Don’t believe every Jesus conspiracy you read

Okay, I need to nip this in the bud. We’ve gotten a flood of email in the last 24 hours telling us we should check out this thing.

I’m inclined to conclude that it’s rubbish. Joseph Atwill has been peddling his Jesus conspiracy theories for years. He is not a historian, he doesn’t have any credibility on the subject. I’m not inclined to believe his “discovery” of a “confession” by Romans who invented Jesus, and even if it were verified to be real, I wouldn’t be inclined to assume they were telling truth either.

I’m not a historian myself so I don’t have the ability to thoroughly evaluate this information. But here’s a guy claiming to have a made a new discovery of significant academic importance, yet he won’t just release it to other scholars and the public. Instead, you must buy tickets to attend a lecture at which he will reveal his secret information in a week and a half. Scholarship does not work like that. You don’t reveal new information in a lecture and then let other scholars pore over it. You get it reviewed, verified, and debated first, and after it’s accepted by a significant number of credible reviewers, THEN you reveal it in a lecture. Jumping the gun like this is just pulling the equivalent of the cold fusion fiasco, and in this case it’s clearly a stunt to bring in some money.

Bother us about this stuff again after Atwill has finished his lecture and other mainstream historians have reviewed his work. Until then, don’t be gullible.

Added: Martin would also like you to read this review of Atwill’s work by Robert Price.

Update 2: Richard Carrier weighs in with much more detail; calls Atwill a crank.


  1. says

    Well, historians do often beta test their hypotheses in lectures and get feedback before publication in journals…. in legitimate conferences to other historians in their field.

    Okay. I just took a look at the links provided. I am an historian* in a related specialty (Christianity of the late Roman/early medieval period) and this is bollocks.

    by first-century Roman aristocrats

    Who would have known not very much about Jewish prophecy? Or obscure sects like the Nazarenes? I don’t think so.

    He says the gospels are modelled on the campaign of Titus Flavius in 66-73 and that’s proof that Christianity was deliberately created after that, but the Pauline letters, which show that the early followers have already established communities beyond Jerusalem and illustrate some consistently developing doctrine, were written in the early 50s.

    Everything about the Jesus mythology suggests that it developed organically over time, as elements from different sources accreted to it. I don’t know why there’s such a desire to prove it a deliberate hoax or even entirely fictional. Much, much more likely is that there really was an itinerant preacher and “miracle worker” named Jesus (it’s not like there was a dearth of them in the Hellenistic world) who actually said some of the things attributed to him and he attracted some followers who eventually converted some Greeks and Roman citizens who added their philosophies and legendary stories to the mix. That’s what the evidence shows.

    *by education, though not by profession

  2. Narf says

    Sounds like the usual conspiracy-theory crap that people use to make a buck off of the gullible. Even if this had been handled in an appropriate manner, I would be skeptical as hell. It sounds too good to be true.
    Considering the way it’s actually being handled, I’d assume it’s a con until proven otherwise, even if I wasn’t already skeptical of the basic claim.

  3. chriscampbell says

    I have seen some headlines about this. My view of it is I really couldn’t care less whether or not Jesus was or was not a real historical person – That has nothing to do with the validity of Christianity or any other religion.

    Some other figures who are undeniably real – Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, L. Ron Hubbard. Does that make Mormonism or Scientology real? No.

    This will just get people sidetracked from other issues and feed into Christians’ persecution complex. And we all know it doesn’t take much to get a Christian whining about persecution.

  4. says

    Raised the Richard Carrier signal via the back channel? As you say, sounds too good to be true… But does remind me of the Red Dwarf episode where they mentioned finding the missing first page of the Bible … “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental…..”

  5. Russell Glasser says

    Already dropped Richard a line, but he is notorious about taking a long time to notice or answer messages.

  6. Ally Fogg says

    Yeah, some people are so gullible.

    There had to have been a real Jesus, becoz otherwise how could he have married Mary Magdalene, sired the Holy bloodline, sent the Knight Templars off galloping around the Middle East for a thousand years and ended causing a grisly murder under the Pyramid at the Louvre?

  7. says

    I’m not inclined to believe his “discovery” of a “confession” by Romans who invented Jesus…

    Who would those Romans “confess” to — a Christian priest?

  8. says

    Awww crap–he sounds like a Peter Popoff style snake oil salesman. He sees Atheism is growing and seeks to cash in! Until he has he shit peer reviewed, I will treat with due skepticism anything he says, otherwise we are just as guilty as creationist in this regard.

  9. unfogged says

    If I’m reading it right he’s not actually saying that he found a “confession”, just that if you interpret some things from the bible in a new way it looks like it could be Roman propaganda.

    That’s the real beauty of the bible… you can make it say anything you want if you just interpret it right.

  10. says

    …yet he won’t just release it to other scholars and the public. Instead, you must buy tickets to attend a lecture at which he will reveal his secret information in a week and a half.

    Sounds like he’s discovered a diet-plan from the Roman Empire. What’s “alt-med” in Latin?

  11. says

    Yep, and if that fact alone is not a wake up call to many theists, I don’t know what is. But I know how this will go–they will focus on the message; not look at the fact that he used their very own bible to deliver it.

  12. L.Long says

    There are only 2 things about jesus that needs proof…
    1) Is there really a gawd? named yeowWay?
    2) Was jesus it’s divine son and do real magic?
    Otherwise I don’t care about some silly jew doing stuff.
    So they can invent all the WAGs (they are not theory) they like, and it aint important.

  13. GalapagosPete says

    Now wait just one damn minute here.

    As atheists, we are required to uncritically accept and enthusiastically support anything that anyone says – no matter how ridiculous – that casts any doubt on the existence of Jesus the Messiah. I think that’s in the Atheist Charter, though I admit I haven’t looked recently; been too busy with my activities supporting the Vast Darwinian Conspiracy. (There really just aren’t enough hours in the day, ya know?)

  14. says

    “Everything about the Jesus mythology suggests that it developed organically over time, as elements from different sources accreted to it.” I tend to agree with you there….

  15. says

    Excellent point. This reminds me of the whole evolution argument where we attempt to tell creationists that the science behind it is valid. But that isn’t the primary point of our theological discussions. The point is–even if evolution is discredited tomorrow, so what? Science would merely look in new directions, getting closer to truth. It often makes quite a few twists and turns before “eureka” moments. Meanwhile, Theists still have to prove their case. They can’t–which is why they waste time trying to destroy known science as opposed to presenting evidence for their case.

  16. fredericksparks says

    this is the kind of crap that folks like Erhmann will use to paint all mythicist inquiry with the same brush

  17. Charles Insandiego says

    Thanks for the Robert Price link. I’ve been trying to quash this bit of stupidity on G+ atheist boards for the last hour.

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Meh. Sometimes you get unlucky and the christian will not try to argue that you should take the christian bible as a starting position. Instead, they’ll argue that there is overwhelming evidence for the historicity of the christian bible and especially the magic-ness of Jesus. Here, you have to talk about the claims, and part of that is to note that even the evidence for the mere existence of a man on Earth named Jesus is incredibly slim, let alone he did magic.

    For full information, I suggest the works of Richard Carrier.

  19. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Parts of his theory make some sense but they are pretty obvious and others are obvious rubbish.

    It really isn’t novel to suggest that introducing some Roman propaganda was part of the price for being tolerated. ‘Render unto Caesar’ is the sort of line that gets dropped in to assure the authorities that a cult is not making trouble. Might have been Mark who wrote it, might have been dropped in any time up to the adoption of Christianity as the Roman state religion.

    But the idea that the four gospels plus Josephus that happened to survive have some sort of coded key is stupid. There was no way that anyone could know which gospels would survive.

  20. says

    The tickets priced at £35.00 or £25.00 in advance is ridiculous also this very important news is only being showcased in one venue? I’m sensing a let down imminent but we will see. Also the documentary that he claims to be debuting at the seminar, is actually available online if you know where to look and appears to be from 2012…

  21. Daddyohoh says

    Without ever knowing anything about Atwill, I was skeptical of his hypothesis. If, indeed, the creation of Christianity were the result of some plot by the Romans, why would they create the inconsistent and contradictory narrative that is found in the four gospels. Wouldn’t you think that they would have consistent jesus stories and be on the same page, as it were, to bolster the credibility of the narrative? This just doesn’t pass the common sense test for me.

  22. Corwyn says

    Tracie and Matt (IIRC) did that once. Said basically, “Ok, we concede that evolution is false. Go ahead and prove creationism.” It is well worth watching, if you can find it (or someone here remembers the number).

  23. says

    Oh and I ran into those tools. Once I get a sentence or two in and recognize the argument, I stop debating. Not much you can do with someone who will argue you have a “supernatural bias” ….

  24. says

    *sigh* please don’t let this be the Atheist equivalent of the Kirk Cameron/Ray Comfort fiasco–we don’t need the setback….

  25. moarscienceplz says

    Well I sure as heck don’t believe millions of people bought The DaVinci Code for its sparkling prose. I read it, and I would rather sit on a fire ant hill than read another Dan Brown book.

  26. says

    Sayyy whuuut? I met one Christian woman who herself told me she thought it was entertaining fiction, so I made the assumption that most took it as that–I mean–wow. Ppl will buy anything–I need to start selling frog on a stick–I’ll be rich! Rich I say! LOL

  27. Corwyn says

    Wouldn’t you think that they would have consistent jesus stories and be on the same page, as it were, to bolster the credibility of the narrative?

    Not if you are going to produce multiple versions purportedly by multiple authors. In that case, people expect small discrepancies within a similar story. That is, in fact, the reason for making up multiple authors in the first place. Any law enforcement officer will tell you to be immediately suspect of witnesses who all agree about all details.

  28. gshelley says

    Out of curiousity, why do you think it much much more likely that a historical person was mytholigsed, rather than a mythical being turned into a historical one?

  29. Raymond says

    That’s kind of an odd question. The simple answer is that we don’t have to presuppose that people exist. We have ample evidence that people do indeed exist. In order to think that a mythical being turned into a historical one, you have to presuppose the existence of a mythical being; since there is no direct evidence that the being exists. There are dozens of other reasons to follow the path from real to unproven, but that’s a rather convincing starting point.

  30. rainman says

    Nature is both physical where man experiences birth and death and spiritual (eternal or timeless) where man contemplates the birth of the universe which it seems inconceivable from a physical perspective becomes something so large cannot come from nothing…so where did it begin…never…timelessness.

    Scientific theory continues to ignore the timelessness of nature and how it relates to physical space. Religious philosophy deals with this, but that is it. The argument for spiritual space remains in a faith based arena…but why? Nature is timeless.

    I postulate that indeed we are both physical and spiritual, and our connection to timelessness is a biological organ called the soul. The science of biology must now expand to define what a spiritual being is and what spiritual (timeless life is like) because timelessness is real. Scientific discipline simply continues to ignore the reality of the existence of timelessness in the physical world.

  31. gshelley says

    But we also know that there are mythical beings. What is the issue here, is whether it is more likely for people to convert a real person into a god (with a fictional history, though I don’t know that is essential and may be overspecific), or for people to invent a real life for a god figure.
    Even if there are many examples of such god men who had the god part added after death and non known of entirely fictional people given an earthly pat (though again, that might be overpecific, actual biographies of any god may be enough), that wouldn’t qualify as much more likely it would jut put it a little ahead

  32. says

    Thank you. I’ve been waiting for skeptics to weigh in on this. So far it’s just been people who want/don’t want to believe this. I’m a fan of sorts of conspiracy theories. (It’s something I like to read about on days when I’m home sick once or twice a year. I find them entertaining.) The problem with all of them is that they require a level of competency and secrecy neither of which has heretofore been demonstrated by our species. (My favorite is the one that claims that Charlemagne never existed and that the various heads of state got together and created fake genealogies to give themselves more credibility and jumped the calendar ahead about 150 years in the process. n.b. this is used to explain the difference in the dating between Jewish and Christian scholars as to how long ago certain Biblical events happened. Anyway it’s an absurd theory but elaborate enough to be interesting.)

    Far more likely, would be that certain people exploited an already existing religion (or religions) for their own purposes and enhanced some parts of the stories, merged them with others and deleted parts they didn’t like. This would account for discrepancies among the gospels and among various early branches of Christianity. None of that is accounted for in the “a group of people got together and just made it up” conspiracy theory. One is more likely than the other although frankly there is just not enough evidence to support either and probably won’t be. A single document claiming something could also be falsified or exaggerated. This is the problem with the whole “Jesus Bloodline” conspiracy crap. An alternate version of events doesn’t have any more credibility than the traditional one unless there’s a good reason to believe one over the other. (Especially as in that case, there’s little documentation to believe any of it actually happened, at least the way that it is recorded.)

  33. says

    Also remember that the kind of historical accuracy we expect in the post-modern world was just not a concern before about the mid-19th century (and maybe later). As a case in point, Stendhal wrote a biography of Rossini in which he simply made up whatever information wasn’t readily available without the least bit concern as to whether or not it was true. A good story was far more important than historical fact, even when it concerned real people and real events.

  34. says

    Really? I found it a cheap, albeit effective, mystery novel. Page-turners like that made for good entertainment on my long commutes. I easily saw the flaws in it, but got a copy of Holy Blood, Holy Grail to read more (and found far more flaws), but that fortunately led me to read several books about medieval Europe, the crusades, etc. which served me well when I was hired as an understudy in Rossini’s Tancredi. I was suddenly the cast expert on all things historical having a book with me that linked events back then to recent and current events in the middle east. So far from being worthless, it led me on a paper-chase not unlike the one Brown’s characters go on, except that mine led me to a better understanding of what we know and don’t know about earlier events.

    One of the more interesting discoveries (I had to re-read the gospels to check for myself.) was that none of the four canonical gospels makes any mention of the fact that Jesus was 33 years old and not married. Was he married and it’s just not mentioned? Did he choose not to marry? It’s an odd omission either way, but as we are often reminded: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

  35. says

    I love those.

    Even if we were to accept that there were any gods, they couldn’t prove that theirs was real as opposed to the others. Sometimes it’s fun to let them past step one (proving there is any supernatural entity) just to show that even if they could win that debate (which they can’t) they can’t go beyond that. There’s just not evidence. If there were, why would there be so many religions, and so many sects (over 30,000 kinds of Christians alone) of those religions. If any of that were provable, would you be able to show that to the others and convince them that you were right and they were wrong? #facepalm

  36. says

    This is only a hypothesis, but it seems likely that the Jesus we read about in the gospels is made up of stories from multiple prophets from about the same time. We know that in that era there were a lot of them. It’s easy enough to believe that at least one of them was names Yeshua. We also know from recent events (Columbine, 9/11, etc.) that true stories often get merged with others, altered, exaggerated and otherwise altered in their retelling. Those were events that ought to be well documented and even in those there is a lot of misinformation and folklore attached. Imagine that they were only oral tradition for a couple hundred eyars before anyone wrote them down. How accurate would they be to actual historical events?

  37. unfogged says

    I have no more idea what you mean by timelessness than by spiritual. Nature is not timeless in any meaningful sense that I know of. Just because something “seems inconceivable” doesn’t mean that it is or that there’s any justification for filling in the blank with mysticism.

  38. rainman says

    When did the universe start, and can something come from nothing. Entropy requires that the state before the universe began had to have more energy than the entire universe…this is accepted scientific theory. But the argument continues infinitely…what was before that and before that.

    As a scientist how can we ignore this timeless event and the existence of timeless nature?

    I hope this helps you understand what I am trying to communicate. The beginning of the universe points to an event that can have no beginning because something had to exist prior to that. That is what I mean by timelessness, eternal space, or spiritual space (where awareness exists) that can have a causal effect on our physical space.

  39. unfogged says

    Given that time and space are properties of the universe as we understand it the very concept of “before” the starting point may not be meaningful. You might want to look at some of the works of Lawrence Krauss as he has a lot to say about a universe being created from nothing.

    All that aside, we can look back only to the point where the laws that we understand break down. Until we discover more and can look back further we can speculate but I simply don’t see any reason to believe that any sort of spiritual space exists or that it is where awareness exists, whatever that means. Every instance of awareness that has ever been demonstrated to exist is inextricably tied to something physically within the known universe so I find no basis for concluding that some sort of non-physical awareness actually exists.

    There are speculations of oscillating universes and multiverses and other configurations made by scientists who have made it their life’s work to investigate and I’d rather wait for them to reach a consensus than try to make up something for myself that simply feels right to me.

  40. says

    Russel, I agree that one should not believe every conspiracy one reads, but perhaps, one should read said conspiracy first before dismissing it out of hand. No amount of criticism of Atwill’s credentials or methodology can counter the fact that reading the gospel and Josephus passages as selected by Atwill side by side, they are clearly mutually referential, in a cynical Roman self-serving way, and while exhibiting a vicious humor. Seeing the humor of the whole thing really clinches it for me. That should make it worth the small price of the e-book.

    Also, it must be borne in mind, the ministry of Jesus and Titus’ quashing of the rebellion in the Galilee follow the same path. The relatable passages are in the same order in both sources. It is nigh impossible this could occur by chance alone. So the main question is whether they are mutually referential. In small parts, it is perhaps only a possibility, but in total, it is an essential certainty. Anyhow the whole idea that the Flavian Romans invented Christianity for their aggrandizement is perfectly plausible on its face. It is not a conspiracy in the sense of needing implausible events or actors such as lizards in human form.

    I doubt this symposium is going to reveal a lot of new information that isn’t already in the book. There is already plenty there. Even going to the symposium is probably a waste of time compared to just reading the selected passages. (It’s possible he might reveal some bits from his upcoming book arguing that the Pauline literature is part of the construct, though. He used to have a lot of that posted on his website. It’s just Jesus’s backstory. There is of course no real evidence the Pauline literature was written prior to the 70s CE. The same methods used to date it to the 50s would date Gone With the Wind to the 1870s.)

  41. says

    I omitted links because I’m not sure they’ll post. Here’s a forty-page excerpt of the oldest version of the book:

    There are now lots of videos about it on youtube, including full-length bootlegged copies of the documentary. The son of man prophecy video and flavian signature video excerpts are the best bits, I think. Ultimately though it just has to be read to be appreciated. Search for Atwill Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus on Amazon. Also, there is the long thread I started years ago on Iron Chariots forum (as DaveL).

  42. Corwyn says

    Entropy requires that the state before the universe began had to have more energy than the entire universe

    There is an *equation* for entropy. Please post it and show how what you are saying follows from that equation and the nature of the early universe.

    [spoiler: Entropy requires no such thing. Conservation of energy says that the energy the universe started with, it still has. Exactly.]

  43. Raymond says

    Provide some evidence of any mythical being actually existing. I don’t take things like that on faith.

  44. Raymond says

    @ corwin

    Entropy isn’t about energy conservation. It is, generically, about the passage of a closed system from order to disorder.

  45. Raymond says

    You have made a claim that there exists an existence outside the natural world. Please provide some evidence so I can assess it. I have assessed a large quantity of evidence for this non-natural world, but nothing even remotely convincing. If you have something convincing, please present it. If you are just making presuppositions about the dual nature of reality, my original comment still stands. I don’t accept unsubstantiated premises.

  46. Corwyn says

    Open a book of myths. There they are. They don’t exist in REALITY otherwise they wouldn’t be MYTHICAL beasts, they would be REAL beasts.

    The original question was:
    why do you think it much much more likely that a historical person was mythologized, rather than a mythical being turned into a historical one?

    In other words, why is it more likely that a (allegedly existing in reality, but not confirmed so) historical person was mythologized rather a mythical being (that didn’t exist in reality) was turned into a (fictitious) historical one?

  47. Corwyn says

    Entropy isn’t about energy conservation. It is, generically, about the passage of a closed system from order to disorder.

    Go read what Rainman said. *You* try to make a coherent statement about that. 🙂

    Sorry, to anyone who got confused by my statement.

  48. Raymond says

    Maybe I’m getting confused by the terminology. The way I read the question is “Why do you think it is more likely that a fictitious character was created about a real person, than a real person was made out of a fictitious character.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the existence of any individual real person is not dependent on a fictitious character. Am I wrong?

  49. Corwyn says

    I believe the point being made was that to have *story* about a character, it could be a real person with added (false) supernatural attributes, or a (fictitious) supernatural character with added (false) real existence.

    Neither of those seems particularly more likely to me. Abraham Lincoln: vampire hunter being an example of the former, Superman, the latter.

    Obviously, real existent people are more likely than the other kind.

  50. Raymond says

    @ rainman

    Your point is unsubstantiated. I cannot even say if it is right or wrong because you are talking about pure speculation. Your point essentially boils down to, “I think it makes sense that there is an infinite regress, so it must be true.” That isn’t how things are done in the scientific world. If you would like to back up your claim with some peer reviewed papers, or some reproducible research; I would be happy to indulge your whims. Else, you have no legs to stand on.

    The whole entropy question is quite interesting. Since the law of entropy only holds in a closed system, we don’t know if it necessarily holds in the universe. Could there be energy being introduced into our universe from elsewhere? Don’t know. What we do know is that the universe’s growth and current arrangement are consistent with a closed system. As a part of the closed system, as yet unable to see beyond the boundaries of the system, we cannot say anything about what lies outside the closed system we seem to belong to. To do so is nothing but wild speculation. But fun to ponder.

  51. Raymond says

    Oh. So the actual existence of the person is not being proposed. Just a story about the fake real person. Yea. I didn’t get that from the post. Still don’t, truth be told, but I’ll take your word for it.

  52. says

    Sure. Some people think Robert Anton Wilson was exposing the true facts about reality as well. But plenty did buy it for its extremely weird prose. (And Dan Brown has got nothing on RAW. Pathetic mainstream imitator he is.)

  53. says

    Out of however many (and many there were) gospels, plus all the other bits, codified by force by the Eastern Roman Emperor circa 325 to provide proper propaganda and stop all the Christians from killing each other and disrupting everything — yes, the odds are quite long that the Flavian Conspiracy had planned all this. Not very effective for their supposed purposes, either.

  54. says

    Now that I’ve had time to catch up with some of this discussion, I think it’s worth mentioning that the “confession” that is mentioned in the press release is clearly the thing Atwill refers to as the “Flavian Signature”, that is described in the latest edition of the Caesar’s Messiah book, and that the overview of it from the documentary is on youtube:

    It really needs to be read, though, to be fully appreciated. If you don’t want to give Atwill the ten bucks you could get the free Josephus online and compare directly with Luke. Personally I find it completely convincing that these parts of Luke and Josephus’ Jewish War have a common authorship.

  55. here be Name says

    >Richard Carrier weighs in with much more detail; calls Atwill a crank

    That’s rich, coming from a cultist of Bayesianism* (a new religion in the making, no less), he’s hardly in a position to call other people cranks (not that Atwill’s claims are right).

    * for anyone interested look up LessWrong on RationalWiki.

  56. says

    Personally, I think Bayesian analysis is great and totally supports Atwill’s theory.

    Carrier, however, by his own admission has not even read Atwill’s theory, is still going by the fragments Atwill gave him in an email exchange from 7 or 9 years ago. He should be able to understand, the argument depends on many similarities with order preserved and geography. But instead he is going completely by that exchange and hearsay I suppose, as he says he is absolutely refusing to read anything more Atwill writes. He’s wasting a lot of time refuting something he refuses to read because he doesn’t want to waste his time. Umm, the fastest to refute something is to actually read it first, seems to me, so that he is refusing is telling, I think.

    From a Bayesian point of view, it only takes a small probability of deliberateness per hypothetical to add up to essential certainty, at least under favorable assumptions about the completeness of the set of hypotheticals (speaking loosely). (This isn’t how a formal Bayesian analysis would work, though. I have never applied it to a history problem, but I think I could do it. Atwill at various times has proposed how to do it. You (the evaluator, not just Atwill) select a set of gospel fragments to look for parallels to. You get a bunch of enemies of the thesis to find the best parallels to the selected gospel fragments they can in any works of literature they like. Then mix these up with Atwill’s selections. Then get a roomful of random non-historian people off the street to rate the correlations.

    (Alternatively, if you don’t have a roomful of people, you could just make up objective criteria for the ranking. Some criteria like location are easy; others might be trickier, hence it would be nice just to use disinterested people.)

    Then after you get the rankings for each proposed parallel to each selected fragment, it’s easy to get the relative likelihood that each given work is related to the gospels. In a good Bayesian analysis, the “priors” will be of little if any consequence. The ones I do I just assume equal prior likelihood across all hypothesis because the data washes out any remotely reasonable prior assumptions. Order is not important in the ones I do, but in this case we get to use it too which would put the likelihood that it’s JW asymptotically close to unity.

  57. says

    To finish the evaluation we would also have to show the correlation goes both ways, of course. That is, it’s not enough that the gospels borrowed from JW, it’s at least as important that JW (Josephus’ Jewish War, that is) is referring to the gospels as well. Ofhand I’m not sure how I would attack this with a formal analysis, but it’s completely obvious when you understand the linkages. The best example is the one mentioned by Carrier, Cannibal Mary from JW. She’s waving her baby around saying he’ll be a bane to seditious varlots, for crying out loud. Conventional explanations for this fall flat compared to Atwill’s realization that it’s the setup for the Eucharist and future persecutions of the Jews. Ts one alone is practically enough to accept the thesis, but there are probably three or four almost as good, and many more at many lower levels.

    BTW the comment I tried to post over on Carrier’s blog about 12 hours ago is still in moderation. Not that I want to get in a long argument with him, anyhow. He should read the book first if he wants to discuss it with me. I’ll send him one, if Atwill won’t. I’ve sent them to a lot of people: PZ, ACSA, AA, Dan Barker, Jerry Coyne, Dan Dennet. The only people of those that have said they were reading it were Matt Dilihunty and Dan Barker. We know what Matt thinks but not sure about Dan B.

  58. says

    BTW the comment I tried to post over on Carrier’s blog about 12 hours ago is still in moderation

    Expect it to be so for a day at least, longer if you post on weekends. That’s quite normal. Carrier has a firm policy with regards to comments. Nothing goes up until it has been personally screened by him, no matter who you are.

  59. Muz says

    If nothing else, Covert Messiah is a brilliant exploitation film title.
    Would make a great double bill with The Hebrew Hammer.

  60. Narf says

    Theists tend to consider thermodynamics and entropy to be vague buzz-words that they can throw in to sound like they’re saying something meaningful, without saying anying intelligible … just like they do with ‘spiritual’. What they don’t understand is that those words have precise, scientific usage. Just because the theists don’t understand the concepts, they tend to assume that the people they’re speaking to don’t either. That’s one of the many reasons that thoughtful, educated atheists come as such a shock to them.

  61. says

    Another example of Josephus apparently referencing the gospels is the character Atwill calls “woe-saying Jesus”, who preaches from the temple rooftops in Jerusalem during the siege that destruction is coming . His storyline has a broad outline that duplicates Jesus of the gospels in many details. Also, of course, his name is Jesus. He gets killed by an artillery stone as the lookouts shout “The Son Cometh”. Everybody translates this as “The Stone Cometh”, but Whitson has a footnote about it. If it’s an inadvertent wrong word in JW, it’s the only one, according to Atwill. The Son here being of course the Son of Man.

    Conventional history has some lame explanation for this I suppose but typically it’ll be stretching to avoid the obvious. After all, up until recently something like Atwill proposes simply couldn’t be proposed because the result would be burning at the stake. I think some considerable skepticality is warranted about the objectiveness of modern biblical scholarship. I don’t understand why it seems to be getting a free pass.

    At the very least, Atwill’s book is a good place to read in one place about a lot of these strange episodes in Josephus. You can read his interpretation, which is invariably very perceptive and at least plausible in my opinion, and then if you like you can hunt down the conventional explanation. These have invariably seemed straining to me. In any case, having enough of these candidate references and having them preserve order and location across the two tales (and there’s no way that JW is just a history: it’s official Flavian propaganda with a dedication by Titus on the cover page) makes it an essential certainty according to, say, Bayesian analysis, that Josephus is referring to the gospels as they are referring to him. To accept that it is mere copying of JW in the gospels, one would have to be willing to believe that the gospel writers were so devoid of originality that they not only borrowed bits of JW, they incorporated it in large part directly, and used the broad outline in terms of what path was followed and what battles and so forth took place to base the story of Jesus’ ministry on. This seems very far fetched on its face, and then you would still have to ignore Mother Mary the Cannibal and Woe Saying Jesus and other features of JW that seem to be making fun of the gospel.

  62. Corwyn says

    makes it an essential certainty according to, say, Bayesian analysis, that Josephus is referring to the gospels as they are referring to him.

    Can we see your math on that, please?

  63. says

    Reminded me of the William Lane Craig’s and McDowell style sophists, who love to randomly change the meaning of words and stuff for their own advantage…

  64. says

    Collect the data as I described and I’ll crunch it for you, and all the calculations will be presented. Have enemies of the CM thesis offer alternative parallels selected as they see fit between both the Jewish War and the gospels and any other works of history or fiction or religion as they see fit. Then get a group of disinterested people to relatively rank the quality of the parallels including Atwill’s, and/or count the number of similar features. Then I can make an explicitly Bayesian calculation that I could argue says something about the relative likelihood the different works are related to each other.

    Atwill’s argument can work by inspection (as it does for me) if you read it and agree with him that the degree of similarity between his selections is way above expectations for random stories. Then you can look at the ordering. I guess you probably know how to calculate how many possible orderings there are for a list of objects or events using factorials. That is, if you have just six events, the number of different orderings is already 720 because it’s 6! = 6*5*4*3*2 (i.e., 6 factorial). (This is not what I think of as a Bayesian calculation, though.) Atwilll has over 20 in his Flavian Signature. Even without formally worrying about which one is copying which, it says a lot about that there is more than just some borrowing of stuff from Josephus in the construction of gLuke, in this case. Rather, the writer of Luke started with Jewish War and structured his gospel around it. Preserving that structure and bringing over the minor details took a lot of attention and serves no real theological purpose. It’s fun to puzzle over what the meanings of these strange sayings of Jesus are, and the mysteriousness of it lends a certain false profundity to the whole thing that has been remarkably successful in sucking people in, but ultimately it’s just a big joke.

  65. Corwyn says

    Collect the data as I described and I’ll crunch it for you,

    Sorry, I assumed when you said:

    In any case, having enough of these candidate references and having them preserve order and location across the two tales (and there’s no way that JW is just a history: it’s official Flavian propaganda with a dedication by Titus on the cover page) makes it an essential certainty according to, say, Bayesian analysis, that Josephus is referring to the gospels as they are referring to him

    that you had already done (or seen) the actual Bayesian analysis, rather than just assuming that it would support the hypothesis without actually collecting any data or doing any analysis.

    if you have just six events, the number of different orderings is already 720 because it’s 6! = 6*5*4*3*2 (i.e., 6 factorial). (This is not what I think of as a Bayesian calculation, though.

    Good since it has nothing to do with with Bayes’ Theorem. Of course, I don’t need to mention that in order that to be even slightly valid, one would need to prove that those were independent variables…

  66. Danny W says

    Dear Russell,

    This is not to comment on the particulars of this guy’s theory (which the reasonable doubts guys took down pretty effectively this week). However your comment “Scholarship does not work like that” seemed a little bit at odds with what actually happens.

    First we get our results then we show them to people in lectures and invited talks. Maybe we have already written our paper by this point, or we are writing it or we are not quite ready yet. Talks mostly come before publication and allow academics to test their ideas with critical audiences before refining them and submitting for formal peer review.

    To give a famous counter-example, the first proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was given in a lecture at the Newton Institute in Cambridge and even the people attending the talk had no idea it was coming.