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Oct 10 2013

How can smart atheists be bamboozled by Joseph Atwill?

Atwill is this guy who claims to have evidence that Jesus wasn’t real: Christianity was a cunning product of a Roman imperial conspiracy, intentionally designed to placate those troublesome Jews, and he claims to have a Roman confession that he’ll reveal next week.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

The Roman idea of social engineering was to plant a legionary fortress, or retire a bunch of legionaries, into an area that they wanted to pacify. Incorporating regional gods into their pantheon by synonymizing them, sure; far-fetched long-term plans that would require centuries to mature into a tangible result, no.

Has there ever been a religion that was created by a government that actually caught on? Most religions die young; they have a very low success rate. It’s not a smart investment — it’s like buying a lottery ticket. If Romans had been in this game of inventing religions to win over the natives to Romanism, we’d see more examples of failures than long term success.

What would you think of a conspiracy theorist who announced that Joseph Smith had been a secret government agent with the mission of persuading a large number of people to settle that barren Utah territory? Or that L. Ron Hubbard was J. Edgar Hoover’s boy, part of a plan to provide an alternative to the Communist Party for impressionable youth? There are always people to whom a conspiracy theory is attractive, but more rational people would just laugh at the very idea.

Finally, as Russell Glasser points out, real scholars don’t spring the evidence on their audiences by press release or by public lecture — it is first reviewed by independent scholars for authenticity.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.


Richard Carrier demolishes Atwill in detail.

104 comments

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  1. 1
    David Gerard

    I started a RationalWiki article on the topic: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Roman_Piso Could do with filling out.

    Your fellow blogger Richard Carrier, of course, knocks this one out of the park: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4664

  2. 2
    David Gerard

    I mean, not even Acharya S buys this stuff.

  3. 3
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    I don’t get this general “Jesus didn’t exist” approach. Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny. It’s hardly an extraordinary claim to say that the Jesus character was likely based on one of them. And the very early church(es) must have grown from some common seed.

  4. 4
    doublereed

    Religions are created by opportunists, not conspirators.

  5. 5
    Alex

    I’m also surprised that many atheists are so gullible, especially since scientists have proven that atheists are more intelligent! :D

  6. 6
    Eamon Knight

    A friend stuck this on our local mailing list the other day (I’m not clear with what degree of endorsement). Five minutes googling was enough to set off my crackpot alarm. FFS, people: develop a little bit of skeptical spidey-sense, will you?

    The guy accepts the Testimonium Flavium as legitimate (because his thesis, to the extent I understand it, depends on Josephus being in on the hoax), whereas even some Christian apologists accept that it’s at least partially a later forgery. People like Atwill make mythicism look ridiculous.

  7. 7
    David Gerard

    >Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny. It’s hardly an extraordinary claim to say that the Jesus character was likely based on one of them.

    As Ben Goren puts it: “Santa is real! He lives in Florida year-round, his name is Harold, he hates kids, and he’s never given anybody a Christmas present in his whole life. But he’s the real Santa!” At some point you’re just not saying anything distinguishable about any individual.

    For the general probability argument, Richard Carrier’s written extensively on the topic, with one whole book just out and another on the way. tl;dr he thinks the most probable case is no distinguishable human seed, the second most likely is a nonmagical charlatan such as you describe.

  8. 8
    badgersdaughter

    It’s all so typical of Christianity. Other religions can and do put up with assorted dissenters claiming their deities aren’t manifest and often do no more than dislocate their jaws yawning. I remember in particular an interesting but obscure article where a gentleman made a credible case that the Hindu god Murugan was either based on or conjugated with the exploits of Alexander the Great. Well, OK, Alexander was real, but you know what I mean.

  9. 9
    A Masked Avenger

    PZ, excellent post. One point I feel an irresistible urge to call out, though:

    Has there ever been a religion that was created by a government that actually caught on?

    You’re thinking in the context of “Romans inventing Jesus,” and in that context it’s a fair point. But… Pharaoh as god-king? Deifying Roman emperors? Most of history is replete with state religions that held on at least as long as the respective states did.

    Several caveats, I realize: the “state” is a fairly modern invention, so I’m using the term extremely loosely. And a fair question is whether the state “invented” the religion or co-opted existing ones. Nevertheless, governments have always been in the religion business.

    …right down to the present day. Both Democrats and Republicans attempt to co-opt Christianity in support, usually with the help of friendly left- or right-leaning ministers. Both portray each election as a manichean battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, which certainly smacks of religion. For for actual manufacture of religion, look at the deification of past presidents. Among others, try visiting the Lincoln museum in Springfield, IL. The exhibits include one on slavery, in which a Satan-esque statue of some sort of slave-driver is lit with lurid red lighting that can’t possibly be other than a conscious invocation of Dante, and a recreation of Lincoln lying in state with a giant banner painted on the wall that says, “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior.” I was actually dumbstruck by the blatant religious imagery, and asked aloud, “So who’s the Holy Ghost?”

  10. 10
    Lars

    (…) that he’ll reveal next week.

    And that was all the info I needed in order to form an opinion about this.

  11. 11
    nomadiq

    So glad you posted this PZ. I gotta agree 100%. I was not excited at all when I heard about Atwill, He sounds like a loon. Publishing by press release. Some fanciful claims without hard evidence. And lastly, the very idea of a government invented religion… that actually worked!… is fairly implausible. Yes, Jesus is a conglomeration of various mythologies running around Eurasia at the time. But where is the evidence it was a deliberate ploy by the Romans? Where are the ancient texts recording the ploy?

    Ancient texts, or it didn’t happen.

  12. 12
    Rutee Katreya

    Deifying Roman emperors?

    Ceremonial, not actual. If you wanted a remotely useful example, try Chinese emperors (who still often have the same thing)

  13. 13
    Eamon Knight

    @3: Yeah, when I first encountered the idea, it struck me as a case of hyper-debunking. There seems nothing a priori unlikely about the idea that some radical rabbi called Yeshua attracted a cult and got snuffed by the Romans as a trouble-maker, and that his tale grew in the telling, posthumously. Because people do that sort of thing. The “mythicist” position is that Christ started out as a heavenly figure in the minds of an apocalyptic Jewish movement (Paul being among the Usual Suspects), and later got “grounded” in an invented tale about a radical rabbi named Yeshua. Because people do that sort of thing, too.

    Whether there’s enough evidence to decide either way, I couldn’t say, but some non-stupid people like Carrier take mythicism seriously (and certainly, the usual Christian apologetics that Jesus did so exist are fallacious). I’m in no way qualified to judge the arguments, and it’s not really top priority for me. Once you toss out the mystical-magical stuff, what’s left is a historical question about the origins of the Christian religion — interesting, because of Christianity’s influence on Western society, but not *personally* urgent.

  14. 14
    David Marjanović

    Importantly, not just Christianity would be in trouble. So would Islam, where the prophet Isa, born of the virgin Maryam, is supposed to preside over Doomsday!

    Has there ever been a religion that was created by a government that actually caught on?

    Perhaps not a whole religion, but there’s always the god Serapis, “devised during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt[1] as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection. A serapeum (Greek serapeion) was any temple or religious precinct devoted to Serapis. The cultus of Serapis was spread as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings, who also built an immense Serapeum in Alexandria.

    Serapis continued to increase in popularity during the Roman period, often replacing Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt. In 389, a mob led by the Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria destroyed the Alexandrian Serapeum, but the cult survived until all forms of religion other than Nicene Christianity were suppressed or abolished under Theodosius I in 391.” [links removed]

    Worship of Serapis wasn’t limited to Egypt, but spread to Greece, Rome, and even Bactria (very roughly modern Afghanistan).

    The guy accepts the Testimonium Flavium as legitimate

    what

    (because his thesis, to the extent I understand it, depends on Josephus being in on the hoax)

    what

  15. 15
    Richard Hollis

    > “I don’t get this general “Jesus didn’t exist” approach. Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny. It’s hardly an extraordinary claim to say that the Jesus character was likely based on one of them.”

    That is true. However, the very fact that a rather decent case can be made for a mythical Jesus simply highlights how little we actually know about Jesus and how little about the legend surrounding him we can actually substantiate. This is important because a lot of people – Christian or not – do labour under this assumption that we have good evidence that Jesus (human or divine) existed. The fact is that such supporting evidence is woefully inadequate.

    But back to the OP, shame on Atwill. This will bring nothing but derision on the Jesus-as-myth hypothesis, which is an awful lot stronger than his silly conspiracy theory.

  16. 16
    MikeTheInfidel

    (Your link to Russell’s blog post is going to the PRWeb post instead. Whoops.)

  17. 17
    rodriguez

    Funny, I would have written the title this way: How smart can atheists be if they are bamboozled by Joseph Atwill?

  18. 18
    David Marjanović

    I was actually dumbstruck by the blatant religious imagery, and asked aloud, “So who’s the Holy Ghost?”

    Martin Luther King.

    See, that was easy.

  19. 19
    numerobis

    The Anglican Church was created by a relatively recent nation-state, admittedly a calque of the Roman Catholic Church just with a different leader. Christianity was strongly molded by the roman state, but only after it had caught on with a lot of people.

  20. 20
    MikeTheInfidel

    rodriguez:

    Funny, I would have written the title this way: How smart can atheists be if they are bamboozled by Joseph Atwill?

    Yeah, that’s totally honest. It’s definitely not equivalent to saying that since some Latin drug cartels are really powerful, then Hispanics must be a bunch of violent criminals.

  21. 21
    borax

    I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus. It doesn’t matter to me. I only care about the modern ramifications of Christianity.

  22. 22
    Raging Bee

    Christianity was a cunning product of a Roman imperial conspiracy, intentionally designed to placate those troublesome Jews…

    …by giving them a leader who was almost instantly mistaken for a political rabble-rouser and a threat to both Roman and Jewish establishments? Yeah, that worked out well — so well that their puppet-prophet had to be crucified for allegedly doing the EXACT OPPOSITE of “placating” the Jews.

    This is ridiculous even by conspiracy-theory standards. And no, the Romans didn’t INVENT gods or religious movements; they assimilated other tribes’ gods into their own pantheon as they assimilated the tribes into their state. That’s what Romans are FAMOUS for, that’s the biggest early example of religious freedom in the West, that’s what Eddie Izzard successfully jokes about, because everyone in his audience knows how the Romans really worked.

  23. 23
    rodriguez

    miketheinfidel @20 Yep. I noticed right where you went with that analogy of yours.

  24. 24
    jamessweet

    Hey, I rather like the Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard theories you cooked up! Can we get those to catch on?

  25. 25
    Raging Bee

    Pharaoh as god-king? Deifying Roman emperors?

    Those are not religions that “caught on.” They were nothing but required public ritual pretense, very few people took any of them seriously, and AFAIK at least, there are no records of cults of Pharaohs or Roman emperors even existing, let alone growing, independent of the direct application of state power.

  26. 26
    MikeTheInfidel

    miketheinfidel @20 Yep. I noticed right where you went with that analogy of yours.

    Maybe you should stop dishonestly generalizing about entire groups of people, then?

  27. 27
    rodriguez

    @miketheinfidel Maybe I think atheists would be better off if we didn’t think we were smart.

    And, comment about cartels and Latin people. Go look at who consumes those drugs.

  28. 28
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    *sigh*

    Accepting that there may well have been a “historical” Jesus is fine – I’m willing to grant that ~ 4 BC a baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem to a newly-married couple (where the father was a carpenter descended from David), who later moved to Nazareth. I’m willing to accept that the son – let’s even accept that his name was Yeshua bar Yousef – became a rabbi and wandered around Galilee and preached and ranted. I’m willing to accept that he went to Jerusalem in the spring of 29 AD, engaged in a bit of theater, pissed off the local authorities (see: “engaged in a bit of theater”), and died for it. I’m willing to accept that there were shenanigans involving his body vanishing.

    Fine. That’s all plausible based on what we know of first-century Judea.

    Accepting that his story was aggregated with that of other Zealot rabbis (he was pretty obviously a Zealot) and various other myths and eventually a new religion emerged? Fine. Fits in just fine with scholarly understanding of how religions form and evolve – especially in light of the tempestuous state of the area at the time.

    The idea that the Romans said, “I know! Let’s invent a religion based around a guy we killed for fomenting rebellion as the son of an all-powerful deity (thus casting ourselves as the bad guys)! That’ll be a great way of getting these uppity folk to obey us!” is laughable. Their religion-planting efforts were limited to “so your god is obviously the same as Jupiter, let’s be friendly” and “Octavian Caesar was totes a god.”

    Related: I read a study of the Roman utter bafflement with Jewish monotheism. They’d not really encountered anything like it before – when word came to Rome that the Jews worshipped this god who had [string of attributes], the Romans duly built an altar in Rome to this god and hired a priest to sing hymns at it. Because that, to the Romans, was politeness (the Jews were unimpressed). Later, when Jerusalem was sacked in AD 70, Titus, upon capturing the Temple, entered the innermost part. In most religions he’d encountered, he’d have expected to find a nice statue of a god there. Yet, of course, the room was utterly empty. Apparently, he was quite weirded out by this.

  29. 29
    Raging Bee

    Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny. It’s hardly an extraordinary claim to say that the Jesus character was likely based on one of them.

    It’s also not extraordinary to claim that there was at least one guy who had learned enough exotic healing arts (possibly from a far-away foreign land like Greece) to perform medical services that the backward Jews of his day considered miraculous; and that stories of his/their “miracles” grew in the telling. We don’t really have to postulate that the original “Jesus” character(s) were charlatans; it’s possible that they were sincere and decent enough, and competent enough, to stand out from the “two-a-penny” charlatans.

  30. 30
    David Marjanović

    The guy accepts the Testimonium Flavi[an]um as legitimate

    He does, but simply because he can: “Atwill grants the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, which even apologists cannot seem to swallow without trimming away the most obviously Christian gristle. He thinks the only reason scholars have dismissed it as an interpolation is that they think it fails to fit into the context, which, however, it does, according to his esoteric reading.”

    From reading that whle page, it looks like Atwill had a good idea (and wasn’t the first to have it) but went way, way overboard with it. And that, apparently, without even mentioning the Latin-based peculiarities of Mark’s Greek, or for that matter Mark’s very name.

  31. 31
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    DDMFM @30:

    Mark’s very name

    Growing up in fundie-land, I was told that Mark was analogous to Paul – it was the name of a connected Jewish man (possibly a citizen) who took a Roman name. It’s just that (unlike Paul) his real name has been lost.

    Of course, Luke has the same problem. That’s a pretty Latin and non-Semitic name. Of course, Luke canonically being a physician makes that easy. He’d take a Latin name to allow him to expand his client pool. Matthew and John are fine, perfectly Semitic names.

  32. 32
    Nick Gotts

    This is important because a lot of people – Christian or not – do labour under this assumption that we have good evidence that Jesus (human or divine) existed.- Richard Hollis@15

    Yeah. They include almost everyone, Christian or not, who’s looked seriously at the evidence. Mythicism is about on a par with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Bacon – not totally impossible, but you have to go along with a lot of implausible explaining-away to believe it.

    I’m willing to grant that ~ 4 BC a baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem to a newly-married couple (where the father was a carpenter descended from David), who later moved to Nazareth. – Esteleth@28

    Now that’s a bit many of the relevant experts – I’d guess a clear majority of those not tied to biblical inerrancy – don’t accept! The two accounts (in Matthew and Luke) have almost nothing in common; both contain gross improbabilities even apart from the supernatural elements (the “massacre of the innocents” in Matthew, the decree that everyone return to their place of origin in Luke); there’s no sign of it in the gospel generally considered the earliest (Mark); and there was a clear motive for inventing a story that had Jesus born in Bethlehem – that’s where the Messiah was supposed to be born.

  33. 33
    tsig

    Roman pacification policy involved a short sword thrust to the gut not inventing religions.

  34. 34
    gshelley

    @3
    That seems to be an argument from incredulity
    The basic argument is that the evidence for Jesus is very poor – Mark is basically a set of Old Testament stories and quotations dumped into first century Palestine and even people who accept Jesus as a historical person often accept this and that the very earliest Christian writings not only show no interest in the historical figure but specifically talk about everything they know coming from revelation not teachings.

  35. 35
    A Masked Avenger

    Rutee, #12:

    Ceremonial, not actual. If you wanted a remotely useful example, try Chinese emperors (who still often have the same thing)

    Thanks! That’s a great example. Although I’m somewhat doubtful about this idea of “ceremonial, not actual.” No god is actual; they’re all ceremonial. But perhaps you mean something like:

    Raging Bee, #25:

    AFAIK at least, there are no records of cults of Pharaohs or Roman emperors even existing, let alone growing, independent of the direct application of state power.

    Excellent point. So the devotion of the people is what is “ceremonial, not actual.” I’d agree completely. The looseness of “caught on” is another caveat I should have made. The same is true of Chinese emperors, more or less. I’m no expert on Chinese culture, and admit that culture in China appears to enforce things that require naked force in other societies, but arguably the worship of the emperor is also produced by application of state power.

    Nevertheless, at a very broad level, it’s valid to note that rulers have been in the religion business since the year dot. Whether making themselves gods, or claiming the favor of the gods, or making elaborate pretense of devotion to the gods, religion is a key prop of state power–which is why state power is in turn used to prop up the religion. Kings and priests more or less symbiotically working to parasitize the populace.

  36. 36
    hillaryrettig

    An equally interesting question is: why did they invent the devil?

    Answer: to hide the real face of evil in the world. Exhibit A:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/09/1245727/-Koch-Brothers-Abandon-Tea-Party-Government-Shutdown-Strategy

  37. 37
    Doubting Thomas

    I didn’t fall for it, but I bet it’s going to get a lot of Xians’ panties in a wad denying it.

  38. 38
    Doubting Thomas

    Which I suspect is the point.

  39. 39
    Nick Gotts

    Mark is basically a set of Old Testament stories and quotations dumped into first century Palestine

    Well it starts with Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, and Jesus’s teaching is said to begin after John was arrested; so presumably mythicists should deny the existence of John as well. But whether Jesus was real or not, you would expect any account of his life penned by a 1st or early 2nd century Jew to contain a lot of OT stories and quotations, so that doesn’t distinguish the hypotheses. The very earliest Christian writings are some of the letters of Paul of Tarsus, who according to his own account did not meet Jesus in the flesh – but he does talk about Jesus dying and being buried, and about “James, the brother of the Lord”. And if Jesus wasn’t real, why place his life in the backwater of Galilee, when to fulfill the Messianic prophecies he had to be born in Bethlehem?

  40. 40
    Nick Gotts

    Sorry, quote in #39 is from gshelley@34.

  41. 41
    Sili

    Rutee Katreya, 12 and others

    .

    .
    Deifying Roman emperors? .

    Ceremonial, not actual.

    You’ve bought in to the later propaganda that the emperors were hopped up on ego, and that the cults were empty flattery.

    People truly believed the emperor to be a god and son of god (the last emperor). A good deal of Mark’s purpose is exactly to subvert that imagery in support of Jesus-as-the-true-Messiah. Adam Winn and Michael Peppard has done excellent work on this.

  42. 42
    Sili

    so presumably mythicists should deny the existence of John as well.

    Some do – our only source for The Baptist is also Josephus.

    More likely, The Baptist was incorporated into the story for verisimilitude and to show up his followers that he was not the end on revelation – he’d himself said that he was subordinate to Jesus.

    We have stories linking Robin Hood with Richard I the Lionheart, that does not make him real.

  43. 43
    Ing

    Because they’re not smart. They’re gullible idiots

  44. 44
    anuran

    PZ, when it comes to religious history you are as out of your area of expertise as Bart Ehrman talking Zebra fish genetics. There are plenty of State and State-founded religions which have been very successful.

    Back in the bare-knuckle days the difference between the gods and civic authority was often slight or non-existent. A city’s official gods had a lot in common with today’s sports teams in terms of brand loyalty and fan identification.

    Henry VIII created his own religion, or at least his own Church. It’s still going strong today
    Every Ancient City State in the Near East had its official gods and observances.
    Egypt worked for thousands of years with a succession of government-created and maintained religions
    God Kings have abounded from the Nile to Cambodia
    Every Greek political unit had its official and unofficial State cults (cults in the older meaning). The Bacchae was in many ways about the rising power of the Cult of Dionysus.
    Rome revised and edited the Greek gods, added a few plus the cult of the Emperor and turned it into an integral part of the Empire
    The Chinese Emperor, the Son of Heaven, was an officially semi-divine being with cultic practices and beliefs
    The Tibetans didn’t invent Buddhism, but their particular form of it governed Tibet for a long time until the Chinese invaded and committed genocide by dilution and acculturation

  45. 45
    tomtethys

    I long ago gave up trying to find any proof of the existence of Jesus in the reinterpreting of ancient texts. Unless solid science based archaeology comes up with real evidence Jesus must remain an historical enigma. It is a wonder that highly intelligent people still
    spend so much time studying dubious works of literature which have been raked over for centuries.

  46. 46
    anuran

    You are absolutely correct about the flaws in mythicism.

    Your most important point, that people who claim to be hard-edged skeptics are just as prone to accepting stories that confirm their biases cannot be repeated too often or too loudly.

  47. 47
    cicely

    Has there ever been a religion that was created by a government that actually caught on?

    Well…it’s early days, yet, but Kim Il-sung-ism may have legs. Unless they get cut off by violent revolution or something.
    -

  48. 48
    rorschach

    So when the emperor Constantine pressured by his converted wife made Christianity state religion in the Roman Empire after 312 CE, was that still part of the cunning plan?

  49. 49
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    HillaryRettig #36

    An equally interesting question is: why did they invent the devil?

    They didn’t. Zoroaster did.

  50. 50
    David Marjanović

    The idea that the Romans said, “I know! Let’s invent a religion based around a guy we killed for fomenting rebellion

    Part of the idea is that that guy was invented along with the rest of the religion. That’s what PZ means by “mythicist”.

    Of course, Luke has the same problem. That’s a pretty Latin and non-Semitic name.

    Non-Semitic, fine, but it doesn’t mean anything in Latin and ends in -as as only Greek names do.

    Yeah. They include almost everyone, Christian or not, who’s looked seriously at the evidence. Mythicism is about on a par with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Bacon –

    What about this, then, and this?

    Well it starts with Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, and Jesus’s teaching is said to begin after John was arrested; so presumably mythicists should deny the existence of John as well.

    How does that follow?

    Interestingly enough, 1) John the Baptist is described at some length in Josephus; 2) he apparently founded his own religion, which survives today.

    So when the emperor Constantine pressured by his converted wife made Christianity state religion in the Roman Empire after 312 CE, was that still part of the cunning plan?

    That was a whole heap of short-lived dynasties later, so I don’t think Atwill claims you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel.

  51. 51
    freemage

    anuran: The examples you cite have been largely discussed up-thread. Most of the state-religions are limited to the state in question–when it fell, so did the religion, because that’s how things are set up. The one real counter-example would be the Anglican Church, which can arguably be said to be a Catholic schism rather than an ‘original’ faith of the sort being posited here.

  52. 52
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    ? I’d always thought that the Greek Λουκας was related to/derived from the Latin Lucius.

    Apparently not. Apparently it means “from Luciana.” Luciana, of course, is in Italy. Making everything more complex.

    In any case, again, you have a Jew who has adopted a foreign name (in this case, he’s been Hellenized), which is as likely to be a class marker as anything.

  53. 53
    moarscienceplz

    #48

    So when the emperor Constantine pressured by his converted wife made Christianity state religion in the Roman Empire after 312 CE, was that still part of the cunning plan?

    I think it was his mother. From Wikipedia:

    Scholars debate whether Constantine adopted his mother St. Helena’s Christianity in his youth, or whether he adopted it gradually over the course of his life.

  54. 54
    nkrishna

    The want to believe is still strong with many, especially if it’s in a thing that strengthens your established narrative. It’s a long ,hard struggle to get over this tendency; letting go of belief in the supernatural is just one step.

  55. 55
    CJO

    Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny.

    Yes, yes, in broad outline, rationalized for modern sensibilities, the career of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels is plausible enough on its own. But, two things:

    That’s not really the question. The issue is does the career of Jesus as we have it constitute the best explanation for the origin of Christianity in the 1st century? There’s more work that needs to be done than a quick glance at a sanitized (de-supernaturalized?) sketch of a stock figure in order to answer.

    There were bandits a-plenty in medieval Britain too, and the social bandit figure is a legendary fixture across many cultures. Does anybody think that this fact alone provides any basis for the historical reality of Robin Hood? Could someone like Jesus have existed? Sure, if you’re not too picky about how much similarity there needs to be, and you’re not worried about context or any other historical questions.

    A third thing, while I’m at it, related to that last. It’s important to recognize that a rationalized paraphrase of the gospels does violence to the texts. Jesus is a supernatural figure (or at least, as in Mark, is the mortal vessel for a supernatural force), and there is simply no unproblematic method that reliably separates the “historical core” from typological and symbolic narratives whose intent is to recast the salvation history of the Israelite people, not to present a factual history with some miraculous window-dressing.

    Anyway, Atwill’s a crank, his thesis is preposterous on its face, and nothing in his treatment of the idea dispels these impressions.

  56. 56
    laurentweppe

    I don’t get this general “Jesus didn’t exist” approach.

    Tribalistic grandstanding. Too bad medecine is unlikely to make leaps and give us 1500 years of life expectancy: I’d love to watch the “Ron Hubbard was a fictionnal character” or “Martin Luther King was a cunning propaganda ploy devised by the 22nd century’s american elites” press conferences that Atwill’s heirs will undoubtedly organize

  57. 57
    ronstrong

    This guy is “bamboozling smart atheists” the same way people have been “bamboozling” each other since time immemorial; by telling them what they want to hear.

  58. 58
    ronstrong

    In short, the factors that make for a good sucker transcend intelligence and/or religion (or lack thereof). If you don’t know who the mark is at the table, it’s a good bet that its probably you.

  59. 59
    David Marjanović

    Apparently not. Apparently it means “from Luciana.” Luciana, of course, is in Italy. Making everything more complex.

    *pretends being able to raise one eyebrow*
    Fascinating.

  60. 60
    Sili

    And that, apparently, without even mentioning the Latin-based peculiarities of Mark’s Greek, or for that matter Mark’s very name.

    The name associated with GMark is a later tradition. It’s hardly something to blame the author for.

    But anyway, yes, he was indeed writing in Rome for a Roman audience – or at least in audience steeped in the Roman imperial cult and the extensive legitimising propaganda on the early Vespasian regime.

  61. 61
    mvemjsun

    Do to total lack of evidence from his time. I believe Jesus is a myth. A Jewish version of the Hellenistic gods. But I think he was invented by the Jews not the romans.

  62. 62
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    DDMFM:

    Apparently not. Apparently it means “from Luciana.” Luciana, of course, is in Italy. Making everything more complex.

    *pretends being able to raise one eyebrow*
    Fascinating.

    Indeed! Luciana (known nowadays as Lucca,) is in northwestern Italy and is part of Tuscany.

    Apparently, during the Middle Ages it was a center of Jewishness in Italy. The fact that there was a Greek name meaning that one was from there is … interesting. That said Greek name was carried by a (possibly Hellenized) first-century Jewish guy is also interesting.

  63. 63
    Sili

    That said Greek name was carried by a (possibly Hellenized) first-century Jewish guy is also interesting.

    Not really. Paul himself was a Hellenized Jew and travelled and corresponded with others of his kind.

  64. 64
    unclefrogy

    tom at 45

    I find it strange also,
    The ancient wisdom is old but I find much of it opaque or so contradictory as to be impossible to understand in any useful way.
    More so the study of the bible and the stories in it.
    uncle frogy

  65. 65
    sqlrob

    Mythicism is about on a par with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Bacon – not totally impossible, but you have to go along with a lot of implausible explaining-away to believe it.

    Then could you point to the flaws in Carrier’s work?

  66. 66
    Kagehi

    Hmm. I have actually read his book. And there is no suggestion in there that it was some centuries long plan. Rather, at the time the Roman’s had gotten into the habit of declaring their emperors to be gods of a sort, the **specific family** that, at the time, had that honor had the misfortune of having someone kill their emperor god, but, the son was involved in a fun little campaign, which, coincidentally, got written almost in parallel with the arrival of this so called new religion. The suggestion made was that the campaign was accurate, but that, at the some time, certain elements where taken out of it, and “adjusted”, in an attempt to try to cast him as the true messiah, or rather, the “second coming”. He wasn’t successful at conquering the Jews, so he figured he would try converting them. But, the method was one that was also intended to read, to those in the know, i.e., other high ranking Romans, as a sort of satire of the whole process. It failed to gain him the power he wanted, among the Roman elite, nor did it convert any Jews, but it *did* create a religion, which one of his cousins took the reigns of, and ran with, and, ended up being more successful at. Any “conspiracy” involved would have been among one family, and a few people bribed, or convinced, to help, including the (ex?) Jewish scholar, who helped write the history of his campaign, and possibly someone else, who had been captured in the campaign, in trade of their life.

    Its an interesting theory, and yeah, it does play into an atheist view on what might have happened. Its also, as you say, only really plausible if other scholar agree that it is. The only problem with the later being.. a bloody lot of them tend to be in the, “He was real”, or, “There was someone that later conspirators transformed into more than he was”, or, at best, “He wasn’t real, but some mixed bag of stories.”, without even a theory about who came up with the idea in the first place, or how, without knowing enough *about* the religion it parroted, to be successful. And, of course, the “was completely real, and did all the stuff”, one is just absurd.

    But, yeah. Atwill might be pulling a lot of it out of his ass, and I would love to know why he isn’t dealing with other scholars, until this point (though, I can see some reasons, not the least being that, sometimes, the ‘established’ opinions will result is denial of new ideas, until you do have clear evidence), but.. I don’t find the possibilities to be entirely improbable. The presumption is that it, “went as planned and intended”. I would say that, failing to achieve what it intended, surviving as an obscure belief system that only a few remembered the original source of, then being “revived” later, as a convenient choice, because it supported the ruling class, and supported their control over everyone else, while “seeming” to promise a lot of other nonsense in trade, unlike all of the other options around, makes it eventual success, if Atwill has gotten any of it at all right, more an ironic accident, than an intentional, long term, well planned, conspiracy. lol

  67. 67
    Kagehi

    Still, not saying a believe him, to be clear, just that there is some possibility that, somewhere in the process, someone may have in fact “tried” to do what he suggested, and recast certain events as part of the narrative, for their own purposes, without much actual success. Still, it would make an interesting movie, if nothing else. :p

  68. 68
    Kagehi

    Sigh.. Needs to be a “delete” function. lol Yeah, ok, read the take down on the guy. Still think it would make for an interesting movie, but.. the guy is a total fool.

  69. 69
    dantalion

    It wasn’t until christianity was endorsed by the roman state that it really caught on.

  70. 70
    kittehserf

    Raging Bee @25:

    AFAIK at least, there are no records of cults of Pharaohs or Roman emperors even existing, let alone growing, independent of the direct application of state power.

    Amenhotep II was a popular – in both senses of the word – oracle and deity hundreds of years after his death. John Romer mentions his cult in Ancient Lives, his 1984 book about the workers in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens.

  71. 71
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    I think Jesus is too poorly defined to speculate as to whether he was real or fictional. I mean, what properties does he have that everyone agrees on?

  72. 72
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    …that was meant to continue…
    He was an itinerant preacher, linked with John the Baptist, spent most of his life in the north of Judea, and died in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. What data could possibly falsify the assertion that such a person existed? What would it mean to fail to falsify these assertions?

  73. 73
    proudfootz

    It’s not up to anyone to ‘falsify’ the hypothesis that there was an historical Jesus upon whom the gospel tales were based – anyone can make up any plausible scenario.

    It’s just the evidence isn’t there.

    I’ve read Bart Ehrman’s Jesus book, and while he repeatedly asserts that Jesus is real he hasn’t got much by way of evidence to convince anyone we should join him in that belief.

    There’s nothing ‘tribalistic’ about being skeptical of sketchy claims by would-be historians who want to tell us all about how very important Jesus was.

    OTOH I don’t find Atwill’s hypothesis very convincing either.

    Mythicism about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Samson et al seems pretty reasonable – why not about the ‘hero’ of the christian tales that ape the jewish ones?

  74. 74
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    As I recall, one of the arguments against a historical Jesus is that Bethlehem was uninhabited for a century or more around the time of his supposed birth.

  75. 75
    Nick Gotts

    We have stories linking Robin Hood with Richard I the Lionheart, that does not make him real. – Sili@42

    Well it starts with Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist, and Jesus’s teaching is said to begin after John was arrested; so presumably mythicists should deny the existence of John as well. – Me

    How does that follow?

    Interestingly enough, 1) John the Baptist is described at some length in Josephus; 2) he apparently founded his own religion, which survives today. – David Marjanović@50

    The various mythicist hypotheses (at least those I’ve heard about) all go to some lengths to detach Jesus from the historical context in which he’s traditionally placed, and make him a figure of an entirely different kind from John the Baptist, if the latter is assumed to be real. Why, then, go to the trouble of linking Jesus to John, particularly as you then have to emphasize that he’s far superior?

    What about this, then, and this? – David Marjanović@50

    What about them? They are entirely incompatible with each other, so at least one must be complete hooey. Which doesn’t fill me with confidence about Carrier’s judgement.

    Then could you point to the flaws in Carrier’s work? – sqlrob

    No, I can’t – I don’t have the necessary expertise. I couldn’t point out the flaws in the case for Bacon’s authorship of Shakespeare either. The rational approach in areas where you don’t have expertise is to accept the expert consensus in the absence of strong and specific reasons to reject it. It’s often claimed that these exist in the case of Jesus because Christians have to believe in his existence, but as I’ve noted, the consensus extends to non-Christians as well.

  76. 76
    duanetiemann

    “The Jesus Puzzle” by Earl Doherty seemed credible to me. As I recall, argues that Paul was real, but was talking about the adventures of a Jesus up in heaven. Mark and friends riffed (midrash?) on that by making him human. Their are some problems with that in Paul’s writings, but Earl deals with them.

    Their are similar books out there that I don’t recall.

  77. 77
    LykeX

    The various mythicist hypotheses (at least those I’ve heard about) all go to some lengths to detach Jesus from the historical context in which he’s traditionally placed, and make him a figure of an entirely different kind from John the Baptist, if the latter is assumed to be real. Why, then, go to the trouble of linking Jesus to John, particularly as you then have to emphasize that he’s far superior?

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Why would mythicists link Jesus to John? They don’t. Jesus and John are linked in the gospels and that must be accounted for.

    Why would early Christians link them? In an attempt to merge the two cults. Basically, the gospels we have portray Jesus as a kind of successor to John. This is paralleled further when Jesus assigns various successors of his own; Peter, obviously, and the “Spirit of Truth” mentioned in John.

    You connect two characters in order to give legitimacy. If there already was a cult venerating John the Baptist, it makes perfect sense for an emerging Jesus cult to try and high-jack John’s reputation and followers.

    Then there’s the fact that it gives historical legitimacy. If Jesus started out as a purely spiritual entity and only later became historicized, all sorts of questions come up, such as where and when he lived and why nobody remembers seeing him. Mark answers these questions by tying Jesus to John and bringing in the Messianic Secret motif.

  78. 78
    fatpie42

    [blockquote]I don’t get this general “Jesus didn’t exist” approach. Self-described miracle-workers are two-a-penny. It’s hardly an extraordinary claim to say that the Jesus character was likely based on one of them. And the very early church(es) must have grown from some common seed.[/blockquote]

    Sure once the early Churches start appearing there must been something connecting them, but the early Churches take a while to start arising. Initially Christians just formed a branch of Judaism. The gospels were not written from scratch by witnesses but were instead formed out of pericopes (short accounts of Jesus with a specific message or moral in mind for believers), as a result the narrative of the Bible has all sorts of problems.

    For one, tons of things in the gospels are included just because they are supposed to have been prophecised. If the messiah was prophecised to ride in on a donkey, then he must have done so. If he was prophecised to have been born in Royal David’s City then he must have been born in Bethlehem (which is where we get the bizarre account of the Quirinius census somehow expecting all people to go to the home of their 200 year old ancestor, rather than just having the census-takers come to them).

    And then of course there’s the demonisation of the Pharisees. By the time the gospel narrative is written the Temple is no longer there, the temple high priests are not the main rivals of contemporary Christians, but rather than Pharisees. In order to actually criticise the Pharisees they make use of any accounts in the pericopes of Jesus debating with them and then when the Pharisees lose the debate (debates, I might add, that Pharisees were often having amongst one another in which many Pharisees would agree with the Jesus figure) the gospels announce “so they went away and plotted to kill him”. Who ends up killing Jesus in the gospel narrative though? Not the Pharisees at all. It’s the temple high priests, plain and simple.

    Of course, no one can be put to death without Rome’s say so, so how is the Roman figure represented? He washes his hands of it! But HOW? If he doesn’t want to do it surely he doesn’t have to? Isn’t it HIS choice? Ah, but you see, the people are given a choice. Because naturally Rome has a regular tradition of letting political prisoners go free based on the will of the people. Sorry, no, that is nonsense. There is no such tradition known of outside of the Bible and the very idea goes against everything we know about the Romans. Was this invented by the Romans? No, of course not. It was invented to get Roman converts. Why? Because Jews actually knew what the Messianic age was supposed to involve. When things didn’t get better and we didn’t enter some kind of utopian age, they knew that the Messianic claims were BS. (Even St. Paul thought that the end of times was imminent.) So the best way to keep the religion going was to bring in more gentiles, particularly powerful gentiles.

    So the Biblical account shows all sorts of signs of invention. It is not a historic account. So WHICH crazy miracle worker is it talking about. It could be based on accounts of many miracle workers. It could all be based around one. But who cares? The historical figure is entirely lost to us. Nothing of him (or them) remains. All we have left is the myth. What of it was real? The crucifixion? We have no reason to think this. The tomb? We have no reason to think this. The miracle-worker? We have no reason to think there was a particular miracle-worker it was based on. The disciples? The Bible itself is inconsistent on who Jesus’ disciples were and even the number 12 is symbolic (of the 12 tribes of Israel). There simply is no historical Jesus figure whether mad, deluded, liar, or just plain misunderstood. We might as well propose that Jesus was really like Brian from the Monty Python movie. It makes about as much sense as any other random suggestions pulled out of the air.

    And why is Jesus connected with John the Baptist in the Bible? Well if anything that shows that John the Baptist existed. Certainly Josephus seems to have more to say about John the Baptist in his works and in much less controversial extracts of his work too. The likelihood was that the gospel writers wanted to associate Jesus with John the Baptist to upgrade his credibility…

  79. 79
    proudfootz

    The difficulty with just ‘going along with the consensus about Jesus’ is that the field of Jesus studies is much like the field of astrology.

    There’s no good reason to accept their conclusions unless they put forward good reasons.

    Scholars like Robert Price, Thomas Thompson, Earl Doherty, and Richard Carrier have looked at the evidence put forward for the ‘historical Jesus’ hypothesis and found it much less compelling than traditionally assumed.

    Early christian apologists knew that their savior god was much like the ‘pagan’ savior gods, and their trump card was ‘but ours really happened’ – which provides a good explanation for why forgers would feel compelled to insert Jesus into the works of Josephus. And why an ‘earthly ministry’ would appear well after the ‘cosmic Christ’ seen only in visions and scripture from in the earliest literature.

  80. 80
    proudfootz

    @ 74 Markita Lynda

    As I recall, one of the arguments against a historical Jesus is that Bethlehem was uninhabited for a century or more around the time of his supposed birth.

    I suppose one could argue that even if Bethlehem or Nazareth were not inhabited during the supposed life of Jesus it doesn’t falsify the possibility there was a person now known as Jesus. Even if it were shown there was no Temple in Jerusalem at that time, or that the Romans weren’t occupying Judea would-be historians could still say it’s plausible that the made up stuff was simply added later.

    This is why among the Jesus scholars there are so many contradictory ‘historical Jesuses’ – one is a traditional Jew, one is a Zealot rebel, one is a fakir, one is an apocalyptic ranter, one is a Cynic sage, ad infinitum,/i>.

    That’s one of the difficulties with the ‘historical Jesus’ hypothesis – it only posits bare existence. Nothing could falsify it. Just as we can’t falsify the existence of a vaguely defined god or that there is a planet out there somewhere populated by talking unicorns.

    Obviously the more fiction involved in the Jesus story the less credence we should give to its other not-yet-disproven claims.

  81. 81
    Nick Gotts

    duanetiemann@76,

    “The Jesus Puzzle” by Earl Doherty seemed credible to me.

    Unless you have relevant expertise, so what? Michael Behe seems credible to a lot of people.

    LykeX@77

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. Why would mythicists link Jesus to John?

    Why are you not sure what I’m asking? It was quite clear. Try reading #75 again.

  82. 82
    mnb0

    Some folks here should apply their arguments and principles to Diogenes of Sinope, Socrates and even Alexander the Great, just for the sake of consistency.

  83. 83
    chigau (違う)

    mnb0 #82
    To which comments are you referring?

  84. 84
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    mnb0 #82
    Socrates: At least three contemporary sources survive (Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes).
    Alexander the Great: Several contemporary inscriptions and statues, archeological and historical evidence of his conquests and successor states.
    Diogenes the Cynic: May have been entirely allegorical; AFAICT there is no surviving contemporary evidence for his existence. What do you think your point is?

  85. 85
    proudfootz

    People who want to believe in Jesus don’t seem to know how thin the evidence is.

    Comparing Jesus to Alexander or Socrates? Major failage.

  86. 86
    LykeX

    @Nick Gotts
    Who are the people you think are linking Jesus and John?

    From the context, it sounds like you’re saying mythicists are doing so, but that hardly makes sense, which is why I’m confused. Obviously, mythicists (and any other scholars at this time) are simply responding to the fact that the gospels link Jesus and John. The link is already there; it doesn’t need to be made at all.

    Your comment may be clear to you, but not to me, which is why I’m asking.

  87. 87
    CJO

    He’s saying the 1st century authors of the gospels linked Jesus and John, and I guess he finds it unlikely that they would have done so if Jesus was fictional and John was not.

  88. 88
    proudfootz

    He seems to be saying ‘why did the authors of the gospel tales go through the trouble of linking their Jesus to John?’

    There is no such link in the literature before the gospels.

    So this is a late development – conceivably an attempt by christians to coopt a rival salvationist mystery cult.

  89. 89
    LykeX

    @CJO
    But I addressed that possibility in #77. If you’ve got a fictional character that you want to be accepted as historical, obviously you’d want to link them to a historical character, to give them credibility.

    That goes double when this affords you the opportunity to coopt an existing cult. If people already knew and respected John, it makes perfect sense to try to portray John as the herald of Jesus; exactly as is done in the gospels.

  90. 90
    CJO

    I’m not agreeing with him, I was just clarifying what I thought the argument was. Anyway, in my experience you’ll get nowhere with Nick on this topic unless you’re a recognized expert and your comment has gone through peer review.

  91. 91
    darkstar

    The arguments over the historicity of Jesus in a nutshell:

    I have it on good authority that Russell’s teapot is, in fact, PINK.

    No, it’s BLUE as told in the gospel of tea, this an article of Faith!

    No, it’s SILVER, I know because I have a Personal Relationship(TM) with the risen teapot!

    Um, the teapot is probably just something Russell made up.

    NO! The teapot must be real, who would just ‘make up’ a teapot in space? Inconceivable!

    It was a actually a British plot to make Americans hate tea (witness the Boston Tea Party).

    The teapot was probably based on an actual teapot.

    The teapot loves you and only scalds you because you are a worthless, filthy sinner.

  92. 92
    David Marjanović

    Sigh.. Needs to be a “delete” function. lol

    Also, you need an editor. Notlol.

    The various mythicist hypotheses (at least those I’ve heard about) all go to some lengths to detach Jesus from the historical context in which he’s traditionally placed, and make him a figure of an entirely different kind from John the Baptist, if the latter is assumed to be real. Why, then, go to the trouble of linking Jesus to John, particularly as you then have to emphasize that he’s far superior?

    Immediately obvious to me: see comment 89.

    What about them? They are entirely incompatible with each other, so at least one must be complete hooey. Which doesn’t fill me with confidence about Carrier’s judgement.

    2) Even if they were incompatible with each other, Carrier’s judgement is only “this is a hypothesis that must be taken seriously” in each case. He doesn’t go further than that.
    1) By no means are they incompatible. Doherty’s “sublunar incarnation theory” is about the origin of Christianity, and the gospels come later than that. In his review of Doherty’s book, Carrier points that out (beginning of a paragraph almost 1/3 down the page):

    Even so, there is nothing inherently dubious in the claim that Jesus existed. So there is no need for much evidence to ground a reasonable belief that he did, so long as that evidence can be trusted more than it can be doubted. However, when trust and doubt are in balance over all the existing evidence, an Argument from Silence can tip the scales. We do face such a situation with regard to Jesus. The only overt evidence of his existence can be tied in one way or another to a single source: the Gospel of Mark, which could have been written as late as 80 or 90 A.D., fifty years after the events it is supposed to describe, and which is unmistakably a hagiography rather than a history or biography, whose interest seems more cultural than factual (see my “Review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark“).

    The part between the quotation marks is a link; that’s how I learned of MacDonald’s book in the first place.

    I can’t see why “Mark” couldn’t have believed in the suffering sublunar Jesus – or already a misunderstanding thereof – and decided to make him the suffering True Odysseus And Hector And Achilles in his novel, his prose anti-epic (in MacDonald’s words), set here on Earth. Alternatively, maybe he didn’t believe in the sublunar Jesus, but thought this was the ideal protagonist for his novel; in that case it may be enough if he had read Philo and was impressed.

    From Carrier’s review (end of the 2nd section):

    Likewise, it should be known that much of Mark’s use of Homer is to shape and detail an otherwise non-Homeric story, and the task of deciding what that core story is, or whether this core story in any given case is a Biblical emulation, or a historical fact, or a legend, or something of the author’s deliberate creation, or any combination thereof, is not something MacDonald even intends to undertake in this book, although he makes some suggestions in his concluding paragraphs.

    Why set it in the real world in the first place? Again from Carrier’s review (end of the 5th section):

    What I found additionally worthwhile is how MacDonald’s theory illuminates the theme of “reversal of expectation” which so thoroughly characterizes the Gospels-not only in the parables of Jesus, where the theme is obvious, but in the very story itself. Though MacDonald himself does not pursue this in any detail, his book helped me to see it even more clearly. [...] This theme occurs far too often to have been in every case historical, and its didactic meaning is made clear in the very parables of reversal told by Jesus himself, as well as, for instance, his teachings about family, or hypocrisy, and so on. These stories were crafted to show that what Jesus preached applied to the real world, real events, “the word made flesh.”

    And right before the conclusions:

    Ultimately, if Mark invented the empty tomb, he may also have inadvertently caused the invention of a physical resurrection-since an empty tomb, though meant as a symbol, if taken as a fact could imply a physical resurrection, leaving room for future evangelists to spin the yarn further still.

    Finally:

    What is important is not that this can be decisively proven-nothing can, as our information is too thin, too scarce, too unreliable to decisively prove anything about the origins of Christianity. What is important is that theories like Ellegård’s can’t be disproven, either-it is one among many distinctly possible accounts of what really happened at the dawn of Christianity, which MacDonald’s book now makes even more plausible. And so long as it remains possible, even plausible, that the bulk of Mark is fiction, the contrary belief that it is fact can never be secure.

    Ellegård is the one of “Jesus 100 years before Christ”, who identifies Jesus with the “Teacher of Righteousness” of the Essenes.

    (I hate hyphens used instead of dashes without spaces around them.)

    He’s saying the 1st century authors of the gospels linked Jesus and John, and I guess he finds it unlikely that they would have done so if Jesus was fictional and John was not.

    In school I had to read the novel Das Fräulein von Scudéri. It’s from the early 19th century, set in 1680, and nowhere pretends to be nonfiction. And yet, most if not all of its protagonists (notably the namesake) are real historical people, while the plot that connects them is made up out of thin air – it never happened.

    I found it appalling to put real people into a completely fictional story. Evidently, E. T. A. Hoffmann did not.

    Inconceivable!

    Heh.

  93. 93
    Paul Gnuman

    The reason I believe in Atwill’s theory is because it has compelling evidence supporting it. The story of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee is clearly a whimsical retelling of Titus’ quashing of the Jewish rebellion there. They follow the same path, and the major incidents are clearly related, in an obviously pointed way.

    It’s probably necessary to actually read Atwill’s book to be convinced. The documentary (most or all of which is excerpted on youtube) can only make plausibility arguments.

    I also don’t see why this hypothesis, that Roman imperials who had a religion-creating bureaucracy at their disposal used it to create a religion to counter a pernicious militant messianic religion, is considered implausible on its face by so many here.

    The “confession” that is referred to in the press release is doubtlessly the thing Atwill calls the “Flavian Signature,” that is the main difference between the newer edition of his book from the previous. It’s a series of over 20 in-order “parallels” between Josephus’ history The Jewish War and Gospel Luke. There is a half-hour video summary of it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UqG8w7ezUQ

    In his book (which is available as an e-book), the passages from Luke and JW are reprinted so that the reader can make the judgement about whether they’re related or not, and of course he provides commentary as well.

    If you don’t want to pay Atwill the ten bucks for the e-book, Josephus is available free online (and a bible is in every motel room).

  94. 94
    proudfootz

    Finding parallels between two books one of which may have copied the other is not exactly what ‘confession’ implies.

    I was expecting a letter between the author and the scriptorium manager saying something like ‘once I finish making up these letters and gospels for the Emperor I can get back to writing the stuff I really care about – Judean politics!’

  95. 95
    Paul Gnuman

    proudfootz, you might nonetheless not be disappointed if you read it. It’s clearly way beyond one-way copying. Also, way funnier and cleverer than a simple confession. Woe-saying Jesus in Josephus is a laugh and a half, for just one example.

    Something else I want to point to is this guy, Koyaanisqatsi, who seems pretty smart to me, arguing that the Flavians invented Christianity, based only on circumstantial evidence, and apparently without any knowledge of Atwill’s discovery that the authors of it wanted posterity and perhaps the Roman intelligentsia of the time to share the joke: http://talkrational.org/showthread.php?t=18966&page=4

    There is also the Australian guy on youtube from the documentary, who says he made the same conclusion independently of Atwill’s typological argument. Rod Blackhirst PhD a history professor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=runo5ZnxfEg

  96. 96
    Alan Duval

    I’m looking forward to asking Mr. Atwill a few pointed questions, just to see what happens. It will also be interesting to see how many people are being skeptical, and how many are just lapping it up.

    With regard to the original post, here, though; I wonder if maybe one of the comments may, ironically, play into Atwill’s thesis:

    “Incorporating regional gods into their pantheon by synonymizing them, sure”

    OK, so if we extend that to the numerous Messianic cults of Palestine and Judah, chuck in a little “render unto Caesar”and hey, presto! That would undermine Atwill’s ‘psychological warfare’ angle, but the result of a Romanised Judaism would necessarily be the result, no?

  97. 97
    Nick Gotts

    If Jesus started out as a purely spiritual entity and only later became historicized, all sorts of questions come up, such as where and when he lived and why nobody remembers seeing him. Mark answers these questions by tying Jesus to John and bringing in the Messianic Secret motif. – LykeX@77

    Mark is generally dated 60-80 CE. What sort of sense would it make to place Jesus well within living memory, if the aim was to get him accepted as historical? For that matter, is the idea here that the author of Mark knows Jesus wasn’t a historical person, but wants to fool others into thinking he was, or that the author themselves believes it – in which case, someone earlier must have invented his location in time and space, his connection with John, his crucifixion, etc. (Or indeed, as other mythicists have it, that the author was writing fiction that somehow later came to be regarded as based on fact, contrary to the author’s intention.)

    Who are the people you think are linking Jesus and John?

    From the context, it sounds like you’re saying mythicists are doing so – LykeX@86

    No, it doesn’t. Since, as you say, this wouldn’t make sense, why not go with the interpretation that does make sense, that I’m referring to those who (according to mythicist hypotheses) invented a connection with a real figure (as J the B is, according to the mythicists I’ve come across)?

    Anyway, in my experience you’ll get nowhere with Nick on this topic unless you’re a recognized expert and your comment has gone through peer review. – CJO@90

    How unreasonable of me! Accepting an expert consensus until given good reason not to do so from peer-reviewed sources! Whatever next?

    David Marjonović@92

    The various mythicist hypotheses (at least those I’ve heard about) all go to some lengths to detach Jesus from the historical context in which he’s traditionally placed, and make him a figure of an entirely different kind from John the Baptist, if the latter is assumed to be real. Why, then, go to the trouble of linking Jesus to John, particularly as you then have to emphasize that he’s far superior? – Me@75

    Immediately obvious to me: see comment 89.

    The “immediately obvious” often requires questioning. The question here is: why link Jesus to a real person who existed within living memory, especially when the link itself is awkward for the claim that Jesus was John’s superior? If Jesus went to John to be baptised, as the synoptic gospels have it, that would immediately suggest the opposite! Note that the Gospel of John, generally considered both the latest and the one that makes the highest claims for Jesus, omits the link.

    Doherty’s “sublunar incarnation theory” is about the origin of Christianity, and the gospels come later than that.

    Not much later, even by Carrier’s dating (see below).

    The only overt evidence of his existence can be tied in one way or another to a single source: the Gospel of Mark, which could have been written as late as 80 or 90 A.D., fifty years after the events it is supposed to describe – Carrier

    I note that the claim in the first sentence is Carrier’s, it is most definitely not accepted by the vast majority of relevant experts, who consider Paul’s references to Jesus’s crucifixion, to “James, the brother of the Lord”, etc., to constitute such evidence. Note also that even if Carrier’s late dating is accepted, this is still well within living memory. Also, that Matthew and Luke have common content not derived from Mark, indicating the existence of another source.

    I can’t see why “Mark” couldn’t have believed in the suffering sublunar Jesus – or already a misunderstanding thereof – and decided to make him the suffering True Odysseus And Hector And Achilles in his novel, his prose anti-epic (in MacDonald’s words), set here on Earth. Alternatively, maybe he didn’t believe in the sublunar Jesus, but thought this was the ideal protagonist for his novel; in that case it may be enough if he had read Philo and was impressed.

    Doesn’t it strike you that since you have given here three completely contradictory “explanations” (Mark believed in the suffering sublunar Jesus, he believed in some unspecified misunderstanding of this being, he didn’t believe in this being), none of which actually explains why Jesus was given the spatio-temporal context he was, the simpler explanation, viz, that Jesus was a real person, should be accepted? The whole mythicist culture reminds me of other denialist cultures, in that it throws up multitudes of incompatible accounts of how the consensus is wrong, but none of them ever achieves the status of a coherent alternative to the consensus. There’s always another one in the pipeline – like Atwill’s now.

    It’s from the early 19th century, set in 1680, and nowhere pretends to be nonfiction.

    And of course, no-one has ever thought it was anything else. If the gospel of Mark was written as fiction, when and how did it come to be regarded as based on fact?

  98. 98
    proudfootz

    The difficulty with the claim that 50, 60, 100 years later being ‘within living memory’ is that all these stories are set in another land and another culture after at least one devastating war.

    There’s no evidence anyone was ‘fact checking’ the gospel tales.

    For instance, when Paul says ‘check out my story’ the response is to search scriptures not ask for eyewitnesses from Jerusalem.

    The evidence we do have is of a cult arising among Greek-speaking people who are not ethnic Jews (recent converts, or just spiritual seekers glomming onto an exotic salvation scheme) outside of Judea.

    You’d imagine if there was a Jesus as described we’d have sources of information from that region by Jews (his supposed audience) in the language they spoke there.

  99. 99
    Nick Gotts

    proudfootz@98

    The difficulty with the claim that 50, 60, 100 years

    60-80 CE (the usual date for the Gospel of Mark) is not 50, let alone 100 years after. Even Carrier’s “possible” date of 80-90 is less than 60 years after. People who reached adulthood did not necessarily live much shorter lives than they do now. Telling that you have to resort to this kind of distortion.

    The evidence we do have is of a cult arising among Greek-speaking people who are not ethnic Jews

    So according to you, Paul simply invented the Jewish followers of Jesus, including his disagreements with Peter and others. Bizarre.

    You’d imagine if there was a Jesus as described we’d have sources of information from that region by Jews (his supposed audience) in the language they spoke there.

    Of course there wasn’t a Jesus as described – this is just straw-manning, if you’re talking to anyone but an inerrantist. Again, telling that you have to resort to that.

  100. 100
    proudfootz

    Generally the earliest possible date acceptable for gMark is considered to be about 40 years. But it could be much later – after the Bar Kochba revolt – making it over 100 years after the supposed events:

    http://vridar.org/2007/02/10/little-apocalypse-and-the-bar-kochba-revolt/

    I never claimed that people lived much shorter lives than they do now. It would seem you are trying to distort what I posted. Or perhaps you just don’t comprehend it.

    Where does Paul mention anyone having ‘followed’ Jesus during any earthly ministry? All of Paul’s info comes from scripture and visions. Do you have access to some epistles no one else ever heard of?

    You rather miss the point – no evidence exists of any ‘Jewish preacher’ in Judea upon whom Jesus character is based, but plenty of evidence of people unfamiliar with Judaism making stuff up about things that allegedly happened long ago in a foreign land and culture.

    Everyone’s talking about this obscure guy in Judea except the only people who’d have any reason to know about an obscure person in Judea: Judeans.

  101. 101
    Nick Gotts

    proudfootz@100,

    Your own link notes that the originator of the idea that Mark 13 refers to the bar Kochba revolt considers it a later interpolation – i.e., does not suggest Mark as a whole dates from then. Can you point to a single expert who considers that it does? However, I take your nonsense here as an implicit admission that if the conventional dating of Mark is correct, mythicism becomes utterly implausible.

    Where does Paul mention anyone having ‘followed’ Jesus during any earthly ministry?

    Now you’re distorting what you wrote yourself, which was a claim there was only evidence for Greek followers of Jesus in the early days of the cult. Which is crap, since Paul recounts his disagreements with Jewish followers of Jesus, over whether Jewish purity laws should be observed – and of course Paul was Jewish himself (or was he lying about that?). Why would such a question even arise if the cult arose among Greeks? It’s blithering nonsense.

    Everyone’s talking about this obscure guy in Judea except the only people who’d have any reason to know about an obscure person in Judea: Judeans.

    Your ignorance is showing: Galilee was not in Judea.

  102. 102
    Nick Gotts

    It’s also distinctly odd that AFAIK, no ancient non-Christians or anti-Christians who wrote about Christianity ever claimed that Jesus had not existed.

  103. 103
    CJO

    If Jesus went to John to be baptised, as the synoptic gospels have it, that would immediately suggest the opposite!

    As you say, that which seems immediately obvious should be interrogated. Read Mark 1, laying aside as many preconceptions as you can, and tell me that this was written as or understood by its earliest audience as a workaday story about a couple of blokes in the desert by the Jordan. It is apparent from the first that the “setting” is the salvation history of Israel. The two figures are preceded on the stage by a citation of prophetic scripture, and John (who simply “appeared” in the desert by the Jordan) is depicted as an Elijah figure to whom, improbably, “all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem” are going to for baptism. An Elijah figure would have been understood as a messianic precursor, and we’re told at the very outset that the good news concerns Jesus Christ; there is no suggestion that the act of baptism alone should imply superiority against all the surrounding detail. It’s a pretext for the adoption of (otherwise apparently unremarkable) Jesus by God and his concomitant possession by the holy spirit. Only when you reduce all this to a paraphrase and omit everything that’s actually there in the narrative are you left with the Baptizer/Baptized::Superior/Inferior assumption, and no ancient reader would have maintained that assumption, if they held it at all, in light of the details.

    Note that the Gospel of John, generally considered both the latest and the one that makes the highest claims for Jesus, omits the link.

    Omits the baptism. But John Chapter 1 hardly omits John or disavows entirely a link, though certainly the terms of the connection appear to have been more fraught for the community in which John was written and originally read. Luke in its final form almost certainly postdates John.

    It’s also distinctly odd that AFAIK, no ancient non-Christians or anti-Christians who wrote about Christianity ever claimed that Jesus had not existed.

    How would one come by a firm conviction post-70 CE that no Galilean preacher named Yeshua had run afoul of the authorities in Jerusalem at Pesach during a given period decades ago? And lacking it, why would a doubter play that game, instead of granting the mundane claim of existence by way of disputing any possible significance to the fact? If someone were to tell you, “My second cousin, who lives in Duluth, is the son of god and the savior of the world. Also, he rose from the dead.”, is the first thing you think that the person is lying about ever having had a cousin in Minnesota?
    Take, for instance, Tacitus. For a Roman, or any member of the Greco-Roman elite, the bare claim of a humiliated, crucified savior is so repugnant, and oxymoronic to boot, that it refutes itself. Tacitus has absolutely no reason to dispute that which he couldn’t possibly conclusively disprove, and every reason to let the blasphemer damn himself with such nonsense. There were no dedicated skeptics, armed with the hypothetico-deductive method, committed to rigorous study of the matter, because there were no such persons anywhere in antiquity.

  104. 104
    proudfootz

    Nick:

    Hmmm. I rather had the impression Jerusalem was in Judea. Are you claiming the ‘historical Jesus’ didn’t go to Jerusalem? What does that do to the reliability of the gospel tales? You may want to rethink this ad hockery.

    Nonetheless you continue to miss the point – no one in any place where a Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to have lived and breathed seems to have noticed him. All the literature seems to come from the Greek-speaking world.

    Even if some version of gMark were written ‘only’ 40 years later in a far away land after a major war by someone wholly ignorant of Judaism, who’s going to do this ‘fact checking’ on the memory of people who should have witnessed this Jesus fellow? Not sure why you imagine this is some insuperable hurdle to Jesus being a literary invention like Moses or Job or Noah. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

    As to disputes arising among disparate salvationist cults springing up around the Mediterranean the wild diversity of them and their rules is just more evidence it didn’t spring from one place at one time ‘in living memory’ as required by the ‘historical Jesus’ hypothesis.

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