when examined as a whole:

      [tous desmous mou] phanerous en christô genesthai
      — [en holô tô praitôriô kai tois loipois pasin] kai [pleionas tôn adelphôn]
      en kuriô pepoithotas [tois desmois mou]

      So:

      [chains] [descriptive adjective] [indirect object, “in Christ”] [verb]
      — [quantity] and [quantity] —
      [indirect object, “in Lord”] [descriptive adjective] [chains]

      The closest we can get in English would be something like:

      A: these chains of mine
      B: seen in Christ be
      C: by all of them
      and
      C: most of us are
      B: in Lord made confident
      A: by these chains of mine

      Putting “in Lord” with “brethren” would destroy the beauty of the sentence, and lose Paul’s point that Christ is Lord.

      Moreover, Paul speaks that way elsewhere, using the idiom “have confidence in the Lord” (Rom. 14:14, Gal. 5:10; and in this same letter, Php. 2:24), same verb, same preposition and indirect object. So it’s characteristic of Pauline style.

    • Nikos Apostolakis says

      Thanks for the detailed reply Richard, I guess that settles it.

      I’m looking forward to reading your review of Ehrman’s book. I’ll probably wait for an ebook version of your book also, I won’t have time to read it until the summer anyway. Is there a chance that it will appear in other formats besides kindle, I’m mostly interested in B&N epub.

    • says

      Check if The Christian Delusion is available in the e-format you want. If it is, then Proving History should eventually be as well. (They have the same publisher.)

  2. says

    The irony is that, when we consider everything I examined above, McGrath proves he is the one who “is clearly and unambiguously trying to make a case for a predetermined conviction, not follow the evidence where it leads” (his own words, fallacious projected onto me, when they clearly describe himself…and Freud is smiling in his grave).

    Yeah, it’s really obvious that McGrath has his, “This is how mythicists are going to be wrong” mold prefabricated before actually reviewing what they say (and forcing what they say into it). I wonder if he could set that intellectual crutch aside for just one response or two.

  3. Austerity says

    A possible correction. Where you say “[He did this same thing again in a comment on my original post.]” The link is to a comment by a David Marshall.

  4. bernardmuller says

    Richard wrote: “In fact Paul twice refers to Christians as “brothers of the Lord,” unless McGrath circularly assumes he doesn’t.”

    Bernard writes:
    I have some questions for you, Richard:

    a) Where would the second case be (about “brothers of the Lord”)?

    b) For 1 Cor 9:5, how do you know these “brothers of the Lord” were Christians?

    c) How do you explain that never in Paul’s epistles, when Paul mentioned members of the church of Jerusalem (1Co16:1,3; 2Co8:4,13-15;9:1,12-15; Gal2:1-10; Ro15:25-26,31), Paul never wrote those were “in the Lord” or “in Christ” or “brothers”, more so when they were considered “saints” (1Co16:1,2; Co8:4;9:1,12; Ro15:25,26,31)?

    d) How do you explain that Paul never used the expressions “brother/sister(s) of the Lord” or “of the Lord” or “of Christ” for his Christians?

    e) Why can you be so sure that James was a Christian?

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      a) Where would the second case be (about “brothers of the Lord”)?

      1 Cor. 9:5 and Gal. 1:19 = two passages.

      b) For 1 Cor 9:5, how do you know these “brothers of the Lord” were Christians?

      If you want to propose that they were not, that would be a third hypothesis. That can be done, and numbers estimated and its relative probability determined. But I don’t see why anyone would want to propose that hypothesis. In that passage, what non-Christians did would not be relevant to Paul’s argument there, where he is saying “you let other Christians have wives, why can’t Barnabas and me have one?” (in the context of churches providing them a livelihood). And the prior probability that Paul would reference an irrelevant example is near enough to zero to be ignored.

      c) How do you explain that never in Paul’s epistles, when Paul mentioned members of the church of Jerusalem (1Co16:1,3; 2Co8:4,13-15;9:1,12-15; Gal2:1-10; Ro15:25-26,31), Paul never wrote those were “in the Lord” or “in Christ” or “brothers”, more so when they were considered “saints” (1Co16:1,2; Co8:4;9:1,12; Ro15:25,26,31)?

      I don’t see how that is relevant. Why would I need to explain it?

      d) How do you explain that Paul never used the expressions “brother/sister(s) of the Lord” or “of the Lord” or “of Christ” for his Christians?

      He did. Twice. If (1) is true. And that’s all that matters. Perhaps a better question is, why didn’t he do it more often, and the answer is he had no need to. The complete phrase is a form of redundancy (just saying “brethren” is ambiguous, but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord), and redundancies will rarely be used by a competent writer of Greek. They will appear when he wants or needs the flourish of it. Stylistically, therefore, we should expect to see it used only rarely. And lo and behold, that’s what we see.

      e) Why can you be so sure that James was a Christian?

      Same answer as before:

      If you want to propose that he was not, that would be a third hypothesis. That can be done, and numbers estimated and its relative probability determined. But I don’t see why anyone would want to propose that hypothesis. In that passage, that Paul met with a non-Christian would not be relevant to Paul’s argument there, where he is saying he did not get his gospel (the one revealed after the death of Jesus, by the risen Jesus) from men. In effect he is saying “I did not meet with any other apostles but Peter, unless you count brother James.” If James was not a Christian, he would not have received the post-resurrection gospel “from Jesus Christ” and thus would not be relevant to Paul’s point. And the prior probability that Paul would reference an irrelevant example is near enough to zero to be ignored.

      (One could also raise at this point the references to James in Gal. 2 and 1 Cor. 15; I agree that whether these are the same James may be debatable, but that they could be still reinforces the conclusion, in precisely the way that their absence would not.)

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      He did. Twice. If (1) is true. And that’s all that matters. Perhaps a better question is, why didn’t he do it more often

      An even better question is why, if Paul meant “brothers of the Lord” as a synonym for what we would call Christians, then why do we not have unambiguous evidence that this was the case? In 1 Corinthians 9:5, the context is him arguing that he is entitled to the same privileges that other apostles have:

      Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?

      The “brothers of the Lord” are bracketed by other leaders of the Church, and the last question implies that the parties that he had mentioned before have the right to refrain from working — something that is not true of Christians in general. When we get to Galatians 1:19, James, the one described as “brother of the Lord,” is obviously a leader in the Church. We don’t ever see Paul using “brother of the Lord” to refer to those who are clearly just normal Christians, or even to, say, leaders who could not even plausibly be literal brothers of Jesus.

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      An even better question is why, if Paul meant “brothers of the Lord” as a synonym for what we would call Christians, then why do we not have unambiguous evidence that this was the case?

      We wouldn’t expect there to be. This would have been common knowledge to him and his readers and thus never require explicitly stating it. To the contrary, the evidence we have, is basically the kind of evidence we would expect to have (see my comments on the stylistic issue and the matter of avoiding fastidiousness and pleonasm in particular). By contrast, if there were actual biological brothers of the Risen Lord Almighty, much less playing a major role in the governance of the Church, we would expect that to come up more explicitly, more often (to at least a 10% probability, hence my probability assignments).

      In 1 Corinthians 9:5, the context is him arguing that he is entitled to the same privileges that other apostles have: “Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” The “brothers of the Lord” are bracketed by other leaders of the Church, and the last question implies that the parties that he had mentioned before have the right to refrain from working — something that is not true of Christians in general.

      That’s only if you circularly presume he is only talking about church leaders. That’s the crux. He might instead be saying “why should being an apostle prevent one from having a wife when other Christians can have wives?” That is, “other apostles and Christians have wives, even Peter” (who is both a brother and an apostle and thus a prime example of both categories), “so why can’t we?” (See my comment on this in the previous thread.)

      When we get to Galatians 1:19, James, the one described as “brother of the Lord,” is obviously a leader in the Church.

      Actually, that’s not obvious at all. The way he is so obliquely mentioned has suggested to many experts that in fact Paul means he was a relative nobody, but nevertheless a Christian, so Paul felt he had to admit he had at least met another Christian, even if not any other apostles. (See my remarks on this point upthread and in the previous thread, the latter with cited articles.)

      Although if he was a leader in the Church (and thus an apostle), he must surely be the same James that Paul then brings up repeatedly in Galatians 2, as one of the Pillars (Peter, James, and John). Which would entail this is not a brother of Jesus, since all later sources describe that James as the brother of John, not Jesus. (See my remarks on this point upthread.)

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      This would have been common knowledge to him and his readers …

      Yet in a matter of decades, we have a tradition of a James who is literally Jesus’ brother. Somehow the common knowledge of what “brother of the Lord” supposedly really meant got lost really fast. How common was this knowledge, then?

      That’s only if you circularly presume he is only talking about church leaders. That’s the crux.

      There’s nothing circular about seeing the rhetorical question, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other Xs, Ys, and Z” bracketed by “Do we not have the right to our food and drink” and “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living” and concluding that the Xs, Ys, and Z are purported to have a right to food and drink while refraining from working for a living.

      He might instead be saying “why should being an apostle prevent one from having a wife when other Christians can have wives?”

      That’s not how the passage reads. It’s dead obvious that he’s pointing out that the apostles and Cephas already do have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife.

      The way he is so obliquely mentioned has suggested to many experts that in fact Paul means he was a relative nobody, but nevertheless a Christian, so Paul felt he had to admit he had at least met another Christian, even if not any other apostles.

      The passage reads that he met no other apostle except James the Lord’s brother, indicating that this James was indeed an apostle. You’re reaching here.

      Although if he was a leader in the Church (and thus an apostle), he must surely be the same James that Paul then brings up repeatedly in Galatians 2, as one of the Pillars (Peter, James, and John). Which would entail this is not a brother of Jesus, since all later sources describe that James as the brother of John, not Jesus. (See my remarks on this point upthread.)

      Not all later sources. Acts 15 describes a council in Jerusalem attended by Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James after James the brother of John had died. The setting and topic of this council looks rather similar to that in Galatians 2, although Luke’s depiction is massaged and overly rosy compared to what what Paul presents (a Rashomon effect at work).

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      Yet in a matter of decades, we have a tradition of a James who is literally Jesus’ brother. Somehow the common knowledge of what “brother of the Lord” supposedly really meant got lost really fast. How common was this knowledge, then?

      In that same matter of decades we have a tradition that Jesus walked on water and the sun went out for three hours.

      Notably, the evidence is against any of these being common knowledge: all references to James the brother of Jesus (or indeed that he had any brothers at all) derive (directly or imaginatively) from the same one source (Mark). The same source that gave us walking on water and deleted suns.

      This in no way has anything to do with what Christians called themselves. This is a myth about Jesus having a family, just as many other mythical heroes did. Mark uses this device to tell two parables. Notably, one of them about how Jesus denied all biological family and declared only Christians his brothers.

      (Which would suggest none of Jesus’ family ever joined the Church; a fact that is confirmed by the entire earliest history of the church: Acts 2-28.)

      There’s nothing circular about seeing the rhetorical question, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other Xs, Ys, and Z” bracketed by “Do we not have the right to our food and drink” and “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living” and concluding that the Xs, Ys, and Z are purported to have a right to food and drink while refraining from working for a living.

      None of which entails X, Y, or Z were or could only be leaders in the church. The argument works even more effectively when it’s not: since all were equals (Gal. 3:26-29), apostles should not have fewer rights than other Christians do. It’s an argument that would sting. Thus, we cannot presume he did not mean this here.

      That’s not how the passage reads. It’s dead obvious that he’s pointing out that the apostles and Cephas already do have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife.

      As all Christians do. That would be his argument. Apostles aren’t denied that right. No other Christians are denied that right. Even Peter has that right.

      The passage reads that he met no other apostle except James the Lord’s brother, indicating that this James was indeed an apostle. You’re reaching here.

      The experts do not agree this is as clear as you think. See the articles I cited on this. The Greek can indeed mean “but another of the apostles, I met not one, unless you count James, who was a bother of the Lord.” (That is not a literal translation word-by-word, but a translation of the sense, as allowed by the Greek; again, see the articles I referenced.)

      The point is, this could be the meaning. Not that we can be certain it is. There are many things that Paul could be meaning here. As I’ve enumerated.

      RC: Although if he was a leader in the Church (and thus an apostle), he must surely be the same James that Paul then brings up repeatedly in Galatians 2, as one of the Pillars (Peter, James, and John). Which would entail this is not a brother of Jesus, since all later sources describe that James as the brother of John, not Jesus. (See my remarks on this point upthread.)

      JJR: Not all later sources. Acts 15 describes a council in Jerusalem attended by Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James after James the brother of John had died. The setting and topic of this council looks rather similar to that in Galatians 2, although Luke’s depiction is massaged and overly rosy compared to what what Paul presents (a Rashomon effect at work).

      There is no reference to any James in Acts being the brother of Jesus. Not even that James. Moreover, James the Pillar was clearly alive when Paul met with them at Jerusalem to have this debate (Gal. 2), so evidently Acts is either uninformed or playing fast and loose with its chronology. (And in fact we know Acts frequently contradicts the historical facts, known from Paul, in order to further its author’s agendas: see Pervo’s The Mystery of Acts.)

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      Notably, the evidence is against any of these being common knowledge: all references to James the brother of Jesus (or indeed that he had any brothers at all) derive (directly or imaginatively) from the same one source (Mark). The same source that gave us walking on water and deleted suns.

      If you want to talk about sources being unreliable because of a belief in miracles, well, we’re already talking about Paul here. He thought that somebody resurrected and had hopes of witnessing a general resurrection of the dead in his lifetime. There’s no reason to think that Mark is particularly flakier than Paul. And the single source thing doesn’t help you that much. The problem for your argument is that if the meaning of “brother of the Lord” was common knowledge as you say it was, then it’s odd that Mark would so apparently readily misunderstand it and manage to spread that misunderstanding to other Christians, who should have had the same common knowledge.

      None of which entails X, Y, or Z were or could only be leaders in the church. The argument works even more effectively when it’s not: since all were equals (Gal. 3:26-29), apostles should not have fewer rights than other Christians do.

      Except Paul isn’t arguing that apostles shouldn’t have fewer rights than fellow Christians, but rather that they should have extra rights that other Christians obviously did not. All may be equals in some spiritual sense, but it’s obvious from the context that some were more equal than others in a practical sense.

      The Greek can indeed mean “but another of the apostles, I met not one, unless you count James, who was a bother of the Lord.”

      But this doesn’t quite fit with your earlier interpretation, that Paul “felt he had to admit he had at least met another Christian, even if not any other apostles.” If the Greek means what you say it could mean, then James here is still not just another Christian, but someone that Paul thinks might count as an apostle.

      Moreover, James the Pillar was clearly alive when Paul met with them at Jerusalem to have this debate (Gal. 2), so evidently Acts is either uninformed or playing fast and loose with its chronology.

      Those are hardly the only two options. You claim that later sources describe James brother of John as a “pillar”, but as far as I can tell, it’s only in Galatians where any James is described as such.

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      If you want to talk about sources being unreliable because of a belief in miracles, well, we’re already talking about Paul here..

      It’s not miracles that are the issue. The issue is that Mark could invent major public facts. Therefore he could invent brothers. And since he is the only known source for these facts, no other source giving us any other believable information about them but simply deriving their versions from his, we have evidence he did invent them. That is the opposite of having evidence of these things being “common knowledge” as you claimed. Which was my point.

      (Note, BTW, that Paul mentions neither walking on water nor deleted suns–in fact, nowhere in Paul’s letters does he ever mention any event that we don’t already have scientific proof is an actual phenomenon, like hallucination and psychosomatic healing; this makes your detour into the irrelevant objection of “miracles” disingenuous to the point I actually made).

      Except Paul isn’t arguing that apostles shouldn’t have fewer rights than fellow Christians

      Yes, he is.

      but rather that they should have extra rights that other Christians obviously did not.

      Only one extra right: the right to receive pay for preaching the gospel. One of his arguments for that conclusion is that people have to maintain their wives, so one cannot argue that apostles shouldn’t get paid, because apostles have wives to support. It is at that point that Paul says, in effect, “So, what, are we not even allowed to have wives? All other Christians have wives; other apostles do; Peter does; so why are we being told we can’t?” The issue is therefore being told they shouldn’t maintain wives. That’s a denial of a right. He is not there asking for any special right in that verse. The special right he is asking for is a wage. The need to support a wife is an argument for that right. There can’t be any sense in which he is asking for a “special right” to have a wife; unless you are claiming no other Christians could have wives, but only apostles could.

      But this doesn’t quite fit with your earlier interpretation, that Paul “felt he had to admit he had at least met another Christian, even if not any other apostles.” If the Greek means what you say it could mean, then James here is still not just another Christian, but someone that Paul thinks might count as an apostle.

      Huh? If “he had to admit he had at least met another Christian, even if not any other apostles” how is that incompatible with “but another of the apostles, I met not one, unless you count James, who was a bother of the Lord”? The latter is in fact saying the former, i.e. that this James was not an apostle, but just a brother, and that Paul is mentioning him as an afterthought so no one can accuse him of leaving anyone out (note that his argument in Gal. 1 is not about not having met any apostles, but not having met any Christians at all: he insists no man transmitted the gospel to him; thus he had to be thorough).

      (And, of course, there are other interpretations; I listed at least five earlier. Here I am only talking about one.)

      RC: Moreover, James the Pillar was clearly alive when Paul met with them at Jerusalem to have this debate (Gal. 2), so evidently Acts is either uninformed or playing fast and loose with its chronology.
      RJJ: Those are hardly the only two options. You claim that later sources describe James brother of John as a “pillar”, but as far as I can tell, it’s only in Galatians where any James is described as such.

      The appellation “Pillar” is not relevant to my point. The point is that the James you are saying is dead in Acts, is alive in Galatians. Perhaps you mean that James the Pillar is the brother of Jesus, but that contradicts all the Gospels which have the three top dogs Peter, James, and John, the same three Paul calls the Pillars. It goes against this evidence to assume Paul means a different three, and that it’s just “by coincidence” they have the same three names; likewise Acts does not support this, since it never mentions any brothers of Jesus having any official role in the church, again not even the James who leads the debate in Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is the same James Paul is talking about in Gal. 2. Add to that the fact that we know Acts has changed numerous other facts about the events in Paul’s life (and is therefore not at all reliable on these points), and we’re left with no basis for making the argument you want.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      The issue is that Mark could invent major public facts. Therefore he could invent brothers.

      So under your scenario, Mark invents a brother who so happens to have the same name as a James who is identified as “brother of the Lord.” Maybe this is a lucky coincidence, which would be a problem. Maybe Mark has heard of a “James, brother of the Lord” and thinks that it would be plausible to interpret it as “James, brother of Jesus,” even if it isn’t true, and invents a brother named James in that account. That would be a problem, too, because that would imply that other Christians could misread the phrase “brother of the Lord” the way Mark did. But if it’s that easy to misread, why use it in the first place? And of course, if Mark didn’t intentionally make up a brother named James, but only accidentally misinterpreted “James, brother of the Lord,” my previous objection of why Mark didn’t have the common knowledge about what “brother of the Lord” meant still stands.

      And you danced around the problem about 1 Cor. 9:4-6 that I mentioned earlier, namely that the way Paul brackets the question, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”, implies that the people he lists have at least one right besides just the right to have a believing wife. Instead, you offered handwaving about all Christians being equals, and much other verbiage.

      And your argument about James being the brother of John in Galatians 2 amounts to saying that since (1) Peter and the brothers James and John were mentioned together in the Gospels as an inner circle, and (2) we have a Peter, James, and John mentioned in Galatians 2, the two Jameses must be the same. That would be a much stronger argument if we didn’t have more than one James running around the New Testament and acting as some kind of leader.

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      So under your scenario, Mark invents a brother who so happens to have the same name as a James who is identified as “brother of the Lord.”

      Mark invents four brothers only one of which happens to be named James, as were 1 in every 65 men, including at least two apostles (who were not the brothers of Jesus, as even Mark affirms: Mk. 3:17-18). So there is nothing significant about this. That at least one of the brothers’ names that Mark invented would match that of at least one apostle (much less at least one early baptized Christian) is effectively 100% certain.

      Note that Mark never says this James was ever an apostle or even a Christian. Indeed, he seems clearly to imply that he wasn’t: Mk. 3:31-34. And Acts 2-28 confirms this. Thus I do not see any evidence here that Mark is “interpreting” Gal. 1:19 here. He seems unaware of the fact that any James the brother of Jesus was ever thought to be an apostle or early Christian.

      And you danced around the problem about 1 Cor. 9:4-6 that I mentioned earlier, namely that the way Paul brackets the question, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”, implies that the people he lists have at least one right besides just the right to have a believing wife.

      As I myself said. You seem to have lost track of the argument.

      And your argument about James being the brother of John in Galatians 2 amounts to saying that since (1) Peter and the brothers James and John were mentioned together in the Gospels as an inner circle, and (2) we have a Peter, James, and John mentioned in Galatians 2, the two Jameses must be the same. That would be a much stronger argument if we didn’t have more than one James running around the New Testament and acting as some kind of leader.

      Not just “mentioned.” The Gospels say Peter, James, and John are the top three (they alone get to see the transfiguration, for example, and get other special assignments from Jesus, and while Peter is declared the rock, James and John ask to sit at the right and left of Jesus, and thus as his number two and number three: see Mk. 5:37 and Mk. 9 and 10:35-45 and 14:33; also in Mk. 3:16-19 they are the first three apostles listed, even though not precisely the first three recruited: Mk. 1:14-21; all of which confirming Mark understood these three to be the top three dogs in the apostolate). This would be an incredible coincidence if Mark consistently named a top three apostles, and Paul names a top three apostles (the pillars of the faith), and all three names happen to be identical in each case. The probability of that is nearly a million to one against.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      Mark invents four brothers only one of which happens to be named James, as were 1 in every 65 men, including at least two apostles (who were not the brothers of Jesus, as even Mark affirms: Mk. 3:17-18). So there is nothing significant about this. That at least one of the brothers’ names that Mark invented would match that of at least one apostle (much less at least one early baptized Christian) is effectively 100% certain.

      So you’re going for the coincidence angle, I see. Your argument doesn’t quite work, though. What you need to determine is not the probability of Mark inventing a brother of Jesus who happened to share the name of an apostle, but rather the probability of Mark inventing a brother of Jesus who both shared the name of an apostle and was identified with a phrase that could be easily interpreted as “brother of Jesus.” The former–as you pointed out–would not be improbable on its own. The latter is another story altogether.

      Me:

      … the way Paul brackets the question, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”, implies that the people he lists have at least one right besides just the right to have a believing wife.

      You write in response: “As I myself said. You seem to have lost track of the argument.” Considering that the “one right” to which I alluded was the right to not have to work, I think you are the one who lost track of the argument. Or do you think that Paul thought that Christians in general had that right?

      This would be an incredible coincidence if Mark consistently named a top three apostles, and Paul names a top three apostles (the pillars of the faith), and all three names happen to be identical in each case. The probability of that is nearly a million to one against.

      Given what you wrote regarding Mark, this is pretty incredible. We already have two Jameses. Both are apostles, as are Peter and John, and all of them have worked in fairly close proximity. Under these circumstances, that one James should replace another in an inner circle, especially after the other James has died, isn’t that surprising.

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      What you need to determine is not the probability of Mark inventing a brother of Jesus who happened to share the name of an apostle, but rather the probability of Mark inventing a brother of Jesus who both shared the name of an apostle and was identified with a phrase that could be easily interpreted as “brother of Jesus.”

      Since all Christians are brothers of the Lord, the probability of one of the brothers invented by Mark matching some apostle or early Christian is 100%. So no matter what Christian Paul happened to attach the pleonasm to, the odds are better than 1 in 4 that it would just happen to match one of the four brothers invented for Jesus (since the four names Mark chose are among the most common of all). But since Mark is clearly not talking about the same guy Paul is (as I showed: Mark shows no awareness of that James ever even being a Christian much less an apostle, and Acts confirms this), and Mark did not exist when Paul wrote, coincidence is the best explanation of the evidence (since it makes all these oddities of the evidence very probable, whereas Mark talking about Galatians 1 makes no sense of the evidence at all).

      By analogy, I can find a coincidence between any two sets of names, such that the odds of a shared name is 1 in 4, yet that in no way argues those two sets of names are in any way related.

      Considering that the “one right” to which I alluded was the right to not have to work, I think you are the one who lost track of the argument. Or do you think that Paul thought that Christians in general had that right?

      Your very question betrays the fact that you have completely lost track of the argument at this point. You are starting to talk in circles now.

      Given what you wrote regarding Mark, this is pretty incredible. We already have two Jameses. Both are apostles, as are Peter and John, and all of them have worked in fairly close proximity. Under these circumstances, that one James should replace another in an inner circle, especially after the other James has died, isn’t that surprising.

      Wow. Now you are wildly speculating a whole sequence of events not in evidence! Lovely.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      Since all Christians are brothers of the Lord, the probability of one of the brothers invented by Mark matching some apostle or early Christian is 100%. So no matter what Christian Paul happened to attach the pleonasm to the odds are better than 1 in 4 that it would just happen to match one of the four brothers invented for Jesus (since the four names Mark chose are among the most common of all).

      If “brother of the Lord” just meant “Christian,” then the number of names to which Paul could have attached “brother of the Lord” is far larger than number of names that Mark mentions. He could easily have attached it to a Greek name, which Mark would hardly have used for a name of a literal brother of Jesus. Even if Paul were to have stuck to Jewish names, there’s no reason to expect that he’d stick to the most common ones. You yourself pointed out that “James” was the name of 1/65 of Jewish men, which leaves 64/65 of them with other names.

      Wow. Now you are wildly speculating a whole sequence of events not in evidence! Lovely.

      If you want to use “wildly speculating” to refer to piecing together a reasonable scenario from the information we have in Galatians and Acts (esp. Galatians 2 and Acts 12,15), I obviously can’t stop you.

    • says

      You aren’t doing the math right. The probability that if Paul randomly happened to use the full title for any Christian is the sum of the probabilities of it being any of those four names, which sum is 1 in 4, not 1 in 65.

      As to the rest, we’ve been over this. You are talking in circles now.

    • Tim says

      Now, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, anything remotely resembling a scholar on these matters, so I apologize if what I’m about to say is wrong for some obvious reason. However, something occurred to me when I read the following exchange, and I’m curious about its feasibility.

      This would be an incredible coincidence if Mark consistently named a top three apostles, and Paul names a top three apostles (the pillars of the faith), and all three names happen to be identical in each case. The probability of that is nearly a million to one against.

      Given what you wrote regarding Mark, this is pretty incredible. We already have two Jameses. Both are apostles, as are Peter and John, and all of them have worked in fairly close proximity. Under these circumstances, that one James should replace another in an inner circle, especially after the other James has died, isn’t that surprising.

      Is it possible that, in Paul’s time, the church had three leaders named Peter, James, and John, and thus he wrote about them as the “pillars”. Then, by the time Mark came along and wrote his gospel, he knew that those three names had to feature prominently in leadership roles, but he didn’t know all the details about the genuine Peter, James, and John?

      In other words, maybe Mark’s mention of those three apostles is not a corroboration of Paul’s mention of the same, because Paul’s mention of them is the ultimate source for Mark’s mention. Is that at all plausible?

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      You aren’t doing the math right. The probability that if Paul randomly happened to use the full title for any Christian is the sum of the probabilities of it being any of those four names, which sum is 1 in 4, not 1 in 65.

      That makes no sense at all.

      Suppose that we temporarily grant for the sake of argument that Paul could have used “brother of the Lord” as a title for any Christian. If it is equally likely for him to choose any Christian to have that title, then the probability of that title being attached to the name James, Joses, Judas, or Simon (the names of Jesus’ brothers according to Mark 6:3) are the ratio of the following two numbers:

      * The numerator: the number of Christians that, to Paul’s knowledge, have any of the names James, Joses, Judas, or Simon.

      * The denominator: the total number of Christians whose name Paul knows.

      Even if you don’t grant that Paul is equally likely to entitle any of the Christians that he knows as “brother of the Lord,” that just increases the numerator by some unknown value. It doesn’t get you a probability of one in four. Mark naming four brothers is a red herring.

    • says

      J. J. Ramsey:

      That makes no sense at all.

      You’re right, I shouldn’t have said the sum. I meant the converse. [No, I was right the first time]

      Read up on the birthday paradox.

      In any population of sufficient size (by Paul’s time there were hundreds of Christians, most of them Jewish, particularly in the original leadership, the group he was selecting a name from in this case), name frequencies approach that of the general population.

      To use a simplified analogy, suppose there were only four names ever in the whole world (A, B, C, and D) and all occurred with equal frequency (so .25 probability of each). The probability of picking one name at random, and that name being either A or B (but not C or D), is 1 – (.75 x .75) = 0.4375 or 44%. simply 50% (since we’re only picking one name, and half of all equally likely possibilities would count as a hit).

      If Paul randomly chose a name from among the Christians he could have met in Judea (as he is doing in Gal. 1) and attached “brother of the Lord” to it (as he could, since they all were brothers of the Lord), the probability that the name he chose would be one of the four names Mark chose for Jesus’ brothers is then (rounding):

      1 – (.9074 x .917 x .9375 x .9848) = .232

      665/2625 = .2533

      In other words, roughly 1 in 4.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      To be more precise about probability here, the probability that Christian “j” (where j is an integer index) would be called “brother of the Lord” by Paul is P(j) = W(j)/N, where N is the number of Christians of which Paul knows, and W(j) is a weighting factor dependent on the value of j. The sum of all possible weighting factors is N. This formulation is very general, and the differences between historicist readings and your reading is basically an argument over what W(j) should be. If Paul is no more likely to refer to one Christian than another as “brother of the lord,” then W(j) = 1. If there’s some favoritism on his part, then the weighting factor for some Christians will be greater than others. If historicists are correct, then the weighting factor is zero for all Christians who are not literal brothers of Jesus. If there are “m” Christians with the name “Simon”, then if j_1, j_2, j_3, …, j_m, are the indices belonging to those Christians, then the total probability that one of these Christians will be called brother of the lord is P(j_1) + P(j_2) + … + P(j_m).

      Of course, the exact values of W(j) and N are unknown.

    • says

      No, your math is not correct. N is not relevant. The frequency of Jameses in N will be the same as in P (the population of Judea). Therefore you don’t need N and it makes no difference to the odds, whereas P is already included in the frequencies I listed.

      As for “weighing factors” that has no relevance here, unless you are making a confused reference to completing the Bayesian equation. In that event, P(match|chance) = .23 and P(match|only biologicals so named) = 1. That’s why the priors matter (“only biologicals” requires an ad hoc assumption that “chance” does not), as well as the other evidence (e.g. Mark shows no knowledge of any James or brother of Jesus ever becoming a Christian much less a leader of the Church; the absence of any such brothers in the leadership of the history of the church in Acts; etc.), all of which reduce P(e|only biologicals so named), thus when we compare hypotheses, P(match|only biologicals so-named) is no longer relevant (because “they match” is just one part of e and 1 x any N is always N, so P(match|only biologicals so-named) = 1 has zero effect on the probability of “only biologicals so-named”).

      At best, we may adjust the results for the opposing hypothesis to reflect P(match|chance) = .23 (when pure chance is the hypothesis; I offered more hypotheses than that). And there are some other things I think could change my analysis, since in order to make it as a fortiori as possible, I needn’t rely on my own opinions but can make assumptions against them specifically to make my argument stronger. But the end result still does not support the “only biologicals so named” hypothesis.

    • J. J. Ramsey says

      As for “weighing factors” that has no relevance here, unless you are making a confused reference to completing the Bayesian equation.

      Um, no, the weighting factors that I mentioned have nothing to do with Bayes. It’s much more basic than that. Imagine Paul throwing a dart labeled “brother of the Lord” at a board. N is the area of the whole board, and W(j) is the area of piece “j” of the board. That’s all. There’s nothing fancy about it, except perhaps for the notation. I’m not even bothering with Bayes’ theorem here.

      Anyway, there’s the matter of what probability are we estimating here. You’ve talked about the probability of Mark choosing the names James, Joses, Judas, and Simon as a name of a brother of Jesus. You and I have also talked about the probability that “Paul randomly happened to use the full title [brother of the Lord] for any Christian,” and I’ve mentioned the probability that Paul would have called “brother of the Lord” a Christian with the same name as one of the brothers that Mark actually mentions. These are not all the same probability. There’s also that Mark and Paul would both happen to choose the same names (regardless of what those names are), which is yet a different probability again. This conversation is a mess.

    • says

      Indeed. Your dartboard analogy would entail the probability is .253 (since 25.3% of the dartboard is covered by the names Mark identifies for the brothers of Jesus). You are correct, I was using the wrong combinatoric model the second time around. The probability simply is 1 in 4. Unless I’m confused again. But I think you confused me the time before this, and this time we’ve unconfused each other. Which may be confusing.

  5. Jason Goertzen says

    “[T]he distinction McGrath is attempting here makes absolutely no sense in the context of Ehrman’s argument. What does it matter whether a source is Roman or not? A source is a source.”

    This is especially true given the fuller description of this argument that Ehrman gives in his book, where he explains that he is using Roman as shorthand for “everything that isn’t Jewish.” He’s using it a synonym for “pagan.”

    From “Did Jesus Exist”:

    “[F]or convenience, I will categorize these non-Christian references as Roman, on the one hand, and Jewish, on the other.”

    Page 50, according to my Kindle, under the heading “Non-Christian Sources”.

    • says

      This would partly explain his lapse in the article: he forgot that he defined his terms that way in the book, didn’t make this clear in the article, and produced a fallacious argument. But this is not excusable for two other reasons: (1) it still ignores Pilate’s inscription (which is Roman and not Jewish); and (2) even if he re-introduced his definitions to the article, his argument as actually stated in it remains fallacious (i.e., a distinction between Jewish and Roman is not relevant to his point–as I explained in my original post, and now here in response to McGrath–hence he would still be required to say there were nevertheless Jewish sources; he did not).

      (And I’ll just say, as a student of Classics, I find his choice of terminology a bit grating. Josephus and Philo were Romans every bit as much as I am an American. Why wouldn’t he just use “pagan” to mean “pagan”? But that’s a minor peeve. I recognize that an author can define terms as he wants, as long as he is clear and consistent. I just think this demarcation looks to be dismissive of social realities at the time, rather than accommodating them.)

  6. says

    I’ve seen McGrath argue with other mythicists. He does seem to have a problem actually grasping what they are saying. He argues furiously against points no one is making.

  7. says

    I appreciate your satirical approach, and am glad you didn’t take the parody that little bit too far by suggesting that I viewed Ehrman as infallible as opposed to merely inerrant. :-)

    I’ve responded on my blog here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/mythicism-and-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-a-reply-to-richard-carrier.html

    But let me highlight here the main point, and let me ask it in the form of a question: If all Christians were viewed as brothers of the Lord, then what is the most probable reason why Paul would have referred to one specific individual in this way? If all Christians were brothers of the Lord, doesn’t that make it all the more likely that singling out one individual by referring to him as “brother of the Lord” meant that that individual was Jesus’ brother in some sense that set him apart? And if so, then isn’t the natural (pun intended) understanding the one that our next earliest sources also support, namely that James was related to Jesus biologically? And if so, then is it not the case that mythicism is probably false?

    • says

      James F. McGrath:

      But let me highlight here the main point, and let me ask it in the form of a question: If all Christians were viewed as brothers of the Lord, then what is the most probable reason why Paul would have referred to one specific individual in this way? If all Christians were brothers of the Lord, doesn’t that make it all the more likely that singling out one individual by referring to him as “brother of the Lord” meant that that individual was Jesus’ brother in some sense that set him apart? And if so, then isn’t the natural (pun intended) understanding the one that our next earliest sources also support, namely that James was related to Jesus biologically? And if so, then is it not the case that mythicism is probably false?

      I’ll take the last question first, since it’s the most important:

      Yes, certainly, if we could be certain Paul meant by calling James a “brother of the Lord” that he was biologically the brother of Jesus, then mythicism is false. Attempts, for example, of Robert Price to argue that Galatians is a forgery do not convince me, and even whatever merit they have, they do not carry a high enough probability for our purposes. However, the probability of a harmonizing interpolation in Galatians (the possibility I suggest) is much higher. Not high enough to argue the contrary, but high enough to warrant at least some uncertainty. For example, if that probability is 1 in 100, then there is as much probability that Jesus didn’t exist as there is that any adult American you pick at random is in prison. Not high enough to assume they will be, but high enough to honestly allow they could be.

      I have calculated that there are at least twenty interpolations in the NT that we cannot detect (neither by manuscript evidence or any other indication), based on the documented rate of such interpolations in the NT over time (and that’s not even considering the fact that that rate is always much higher at the beginning of a manuscript’s history as later). Thus, we cannot be dogmatic about it. We can conclude “Jesus most probably existed” and allow “it’s realistically possible he didn’t” without contradiction (whereas I see a lot of black-and-white thinking among historians in this debate, which is simply fallacious; the fear of even seeming to allow the possibility is evidently crippling.)

      That leaves your other questions, each of which I’ll give its own comment box…

    • says

      McGrath: Isn’t the natural (pun intended) understanding the one that our next earliest sources also support, namely that James was related to Jesus biologically?

      That depends on whether in fact those sources say that or are reliable enough to trust on that point if they do. If, for example, we find that the Gospels are wholly fabricated (and all later legends even more so), then “our next earliest sources” do not support the conclusion that James was related to Jesus biologically. Moreover, if examining all other evidence leads us to conclude that Jesus was probably mythical, then the probability that Paul means biological brother in Galatians actually goes down, not up. As more evidence is considered, the probabilities change. Not always in the direction you hoped. But conversely, if examining all other evidence led us to conclude that Jesus was probably historical, and did have a brother named James, then the probability that Paul means biological brother in Galatians will go up (not necessarily very much, since it does not automatically follow that this is that James, but that probably would certainly increase).

      Thus, taking into account other evidence can change our final conclusion. My calculation only addresses what follows if we consider the Pauline letters on their own, before we ask about the value of subsequent evidence. But certainly, once we bring that other evidence in, all these probabilities can change, in either direction. That is how Bayes’ Theorem works: you update your results as you move through the evidence.

      For example, the earliest public history of the church begins in Acts 2 (Acts 1 is just an appendix to the Gospel, expanding events occurring in private at the end of the Gospel that Luke assumes happened). But from then on (Acts 2 to 28, all twenty seven chapters), James the “brother of Jesus” doesn’t exist. He vanishes from history. (As does the rest of Jesus’ family: no Mary, no Joseph, no other brothers, no family in Nazareth; in fact, nothing ever happens in Nazareth, no one ever comes from Nazareth or goes to Nazareth, etc.) Even when Acts attempts to relate Paul’s meetings with James in Jerusalem, it appears to be some other James, not the brother of Jesus (no mention is made of him being that James). That would support the mythicist reading of Galatians, not the historicist (this assumes Acts was built using real sources, but does not require Acts to be in every respect honest and accurate). Likewise, the top three disciples across the Gospels are Peter, John, and James–not James the brother of Jesus, but a different James. These are obviously the pillars Paul refers to in Galatians 2:9 (“James and Cephas and John”), yet that is not James the brother of Jesus, but the other James. If Paul is referring to the same James in Gal. 2 as he is in Gal. 1, then he is definitely not referring to the brother of Jesus, but James the pillar. And so on.

      So, you see, taking into account “our next earliest sources” can actually start to push the odds more in favor of the mythicist interpretation of Gal. 1:19, rather than the other way around.

    • says

      McGrath: If all Christians were brothers of the Lord, doesn’t that make it all the more likely that singling out one individual by referring to him as “brother of the Lord” meant that that individual was Jesus’ brother in some sense that set him apart?

      No. All Christians were brothers of the Lord, so calling a Christian a brother of the Lord wouldn’t single him out or set him apart at all (at least not in the way you mean, because it fails to designate the one feature that is supposed to differ: that he is a biological brother and not an adopted brother).

      As I said in the main post above:

      All Christians were the brothers of the Lord; so it would be confusing to call James a brother of the Lord. Because which do you mean? The James who is the biological brother of the Lord, or the James who is the adopted brother of the Lord? [e.g. James the Pillar would be the latter, not the former] And even if we can guess, why use the confusing phrase at all? Why would a phrase that was equally true of all Christians, ever be used to uniquely identify biological brothers? Christians would only do that if somehow they policed the phrase and prevented Christians from using it of themselves (even though it would be correctly used that way otherwise), and restricted it only to specify biology, and that somehow all Christians knew this (it’s ability to uniquely identify being the only point of Paul using the phrase at all, on the historicist thesis). Even though this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone. [Gal. 3:26-29]

      Note that contrary to your blog post, I am not saying you claimed this policing behavior occurred; I am saying your position entails that claim. That is, your theory is impossible, unless that policing behavior was going on. Thus your theory requires an assumption that is not in evidence. Whereas the mythicist thesis (that this is James the Pillar or some other James) does not require any such assumption. As to why adding ad hoc assumptions halves the prior probability, see Proving History pp. 80-81. It would alter the prior by something other than half only if you had evidence for or against the ad hoc assumption being true (and I am not aware of any). (Or if it were competing with other ad hoc assumptions, but that’s not at issue here; and at any rate, that would usually reduce it to less than half.)

    • says

      McGrath: If all Christians were viewed as brothers of the Lord, then what is the most probable reason why Paul would have referred to one specific individual in this way?

      You should know first of all that there doesn’t have to be a reason. Paul sometimes refers to specific Christians as brethren, sometimes not. There is not always any particular “reason” why. It’s just a variation of style. Indeed, to always consistently refer to them as brother (or indeed, the pleonastic “brother of the Lord”) would be fastidious, which is the kind of thing all schools of the time taught writers not to do. (See my related comment in the previous thread.) Paul will be expected to mostly use just “brother,” when it can be understood from context what he means, because ancient writers understood that pleonasm was to be avoided unless it served a purpose; but such a purpose could include the equally admired practice of variatio, an element of ancient rhetorical style (to occasionally change your idiom). Accordingly, because of how composition was taught in antiquity, we should expect Paul to stick mostly to an idiom but occasionally vary it. This entails the prediction that we will see occasional variations in the way he refers to Christians. Pleonastically including the complete phrase “brother of the Lord” would be one possible form of that variation; so the fact that we see it only occasional conforms to the prediction entailed by our background knowledge of ancient rhetoric. It is therefore expected, without requiring any particular explanation (other than this one: this is how ancient writers were taught to write).

      Nevertheless, there could still be a particular reason Paul used the full expression here (it just isn’t required by our theory). For example, as I suggested in my original post:

      That he would on rare occasion use the complete phrase “brother of the Lord” would not be unexpected. The more so if Peter had a brother named James, as that would require Paul in this instance to distinguish the apostle James from James the brother of Peter, in which case saying just “brother” wouldn’t do, necessitating the full epithet “brother of the Lord,” i.e. not of Peter (because Paul says he met with “Peter” and no other apostle except this James).

      Likewise, another possibility I raised there is that it refers to a rank (which we otherwise don’t know about, except possibly from Clement two centuries later). But again, we do not have to assume this.

      I think the most probable explanation is another one entirely: that part of Paul’s point in Gal. 1 is that he is not on intimate terms with the Jerusalem Pillars (the same Peter, James, and John of Gal. 2), and one way to rhetorically emphasize that is to use the complete formal expression “brother of the Lord,” since truncating to “brother” implies more familiarity (which Paul does not want to do here), and Paul’s most common idiom (of saying “my/our/your” brother) implies more than familiarity, but actual intimacy (it is an endearment), and he definitely doesn’t want to do that here…to the contrary, he would more likely want to distance himself from that impression as much as possible, in which case we should expect him to go in entirely the opposite direction, and use the coldest, most formal idiom possible that isn’t insulting or false.

      The next most probable explanation is the possibility (which has been entertained even under peer review, as I discussed in the previous thread) that Paul is saying the James he met is not the pillar but not even an apostle, possibly a mere companion of Peter, which is why he would have to mention him, so as to make sure no one can accuse him of lying (Gal. 1:20) by pointing out that another Christian was present when Paul met with Peter, just not an apostle (Gal. 1:18-19). Then after that is standard variatio. Then after that is the possibility that Paul is taking care to not confuse this James with a brother of Peter named James. And last of all is the possibility that it refers to a rank.

      I can put these in ascending order of prior probability (these rankings of course reflecting only my reasoned opinion), dividing up the probability space assigned to the overall hypothesis (0.67) and rounding to the third digit:

      .7 Deliberate formalism x .67 = .469
      .2 Not an apostle x .67 = .134
      .08 Standard variatio x .67 = .054
      .019 Not Peter’s brother x .67 = .013
      .001 Refers to a rank x .67 = .001

      [first column of numbers must sum to 1 ; so the final column will sum to .67 ; latter will be off only due to rounding]

      Many of these can overlap, so properly there would be a more complex distribution covering all possible combinations, but here I am showing only the exclusive forms of each hypothesis, since any further specificity would not change the overall conclusion. We could dink these ratios up or down (I am not settled on any; my actual numbers would reflect ranges of probability from least to most, not single fixed numbers like this), and you can put your own numbers in, based on what you yourself think is their relative probability. But it doesn’t change anything, since the only ones that entail a reduced consequent probability are the last two (on which we would expect some probability, even if low, that there would be more evidence of the hypothesized fact; just as is the case for the biological brother hypothesis), while the top three conform perfectly to the evidence we have (i.e. we do not expect any more evidence than what we already have).

      We could thus bracket the first three as one hypothesis (1) (that one of those three explanations is true) with a prior of .66 (rounding to the second digit) and the last two as one hypothesis (3) (that one of those two explanations is true) with a prior of .01 (rounding to the second digit again), against historicity ((2): biological brother hypothesis) of .33. If we repeat the assumption that the evidence is .9 in conformity with (2) and 1.0 in conformity with (1), and add that it is .95 in conformity with (3), then the math gives us (rounding always to the second digit):

      P(1) = (.66 x 1) / [(.66 x 1) + (.33 x .9) + (.01 x .95)] = .66 / (.66 + .3 + .01) = .66 / .97 = .68, or a 68% chance (1) is true. Note how this doesn’t change if you adjust the relative prior probabilities of the first three hypotheses: as long as they still sum to .98 (x .67 = .657), the above equation will remain unchanged.

      Only (3) requires large ad hoc assumptions: even so, one (rank) has some small evidence in Clement of Alexandria; and the other (Peter having a brother named James) has a known external probability on background evidence, i.e. we could calculate what the probability is that Peter had a brother and his brother was named James, using known data about family size and naming frequencies–in short, we know for a fact some people had brothers named James; whereas in regards (2) we do not know for a fact that Christians policed the phrase “brother of the Lord” to mean only biological kinship, and we have no evidence for that, at all, not even of the weak kind like we have for (3) in Clement. By contrast, in (1), variatio is fully in evidence (both in Paul’s own writing and in all background evidence regarding writers of his same calibre) and so requires no ad hoc assumption, whereas “deliberate formalism” and “this James being not an apostle” require only ad hoc assumptions that are already fully in conformity with the context and purpose of Gal. 1 (and thus they are not improbable ad hoc assumptions: it is a fact that Paul does not want to imply familiarity but the opposite, and a fact that he does not want to omit mention of any other Christian he may have met when he met with Peter).

      The math thus works out the same on any plausible distribution.

    • says

      If everyone was a brother of the Lord, then there was no policing involved, and I do not see how that follows. If some people were actually Jesus’ brothers in the biological sense and were known to be, then there was no necessity that policing be involved, and it would be quite natural to refer to them in contexts in which other Christians were mentioned by calling them “brother(s) of the Lord.” The meaning would be clear, whereas it makes no sense if it were a special class of leaders as well as a way of referring to everyone.

      You seem to me to be going to great lengths to avoid the simplest explanation, and I can’t for the life of me understand why.

    • says

      No, the meaning would not be clear. If everyone was a brother of the Lord, then everyone could be called a brother of the Lord. So calling a biological brother of the Lord a brother of the Lord would not indicate their biological brotherhood; you simply wouldn’t know which sense of brother of the Lord is meant. That is why there would have to be policing (to ensure everyone knew what it meant) or a different phrase would be used (one that distinguished adopted from natural brothers).

      It’s thus ironic that you say “it makes no sense if it were a special class of leaders as well as a way of referring to everyone.” Because I am saying the same thing: it would make no sense if it were a special class of leaders [biological brothers] as well as a way of referring to everyone. That is precisely why it would never be used to mean the former when we know it would have meant the latter. Therefore, since we know it would have meant the latter, therefore we know it was never used to mean the former. Unless the terminology was policed (ensuring no such confusion arose). But there is no evidence it was.

      You are the one who is “going to great lengths to avoid the simplest explanation.” The simplest explanation is self-evident from Paul’s letters. It is only when you try reading Paul’s letters as if they express awareness of the Gospels that you (and all historicists) get your confusing and illogical interpretation. But that is fallacious methodology. The Gospels did not exist when Paul wrote. This is the same error as assuming Paul meant by Jesus “appearing” (1 Cor. 15:5) the scenes described in the Gospels, or that Paul must have known of an empty tomb, because the Gospels tell a story of one. No, those are both later legends. Paul cannot be read “in light of” the Gospels in that way. And as for those things, so also for this thing, the idea of Jesus having brothers. If you don’t assume that a priori, then the natural reading of Paul’s letters is mine, not yours.

      So you need to take off your Gospel-colored glasses and step outside of the ruts of your dogmatic bias and look at the evidence objectively.

  8. scenario says

    Most scientists when confronted by an alternate hypothesis to the current standard theory, essentially say prove it to the people advocating the new hypothesis. The current standing theory is that Jesus was a real man.

    A true scientist would welcome an argument for a mythical Jesus based on solid verifiable evidence. Especially when the current theory is based on weak evidence. From what you have said in other posts, as of now, there are very few papers backing a mythical Jesus.

    Because there are so few published papers advocating for a mythical Jesus, a historicist is within his or her rights to say that the evidence points towards a historical Jesus. He or she is also within his or her rights to ridicule badly argued nonsense. He or she doesn’t have the right to ridicule intelligent debate when his or her sides opinion is based on such weak evidence. If they are so certain that they are right allow the other side to present their evidence as long as it meets the criteria of the publication. Then debate the evidence on its merits. That’s the scientific way.

  9. colingraymurphy says

    I’m working my way through “Proving History” right now and it really has given me an entirely new outlook on this debate. Historians seem to be much too certain of their claims, in general.

    Your argument about James being the the “brother of the Lord” is exaclty the same argument the Catholic church uses to argue for the perpetual virginity of Mary and against the fact that Jesus had actual biological brothers and sisters, correct?

    • says

      I don’t know. I am unconcerned with Christian apologetical arguments. My conclusion follows only from an independent examination of the evidence. (And obviously I don’t suppose a historical Jesus can’t have had brothers.)

  10. F says

    What I can’t quite wrap my head around is that even if I were committed to the position that Jesus was an historical person, I would still see what is wrong with Ehrman’s article, and understand the deeper errors once they have been explained.

    I see it in bad arguments or incorrect statements all the time in areas where I have more understanding and also a position on a subject, and when people give false or logically fallacious support in favor of my position, I note it. Sometimes I’m compelled to point it out, or someone else does so. And if I had a life investment in some field or interest, I’d make certain I was being rational and clear in my statements, and note new or overlooked facts or errors as they were brought forward. If I thought a negative critique were wrong, I’d make reasoned counter-argument based on evidence which actually addresses the point I claim to be addressing. But maybe that’s just me and a handful of other weirdos, although I suspect we are not that few. People who operate in such a manner should certainly occur with higher frequency in academia and sciences than they do in the general population.

  11. says

    The both of you know more than feeble little me, but I certainly felt there was something dodgy with McGrath’s reply, attacking the person rather than your original quite straight-forward reply. And that whole ‘brother of God’ thing … Oy vey!

    Again you’re being called a mythicist by pointing out that historicist should be, er, historic. The funny part is that I don’t even recall you ever declaring you were in the category of mythicist, only saying that the evidence some historicists bombastically declare to be there simply don’t hold up to – what one would assume to be fairly basic – scrutiny. I find this exchange fascinating!

    • says

      I have declared myself a mythicist (maybe not in those exact words, but clearly enough), so he is right to assume that. The error is not that, but in conflating me with all other mythicists (as if I, like them, didn’t take seriously a respect for sound methods and careful attention to documentable facts), or projecting his irrational certainty onto me. I am not certain I am correct. I think there is a realistic possibility some actual Jesus existed, I just consider it improbable on present evidence (which is enough to make me a mythicist; I’m just not “absolutely certain” the way McGrath and Ehrman seem to be).

    • josh says

      Dr. Carrier explains his current position above, but I think Alex brings up what bugs me the most about McGrath’s reply (and Ehrman’s original article.) Carrier’s a mythicist because he thinks a mythical origin for the Jesus story is the most likely. McGrath and Ehrman are historicists because they think that story is most likely based on a historical figure who really lived in Jerusalem circa 30 AD, acquired a following as a religious teacher and was crucified. That’s fine, a priori they’re both credible positions and I’m not an expert but it’s quite reasonable for actual experts to differ on what is the most probable case.

      But McGrath and Ehrman treat the mythicist position like you have to be insane to even consider it. They don’t talk about it as an unlikely scenario, they talk about it as completely ruled out. They repeatedly imply, ‘Historicism is most likely [in my judgement], therefore it is correct.’ But that’s not a skeptical position.

      Now there are cases where expert analysis can really make only one position rationally viable, like evolution or plate tectonics, etc. But the thing is, when I look at experts in those fields explaining their conclusions, I’m always impressed by the way they can pull up diverse strands of really compelling evidence and systematic analyses of data to make their case. When it comes to the historicists, I’m impressed with the depth of their knowledge (just as I am with Dr. Carrier’s), but it’s all terribly weak to hang their conclusions on.

      If the best case for historicity is Paul once mentioning Jesus’s brother in an ambiguous phrase, then they don’t have a strong argument. If you have to assume, ‘oh, people in an ancient culture wouldn’t write that phrase without intending to convey the one specific meaning I want’, then you don’t have a strong argument. If your response to criticism is, ‘well we use those standards elsewhere’, then (if true) you’ve got a problem with your whole field. The correct approach is not to proclaim true whatever your most likely interpretation is, but to honestly acknowledge the degree of uncertainty for any conclusion. If it’s negligible, great, but if not you can’t ignore that because otherwise ‘we can’t be certain of anything’. Sometimes you just can’t be certain of anything.

  12. Will says

    Along with your answer to my last question, this post really helps me alot as I’ve been hung up on the James thing for a while. Thanks for that clear explication Richard! It has always seemed that alot of the anti-mythicist sentiment has rested on the understanding of James as the biological brother of a historical Jesus… I admit from ignorance that it has given me pause before. so seeing you go through the actual data and logic with a fine-tooth comb like that is a huge benifit to lay people with an interest, like myself. so much appreciated.
    I think you’ll have quite a long review of the Ehrman book on your hands because im only part way through and the problems keep cropping up. but i cant wait to read your take on it. :-)

    • says

      Galatians 1:19 is indeed the best evidence there is for historicity. It’s pretty much all they really have. Because legends and hagiographies would not be trusted to confirm this in any other case, and are not in fact trusted this way in any other case of a worshipped demigod that I know of; and Paul’s epistles are so self-evidently all about a cosmic being discovered in revelations and scripture–but for all the unmovable assumptions to the contrary, built on a foundation of implausible excuses. But that’s an argument for another time (my future book).

  13. bernardmuller says

    [I have here combined two submitted comments by the same commentator, one of them corrected at his request… – ed.]

    Richard wrote:
    ” P(2) = (.5 x .9) / [(.5 x .9) + (1 x 1)] = .45 / 1.45 0.31, only a 31% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and a nearly 69% chance the mythicists are correct on this one.”

    Bernard writes:
    I cannot understand “(1 x 1)”. Where does that come from? According to what I am learning on the Bayes theorem, that should be “(0.5 x 0.1)”. And the overall result should be 90%. Ref: Your Bayesian calculator: P(T|E.B) = (P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) / [(P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) + (P(~T|B) x P(E|~T.B))]

    I am certainly not vouching for the data you are using to feed your theorem, and it does not look to me the Bayes theorem is suitable for that application. And I consulted many examples.

    Richard wrote:
    “while Christians being the brothers of the Lord has a 100% chance of being true (as I proved it did)”

    Bernard writes:
    But because confirmed Christian are never called “brothers of the Lord” or even “of the Lord”, because “brothers of the Lord” in 1Cor9:5 meaning Christians is a circular argument, because Paul never said those members of the church of Jerusalem were “brothers” or “in Christ” or “in the Lord”, this 100% can easily becomes [let’s say] 10%, more so if we rephrase the above as “while Christians being called the brothers of the Lord …”.
    And looking at your Bayes theorem, then we would have:
    P(2) = (.33 x .9) / [(.33 x .9) + (.67 x .1)] = .297 / (.297 + .067) = .82

    Which would mean an 82% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and an 18% chance the mythicists are correct on this one.

    What do you think?

    Bernard Muller

    • says

      You’re right on one of those points, I was hasty in converting the odds form to the standard form. The ratio 1/.5 in the odds form becomes .67/.33 in the standard form (where the priors must sum to 1, and so must be adjusted proportionally). I have revised to show this correctly. But the result is the same (31% chance (2) is correct, 69% chance (1) is correct). That is, if the prior of (1) is twice the prior of (2), and no other theories have a significant prior, then their respective priors are .67 and .33, not .5 and .5.

      However, the consequents (aka likelihoods) do not have to sum to 1. So the consequent of .9 on (2) does not require a consequent of .1 on (1). To the contrary, the ratio there is still 1/.9, and that remains unchanged in the standard form.

      Assuming the inputs are as given, of course. There is no sense in which Bayes’ theorem would be “unsuitable” for this. All it does is correctly model the consequences of the ingoing assumptions. What can be questioned are the ingoing assumptions. And I did not propose them as unarguable, but only as reasonable approximations.

      Your counter proposal is not valid reasoning, because what I proved is that all Christians were brothers of the Lord, not that they were called with that specific phrase. That is, that they would be so called is the (meta-)hypothesis, that they were in fact that (by their own thinking) is one of the facts supporting that hypothesis (if you grasp the distinction; i.e. my evidence proves to 100% certainty that in their own reasoning they were in fact brothers of the Lord, which conforms to the prediction that they would sometimes say so, as well as the prediction that they would never more clearly talk about Jesus having biological brothers).

      Thus, the absence of the phrase (apart from two cases that fit both hypotheses and thus are mathematically neutral as evidence) is not relevant to the data input. The state of Paul’s authentic letters is 100% exactly what we would expect them to look like on (1). (It is a tiny bit less than that, to account for a variety of unlikely possibilities, which didn’t occur, that would make the conclusion even more certain, but I do not believe that fraction is large enough to matter, i.e. it is less than 1%.)

      It therefore cannot be 10%. Or anywhere near that low. It must in fact be higher than the other consequent probability, because there is a significant nonzero probability that Paul would have said something more clearly indicating that Jesus had biological brothers and not just adopted ones (whereas this is not the case the other way around). That probability I estimated at 10%. Which entails the evidence as we have it is 90% likely on (2) (because P(e|h) = 1 – P(~e|h) and 1 – .1 = .9), whereas it remains 100% likely on (1). Thus 1 and .9.

      Changing that input won’t make any difference to the general conclusion, because whatever the probability is that Paul would have said something more clearly indicating that Jesus had biological brothers and not just adopted ones, it is significantly higher than 1%; whereas the probability that Paul would more clearly indicate the contrary is not even 1%, since he would have no reason to (not having the need to correct us two thousand years later, since the possibility of our confusion between biological and adopted brethren wouldn’t even occur to him).

  14. SAWells says

    I’m starting to wonder what it is that a historical Jesus is supposedly so necessary _for_. We don’t need a historical Jesus to be the protagonist in the Gospels, because most myths and legends get by just fine with fictitious protagonists. And we don’t need a historical Jesus to found the Christian churches, because we know the churches were founded by people like Paul, and Paul existed.

    I’m suspecting the major factor here is sheer embarrassment. At some point we’re going to have to admit that lots of people throughout history have been really, really wrong about a basic point.

    Oddly, though, as a scientist I don’t see that as a problem, since intrinsically science is about finding out stuff which we didn’t know before, which often involves proving older stuff wrong. So it doesn’t bother me that much that, say, until 400 years ago everyone was wrong about the shape of the solar system, and until 150 years ago everyone was wrong about the history of life, and we only found out why stars shine about eighty years ago. Almost everyone having been wrong about stuff is sort of the default. What bothers me is people not changing from being wrong to being right when given the opportunity.

  15. Dave says

    Dr. Carrier,

    I’ve been following this discussion about the historicity of Jesus for a while now, and it seems that the evidence for his actual existence from a historical perspective isn’t as strong as Christians claim. However, it seems to be that there being a real person at the source of the Gospels and Christianity is consistent with everything we know about religions and cults, both modern and ancient as well as the legends that grow around them. I would have no trouble accepting that there was a 1st century, Jewish equivalent of a modern-day new-age cult guru at the heart of all this; it would be consistent with what we see today and of the founding of other religions in the past (say, Joseph Smith, Mohammed). I hesitate to discount the impact one charismatic person and a few devout followers can have.

    What do you think?
    -Dave

    • says

      In antiquity, most religions had fictional founders (in fact, apart from the worship of Roman emperors and certain kings, Christianity would be the lone exception, which should seem odd). Of course the real founders of Christianity are Peter and Paul (likewise every ancient religion had real founders analogous to them). But the “fictive” founder is the one worshipped as a demigod, and in all non-state cults, that founder is always mythical.

      Even in Mormonism, the fictional Moroni is the parallel to Jesus; Smith is the parallel to Paul. And in Islam, the fictional Gabriel is the parallel to Jesus; Mohammed is the parallel to Paul.

    • says

      The problem with that scenario is that Paul himself indicates on numerous occasions and in multiple ways that he was not the person who started the movement we refer to anachronistically as Christianity. He previously persecuted it, and apparently had relatives that were “in Christ” before him. And so again, I have to wonder why you prefer the poor analogy to Mormonism to one that better fits the actual evidence.

    • says

      In the comment you are referring to I did not say “Paul” started the movement. I said Peter and Paul. Paul has to be included, because he started the movement that abandoned Torah observance (circumcision, dietary law, etc.), after “seeing” Christ himself (in a revelation), and it is his version of the movement which defined all later Christianity (the Torah observant Christianity of Peter steadily shrank and died out, and never had any significant impact, comparatively speaking).

      This exemplifies your inability to pay attention to what your opponent’s say. Here you are reading a comment consisting of just five sentences, a mere 106 words. And you couldn’t even notice “Peter and Paul” in it and instead somehow “saw” only Paul! Why on earth should anyone trust you, if you can’t even grasp the meaning of a couple of brief sentences?

    • Rebecca says

      I think Dave makes a good point. Jesus reads like a typical charismatic guru, claiming an exclusive revelation and a monopoly on the truth – as per, for example, John 14:6. Historically and currently, gurus like Jesus are a dime a dozen. Comparing him with the fictional Moroni is begging the question.

      I’m also having trouble with the parallels in your reply, Richard. Moroni and Gabriel were giving revelations, not receiving them, which is what Jesus, Joseph Smith and Mohammed were all doing. Paul’s role is more like that of Brigham Young, and nothing like that of Mohammed.

      In cult terms, isn’t Jesus the prophet, and Paul the routinizer? Aren’t they in the same relationship as, say, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the Mahdi and the Khalifa, Moses and Joshua, Hubbard and Miscavige? The prophets tend to be narcissistic and increasingly out of touch with reality; the routinizers tend to be much better at organizing things, and keep the organization going in the prophet’s name when the prophet (rather conveniently, given what awkward characters they are) leaves the building….

    • says

      First of all, John is agreed by most scholars to be fabricating the speeches of Jesus (indeed, one of the “standard criteria” used by Jesus scholars is that long speeches like that can’t be genuine, because (a) no one would have memorized them and (b) no one heard one whit of them before, being nowhere in evidence in any prior Gospel; adding to this is that John’s Jesus is not one whit similar to the Synoptic Jesus, so we can be certain one of them is a fabrication, and the widest consensus is that it’s John’s–this is, for example, Ehrman’s conclusion). So you can’t base anything on that.

      Second, Jesus also gave revelations. Not just the whole Book of Revelation (in which a dead Jesus even dictates whole letters from outer space), but the only contact Paul ever mentions anyone ever having with Jesus is in revelations (1 Cor. 14 and 15 and Gal. 1). Thus, Christians were receiving revelations from Jesus. Just like Smith from Moroni and Mohammed from Gabriel.

      Third, we have no authentic documents from Peter (unless 1 Peter is such, but few believe it to be, Ehrman included; I am not as certain it’s not, but even then it’s just one short document), so we don’t know what he was actually like. Paul came after Peter. Yet Paul’s fundamental changes to the cult definitely came by direct revelation to Paul, as Paul insists repeatedly (Gal. 1), so you are certainly wrong to suggest he wasn’t in that role.

      Fourth, the evidence does not support your assumption that Smith and Mohammed were disorganized and out of touch with reality. Every historical account I’ve seen shows they were actually very intelligent, charismatic, and consistently influential in organizing their respective religions right up to their deaths.

    • Philip Legge says

      And a 20th century example is, dare I say it, the legend of Xenu faithfully revealed by the prophet known as Lafayette Ronald.

    • James F. McGrath says

      This sort of trash talking and dishonesty does nothing to help your case, which you have yet to make in anything like the detail and volume in which the historicist case has been made.

      You explicitly said that Paul is the analog to Smith, not “Peter and Paul.” You may have assumed that, having mentioned Peter earlier he was assumed, but for that to be the case, Mormonism would have to have someone other than Smith as its founder, and Smith would be its promulgator to a new audience, which I didn’t understand to be your point.

      Christians today who call one another “brother” do not as a rule add “biological” to clarify things. While it may well be appropriate to conclude that ancient Christians speaking another language did things differently, you have not (as far as I am aware) made any attempt to argue the case for that. Yet you seem to believe that you are being objective and those who disagree with you terribly biased.

      If this is the level at which you wish to interact, then I may as well withdraw. The question of whether there was a historical Jesus is a matter of historical research, not apologists’ tactics and polemics on a blog. On other occasions, you seemed to acknowledge that a scholarly case for mythicism had yet to be made. Until you make it, perhaps it is best to put our discussion on hold.

    • says

      James F. McGrath:

      You explicitly said that Paul is the analog to Smith, not “Peter and Paul.”

      I said “Of course the real founders of Christianity are Peter and Paul” — that’s pretty darned clear, don’t you think? I then gave Paul as only an example (since we don’t have writings from Peter, the way we do from Smith and Mohammed). Your remark assumed I claimed that Paul was the sole founder. I very explicitly claimed the contrary. That is your failure. Now you are trying to save face by continuing to ignore the actual mistake you made.

      Christians today who call one another “brother” do not as a rule add “biological” to clarify things.

      The analogy fails, because Christians today don’t call each other brothers of the Lord/Jesus/Christ. They also, obviously, don’t have any biological brothers of the Lord around to confuse them about it. You really need to think these things through.

      On other occasions, you seemed to acknowledge that a scholarly case for mythicism had yet to be made. Until you make it, perhaps it is best to put our discussion on hold.

      Nice trick. I engage a scholarly case, with facts and sources and attention to careful logic. You dismiss it by saying I have previously said no scholarly case has yet been made. That really has my head spinning. I mean, honestly. Are you joking?

    • says

      The problem with that scenario is that Paul himself indicates on numerous occasions and in multiple ways that he was not the person who started the movement we refer to anachronistically as Christianity. He previously persecuted it, and apparently had relatives that were “in Christ” before him. And so again, I have to wonder why you prefer the poor analogy to Mormonism to one that better fits the actual evidence.

      Dr. McGrath,

      I don’t see how that is really a problem for the scenario. The point of the analogy to Mormonism is that a human founder claimed to receive revelations from a fictional heavenly being. Whether Peter or Paul was the first human being to have claimed to have received such revelations would have been beside the point even if Dr. Carrier hadn’t clearly indicated that the human founders of Christianity were both Peter and Paul.

      In any case, aren’t many of those multiple ways in which you find Paul indicating that he was not the one who started the movement based in part on the assumption of a historical Jesus? If I take away that assumption, I cannot help but wonder whether it is more likely that Paul was persecuting a number of different messianic cults that he viewed as heretics or blasphemers rather than specifically targeting the followers of one particular Galilean peasant who made messianic claims. Can we really tell from Paul whether Peter was the leader of a movement that Paul joined or whether the movement really started with Paul and Peter was simply the leader of one particular existing messianic cult who decided that Paul had a good thing going in much the same way that Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon decided that Joseph Smith had a good thing going.

      I’m not arguing with Dr. Carrier about whether there are good reasons to view Peter as a founder along with Paul or to view Paul as joining an existing movement rather than beginning one. I just am not sure that Paul gives us unambiguous evidence on the question.

    • says

      I think it’s pretty clear from what Paul says that the church founded by Peter is the one Paul was persecuting (see Galatians 1:18-24, esp. in light of 1 Cor. 15:5). We cannot go beyond the evidence we have.

      But of course all modern Christianity derives from the church founded by Paul, not Peter. Peter simply founded the first church worshiping a dying-and-rising Christ Jesus (that we know of), which Paul then transformed by creating his own sect of it.

    • says

      I fully agree that we must go with the evidence we have, but I think that part of our evidence is our general knowledge of how things happen. There are a couple of reasons why I am inclined to take Paul’s description of his pre-conversion activities with a grain of salt: (1) Paul had been selling his religious beliefs for the better part of two decades by the time he writes his letters. His “I was Christianity’s worst enemy” story is as likely to have been shaped by the response it has gotten over the years as by what actually happened. Think Josh McDowell’s and Lee Strobel’s “I was an atheist until the evidence convinced me” shtick. (2) I don’t think that the perpetrators of religious persecutions can be counted on to have an accurate picture of their victims’ beliefs. Think Romans who believed that Christian practiced cannibalism and incest. (3) Perpetrators of persecutions are susceptible to pick up inaccurate information about their victims’ particularly if they are relying on informants or using torture to extract confessions.

      You made an analogy between Paul and Joseph Smith that I thought was apt. I’m wondering whether you would take similar statements in the writings of Smith at face value.

      BTW, I started reading Ehrman’s book yesterday and I am enjoying it very much. It’s hard for me to believe that the same person wrote the piece on HuffingtonPost.

  16. says

    McGrath has long been a supernaturalistic apologist and primarily as self promoter. He often talks out both sides of his mouth. To some groups he claims not to believe in the supernatural, to others he he claims too. He has not problem saying different things to different people.

    Generally he attempts to appeal to supernaturalists by pretending he is some kind of authority as a “histoian”, yet it is clear he is almost completely ignorant about how historians even operate. I predict that one day he will be seen as a embarrassment in his field, it’s just a matter of time.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    • says

      It’s funny, I keep responding to Rich Griese that I do not believe in the supernatural (although I try to keep an open mind about things), and he keeps saying that I am an apologist for the supernatural. This sort of misrepresentation by the apologists for mythicism contributes to the impression that it is bunk.

    • says

      First, thank you for responding to him (I did not know one way or the other; I don’t think it’s relevant).

      Second, please stop using fallacious reasoning like this. Just because one commentator here misrepresents you, does not warrant concluding that “all mythicism is bunk.”

      Indeed, it is such fallacious reasoning that leads me to think historicism is becoming bunk–because not just this or that random commentator makes stupid statements like this, but all the experts do: you, Ehrman, and every qualified scholar I know who advocates against mythicism, keep repeating these kinds of fallacies, and others besides. It makes historicism look driven by emotion and irrationality, rather than a calm and reasoned analysis of the best evidence and argument.

    • says

      Richard,

      This is precisely what I have been trying to tell James for some time now (See here). As I’ve said before, when James is not speaking about mythicism or the historical Jesus, he is lucid and interesting. But as soon as he starts on mythicism, he comes off more like an an amateur or someone outside the guild that can’t seem to emotionally separate themselves from the material and critically analyze the data for what it is.

      See also here:
      http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/alexander-the-great-and-jesus-an-irresponsible-comment/

  17. says

    Dr. Carrier,

    I am always puzzled by the claim that Paul was part of a consistent tradition making James the Just the biological brother of Jesus that only changed when the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity arose. If Paul is our first link in that tradition, it seems to me that the next link breaks it. The author of Luke/Acts declines to identify James the Just as a relative of Jesus even though he says that Jesus had brothers and he can be presumed to have known from Mark that one of those brothers was named James. The only two Jameses that Luke references are the son of Alphaeus and the son of Zebedee. After the son of Zebedee is killed off in Acts, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the James who shows up later in the narrative is the previously introduced son of Alphaeus rather than a new character who is the biological brother of Jesus?

    As far as I can see, Paul is the only first century source that indicates that the James who became a leader of the Jerusalem Christian community was related to Jesus. Neither Matthew, Mark, nor Josephus indicate that the James who was the brother of Jesus played any role in the Christian community and Luke/Acts indicates that the James who played that role wasn’t the brother of Jesus.

    Rather than a consistent tradition, it seems to me that there is cause for confusion from the very start. The perpetual virginity of Mary no doubt played a role in the confusion, but it is hard for me to see it as the sole cause.

    • says

      Yes. There is no James the brother of Jesus in Acts. He does not exist in actual Christian history. Such a James is only mentioned in passing in Mark, in a passage duplicated (more or less) in Matthew. No mention is ever made of him ever being a Christian, or even being still alive by the time Jesus had died. There are only late second century legends, which when you read them, are so absurd they are not even remotely likely to derive from any true story. Luke only mentions Jesus having brothers, again only in passing, in Acts 1:14 (probably just a presumptive nod to the synoptic passage in Mark-Matthew), and there implies they were Christians, but never names any, and none appear again in his story. (You are also astute to notice that Josephus never says James was a Christian either, in neither passage that mentions Christ–even if both were wholly authentic, though IMO they are not.)

  18. bernardmuller says

    To Richard,
    bernardmuller:
    a) Where would the second case be (about “brothers of the Lord”)?

    RC answered: 1 Cor. 9:5 and Gal. 1:19 = two passages.
    BM: That settles it. But Gal. 1.19 is singular. That’s why I had to ask.

    bernardmuller:
    b) For 1 Cor 9:5, how do you know these “brothers of the Lord” were Christians?

    RC answered: If you want to propose that they were not, that would be a third hypothesis. That can be done, and numbers estimated and its relative probability determined. But I don’t see why anyone would want to propose that hypothesis. In that passage, what non-Christians did would not be relevant to Paul’s argument there, where he is saying “you let other Christians have wives, why can’t Barnabas and me have one?” (in the context of churches providing them a livelihood). And the prior probability that Paul would reference an irrelevant example is near enough to zero to be ignored.

    BM: I am glad you accept the possibility “the brothers of the Lord” were not actually Christians. As for 1Cor9:5, I do not see how you can assume those “brothers of the Lord” were Christians. They do not seem to be among the apostles and Peter is not one of them either.

    bernardmuller:
    c) How do you explain that never in Paul’s epistles, when Paul mentioned members of the church of Jerusalem (1Co16:1,3; 2Co8:4,13-15;9:1,12-15; Gal2:1-10; Ro15:25-26,31), Paul never wrote those were “in the Lord” or “in Christ” or “brothers”, more so when they were considered “saints” (1Co16:1,2; Co8:4;9:1,12; Ro15:25,26,31)?

    RC answered: I don’t see how that is relevant. Why would I need to explain it?

    BM: that’s very important. Paul did not say those members were Christians, even if he had opportunities to say so. Then, that put James’ Christianity in doubt, and should prevent you to interpret “brother of the Lord” as automatically referring to a Christian. And they are other clues about James not being a Christian, in Hegesippus’ extract (where James very late confession of proto-Christianity is obviously “forced” with the help of part of ‘Acts’) and James’ epistle, which never states the resurrection of Jesus, has very little Christian stuff in it, where the one expected to come is God, not Jesus.

    bernardmuller:
    d) How do you explain that Paul never used the expressions “brother/sister(s) of the Lord” or “of the Lord” or “of Christ” for his Christians?

    RC answered: He did. Twice
    BM: No, he did not. You are assuming a) “brothers of the Lord” (BotL) is an expression for “Christian”. Then b) you show the evidence for that: BotL. That’s a circular argument.

    RC continued: Perhaps a better question is, why didn’t he do it more often, and the answer is he had no need to. The complete phrase is a form of redundancy (just saying “brethren” is ambiguous, but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord), and redundancies will rarely be used by a competent writer of Greek. They will appear when he wants or needs the flourish of it. Stylistically, therefore, we should expect to see it used only rarely. And lo and behold, that’s what we see.
    BM: that’s one interpretation. There are others. Such as Paul did not refer to blood brother(s) of Jesus often.

    bernardmuller:
    e) Why can you be so sure that James was a Christian?
    RC answered: Same answer as before:
    BM: that’s not good enough.

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      As for 1Cor9:5, I do not see how you can assume those “brothers of the Lord” were Christians. They do not seem to be among the apostles and Peter is not one of them either.

      Why do you assume Peter is not one of them? Peter is an apostle (Gal. 1:17-19). He is thus not being distinguished from apostles and brethren, he is being singled out as a prime example of them. This is a common device in Greek.

      Paul did not say those members were Christians, even if he had opportunities to say so. Then, that put James’ Christianity in doubt, and should prevent you to interpret “brother of the Lord” as automatically referring to a Christian.

      This argument is a non sequitur.

      …in Hegesippus’ extract

      That’s complete fiction. Moreover, the story he tells there does not say it is about James the brother of Jesus (Hegesippus thought it was, but the story itself never makes any mention of it). It’s more plausibly a survival of pre-orthodox Christianity in which Jesus is still a revelatory being and this James (about whom the story was originally being told) is James the Pillar, who is among those to have “seen” the revealed Jesus (as he does in the story; in fact the story has so many parallels to that of Stephen in Acts 6-8 that one is likely derived from the other).

      James’ epistle…

      …is not written by a brother of Jesus; if it’s even authentic, it’s by James the Pillar, or some other James. (If it were otherwise, it would say so.)

      RC answered: He did. Twice
      BM: No, he did not. You are assuming a) “brothers of the Lord” (BotL) is an expression for “Christian”. Then b) you show the evidence for that: BotL. That’s a circular argument.

      No, yours is. My theory is confirmed by two instances of what it predicts (i.e. it predicts there will be a few instances; when we look, that’s what we see). You said there are no instances. That’s false. You can only say there are no instances if you circularly assume these aren’t instances.

      There is no possible way Paul does not mean Christians in those two passages, because (in 1Cor9) what non-Christians do is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (so he can only be referring to Christians) and (in Gal1) what non-Christians he spoke to is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (which is that he didn’t speak to any Christians; so he can only be referring to a Christian).

      That’s one interpretation. There are others. Such as Paul did not refer to blood brother(s) of Jesus often.

      My math already accounts for that. In fact, I even assigned that explanation a 90% probability. Yet look what conclusion even that entailed.

  19. bernardmuller says

    RC wrote: You’re right on one of those points, I was hasty in converting the odds form to the standard form. The ratio 1/.5 in the odds form becomes .67/.33 in the standard form (where the priors must sum to 1, and so must be adjusted proportionally). I have revised to show this correctly. But the result is the same (31% chance (2) is correct, 69% chance (1) is correct). That is, if the prior of (1) is twice the prior of (2), and no other theories have a significant prior, then their respective priors are .67 and .33, not .5 and .5.

    BM: OK Richard, but you corrected me and yourself in my post earlier as such:
    “P(2) = (.33 x .9) / [(.33 x .9) + (.67 x .1)] = .297 / (.297 + .067) = .82
    Which would mean an 82% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and an 18% chance the mythicists are correct on this one”
    You did put your new values (.67 & .33) in the equation so I cannot understand why you claim the result would be 31% when you stated already 82%. But next, you explain:

    RC continued: However, the consequents (aka likelihoods) do not have to sum to 1. So the consequent of .9 on (2) does not require a consequent of .1 on (1). To the contrary, the ratio there is still 1/.9, and that remains unchanged in the standard form.

    BM: But that goes against your Bayes theorem calculator (and every examples I looked at):
    P(T|E.B) = (P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) / [(P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) + (P(~T|B) x P(E|~T.B))]
    And I suspect your “1/.9″ is consequent of your assumption that “brother(s) of the Lord” mean “Christians”, based on a circular argument.

    RC continued: Your counter proposal is not valid reasoning, because what I proved is that all Christians were brothers of the Lord.

    BM: No you did not. For that, you would have to prove that “of the Lord” means sharing the Christian faith and it is used in Paul’s epistles as such.
    If Paul wanted to indicate James was a Christian, he would have said “brother in the Lord” or “brother in Christ”.

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      BM: OK Richard, but you corrected me and yourself in my post earlier as such:
      “P(2) = (.33 x .9) / [(.33 x .9) + (.67 x .1)] = .297 / (.297 + .067) = .82
      Which would mean an 82% chance McGrath’s theory is correct, and an 18% chance the mythicists are correct on this one”
      You did put your new values (.67 & .33) in the equation so I cannot understand why you claim the result would be 31% when you stated already 82%.

      Because I put your incorrect values in the likelihoods (the consequent probabilities: .9 and .1). When we replace those with the correct likelihoods (.9 and 1), we get my result. That is why your result is wrong.

      RC continued: However, the consequents (aka likelihoods) do not have to sum to 1. So the consequent of .9 on (2) does not require a consequent of .1 on (1). To the contrary, the ratio there is still 1/.9, and that remains unchanged in the standard form.
      BM: But that goes against your Bayes theorem calculator (and every examples I looked at):
      P(T|E.B) = (P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) / [(P(T|B) x P(E|T.B)) + (P(~T|B) x P(E|~T.B))]
      And I suspect your “1/.9″ is consequent of your assumption that “brother(s) of the Lord” mean “Christians”, based on a circular argument.

      You don’t seem to know what you are talking about. Nowhere in the Bayesian calculator does it say the consequents (the likelihoods) must sum to 1. You present the equation, but that doesn’t indicate such a thing either. I can only assume you are confusing the priors with the consequents.

      My consequent probabilities are not based on any circular reasoning. If h (“Paul means only Christians by ‘brothers of the Lord'”) is true, then the evidence we have (all the evidence of Christians being adopted sons of the same God as Jesus etc., and the occasional use of the exact phrase) is exactly what we expect to see (it therefore has a probability of virtually 100%). Your consequent, of .1, would mean there is a 90% chance the evidence would look substantially differently than it does. But you have never explained what would be different, nor how it’s being different would follow from h with a 90% probability.

      RC continued: Your counter proposal is not valid reasoning, because what I proved is that all Christians were brothers of the Lord.
      BM: No you did not. For that, you would have to prove that “of the Lord” means sharing the Christian faith and it is used in Paul’s epistles as such.
      If Paul wanted to indicate James was a Christian, he would have said “brother in the Lord” or “brother in Christ”.

      First, I have refuted the last claim. In spades. There is zero evidence or sense in proposing it.

      Second, you seem not to understand how logic works. Let’s show you:

      P1. The evidence in Paul proves Christians called Jesus the Lord.
      P2. The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.
      P3. The evidence in Paul proves baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God.
      P4. By definition, sons of the same father are brothers of each other.
      P5. By definition, if P2 and P3, then Christians and Jesus were sons of the same father.
      C1. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and Jesus are brothers of each other.
      C2. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and the Lord are brothers of each other.
      P6. In the Greek language, when A is the brother of B, this is stated by saying “A is a brother of B.”
      C3. Therefore, in the Greek language when [a Christian] is the brother of [the Lord], this is stated by saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”
      C4. Therefore, “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”

      Since this follows by logical necessity from P1-6, and P1-6 are all undeniable facts, this conclusion is undeniable.

      Notice how this does not require any instance of anyone saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.” The conclusion is proved anyway, by the evidence we do have.

      By analogy:

      P1. Jane has a million dollars.
      P2. Anyone who has a million dollars is rich.
      C1. Therefore, Jane is rich.

      I do not need a single example of anyone saying Jane is rich, to prove that Jane is rich. All I need is someone saying she has a million dollars.

  20. Will says

    I’m sure you are aware of the response from McGrath to your most recent post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/mythicism-and-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-a-reply-to-richard-carrier.html

    In the thread under the above mentioned post by McGrath, a person submitted the following which I found interesting. Trey said:

    ‘””I saw none of the other apostles only James, the Lord’s brother”. It is reasonable to assume from this statement that James is an apostle and also a “brother” to Jesus. The fact that Paul thought it necessary to qualify this James as being the “Lord’s brother” likely means that there is at least one other apostle named James in the group who is not the “Lord’s brother”. But what does “brother” mean? Here it must mean something different than brethren since it would not help with clarifying who this James is since all the apostles are brethren. So brother cannot mean brethren and for me the only conclusion left is that Paul is saying that James is the biological brother of Jesus.’

    I thought that was a reasonable obection but as i thought about a modern analogy it still seemed that it is not decisive in refuting your claim. The statement, “I saw none of the other apostles only James, the Lord’s brother”, could be analogous to a modern statement like “I saw none of the other physicians only Dr. Anderson.” In this example there is a similar redundancy… since the title “Dr.” is not necessary as he is already included as belonging to the group of “physicians”. Perhaps “brother of the lord” is a similar honorific title that would be included even when James is already specified as a missionary, and hence a Christian. Anyway, i know this is only conjecture but i’m wondering what your take on the problem is… or if there even is a problem. thanks.

    • says

      It’s main flaw is that it wouldn’t work. All Christians are brothers of the Lord. So identifying a James as a brother of the Lord actually wouldn’t indicate which James was meant, the biological brother or the adopted brother. So if Paul actually needed to make that distinction, he would have had to have been much more specific. Most likely he would have used a more familiar way of specifying which James was meant: like “James the son of Joseph” (or if there was more than one of those: “James the natural brother of Jesus,” using physikos, which we see many times in epitaphs and legal documents for distinguishing natural from adopted kin; “James the brother of Jesus in the flesh” might also be a Christian way of saying the same). Also, I should note that it is not agreed by experts that Paul means the James in question was an apostle. Expert opinion is actually divided on that, and a reasonable (if indecisive) case can be made that Paul didn’t mean that (see the articles I cited the previous thread).

      The doctor analogy is a fair one. As for all the possible things that could be going on here, see my replies to McGrath above.

    • says

      Dr. Carrier,

      My point about my three “Uncle Johns” is that “the Lord’s brother” wouldn’t necessarily have to represent anything more than a means of distinguishing the various Jameses. If you have two Jameses, maybe you call one “James the Brother” and one “James the Servant” to tell them apart even though both are considered just as much both brothers and servants as anyone else in the community.

      I don’t know whether I’m being anachronistic here. Maybe that wasn’t something that would have been done in that culture. However, later on when James became known as James the Just, I don’t think that it carried the implication that the other Jameses were unjust or impious.

    • says

      vinnyjh:

      If you have two Jameses, maybe you call one “James the Brother” and one “James the Servant” to tell them apart even though both are considered just as much both brothers and servants as anyone else in the community.

      Except when every baptized James is James the Brother. Then using that phrase would not tell any James apart from any other. That’s the point.

  21. Steven Carr says

    On page 145 of ‘Did Jesus exist?’, Ehrman states that Paul said ‘as clearly as possible’ that he knew Jesus’s brother.

    Surely ‘as clearly as possible’ must be exaggeration as even historicists would say that ‘the brother of Jesus’ is clearer than ‘the brother of the Lord.’

    On the same page Ehrman writes that Paul wanted to ‘strategize’ with Peter. This is just plain cold-blooded murder of the English language.

  22. bernardmuller says

    I want to go back on the following:
    RC wrote: Perhaps a better question is, why didn’t he do it more often, and the answer is he had no need to. The complete phrase is a form of redundancy (just saying “brethren” is ambiguous,
    BM: No, Paul could have said “our brother(s)”. Only two words, no ambiguity, no redundancy.

    RC continued: but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord),
    BM: you are assuming a lot here. That’s not math! And why in Galatians Paul would declare Jesus as a descendant of Abraham, & a woman and under the Law? To confuse people about the meaning of “brother of the Lord”?

    RC continued: and redundancies will rarely be used by a competent writer of Greek.
    BM: but with brother(s) of the Lord meaning “blood brother(s) of Jesus”, there is no redundancy.

    RC continued: They will appear when he wants or needs the flourish of it
    BM: you are assuming again. Why would Paul need to flourish in the case of James, with whom he had “problems”? And not Titus or Timothy, his faithful helpers? Why he did not say similar thing about Cephas/Peter just a few words earlier? Peter and James were pillars of the same church and therefore shared the same beliefs. If it was advantageous to declare James as a Christian, why not say so about Peter? (reminder never Peter and James were declared “in Christ”, “in the Lord” or just “brothers”)

    RC continued: Stylistically, therefore, we should expect to see it used only rarely. And lo and behold, that’s what we see.
    BM: But we see the expression “brothers of the Lord” “wasted” on some unnamed men (1Cor9:5), when “our brothers” would have been sufficient.

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      I want to go back on the following:
      RC wrote: Perhaps a better question is, why didn’t he do it more often, and the answer is he had no need to. The complete phrase is a form of redundancy (just saying “brethren” is ambiguous,
      BM: No, Paul could have said “our brother(s)”. Only two words, no ambiguity, no redundancy.

      That would not make any rhetorical sense in the context of either 1cor9 or Gal1 (where in neither case is such a term of intimacy appropriate). See my remarks on this point upthread.

      RC continued: but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord),
      BM: you are assuming a lot here. That’s not math!

      I am not assuming anything here that isn’t obviously and undeniably true. And that which is obviously and undeniably true has an epistemic probability of effectively 100%. That is math. And it’s correct math.

      And why in Galatians Paul would declare Jesus as a descendant of Abraham, & a woman and under the Law? To confuse people about the meaning of “brother of the Lord”?

      What has any of that to do with who was his brother and how they got that way?

      RC continued: and redundancies will rarely be used by a competent writer of Greek.
      BM: but with brother(s) of the Lord meaning “blood brother(s) of Jesus”, there is no redundancy.

      But there is then an ambiguity: biological or adopted brother? As I’ve said. Ad nauseam.

      You are starting to talk in a circle now. Let me warn you: you will have to start actually responding to my arguments, which I’ve already explained on all these points several times now, or I will just start rejecting your comments. You have done this on my blogs before. Don’t think I have infinite patience with you.

      RC continued: They will appear when he wants or needs the flourish of it
      BM: you are assuming again.

      No, I am concluding. This is how background knowledge works: we know for a fact this is how people were taught to compose in Greek. That is not an assumption. It is a fact.

      Why would Paul need to flourish in the case of James, with whom he had “problems”? [etc.]

      Asked and answered.

      RC continued: Stylistically, therefore, we should expect to see it used only rarely. And lo and behold, that’s what we see.
      BM: But we see the expression “brothers of the Lord” “wasted” on some unnamed men (1Cor9:5), when “our brothers” would have been sufficient.

      The very idea that you think variatio is “wasted” proves you don’t know what you are talking about. I am talking about how the principles of ancient rhetoric operated in practice. Moreover, it is illogical to think he would say “our” brothers in that passage, when that is a term of endearment and intimacy reserved for brethren close to him (and his readers). He is not here talking about those brethren, but all brethren, even those they don’t know personally or intimately. Likewise, just “brothers” would not carry the same rhetorical force as the full pleonasm (analogously to the difference between saying “all other followers” vs. “all other followers of Christ”; they mean the same thing, but the latter is more emphatic and calls attention to their status as equals, i.e. why they are brethren). It would be absurd to say a pastor must mean something different by “followers of Christ” than by “followers” because “he could have just said just ‘followers’.” That is simply not a logical argument. A pastor can say whatever he thinks will be clear and forceful and moving enough for his purposes. On one occasion, “followers” will do” on another he may simply expand it to the pleonastic “followers of Christ.” He doesn’t even need a reason to. But even insofar as there can be reasons, there are plenty to be had. So, too, for Paul. As I’ve explained many times now.

  23. Aaron Baker says

    Well, Ehrman’s article isn’t very good, but when we get to “brother of the Lord,” I didn’t find the arguments in your first post convincing–and I’m not convinced by this elaboration of them either.

    You wrote:

    It’s pretty clear to me. If the Lord said you were his brother, you were the brother of the Lord; why would it ever occur to any speaker of Greek to think or say otherwise? McGrath pulls the same stunt Ehrman did, and references on his behalf evidence that doesn’t exist: “it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as ‘brothers of the Lord’.” Custom of the time? Based on what? We only have the letters of Paul. How does McGrath know what the custom of the time was, except by reference to the letters of Paul?

    ……….

    Your counter proposal is not valid reasoning, because what I proved is that all Christians were brothers of the Lord, not that they were called with that specific phrase. That is, that they would be so called is the (meta-)hypothesis, that they were in fact that (by their own thinking) is one of the facts supporting that hypothesis (if you grasp the distinction; i.e. my evidence proves to 100% certainty that in their own reasoning they were in fact brothers of the Lord, which conforms to the prediction that they would sometimes say so, as well as the prediction that they would never more clearly talk about Jesus having biological brothers).

    McGrath could be clearer; but when he says: “it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as ‘brothers of the Lord,'” I take him to mean that the phrase adelphos/adelphoi tou Kyriou is never used in the surviving Christian literature with the sense you attribute to it–i.e a term equivalent to “Christian”–(nor as a cultic title, another possibility you raised in your first post). Leaving Paul aside for the moment, I’ll assume (provisionally) that McGrath is right regarding other Christian literature in Greek, as you haven’t cited any non-Pauline passages in which the phrase is used with this sense, whether ambiguously or unambiguously. (I’ll obviously modify this assumption if you show me an example.)

    If he’s right on that point, I don’t think you get to wave away that absence of evidence as if it has no relevance to the probability of your hypothesis. The evidence is fragmentary, of course, and if everything written by Christians in that period survived, maybe we’d find adelphos tou Kyriou in the sense you attribute to it. But since we don’t find it in the sample we have, why are we obliged to accept your estimate of 100% probability that the term was sometimes used in your sense? One might instead wonder whether your estimate is on the ball; perhaps, despite Paul’s abstruse theologizing about Christ as the first of many brothers (and the equally abstruse Hebrews 2:10-18), ordinary Christians were reluctant to call themselves brothers of a god. Once that possibility is considered, a probability of less than one is entirely possible.

    To get back to Paul: he apparently uses the phrase adelphos/adelphoi tou Kyriou twice, in 1st Corinthians 9:5 and in Galatians 1:19.

    In the 1st Corinthians passage, Paul says: “as [do] the other apostoloi and the adelphoi tou Kyriou and Cephas [i.e. Peter].” The context makes clear that all the persons mentioned are considered to be, preeminently, Christians. The other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas are each introduced by the coordinating conjunction kai (similar to our “both . . . and”), so they’re all standing on the same footing. If “brothers of the Lord” is understood to be semantically equivalent here to “Christians,” the meaning of the sentence is very strange indeed, given its context. Don’t Barnabas and I have the power, “as do the other apostles, and the Christians, and Cephas?” The implication would be that the other apostles and Cephas are something other than Christians–which is clearly absurd. Also, what you’ve argued is a general expression for “Christian” would be used here of people who are actually part of a spiritual elite–standing on the same footing as the other apostles and Cephas. (Your other suggestion–that “brother of the Lord” is a cultic expression–might be apt–except there’s no evidence of its use as a cultic expression anywhere else.)

    Likewise with Galatians 1:18-19: 18 “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles, except James, ton adelphon tou Kyriou.” Again, a term equivalent to “Christian” is puzzling here. “I saw none of the other apostles, except James” already makes clear the guy is a Christian. Why call him, effectively, “James the Christian” to a Christian audience, presumably familiar with that fact about James? (Also, calling him such would not adequately distinguish him from other Jameses of the early Christian community: James the son of Zebedee, or James the son of Alphaeus [on the assumption they existed & were different people from James ho adelphos tou Kyriou].)

    Is there any other evidence bearing on the appellation “brother(s) of the Lord” as used by Paul, particularly with regard to James? Well, the Gospel of Mark mentions that Jesus had a number of brothers (and sisters), among them James (Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55–56, presumably derived from Mark). Why isn’t Mark part of your Bayesian calculation? If Mark is in no way independent of Paul, we could disregard him; but I think such a lack of independence needs to be proved.

    So, I conclude that, whatever the probability that some Christian somewhere used the expession adelphos tou Kyriou in the sense you’ve proposed, it’s quite improbable that Paul used the expression with that meaning in the two passages discussed; also, that Mark has to be considered (or convincingly eliminated as an independent source) when addressing the probability of what those passages in Paul mean.

    • says

      Aaron Baker:

      McGrath could be clearer; but when he says: “it was not the custom in this time to refer to Christians in general, or a specific subset of Christians, as ‘brothers of the Lord,’” I take him to mean that the phrase adelphos/adelphoi tou Kyriou is never used in the surviving Christian literature with the sense you attribute to it–i.e a term equivalent to “Christian”–(nor as a cultic title, another possibility you raised in your first post).

      And as my argument explained (exactly as you quoted), that is not a relevant observation.

      Leaving Paul aside for the moment, I’ll assume (provisionally) that McGrath is right regarding other Christian literature in Greek, as you haven’t cited any non-Pauline passages in which the phrase is used with this sense, whether ambiguously or unambiguously. (I’ll obviously modify this assumption if you show me an example.)

      There is no other Christian literature in Greek–until after Christians started calling themselves Christians. That’s my point. You can’t argue from the silence of documents we don’t have. By the time we get more documents, 40 years had passed, Jerusalem had been destroyed, Christians burned at Rome, and the movement fundamentally transformed. A doctrine that Jesus had brothers had also by then arisen. So everything is then different. What the practice was then is therefore irrelevant to what it was in Paul’s day.

      The evidence is fragmentary, of course, and if everything written by Christians in that period survived, maybe we’d find adelphos tou Kyriou in the sense you attribute to it. But since we don’t find it in the sample we have, why are we obliged to accept your estimate of 100% probability that the term was sometimes used in your sense?

      You have the rules of evidence a bit turned around here.

      The proposal P1 that “the term was sometimes used in my sense” is a prediction of the hypothesis H1: “all Christians considered themselves brothers of the Lord.” It is the latter, not the former, that I prove to (virtually) 100% certainty. And I do not need an instance of the phrase to prove H1. It follows necessarily from the facts I did prove (see the logical syllogism in my comment upthread). And if that hypothesis is true, then the prediction is true, and that means we will see the term “brothers of the Lord” sometimes used in the corpus of Paul even if Jesus didn’t exist and had no biological brothers.

      In other words, because H1 is true, the letters as we have them say all the things we would expect if the mythicist hypothesis is true. Therefore, the appearance of the phrase “brothers of the Lord” is not evidence against mythicism.

      That’s the first part of what we must come to realize. The second is this:

      H1 entails P1; H1 is true, therefore P1 is true; which means the evidence is 100% expected if mythicism is true. And no assumptions were required (i.e. H1 is proven, and P1 is entailed by it; nothing is therefore assumed). Conversely, if Jesus had biological brothers, then “brother of the Lord” would be a confusing phrase, because (per P1, which is entailed by H1, which I’ve proved true) it does not distinguish between biological or adopted brothers, the very distinction historicists need this phrase to be making. Therefore, the only possible way it could be making that distinction is if we assume that Christians policed the use of it, so that all Christians knew it could only be used to mean biological brother, and therefore whenever used only meant biological brother. But there is no evidence of that policing behavior. Therefore it is an ad hoc assumption. There being no evidence for or against it, it is as likely true as false. It therefore has a 50% chance of being true. Therefore any hypothesis that requires that assumption is going to be half as likely as any hypothesis that doesn’t require it. H1 doesn’t require it. Consequently, since mythicism (MYTH) requires only H1, but historicism (HIST) requires that added assumption, then MYTH is initially twice as likely as HIST, so if we assume no other explanations are on the table, that means their relative priors are P(MYTH) = .67 and P(HIST) = .33. Likewise, we would expect some probability that the biological brothers of Jesus would come up more clearly as such somewhere in Paul’s letters–there has to be at least a 10% chance of that, which entails the evidence we have is only 90% likely on HIST; but it is 100% likely on MYTH (as shown previously).

      That’s how the logic of evidence works here. (But as we consider the remaining evidence, our final probability can indeed change, since this is after all just one piece of evidence; see below)

      One might instead wonder whether your estimate is on the ball; perhaps, despite Paul’s abstruse theologizing about Christ as the first of many brothers (and the equally abstruse Hebrews 2:10-18), ordinary Christians were reluctant to call themselves brothers of a god. Once that possibility is considered, a probability of less than one is entirely possible.

      That is another ad hoc assumption, nowhere in evidence. It therefore reduces the prior probability by half again. Unless you can adduce evidence for or against it.

      This is why you can’t defend a position by making stuff up. Everything you assume out of whole cloth halves the probability again. (Unless you can prove it is almost certainly true, for example, and not just something you are supposing is possible.)

      The context makes clear that all the persons mentioned are considered to be, preeminently, Christians. The other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas are each introduced by the coordinating conjunction kai (similar to our “both . . . and”), so they’re all standing on the same footing.

      The conjunction does not entail “same footing,” it merely entails conjunction. Moreover, it can also mean “even, also.” Which it must in this case, since Cephas is an apostle. Thus no distinction is being drawn between him and apostles. He is merely being singled out as an emphatic example. It follows that no distinction is being drawn between him and brothers of the Lord, either. He is simply a prime example of both. (The very first brother of the Lord and apostle.)

      If “brothers of the Lord” is understood to be semantically equivalent here to “Christians,” the meaning of the sentence is very strange indeed, given its context.

      Not at all. It actually makes Paul’s argument more effective: by adding the more generic Christians, he is saying “why should being an apostle prevent one from having a wife when other Christians can have wives?” and thus he is saying “why should being an apostle prevent one from having a wife when other Christians can have wives, and other apostles have wives, even Peter?” See my response to Ramsey upthread.

      Don’t Barnabas and I have the power, “as do the other apostles, and the Christians, and Cephas?” The implication would be that the other apostles and Cephas are something other than Christians–which is clearly absurd.

      By your logic, Paul is then saying Cephas is not an apostle. That is far more absurd, don’t you think? Indeed, absurd enough to prove that what you think is absurd, is not absurd at all, but in fact an obvious rhetorical device of going from particular, to general, to specific example of both.

      “I saw none of the other apostles, except James” already makes clear the guy is a Christian. Why call him, effectively, “James the Christian” to a Christian audience, presumably familiar with that fact about James?

      There are any number of reasons why. Why in his letters would Paul sometimes call Timothy a “brother” when his readers know full well Timothy is of the brethren? Paul knows his readers know Timothy is their brother. You can’t act all bewildered by why then he would mention it. Mentioning that fact is just something a writer will on occasion do. He doesn’t need a reason. And again, even if he has a reason, there are many good reasons for Paul to use this expression here. See my list upthread.

      (Also, calling him such would not adequately distinguish him from other Jameses of the early Christian community: James the son of Zebedee, or James the son of Alphaeus [on the assumption they existed & were different people from James ho adelphos tou Kyriou].)

      Indeed. Just as calling him a brother of the Lord does not distinguish him from them, either. Since they are all the adopted sons of God as well, and therefore also the Lord’s brothers. (See my comments on this upthread.)

      Your unstated assumption is that Paul’s intention is to distinguish which James he meant. There are only two possibilities: (1) which James it was is irrelevant (and in fact that is why he says “James the brother of the Lord,” as in “James a brother of the Lord,” as in “except for this other Christian named James, who isn’t important to my point, which is that I met with no other apostles but Peter”) or (2) it was the most important James in the church (thus requiring no specificity), i.e. it is the James the Pillar he continues talking about in Gal. 2. But James the Pillar we know is not the brother of Jesus. See my comments on this upthread.

      Why isn’t Mark part of your Bayesian calculation?

      Because as I explained in my original response to Ehrman, I (like Thompson) regard Mark to be fiction. It therefore cannot be evidence of anything.

      But how one decides on that (as well as other non-Pauline evidence) does indeed alter the probability I calculated: it could raise it or lower it. See my remarks upthread on this point.

      If Mark is in no way independent of Paul, we could disregard him; but I think such a lack of independence needs to be proved.

      Mark’s dependence or independence of Paul is irrelevant to this. Mark’s data is either reliable or not. His state of dependence makes no difference to that. Mark is no more to be trusted that Jesus had brothers than he is to be trusted that the sun went out for three hours.

      I do believe there is good evidence of direct or indirect dependence of Mark on Paul, but as it’s not relevant, I won’t digress on that. Suffice to say, Paul’s James appears most readily to be the Pillar (the Pillars being Peter, James, and John, per Gal. 2), and was likely taken as such by Mark, and thus Mark inserts the Pillars as the top three disciples–depicting none of whom as the brother of Jesus. In his account the brothers of Jesus aren’t even in the movement, much less its top dogs. Acts 2-28 concurs.

  24. Aaron Baker says

    Also, the context of the Marcan passage makes quite clear that these are biological brothers and sisters of Jesus.

    • says

      Certainly…two passages in one Gospel, which are simply repeated with minor variation in two other Gospels that used Mark as a source. That is the sum of the evidence for Jesus having brothers. All in hagiographies everyone agrees are full of fictions.

      (The fact that no author had any more information about these brothers is proof enough they didn’t exist; Matthew knows nothing about them but what Mark says, and Luke knows even less, beyond simply assuming they joined the church, even though his sources for the history of the church never mention them–as they disappear the moment the church goes public in Acts 2. Thus, it all goes back to Mark. And no one heard anything else about these brothers, than what little Mark said.)

  25. says

    I stopped reading McGrath altogether when I realized that being dishonest is methodologically OK with him as long as it supports whatever argument he is forwarding.

    I enjoy watching error get its ass handed to it, particularly when it is as smug as McG.

    Well done, Richard.

    Ó

    • says

      To be a freedman (in the proper sense), you would have to have been a slave. Josephus was never a slave (or at least he never says he was). He was made a citizen by emperor Vespasian after his capture. There is no evidence he was reduced to a slave before that.

      (The Catholic Encyclopedia says he was a freedman of Vespasian because Vespasian released him from his status as a prisoner, but that is not what “freedman” meant in antiquity.)

      Not that there would be much relevant difference. Freedmen were half citizens and part of the Roman polity (they had most of the rights of citizens and their children were born into full citizenship).

  26. Richard C. says

    Mr. Carrier, I’m glad PZ linked to you. I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog and book, “Not the Impossible Faith.”

  27. bernardmuller says

    RC wrote:
    “I argued that all Christians were “brothers of the Lord” because: (a) they were all adopted sons of God, (b) Jesus was an adopted son of God, and (c) that by definition made them all the adopted brothers of Jesus; and (d) Christians called each other brother, therefore they would have called each other brothers of Jesus, too. I also showed (e) that they believed Jesus had explicitly called them his brothers and (f) they explicitly said Jesus was only “the firstborn among many brethren.” Another important point I made is that Jesus became Lord at his adoption, so Christians would be brothers of the Lord specifically, a uniquely Christian concept …

    BM: this is a fine theological demonstration. But what matters is: would Paul think of Christians as “brothers of the Lord”. We don’t have evidence of that. Claiming Gal 1:19 and 1Cor 9:5 are evidence is circular, because we have no proof Paul was calling those “Christian(s)” through that expression.
    I can also make a theological demonstration about Christians were “brothers of the Crucified”. But would that prove Paul thought of Christians that way? NO.
    And I can make the opposite argument. James is certainly described as a human Jew. Jesus is also described in Galatians as a human Jew. Maybe Paul never used “brother” as blood relation (excluding 1Co9:5 & Gal1:19) but he did for “sister” (Rom16:15).
    So I can postulate “brother of the Lord” refers to a blood relation, without going through some theological “demonstration”. And as I said before, no redundancy, no need to explain Peter, Titus or Timothy were never declared the same, no need a) to invoke a rare flourish, b) to explain why 1Co9:5 and Gal1:19 show a long form for (allegedly) “Christians” when “our brother(s)” or “the brother(s)” would have been sufficient.
    And I have evidence for that outside the Pauline epistles, even if Jesus, as the only child, would have been beneficial for any Christian doctrine.
    And where is that uniquely Christian concept (“brothers of the Lord” = all Christians) stated outside (allegedly) 1Co9:5 & Gal1:19?

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      What matters is: would Paul think of Christians as “brothers of the Lord”.

      I proved he would. The only way he wouldn’t is if there is some fact not in evidence that would prevent him from thinking this. Thus, you must resort to an ad hoc assumption to escape the natural consequences of the facts in evidence. I, however, do not require any ad hoc assumption at all. That’s the difference.

      I can also make a theological demonstration about Christians were “brothers of the Crucified”. But would that prove Paul thought of Christians that way? NO.

      Of course he would. He wouldn’t use such an awkward, ambiguous and needless phrase (since Paul never says “the crucified” as a straight synonym of Jesus, obviously because there are many crucified people, Christians among them), but he would understand it immediately if someone else did (in a context where it was clear which “crucified” person was meant).

      Thus, for example, 1 Cor. 1:23: “we preach Christ crucified,” so if you are a brother of Christ, you are a brother of the crucified. Duh.

      There’s simply a difference between “would think that” and “would find occasion to say that.”

      Your last argument is so unintelligible I can’t even fathom how you are deriving your conclusion from your premises. I think we’re scraping the bottom of your ability to argue a point here.

      And your last rhetorical question I have answered a dozen times in this thread. So clearly you have also given up even interacting with my arguments.

      Arguing with with is looking to be futile here. Just like last time.

  28. Neunder says

    Enjoying the debate.

    McGrath may mean by “our next earliest sources” about James, the following passages: Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James…?”

    • says

      Certainly. (As already noted upthread.) That’s what I assumed as well (hence my response above). There is one other passage (Mk. 3:31-34; also repeated in Mt. 12:46-49; Lk. 8:19-21). And Acts 1:14 (which I suspect Luke just imaginatively derives from Mk. 6:3 / Mt. 13:55, since he does not include that passage otherwise). And that’s it (everything after that is an obvious legendary development on these).

  29. Aaron Baker says

    In a later posting you write:

    Its main flaw is that it wouldn’t work. All Christians are brothers of the Lord. So identifying a James as a brother of the Lord actually wouldn’t indicate which James was meant, the biological brother or the adopted brother. So if Paul actually needed to make that distinction, he would have had to have been much more specific.

    I think this is question-begging. You have to prove first, or at least establish the probability, that Christans understood adelphos tou Kuriou as meaning simply “Christian,” and you haven’t done either. You can of course assert that in Pauline theology, it would be correct to call a Christian an adelphos tou Kyriou (though it appears, on close inspection, that Paul doesn’t use the phrase with that meaning in the letters that have come down to us). You can assert this, that is, if you’ve interpreted correctly the phrase in Romans about Christ as the first-born of many brothers; however, as I’ve said before, Pauline theology (or the theology of Hebrews) in and of itself entails nothing about the language (or understanding) of ordinary Christians. So, the deductive train you use above in your latest response to Bernardmuller does not take you where you want to go. It quite simply isn’t “an undeniable fact” that a Christian is a “brother of the Lord.”

    And even if the phrase adelphos tou Kyriou meant “Christian” to at least some Christians, it wouldn’t follow that Paul had to remove any ambiguity when using the phrase in its literal, biological sense. People speak ambiguously all the time. Moreover, as I’ve already said, in the passage in Galatians, the phrase taken in your sense would contribute nothing to Paul’s meaning; it would also likely cause confusion by seeming to insinuate a contrast between a “Christian” on the one hand and Cephas on the other. Under those circumstances, a reader, having to choose between your meaning and the biological meaning, would likely choose the latter–particularly if it was well-known that Jesus had a brother named James.

    • says

      Aaron Baker:

      RC: Its main flaw is that it wouldn’t work. All Christians are brothers of the Lord. So identifying a James as a brother of the Lord actually wouldn’t indicate which James was meant, the biological brother or the adopted brother. So if Paul actually needed to make that distinction, he would have had to have been much more specific.

      AB: I think this is question-begging.

      No question is begged when every premise is proved and the conclusion necessarily follows.

      I can only assume you don’t know how logic works.

      You have to prove first, or at least establish the probability, that Christans understood adelphos tou Kuriou as meaning simply “Christian,” and you haven’t done either.

      I have proved Christians would have understood it that way.

      And I don’t know what “either” means here. You listed only one premise.

      Pauline theology (or the theology of Hebrews) in and of itself entails nothing about the language (or understanding) of ordinary Christians.

      It does when we accept that these ordinary Christians are speaking (or reading and writing) Greek, and we know how the Greek language works. (See linked argument above.)

      And even if the phrase adelphos tou Kyriou meant “Christian” to at least some Christians, it wouldn’t follow that Paul had to remove any ambiguity when using the phrase in its literal, biological sense. People speak ambiguously all the time.

      Not when it will cause an obvious confusion (and contradict their own beliefs in the irrelevance of biology). Nor when your intention is to be precise (as your theory requires: if Paul means to make clear that this is the biological brother, using a phrase that refers to all baptized Christians would be the last one he’d even consider).

      Moreover, as I’ve already said, in the passage in Galatians, the phrase taken in your sense would contribute nothing to Paul’s meaning.

      Unless it does. But it doesn’t have to. Paul often calls fellow Christians “brother” when it contributes nothing to his meaning.

      It would also likely cause confusion by seeming to insinuate a contrast between a “Christian” on the one hand and Cephas on the other.

      How would the Galatians be confused about that? You aren’t even being logical at this point. You are acting like Paul was writing for you, two thousand years later, and not for the living contemporaries of Peter who knew him personally.

      For example, Paul says “apostles and brothers of the Lord and Peter” in 1 Cor. 9:5 and certainly didn’t think the Corinthians would imagine he meant Peter was not an apostle. Thus proving your assumptions have no merit.

      Under those circumstances, a reader, having to choose between your meaning and the biological meaning, would likely choose the latter–particularly if it was well-known that Jesus had a brother named James.

      The question is what choice the writer would make. In a church full of Jameses, in which all Christians are regarded as the brothers of the Lord, it simply wouldn’t occur to a writer to use “brother of the Lord” to mean something specifically distinct from an adopted brother of the Lord. He would use a more specific expression.

      You need to step out of the ruts of your biased perspective, and imagine you are Paul, in circa 50 A.D., writing a latter to Galatians who know many Jameses who are all brothers of the Lord.

      Imagine if he means James the Pillar (from Galatians 2, who is not the brother of Jesus yet is otherwise clearly the highest ranking James in the church, and the one who, from that fact alone as well as the ensuing context, the Galatians would most likely assume he meant), or a James who is not an apostle, or a James who is an apostle but not the Pillar, or a James the Galatians don’t know (and who is thus a generic brother of the Lord). Imagine Peter has a brother named James, so Paul wants to clarify this is not that James. Each of these is less probable than the next, but the probability of one of them being true is near unity. The probability that he would use this generic phrase to try and specify a non-adopted brother is, by contrast, even more improbable than the least of these.

  30. R Johnston says

    You are, by several dozen orders of magnitude, far too kind. Paul’s reference in Galatians is not any kind of evidence whatsoever. Religious charlatans were and are a dime a dozen, and the claims of proselytizers are worth absolutely nothing in the absence of corroborating evidence, especially proselytizers two thousand years dead. Paul’s reference in Galatians is shit on a shingle fuck all crap on a stick to anyone who doesn’t already believe.

    The rest of your post isn’t worthy of comment because you’re too fucking polite. The evidence for nonmythicism is nonexistent and can’t exist by the definition of evidence. “Historical” Jesus Christ is a ridiculous concept, undefined and the concern only of people who have no interest in history.

    Historicism is a myth, and anyone who denies that fact is an illiterate clod who should be mocked for his denial of the concepts of reality and history.

  31. says

    Both of my parents had brothers named “John” and my mother’s sister married a man named “John.” My siblings and I designated them “Uncle John Bourbon,” “Uncle John Martini,” and “Uncle John Vodka.” Although I can affirm the accuracy of the first two nicknames, by the time that I came along, Uncle John Vodka wasn’t much of a drinker any more and I’m not sure that I ever saw him live up to his nickname. Nevertheless, he was always Uncle John Vodka because that’s what the convention required.

    Might it not also be possible that Paul used the designation “brother of the Lord” just because that’s the designation that was commonly used to distinguish him from other Christians of the same name? Might Paul not have use the designation without knowing whether it was warranted? Can we even assume that Paul knew why James was called “the brother of the Lord” in the first place?

    Aren’t such considerations why historians like corroboration?

    • says

      VinnyJH:

      Can we even assume that Paul knew why James was called “the brother of the Lord” in the first place?

      Yes. Because all Christians are brothers of the Lord, Paul would assume it meant James was an adopted brother just like Paul. Unless the phrase was policed, so that it only ever meant biological brother. And if that were the case, then Paul would know this. But assuming that was the case halves the prior probability of any hypothesis that requires that assumption.

  32. bernardmuller says

    RC wrote: That would not make any rhetorical sense in the context of either 1cor9 or Gal1 (where in neither case is such a term of intimacy appropriate). See my remarks on this point upthread.
    BM: I read it. A lot of verbose and excuses to defend your point. This is not math and not evidence. You wrote: “Indeed, to always consistently refer to them as brother (or indeed, the pleonastic “brother of the Lord”) would be fastidious, which is the kind of thing all schools of the time taught writers not to do.”
    But Paul did not do that: He used also “in Christ” and “in the Lord” in place of “brothers”. Does one “brother of the Lord” in one epistle and a “brothers of the Lord” in another one would avoid the fastidiousness?

    RC continued: but it’s an ambiguity all his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, but brothers of the Lord),
    BM replied: you are assuming a lot here. That’s not math!
    Then RC wrote: I am not assuming anything here that isn’t obviously and undeniably true. And that which is obviously and undeniably true has an epistemic probability of effectively 100%. That is math. And it’s correct math.
    BM: You are assuming “his readers understood because they knew what he meant: not biological brothers, …” No it is not correct math. It is not math.

    RC: But there is then an ambiguity: biological or adopted brother? As I’ve said. Ad nauseam.
    BM: But Richard, you postulated that Paul’s readers understood by “brother of the Lord” as not meaning biological brother. Which means you think Paul’s readers knew a few things about James. So I can also postulate Paul’s readers knew about that James as the blood brother of Jesus. (And there is evidence for that in the gospels!).
    Also, a good explanation why Paul wanted to identify that James from possible others:
    This is the first reference of “James” in ‘Galatians’. But at the time (around 38) of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as narrated in Gal1:18-20) there was another prominent member of the “church of Jerusalem” named James, the brother of John, who got executed around 42 (according to Ac12:1-2). Therefore, Paul probably wanted to identify the “James” he met then, more so because this one became most important later.

    • says

      bernardmuller:

      You are arguing in circles now. I have answered everything you are now saying and asking. In this thread above, and in the previous. You are ignoring it all.

      This is exactly the same thing you did on my last blog. I see no point in arguing with you any further.

      We are done here.

  33. bernardmuller says

    RC wrote: Why do you assume Peter is not one of them? Peter is an apostle (Gal. 1:17-19). He is thus not being distinguished from apostles and brethren, he is being singled out as a prime example of them.
    BM: It’s like me saying: I met the adults, the extended family and Bruce (well known to be the patriarch). Does not make sense to write this way? Rather something more like: I met the adults, the children and Bruce. And why would Paul mention the Christians in general to make his case? Sure many of those were married. So what?
    However it makes more sense that Paul was pleading his cause by selecting persons or groups with particular significance: Peter, of course, well known, the other apostles (just like Paul) and … Jesus. But Jesus was not married, so he could not have him as example. But his brothers were. That’s the next best thing!
    One very important thing: Paul wrote 1Cor9:5 in the context of travelling:
    RSV: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
    The apostles were travelling. Paul was travelling. Peter was travelling. Some Christians might have been travelling but most were not. So “brothers of the Lord” cannot mean Christians at large. Here is another challenge for you.

    RC wrote: That’s complete fiction. Moreover, the story he tells there does not say it is about James the brother of Jesus (Hegesippus thought it was, but the story itself never makes any mention of it).
    BM: Fiction, a lot, but in some circles, in the 2nd century, James is represented as a super Jew, not a Christian (his “confession” is obviously forced on him to make him look like one). Certainly a clue in my book about James was not “in Christ”. And Hegesippus had James as a brother of Jesus. Is once not enough?

    RC wrote: No, yours is. My theory is confirmed by two instances of what it predicts (i.e. it predicts there will be a few instances; when we look, that’s what we see). You said there are no instances. That’s false. You can only say there are no instances if you circularly assume these aren’t instances.
    BM: What is predicted is all yours. There is no evidence in the whole NT that “brothers of the Lord” means “Christians” even if it can be justified.

    RC wrote: There is no possible way Paul does not mean Christians in those two passages, because (in 1Cor9) what non-Christians do is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (so he can only be referring to Christians) and (in Gal1) what non-Christians he spoke to is wholly irrelevant to Paul’s argument (which is that he didn’t speak to any Christians; so he can only be referring to a Christian).
    BM: In 1Cor9 I demonstrated that “Christians” for “brothers of the Lord” is irrelevant. But very relevant for “blood brothers of Jesus”. For Gal1, what do you mean? It seems you take Peter as non-Christian now. And also James “because he didn’t speak to any Christians”. But then you infer that James was a Christian! I am lost here.

  34. mikeyB says

    You state your opinion that the gospels are fiction. My understanding from cursory readings of what the consensus of scholars is that Mark and Q represent the source material for Matthew and Luke, and while John may be partially dependent on the other three, it is not at all clear that this is the case since stylistically Jesus is very different and there are many other things that happen in John that are unique. If this is so, one could argue that there are 3 different sources behind the gospels. I understand there are other positions but this is the most accepted one.

    Was wondering if you agree with this consensus, and if so/not, if this has any bearing on the historicity question. For the sake of argument, if you grant that these are 3 (at least quasi-independent) sources, does this weaken the mythicist case. Related, does the mythicist case depend on there being only one source. If it does then you’re going to have to address the synoptic problem along with the historicity issue.

    They may not be related, e.g. could be there were three quasi-independent myths being told or just one. Just wondered what you’re thoughts were along these lines.

    I appreciate the thoroughness you apply to these topics, based upon these two blog entries, look forward to more.

    • says

      Yes, what you describe is the most common position (but by no means is it resolved; numerous scholars disagree with every single element of that standard set of assumptions, and IMO the evidence for them is dismal at best).

      My position is that nothing has been sufficiently proven on these points to base any reliable conclusion on. Not any (so neither historicism nor mythicism are helped by this state of affairs; evidentially, it’s a wash). I think it looks most likely that Matthew simply expanded and redacted Mark, and Luke redacted Matthew and Mark, and John more freely expanded and redacted the story he received from Luke and Mark. They are all fabricating. However, that conclusion does not require that premise.

      It’s entirely possible they were using sources, that were in turn fabricated. That is, just as Matthew used Mark, Mark may have used some lost Gospel before him. In fact, that Gospel might even have been Q (one of the things that is frequently pointed out by experts on this is that the Q hypothesis is based on a circular and therefore logically invalid assumption that Mark didn’t use Q). That doesn’t make that lost Gospel any more “true” than Mark. Or Matthew. Or John. Or the Gospel of Peter for that matter.

      For example, Thomas Brodie makes a strong case that Luke-Acts used a source in which the Elijah-Elisha narratives were rewritten casting Jesus in the title role. Which would be a complete fabrication. So his having a source lends no support to his narrative being true. I am not certain Brodie is correct about his source thesis. His case for the rewrite thesis, however, is convincingly strong–but possibly the author of Luke-Acts added that material himself, without a source, simply integrating it with material from Mark and Matthew.

      And so on. The possibilities are endless. Certainty is rarely to be had. (Despite the overconfident assertions of academics. This isn’t the only point on which their assertions far outrun the evidence: see my Ignatian Vexation.)

      The answer to your principal question, however, is that mythicism does not require a one-source thesis. All myths can have multiple independent origins (for example, it’s believed many towns invented myths about Hercules, which were only later integrated into a single narrative, and it is clear this happened to Isis and Osiris as well; the Diatessaron is even an example of this happening to Jesus, as is the long ending of Mark, although the sources being united in these two cases are not fully independent of each other, you can see how their being independent wouldn’t make the resulting unifications any more true; and there were certainly fully independent myths about Jesus: examples of independently fabricated myths about Jesus include the Infancy Gospels and the Letter to Abgar).

      As long as people are casting their beliefs into mythical forms, there is no reason to expect only one person or community will do this. In fact, all precedents (even the history of stories about Jesus) prove otherwise. So the challenge is not to find out how many sources there may have been. The challenge is to find out whether any of those sources derives from an actual witness to the events it relates. Or whether we can know it can, to any useful probability.

  35. IanK says

    Apologies, I’m sure this has been dealt with elsewhere. I was wondering whether the gospel instances of Christ’s brothers (often seemingly unambiguously associated with his “mother”) can be explained using the model proposed in the article? I went to check the references again using my OliveTree BIbleReader and found “brothers” were transformed into “brethren”. I guess that’s one way to sort the problem? :-)

    • says

      Sorry, I don’t understand your question (and “brothers” and “brethren” are just English cognates; there is no corresponding difference in the Greek). Possibly what you are getting at is answered upthread.

  36. hazur says

    RC responding to Aaron: “But there is no evidence of that policing behavior. Therefore it is an ad hoc assumption. There being no evidence for or against it, it is as likely true as false. It therefore has a 50% chance of being true.
    Talking about policing, I find your arguments (Richard) persuasive, however I think is important for you to be precise in the definitions of your terms and the bold paragraph above is a good example. Although the numbers don’t change I think a better way to express the analysis is: “There being no evidence for or against it, it is as likely true as false. Therefore we are justified to consider a 50% chance of being true for the purpose of the Bayesian calculations.” The point being the words you used above are true for coin flipping and I think you should distinguish that from the assignment of probabilities you are doing for the analysis in this case where there’s no evidence.

  37. bernardmuller says

    RC wrote:
    P1. The evidence in Paul proves Christians called Jesus the Lord.
    P2. The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.
    P3. The evidence in Paul proves baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God.
    P4. By definition, sons of the same father are brothers of each other.
    P5. By definition, if P2 and P3, then Christians and Jesus were sons of the same father.
    C1. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and Jesus are brothers of each other.
    C2. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and the Lord are brothers of each other.
    P6. In the Greek language, when A is the brother of B, this is stated by saying “A is a brother of B.”
    C3. Therefore, in the Greek language when [a Christian] is the brother of [the Lord], this is stated by saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”
    C4. Therefore, “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”

    BM: Remain to be seen if the Christians that Paul was addressing thought as themselves as “son(s) of God”:
    In 1Corinthians (and 1 Thessalonians written earlier) there is NO “son(s) of God”.
    In Galatians, the first mention of Christians as “son(s) of God” comes at verse 4:5, that is three chapters after Gal1:19. Furthermore, “son(s) of God” seems to be a new concept introduced then by Paul to the Galatians.
    And in 1Thessalonians and 1Corinthians, “Son of God” appears in passages which I think (for good reasons explained in my website) are interpolations: 1Th1:10, 1Cor1:4-9 & 1Cor15:23-28.
    Here are some of the reasons, from my website:
    “in ‘1Thessalonians’ and ‘1Corinthians’, Paul was unlikely to mention Jesus as “the Son”, because he wrote:
    “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1Th1:1)
    “our God and Father” (1Th1:3,3:13)
    “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus” (1Th3:11)
    “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many gods and many lords, [for Paul, as it seems here, “lords” are not “gods”]
    ` yet for us there is one God, the Father … and one Lord Jesus Christ …”(1Cor8:5-6a)
    “the heavenly man [Jesus]”(1Cor15:48,49)”

    The author of ‘Hebrews’ did have Jesus considering Christians as his brothers, unambiguously. But Paul never did.
    And even if Paul’s audience was then aware of “Son of God” and “son(s) of God, I do not think they had your 10 steps list in order to interpret instantanously “Brother(s) of the Lord” your way, when the passages were read to them. Nor that Paul was expecting such quick thinking. More so when “Brother(s) in_the_Lord/in_Christ” would not cause any confusion.

  38. Hjalti says

    Carrier, I thought you might be interested in this comment by James McGrath, apparently you represent the equivalent of a “bogus pseudoscientific critic” in the domain of history and you engage in “denialism”.

  39. bernardmuller says

    Richard,
    I am not ignoring you. But I am raising new points from your previous answers. If you already answered the same thing somewhere else, just tell me. But answer my new points.
    Bernard

    • says

      Your “new points” aren’t new. They are points I already answered. Several times. That you don’t know that is why arguing with you is a waste of time. You can’t follow a train of thought.

  40. Chris S says

    My concern with the reading of “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:4 as any and all Christians is that it doesn’t cohere with the logic of his argument throughout the chapter. Here, he is responding to critics in the church at Corinth who despise him and reject him as an authority figure. So what does Paul do?

    He begins by asserting his apostolic status as one who has personally seen Jesus. Secondly, he reminds the church that their existence as a community and their faith in the gospel is based on his missionary activity. At the outset, he has established his credentials by reference to a) status and b) evangelistic accomplishments.

    In verse 4, he uses these credentials to claim his right to material support from the communities he serves. In verses 7-13, he draws parallels between his activity and various occupations in which the laborer should naturally expect benefits: vintners eat their own grapes, farmers their own grain, and Temple priests the food that is offered. So he has the right, as a preacher of the gospel (v. 14), to receive intrinsic rewards from that profession: namely, that the Corinthians should be willing to place it in the offering plate for him. Of course, he goes on to point out he doesn’t use any of these rights.

    This is the context for referring to the other apostles, the brothers and Cephas. They all have the right “not to work for a living” (v. 6). How come? Because they have the right to receive the benefits that come from possessing the same status and pursuing the same mission as Paul.

    Paul is not defining his rights as the rights of any and all Christian. No, they are the rights of a called apostle and evangelist. So when he points back to the apostles, the brothers, and Cephas, he must mean that they are also authority figures over the churches.

    So I just don’t see what sense there is in Paul referring to “Christians in general” to make his point. Does Paul think “any Christian” has the right to be subsidized by the churches, or to “not work for a living”? Of course not. Does Paul think that “any Christian” is a preacher of the gospel in like manner to him, such that Joe Q. Corinthian can think of himself as the vintner, the soldier, or the Temple priest? Of course not.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that “brothers of the Lord” must mean biological brothers. It could mean a special rank in the church leadership. But, as far as I read this passage, it clearly connotes status and responsibility in such a way that it cannot be a blanket term for all believers.

    • says

      Chris S:

      This is the context for referring to the other apostles, the brothers and Cephas. They all have the right “not to work for a living” (v. 6). How come? Because they have the right to receive the benefits that come from possessing the same status and pursuing the same mission as Paul.

      And his (and Barnabas’) right to have a wive is one of his arguments for that conclusion. See above.

      Notice that in verse 5 he does not say “Do we not have the right to be paid for what we do, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” despite it being the obvious thing to say in verse 4. So clearly he is not saying only these three groups have the right to keep a wife. He is saying everyone can have wives, which have to be supported, so therefore don’t we have a right (v. 4) to receive support?

  41. bernardmuller says

    Richard wrote: Even though this goes against the Christian doctrine that all are equals, and no one has a special privilege from being biologically related to anyone.

    BM: Thanks Richard, you just explained to us why James is not indicated to be the brother of Jesus in ‘Acts’ and James’ epistle.
    That also prove I am not ignoring what you wrote.

    I review all comments on that post, including your opening statements, and I do not see why you are not responding on my new arguments which were not raised before.

    Bernard

  42. epweissengruber says

    Dr. Carrier

    It is a shame that you have to waste your time explaining again and again the paucity of evidence for a historical Jesus. Your skills and energy would be better spent tracing the diffusion of Christian beliefs or the spread of Christian institutions, or delving into the philosophical assumptions of Church writers.

    Have professional historians from outside of that discipline of historical Jesus studies ever critiqued it? I do not think that most examinations of historical figures turn on small points of translation, or teasing out hypothetical traditions whose postulated linguistic tics can supposedly be detected in hypothesized sources for documents that are rife with evident forgeries.

    What do biographers of charismatic religious leaders like Mani or Muhammad make of the “methods” of Jesus studies, such as the “criterion of embarasment”?

    In my area of interest, theatre history, there are many fascinating texts, icons, physical artifacts to examine. But if the whole enterprise turned on discussions of whether or not there was a real Thespis who invented theatre in Athens, or whether obscure references to this figure are to legends, or to some forgotten ritual or festival, the enterprise would be laughable. And to try to pin arguments for Thespis’ historicity on a few points of Attic diction would be a non-starter.

    I look forward to your forthcoming books and to the work you do when you leave the questers for a historical Jesus behind.

    • says

      I don’t know enough about Islamic or Manichaean studies to answer the question vis-a-vis Muhammad or Mani. (Neither claimed to be a salvific demigod, much less of a dying-and-rising variety, so they are more parallel to Peter and Paul than to Jesus. That makes a significant difference to the prior probability of their existing; as to other details about them, I believe most are treated with substantial doubt and uncertainty for lack of good sources, but that’s as true of Jesus even in mainstream scholarship.)

      As far as I know, historians outside Jesus studies are fairly oblivious to the methodological debate going on within it, and on historicity simply defer to the consensus within the field (since to challenge that consensus would require becoming an expert in Jesus studies, which would no longer make them a historian outside Jesus studies).

  43. says

    The two times that Paul writes “brother(s) of the lord” he also mentions Cephas. I always found that odd. Assuming Paul meant biological brother(s), it wouldn’t seem to make sense for the inclusion unless Cephas was also a family member of Jesus. But that’s my 21st century reading of it. Having it mean fellow believer seems to make sense of the inclusion of Cephas, especially since at 1 Cor 9.5 “sister” is usually translated as “believing”.

  44. mikeyB says

    Richard,

    Thanks for your succinct and detailed responses to my previous posts and all the other replies. I take your position from previous posts is that you are a mythicist in the sense that the balance of evidence that you have assessed makes it more likely that Jesus did not exist than he did. I can understand given that Jesus is probably our greatest cultural sacred cow, that suggesting not only that he was not God or rise from the dead, but going further in suggesting that he did not exist, would raise the ire of even a well renowned scholar who has spent the past several years repudiating his evangelical beliefs with very well detailed argued books, but with Jesus existence it is a bridge too far – strangely invoking an old favorite ad hominem outburst –comparison with holocaust deniers.

    Interesting that even the suggestion that Jesus did not exist would create such an outburst given that parallel work for the Old Testament (I know proper term is Hebrew Bible) by the so called minimalists like mentioned Thomas Thompson and more by mainstream scholars like James Kugel, increasingly seems to suggest that the Old Testament is not only mythology but intentional mythology (another word might be tradition) without any pretense for even an attempt to be historically accurate, and perhaps more interesting, the worldview of the writers were very different from ours. So in a way it seems puzzling that this reaction seems to exist to even contemplate Jesus existence, given that the equivalent mythological position for understanding the Old Testament has recently become much more prevalent.

    I’m interested perhaps to read your upcoming book on this topic. I would also be interested to see over time if the tide of scholarly opinion may change, as more serious scholarship considers these questions.

    If mythicism can be shown to be at least plausible, it necessarily implies that the New Testament like the Old Testament has been fundamentally misread. The gospels are like the book of Jonah, perhaps ingeniously clever but fictional. Paul when writing about Jesus was not thinking of a crucified resurrected man in Jerusalem, but some type of divine being inferred from particular readings of scripture perhaps influenced by Hellenized common form of Platonism/and or Mystery Cults who enacted the death resurrection in the heavenly realm according to my understanding of one reading of the mythic claim. Similarly the writer of Mark, must have composed a deliberate fiction perhaps to flesh out an as if portrait of the mythic figure which was already believed in. Over time the second generation of readers of Paul and the gospels would have lost these distinctions, and by the time of Justin Martyr a flesh and blood God-Man Jesus would become the “orthodox” Jesus of the New Testament (highly recommend Charles Freeman – Closing of the Western Mind on the history of the essentially political development of Christian Orthodoxy). Of course this is one possible interpretation.

    I guess what this long leads up to, is I was wondering how important do you think it is to present an alternative narrative on say Paul or the mindset of the gospel writers might have been, to the case for a mythic Jesus – is it necessary for acceptance or more thorough consideration of the case, even though some of this will be necessarily speculative, or is the case to be made simply that it is more probable than not that Jesus did not exist, and we should consider this speculation secondary. Thanks again for your courageous, very novel and thorough work on this subject.

    • says

      mikeyB:

      I take your position from previous posts is that you are a mythicist in the sense that the balance of evidence that you have assessed makes it more likely that Jesus did not exist than he did.

      Yes.

      And only after examining all the evidence, i.e. any theory must struggle to explain everything, not just a few things; and it’s when we put everything in that problems arise for historicism that are greater than those that arise for mythicism.

      Also, I deem this a hypothesis, not as something that has yet been proven. No one has properly framed and argued the theory yet. Thus Ehrman’s book, for example, cannot but attack a straw man (through no fault of Ehrman’s) simply because the best case that could be made for mythicism simply hasn’t yet been made (my next book is being written specifically to remedy that).

      And moreover, I do not deem Ehrman’s conclusion as unreasonable, given the data he is looking at and the arguments he has so far read. My finding his HuffPo article atrocious is not an attack on his conclusion of historicity, but on his methods (i.e. even Ehrman should agree that that article, as written, is wildly erroneous; it’s just that a conclusion reached by false premises is not thereby false, and it’s the premises I have been taking issue with here so far).

      As to your closing question, I don’t think we need to know for sure, since when we lack the evidence we need to know, we should allow all possibilities consistent with the evidence we do have. But our background knowledge does entail some initial probabilities, and we have to take that into account when ruling specific possibilities in or out. As to how this works out in this case, you’ll have to wait until my next book, which has several chapters devoted to the question.

  45. says

    Richard,

    It’s really inappropriate for anyone to call you a historian. A historian seeks to tell us what happened. You seek to tell us what probably didn’t happen, what couldn’t have happened, and all the other possible things that might have happened instead of a broad consensus of professional historians and scholars have written happened. Therefore, you are an anti-historian.

    • says

      That’s silly. All historians talk about contrafactuals (so apparently all historians are anti-historians by your estimation); in fact most historians have challenged the consensus on something at some point (that’s how most progress is made: by challenging the consensus and thereby aiming to change it); and I have written a great deal on what happened in the past, and almost always report and side with the consensus (why you think this one conclusion on this one issue somehow represents all my work as a historian is beyond me).

  46. says

    Richard,

    I feel like there is a flaw in your reasoning here. Perhaps you could explain why you disagree.

    You write (forgive the lengthy quote):

    P1. The evidence in Paul proves Christians called Jesus the Lord.
    P2. The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.
    P3. The evidence in Paul proves baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God.
    P4. By definition, sons of the same father are brothers of each other.
    P5. By definition, if P2 and P3, then Christians and Jesus were sons of the same father.
    C1. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and Jesus are brothers of each other.
    C2. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and the Lord are brothers of each other.
    P6. In the Greek language, when A is the brother of B, this is stated by saying “A is a brother of B.”
    C3. Therefore, in the Greek language when [a Christian] is the brother of [the Lord], this is stated by saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”
    C4. Therefore, “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”

    Since this follows by logical necessity from P1-6, and P1-6 are all undeniable facts, this conclusion is undeniable.

    Notice how this does not require any instance of anyone saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.” The conclusion is proved anyway, by the evidence we do have.

    You seem to think that logical equivalence means that a phrase might be used. But this strikes me as wrong. Let me give an example — a parallel argument to what you make, about contemporary Catholics, which proves something in fact false.

    P1. In English, a cannibal is someone who eats human beings.
    P2. Catholics consider Jesus a human being.
    P3. Catholics believe that the host literally transforms into Jesus.
    P4. Catholics eat the host after its transformation.
    C1. Catholics believe the host transforms into a human being.
    C2. In the English language, someone who eats a human being would agree with the sentence, “I am a cannibal”.
    C3. Therefore, a catholic would agree with the sentence, “I am a cannibal”.

    ….but this is obviously wrong. Catholics do not consider themselves cannibals, even though (using logic similar to yours) they ought to agree with the formulation.

    Now, in this case the answer might be because “cannibal” has a negative connotation. But it serves to prove the point that a logical equivalence does not mean that a phrase might actually be used. I suggest that there are lots of similar cases.

    I don’t know Greek or this field of evidence. But based on what you’ve said here, it seems like the fact that Christians all considered themselves adopted sons of God is a pretty thin reed to hang the interpretation of “brother of the Lord” as “adopted brother” on.

    Thoughts?

    • says

      Stephen Frug:

      You seem to think that logical equivalence means that a phrase might be used.

      More correctly, that all Christians would immediately perceive that logical equivalence, thus if ever the phrase was used, that is how they would understand it–unless they had been specifically instructed otherwise (hence, policed).

      Your analogy of cannibalism actually proves the point, since that was policed: Christians were indeed accused of cannibalism from very early on, and had to take pains to explain why what they did was different. Being recognized as a cannibal was so morally repugnant, instead of admitting the equivalence and defending it as not repugnant, they denied the equivalence.

      Accordingly, there is no parallel to the “brothers of the Lord” since there was nothing morally repugnant about being a brother of the Lord. Analogously, had there been nothing morally repugnant about being a cannibal, Christians would have readily called themselves cannibals or at least readily accepted the appellation (assuming the equivalence was as clear as you presume, which would really only have been so after the doctrine of transubstantiation was developed).

      Conversely, as with the cannibal case, we would have evidence of policing the term (i.e. Christians explaining that being an adopted brother of the Lord did not make you a brother of the Lord, even though it made you a brother of everyone else), and in the absence of that, assuming that it was policed requires assuming something not in evidence. Which lowers the prior probability of any theory dependent on that assumption.

      I don’t know Greek or this field of evidence. But based on what you’ve said here, it seems like the fact that Christians all considered themselves adopted sons of God is a pretty thin reed to hang the interpretation of “brother of the Lord” as “adopted brother” on.

      I see nothing thin about it. It’s obviously correct. The only question is, how did Christians tell the difference between a biological brother of the Lord and an adopted brother of the Lord? (Which leads to the ultimate question, did they even have to?)

  47. Jack D says

    It seems like nobody has talked much about the wording of Galatians 1:19, where James is relegated to an afterthought, although I think Richard referred to it earlier.

    v.16-17 (NKJ) “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me.”

    Paul indicates that he did not meet anyone. It seems as though he didn’t meet Peter or James until verse 19. Wouldn’t it make more sense, then, to give James at least equal footing with Peter, since he is kin of Jesus, if the next verses read this way:

    “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to meet the Lord’s biological brother, and Peter, with whom I remained fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles, except these.”

    Instead, if we assume brotherhood, the passage seems to say, “Oh yeah, Jesus’ blood brother also happened to be there.” Wouldn’t it be more momentous than that?

    Am I missing something?

    • says

      Paul is arguing he didn’t get his gospel from a human, so James’ status as a biological brother might not have held any importance to that argument. Moreover, Paul is saying he went to Jerusalem to speak with Peter, and stayed a fortnight with him, but only “saw” James (i.e. briefly, perhaps one meeting on one day, or in any event not an extended stay as with Peter), thus the order is not reflecting the person’s importance, but how much time Paul spent with them.

    • Will says

      I can’t believe that Ehrman is so illogical on this point! He claims that if the Jews were going to invent a Messiah then they would NEVER invent a crucified one.. they would rather make a warrior king figure in line with David. But that makes no sense.. How could you fabricate a warrior king messiah from the recent past if Roman power was still in place..that would entail that such a Messiah WAS not successful. I would think that the hard realities of jewish life would have made such a fabrication incoherent.. it seems like the ONLY option they would have would be for a defeated or “catastrophic messiah”- to borrow Israel Knowle’s term. Also Richard has shown how much scriptural basis there was to support such a messianic redefinition. I would love to hear Richard’s eloboration on this claim by Ehrman.

  48. says

    What a wonderful exchange! I knew when Ehrman’s book came out it would be a huge boost to mythicism and that it wouldn’t be very good, but little I appreciate just how bad it would get. Can’t wait to roast it on my own blog.

    Great work, Richard. It’s fascinating to watch how the historicists in this conversation seem completely unaware of how the retroject later Christian doctrines and claims back into Paul — especially the gospels. In my own discussions I’ve found that the hardest mental move for them to make is to stop backreading the gospels into Paul.

    One other point — I am sure like you that the writer of Mark made up the family connections to Jesus, but in addition to using them as vehicles for teaching about how new believers are to regard their old family connections, I believe he was also satirizing the Jerusalem crowd. I just finished Hazelton’s After the Prophet on the Sunni-Shia split. It’s not very good as a piece of analytical history, but it does a fine job of portraying the events novelistically, and again and again I was struck by how much it resembles early Christian history.

    Michael

  49. says

    The angles have all been covered: the Greek language itself, the writing convention, the context of the verse in Galatians and the context of the verse in and around the other epistles. To me, as a non-Greek speaker, it’s at least a thorough case, even if it isn’t a correct one. But that’s assuming that I understood and remembered what was being argued (over 100 often long comments!).

    I’m wondering if the definite or (implied) indefinite articles matter much? I’m referring to the noun ‘brother’ not ‘Lord’. I don’t know Greek, BTW. But the Emphatic Diaglott, which goes back to 1864, has the Greek as “ton adelphon tou kuriou.” This definite/indefinite article business could be very important here as it seems to be in John 1:1.

    The KJV (which is a very powerful icon of our culture) reads “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.” You can see how “the Lord’s brother” implies differently than “brother of the Lord.” Big difference. Some later translations keep the former style (e.g. New English Bible), some use the latter (e.g. Moffatt).

    I suppose that we could make another observation. That Paul is talking about a ‘cosmic’ Jesus Christ, a non-physical person (not the same as non-existent!). Then he’s talking about a physical brother of a non-physical being? Something is not right there.

    Either way, Paul is not talking about the same Jesus as we read about in the Gospels. That much is so established that I dare to call it a fact.

    • says

      Unfortunately, in Koinê Greek (the common dialect of the time) the definite article became expendable, and doesn’t often carry the meaning it does in English. So not much can be inferred from it (except in certain respects not relevant here). Likewise, Greek word order carries different and more variable connotations than in English. Indeed “the Lord’s brother” and “brother of the Lord” are actually not even distinguishable in Greek (there is no apostrophe of possession, for example), much less carry a different meaning (the position of “Lord” in this phrase can carry connotations of emphasis or attractive style, but not much in the way of changing the meaning). The Greek is simply more variable in its meaning. Which is a problem for us, since we lack a full awareness of the context available to the Galatians and Paul.

  50. Gunther says

    Dr. Carrier writes: “But no one else? Never for a hundred and fifty years?”

    What about the charcoal inscription in Pompey (CIL IV:679), mentioning CHRISTIANOS? And the Sator Square from the same town? These are from ~79 AD.

    And what about the CIL VI:24944, about a Jucundus Chrestianus?

    • says

      (1) CIL IV:679 doesn’t say anything about Jesus, although it’s worth mentioning as an attestation of Christianity. It read (I believe it has degraded a lot since first published) “BOVIUS AUDI CHRISTIANOS” surrounded by otherwise unintelligible words. I am not persuaded that it’s Aramaic using a Latin alphabet, since there are all kinds of things wrong with that interpretation (but anyway, you can see that attempted in “Five Transliterated Aramaic Inscriptions” by Wm. Romaine Newbold, American Journal of Archaeology 30.3 [Jul.-Sep. 1926]: 288-329); more likely it’s just random doodling with a misspelled statement in the midst, “Hear the Christians, Bovius!” or “Bovius heard the Christians” (either would be bad Latin, but I can’t guess what else the writer was trying to say). Which would only mean Christians existed then, which no one doubts. That there would be some Christians in Pompeii in the 70s A.D. would be interesting but not amazing; and the marking might not have been made by Christians themselves (the context seems to suggest a Christian missionary had passed through town and someone scribbled something about them).

      (2) The Sator square also doesn’t attest to the existence of Jesus (even if it’s Christian at all, which is unlikely: it is more likely a magic charm of Jewish origin, only much later picked up by Christians; but even if Christians scribbled the one in Pompeii, the charm doesn’t even name anyone, much less declare any facts about him).

      (3) CIL VI:24944 has no evident connection to Christians or Christ or Christianity. It is most likely dated to before 37 A.D., and is an epitaph at Rome that evokes the Di Manes (pagan spirits of the dead), and declares the burial urn was bought from “Jucundus Chrestianus,” which is a legal name, not a title (CIL VI 1056 also has an Agidius Chrestianus, attesting the cognomen again). There would be no contractual recognition of “Christian” in a legal title to property, only registered names would be used in such a way. Chrestus was a common name (it means “Handy” or “Goody” and was not only a slave or freedman’s name), and Chrestianus would be a Latin derivative. This was just a Roman citizen with the name Chrestianus, no connection to Christ or Christians.

    • Gunther says

      A factual error: There is no Agidius Chrestianus in CIL VI 1056 (the watchmen of Rome), but rather an Agidus Chrestus, and also a Herennius Chrestianus; see http://ln-s.net/9ypJ . These two attestations (CIL VI:24944 and VI:1056) seem to be the ONLY attestations of Chrestianus as a proper name, and they are some 160 years apart. According to Tertullian, Christians were called Chrestians in the time CIL VI 1056 was made. It seems odd that a watchman could have a proper name which also ment Christian…

    • says

      Gunther:

      There is no Agidius Chrestianus in CIL VI 1056 (the watchmen of Rome), but rather an Agidus Chrestus

      Have you confirmed that visually (and not by an OCR version of CIL)? I have a few scholarly sources that report it says Chrestianus. I don’t have ready access to CIL. I could check it next time I’m at the library, but this isn’t important enough to drive all the way there for, so it would help if someone could confirm that that’s what the CIL actually says. I’d like to know, since if those scholars are wrong, I need to annotate them to indicate that for the future. (Thanks for the Herennius example; if you have a similar pic of the Agidius text, let me know.)

      It seems odd that a watchman could have a proper name which also meant Christian…

      It’s not all that odd. The 30s A.D. example confirms it was such a proper name. With so many names in circulation, coincidences with words that aren’t proper names is inevitable and thus not surprising; especially names that derive from known roots (Chrestus = “handy, goody”; Chrestianus = “handyson, goodson” or “handylike, goodlike”). It’s not as if it is an amazing coincidence that Christus (anointed) happens to look and sound a lot like Chrestus (good, useful); it’s just an ordinary coincidence, which has no poignant meaning.

    • Gunther says

      The picture I linked contains both Herennius and Agidius (17th century book). Scholars note it as Agidius Chrestus (“AGIDI CHRESTE”); see this 1974 example http://ln-s.net/9z9V. http://www1.ku.de/epigr/bilder/$D_02156_1.jpg does unfortunately just show the latter part of the inscription. In any case, Silvia Cappelletti is obviously wrong then writing Agidius Chrestianus. Or did you have another scholarly source for that spelling?

  51. Aaron Baker says

    I’m exceedingly unimpressed by my previous postings here. I’ll try to do a better job of it now.

    I think Chris S.’s interpretation of 1st Cor. 9 is correct; but I believe more needs to be said on why it’s correct.

    The crucial verses in 1st Cor. 9 are:

    4) μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν φαγεῖν καὶ πεῖν; 5) μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα περιάγειν, ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ Κηφᾶς; 6) ἢ μόνος ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν μὴ ἐργάζεσθαι;

    “Don’t we have the right to eat and drink? Don’t we have the right to have with us (or: have accompany us) a sister [as] wife, as [do] the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do I alone and Barnabas not have the right not to work [presumably for a living]?”

    In the form in which this passage has come down to us, I think only one interpretation of it is plausible, for these reasons:

    ἢ (“or”) in verse 6 marks an alternative to what precedes it. ἢ μόνος ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς (“or do I alone and Barnabas”) identifies that alternative as excluding at least part of what precedes it–and also strongly contrasts “I alone and Barnabas” with something in the preceding remarks.

    In those preceding remarks, the only plausible candidate for the contrast drawn by ἢ μόνος ἐγὼ καὶ Βαρναβᾶς is καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ Κηφᾶς. “I alone and Barnabas” is contrasted, and sharply so, with “the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas.”

    So the structure of the argument is as follows:

    Have we not the right to X? Have we not the right to Y, as [do] the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do I alone and Barnabas not have the right to Z?

    “Or do I alone and Barnabas not have the right to Z?” necessarily implies that those persons contrasted with “I and Barnabas” do have the right to Z. In other words, the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Peter all have the right not to work for a living. They all, therefore, belong to an elite minority of the church, with a right clearly not shared by everyone.

    The only problem posed by this interpretation is this: the right to eat and drink, and the right to have a wife accompany one are rights shared by all (male) Christians. So how do these rhetorical questions join logically with what follows them? It is necessary, I believe, to understand at least one unstated premise here: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink (at church expense)? Do we not have the right to have a wife accompany us (at church expense)?” Alternatively, we might understand as unstated a somewhat longer train of thought: e.g. “and these things cost money; money which you’re willing to pay in the case of the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas . . . ”

    Without an unstated premise or premises (and I stress this again, in the form in which the passage has come down to us), Paul’s argument would make little sense: he would be bringing up two (or three) rights (to eat and drink and have a wife with him) that no one would deny he had—this in an argument for his special right, as an apostle, to be compensated for preaching the Gospel. He would then follow the enumeration of these rights (shared by all Christian males) with an exclusive alternative (“or do I alone and Barnabas not have the right not to work?”) which isn’t in fact an exclusive alternative to having those rights. Most Christian men had the right to eat and drink and have with them a wife, AND AT THE SAME TIME did not have the right not to work. With the unstated premise or premises I’ve suggested, verses 4 and 5 join seamlessly with verse 6. And as I’ve said before, the construction of verse 6 necessitates the conclusion that “the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” have the right not to work for a living.

    You might object that I am reading something into Paul’s words that isn’t there. The objection would be ill-considered, particularly given that you, too, have inferred an unstated premise from Paul’s remarks:

    Notice that in verse 5 he does not say “Do we not have the right to be paid for what we do, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” despite it being the obvious thing to say in verse 4. So clearly he is not saying only these three groups have the right to keep a wife. He is saying everyone can have wives, which have to be supported, so therefore don’t we have a right (v. 4) to receive support? [second italics mine]

    With at least one unstated premise, verses 4-6 are logically coherent; without that premise (or premises), they are not.

    Now it is entirely possible that this passage has suffered scribal corruption; there may even be a lacuna into which a sentence or more has fallen. But the passage, in its present state, is both logical and comprehensible when interpreted in the way I’ve argued for here—and, as far as I can see, in no other way. So, in the absence of hard evidence for corruption, this is how we should read it. And if we read it in this way, it seems inescapable to me that here at least, “the brothers of the Lord” are not any and all Christians, but rather a privileged group. Chris S. is right to say that we can’t be sure they’re the biological brothers of Jesus, but they are something special, with a status comparable to that of the apostles.

    As for Gal. 1:18-19, I accept your argument that a phrase meaning “Christian,” such as “brother,” could be used or omitted by Paul pretty much at will. But, having proved to my satisfaction that “brothers of the Lord” does not mean “Christian” in 1st Cor. 9, I see no reason to accept “Christian” as its meaning here. Paul is again talking about the early Christian elite. James must have belonged to two elite groups: the apostles and the “brothers of the Lord”—whatever the latter were.

    Two further considerations, neither of which, I admit, is conclusive:

    In 1st Cor. 9: If “the brothers of the Lord” meant any and all Christians, it’s a little puzzling that the phrase isn’t limited by a word meaning “other,” as “the apostles” is by the word loipoi. Perhaps the text has suffered corruption—but again, on my interpretation, there’s no need to consider this possibility.

    Also, Paul brackets Cephas with other members of the early Christian elite in three other passages: e.g. 1st Cor. 3:22: “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas”; 1st Cor. 15:5: “appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve”; Gal. 2:9: “James and Cephas and John, those seeming pillars.” Paul does this clustering (always using the name “Cephas” rather than “Peter”) often enough that doing so may have been habitual.

    • says

      First, I don’t see how only your ad hoc reconstruction makes sense of Paul’s argument:

      1* Am I not free? An apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord?
      2* If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
      3* This is my defense to those who would examine me.
      4* Do we not have the right to our food and drink?
      5* Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
      6* Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?

      Logically conforms to:

      1* Am I not an apostle?
      2* (At least I am to you)
      3* This is my defense to those who would examine me.
      4* Do we not have the right to an income?
      5* Do we not have the right to support a wife with our income, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
      6* Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to do extra work for an income?

      This makes as much sense as your reconstruction, and IMO it makes more sense, since “as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” is very conspicuously only added in 5 and not 4 (which your theory does not explain). This is a rhetorical shaming device: the subtext is that he wants the Corinthians to be embarrassed by the fact that they won’t even help Barnabas feed his wife (and/or is producing an argument ad absurdum that shames them on the hypothetical, e.g. “and what if I took a wife?”). Otherwise, line 6 does not reference having a wife. Line 5, by contrast, provides a moral argument for needing an income (in parallel to line 4, which emphasizes basic human needs: the avoidance of starvation and thirst).

      The “only I and Barnabas” is not contrasting with “the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” but simply all apostles (the argument starts at verse 9:1-2, where clearly Paul has been denied an income or someone is trying to suggest he should be, and his reply is that apostles are already earning their keep so why should he be singled out–even though, he goes on to argue, he doesn’t actually take this income from them anyway, because he’s such a swell guy). In short, line 6 completes the argument begun on line 2

      It is indeed certain that something has become lost. The transition from 8:13 to 9:1 makes no sense; the preface explaining what argument Paul is answering in chapter 9 has been lost, but chs. 8 and 9 both relate to questions about food, so someone slapped them together, evidently carelessly, or else an accidental deletion has occurred and a line or two has dropped out. We should expect Paul to state the controversy that this argument rebuts (yet at no point does he mention being denied an income or anyone even suggesting he should be; but surely he must have, since otherwise we don’t even know what argument he is responding to or why he is suddenly bringing this up at all). Among this lost material might have been some reference to why wives came into it (unless Paul is throwing that in as a zinger, which is not unusual for Paul, who is very clever with his rhetorical punches).

      But even from that loss, we have enough to reconstruct his point: other apostles get taken care of, someone was suggesting Paul and Barbabas shouldn’t be asking for their keep but should work for it like everyone else, Paul responds that apostling is work, and in any case they have (or could well have) wives to feed.

      And to the last point: he says “other apostles” because his point is that he is an apostle, so what “other” apostles get to do is the issue; that everyone in the church gets to have wives makes the additional point that being an apostle shouldn’t put more restrictions on him than not being an apostle does; in other words, this is two arguments: “other apostles get to” (therefore so should I) and “all Christians get to, therefore so should apostles,” and then capped with a third stinging argument, “dude, even the founder of our religion has to support a wife!”

  52. Aaron Baker says

    On reflection, I was too categorical at least twice in what I posted above:

    And as I’ve said before, the construction of verse 6 necessitates the conclusion that “the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” have the right not to work for a living.

    Here I would replace “necessitates the conclusion” with “implies.”

    James must have belonged to two elite groups: the apostles and the “brothers of the Lord”—whatever the latter were.

    Here I would now say: “The most plausible interpretation is that James belonged to two of these elite groups: the apostles and the “brothers of the Lord”—whatever the latter were.

  53. says

    You wrote:

    This makes as much sense as your reconstruction, and IMO it makes more sense, since “as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas” is very conspicuously only added in 5 and not 4 (which your theory does not explain). This is a rhetorical shaming device: the subtext is that he wants the Corinthians to be embarrassed by the fact that they won’t even help Barnabas feed his wife (and/or is producing an argument ad absurdum that shames them on the hypothetical, e.g. “and what if I took a wife?”).

    If your point is simply that Paul is putting more emphasis on the right to have & keep a wife than he does on the right to eat and drink (whether you’re correct about the subtext or not), I don’t object, and I don’t see how it harms my thesis.

    As for disarray in the transition between 1st Cor. 8 & 9, I don’t see its relevance to the sentences I’ve examined here; there’s no good eason to think they’re corrupt.

    As for this:

    And to the last point: he says “other apostles” because his point is that he is an apostle, so what “other” apostles get to do is the issue; that everyone in the church gets to have wives makes the additional point that being an apostle shouldn’t put more restrictions on him than not being an apostle does; in other words, this is two arguments: “other apostles get to” (therefore so should I) and “all Christians get to, therefore so should apostles,” and then capped with a third stinging argument, “dude, even the founder of our religion has to support a wife!”

    You provide exactly no evidence for the existence of three arguments, as opposed to one. There’s nothing in the text that supports this contention: “that everyone in the church gets to have wives makes the additional point that being an apostle shouldn’t put more restrictions on him than not being an apostle does.” Where does Paul say anything remotely like this? He says nothing about the unfairness of more restrictions being placed on an apostle than on anyone else–that’s your piece of adhockery. As for a new argument regarding Peter–is that based on anything more than your incorrect translation of the preceding kai as “even”?

    Part of the problem here, I believe, is exactly this: you’ve taken a simple series of coordinating kais (kai the other apostles kai the brothers of the Lord kai Cephas) and you somehow see what’s coordinated by them as supporting three different arguments. (It’s a little like seeing three different arguments in “He kept cows and sheep and goats.”) The three phrases are simply being bracketed together by the author because he regards them as in some respect similar: A and B and C. The third kai might mean “and especially” rather than simply “and,” but you provide no evidence that it means “even”; if it did, that would produce a rather jarring anacolouthon, for one thing. Without “even,” I see no trace of a third argument.

    So I’ll stick with my reading.

    • says

      aaronbaker:

      If your point is simply that Paul is putting more emphasis on the right to have & keep a wife than he does on the right to eat and drink (whether you’re correct about the subtext or not), I don’t object, and I don’t see how it harms my thesis.

      Line 6 is not referring to line 5. It’s referring to line 4. Line 5 is simply another argument for the point being made in line 4.

      (Technically, line 4 is a rebuttal to an argument that has become lost in transmission, and line 6 is his response to that rebuttal, and lines 4 and 5 are his arguments for that response, but the argument he is rebutting was clearly some sort of denial of line 4. For instance, where he says “This is my defense to those who would examine me,” we must ask “Defense against what?” What argument is he responding to? None is in the letter. Thus we know something has become lost.)

      You provide exactly no evidence for the existence of three arguments, as opposed to one.

      The evidence is that lines 4 and 6 refer to the same right, line 5 does not. Therefore line 5 is not the right being referenced in either. The obvious purpose of line 5 is to bolster his argument for 4 and 6.

      It is in that context that he bolsters the argument in line 5 with: “other apostles get to,” then “apostles shouldn’t have fewer rights than other brethren,” then “even Cephas gets to.” That this is three arguments is proved by the fact that Cephas is also an apostle, so Paul already covered Cephas under the “apostles” remark, unless he intends a special reason to mention Cephas, and that reason is easy to infer; once we see that, then we can see the reason for the second argument: Cephas is both apostle and brother; so just as Cephas is a special case of an apostle, he’s a special case of brother. All of this would be obvious to the Corinthians, who had all this background information.

      He says nothing about the unfairness of more restrictions being placed on an apostle than on anyone else–that’s your piece of adhockery.

      He says nothing in this section of the argument about the unfairness of not being fed, either. Yet that’s his argument. He is using shaming questions instead of assertions. Instead of saying “It’s unfair not to feed us” he says “Do we not have a right to be fed?” Then when he gets into an extended argument regarding fairness, note that only income comes up, not wives (vv. 7-15). Thus, when he talks about wives, he is not asking for the right to have a wife, he is asking for the right to feed a wife. When he says “other” apostles have that right, that entails he means it’s unfair to not treat him like other apostles; when he says “brethren” get to have wives, that likewise entails he means it’s unfair to not treat him like other brethren; when he says “Peter” gets to have a wife, that likewise entails he means it’s unfair to not treat him like Peter. Which then begs the question: why would Paul (and the Corinthians) think, indeed already take it for granted (as they must for Paul’s argument to work), that Paul should be treated like Peter? Because Peter is an apostle? No, Paul already used the apostle argument. So why Peter? I inferred the most likely reason; there may be others, but whatever they are, it must be a different reason (and thus a different argument) than “I should be treated like other apostles.”

      As for a new argument regarding Peter–is that based on anything more than your incorrect translation of the preceding kai as “even”?

      No, it’s based on the analysis above.

  54. HoosierPolis says

    Great discussion going on here, it’s a pleasure to read. But frankly, all this back and forth about these few words is ancillary to the real question which is this: If Paul met the ACTUAL BROTHER OF JESUS, a person who had grown up with him, known him personally, witnessed his exploits, and so forth, why does he not seem to care AT ALL? He has second-order contact with GOD. Why does he never, say, ASK James what Jesus thought or did about a certain religious question? Why does he never think it germane to relate to his congregation what James told him about his biological brother?

    It is absurd in the highest degree to say that Paul just didn’t care what James had to say, and even more absurd to say that Paul DID relate this things in other epistles that were carelessly lost. It’s just bullshit.

    • says

      Because Paul (1) disagrees, vehemently, with James about the duties of Gentile converts, and (2) asserts, vehemently, that he, PAUL, has seen Jesus and been called by him. You don’t have to believe that Paul really saw Jesus, but obviously Paul either believes that or is trying really hard to believe it.

      Paul’s claim to have seen Jesus is, on a purely rhetorical level, a stunning effort to place himself on a level with (or above) James, who after all wasn’t even an apostle and didn’t follow Jesus (or at least, so the gospel writers want us to think).

  55. Aaron Baker says

    Some comments from me re your syllogistic argument:

    P1. The evidence in Paul proves Christians called Jesus the Lord.

    Strictly speaking, false; the evidence in Paul proves only that Paul called Jesus the Lord. The evidence in Paul does render it likely that other Christians called Jesus the Lord, as he used the term repeatedly without explaining to his readers what he meant by it—suggesting that some of them, too, understood and accepted his usage. Also, a host of other early Christian literature confirms that, indeed, many if not all Christians did apply Kyrios to Jesus. An argument proceeding from premises to likely conclusions, however, is inductive, and has no place in a deductive procedure like this one; also, you have denied the relevance of other early Christian literature to Paul. To be true, your P1 must be amended.

    P2. The evidence in Paul proves Jesus was the adopted son of God.

    P2 is true only with the added words: “in the opinion of Paul.” The evidence in Paul proves only that Paul had an adoptionist theory regarding Jesus. Nothing Paul says can prove that other Christians contemporary with him accepted his adoptionist theory. (Note this inductive argument: in contrast to his use of Kyrios, Paul expounds on the idea of adoptionism at some length. It doesn’t seem, therefore, to have been a belief that he could take for granted as shared by all (or any) of his contemporaries.) That other Christians in Paul’s day even discussed adoptionism cannot be proved deductively from the evidence in Paul (though I would agree, reasoning inductively again, that it’s likely at least some did). We could take up evidence for adoptionism from later Christian works (like Hebrews); but, again, you’ve denied the relevance of later Christian literature to usage in the time of Paul.

    On this subject you responded to me before that Pauline theology does entail something about the usage of ordinary Christians “when we accept that these ordinary Christians are speaking (or reading and writing) Greek, and we know how the Greek language works. (See linked argument above.)” I would reply that how the Greek language works is irrelevant here. The evidence in Paul, by itself, is insufficient to prove (again, deductively) that other Christians during his career discussed adoptionism; and unless you can prove they discussed it, you obviously cannot prove they used a given term or terms in that (so far) unsubstantiated discussion.

    P3. The evidence in Paul proves baptized Christians were the adopted sons of God.

    Once again, true only when “in the opinion of Paul” is added.

    P4. By definition, sons of the same father are brothers of each other.

    Self-evident.

    P5. By definition, if P2 and P3, then Christians and Jesus were sons of the same father.

    True, but see the problems with P2 and P3 above.

    C1. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and Jesus are brothers of each other.

    Again, in the opinion of Paul.

    C2. Therefore, (baptized) Christians and the Lord are brothers of each other.

    Not so fast. You haven’t proved with your syllogism that Christians other than Paul interpreted the phrase “brothers of the Lord” in this fashion. And, “from the evidence in Paul,” you haven’t proved that even Paul interpreted “brothers of the Lord” in this way. Investigation of Paul’s use of “brothers of the Lord” in 1st Cor. 9:5 convinces me at least that the phrase does not have the meaning you attribute to it; this having been established, there’s no compelling reason to believe that “brother of the Lord” has your meaning in Galatians 1:19. If the phrase was used with a different meaning by Paul (and 1st Cor. 9:5 indicates it was), there is no necessity to infer he understood the phrase in your sense.

    P6. In the Greek language, when A is the brother of B, this is stated by saying “A is a brother of B.”

    Self-evident.

    C3. Therefore, in the Greek language when [a Christian] is the brother of [the Lord], this is stated by saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”

    Self-evident, but equivocal. You haven’t demonstrated yet that your interpretation of “brother of the Lord” was actually what Christians understood when they heard or saw the phrase.

    C4. Therefore, “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.”

    Since this follows by logical necessity from P1-6, and P1-6 are all undeniable facts, this conclusion is undeniable.

    Notice how this does not require any instance of anyone saying “a Christian is a brother of the Lord.” The conclusion is proved anyway, by the evidence we do have.

    I find your final conclusion eminently deniable, for the reasons given above. Several of your premises are false in the form in which they’re stated. Nothing follows by logical necessity from a false premise. When the premises are amended, you can validly deduce a few things about Paul, but that’s it.
    In addition, it appears from your Conclusions 2-4 that you have left one premise unstated: that Kyrios was in all circumstances interchangeable with Iesous (or Iesous Khristos). This would not be a problem, if this unstated premise were self-evident. But it is not self-evident: Kyrios is not a synonym for Iesous; it is a title, which was applied to God the Father as well as to Jesus (thus creating a problem of ambiguity), and it had specific connotations (which would render it more appropriate in some contexts than in others). I see no reason to believe, therefore, that Christians would automatically have seen Kyrios as everywhere fungible with Iesous.

    I see that further down in the comments, you responded to roughly the same objection from Stephen Frug as follows:

    Stephen Frug wrote: You seem to think that logical equivalence means that a phrase might be used.
    You wrote: More correctly, that all Christians would immediately perceive that logical equivalence, thus if ever the phrase was used, that is how they would understand it–unless they had been specifically instructed otherwise (hence, policed).

    Your analogy of cannibalism actually proves the point, since that was policed: Christians were indeed accused of cannibalism from very early on, and had to take pains to explain why what they did was different. Being recognized as a cannibal was so morally repugnant, instead of admitting the equivalence and defending it as not repugnant, they denied the equivalence.

    Accordingly, there is no parallel to the “brothers of the Lord” since there was nothing morally repugnant about being a brother of the Lord.

    But you need neither moral repugnance nor policing (i.e. specific instruction) for Christians to have avoided using or understanding the phrase in the way you want. Ambiguity (as between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord God the Father) and differences in connotation between “Lord” and “Jesus (Christ)” mean, as I’ve already pointed out, that Iesous (Khristos and Kyrios were not simply fungible in the minds of Christians contemporary with Paul. Also, as I’ve stated before, that the phrase adelphoi tou Kyriou was used with a different meaning seems evident from 1st Cor. 9:5—which makes pretty clear by itself that early Christians would not have automatically interpreted the word in your sense.

    It may be relevant here that in those passages where Paul speaks explicitly of the “adoption” of human beings by God (Rom 8:14-39; 9:26; Gal. 3:26-29; 4:4-7), he does not use the phrase “brothers of the Lord.” He speaks of “adoption to sonship” (hyiothesia), “son” and sons” (hyios/hyioi, “sons of God” (hyioi [tou] Theou), “children of God” (tekna tou Theou), “heirs of God, co-heirs of Christ (“kleronomoi men Theou, synkleronomoi de Khristou,/i> (Rom. 8.17), and “seed of Abraham . . . heirs according to the promise (tou Abraam sperma . . . kat’epangelian kleronomoi). He also calls Jesus “first-born among many brothers” (prototokon en pollois adelphois; Rom. 8:29). But nowhere in these passages does “brothers of the Lord” (adelphoi tou Kyriou) occur.

    Moreover, with one exception, in none of these passages does Paul use the word Kyrios to describe either God the Father or Jesus. Instead, God the father is designated “God” or “father” (the latter in both Greek and Aramaic), and Jesus is Iesous Khristos, Khristos Iesous, or “son.” The exception comes in Rom. 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor dominions, neither present things nor future things nor powers, neither height nor depth, nor any other [creation] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Kyrio].” (This passage may be regarded as a sequel to, rather than part of, the explicitly adoptionist passage that precedes it; but to me it seems to be stating pretty clearly the good consequences of adoption, and so I’m treating it as part of Paul’s adoptionist argument.)

    I cannot of course insist that Paul was intentionally avoiding Kyrios in these passages; but it is possible, even likely, that he was doing just that. A good reason for avoidance is the ambiguity of Kyrios in a context where God the Father and Jesus are repeatedly mentioned together. When he does use the word (once), it’s in a phrase that makes completely clear which of the two individuals he means.

    The usage of other Christians who adopted Paul’s adoptionism may well have resembled his practice in these passages—since the ambiguity (as between God the Father and Jesus) would have persisted.

    Your statement that “thus if ever the phrase was used, that is how they would understand it” seems questionable in another way. If there actually were biological brothers of Jesus, that literal meaning would likely be the first that occurred to early Christians, rather than a metaphorical one such as yours. Obviously, if there were no biological brothers of Jesus, that meaning would not have occurred to Christians in Paul’s day, but I see no way of settling the issue of whether they existed on the basis of Paul.

    • says

      None of Paul’s arguments would work if his congregants didn’t already accept these things. To suggest that Paul was being idiosyncratic on all these points is simply absurd. He and his congregations were clearly on the same page on every point, as the letters amply attest. This is one point on which I am certain Ehrman and every expert in this field would agree. So I am not concerned about irrational rejections of the obvious.

  56. Aaron Baker says

    HoosierPolis wrote:

    If Paul met the ACTUAL BROTHER OF JESUS, a person who had grown up with him, known him personally, witnessed his exploits, and so forth, why does he not seem to care AT ALL? He has second-order contact with GOD

    This argument I have to admit I haven’t heard or read before. You may well be onto something here–though I would hesitate to regard an argument from silence as dispositive.

    Incidentally, I’m not insisting here that “brother(s) of the Lord” refers to biological kin of Jesus–though I do think it refers to a group in some way prvileged.

    • HoosierPolis says

      But it’s not an argument from silence at all. IF “James brother of the lord” is his genetic brother, then Paul HAS mentioned him…in one line, in one epistle, and never said anything else about him. Is he a nice guy? Does he physically resemble the spiritual Lord Paul encountered?

      I mean, if there was some sort of bizarre miraculous corroboration of James testimony of his brother with Paul’s Damascene vision, that would be additional proof that Jesus truly is God, right? And the historicists expect us to believe that Paul was just so enraptured with the vision of Jesus that he would blithely ignore a physical connection if presented with one?

      But I’m fairly certain this argument isn’t my own, though I couldn’t tell you where I picked it up. It just seems like a fairly obvious absurdity in the ONE section of the Bible that is supposed to have been actually written by the person claiming authorship.

    • Aaron Baker says

      HoosierPolis wrote: “But it’s not an argument from silence at all.”

      The silence I’m referring to is exactly what you noted: Paul’s failure to say anything more about someone who (on the theory he’s a biological brother of Jesus) actually knew Jesus.

      I don’t have any novel suggestion for why Paul would say no more than he does–just the pretty long-established belief that Paul wasn’t terribly interested in the flesh-and-blood Jesus, as opposed to the risen Christ. That he wasn’t terribly interested is a plausible inference from the very little that he says, throughout his letters, about the earthly Jesus.

      Anyway, all very interesting.

  57. says

    Here’s another hypothesis:

    It was known to the Galatians that there were two men named James in the Jerusalem community at the time of Paul’s first visit. In the intervening years, one of them had a falling out with the leadership and left to form a rival group while the other stayed within the community. When Paul refers to James as” the brother of the Lord,” it is for no other purpose than to indicate to the Galatians which of the two James he met on that first visit, i.e., James the Christian rather than James the Apostate. As far as I can see, it is perfectly logical and it doesn’t involve any disagreement about Paul’s use of the word “the” or any secret societies known as “the Brothers” or any interpolations of convenience or any of the other alleged problems that so offend supporters of the biological interpretation.

    Of course it can never be anything more than a plausible possibility, but aren’t such possibilities exactly why historians like corroboration? Is there anything other than corroboration that would allow a historian to assign a low probability to such a possibility?

    • says

      It is intrinsically less probable than any hypothesis that does not require an ad hoc assumption like that. But of course, less probable does not mean impossible. It doesn’t even necessarily mean improbable, but that depends on the merits of the hypotheses competing with it.

  58. Aaron Baker says

    You wrote:

    None of Paul’s arguments would work if his congregants didn’t already accept these things. To suggest that Paul was being idiosyncratic on all these points is simply absurd.

    I think you’ve missed one of my key points. I consider it probable (and I indicated as much) that at least some of Paul’s congregants accepted some of his ideas. But that’s a conclusion based on inductive reasoning. Your deductive procedure fails to get you to the conclusions you think it requires, as I’ve demonstrated in some detail.

    The failure of your deductive approach to prove that Christians in Paul’s day must have understood “brothers of the Lord” in the sense you’ve insisted on is particularly glaring, I believe. What the phrase meant to Paul himself is highly contestable, as our back-and-forth on that subject has shown.

    And there’s the matter of Paul’s usage where he explains his adoptionist views to his congregants–and manages not to say “brothers of the Lord” anywhere, even where it would have made considerable sense to do so–e.g. where he says synkleronomoi Khristou. It is not “an irrational rejection of the obvious” to suggest that those Christians who accepted Paul’s adoptionist views also tracked his usage.

    Nor have you addressed my objection to your unspoken assumption that Kyrios and Iesous were fungible (with, again, my remarks on Paul’s usage in the relevant passages).

    Nor can you establish on the basis of Paul’s evidence that there were no biological brothers of Jesus; if there were such brothers, it is not, once again, “an irrational rejection of the obvious” to suggest that this is what Christians would have thought of first when hearing or reading the phrase “brothers of the Lord”–it is, rather, the statement of something obvious that it would be irrational for you to reject.

    You next wrote:

    He and his congregations were clearly on the same page on every point, as the letters amply attest. This is one point on which I am certain Ehrman and every expert in this field would agree [my emphasis].

    A gross overstatement–not made more plausible by your irrelevant appeal to authority. That some indeterminate number of Christians accepted even Paul’s more abstruse ideas is entirely likely. That all Christians with whom Paul dealt accepted his ideas isn’t likely at all–let alone rendered a necessary conclusion by your syllogism.

    Further up, you wrote in response to one of my comments:

    No question is begged when every premise is proved and the conclusion necessarily follows.

    I can only assume you don’t know how logic works.

    “Begging the question,” in English, is generally applied to this circumstance: “when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof” (James Welton). That’s an entirely accurate description of your repeated insistence on the truth of propositions on the basis of a deductive procedure that’s incapable of proving those propositions. What I tactfully suggested to you then, I’ve established in wearying detail today.

    Another definition, that of Aristotle in Prior Analytics 2.16 (“proving by means of itself what is not self-evident”) also fits your procedure quite well.

    • says

      I don’t see any of the above as relevant to what I have argued, beyond merely gainsaying what I’ve already said. My previous comments stand as adequate rebuttal.

  59. says

    I don’t see much that’s still standing; but I do appreciate your sharing your hypotheses with me. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a scholarly argument; it was genuinely fun.

    • says

      (1) He is wrong on the Latin. Claudius 25.4 reads impulsore Chresto which means “because of the instigator Chrestus.” It cannot have any other meaning. The word impulsor is like “actor,” it is the name of a person who is engaging in the activity; if Chrestus was instead the object of the dispute or just its cause but not its causer, then Suetonius would have used impulsus, not impulsor (so, impulso, not impulsore).

      (2) And Suetonius knew what Christians were (Nero 16.2) and thus would have said they were involved in this case if they were (see the coverage of the Suetonius material at TextExcavation). That he doesn’t, means they weren’t.

      (1) + (2) refutes all possibility that Claudius 25.4 is about Christ or Christians.

    • says

      Only a Christian would write about Christ as a spiritual agent causing a riot in Rome (and a pagan author reporting such a thing would have to explain this to his pagan readers).

      And again, Suetonius knows what Christians are. So if he meant them here, again, he would have said so.

    • Pjotrk says

      Richard Carrier!

      You say that Suetonius knew about Christians. How can you know that? From Nero 16.2 alone?

      “This lone sentence appears out of context and without any reference to or connection with the Great Fire and can almost certainly be dismissed as a later fictitious insertion in Suetonius’ original text by a Christian copyist.” – Stephen Dando-Collins, The Great Fire of Rome, 2010, p 6

      Btw, if not an interpolation, perhaps the best reading of this sentence is Chrestiani also here, as in Tacitus. How do you know Christiani is the original reading?

    • says

      Because we know of no famous group called Chrestiani that Suetonius could list here without explaining himself, and Christiani are the only famous group regarded at that point as a new and awful superstition as Suetonius says. The notion it’s an interpolation is baseless speculation. It appears in a list of several briefly stated acts of Nero. If they are not interpolated, why would this be? Indeed, that it is so brief is proof it isn’t an interpolation.

    • Jaan says

      But who would this Chrestus be, if not Christ? According to Drews (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Witnesses_to_the_Historicity_of_Jesus/Part_2/Section_1) it’s Cherestus in some manuscripts, and I don’t know which is correct. If Christ is not meant here, why wouldn’t Suetonius explain who this Chrestus or Cherestus (what does it mean?) were? Only Christ was so well known to the readers that no presentation was necessary. If a Chrestus or Chrestus would have been famous enough to be mentioned without presentation, we would surely have more historical data about him, wouldn’t we?

      Do you even believe that the term “Christian” had originated and was used by Romans in 49 CE? If it hadn’t, why do you think “if he meant them here, again, he would have said so”? His source couldn’t possibly use a term not even invented, and “impulsore Chresto/Cheresto” could be an early way of saying “because of Christians” or “because of Christ”.

    • says

      Why would Suetonius have to explain? He says a man named Chrestus (a common name) started a riot that led Claudius to expel the Jews. That’s exactly the kind of brevity Suetonius often evinces.

      Speculating about Suetonius’ sources (and making up theories of how Suetonius “must not have understood them”) gets us nowhere. Speculation in, speculation out.

    • Pjotrk says

      “Because we know of no famous group called Chrestiani that Suetonius could list here without explaining himself”. So which famous Chrestus do we know about, which Suetonius could list in Claudius 25.4 without explaining himself?

    • says

      That Chrestus isn’t famous; the name is incidental. That’s precisely why Suetonius feels no need to explain further. He is simply saying a guy named Chrestus started a riot. End of story.

    • Pjotrk says

      Most scholars (like Botermann, Janne, Spence) say that Suetonius would have written “Chresto quodam”, a certain Chrestus, if he refered to an otherwise unknown person. He used to present the persons he mentioned, or wrote “quodam”. You seem to assert that Suetonius could have written “impulsore Chresto” as a reference to an unknown guy, dispite what the other scholars say about this. Is this assertion founded on any evidence?

    • says

      That Suetonius would say “Chresto quodam”: He wouldn’t necessarily. Few Latin authors were so fastidious that they “always” did that. The fact remains that no explanation is given, neither that this has to do with Christians either (e.g. there is no digression on who this “Christ” is either, if such was meant). So any argument that he would have explained destroys all theories, because all theories entail he would have explained. Except theories that entail the name is incidental. QED.

  60. Fortigurn says

    If we search a Greek corpus such as TLG, how many times do we find ‘X, the brother of Y’ referring to fictive kinship?

    • says

      Since you can’t tell if a ref. is fictive without extensive reading of the context of every relevant hit, that would be a task requiring many weeks of labor, and probably of no avail, since we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address; we mostly only have references to the existence of fictive kinship, not the formulas used. Epigraphy would be a better target of research here (assuming fictive kinship address is ever used there) and none of that is in the TLG.

  61. Fortigurn says

    Many weeks of labour is what proper lexicographical methodology actually involves. Fortunately we have a head start; standard professional lexicons. A diachronic and synchronic analysis (standard lexicographical methodology when analysing disputed words and phrases), is a necessary first step here. Have you carried out a diachronic and synchronic analysis?

    When you say ‘we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address’, could you explain how you arrived at this conclusion? We have a large corpus of Jewish and Christian writings in which fictive kinship address would be found, which is relevant to a synchronic analysis at least.

    In terms of diachronic analysis, we can find the pattern ‘X, the brother of Y’ in the LXX (2 Kingdoms 36:10), in the New Testament (Mark 5:37), and Josephus (Life, 41.201). We find these are references to biological kinship.

    Which passages have you found using the pattern ‘X, the brother of Y’, as a reference to fictive kinship? If this is usage which was common among Christians, it will be easy to start piling up examples.

    If you want to restrict your analysis to epigraphy, then we could use Dittenberger (Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum), but I don’t see why we should restrict the search to epigraphy; we should use the largest corpus available.

    • says

      It seems you have a different aim in mind than I assumed. The issue is not mere fictive kinship (John is the fictive brother of Joe), but fictive kinship to a deity (John is the fictive brother of the Lord). It is the latter that I was referring to.

      If your objective is to find out if people fictively addressed each other that way, that’s a different task from finding out if Christians of Paul’s time addressed each other that way, much less that they used it in reference to kinship to the Lord. Later Christianity did not stress the adoption by god feature of the faith in the way Paul did, and they had a biological brothers tradition that mitigated against ever using the confusing structure “brother of the lord” fictively (that is precisely why it is strange to see Paul using it without qualification or explanation, so as to distinguish biological from adopted brothers of the lord).

      And the converse argument doesn’t hold: even if we never find an occasion when a specific sentence structure is used, that in no way means there was a taboo against it. Many an author uses unique phrases to say common things. That is what language is for: to construct concepts with words in the way you desire, and to understand grammar and vocabulary so as to understand what someone is saying when they do that. For example, we may have no recorded instance of the phrase “sister of the lord” but that finding would in no way entail it meant anything fundamentally different from “brother of the lord”; it just means no occasion to have used the phrase survives in extant literature. And note that that holds even when we interpret the phrase biologically (the gospels, after all, say Jesus had sisters, too).

  62. Squirrelloid says

    I find hilarious the argument against ‘the Apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Peter’ using ‘brothers of the Lord’ to refer to ‘Christians’. Even to a modern speaker this kind of phraseology is not unusual (although we might be more verbose about it for rhetorical effect).

    Consider: Does not the Catholic Church declare against the use of condoms? Is this not claimed by the bishops, the clergy, and the pope?

    Now, as a modern, we’d use more rhetoric, such as ‘and the pope himself?’, but the reflexive adds no additional meaning (being purely rhetorical). I can imagine other rhetorical embellishments as well. But even in its base form it doesn’t sound out of place in even modern english.

    As moderns we’re also used to paper being cheap (and the internet cheaper yet). Paul would have been using expensive paper and preferred economy of words where possible. Indeed, the writing style Paul learned may have involved rhetoric of more brevity than modern useage because of that reality. Paul’s economy of words here may have carried the same rhetorical force as a more developed modern example – that could be an element of greek style (to which I certainly can’t speak). But even this is not necessary, my example is fully intelligible and has rhetorical sense with no embellishment. To fail to appreciate Paul’s rhetoric here requires a failure to understand not just Paul, but how language is used to argue.

  63. Fortigurn says

    1. My object was to determine whether or not you had attempted to discover the meaning of the phrase in question using standard lexicographical methodology (we know now you haven’t), and whether you had found any examples of the phrase attested with the meaning you suggest (we know now you haven’t).

    2. If the value of an asserted meaning for which there is evidence is x, then the value of an asserted meaning for which there is no evidence at all is definitely less than x, making it considerably less probable; ‘That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence’ (Hitchens), ‘Speculation in, speculation out’ (Carrier, on Bayesian analysis). We need evidence here, not speculation or mere assertion.

    3. You said ‘we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address’, but the facts are the opposite; we have a vast range of literature that used fictive kinship address,[1] including plenty in non-inscriptional literature (you haven’t explained why you said ‘Epigraphy would be a better target of research here’), and I expected you to know this.

    4. You said ‘we mostly only have references to the existence of fictive kinship, not the formulas used’, but the facts are the opposite; we have numerous examples of specific terminology, including words such as pathr, mhthr, adelfh/oV, adelfothV, teknoV, egennysa and various formulas.[2]

    5. I agree it would be strange to see Paul using a term without qualification or explanation if no one knew what he meant by it. In this case we have plenty of evidence that this term was used of biological kinship and would naturally be understood this way; the meaning which is attested by numerous examples is considerably more likely than the meaning which is attested by absolutely no examples at all.

    6. Since Christians had a fictive kinship tradition which used adelfoV repeatedly as a reference to spiritual rather than non-biological kinship, the use of the formula ‘X, the brother of Y’ (well attested as a reference to biological kinship), makes sense as a term differentiating James as biological rather than fictive kin.

    7. Therefore, the biological kinship meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’ makes sense if Paul is referring to biological kinship (because this meaning is well attested and would disambiguate the reference in context), but the fictive kinship meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’ does not make sense if Paul’s is referring to fictive kinship (because this meaning is not attested at all, and would confuse the audience if Paul used it ‘without qualification or explanation’). The matter here is not whether or not the fictive kinship meaning was taboo, but whether or not it was actually ever used at all; without any evidence that it was used, we cannot assert that it was.

    8. So we have a phrase for which two meanings are proposed. One of these meanings is attested strongly throughout the relevant literature, the other is not attested at all (that you have found). It is an extraordinary claim that the meaning for which there is no evidence is the correct meaning, and that the meaning for which there is copious evidence is not the correct meaning. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; what do you have?

    __________

    [1] See TLG, Perseus, the Duke Papyri, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae, Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, Archiv für Papyrusforschung, and Dittenberger, among other collections. To save time, instead of searching these resources directly (a couple of them I don’t actually own anyway), I looked through a few standard reference texts and scholarly works (Moulton & Milligan, ‘The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament’ (1930); Arndt, Danker & Bauer, ‘A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature’ (3rd ed. 2000); Penner & Stichele ‘Contextualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse’ (2003); Ascough, ‘Paul’s Macedonian Associations’, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, volume 161 (2003), and have arranged the information I collected into the following dot points.

    * Greek writings; Homer (Iliad 24.362, 371, Odyssey 7.28, 48; 8.145, 408; 17.553; 18.122; 20.199), Euripides (Iphigenia in Tauris 497–98), Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca Historica1.1.3, 17.37.6), Pausanias (Description of Greece 8.48.5–6; 8.51.7), Dionysius Hallicarnassus (Roman Antiquities 12.1.8), Diogenes Laertius (Lives 8.1.22–23), Theon (Progymnasmata 3.93–97), and Epictetus (Discourses 3.22.82), among others

    * Roman writings; Phaedrus (Fables 3.15.18), Virgil (Aenead 9.297), Plutarch (Many Friends 2, Moralia 93E), Marcus Aurelius (Meditations 1.14), Lucretius (De Rerum Natura 3.9), as well as others such as Lucan, Cornelius Nepos, Sallust, Livy, and Cicero

    * Jewish writings; Sirach (2:1), 1 Maccabees (2:50, 64), Jubilees (21:21), 1 Enoch (79:1; 83:1; 91:3–4; 92:1), Testament of Job (1:6; 5:1; 6:1), Testament of Reuben (1:3), Testament of Naphtili (4:1), Testament of Abraham (2:5B), Pseudo-Phocylides (220–22), as well as in Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (1:xcv-xcvi; 1:66, §93; 1:250–51, §319; 1:360, §494; 1:372, §§508–9; 1:373, §510; 1:393, §533; 1:397, §535; 1:398, §537; 1:462, §645; 1:463, §646; 1:505, §694; 1:520, §720; 2:9, §739, 3:41 §479)

    * Papyri (P Tor I. 1i, P Par 42i, P Oxy IV. 744, P Oxy VI. 886, P Oxy VII. 1070, P Tebt II. 320), and inscriptions (Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae p. 60, reference by Ptolemy Euergetes to Berenice, Archiv für Papyrusforschung, volume 5, p. 164, Egyptian inscription during the reign of Augustus)

    • says

      Your reasoning is invalid. As I explained, one would not necessarily have occasion to say “x is brother of y” in fictive contexts unless y was a deity. Because one does not become a fictive brother because one is the brother of some random member of a fraternal society. One becomes a fictive brother because one is a brother of the Lord in whom the fictive kinship is established. In other words, we have no similar contexts to compare. This is obvious when you look at your own examples: they simply aren’t similar contexts at all.

      For example, Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica 1.1.3 says:

      It has been the aspiration of these writers to marshal all men, who, although united one to another by their kinship, are yet separated by space and time, into one and the same orderly body.

      He isn’t even talking about any specific person. So why would you expect him to use the “x is brother of y” formula here? It would make zero sense to. Therefore this is an irrelevant example.

      It is also irrelevant because this is not the same kind of fictive kinship. He is referring to a literal kinship: all men are related (this is not a kinship one has to join, i.e. it is not a fraternity like a mystery cult or Christianity, it is rather a universal fact of all human beings). In one of the most common legends, we are all literally kin because we all literally descend from the original man created by Prometheus; and in philosophy (e.g. Stoicism) all men are literally brothers, not fictively albeit in a different way than usual, because God creates all men by fashioning them in the womb and bestowing on them reason (a fragment of God, literally his seed, i.e. divine sperm).

      Needless to say, this bears no analogy to Paul’s context, where one is a brother of “the Lord” (i.e. the cult’s deity) only if one has been adopted by God the same way “the Lord” was (and men are only “brothers” if they are thereby “brothers of the Lord”). The passage in Diodorus bears no parallel whatsoever.

      The same follows for every other example. This just isn’t a useful way to argue and is a waste of research time. Exactly as I said.

    • Fortigurn says

      “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord.”

      But you’re just making that up. Regardless, your claim doesn’t address the fact under discussion; Josephus is an example of what a 1st century Jewish reader would have understood by the phrase ‘X, the brother of Y’. It also demonstrates that as early as Josephus there was a tradition that Jesus had a biological brother, which is positive evidence for the historicist position and negative evidence against the mytherist position.

      Let’s remember the key issue here; you are asserting for a Greek phrase, a meaning for which you have not provided any evidence at all. Not only that, you have also stated openly that you haven’t even looked for such evidence. That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence (Hitchens). Speculation in, speculation out (Carrier). It’s that simple.

      The fact is we have examples from the 2nd century BCE through to the end of the 1st century CE of how the phrase ‘X, the brother of Y’ was used. In all these cases it is used to refer to biological kinship.

      You are claiming that we should ignore all this evidence and understand the phrase with a meaning which is unattested in any of the relevant Greek literature. Do you understand that this is not standard professional lexicographical procedure?

    • says

      Fortigum, I am not making anything up. Everything I stated is a demonstrable fact. And your standards for how we interpret the Greek language make no sense. They also ignore everything I’ve said about this in this thread. Conversing with you appears to be impossible.

    • Fortigurn says

      “Fortigum, I am not making anything up. Everything I stated is a demonstrable fact.”

      Excellent, then you’ll be able to demonstrate it by providing evidence for your claims.

      1. Please show me all the texts you have found in which the phrase ‘X, the brother of Y’ occurs with the meaning of fictive kinship.

      2. Please show me all the texts you have found in which the Christians use ‘X, the brother of the Lord’.

      These are not unreasonable requests; if there is evidence for your claims, I’m sure you’ll be able to present it. We already saw that these claims of yours were wrong:

      * “we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address;” (we have a huge amount of literature that used fictive kinship address)

      * “we mostly only have references to the existence of fictive kinship, not the formulas used” (there are lists of well documented fictive kinship terms and formulas)

      * “we have many instances of people mentioning or talking about it but very few people addressing each other with it” (we have many instance of people addressing each other with fictive kinship terms)

      “And your standards for how we interpret the Greek language make no sense.”

      Evidence please. I am saying that when you assert a meaning for a specific phrase, you need to have lexical evidence that this is what it means. Why do you object to this?

      When numerous examples of the phrase in question can be found with meaning X, and you are asserting that the occurrence in question means Y, you need evidence for your claim. Remember what Hitchens said about evidence?

      When you insist on this claim despite the fact that there are no examples of it ever being used with meaning Y, what makes you think you are doing professional lexicography?

      When you assert a meaning without evidence, and there’s another meaning with multiple attestation, which meaning is more likely to have been used? Should I just accept your claim without evidence?

      If I took your claim to several professional Greek scholars and lexicographers, what do you think they would say?

    • says

      You are badly confused, Fortigum. If you can’t even follow the train of thought in this comment thread, there is no point arguing with you.

      Case in point, when I said “Everything I stated is a demonstrable fact” the comment we were referring to was this: “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord.” All of that is demonstrably true, and not made up. Contrary to your claim that it was.

      Trying to pull fallacies on me like moving the goal posts, non sequitur, argument by assertion, and other nonsense, is wasting my time and yours.

    • Fortigurn says

      “Case in point, when I said “Everything I stated is a demonstrable fact” the comment we were referring to was this: “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord.” All of that is demonstrably true, and not made up. Contrary to your claim that it was.”

      So ‘Everything I stated’ means ‘One specific statement I made’? That looks like an Ehrman to me. But regardless, I certainly understood you as referring to that statement as well. I had previously asked for evidence for this claim and you hadn’t provided any.

      Since you have re-iterated the claim and state it is ‘demonstrably true’, I am asking you (for about the third time), to present the evidence for your claim. Please prove that “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”.

      I note you are now ignoring several points I have made, not least of which is my simple request for evidence supporting your claims. Any evidence at all.

      You make these statements:

      * “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”

      * “one would not necessarily have occasion to say “x is brother of y” in fictive contexts unless y was a deity”

      * “Because one does not become a fictive brother because one is the brother of some random member of a fraternal society. One becomes a fictive brother because one is a brother of the Lord in whom the fictive kinship is established”

      Could you provide evidence for these statements please?

    • says

      Fortigum, another example of why you are wasting everyone’s time here: “So ‘Everything I stated’ means ‘One specific statement I made’?” Yes. Because that was the statement you said I was making up. So I responded I wasn’t making it up, it was a demonstrable fact.

      Trying to claim that isn’t how our conversation proceeded is starting to make you look like a liar at this point. At the very least, you clearly can’t engage in an intelligible conversation.

    • Fortigurn says

      It’s ok, I now understand that when you said ‘Everything I stated’ you really meant ‘Everything in the single sentence to which you were referring at the time’. Now we’ve cleared that up, can you answer a simple question?

      You say you didn’t make it up. You say it’s something you can ‘demonstrably prove’. So please present the evidence which proves it demonstrably. This is not an unreasonable request.

    • says

      Fortigum: “You say it’s something you can ‘demonstrably prove’. So please present the evidence which proves it demonstrably. This is not an unreasonable request.”

      Seriously?

      You need me to demonstrate that “Josephus doesn’t say brother ‘of the Lord'”? And you need me to demonstrate that Josephus “isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”?

      I am having a hard time believing you are really that retarded. I must conclude you are just fucking with me.

    • says

      Richard, you do yourself no credit to insinuate that Fortigurn is a liar.

      Yes, he’s putting up an argument that is difficult for you, but to go personal on him only makes you look weak.

  64. Otto says

    Carrier,

    “James, who was called the brother of my Lord, and to whom was entrusted to administer the church of the Hebrews in Jerusalem” says the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 11.35. These were anti-Paul homilies. If “brother of the Lord” means “every Christian man”, why would the homilies – which are not dependent on Paul – say that James was called the brother of the Lord? The hypothesis that “the brother of the Lord” was a title is alas better.

    • says

      Those Homilies are late second century (or later) forgeries by Christians who fully believed James was the biological brother of Jesus. By then, all Christians assumed Paul was referring to this James. But that’s a century after the fact. So it’s useless as evidence for what Paul actually meant.

    • Fortigurn says

      Josephus reports James as the biological brother of Jesus, in ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (20.9.1). This is a clear example of what ‘X, the brother of Y’ would have meant to a first century Jewish reader; biological kinship, not ‘X, the brother of a god who is the head of a cult’.

    • says

      Fortigum:

      Josephus reports James as the biological brother of Jesus, in ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (20.9.1). This is a clear example of what ‘X, the brother of Y’ would have meant to a first century Jewish reader; biological kinship, not ‘X, the brother of a god who is the head of a cult’.

      The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord.

    • Fortigurn says

      “You need me to demonstrate that “Josephus doesn’t say brother ‘of the Lord’”? And you need me to demonstrate that Josephus “isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”?”

      No. I need you to demonstrate that ‘THE ANALOGY IS INVALID BECAUSE Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”. You have truncated your own sentence in an attempt to avoid answering the question.

      Here are the statements you made, which you claimed were demonstrably provable.

      * “The analogy is invalid because Josephus doesn’t say brother “of the Lord” and isn’t speaking to a cult who believes its every member is the brother of the Lord”

      * “one would not necessarily have occasion to say “x is brother of y” in fictive contexts unless y was a deity”

      * “Because one does not become a fictive brother because one is the brother of some random member of a fraternal society. One becomes a fictive brother because one is a brother of the Lord in whom the fictive kinship is established”

      I have asked you politely to provide evidence for these statements (among others claims you have made without evidence). Retreating to insults instead of providing that evidence does not advance your case. If these statements are demonstrably provable as you claim, you will have no difficulty in proving them with the evidence you claim exists.

    • says

      Nice moving of the goal posts again.

      I’ve already answered these questions upthread. You just keep ignoring me. Which is why conversing with you is a waste of time.

  65. Fortigurn says

    If you read what I wrote you will find I did not cite Diodorus Siculus as an example of the ‘X, the brother of Y’ formula, or claiming his usage was analogous to the passage in Galatians, or that his usage was a context in which we would expect to find the construction ‘X, the brother of Y’. I simply cited him (along with all the others), as examples of ‘literature that would use fictive kinship address’, in contrast to your claim that ‘we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address’.

    Am I to understand that you now agree we do have ‘literature that would use fictive kinship address’, and we do have examples of ‘the formulas used’?

    You make these statements:

    * “one would not necessarily have occasion to say “x is brother of y” in fictive contexts unless y was a deity”

    * “Because one does not become a fictive brother because one is the brother of some random member of a fraternal society. One becomes a fictive brother because one is a brother of the Lord in whom the fictive kinship is established”

    Could you provide evidence for these statements please?

    The fact is that we do have similar contexts to compare; we have the contexts of other religious associations. The evidence from the first century religious associations is that individuals were in fact fictive kin specifically because they were members of the association; they were not fictive kin on the basis of being individually kin of a deity “in whom the fictive kinship is established”.

    Here’s an oft cited example:

    “If any brother [adelfos] should wish to sell his share, the remaining brothers should buy it. If the brothers [oi adelfoi] do not wish to buy the share, then let them take the aforementioned cash, and let them withdraw from the association.” (IKilikiaBM 2 201, cited by Ascough, ‘Voluntary Associations and the Formation of Pauline Christian Communities’, in Gutsfeld & Koch, ‘Vereine, Synagogen und Gemeinden im kaiserzeitlichen Kleinasien’, Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum, number 25, p. 161 (2006).

    This issue aside, I note you didn’t address my points 5-8. So once again, we have a phrase for which two meanings are proposed. One of these meanings is attested strongly throughout the relevant literature, the other is not attested at all (that you have found). It is an extraordinary claim that the meaning for which there is no evidence is the correct meaning, and that the meaning for which there is copious evidence is not the correct meaning.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and you are now saying that you don’t have any. It’s that simple.

    • says

      The Diodorus passage does not contain any fictive kinship address. It only, at best, references fictive kinship. That was the distinction I mentioned at the start: we have many instances of people mentioning or talking about it but very few people addressing each other with it.

      Your additional examples now are better, but still not sufficient, and reflect the other problem I noted: no individual is being addressed, and it’s only one passage from one group. So we don’t know how those authors would have addressed each other, much less formally (since they won’t always have used the full formal address, just as Paul does not). If, for example, Paul only uses the formal address 1 in 10 times, because usually the full meaning is contextually understood and therefore is only added when he has a rhetorical purpose in mind or is engaging in literary variatio, then we would need, for example, ten different contexts from inscriptions and literature before we’d see the full address used.

      For example, in that inscription you quote, what is being assumed that makes them brothers? (I.e. how do they conceptualize their fictive kinship? What distinguishes it from other fictive kin groups?) We would need enough literature from them to give us an occasion where they would mention it. Otherwise, we can’t know. Thus, for example, are they all brethren because they are brothers of a deity? If not, then why would the “brother of x” formula have any reason to appear here? Brothers of who? Do you see the problem?

      That is why you’re wrong to say an ordinary language explanation is an extraordinary explanation. We just don’t have the relevant data to make such a claim. Indeed, that an ordinary language sentence would not be used is the extraordinary claim, which would require extensive examples of direct address in which it was conspicuously avoided.

      I don’t think you understand this.

  66. Fortigurn says

    “That was the distinction I mentioned at the start: we have many instances of people mentioning or talking about it but very few people addressing each other with it.”

    I have already disproved this; see the examples cited.

    “If, for example, Paul only uses the formal address 1 in 10 times, because usually the full meaning is contextually understood and therefore is only added when he has a rhetorical purpose in mind or is engaging in literary variatio, then we would need, for example, ten different contexts from inscriptions and literature before we’d see the full address used.”

    Wait a minute, what formal address? You are assuming that such a form of address exists, without first providing any evidence that it exists in the first place. Do you see what you’re doing?

    1. First you’re asserting without any evidence whatsoever, that Paul’s ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ refers to fictive kinship rather than biological kinship.

    2. Since you are completely aware that you have no evidence to support this claim, you spend the rest of your time trying to explain away the absence of evidence. You claim Paul only used the formal address once because ‘usually the full meaning is contextually understood’, and because it is ‘only added when he has a rhetorical purpose in mind or is engaging in literary variatio’. But you don’t even have any evidence that the ‘formal address’ you claim actually existed. You’re just making justifications to explain the absence of evidence.

    3. Also aware that the phrase ‘X, the brother of Y’ occurs consistently in other relevant literature with the meaning of biological kinship, you are inventing reasons why it doesn’t appear in this literature with the fictive kinship meaning. But again, these are merely attempts to explain the absence of evidence for the meaning you asserted in the first place.

    So here is the issue, put very simply.

    * When numerous examples of the phrase in question can be found with meaning X, and you are asserting that the occurrence in question means Y, you need evidence for your claim

    * When you insist on this claim despite the fact that there are no examples of it ever being used with meaning Y, what makes you think you are doing professional lexicography?

    * When you assert a meaning without evidence, and there’s another meaning with multiple attestation, which meaning is more likely to have been used

    * If I took your claim to several professional Greek scholars and lexicographers, what do you think they would say?

    To save us both some time (since I’ve made these points several times and you haven’t responded to them yet), please indicate whether or not you can answer these qeustions, and if you ever intend to do so. Thank you.

    • says

      All of this ignores what I have already said on this point. You are just arguing with yourself now. If you continue to do this I will simply stop approving your comments, in accordance with my comments policy.

    • Fortigurn says

      Are you saying you are not going to answer the questions I asked? You haven’t answered them at any time up to now, and they remain unaddressed by anything you wrote. I’m perfectly content if you don’t answer these simple questions; those reading can make their own assessment as to why no answers have been forthcoming.

  67. David says

    Fortigurn, what do you make of reference to Titus the brother of me (Adelphon mou) in 2 Corinthians 2:13?

  68. David says

    Fortigurn, to clarify, ‘iakobon ton adelphon tou’ (gal 1:19) and ‘titon ton adelphon mou’ (2 Cor 2:13) sound quite similar.

    • Fortigurn says

      “Fortigurn, to clarify, ‘iakobon ton adelphon tou’ (gal 1:19) and ‘titon ton adelphon mou’ (2 Cor 2:13) sound quite similar.”

      Yes, they both end in a word ending in ‘ou’. Let’s summarize the actual evidence:

      * Positive lexicographical evidence from the 1st century BCE to the end of the 1st century CE of ‘X, the brother of Y’ being used to refer to biological kinship

      * Positive evidence from the end of the 1st century CE of a tradition that James was the biological brother of Jesus (Josephus)

      * No evidence within the same era of the phrase ‘X, the brother of the Lord’ ever being used of Christian fictive kinship

      So we have two points of positive evidence in favour of a biological kinship reading, and no negative evidence against such a reading. Conversely we have no positive evidence in favour of a fictive kinship reading, and at least one point of negative evidence against it.

      Speculation isn’t relevant here. What we need is evidence. Without evidence, a case cannot proceed logically or rationally.

    • says

      Which methodology is phenomenally illogical. As I have already pointed out in detail upthread. There is obviously no need to continue arguing in this circle.

    • Fortigurn says

      “Which methodology is phenomenally illogical. As I have already pointed out in detail upthread.”

      You have failed to identify why this methodology is illogical. The simple fact is that you are making a case without evidence, while evidence exists which is contra-indicatory to your case.

      I have asked you more than once what you think professional Greek scholars and lexicographers would make of your case. Do you think that would accept it? Do you think they would consider it is ‘phenomenally illogical’ to advance word meanings on the basis of lexicographical evidence, and to request evidence when word meanings are asserted without evidence?

    • says

      Yes, Fortigurn. Lexicographers would reject your bizarre methods outright. Because they entail we can’t translate any sentence without first confirming prior examples of that same sentence. Which is silly. When someone says something, we have the grammar and vocabulary and context that determine what it means. We don’t need to go culling examples of the exact same phrase in every case, least of all when the context is too unusual for there to be many examples. I have given example after example upthread of how you are reading completely different contexts as somehow relevant to interpreting Paul. That is simply bizarre and illogical behavior on your part. And I am certain any real lexicographer would agree. But you are too irrational to even grasp what I am saying. So I am really wasting my time even saying it to you.

    • Fortigurn says

      “Because they entail we can’t translate any sentence without first confirming prior examples of that same sentence.”

      No, I haven’t said anything of the kind. You are misrepresenting what I said.

      “When someone says something, we have the grammar and vocabulary and context that determine what it means.”

      If you mean in the sentence itself without reference to any evidence outside the sentence, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t; sometimes we have a hapax legomenon, for example. Regardless, we don’t even have an understanding of the grammar and vocabulary unless they’ve been established previously through standard lexicographical methodology, which involves looking at previous examples to see how the words are used.

      Do you agree that standard methodology is to determine the meaning of a sentence using evidence gathered from previous examples of what the vocabulary and grammar mean, and that meanings asserted without lexicographical evidence have less weight than those which are asserted with such evidence?

      Are you claiming that the vocabulary and context of Galatians 1:19 excludes a biological reading of adelphos here? If so, please present your evidence. Remember that evidence remains the key to this discussion, and to date you haven’t presented any.

      “I have given example after example upthread of how you are reading completely different contexts as somehow relevant to interpreting Paul.”

      No you haven’t. I stated twice that I was not using them as relevant to interpreting Paul. I stated twice that I was using them as evidence against your claims that:

      * “we have almost no literature that would use fictive kinship address;” (we have a huge amount of literature that used fictive kinship address)

      * “we mostly only have references to the existence of fictive kinship, not the formulas used” (there are lists of well documented fictive kinship terms and formulas)

      * “we have many instances of people mentioning or talking about it but very few people addressing each other with it” (we have many instance of people addressing each other with fictive kinship terms)

      Please don’t misrepresent me. There’s a public record of what I wrote here, so it only backfires on you.

      The ‘fictive kinship’ interpretation of Galatians 1:19 was raised and discussed in detail on the B-Greek forum last year (‘Sean Ingham’ was the visiting Mytherist). Please take note of what they say; you may wish to submit your theory to them for peer review. I was involved in the discussion, and I was not told that the approach I considered sound was ‘illogical’. On the contrary, the following statements were made (my emphasis):

      * “I definitely agree that he uses “αδελφος” often to refer to fellow believers, but I do not think we have sufficient evidence to exclude any other meaning from Paul’s understanding of the word. THEREFORE WE ALSO HAVE TO LOOK AT THE OTHER WRITINGS IN THE SAME PERIOD because Paul is communicating through his letters with other people who will understand the word IN WAYS EVIDENCED BY THEIR OWN WRITINGS. The more peculiar the language Paul uses is to himself, the more misunderstood he would be.”

      * “I doubt “the fellow believer” can be a title because I DO NOT THINK IT IS ATTESTED AS SUCH,”

      * “there are some cultures in which specific phrases like “X, son of Y,” is not equivalent to “X is [a] son of Y”. So I agree that syntax is not everything, but IT MAY BE IN SPECIFIC CASES OVERRIDE ALL OTHER MEANINGS OF THE CONSTITUENT WORDS”

      * “I would not consider anything less than a few hundred instances as sufficient, for the reason that our usage of any word varies a great deal across our daily communication as well as across the type of communication. Letters to fellow believers cannot count as a sufficiently balanced corpus of an author’s usage of a word.”

      * “(1) The article causes “τον αδελφον του κυριου” to refer to a specific individual who is either described as “αδελφον του κυριου” or well-known by that description. The first is more likely because NOWHERE ELSE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT DO WE SEE “τον αδελφον του κυριου” being a well-known person’s title. (2) JEWISH CULTURE HAS PRECISELY SUCH A HEBREW CONSTRUCTION USED IN NAMES, so as I mentioned above Jews would most likely consider the whole clause “ιακωβον τον αδελφον του κυριου” as description of a person similar to a name.”

      The discussion starts here.

      http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2269#p2269

    • says

      Fortigurn:


      “Are you claiming that the vocabulary and context of Galatians 1:19 excludes a biological reading of adelphos here?”

      No. I am arguing that it could have either meaning, therefore we cannot presume it has one and not the other.

      The evidence against it having a biological meaning is that the specific phrase “brother of the LORD” is highly unusual in the period Paul is writing in; all Christians were brothers of the Lord in concept; Paul uses “X the brother of Y” in other contexts in this sense (e.g. 2 Cor. 2:13); and the phrase can have either meaning in this context (a letter written by a Christian to Christians in the early first century) and therefore would be confusing if he meant biological, since that would normally have to be specified in such a context (as by using “natural brother” or “brother of the Lord in the flesh”), otherwise it isn’t specific enough, since many a James would be an adopted brother “of the Lord.”

      All of that together is not a decisive proof. It merely demonstrates that we cannot presume biological brother is meant. Paul could mean adopted brother. We don’t know.

      There are no relevant contexts outside these letters to compare with this, because we have no letters by fictive kin groups referring to each other by fictive address in which “brother of the Lord” would be expected to appear even if it was used in their community. A valid argument from silence requires a high probability of seeing such a phrase on the hypothesis that such a phrase was avoided in fictive contexts. We have no documents that bear that probability. Except these. Comparative evidence is therefore of no use here. Because there is none. (All the evidence you keep adducing is irrelevant to an argument from silence in this case.)

      Finally, “the Lord” is a person (the being they worship and became brothers of through adoption by God in baptism). So the last point you quote is moot.

      This is why arguing with you is a waste of time. You don’t understand what I say, you don’t understand what I have argued, and you don’t understand how to make a logically valid argument for a conclusion.

    • Fortigurn says

      “I am arguing that it could have either meaning, therefore we cannot presume it has one and not the other.”

      But you choose a meaning for which you have no lexicographical evidence, and say it is more likely. That’s exactly where this discussion started, with you making an argument that the fictive kinship meaning is more likely, despite the fact that you have no evidence of this phrase ever being used of fictive kinship.

      “The evidence against it having a biological meaning is that the specific phrase “brother of the LORD” is highly unusual in the period Paul is writing in;”

      It’s actually the opposite; this specific phrase makes perfect sense if biological kinship is being referred to, because the construction is not unusual at all in the first century, and because both the gospels and Josephus preserve a tradition of Jesus having biological brothers.

      However, the phrase is completely unattested as a reference to fictive Christian kinship, so it would have been highly unusual for Paul to use it, and would have been extremely confusing. As one of the scholars I consulted pointed out, ‘The more peculiar the language Paul uses is to himself, the more misunderstood he would be’, and ‘Paul is communicating through his letters with other people who will understand the word IN WAYS EVIDENCED BY THEIR OWN WRITINGS’.

      “There are no relevant contexts outside these letters to compare with this, because we have no letters by fictive kin groups referring to each other by fictive address in which “brother of the Lord” would be expected to appear even if it was used in their community.”

      The Greek scholars I consulted had a very different view, as you can see from the link I posted; they did not consider it necessary to compare the phrase ‘X, the brother of the Lord’ here with other instances of the phrase ‘X, the brother of the Lord’. On the contrary, it was pointed out that in certain cases syntax overrides context, and that Paul’s syntax matches the syntax of an existing Hebrew phrase used for biological kinship.

      Have you subjected this claim of yours to peer review by professional Greek scholars and lexicographers? Have you even consulted anyone who is sufficiently qualified to comment?

      “Finally, “the Lord” is a person (the being they worship and became brothers of through adoption by God in baptism). So the last point you quote is moot.”

      That does not contradict the last point I quoted. I note you did not address any of the points I quoted. In a discussion of Greek such as this, should I rely on your opinion and your argument made without evidence, or should I rely on the agreement of a number of independent professional Greek scholars and lexicographers who make it their career?

      “(All the evidence you keep adducing is irrelevant to an argument from silence in this case.)”

      But I am not making an argument from silence. I have made an argument from positive and negative evidence. In contrast, you are making an argument with no evidence at all.

    • says

      Fortigurn, you are still ignoring context. Unless you have examples of Jews calling each other “brothers of the Lord” in a biological sense?

      Syntax gets us nowhere, because we do have examples of Paul using “X brother of Y” in a demonstrably fictive sense. Thus, especially given the context of 1 Galatians, we cannot decide on syntax here.

    • says

      Richard,

      I am neither as educated nor as intelligent as Fortigurn, nor do I have his patience. He’s been quite effective in calling you to task, and you have no rebuttal except to insult him.

      My simple question is this, how many examples of the phrase “brother of the Lord” (or “brothers of the Lord”) used in the biological sense do you expect to find when there is only one family in all of human history that would qualify for its use?

    • says

      Mike Gantt:

      My simple question is this, how many examples of the phrase “brother of the Lord” (or “brothers of the Lord”) used in the biological sense do you expect to find when there is only one family in all of human history that would qualify for its use?

      The stupidity here is so mind blowing I am really astonished I have to respond.

      Take an analogy:

      Suppose we read in a letter of the 1940’s that “James is a cool cat,” and I conclude the author means a person, not a feline, because in that letter “cat” is often a term for “man.” Even though only this one time is a cat called “cool,” the conclusion still follows. You then respond by saying “but most occasions when ‘x is a cat’ appears in other documents it means a feline, therefore obviously James is not a human but someone’s pet cat.” And I explain that that is irrelevant because it ignores context. You reply with the phenomenally stupid statement “how many examples of the phrase ‘x is a cool cat’ used in the feline-referring sense do you expect to find when there is only one family in all of human history that would use the phrase?”

      Really?

      (Is it just me, people?)

    • says

      Richard,

      Your analogy is not analogous.

      My point was that in Galatians it’s clear that “Lord” refers to Jesus. If the reference to “brother” is meant to be biological then we should not expect to see similar phrasing very often in literature simply because the number of people to whom it could apply is so very, very small (1 Cor 9:5 being one of the other rare occurrences).

    • Fortigurn says

      “Fortigurn, you are still ignoring context.”

      I am not ignoring context. I am actually reading the phrase in its broader lexical context; the context of proximate uses of ‘X, the brother of Y’, and the context of a historical tradition that Jesus had a brother (attested in the gospels and Josephus).

      “Unless you have examples of Jews calling each other “brothers of the Lord” in a biological sense?”

      I don’t need them; I already have ‘X, the brother of Y’ attested with a biological sense. That’s the difference between my understanding and yours; mine has evidence. If you want to confine the lexical evidence to ‘X, the brother of the Lord’, then you can’t appeal to 2 Corinthians 2:13 and if you want me to find examples of Jews calling each other “brothers of the Lord” in a biological sense, then to support your interpretation you have to find examples of Christians calling each other “brothers of the Lord’ in a fictive kinship sense. So you’re stuck without evidence either way.

      “Syntax gets us nowhere, because we do have examples of Paul using “X brother of Y” in a demonstrably fictive sense. Thus, especially given the context of 1 Galatians, we cannot decide on syntax here.”

      Do you understand why the professional Greek scholars I asked about this, disagree with what you say? Have you submitted your own interpretation to any peer review at all? Have you even consulted anyone who is sufficiently qualified to comment?

      In a discussion of Greek such as this, should I rely on your opinion and your argument made without evidence, or should I rely on the agreement of a number of independent professional Greek scholars and lexicographers who make it their career?

      If you don’t want to answer these questions you can just say ‘I don’t want to answer these questions’, or you can remain silent; either will be fine as an indication that you don’t want to answer them.

    • Fortigurn says

      If you think I’ve ignored anything you’ve said, please identify it. On the contrary, I have quoted virtually every word you have said, and I have addressed every single one of your points. Not one of your questions has gone unanswered by me, and not one of your points has been left unaddressed.

      On the other hand, I have now collected a long list of ‘Questions Richard Carrier has not answered’, and you have failed to provide any evidence for your claim. In addition you have failed to address the fact that professional Greek scholars I consulted make the very arguments you claimed are irrational.

      I will return to the forum and let them know you think their arguments are irrational.

    • says

      Fortigurn, I think you are irrational. I have no opinion of anyone else you are channeling. So do not dare say I said they are irrational. I have only said you are. And you are.

      That’s why I am not going to answer you again and again. My comments upthread fully answer your every relevant question. So any reader who cares to can read the thread.

    • Fortigurn says

      Remember this point?

      * ‘Paul is communicating through his letters with other people who will understand the word IN WAYS EVIDENCED BY THEIR OWN WRITINGS’

      I don’t know why you appeal to 2 Corinthians 2:13, as if the Galatians had read the letter and were familiar with the phrase Paul used there. You cannot treat this letter as evidence for how the Galatians would have understood Paul’s letter to them.

      The original point you still need to address is simple; you are asserting a specific meaning for a Greek phrase (which you acknowledge may have an alternative meaning), but you have no evidence for the meaning you assert. However, evidence does exist for an alternative meaning, making it the more likely meaning.

      * Meaning one: has evidence
      * Meaning two: has no evidence

      Meaning one is therefore more likely. These are the facts.

  69. Fortigurn says

    “Fortigurn, I think you are irrational. I have no opinion of anyone else you are channeling. So do not dare say I said they are irrational. I have only said you are. And you are.”

    Please read what I wrote. You are misrepresenting me again. I never said I would say you thought THEY were irrational. I said I would ‘let them know you think THEIR ARGUMENTS are irrational’. I cited their arguments (and later quoted them directly), and you referred to THOSE ARGUMENTS as irrational. So it is entirely justifiable for me to inform them that you referred to THEIR ARGUMENTS as irrational.

    “That’s why I am not going to answer you again and again. My comments upthread fully answer your every relevant question. So any reader who cares to can read the thread.”

    Yes let’s. And what are they saying? Here’s a comment from an atheist and self-declared ‘Jesus agnostic’ (who does not believe there’s sufficient historical evidence to confirm Jesus existed), on the ‘Rational Skepticism’ forum, who followed our early discussion on this point, and still doesn’t believe that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ refers to a biological brother.

    archibald » May 08, 2012 10:18 am

    “It does appear that Carrier’s comparitive lack of knowledge let him down in that exchange. He is clearly not as expert in the matter as the person he is discussing with. He also strikes me as slightly unwilling to admit that.”

    http://www.rationalskepticism.org/christianity/what-can-we-reasonably-infer-about-the-historical-jesus-t219-24440.html#p1308786

    He clearly wasn’t very impressed by you.

    The fact is that you’ve avoided answering a number of relevant questions. But you have acknowledged at least that you are asserting a meaning for the phrase, without evidence. You have also indicated that you have not submitted your claims for peer review, neither have you followed standard lexicographical methodology. I would caution you of the danger of falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    This is not an uncommon tactic among Mytherists. Earl Doherty has asserted various meanings for Greek words or phrases, which he has acknowledged freely in correspondence with me have no lexical support whatsoever; in at least one case (the meaning of ‘according to the flesh), he cites you for support.

    When Mytherists have to resort to making up meanings for Greek words, and phrases, it’s a clear indication that whatever they are doing it isn’t scholarly work.

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