Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: a reply to R. G. Price


A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Jesus mythicism (the belief that Jesus never existed as a real person), explaining my initial reason for coming down on the ‘historicity’ side of that particular debate. Rather to my surprise, it went on to get more comments than I’ve had on any other post in over thirteen years of blogging. (In fairness, that is not a terribly high bar, but I was still really pleased about it.) Thank you to all those of you who commented and joined in the discussion. I replied to a lot of the comments but did leave several comments unanswered as the thread seemed to have come to a halt and I didn’t know whether anyone was still reading; if yours was one of those and you would still like it answered, do please let me know and I’ll try to do so.

Anyway, I’m restarting this as a new person has just joined the comment thread; mythicist R.G. Price (who, confusingly, is a different mythicist from Robert Price). R.G. had a long comment with a lot of questions, so I decided that, rather than trying to reply in comments, it would be better to write a new post.

Why don’t the earliest writings about Jesus describe who he was as a person?

The earliest writings about Jesus were written by someone who not only became a follower of Jesus only after his death, but showed almost no interest in hearing about Jesus’s life; he based his beliefs not on teachings from the existing group of Jesus-followers but on revelations he believed he was getting from Jesus directly, and he spread those beliefs far and wide. I completely agree that this was a somewhat bizarre state of affairs to have come about, but, nevertheless, we know from Paul’s own writings that this was what happened.

This being the case, we wouldn’t expect Paul to have described who Jesus was as a person, regardless of whether Jesus actually had been a person or not. Paul simply doesn’t seem to have been interested in Jesus as a person. In Paul’s writings, his focus is on his image of Jesus as a magic mechanism for all-purpose forgiveness of sins.

Why don’t the earliest writings about Jesus convey any of his teachings?

Same reason.

Why didn’t Jesus produce any writings of his own?

He lived and died in a culture where the majority of his society were not functionally literate, where oral teaching had huge importance, where ink and paper were expensive luxuries, and where the printing press wasn’t even a twinkle in an inventor’s eye yet. If someone in such a society wanted to get a message out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, their best bet for doing that was to travel around and do a lot of public preaching, since that would reach significantly more people for the time spent. On top of that, we don’t even know whether Jesus himself had had formal training or practice in writing; in that day and age, it’s quite possible that he didn’t.

If Jesus couldn’t read and write, then why would people, in a culture that highly valued the reading and writing of scripture, worship such a person for their “teachings”?

I don’t know of anyone who was worshipping Jesus for his teachings. Paul created a theology in which Jesus was a magical sacrifice sent by God to wipe clean everyone’s sins, and this evolved over time into a theology that believed that Jesus was part of God and thus worshipped him on that basis.

Why would people think that a person, who presumably didn’t perform miracles or rise from the dead, was “the Lord Jesus Christ”, an eternal being with godly powers?

That’s a few different questions rolled into one:

Why did they believe him to be the Messiah (Christ)? That’s not hard to see; the Jews were desperate for a Messiah, and any apparently good contender for the post would get a lot of followers out of pure wishful thinking. Jesus was clearly a highly charismatic and convincing speaker. It would actually have been stranger if he hadn’t had followers who believed him to be the Messiah. It is strange that Paul kept up the title in writing about him despite having come to a completely different set of beliefs about him, but it’s still less strange that Paul would keep an existing title for him than that someone would so utterly and completely reinterpret the concept of Messiahship from scratch, which is what would be required for Jesus to be mythical.

Why did they call him Lord? Well, being the Messiah effectively meant you were the rightful king (it was part of the job description) and that you were sent by God, so, for the people who believed he was the Messiah, it probably would have seemed appropriate to address him as ‘Lord’. It probably would have seemed even more appropriate to Paul, whose new version of the theology seems to have involved seeing Jesus as an amazing being imbued with wondrous powers.

How did people move from seeing him as a human being to seeing him as an eternal being with godly powers? The full change to seeing him in this way seems to have happened gradually over time, but a significant shift seems to have happened with Paul, who, based on his letters, seems to have gone off on a complete tangent with his beliefs about Jesus, coming up with a new version of belief that wasn’t anything to do with traditional beliefs about the Messiah.

If people did think that this person was some eternal Lord, then why didn’t they record anything about him or things that he said that convinced them that he was this eternal all-powerful Lord?

Huh? Innumerable Christians have been recording precisely that for the past two millennia. You might need to clarify that question.

Why would someone’s brother, who grew up with him and likely had fights with him as a child and saw him get in trouble, get sick, etc. think that he was a perfect all-powerful deity – the only being in existence capable of bringing justice to the world?

Do we have any good evidence that any of Jesus’s brothers thought that (as opposed to later Christians believing it)?

Why does the letter to the Hebrews “quote” Jesus by quoting from scriptures and give no details about this person’s real life?

Most likely the author followed Paul’s influence in focusing on Jesus in his role of magic sin-erasing device rather than showing interest in him as a person. That, of course, is conjecture; but what we do know is that, whatever the author’s reason, it does not seem to have been a lack of belief in a Jesus who really walked the earth as a flesh-and-blood person.

‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things’: Heb 2:14

‘Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect…’: Heb 2:17

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are’: Heb 4:15

‘In the days of his flesh…’: Heb 5:7

‘For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah’: Heb 7:14

‘…by the the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh’: Heb 10:19 – 20

That’s a half-dozen statements that are very hard to explain away if the author of Hebrews didn’t believe Jesus had lived on earth.

Why does the letter to the Hebrews say explicitly that Jesus is a heavenly High Priest?

The letter to the Hebrews was written after Jesus’s death. Regardless of whether his followers thought he’d lived on earth prior to that death or not, they’d have believed him to be in heaven at that point!

Why does Paul talk repeatedly about Jesus being a divine mystery?

If you give me the quotes you’re thinking of, I’ll see what they sound like in context. Again, given the number of times Paul makes a comment about Jesus being ‘born of a woman‘ or ‘according to the flesh‘ or ‘the seed of David‘, or comparable to Adam as a man, or about him having brothers, the answer doesn’t seem to be ‘Because Paul believed Jesus only ever existed as a spiritual being in a cosmic realm’.

Why doesn’t Paul attribute any of his teachings to Jesus?

Huh? He does. Did you mean, why does he only attribute his teachings to post-resurrection revelations from Jesus rather than to things he’d learned from the apostles? If so, then I refer you back to the first point.

Why would Paul think his teachings were better than, or even on par with, people who had personally known Jesus and learned his teachings directly from his mouth?

Paul believed that he’d learned his teachings directly from Jesus as well. Sure, he believed it was happening by revelations from Jesus up in heaven, but – given the way he changed his life over these revelations – I think we can reasonably assume that he fully believed, or at least had managed to convince himself, that he was genuinely receiving teachings from a resurrected and heavenly Jesus.

Why does the Gospel of Mark use so many literary sources?

Probably because, as you’ve just pointed out above, scriptural sources were extremely important to people in that day and age.

Why does the Gospel of Mark use teachings of Paul as Jesus’s teachings?

Because that’s how Paul presented many of his teachings to the communities he founded (remember, he believed they came directly from Jesus via revelation, and presented them as such).

Why does the Gospel of Mark portray the disciples so poorly?

This probably goes back to the division in beliefs between the communities founded by Paul, and the original church run by former disciples in Jerusalem. The gospels seem to have been written outside Judaea, meaning it’s likely they came from communities who originated from Paul and were using theology that was more Pauline in nature and hence differed from the theology taught by the original Jerusalem church on some key points. It’s not hard to imagine that this would have been pretty awkward for the churches. Some of the differences seem to have been harmonised or glossed over, but some of them seem to have been dealt with by portraying the disciples as a bunch of bumbling fools who constantly misunderstood what Jesus’s mission was really about.

Why does every single story about Jesus share text with the Gospel of Mark?

Because later authors used gMark as one of their sources.

I could go on, but really, all of these questions, and many more, need reasonable answers in order for the idea that the Jesus of Christianity is based on the life of a real person to have any plausibility.

On the other hand, there is really only one question that needs to be answered for the scenario that the Jesus of Christianity isn’t based on a real person to be plausible and that question is:

How do you explain the five or six short passages in the letters of Paul that suggest Jesus was a real person?

Only one question… are you kidding me?? What about…

Why does Josephus, in a line universally accepted as genuine by Josephan scholars, describe one man as being ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ’?

Why does Tacitus mention a Christus who founded a sect named after him and who was executed by Pontius Pilate, describing this sect in terms hostile enough that this is extremely unlikely to be information he got from Christians?

What precedent is there for anyone writing allegorical stories about a heavenly figure that are so detailed they mention fictitious family members and a place where he allegedly grew up? How often, in that culture, is that known to have happened? Based on that answer, what are the estimated chances that multiple different people in a relatively small sect would choose to do this about the same figure?

What is the explanation for the passages I quoted above from Hebrews indicating a belief in a human flesh-and-blood Jesus of physical descent?

Why do two of the gospel writers describe Jesus as coming from Nazareth, even though this was clearly very awkward for them to the point where they had to make up detailed and implausible stories explaining how he had really come to be born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth?

Why do the gospel writers all name a powerful Roman as being the person who ordered Jesus’s crucifixion, even though they clearly realised the risks of this and took great pains to gloss over and explain away this part of the story as much as possible?

All of which is on top of the multiple passages in Paul that fit with historicity rather than mythicism; and ‘five or six’ is an underestimate there. I’ve been through the undisputed letters and count 11. (That isn’t counting the ‘killed by the Jews’ passage on 1 Thessalonians, which I left off the list as there are reasonable unrelated grounds for suspecting it to be an interpolation.)

And, yes, it’s possible to look at any individual one of those examples in isolation and say, maybe this one was an interpolation or we’re interpreting it wrong or there’s some other explanation we’re not aware of. But the more such examples there are, the more difficult it is to explain all of them away. When we’re looking at needing this many convoluted and improbable explanations to sustain a theory, then that theory has become overwhelmingly unlikely and needs to be discarded.

Comments

  1. rationalrevolution says

    Hi Dr. Sarah,

    I just sent you a copy of my book. The topic is admittedly difficult to get into, which is why I wrote a whole book about it 😀

    I’ll let you read the book and see what feedback you have from that. In regard to your immediate reply, right now we would be talking past one another on many points, so again, I’ll let you get the full context of the case and then we can take it from there.

    Best wishes 🙂

  2. wsierichs says

    The problem is not that anyone can prove Jesus did not exist; the problem is that no one can prove that he did exist.

    That’s because all of the purported sources of his life and teachings have such serious problems that they are useless as historical sources. They tell you what early Christians in different times and settings believed about a savior named Jesus. They cannot tell you what a historical Jesus said or did. The moment you put a finger on any one purported fact about Jesus, you can find another fact (or historians’ contrary analysis) that contradicts or challenges it.

    That’s mainly because much of the material the four canon Gospel writers (actually, only two – Mark and John) drew upon were Jewish, pagan and gnostic sources to construct a life and teachings. (Remember, there were other purported gospels, which differ markedly in some ways from the canon gospels, that were excluded when church leaders in the later 2nd century decided what was canon.) It’s been shown that Mark (“Gospel Fictions”) drew heavily upon supposed Jewish prophecies to “prove” that Jesus fulfilled them. (It’s possible the fulfilled prophecies were created before him and he just quoted what was circulating among early Christians.) Matthew and Luke used Mark plus other sources. John is independent and very different in some ways from Mark. That’s why we have two contradictory versions of Jesus’ birth (both also wrong as history) and six contradictory versions of his resurrection. (the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians 15). Early Christians clearly had no universally accepted account of Jesus’ life.

    Paul also quotes an early Christian (maybe even pre-Christian) hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 that implies a supernatural being came to earth in humble form, suffered, was executed and returned to heaven, when it was only then given the name Jesus. Robert Price says this was pointed out by a French scholar early in the 20th century. While Christians read it one way, the alternate option (which strikes me as more likely, for what it’s worth) is that this was an older savior god, from an older mystery cult, that was given the name Jesus after it’s supposed act of salvation, and presumably was also linked to the title “Christ.” If so, Christianity is the spawn of a pagan mystery cult, perhaps with a strong mixture of Jewish mysticism. This is an argument, not a proof, but I think it raises enough serious questions that it disqualifies claims that Jesus must have existed, otherwise the material cannot be explained. Robert Price has a lot more material about early Christianity and its problems as a source of material.

    Also, the only certain sources of information about a historical Jesus, if he existed, are Christian. There are no validated non-Christian sources. The material in Josephus is almost certainly from Christian additions to his writings. Tacitus’ “Christus” is unlikely to be a reference to Christ or Christians, given its context and alternate, history-based explanations. Any other possible non-Christian sources suffer the problem that we have versions copied by, and possibly altered by, Christians. Another minor problem is that Jesus (Joshua) was a common name in Jewish circles. Josephus mentions several Jesuses. So it would be a plausible alternate explanation that early Christians mingled their cult stories of a supernatural Jesus with items about other Jesuses who were connected to the cult as it evolved. Christianity’s origin might date back as early as the late 2nd century BCE if some details of its history are accurate. Personally, I think it evolved out of mystery cults on the fringes of Judaism and paganism, merging different “Christs” into a single figure over time. That strikes me as the best explanation for the various mysteries about its origin and growth.

    The main point here is that I don’t think the existence of a historical Jesus is proven, nor dis-proven. I think agnosticism is the only realistic option. More important is that the Jesus of Christianity, whether mythical or historical, was crafted over time into the clearly mythical being that Christians came to believe in. That Jesus certainly never existed. I see the historical Jesus debate as an interesting but purely academic exercise, ultimately irrelevant to Christianity.

    • db says

      wsierichs says: “I see the historical Jesus debate as an interesting but purely academic exercise, ultimately irrelevant to Christianity.”

      Dykstra, Tom (2015). “Ehrman and Brodie on Whether Jesus Existed: A Cautionary Tale about the State of Biblical Scholarship”. The Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies (JOCABS) 8:1: 29.

      As for the question of whether Jesus existed, the best answer is that any attempt to find a historical Jesus is a waste of time. It can’t be done, it explains nothing, and it proves nothing.

    • db says

      @wsierichs, I assume you are referring to: Helms, Randel (1988). Gospel Fictions. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0879754648.

      wsierichs says:

      [Per Jesus] all of the purported sources of his life and teachings have such serious problems that they are useless as historical sources. . . . They cannot tell you what a historical Jesus said or did.
      […] It’s been shown that Mark (“Gospel Fictions”) drew heavily upon supposed Jewish prophecies to “prove” that Jesus fulfilled them. (It’s possible the fulfilled prophecies were created before him and he just quoted what was circulating among early Christians.)
      […] Early Christians clearly had no universally accepted account of Jesus’ life.
      […] The main point here is that I don’t think the existence of a historical Jesus is proven, nor dis-proven. I think agnosticism is the only realistic option.

      Per Carrier ap. Lataster, Raphael (2015). “Forward by Richard Carrier”. Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists. ISBN 1514814420.

      For all the evidence anyone has ever adduced from the Epistles (once we exclude those known to be forged): it is ambiguous as to whether an earthly or celestial Jesus is being referred to. The Gospels I found wholly symbolically fictional and not even interested in actual history. And the Jesus in them I found to be so very like other mythical persons of the period. And then I found that no other evidence can be shown to be independent of the Gospels. At the very least, putting all of that together should make agnosticism about the historicity of Jesus a credible conclusion. —(pp. xi-xii)

  3. says

    Brilliant post! I will definitely add you to my regular reading list.
    “Paul simply doesn’t seem to have been interested in Jesus as a person. In Paul’s writings, his focus is on his image of Jesus as a magic mechanism for all-purpose forgiveness of sins.”
    This is one of the best comments on the mindset of Paul I have come across, and casts a very clear light on his writings.

    • db says

      Per “The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”. Westar Institute. Retrieved 14 December 2018. “An excerpt from the Introduction to The Five Gospels

      In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.

      Cf. Funk, Robert W.; Hoover, Roy W. (1993). The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. Polebridge PressWestar Inst. ISBN 978-0-944344-57-6.

      • says

        db,

        n Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.

        Yet, his descent from the line of David, repeated often, does play a role, indicating Paul believe there was a human named Jesus.

  4. Alan Wilson says

    A lot of the questions raised here would be answered in full by the book “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Dr. Richard Carrier. If you haven’t read the book, I have no connection with Dr. Carrier, but I highly recommend it to bring you up to speed on the state of the current scholarship.

  5. rationalrevolution says

    I don’t want to go into much detail on most of the points until you’ve had a chance to read the book, but I will touch on the comments about Hebrews because I don’t cover that topic well in the book.

    You offer several quotes from Hebrews, but leave out Hebrews 8-9. This is a major issue, because Hebrews 8-9 tell us directly that Jesus is a heavenly being.

    “Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one;” (Hebrews 8:4-5)

    Hebrews 8 and 9 explicitly state that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven. Both Carrier and Doherty provide extensive analysis of this. What Hebrews 8 and 9 basically say that everything that has been described about Jesus in the letter of the Hebrews is talking about a spiritual heavenly being, whose actions have all taken place in the heavens.

    • db says

      Per Doherty, Earl (2 October 2010). “Advancing the Cause: Thoughts on the New Atheism and the Myth of Jesus”. atheology.ca.

      [Jesus had never been on earth to begin the Christian movement] The Epistle to the Hebrews, for example (chapter 8, verse 4), contains a grammatically ambiguous statement in the Greek: it says either that “If Jesus were on earth [meaning now], he would not be a priest” or “If Jesus had been on earth, he would not have been a priest.” Both are contrafactual statements, but if the past sense is the meaning, it becomes a statement that Jesus had never been on earth. What my analysis does is show that, within the context of the passage and through deductive reasoning, the present sense, allotting the statement to the present time, cannot be supported; in fact, it can be shown that the author can only be applying it to the past.

  6. db says

    • Dr Sarah, do you have any issues with Carrier′s minimal “Historicity Jesus” definition? . Do you wish to add any qualifiers?

    Per Carrier, Richard (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-35-5.

    [T]hree minimal facts on which historicity rests:
    1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.
    2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.
    3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).
    That all three propositions are true shall be my minimal theory of historicity. —(p. 34)

    Cf. “Did Jesus Exist 1. Terms of debate”. YouTube. Fishers of Evidence. 15 February 2016.

  7. ionopachys says

    Some of the questions in the op can be answered by comparisons to more recent cults. We have many accounts of charismatic preachers whose followers insisted that they were divine and performed miracles and appeared in visions after having died. Some of these bodhisattvas or messiahs have counted siblings and even parents among their followers. This has happened in recent generations with mass media and high speed communication and scientific skepticism.

    As for the value of scripture, most preachers and magicians didn’t write manifestos. Those would come from followers or historians writing up accounts of their deeds. It would actually be odd if Jesus did write a treatise. That would not have been an issue for would-be followers.

    • db says

      @ionopachys, I understand that you are claiming that the minimal “Historicity Jesus” is plausible, especially in comparison to modern phenomena of similar kind. Or are you claiming that the minimal “Historicity Jesus” is more historically probable than the alternative minimal “Ahistoricity Jesus” per Richard Carrier?

      • ionopachys says

        I’m claiming that some of the questions in the op do not challenge historicity. The questions are making arguments, two of which are, “it is implausible that people who knew a real Jesus would believe he was the Christ, especially his own brother,” and “the people of the time would not embrace a religious leader who did not personally write out his teachings.” I was just adding a couple extra points to supplement Dr Sarah’s responses.

        Beyond that, yes, I think a “minimal” Jesus is more likely than not. It’s important to make this point: that’s all anyone is saying (at least I doubt that anyone here is a Christian apologist). Of course the Gospel stories are mythologized and not very accurate. No-one here is denying that. That alone doesn’t make a historical Jesus improbable. Mythologizing real people’s histories happens. We’d expect it to happen. I don’t find Carrier’s evidence for an older cult convincing. I think the consensus theory is a bit more likely.

  8. db says

    • Per Strauss, David Friedrich (1860) [1835]. The Life of Jesus: Critically Examined. 1. New York: Calvin Blanchard.

    [T]he Jews saw predictions every where in the writings of their prophets and poets, and discovered types of the Messiah in all the lives of holy men recorded in their Scriptures; when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical. —(p. 73)

    • Per Price, Robert M. (2011). The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. American Atheist Press. ISBN 978-1-57884-017-5.

    [A]lmost every story in the Gospels (and Acts) can be plausibly argued to be borrowed from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides. —(p. 425)

    Dr Sarah,
    1. Do you concur, that when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently derived from from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides, then we cannot but suspect that they are mythical rather than historical?
    2. How many stories in the Gospels and Acts, do you find to be borrowed from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides? Or more simply, which ones are not?

  9. says

    wsierichs@2

    The problem is not that anyone can prove Jesus did not exist; the problem is that no one can prove that he did exist.

    Proof is not the appropriate concept, evidence is. Is there evidence for the historical Jesus, is there evidence for a strictly mythical Jesus, how do they compare, and what is the best explanation for the evidence?

    That’s because all of the purported sources of his life and teachings have such serious problems that they are useless as historical sources. They tell you what early Christians in different times and settings believed about a savior named Jesus. They cannot tell you what a historical Jesus said or did.

    There are a handful of facts common to the early sources, but this is largely correct.

    Paul also quotes an early Christian (maybe even pre-Christian) hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 that implies a supernatural being came to earth in humble form, suffered, was executed and returned to heaven, when it was only then given the name Jesus.

    So, this hymn would be evidence that its author believed in a historical Jesus, and Paul’s quoting it would confirm this is what Paul also believed.

    While Christians read it one way, the alternate option (which strikes me as more likely, for what it’s worth) is that this was an older savior god, from an older mystery cult,

    One that also believed in an earthly savior? Are there any candidates?

    Also, the only certain sources of information about a historical Jesus, if he existed, are Christian. There are no validated non-Christian sources. The material in Josephus is almost certainly from Christian additions to his writings.

    Josephus mentions Jesus twice. The first mention is considered partially authentic, the second mention is considered wholly authentic.

    Tacitus’ “Christus” is unlikely to be a reference to Christ or Christians, given its context and alternate, history-based explanations.

    To whom did it refer? Is the change of a single vowel more likely to be the result of error or a completely different sect with highly similar beliefs?

    Another minor problem is that Jesus (Joshua) was a common name in Jewish circles. Josephus mentions several Jesuses.

    Including one who was the brother of James and called the Christ, and who lived in the early first century, in a passage almost no one considers an interpolation.

    The main point here is that I don’t think the existence of a historical Jesus is proven, nor dis-proven. I think agnosticism is the only realistic option.

    I suppose you can call ordinary skepticism about the existence of Homer, Socrates, or Hannibal “agnosticism” as well, but that term seems to convey an importance to the acceptance of their existence that it does not merit.

    I see the historical Jesus debate as an interesting but purely academic exercise, ultimately irrelevant to Christianity.

    Unless you are interested in how religions begin and spread.

  10. says

    rationalrevolution@5

    Hebrews 8 and 9 explicitly state that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven.

    This is wrong.

    Hebrews 9:11-12 (ESV)
    But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,[e] then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

    The blood sacrifice comes before the entrance into the perfected, heavenly holy place (just as for the priest as described in vss. 6-7). There may be some argument that the blood sacrifice itself was in some heavenly place that was not the perfected heavenly temple, but it is not found in Hebrews 8-9.

  11. says

    db@several

    Per Doherty, Earl (2 October 2010). “Advancing the Cause: Thoughts on the New Atheism and the Myth of Jesus”. atheology.ca.

    …“If Jesus had been on earth, he would not have been a priest.” Both are contrafactual statements, but if the past sense is the meaning, it becomes a statement that Jesus had never been on earth.

    Instead, it could mean that Jesus was not a priest in the earthly tradition (which was true). While on earth, Jesus was not a priest.

    For the record: Per Carrier, the probability that Jesus existed (“Historicity Jesus”), could not reasonably be higher than 1 in 3 (i.e. ~33%).

    Carrier fudges a lot of numbers and does some pretty bad math to arrive at that conclusion.

    1. Do you concur, that when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently derived from from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides, then we cannot but suspect that they are mythical rather than historical?
    2. How many stories in the Gospels and Acts, do you find to be borrowed from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides? Or more simply, which ones are not?

    How loosely are you defining “borrowed” here? For example, Jesus came from the town of Nazareth. Where is the source for that in the Septuagint, Homer, or Euripides? I’m sure you can stretch any circumstance to find some comparable circumstance in some 20,000(?) words of literature.

    • db says

      • @rationalrevolution′s work on the dependence of the gospels on the Old Testament: R. G. Price (2018). Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4834-8782-3.

      Cf. Brodie, Thomas L. (2012). “epilogue: Bart D. Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus Exist?’”. Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Sheffield Phoenix Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-1-907534-58-4.

      The dependence of the gospels on the Old Testament and on other extant texts is incomparably clearer and more verifiable than its dependence on any oral tradition — as seen, for instance, in the thorough dependence of Jesus’ call to disciples (Lk. 9:57-62) on Elijah’s call (1 Kgs 19). The sources supply not only a framework but a critical mass which pervades the later text.

      • Dennis MacDonald′s work on Homer and Euripides:

      Per MacDonald, Dennis R. (2000). “Mark and Mimesis”. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-300-08012-4.

      I have come to conclude that Mark wanted his readers to detect his transvaluation of Homer.

      Per MacDonald, Dennis R. (2014). The Gospels and Homer: Imitations of Greek Epic in Mark and Luke-Acts. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 2f. ISBN 978-1-4422-3053-8.

      In 2000, I published ”The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” with Yale University Press. Since that time I have argued for imitations of classical Greek literature in several other Hellenistic Jewish and early Christian texts (see the Bibliography). Mark’s imitations of Homer can account for much of the information about Jesus in Mark that outstrips anything found in Paul or the lost Gospel. […] Mark’s authorial voice is different from that of Q/Q+ in large measure because he imitated or, better, emulated Homeric epic. One must not confuse these imitations with plagiarism insofar as the author advertised his literary debt and presented Jesus as superior to the likes of Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus.

      Macdonald (2017). The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides. Fortress Press. ISBN 978-1-5064-2345-6.

      • says

        db,

        Is your point that there are parallels to draw between gMark and previous works? Of course there are, and there would be even if Mark had not intended for there to be. Atheist Historicists don’t think gMark is reliable history.

        You asked for an example of a story not borrowed, and I responded with ‘came from Nazareth’. Could you please either clarify what you meant or produce the source for ‘came from Nazareth’?

        • db says

          • ‘came from Nazareth’ is an element of a story. I am not claiming that all elements of a story are “borrowed”.

          However the story element ‘came from Nazareth’ is problematic.

          Per Neil Godfrey (14 March 2012). “Would the historical Jesus of Nazareth really have been named Jesus of Nazareth?”. Vridar.

          Charles Guignebert, Professor of the History of Christianity in the Sorbonne, did see “a problem” with the name “Jesus of Nazareth”, and not just with the “Nazareth” epithet.

          Granting the historical existence of Jesus, we are at once confronted with the problem of his name, Jesus the Nazarene. (p. 76 of Jesus, English translation 1956 but first published in French in 1933. My emphasis)

          […]
          But now we come to a most significant question that must bear a crushing weight even if Nazareth was a Galilean town in the time of Jesus:

          If it is conceded, as it must be, that Nazareth or Nazara was, at the time of Jesus, an obscure little town unknown and unnoticed, the question arises why a surname derived from it should have seemed so characteristic as to become attached to the name of Jesus in the gospel tradition. To indicate the country of the prophet it would have sufficed to call him Jesus the Galilean, just as the first leader of the Zealots was called Judas the Galilean . . . . To distinguish a certain Simon, it is quite natural to call him Simon of Cyrene (Mark xv.21 . . . ) for everyone had heard of Cyrene. But a reference to Nazareth conveys no information. Simon or Andrew are not designated as “of Capernaum.” (p. 83, my emphases)

          Strong indicators Nazarene did NOT refer to a village
          i. Mark 1:21 ff and 5:7
          There are passages in the Gospels where the expression “Jesus of Nazareth” simply does not sound like it refers to a town. Guignebert cites Mark 1:21 ff where the demons confronting Jesus cry out to him, “What is there [in common] between thee and us, Jesus the Nazarene? Dost thou come to destroy us? I know who thou art: the Holy one of God“.

          Now compare that passage with Mark 5:7 in which another demon cries out, “What is there in common between thee and me, Jesus, Son of the most High God?“

          [W]e shall notice, first, that the expression, “Son of the most high God,” stands in the same place in the second passage as “the Nazarene” does in the first, and seems to be equivalent to it; second, that “the Holy One of God” and “the Son of God” express similar conceptions, which shows that the former is simply and expansion of “the Nazarene.”

          • says

            came from Nazareth’ is an element of a story. I am not claiming that all elements of a story are “borrowed”.

            Then, there is room for historical facts to have crept in after all.

            [W]e shall notice, first, that the expression, “Son of the most high God,” stands in the same place in the second passage as “the Nazarene” does in the first, and seems to be equivalent to it; second, that “the Holy One of God” and “the Son of God” express similar conceptions, which shows that the former is simply and expansion of “the Nazarene.

            So, you are taking the two widely separated phrases in Mark 1:24, and saying they are the same thing, and also the same thing as the completely differently worded phrase in Mark 5:7? The phrases look even less alike in Greek than they do in the English translations.

            In the ESV, the phrase “Jesus the Nazarene” does not even appear. What translation are you using? The Greek case for “of Nazareth”, as in Mark 1:24, is completely different from that for “the Nazarene”, as in Mark 14:67.

            I just don’t see how two separated expressions are an indicator that “of Nazareth” has any meaning outside of the town. Is there any other comparable usage for “of Nazareth” meaning something like “son of the most high”?

          • db says

            One Brow says: “In the ESV, the phrase “Jesus the Nazarene” does not even appear. What translation are you using?”

            • The argument is made by Charles Guignebert (1956) [1933]. Jesus, Translated from the French by S. H. Hooke. University Books. I do not know what translation he used.

            One Brow says: “Then, there is room for historical facts to have crept in after all.”

            • Yes it is possible, but if so then there is no way to “separate the wheat from the chaff” per “Historicity Jesus”.

            Per Carrier, Richard (2012). Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-61614-560-6.

            [Per attempts to ascertain the “real” historical Jesus] The growing consensus now is that this entire quest for criteria has failed. The entire field of Jesus studies has thus been left without any valid method. —(p. 11)

          • says

            db,

            I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of skeptic that likes to verify, to some degree, the sources and quotes that people use in their argumentation. If Guignebert made an argument based on a phrase that does not occur, I find that a good reason to question his argument.

            Yes it is possible, but if so then there is no way to “separate the wheat from the chaff” per “Historicity Jesus”.

            Sure there is. We look for the the earliest sources (Paul has several lines confirming Jesus’s physical form having existed), the sources with the least investiture (Josephus, Tacitus), the common threads among the early literature (had brothers, came from Nazareth), and the parts of the story that would be inconvenient for a mythical Jesus (Nazareth again, death as a convicted criminal). There is not much there (you could write the biography in a blog comment), but that is about all you can expect for some itinerant, apocalyptic preacher in early first century Judea whose ministry lasted perhaps a few weeks or months.

  12. wsierichs says

    One Brow:
    I appreciate the detailed commentary on my comment. I won’t try to reply to all of it, but I’d like to point out a few things.

    The existence of similar “facts” about Jesus in the different gospels most likely reflects the fact that Matthew and Luke started with Mark, so Mark is the original gospel; the others borrowed its “facts.” Also, John, the other original gospel, has different “facts” about Jesus, such as naming different disciples.

    I’ve read several scholars who point to reasons why Josephus’ references to a Jesus are Christian interpolations, not original to his history. Examples: An early copy of Josephus does not have the Jesus references, and a 3rd-century Christian list of purported references to Jesus do not cite Josephus. The evidence strongly suggests the interpolations occurred in the 4th century, with Eusebius being the leading suspect. He is known to have manufactured false persecution stories that supposedly happened to early Christians, so it’s certainly possible he inserted the Jesus references. The underlying problem is that we don’t have a non-Christian early copy of Josephus to test. It’s simply impossible to know if the text is authentic. Similarly, we don’t know what the original, 4, official gospels said. There are reasons to think they were edited, added to or revised in some way. The last several verses of Mark are known to be an addition to the text. That’s why the gospels are highly problematic as historical sources.

    Also, the existence of other early “gospels,” that were not accepted as canon in the later 2nd century, adds to the problem. They have different “facts” about Jesus, what he said and did. There is no good reason to think the 4 canon gospels are the most accurate sources, given the many problems with them. All we can say for certain is that early Christians believed the messiah had come. Some certainly saw him as supernatural, and it’s been shown that many “facts” about his life were created by people trying to show how purported Jewish scriptural prophecies were fulfilled in him. The two contradictory stories linking him to Nazareth and Bethlehem are examples of this mythmaking. Both stories are contradicted by known facts of that period. I’ve seen attempts to synchronize them, but it takes a lot of “we have to assume” arguments about the two separate writers’ misunderstandings of history.

    A degree of skepticism is needed for all historical sources and their claims of existence of persons X, Y and Z. That does not mean automatic dismissal, just that each “fact” in a historical text, especially ones from thousands of years ago, must be tested at some point. We have multiple, independent sources of information about Socrates, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Alexader the Great etc. There’s no good reason to doubt their existence. The existence of Homer is in great doubt. All historians know is that he’s credited with a certain body of ancient literature. Problems with his existence have been pointed out.

    The appropriate analogy about a historical Jesus, to me, is King Arthur. The first reference to him dates from a couple of centuries against his supposed existence. His “biography’ subsequently was filled out with lots of fictional stories. So currently we have no way of knowing if he existed. Historians have made an argument, from indirect evidence, that someone might have led Romanized Celt (Britons) resistance in western England to the Anglo-Saxon invasion. One historian has made an argument for Camelot and a number of named figures in northern England and southern Scotland. I have no way to evaluate the evidence here, so I am an agnostic on King Arthur. It would certainly possible that the existence of a leader against the Anglo-Saxons would have been passed on to subsequent generations. You might say it’s probable that some such leader existed. Whether he was named Arthur (a name that could come either from Latin or Celtic sources) and whether the battles attributed to him occurred is impossible to ascertain, pending the discovery of new sources of information from that period.

    Personally, I don’t care if there was a living, breathing Jesus or not. That’s why I consider it an academic debate. Only the discovery of some early, non-Christian source of information about a historical Jesus can end the debate. As of now, we have no way of of knowing if he existed, no way of knowing what he did or said because of the massive problems with the purported sources about him.

    • says

      wsierichs,

      I agree with a great deal of your post. I certainly don’t make any claim to the historical reliability of the gospels.

      I’ve read several scholars who point to reasons why Josephus’ references to a Jesus are Christian interpolations, not original to his history. Examples: An early copy of Josephus does not have the Jesus references, and a 3rd-century Christian list of purported references to Jesus do not cite Josephus

      I would be very interested if you could provide a source for the first claim, since all I have read is that just about every scholar thinks the reference to Jesus, as the brother of James, in Antiquities XX, seems to be original to Josephus.

      As for the 3rd-century list, depending upon who wrote it and why, how do we know it should have included Josephus?

      Similarly, we don’t know what the original, 4, official gospels said.

      Due to the wide number of sources, we have a very good idea about some 95+% of the texts, although that has little relevance for historicity.

      We have multiple, independent sources of information about Socrates, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Alexader the Great etc.

      We have about the same number of independent sources for Socrates as for Jesus (3), to my understanding.

      Personally, I don’t care if there was a living, breathing Jesus or not. That’s why I consider it an academic debate.

      Unfortunately, many atheists try to use the supposed non-existence of Jesus as an attack against Christian beliefs, and it is a bad attack that undermines better ones.

      • db says

        ‘I have read is that just about every scholar thinks the reference to Jesus, as the brother of James, in Antiquities XX, seems to be original to Josephus.

        See:
        • Allen, Nicholas P. L. (2017). “Josephus on James the Just? A re-evaluation of 20.9.1”. Journal of Early Christian History. 7 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1080/2222582X.2017.1317008.
        • Carrier, Richard (2012). “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200”. Journal of Early Christian Studies. 20 (4): 489–514. doi:10.1353/earl.2012.0029.

        • says

          db,

          Certainly, “just about every” does not mean “every”. I’m not familiar with Allen, but this was from his abstract:

          … I attempt to demonstrate Origen’s possible role in the creation of this long-suspected fraudulent text. In this regard, by highlighting a number of Origen’s key philosophical and theological refutations it becomes evident that apart from the unlikelihood of Josephus ever writing about James, Origen must now be considered the primary suspect for what is possibly a third century CE Christian forgery.

          I agree Josephus did not not write about James. Josephus was writing about Ananus son of Anaus, and what he did in his apparently brief term as High Priest, which I think is a topic we can agree Josephus would write about. James comes in as very brief mention of someone that Ananus killed, and Jesus is used to identify which James was killed.

          Not seeing the entire article, what part of this passage is supposedly forged? Any names? The highly unusual (especially for a Christian) phrase “who was called Christ” (compare to part of the the likely interpolated section in XVIII, ” He was [the] Christ”)? Is the claim that we have two different interpolations by two different men at two different times, because the first was not enough? This strains credulity.

          As for Carrier, I could not do more justice to his idea than Tim O’Neill has. The notion of the accidental interpolation over a construct Josephus would not have used to begin with is laughable.

      • wsierichs says

        One Brow

        I’d have to dig through some books to find the claim that a copy of Josephus did not have the Jesus story. I think it was found in Arabia, but that’s from my rather faulty memory.

        If you have not read it, get “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” by Robert M. Price. As far as I know, this is the most-recent, comprehensive review of the evidence for the non-historicity of Jesus. On p. 38, he says Origen did not seem to know of the Jesus passage in Josephus, that it first appears in the 4th century in Eusebius’ writings and subsequent copies of Josephus.

        I agree that saying “Jesus did not exist” as a statement of fact is wrong, and I would not use it in a debate with a Christian. (I’m not a debater, so I wouldn’t get into a debate anyway.) The problem to me is accepting it as a fact that Jesus existed when the evidence is so exceedingly thin and, as with Josephus, questionable. To be clear, I certainly think it is possible that there was an early Christian leader named Jesus. But Christian writers seem to have no certain, commonly-accepted source of information about him, which is why most of what they write is vague and contradictory (one day Jesus was in such a place, another day he was somewhere else; and Mark garbles Middle Eastern geography pretty badly, so either he was not familiar with the places or he used a garbled source), as well as based upon stories invented to “fulfill” Jewish prophecies. Price says some early writers thought Jesus had lived in and been executed in the early 1st century BCE, about a hundred years before the official version of his death. And a writer once pointed out that it’s a puzzle that Jesus was supposed to be an obscure figure in his lifetime, but two decades later there are Christian groups in major cities of the Roman Empire, but then it’s very fast growth stalls for a couple of centuries. A gradual evolution, connected to Jewish synagogues, over a century or so would explain its growth; no need for a fast spurt of growth, followed by stagnation.

        For that reason, I strongly suspect that Christianity evolved out of Jewish and pagan groups that had intermingled, exchanging mystical ideas about a savior god, a messiah and a dying/resurrected god. So I think it’s quite possible Christianity, in a sense, existed for about a century before it’s official birthday. It’s just that by the 1st century CE, Paul and some other early Christian writers started compiling stories of the Messiah and debating, sometimes bitterly, about who Jesus was and what he taught. Paul’s references to people teaching “other Christs” than he would make sense if Christianity was not a group founded by a specific person but a movement of groups that found agreement on some issues about salvation and a messiah. “Jesus” then becomes a useful tool in debate: Jesus said it, that settles it. A parallel is how later writers forged letters attributed to Paul, with several becoming canon, during church debates. Paul said it, that settles it.

        Scholars I’ve read say it’s likely Paul and Peter were enemies, in effect, leading two different groups that called themselves Christians. The Book of Acts, if a 2nd century writing, was written to reconcile these two factions after both Peter and Paul were dead.

        As for Socrates, the quality of the evidence is what makes the difference. Plato and Xenophon knew him, so they had firsthand knowledge, with disagreements about his thinking. Whereas the 3 Christian sources – Paul, Mark and John, don’t agree on much, and Paul’s info has to be inferred in general. He even contradicts something Jesus said, about whether a Christian can eat food sacrificed to a pagan god. His knowledge of Jesus appears to come only from mystical visions. We also don’t know who wrote any of the 4 canon gospels or when they were written, so we have no way of knowing the origins of their knowledge. Paul was supposed to be a contemporary of Jesus, so even if he never met Jesus, he should have known people who did, but Paul doesn’t indicate personal knowledge, only mystical sources.

        • says

          wsierichs,
          I’d have to dig through some books to find the claim that a copy of Josephus did not have the Jesus story. I think it was found in Arabia, but that’s from my rather faulty memory.

          OK. I looked that this wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus
          Apparently Origen “showed amazement” that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Christ, which indicates any interpolation would precede Origen.

          If you have not read it, get “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” by Robert M. Price. As far as I know, this is the most-recent, comprehensive review of the evidence for the non-historicity of Jesus. On p. 38, he says Origen did not seem to know of the Jesus passage in Josephus, that it first appears in the 4th century in Eusebius’ writings and subsequent copies of Josephus.

          That seems odd, since Origen metnions that Josephus does not recognize Jesus as the Christ, as opposed to saying Josephus does not mention Jesus.

          The problem to me is accepting it as a fact that Jesus existed when the evidence is so exceedingly thin and, as with Josephus, questionable.

          I agree all conclusion are provisional until more knowledge is gained.

          To be clear, I certainly think it is possible that there was an early Christian leader named Jesus. But Christian writers seem to have no certain, commonly-accepted source of information about him,

          I agree that any biography that could be written of what we can reasonbly conclude about Jesus would not be worth a 500-word essay.

          Price says some early writers thought Jesus had lived in and been executed in the early 1st century BCE, about a hundred years before the official version of his death.

          Which early writers?

          And a writer once pointed out that it’s a puzzle that Jesus was supposed to be an obscure figure in his lifetime, but two decades later there are Christian groups in major cities of the Roman Empire, but then it’s very fast growth stalls for a couple of centuries.

          I have not read the book reviewed in this link, but the book seems to detail this growth. It looks to me like a logistic growth rate. These rates can seem very flat until there is a sudden rise.

          https://historyforatheists.com/2018/04/review-bart-d-ehrman-the-triumph-of-christianity/

          A gradual evolution, connected to Jewish synagogues, over a century or so would explain its growth; no need for a fast spurt of growth, followed by stagnation.

          Based on 19th/20th century new religions in the US, alternating periods of fast growth and relative stagnation seem to be the norm for new religions.

          For that reason, I strongly suspect that Christianity evolved out of Jewish and pagan groups that had intermingled, exchanging mystical ideas about a savior god, a messiah and a dying/resurrected god.

          We have no writings about these groups, neither supporting them nor condemning them.

          Scholars I’ve read say it’s likely Paul and Peter were enemies, in effect, leading two different groups that called themselves Christians. The Book of Acts, if a 2nd century writing, was written to reconcile these two factions after both Peter and Paul were dead.

          Paul describes meeting with Peter, but also with one of Jesus’s brothers.

          He even contradicts something Jesus said, about whether a Christian can eat food sacrificed to a pagan god.

          What is the contradiction? For example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul says the problem is stumbling other people, not the food itself.

          His knowledge of Jesus appears to come only from mystical visions.

          That, and talking to people who would have known Jesus personally.

          … Paul doesn’t indicate personal knowledge, only mystical sources.

          He indicates personal knowledge of a brother of Jesus.

  13. says

    I still don’t understand why

    1) people would bother engaging in minimal historicity as Carrier has defined it – or with any similar minimal historicity definition

    or
    2) people think this “historical Jesus” is sufficiently evidenced to be relevant to understanding Christianity today or even to the early development of Christianity.

    To flesh out my first objection, minimal historicity doesn’t even require the non-miraculous stories about “minimal historicity Jesus” (hereinafter MHJ) be true or substantially true. A Jesus who wasn’t named Jesus and who spent his entire adult life around the dead sea before pissing off the Romans and being dragged out of a cave for a public execution still passes the MHJ test. There’s no requirement that MHJ delivered the sermon on the mount. There’s no requirement that MHJ be executed in Jerusalem itself, much less Calvary Hill specifically. There’s no requirement that MHJ ever entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey. There’s no requirement that MHJ was a child prodigy at biblical exegesis.

    In short, if there was ever any religious person in Roman Judea who talked to other people and got executed, then we have almost all the requirements of MHJ. All that’s left is that someone, anyone started talking him up as a hugely great guy until, many decades later, worship of the monotheistic God spread to worshipping the mythologized version of the MHJ. There’s no requirement that MHJ wanted to be thought of as a god. There’s no requirement that MHJ started a cult that encouraged people to think of MHJ as a god. Just some guy existed who got executed by the Romans + the early Christians were referencing him at least *some* of the time when they told stories about their new Jesus-god.

    We know as historical fact that Christianity did start. We know therefore that someone did start telling stories about someone – real or fictional – having represented god on earth. Is it possible that there was no reference ever to any real person in the Jesus stories? Yeah. It doesn’t seem likely straight off to a non-expert like me, but it’s *possible*.

    Okay, so then if we accept this MHJ-favorable conclusion as fact despite my lack of expertise, what have we got?

    Absolutely nothing of interest at all. Again, we don’t know if the Sermon on the Mount happened. We don’t know why, much less how, mythological stories became associated with the MHJ. We don’t know the name of the MHJ or the birthdate. We don’t know if MHJ was male – maybe the person who came up with all that “turn the other cheek” religious innovation (or, if it was imported from the east, internalized it and was motivated to spread it in the vernacular language using language and methods relevant to the Jewish cultural context) was a female-bodied cis-woman. That could have easily been the case. I can well imagine a charismatic woman convincing others that this new way of thinking is really awesome … but then after her death finding it hard to spread the creed in a strongly patriarchal society so long as the stories framed the messiah as a woman.

    Maybe that’s an out-there theory that others give a small chance of being true, but there are so many details that are not established by the MHJ test that in order to get someone whose life actually resembles the life of the gospel Jesus (GJ) – even excluding the miraculous bits – you have to start assigning confidence to things like, “Born in Bethlehem,” “gave a well-attended public sermon on a hilltop,” and “gained notoriety and inspired hatred and jealousy among the priestly class before ever attracting the negative attention of the Roman civil authorities”. Very quickly you end up with that “MHJ likely existed” judgement reduced by a thousand small cuts to “someone whose life actually resembled the life of the person we now call Jesus very likely did not exist”.

    So why exactly are people arguing over the sacrifice-in-heaven or sacrifice-on-earth bits? Even if everyone universally accepted that MHJ likely existed, what the fuck does that get us?

    ===> Moving on to the second objection:

    I’ve been schooled by a professional historian lately on what historians mean by the statement “a historical Jesus existed”. I’m told this simply means that the more parsimonious explanation for the evidence that we have – all textual, btw – is that MHJ existed. Many scholars believe that the most parsimonious explanation requires MHJ to have additional qualities (e.g. did most of his preaching around the Kinneret, etc.), but since scholars strongly disagree about what additional qualities are required, there isn’t a consensus on the qualities of this person that reaches substantially beyond what Carrier described as the MHJ.

    Okay, the evidence is easier to believe if we believe in an MHJ than if we believed in any other specific hypothesis on the development of early Christianity, but that doesn’t mean that the MHJ is actually more than 50% likely – even according to the consensus of professional historians.

    But what does that get us?

    The surprising answer (or, surprising to most people) is actually nothing. Since the evidence is all textual and all of the relevant textual evidence is all from the gospels, Acts, and the epistles (albeit including some non-canonical gospels and epistles), then asserting that early Christians believed that a Jesus existed gets us every bit as far as asserting that some MHJ actually existed.

    There’s simply no need of this hypothesis. If you want to explore the potential dynamics of early Christianity’s development, just write a book stating that there are 3 broad categories of hypotheses explaining the evidence:
    1) Jesus was entirely made up
    2) Jesus was loosely based off the life of a person who inspired some of the religious tenets but whose life really didn’t resemble the life of GJ at all
    3) Jesus was loosely based off the life of a person whose life resembled the life of GJ in most respects other than doing magic
    4) Jesus was tightly based off the life of a person whose life resembled the life of GJ in most respects including doing magic.

    Without “proving” that the most plausible hypothesis belongs to one of these specific categories, you can still set up in the forward of a particular paper/book, “I find the evidence for a hypothesis of type X to be sufficient to consider how early Christianity might have developed were such a hypothesis true. Therefore, I’m going to approach this particular work accepting such a hypothesis as a premise.” Scholarship can continue down each of these 4 paths and if someday we actually gain other evidence that allows us to distinguish further between them in terms of their likely resemblance to reality, we can discard as no longer relevant any paths proven to be untenable.

    In short, MHJ tells us virtually nothing and does not resemble the claims that people in the real world make when they assert that there was an actual, historical “Jesus” figure who lived a life resembling that of GJ. MHJ also is not required to move scholarship forward on the issues related to the development of early Christianity.

    Thus with MHJ useless and GJ unlikely, I really see no reason for the arguments that people seem interested in having.

    If you’re arguing for or against a particular interpretation, why not take a moment to explain how confident you are in the details you’ve deduced about MHJ, what those details are (if they exceed Carrier’s MHJ), and what new knowledge is potentially more accessible if we accept your preferred interpretation.

    Without those bits, even educated opinions on the topic seem much ado about nothing.

    • db says

      • Can we all agree on Jesus ben Ananias, and call it a day?

      Per comment by Richard Carrier—April 10, 2016—per “Historicity of Jesus: Live Q&A”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 21 January 2015.

      [I]t’s already in mainstream literature that Mark appears to have modeled the crucifixion narrative on the story of Jesus ben Ananias who died in the 60s during the siege of Jerusalem. (I discuss this and cite the literature in OHJ.)

      And many sayings of Jesus actually originated as sayings of apostles, like Paul. They were then simply repackaged and rewritten as sayings of Jesus.

      Cf. Theodore Weeden. “2jesus“. vridar.info.

    • db says

      Per Noll, Kurt (2012). “Investigating Earliest Christianity without Jesus”. In T. Thompson & T. Verenna (Eds.), Is This Not the Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. pp. 233-266.

      My thesis is that any quest for a historical Jesus is irrelevant to an understanding of the earliest social movements that evolved into the religion now called Christianity. This is the case even if a historical Jesus existed and made an effort to found a movement of some kind.
      […]
      Jesus was functionally irrelevant to the earliest stages of what contemporary researchers call the Jesus movement, or the Christ cult, or the Jesus-confessing communities (and that I will call early Christianity).

    • says

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

      If you’re arguing for or against a particular interpretation, why not take a moment to explain how confident you are in the details you’ve deduced about MHJ, what those details are (if they exceed Carrier’s MHJ), and what new knowledge is potentially more accessible if we accept your preferred interpretation.

      I am 90% confident that Jesus presented as a male with at least one brother (named James) and led a small group of followers who thought he would be the Messiah. I’m about 80% sure he was executed for this. New knowledge accessible from this is 1) that arguing to Christians that Jesus never existed is foolish and diminishes other, better-founded arguments against religion, and 2) this allows us to compare the spread the early-day Christian faith to, for example, 19th century Mormons or Adventists.

  14. says

    db,

    Can we all agree on Jesus ben Ananias, and call it a day?

    You mean, agree he existed? OK.

    [I]t’s already in mainstream literature that Mark appears to have modeled the crucifixion narrative on the story of Jesus ben Ananias who died in the 60s during the siege of Jerusalem. (I discuss this and cite the literature in OHJ.)

    I have no problem with Mark sourcing the details of his story on the crucifixion from later events. Since Paul mentions Jesus’s crucifixion in the 50s, I don’t see how this could be a source of the story that Jesus ben Joseph was crucified.

    • db says

      Paul mentions Jesus’s crucifixion in the 50s

      Option 1) Philo and Paul worshiped the same ahistorical “heavenly man” who was the first created being and viceroy of God, the “image” of God, God’s “firstborn son,” high priest of God’s celestial temple, the supreme archangel, whom God tasked with the rest of creation, and who governs the universe on God’s behalf—the Logos. The ahistorical Logos was grafted on to Jesus ben Ananias, the historical Jesus.

      Option 2) Per radical criticism of the Pauline epistles authorship, the the Pauline epistles may date to the 2nd century.

      Scholars asserting that no reliable evidence of authorship is available per the Pauline epistles:
      • Hermann Detering (2003) [German 1995]. The Fabricated Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight. Translated by Darrell Doughty. Independently Published. ISBN 978-1-981040-81-0. “This book shows that all the Pauline letters are all 2nd-Century fabrications, Catholically redacted from Marcionite gnostic dualist-god original versions.”
      • Robert M. Price (2012). The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul. Signature Books. ISBN 978-1-56085-216-2. “The epistles give evidence of having been written at the end of the first century or early in the second—too late to have been Paul’s actual writings.”

      • says

        Paul worshiped a heavenly man who had also had a fleshly existence as a human in the line of David and had physical brothers. Some of what you attribute to him sounds like it came from gJohn, not Paul. I don’t see where Paul calls Jesus the Logos, for example.

        Cherry-picking the very few scholars who argue for a second-century Romans or Galations (epistles where Paul refers to Jesus as of human descent and talks about meeting his brother) is standing on very slippery ground indeed, particularly if one of them claims claims they are redacted versions of longer texts.

        • db says

          One Brow says: “I don’t see where Paul calls Jesus the Logos”

          • Irregardless of the name(s) used by Philo or Paul, they both worshiped the same ahistorical being.

          Per Carrier (16 December 2017). “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review“. Richard Carrier Blogs.

          Philo’s angel is the same being the first Christians thought their Jesus was. . . . the angel Christians identified their Jesus as definitely came from Jewish angelology.

          • says

            db,

            Irregardless of the name(s) used by Philo or Paul, they both worshiped the same ahistorical being.

            Does Paul ever describe this being as having never been to earth? Or, are you looking at the many descriptions of Jesus being in heaven and overlooking the ones where he is described as human?

  15. Steven Carr says

    Sarah makes a very good point that Jesus must have been human, because the earliest writings gave him human characteristics.

    In the world of that time, the idea of a god having human characteristics was unknown. Only human beings had human characteristics,

  16. Dr Sarah says

    @R.G. Price, comment 5:

    ‘Hebrews 8 and 9 explicitly state that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven.’

    Actually, no. Those chapters describe Jesus as being in heaven at that point – which would be expected on either historicity or mythicism, since the author was writing after his death – but not only does the author not say where his sacrifice took place, they specifically compare it to the High Priest bringing sacricifial blood into the Holy of Holies. In other words, they’re comparing it to a sacrifice made elsewhere and brought to a place considered of ultimate holiness.

    It’s true that those chapters also don’t state that the sacrifice took place on earth, and if those chapters were the only information we had about Jesus then I’d agree that mythicism was a strong possibility, but they’re not the only information we have, and many points in our other information point clearly towards historicism.

    • db says

      Dr Sarah says: “It’s true that those chapters also don’t state that the sacrifice took place on earth…”

      • Hebrews 8:4 excludes Jesus being on earth.

      Per Doherty, Earl (1 June 2012). “16. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 16”. Vridar.

      [Per Hebrews 8:4] The first half of the verse can be translated in either of two ways:

      In a present sense: “If he were on earth [i.e., now], he would not be a priest…” [NIV]

      In a past sense: “Now if he had been on earth [i.e., in the past], he would not even have been a priest…” [NEB]

      Which “time” does the writer mean?
      […]
      To preserve an historical Jesus in the mind of this writer, we must understand a present sense for 8:4. The problem is, a present understanding makes little if any sense, and a past understanding is required by the context.

      • says

        db,

        Do you agree Hebrews 8:4 must be understood in line with the rest of Hebrews? In particular, since Hebrews 7 says Jesus was descended from Judah, that implies earthly existence at one point in time.

  17. says

    @Steven Carr:

    Sarah makes a very good point that Jesus must have been human, because the earliest writings gave him human characteristics.
    In the world of that time, the idea of a god having human characteristics was unknown. Only human beings had human characteristics,

    Are you kidding? What could possibly lead you to say such a thing when it is so **obviously** untrue.

    I am a jealous god

    saith-ed someone or other. Is jealousy a human characteristic?

    Heracles – whom you might know better by his latin name, Hercules – had a wife and kids and a drinking problem in addition to miraculous powers even before he was taken up into heaven and was promoted from demi-god (one parent was a god, one parent was a human) to god. (Maybe death killed only the human half?)

    Apollo, Artemis, Athena, and Demeter all used bows as weapons: was archery skill not a human characteristic? Are you alleging that wombats and iguanas were practiced archers?

    From the trivial – such as archery – to the murderously serious – such as the capacity for jealousy – ***all the gods*** displayed human characteristics.

    What, then, could you possibly be talking about? Nothing coherent, that’s certain.

  18. says

    @Sarah:

    If people did think that this person was some eternal Lord, then why didn’t they record anything about him or things that he said that convinced them that he was this eternal all-powerful Lord?

    Huh? Innumerable Christians have been recording precisely that for the past two millennia. You might need to clarify that question.

    Well, no. Innumerable Christians have not been recording that. I think you’re missing a small but important bit here.

    First, I think that Price is here referring to the process of being convinced that people who met a physical human being (the particular one we would call the HJ or the GJ, depending) in Judea who convinced them that he was god. For those people, who lived in a world where magic was accepted as a part of the world, multiplying fish or transforming water to wine would have been magic, but not automatically the actions of a god. Moses, after all, performed similar magics (e.g. magically supplying food to his followers) without actually being “God” or even “a god”.

    So where are the questioning investigations, the people who met this guy who then write, “And, lo! I thought he was full of shit, but then there came the loaves of bread and I thought to myself, Self, you’ve got to admit this guys got some serious magic tricks! Yet, still then I believed only that he had some mad skills manipulating the magic of the world. It was only when Jesus told me X that I began to believe. Even then, I told him I had doubt Y, but his reply Z overcame those doubts. From that day I have preached his divinity and I believe that you who read this must also see your doubts overcome.”

    The bible doesn’t have any accounts like this, and accounts that happen after his death *can’t* be this – these are people who never met the HJ (or even the GJ in the physical body he used while roaming Judea).

    The multitudes you’re citing simply don’t have the relevant, qualifying experience of having met some guy walking around in a body that then convinced them he was a god.

    There ARE people who have lived in modern times and have met someone walking around in a physical body whom they later came to believe was a god. But those aren’t Christians – by definition they have hailed as a god someone **other** than that guy from Judea.

    So while you’re saying some generally reasonable things, I think this criticism of Price’s vagueness is off-base, because you’re not considering all the criteria here – including the crucial one of having met the HJ – and are instead only considering whether ***anyone*** has ever discussed the basis for their belief in Jesus’ godhood. If I may be so bold, I think that the confusion arises from a specific misunderstanding:

    If people did think that this person was some eternal Lord, then why didn’t they record anything about him or things that he said that convinced them that he was this eternal all-powerful Lord?

    The confusion, I suspect (though feel free to correct me) comes from presuming that the bold “he” was the same as the italicized “lord”. Modern people aren’t ever talking to that “he”. They are reading things written about that “Lord”.

    The criterion of having met the HJ is implicit in asking for things that “he said”. If you’re confused about who is that “he”, I can see how you would think Price’s statement was vague. However, I don’t happen to believe that it’s vague, because I think that the “he” is specific enough to avoid any potential vagueness.

    • says

      First, I think that Price is here referring to the process of being convinced that people who met a physical human being (the particular one we would call the HJ or the GJ, depending) in Judea who convinced them that he was god.

      I’m not sure if you meant “God” or “a god” there. Either way, to my understanding the notions of actual divinity for Jesus grew over the first few decades of the Christian church. You can see this in the way we go from a more human Jesus in Mark though a more divine Jesus in John. Anyone who would have met and followed HJ would have thought of him as the Messiah, what they would have a title for a human.

  19. says

    The bible doesn’t have any accounts like this,

    Actually, that’s wording that overstates my confidence. I don’t know why I said it like that. What I mean is that I don’t remember the bible having accounts like this though my limited knowledge of the Christians’ bible makes my lack of knowledge poor evidence.

    I guess I was induced to state things more confidently than my own observations would justify because Price seems implicitly confident that the Christian bible doesn’t have accounts like this.

  20. rationalrevolution says

    Hi Dr Sarah,

    I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to start reading my book yet. Again, I’m not going to address most of these points, because they are addressed much more thoroughly in my book than I could do here. and would prefer that you take in the whole case before we start diving into details. I will address Hebrews, however, again because I don’t address Hebrews in my own book.

    Firstly I note that Richard Carrier has provided an excellent analysis of Hebrews on pages 538-552 of On the Historicity of Jesus. If you have not read this then I strongly recommend that you do, as it fully addresses your interpretation.

    So, as Doherty, and Drews before him, have pointed out, one of the major problem that many people have with interpreting the pre-Gospel epistles is that they are all based on a worldview that essentially no longer exists. They are based on a Platonic worldview in which the heavens are a copy of the things on earth. There are multiple layers of the heavens, of which the top layer is purely spiritual. As you descend through the heaven you become “more and more material”, finally arriving on earth, which is the completely material world. In some cosmologies there are 3 layers of heaven, 5 in others and 7 in others, and I think I’ve even heard of 9 layers of heaven. This is where we get the phrase being in “Seventh Heaven” from. In that case, the 7th level of heaven is the top layer, etc. In many such cosmologies the lowest level of heaven is a fully material world where immortals may reside or spend time in. Beings from the upper heaven can and do descend to the lower heavens, and even to earth, but beings of the lower realms cannot typically ascend to higher realms without the help of beings from the higher realms.

    And it is in these layers of heaven that the mythology of Jesus takes place in the epistles, including Hebrews. Now what makes this confusing is that events in the heavens are often described very similarly to how events on earth may be described. But this is not unique to the Christian epistles, this was common in ancient literature among the Greeks, Romans, Jews, etc. Indeed I provide many examples of this in my book, specifically from pre-Christian Jewish lore.

    So let’s look at Hebrews 9:
    “11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come,[h] then through the greater and perfect[i] tent[j] (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit[k] offered himself without blemish to God, purify our[l] conscience from dead works to worship the living God!”

    “23 Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

    And notice in Hebrews 7 in discussing Melchizedek it says that we was:
    “3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

    This is saying that the on of God is without father, without mother, without genealogy, and has existed eternally. What Hebrews and Paul both describe is a heavenly drama in which the eternal Christ has descended into the lower heavens and offered himself as a final blood sacrifice.

    “26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other[f] high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”

    We can go back to Hebrews 1:
    “1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,[a] whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains[b] all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

    Following this, the writer then provides many quotes from the Jewish scriptures. It is those quotes that the writer uses to tell the story of Jesus. The writer is explicitly saying that these scriptures are where the knowledge of Jesus comes from. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus by quoting from scripture. The writer is explicitly saying that Jesus, an eternal being, has spoken to us through scripture. The ancient scriptures are the voice of Jesus.

    Now, one would have to ask, of course, assuming that Jesus was a real person, what would this real human Jesus have done to cause people to think that he was the embodiment of this eternal heavenly Son of God, whose death served as a final sacrifice? Hebrews tells us not one single thing about the life of Jesus, and obviously sees no need in doing so. Hebrews presents a Son of God, who has existed eternally, whose importance is made evident through scripture. There is no explanation in Hebrews, or in any pre-Gospel epistle, as to why a real person would have been thought to be this eternal heavenly being.

    And don’t just take my word for this understanding, or Richard Carrier’s or Early Doherty’s, even look at what the Jesus Seminar says: https://www.westarinstitute.org/projects/the-jesus-seminar/jesus-seminar-phase-1-sayings-of-jesus/excerpt-from-the-introduction-to-the-five-gospels/

    “For Paul, the Christ was to be understood as a dying/rising lord, symbolized in baptism (buried with him, raised with him), of the type he knew from the hellenistic mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.”

    Now the folks at the Jesus Seminar think that Jesus was areal person and that Paul and others wrongly ignored Jesus the man, but the point is that they fully acknowledge that the Jesus of Paul was a mythic figure. They talk about how the early worshipers of Jesus seemed to have “forgotten” about the person and instead worshiped a mythic heavenly deity. They view the Gospels as the correction to this, as a specific conscious effort to refocus the community on the real person. But they clearly understand that indeed the pre-Gospel description of Jesus was mythic.

    To be clear, I’m not going to reply to this and I don’t want to get into the weeds on Hebrews, as obviously it’s not central to my thesis as I didn’t even address it in my book. Once you finish the book we can take it from there.

    All the best.

    • says

      rationalrevolution@20

      And it is in these layers of heaven that the mythology of Jesus takes place in the epistles, including Hebrews.

      If the text contained even one reference to layers of heavens, this would be an excellent point. However, there is no reference at all to these layers in Hebrews, as far as I know.

      So let’s look at Hebrews 9

      24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

      Notice the text does not say anything like ‘the next layer of heaven’ here? Just “heaven”.

      And notice in Hebrews 7 in discussing Melchizedek it says that we was:
      “3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

      This is saying that the on of God is without father, without mother, without genealogy, and has existed eternally.

      Melchizedek was a flesh-and-blood, historical person to the author of Hebrews (AoH), and was a priest without a priestly father, mother, or geneology, and whose priesthood was not altered by the Aaronic line of priests. Melchizedek was not some mystical-only, non-historic figure.

      Later, in that same passage, AoH refers to Jesus as “descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (ESV) Human origins, human descent.

      What Hebrews and Paul both describe is a heavenly drama in which the eternal Christ has descended into the lower heavens and offered himself as a final blood sacrifice.

      How did he manage descent from Judah in this (undescribed and unreferenced) lower heaven?

      Now, one would have to ask, of course, assuming that Jesus was a real person, what would this real human Jesus have done to cause people to think that he was the embodiment of this eternal heavenly Son of God, whose death served as a final sacrifice?

      Nothing. Why is is necessary that a human Jesus have done something? While indicates he believes Jesus was a human, he also says very little about Jesus’s human life, and draws his teaching from his visions of Jesus.

      There is no explanation in Hebrews, or in any pre-Gospel epistle, as to why a real person would have been thought to be this eternal heavenly being.

      I agree that no explanation is provided. Why should there be one?

  21. db says

    Understanding the difference between “Middle Platonism” and “Platonism” is crucial, they are not the same.

    • Cf. Arthur F. Holmes. “A History of Philosophy | 18 Middle and Neo-Platonism”. YouTube. wheatoncollege. 14 April 2015.

    In the context of “Middle Platonism”, the following interpretation may hold: “[We] speak a message of [the second-god] among the mature . . . we declare [first-god’s son], a mystery that has been hidden and that [first-god] destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” —(1 Corinthians 2:6-8)

    • db says

      Per the OP: “I don’t know of anyone who was worshipping Jesus for his teachings. Paul created a theology in which Jesus was a magical sacrifice sent by God to wipe clean everyone’s sins, and this evolved over time into a theology that believed that Jesus was part of God and thus worshipped him on that basis.”

      • Paul upon joining the sect perhaps called the “Brothers of the Lord”—that we term “Christians”—held that his “Lord”, the second-god, had died while incarnate in a human body, thus bringing glory to humanity.

      Per Boyarin, Daniel (2010) [2004]. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-0384-4.

      I think, that worship in the incarnate Logos is a novum, a “mutation,” . . . introduced by Jesus people, but the belief in an intermediary, a deuteros theos [second-god], and even perhaps binitarian worship was common to them [Jesus people] and other Jews. —(p. 119)

  22. wsierichs says

    I found the reference to Josephus, and I have to correct what I mis-remembered. In “Did Jesus Exist,” 1975, p. 10, G.A. Wells said that an Arab text, “World History,” was translated in the 10th century by Bishop Agapius of Hierapolis and has a “less complimentary” reference to Jesus as “was perhaps the Messiah.” So the text does include the “testimony,” but not the more assertive “Jesus was the Messiah.” An orthodox Jew like Josephus would not have written that Jesus or anyone else was the messiah unless he really believed it, in which case he would have made it the core of a text, not a parenthetical brief remark. Wells offered a brief explanation as to why the translation might have been modified by the bishop.

    Wells wrote several books arguing that a historical Jesus probably did not exist – and did not need to exist to explain the rise of Christianity. In “Did Jesus Exist,” he explained why he does not think Josephus wrote about Jesus. He expanded this in “The Jesus Legend,” 1996, pp. 47-56. As briefly as I can summarize it, Josephus was writing about disasters suffered by the Jews, particularly under Pilate. The “testimony” appears to have been inserted to make the crucifixion one of the disasters – something Christians would have been expected to find in the Pilate section – but it’s out of context, so it’s an awkward insert. Wells said a scholar, L. Feldman, identified 2 church Fathers in the 2nd century, 7 in the 3rd and 2 in the early 4th centuries who cited Josephus but do not mention his references to Jesus. It first appears in Eusebius’ writing. Further, 3 Fathers in the later 4th century and 5 in the 5th cited Josephus but not the “testimony. Wells takes this as evidence that the “testimony” only began to be included in Josephus translations after Eusebius, and more than a century passed before the altered text was in widespread use. (Irritatingly, Wells does not identify Feldman, only citing “Josephus.” A Louis Feldman wrote scholarly works about Josephus and a translation of part of his writings, according to an internet search.)

    Wells added that a Russian copy of “The Jewish War” from the 15th century included additional information about Jesus, his disciples and John the Baptist, which means that Christians did interpolate and expand on things in Josephus. Wells goes on for several more pages in arguing why the two passages were not in Josephus’ original text. He noted Christian scholars, and sometimes their arguments, that one or both passages are authentic, but also Christian scholars who cite problems with the two passages. Read “The Jesus Legend” for the full argument.

    BTW, Wells accepted that Tacitus did make a reference to Christians and Christ, against some skeptics who think the passage was a Christian addition, but also argued that Tacitus was simply quoting what Christians told him and did not do any original research, so he did not know that Jesus existed, only that Christians in his day believed it.

    • db says

      Current “Testimonium Flavianum (JA: 18.63)” scholarship includes:
      • Whealey, Alice (2016). “The Testimonium Flavianum”. In Chapman, Honora Howell; Rodgers, Zuleika. A Companion to Josephus. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 345–355. ISBN 978-1-4443-3533-0.
      • Hopper, Paul (2014). “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63.”. In Fludernik, Monika; Jacob, Daniel. Linguistics and Literary Studies / Linguistik und Literaturwissenschaft: Interfaces, Encounters, Transfers / Begegnungen, Interferenzen und Kooperationen. De Gruyter. pp. 147–169. ISBN 978-3-11-037068-3.
      • Olson, Ken (2013). “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum”. In Johnson, Aaron P.; Schott, Jeremy M. Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations. Center for Hellenic Studies. pp. 97–114. ISBN 978-0-674-07329-6.
      • Feldman, Louis (2012). “On the Authenticity of the ‘Testimonium Flavianum’ Attributed to Josephus”. In Carlebach, Elisheva; Schacter, Jacob J. New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations. Brill. pp. 13–30. ISBN 90-04-22117-4.

      Cf. Carrier (16 February 2017). “Josephus on Jesus? Why You Can’t Cite Opinions Before 2014“. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    • db says

      Per Carrier (23 September 2016). “Three Things to Know about New Testament Manuscripts”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

      [Per the Jewish Antiquities by Josephus] all extant manuscripts of the Antiquities are copies (of copies of copies of copies…) of the same singular manuscript owned and used by Eusebius at his own Christian library in Caesarea. This means we cannot expect any versions of the text different from or predating that single manuscript to be available to us in any manuscript there is today.

      This means all variants prior to that (including the original form of the text as Josephus wrote it) are permanently lost and invisible to us. Every error and distortion and mistaken “correction” that got into the text in that one single Eusebian manuscript, from its own copying from an earlier manuscript in that same library (used by Origen), which said significantly different things, and every error and distortion and mistaken “correction” that got into the text in the long process of transmission down through numerous reproductions before Origen even acquired his copy, will never show in the surviving record. All manuscript evidence there would have been proving those variant readings, has been 100% lost. Probably forever.

      That the entirety of all Josephan scholarship is only trying to reconstruct the text as it was in the single centuries-late manuscript held by Eusebius in the early 4th century, and cannot ever reconstruct any version of the text prior (down to and including the original text as known to Josephus in the late 1st century), is an extremely significant thing to realize.

    • says

      wsierichs

      I found the reference to Josephus, and I have to correct what I mis-remembered. In “Did Jesus Exist,” 1975, p. 10, G.A. Wells said that an Arab text, “World History,” was translated in the 10th century by Bishop Agapius of Hierapolis and has a “less complimentary” reference to Jesus as “was perhaps the Messiah.”

      Echoing the statement of Origen, Antiquities XX and and the portions of Antiquities XVIII (the Testimonium Flavium) often thought to be genuine.

      So the text does include the “testimony,” but not the more assertive “Jesus was the Messiah.” An orthodox Jew like Josephus would not have written that Jesus or anyone else was the messiah unless he really believed it, in which case he would have made it the core of a text, not a parenthetical brief remark.

      Agreed.

      Wells wrote several books arguing that a historical Jesus probably did not exist – and did not need to exist to explain the rise of Christianity. In “Did Jesus Exist,” he explained why he does not think Josephus wrote about Jesus.

      Except, we have two different mentions, and almost all scholars consider the one from Antiquities XX

      Wells said a scholar, L. Feldman, identified 2 church Fathers in the 2nd century, 7 in the 3rd and 2 in the early 4th centuries who cited Josephus but do not mention his references to Jesus.

      What matters is that we have a 3rd century church father who does mention the Josephus mentions Jesus.

      BTW, Wells accepted that Tacitus did make a reference to Christians and Christ, against some skeptics who think the passage was a Christian addition, but also argued that Tacitus was simply quoting what Christians told him and did not do any original research, so he did not know that Jesus existed, only that Christians in his day believed it.

      Was that something Tacitus did often, in Wells opinion? Did he provide other examples of this?

  23. Dr Sarah says

    @db, comment 6:

    A couple of quibbles:
    a) He would in actual fact have been named Yeshu or Yeshua, as Jesus was the Latinised version of the name, which a historical Jesus wouldn’t have used.
    b) I’d add ‘This is the movement which grew into what we now know as the Christian faith’. (As Crip Dyke pointed out, it’s otherwise theoretically possible that there might have been some other movement of people following a Yeshua who was executed while meanwhile Christianity arose from a mythical Yeshua/Jesus.)

    And, yes, I’ve seen Carrier’s figures. The main problem is that he leaves most of the possible pro-HJ reasons out of his calculation entirely. (He comes up with explanations for them, but then leaves them out of the probability calculation, which is not something he should be doing unless he can be 100% certain that his explanation is the correct one, which of course nobody can.)

    Comment 8:

    ‘…when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical.’

    Agreed. The flip side of this, though, is that when we find details that seem to be in active contradiction with the prophecies and prototypes, it seems more likely that those details are historical.

    ‘1. Do you concur, that when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently derived from from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides, then we cannot but suspect that they are mythical rather than historical?’

    Yes.

    ‘2. How many stories in the Gospels and Acts, do you find to be borrowed from the Greek Old Testament, Homer, or Euripides? Or more simply, which ones are not?’

    I’m not familiar with those sources, so I’ll give you the points which I think are far more likely to be historical and explain why. If you think there’s an explanation from another source that holds up, I’m happy to listen to it.

    a) Jesus coming from Nazareth. Matthew and Luke both come up with complicated and clearly invented stories to explain how it happened that someone who grew up in Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem. It’s easy to see why they wanted the story to have Jesus born in Bethlehem (fulfillment of Messianic prophecy), but a lot harder to see why, in that case, they would put in the confusing detail about him growing up in Nazareth, which they then had to be at such pains to explain away.

    b) The discussions about Sabbath healing. Maccoby (Revolution in Judaea) points out the ways in which the arguments Jesus uses are in fact typically Pharisaic in nature (for example, the ‘If… then how much more…’ format was a very well-known format used by Pharisees of that time, and apparently the Talmud records almost precisely the circumcision vs. Sabbath healing comparison that Jesus made). It is of course possible that the gospel writers could have simply copied Pharisee arguments instead of OT sources or Greek mythology sources in that case, but then that leaves the question of why on earth they would want to put the arguments of Jesus’s supposed arch-enemies in his own mouth.

    c) The claim that Jesus was brought before the Romans (the powerful ruling group) for behaviour that in fact certainly would have been considered potentially seditious (claiming to be the Messiah and having a group of followers who believed this). While the gospel writers energetically tried to soft-pedal this as much as possible, and cast as much blame as they could on the Jews rather than the Romans, we do still, at the centre of all this, have a leader who apparently claims to be the Messiah, gets brought before the Romans, and gets executed. That’s a pretty awkward story to be inventing about the leader that you want people to believe in.

    d) Similarly, the fact that the gospel writers all name one specific person – Pilate – as having been the one who issued the death warrant. Once again, you have all of them desperately trying to soft-pedal this… but, at the end of the day, it’s still in there. They could have just referred to him by some vague term – the leader, the procurator. Instead, they’ve pointed the figure (in however downplayed a way) at a powerful Roman. Why would someone choose to risk inventing a story that did this and going public with it?

    Bear in mind that the problem with each of these is that the gospel writers had a strong motive not to include it (the first two contradicted other points they were trying to make, while the last two had the potential to cause real trouble for their fledgling movement). So the question with each point is not just ‘Is there somewhere the gospel writers could have copied this point from?’ but ‘What would motivate them to include something that’s so clearly counter to their aims?’

    • rationalrevolution says

      Hi Dr Sarah,

      I’m not sure how much, if any, of my book you have read yet. I believe a lot of this is addressed by that material.

      “a) Jesus coming from Nazareth. Matthew and Luke both come up with complicated and clearly invented stories to explain how it happened that someone who grew up in Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem.”

      This is addressed in the book. Indeed they do come up with invented stories. They say he came from Nazareth because they are copying from Mark, who said he came from Nazareth. I explain in the book why it is likely that Nazareth is a fictional invention (the symbolism of the name and its relation to literary references). There is no record of such a place even existing.

      “b) The discussions about Sabbath healing.” There is no evidence that anything in any of these stories is anything other than fictional invention by the authors. You have to think about what the authors are trying to achieve with the dialog. The Gospel of Mark is full of irony. The Gospel of Mark is nothing like what Christians have interpreted it to be. Clearly the story basically condemns all of the “disciples”. Every disciple abandons Jesus. The only people to really recognize Jesus as the Son of God are Romans and women. Male Jews are made out to be fools and traitors. The story is full of inside jokes and double meaning throughout, especially the disciples. Arguably the disciple are made out to be the worst people in the whole story. Mary Ann Tolbert and Tom Dykstra do a good job covering a lot of this analysis in their works that I mention on the book site: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/support.html

      The point is, trying to think about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” expect to see in the story based on the idea that the story was intended to be a foundational religious document that put Jesus and the Christian movement in a good light is a major error in perspective. There is nothing in the story that indicates that was the intention of the writer. The later Gospel writers who copied the story of GMark revised the original story to spin it that way, but that’s not how GMark was written.

      “c) The claim that Jesus was brought before the Romans (the powerful ruling group) for behaviour that in fact certainly would have been considered potentially seditious (claiming to be the Messiah and having a group of followers who believed this). ”

      See above. There is nothing in the Gospel of Mark that indicates that the writer of the story was trying to establish Jesus as a real person who people should worship. I assume from this comment that you haven’t read the book yet because this is at the core of the thesis of the book.

      “What the Gospel of Mark actually is, is a fictional allegory that was likely written sometime between 70 and 80 CE in reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War and the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans.” pp xx

      “the motivating factor that drove the author to write the story that we now call the Gospel of Mark was the destruction of the temple and the war itself. Jesus is just a literary device used in an allegorical framework to tell a story about how the Jews brought destruction upon themselves. That’s what the story is really about. The motivation behind writing the story was to comment on the war; Jesus is a device used for the telling of that tale.” pp 2

      “d) Similarly, the fact that the gospel writers all name one specific person – Pilate – as having been the one who issued the death warrant.”

      One of the main points of the book is demonstrating that every single biography of Jesus is copied from a single story. Everything is a copy of the “Gospel” of Mark. The evidence that I lay out for this in the book is overwhelming. I have yet to have a single person actually read the book and dispute the findings. So the fact that “multiple sources” “attest” to something is meaningless if all of those sources are just copies of the original story.

      I’ve gotten feedback from dozens of people on the book so far. The strongest rebuttal I’ve gotten from people who actually read the book is, “Well, but its not totally conclusive that it was totally impossible that ‘some Jesus’ could have existed, though he would be someone we don’t know anything about and the Gospels aren’t really about him.”

      Literally that’s the strongest rebuttal. I’ve had no one dispute the major points of the case, only to dispute that the word “proved” can’t be fully accepted because they claim that nothing in history is really provable (I disagree). But in terms of showing that the story of Mark is completely fictional with no basis in reality and that every story about Jesus is a copy of this story – I’ve had no one be able to dispute that based on the case I’ve laid out.

      • says

        rationalrevolution,

        I explain in the book why it is likely that Nazareth is a fictional invention (the symbolism of the name and its relation to literary references). There is no record of such a place even existing.

        “In 2009, Israeli archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre excavated archaeological remains in Nazareth that date to the time of Jesus in the early Roman period.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth

        “Well, but its not totally conclusive that it was totally impossible that ‘some Jesus’ could have existed, though he would be someone we don’t know anything about and the Gospels aren’t really about him.”

        Literally that’s the strongest rebuttal.

        “Price’s thesis fails because Jesus’ story doesn’t conform to Jewish myths enough.”

        https://historyforatheists.com/2017/05/did-jesus-exist-the-jesus-myth-theory-again/

        • rationalrevolution says

          Yes, we know that there are remains of settlement at the place later called Nazareth, but there is no evidence that it was called Nazareth at that time. What the evidence suggests is that this tiny settlement came to be identified as Nazareth because no such place could be found.

          But even if there was some tiny town called Nazareth, the point is that the selection of this place as “Jesus’ place of origin” has everything to do with the symbolism of being a Nazirite. This is just one more symbolic literary reference.

          • says

            If Jesus is a Nazarite, why does he drink wine in Mark 15, yet still get referred to as a Nazarite in Mark 16? Why does “of Nazareth” appear in the genitive?

            Is there any evidence that the tiny town from early first century CE, located in the area of the current Nazareth, had a different name?

            You are taking the more complicated explanations of events to twist the meanings of the text to suit your interpretations. I’m sure it’s as much fun as any fundamentalist has doing the same thing.

    • db says

      The most probable date of composition of the Gospel According to Mark is typically given as 66–70 CE, however there is no secure and verifiable confidence of the existence of the Gospels until the latter half of the second century with the writings of Irenaeus.

      • Dr Sarah, if 132 CE was—for the sake argument—the actual date for the composition of the Gospel According to Mark, would that affect any of the points a – d, per the points which you think are “far more likely to be historical” given above? @Dr Sarah, comment 23

      • says

        db,

        If 40 CE was the actual date of composition for gMark, how would that affect your views?

        Do you think hypotheticals based on highly unlikely interpretations are useful?

        • db says

          If 40 CE was the actual date of composition for gMark.

          Then the ahistorical Logos of Philo was grafted on to the historical Jesus who was someone like Jesus ben Ananias, but who died during the “Jerusalem Administration of Pontius Pilate” (likely by crucifixion) rather than during the “Fall of Jerusalem”. Then later, Paul ignores this historical Jesus.

          • says

            db,

            Then the ahistorical Logos of Philo

            I am not aware of the location Paul refers to Philo in his writings. Could you point them out?

            Then later, Paul ignores this historical Jesus.M

            We agree he ignores the details of Jesus’s life, but he still talks about Jesus as both a heavenly figure and a human.

          • db says

            One Brow says: “I am not aware of the location Paul refers to Philo in his writings.”

            • Paul does not refer to Philo or use the name “Logos” used by Philo.

            • Irregardless of the name(s) used by Philo or Paul, they both worshiped the same ahistorical being.

            One Brow says: “We agree he ignores the details of Jesus’s life, but he still talks about Jesus as both a heavenly figure and a human.”

            • Carrier and Doherty assert that Paul does talk about Jesus as a human in the abodes of mythological deities, but not on Earth.

          • says

            @db,

            • Paul does not refer to Philo or use the name “Logos” used by Philo.

            • Irregardless of the name(s) used by Philo or Paul, they both worshiped the same ahistorical being.

            Then, to equate the being worshiped by Paul and Philo, you need to show exacting correspondences. It’s not enough to say there are similarities in their approach, you have to show the details are exactly the same. For example, did Philo’s worshiped being have some savior figure who was killed for the sins of men? If not, that’s a very different being than the one Paul worships. If we are discussion the author of gJohn, there are strong parallels to to Philo, but also strong differences. Paul lacks even the parallels.

            Carrier and Doherty assert that Paul does talk about Jesus as a human in the abodes of mythological deities, but not on Earth

            Some people assert the earth is really flat. However, Paul never mentions that there is more than one abode of mythological deities, and never talks about anything happening specifically in a secondary abode. That is being read into Paul’s text. Rather, Paul discusses Jesus having parents, being a human descendant of David, suffering at the hands on earthly kings, etc.

          • db says

            @One Brow,

            Paul never mentions that there is more than one abode of mythological deities…

            Per Aune, David E. (1997), Word Biblical Commentary (WBC), 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5, Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22. ISBN 978-0-8499-0251-2.

            Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). —(Revelation 1—5, p. 318)

            to equate the being worshiped by Paul and Philo, you need to show exacting correspondences

            Per Carrier (14 February 2016) [now bolded]. “Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

            [Per Nordgaard, Stefan (8 June 2011). “Paul’s Appropriation of Philo’s Theory of ‘Two Men’ in 1 Corinthians 15.45–49”. New Testament Studies. 57 (03): 348–365. doi:10.1017/S0028688511000075] Nordgaard points out that the “two man” theory Paul uses here actually comes from Philo (or predecessors of both who developed this theory), and Philo was perfectly comfortable talking about an earthly “man” and a heavenly “man,” even when the latter never had a mortal body of flesh at all nor ever resided below the heavens!

            […] As Nordgaard explains:

            Philo developed his theory of the two men on the basis of the creation narratives given in the book of Genesis. As is well known, Genesis offers two different accounts of the creation of the human species (one in 1:26-27 and another in 2:7). While this has suggested to modern scholarship that the text of Genesis has come down to us as a compound of different sources, it suggested to Philo that God had created two categorically different ‘types of people’ (Leg. 1.31): a ‘heavenly man’ (ouranios anthrôpos), ‘fashioned in the image of God’ (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), and an ‘earthly man’ (gêinos anthrôpos), ‘moulded out of clay’ (cf. Gen 2:7). [Ibid. p. 353]

            Philo in fact says this “heavenly man” is the first created being and viceroy of God, the “image” of God, God’s “firstborn son,” high priest of God’s celestial temple, the supreme archangel, whom God tasked with the rest of creation, and who governs the universe on God’s behalf. Philo says this Being is the Logos. The same exact being the Gospel of John says Jesus is. But Paul was already saying this. He only never had occasion to use specifically the word “logos,” aka the ‘word’ or ‘reasoning’ of God (though Paul does say Jesus is the ‘wisdom’ of God, which is what Philo equated with the logos of God), and doesn’t get around to discussing his celestial priesthood (that’s in Hebrews 9); but every other identification Paul made. And to know Jesus by so many specific and unusual attributes is an impossible coincidence. Paul clearly only knew his Jesus to be this supernal figure known to Philo. There is no evidence any Christians before him thought differently.

          • says

            Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). —(Revelation 1—5, p. 318)

            A minor error is that Paul specifically denies that this is his own experience, and sates he is relating the experience of someone else. More importantly, Paul says “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know” (ESV), indicating this could be just a vision, not a description of a real place. Since Paul never details this third heaven and does not describe it, we don’t know if it corresponds to Philo’s beliefs or not.

            Per Carrier (14 February 2016) ,

            Carrier’s use of the word “clearly” does not relieve of the burden to present a non-circular argument. I will note that Carrier does not present any text from Philo saying these firstly created men and women were Philo’s Logos, and the appearance of Philo’s concepts in gJohn is no evidence they are to be found in Paul.

            By the way, 1 Cor 5 would be an occasion to refer to Jesus as the Logos, if that is what Paul believed.

  24. Dr Sarah says

    @wsierichs, comment 12:

    The ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ line in Josephus is quoted (disapprovingly) by Origen, around the middle of the third century. Even apart from that, it’s thought to be extremely unlikely that that particular line was a Christian interpolation, as it’s extremely unlikely that a Christian would refer to Jesus as ‘Jesus called Christ’ (rather than ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ or similar), or that a Christian putting in an interpolation would make it so short. I’ve never heard of anyone other than mythicists believing that particular line to be an interpolation. It’s plausible that you’re remembering comments made about the Testimonium Flavium, but that’s a completely different passage.

    The problem with the King Arthur analogy is that, as you say, the first reference to him dates his existence to what would have been a distant past even at that time. The same, so I gather from Carrier’s book, is true for examples in Roman/Greek times where people invented stories about the gods having been on earth. So, when we get a set of books that appear to have been written within the first century after this person supposedly existed – or, to put it the other way round, who are apparently dating the life of the person they’re describing not to some dim and distant past but to more recent times – then that in itself is a clue that this person is likely to have existed. It’s certainly not conclusive in itself, but it does make it more likely that the person they describe existed, and, as I’ve been arguing, it’s one of many factors pointing towards this person existing.

    ‘Scholars I’ve read say it’s likely Paul and Peter were enemies, in effect, leading two different groups that called themselves Christians. The Book of Acts, if a 2nd century writing, was written to reconcile these two factions after both Peter and Paul were dead.’

    Interestingly enough, I agree completely with nearly all of this (the one bit I’d possibly disagree with is the dating of Acts) and would consider it another piece of evidence for historicity. If these two men were indeed leading different groups with completely different theological ideas, what, other than a common founder, could have drawn them together?

  25. Dr Sarah says

    @Crip Dyke, comment 13:
    I can’t speak for anyone else in the debate, but, personally, the reason I spend time reading about this and debating it is the same reason most people spend time on their hobbies; because it’s something I find interesting and enjoyable.

    I think of it as an equivalent of chess, or Sudoku, or learning trivia about the war (any war). Sure, it’s not of any practical use; but it’s still good mental exercise that quite a few people enjoy as a way to spend their time. And that is a perfectly good reason.

    Comment 17: Not wanting to split too many hairs here, but, actually, a lot of people throughout the centuries have believed that Jesus has ‘spoken’ to them (through revelations) or done things for them (because they get something that’s beneficial to them and attribute it as a personal favour from Jesus) and consider those to be part or all of their reasons for believing Jesus is Lord. And we know that Paul formed his beliefs after Jesus after having an experience which he believed to be Jesus speaking to him. So, as far as I can see, the likely reason why the ‘eternal Lord’ bit got into the beliefs about Jesus does seem to be ‘I believe Jesus was speaking to me and told me this’ rather than ‘I knew Jesus when he was alive and here’s what he said’.

    As for what R.G. Price meant, I agree it probably was ‘If people who actually met this person did think that he was some eternal Lord…’ but I’ve had enough experience of religious debates to know it can be a bad idea to assume you know what someone else is saying when it’s not clear. Otherwise, you end up in a situation where you only realise a few exchanges later that you’ve been completely talking past each other. 🙂

  26. wsierichs says

    Dr. Sarah:

    The dating of the 4 official gospels is unknown. They’re traditionally assigned to the period 70-90 CE, so that it’s plausible that some of Jesus’ disciples would still have been alive, and the year 70 is used because the destruction of Jerusalem (cited in the “Little Apocalypse”) could have triggered Christians to start writing down Jesus’ life and teachings. Even if this dating is accurate, it still means 1-2 generations passed after Paul’s writings, so the veracity of the gospels would have been difficult or impossible to check. By the time the gospels started any significant circulation (when enough copies had been made to pass around), few would have any memories of a historical Jesus, so any fictions would have been hard to counter.

    But we don’t know who wrote the 4 official gospels and when they were written. The only – repeat, only – certain dating is that by the late 2nd century (170s is the number I remember) bishops of what would become the orthodox church began treating these 4 particular gospels as authentic. So they could have been written in the 2nd century, or at least substantially revised, before they become the recognized gospels. I’ve read some things that question the official dating. Robert M. Price walks through the overall evidence in “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.” He even suggests (he cites some other scholar) that the “Little Apocalypse” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 135, and the persecutions were under bar-Kochba. He says one scholar even argues that the version of John we use dates from the early 3rd century. I can’t begin to parse the scholarship on this, so just read him.

    Wells pointed out reasons to think the “brother of Jesus” remark was not authentic. I’ll have to let him make the case.

    Price points out how it’s a “coincidence” that the church began putting its stamp on official scripture in the aftermath of the Marcionite heresy and its “Bible.” I take the dating of Acts particularly from him as he sees it as an attempt to reconcile the Peter-Paul feud (following the writing of Luke by the author of Acts) when things had cooled down enough for the groups to start cooperating. He sees the current version of Luke as a rewriting of the version used by Marcion, if not a new version altogether.

    So if the gospels were written or substantially revised a century or more after Jesus’ life, that makes the King Arthur analogy quite appropriate.

    As a side note: The link between Jesus and Nazareth could come from references to him as a Nazarene or Nazorean, which would simply have meant that he was believed to be a member of a sect called Nazoreans. See Price, p. 55.

    That’s why I cannot accept the idea that the gospels were written soon enough after Jesus’ supposed existence to have access of memories of him. Maybe they were, but the genuine problem with any date for the 4 official gospels makes the argument untenable to me. Maybe they’re 1st century, but unless positive evidence is found, I have to treat them as simply question marks.

      • db says

        • The internal evidence of the Gospels gives us a start by date (terminus a quo). The external evidence gives us the finish by date (terminus ad quem).

        Per Neil Godfrey (1 January 2012). “Scientific and Unscientific Dating of the Gospels”. Vridar.

        The first time we have secure and verifiable confidence of the existence of the Gospels is in the latter half of the second century with the writings of Irenaeus.

        Working back from that position we come to Justin in the mid second century and find some indirect hints that he may have known of the Gospels in a form not far removed from how we know them. Justin certainly speaks of quite a few things we find in the Synoptic Gospels. We sometimes find a phrase here and there in other works that we find likewise appear in the Gospels.

        • says

          db,

          What do you think is the minimum time span between the authorship of the Greek gospels and their acceptance by Justin Martyr as historical, if as you claim the Gospels were written as allegories? Did it take the entire congregation 20 years to forget what they believed? 30?

          • db says

            • Pliny attests a bottleneck in the growth of Christianity, therefore if Christianity was on the verge of extinction then, the transition of understanding the “Gospel According to Mark” as allegorical to historical would likely occur in one or two generations, promoted by the supporters of the newer gospels written as historical, who would drown out and erase any protest of this transition by a rapidly dying out minority.

            Per video by Carrier, Richard (Aug 30, 2017). “Why Invent the Jesus?“. Google Plus: Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba.

            (time 25:05) [Per a bottleneck in the growth of Christianity] we have a letter of Pliny the Younger — the first time in history that any non-christian we have mentions the existence of Christians. In 110 AD he writes a letter about this and what that letter reveals is that there actually were extremely few Christians. . . . another thing that he points out is that most of the people that he interviewed . . . had quit being Christians like 20 years before or 10 years before. So very few people were actually still Christians and there’s so few of them that even Pliny the Younger didn’t even know what they were guilty of or why they were illegal. (time 26:05)

          • says

            @db,

            What bottleneck? We have a typical logistic growth curve, from what I can tell.

            Justin Martyr starts writing about 155 CE. If you date Mark to after 100 CE, you don’t even have 50 years. There will be Christians who joined in their teens/20s around 100 that are still alive in 160. The suggestion is that in 50 years, the teaching about Jesus went from his having no earthly existence at all, to complete acceptance of some sort of fleshly, earthly existence, in the span of less than 50 years, and we don’t have a any sort of denunciation at all of the “no earthly existence” belief (despite the existence of denunciations for groups like the Gnostics, who taught a purely divine Jesus had an earthly avatar, which would have been a historical presence), and yet it is erased with no remaining trace. When in human history has this happened with any other religion, ever?

    • db says

      the “Little Apocalypse” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 135, and the persecutions were under bar-Kochba.

      Per Neil Godfrey (10 February 2007). “Little Apocalypse and the Bar Kochba Revolt”. Vridar.

      If one reads the Little Apocalypse against the background of the Bar Kochba rebellion “not a single element needs to be excluded from the entire text” as a later interpolation.

      Cf. Theissen, Gerd. Lokalkolorit und Zeitgeschichte in den Evangelien. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. 2. Aufl. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1992, ISBN 3-525-53522-8.

      The fewer the number of textual fragments that under no circumstances can be fitted intot the presumed context and, as such, must be excluded as later interpolations, the better the final result.

  27. neilgodfrey says

    Why do two of the gospel writers describe Jesus as coming from Nazareth, even though this was clearly very awkward for them to the point where they had to make up detailed and implausible stories explaining how he had really come to be born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth?

    This is a common expressed point but it is an inference or speculation, not a fact, We cannot read the minds of the authors to know that they were embarrassed. Recently I posted points by two highly renowned scholars, Richard Horsley and Raymond Brown who both pose very good reasons for disputing the rhetorical point. Horsley points out that the gospel narratives do not make the Nazareth/Bethlehem question prominent at all, that it is merely a backdrop to the more important narrative of prophetic fulfillment. And Brown points out that Jesus had been gaining popularity and increasing numbers of converts presumably without his Nazareth birth being any sort of hindrance to their accepting his messiahship. (For details see Questioning.

    Why do the gospel writers all name a powerful Roman as being the person who ordered Jesus’s crucifixion, even though they clearly realised the risks of this and took great pains to gloss over and explain away this part of the story as much as possible?

    Again there is no danger or embarrassment among the pre-gospel Christians. Paul had no problem boasting in the crucifixion of Christ. He raises no concern at all with how Roman authorities might react to his gospel. And when the gospels depict the episode they do exactly what Josephus did to win the approval of Romans: just as Josephus went to great lengths to show how kindly natured was his character, so much so, that bad Jewish rebels took advantage of his compassion and pushed him to extremes, so the evangelists show how sure they were that Pilate was wanting to release Jesus but he was overpowered by the horrible Jews. There is no “great pains” here. It was how historians wrote about Romans to win their approval. And besides, the simple fact that the story did not point to any blame on the part of the followers or Jesus, nor did Pilate seek to hunt them down, too, further portrays the Christians as being entirely innocent as Pilate himself well knew. It was all the Jews’ fault, — that was the message, and the Jews were so evil that they pushed a merciful Roman into a corner.

    But as for historical inquiry, we can’t begin with the assumption that the gospel narratives were derived from real events. We need first to establish the nature and sources of the gospels before making assumptions about the narrative they present. Otherwise I think we are arguing in a circle: we know Jesus existed because the gospels say he did; and we know the gospels are talking about the real Jesus because it was from the real Jesus that stories about him arose and that were put into the gospels.

    • neilgodfrey says

      Josephus was describing the good natured and compassionate nature of Titus — sorry, I left out that important detail. (I’m basing that on Josephus specialist Steve Mason’s recent book.)

    • says

      But as for historical inquiry, we can’t begin with the assumption that the gospel narratives were derived from real events. We need first to establish the nature and sources of the gospels before making assumptions about the narrative they present. Otherwise I think we are arguing in a circle: we know Jesus existed because the gospels say he did; and we know the gospels are talking about the real Jesus because it was from the real Jesus that stories about him arose and that were put into the gospels.

      We know Jesus existed because Paul, Josephus, and Titus said he did,and we know the gospels are telling us somethings about what they believed about that Jesus, which stories have many legends and tales wrapped around some kernel of fact.

  28. Dr Sarah says

    @wsierichs, comment 22:
    I think you’re misunderstanding my point with regard to the dating of the gospels. It’s not that I think that those dates would make them reliable with regard to the details of Jesus’s life; it’s that this sort of dating is not what we would typically be looking at if the gospels were mythical stories about someone who never existed. Mythical stories were typically set a lot further back in the past. (At least, that’s the information I got from reading Carrier’s ‘On The Historicity Of Jesus’, and since he’s a mythicist and this fact works completely against his argument I take it seriously.)

    I don’t have Wells’ book. If he has any arguments for the inauthenticity of the ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ comment (not the Testimonium Flavium, which is a separate Josephan passage and not the one I’m referring to) then by all means post them.

    @comment 22: With regard to the entry in Tacitus, Tim O’Neill has a good article on this at https://historyforatheists.com/2017/09/jesus-mythicism-1-the-tacitus-reference-to-jesus/, in which he points out two problems with the idea that Tacitus got his information from Christians:

    a) It’s not the type of information a Christian would typically have given if asked to explain his or her faith to a non-Christian; it’s not likely their focus would have been on the person who ordered Jesus’s execution.

    b) Since Tacitus’s disdain for Christians is very clear, it’s unlikely that he would have either gone to them for this information or accepted it unquestioningly if he did; it’s therefore likely that this came from another source.

    • db says

      • Tacitus’s Annals passage (15.44) could be equally based upon hearsay and/or popular/traditional folklore.

      Per Allen, N.P.L. (2015) Clarifying the Scope of Pre-Fifth-Century C.E. Christian Interpolation in Josephus’ Antiquitates Judaicae (c. 94 C.E.). Unpublished Philosophiae Doctor thesis, Potchefstroom: North-West University. available online @ http://dspace.nwu.ac.za/handle/10394/14213

      [Per Annales, XV, 44] If we disregard the glaring warning signs contained in this passage, including the preposterous reference to Pontius Pilate’s execution of someone called Christus, [^64] and naively accept (as does Meier and company), that this passage is authentic, it still does not supply the historian with any tangible evidence for the historical existence of Jesus (of Nazareth) in the early part of the first century C.E. As stated, and taken at face value, this information is at best a second-hand account that could be equally based upon hearsay and/or popular/traditional folklore.

      If one takes a more critical view, the passage has all the signs of a deliberate attempt to paint the Romans as responsible for the indiscriminate and mindless persecution of Christians. Considering that Christians supposedly preached peace and deliberately conducted themselves in ethically upright ways hardly explains why they are described here as hating mankind. —(p. 54)

      [note:64] The Roman authorities are hardly likely to have kept detailed records of every crucifixion victim in the provinces. Furthermore, if Jesus of Nazareth’s execution had indeed been recorded by Pontius Pilate’s clerics he would not have been referred to as “Christ”. Indeed, if the term “Christ” had been used in Jerusalem in c. 33 C.E. it would not have made any sense to either Jesus of Nazareth or Pontus Pilate. Similarly it would have meant very little to Tacitus in the early second century C.E. Therefore, if the latter actually wrote “Christus” he would have believed it to be a personal name. In this regard, it could never have been based on a Roman record but more likely hails from a Christian tradition. —(p. 54)

      • says

        @db
        Tacitus’s Annals passage (15.44) could be equally based upon hearsay and/or popular/traditional folklore.

        This would be totally out of character with how Tacitus treats other material. Perhaps moon rays from Mars caused a mental glitch?

        If we disregard the glaring warning signs contained in this passage, including the preposterous reference to Pontius Pilate’s execution of someone called Christus, [^64] and naively accept (as does Meier and company), that this passage is authentic, it still does not supply the historian with any tangible evidence for the historical existence of Jesus (of Nazareth) in the early part of the first century C.E.

        Sure, it was some other guy called Christ who was killed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius and had followers three decades later. How many do you you think there were?

        Furthermore, if Jesus of Nazareth’s execution had indeed been recorded by Pontius Pilate’s clerics he would not have been referred to as “Christ”.

        So, Tacitus used a contemporaneous, common reference to a man who went under a different name, or there were two men who used that name and had identical fates and noticeable following thirty years later. Which seems more probable?

    • MrHorse says

      The ‘fact’ that “Mythical stories were typically set a lot further back in the past” is moot, especially as the early if not immediate deification of Roman emperors was then a thing. Hadrian deified Antinous immediately, too.

      There was a mood for new stories …

      • says

        MrHorse,

        No one is disputing the adding of mythical elements to the stories of real people, like Roman emperors or Jesus. It’s the creation of wholesale myths that was set in the past.

        • MrHorse says

          One Brow,
          What do you mean by the bare, mere statement that “It’s the creation of wholesale myths that was set in the past”?

          I think it’s likely that happened: that, in the post Roman-Jewish Wars period, a celestial messianic figure was increasingly personified / anthropomorphised. Then set in the first century as or to be prophetic stories (and tied to various Neronian myths, including both the Nero-redivivus and antiChrist ones.

          The progression through the second century patrisitc fathers’ commentaries supports that.

          • says

            MrHorse,

            For a comparison of your theory on Jesus going from celestial to material, you gave the comparison of deifications by the Roman emperors, which would be going from material to celestial. You surely have noticed this difference in direction, correct?

            So, what I meant was that myths that begin with the celestial tend to be set in the far past. Not something that a god did last decade, but 1000 years ago or more. If you know of exceptions, I’m interested in hearing them.

            Who were the second century patristic fathers who believed that Jesus had no earthly presence at all? My understanding is that even the Gnostics believed Jesus had some sort of physical representation on earth, just not a human body.

            Meanwhile, out earliest source (Paul) may not discuss Jesus’ earthly ministry much, but certainly refers multiple times to Jesus being a human descendant of of physical humans. So, when did this celestial-only belief system begin? Where are the controversies over disagreements with it’s principles (as we have for the Gnostics, Ebionites, etc.)?

  29. db says

    @Dr Sarah, comment 28:

    Wells, G. A. (1986) [1975]. Did Jesus Exist? (2nd revised, corrected and expanded ed.). Pemberton. ISBN 9780301860015.

    The second passage in Josephus which mentions Jesus consists of half a dozen words in a paragraph about an intemperate Sadducean high priest who in AD 62 brought a number of men before the Sanhedrin as ‘breakers of the law’ and ‘delivered them to be stoned’. The victims are described as ‘James and certain others’, and James is further Specified as ‘the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’. Now it is unlikely that Josephus would have mentioned Jesus here simply – as it were – in passing, when he mentions him nowhere else. Nor can his silence be defended by alleging that he habitually suppresses mention of leaders of Messianic proportions. O’Neill gives details of his mention of ‘perhaps ten leaders who gathered followings and might have been considered Messiahs by a people who were looking for the Messiah’. None of these men actually called themselves Messiah, but neither – according to O’Neill and other theologians – did Jesus (317, pp 158, 165). In Josephus’ entire work the term ‘Christ’ occurs only in the two passages about Jesus and his brother James. This hardly strengthens the case for their authenticity. Schũrer, Zahn, von Dobschũtz and Juster are among the scholars who have regarded the words ‘the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ as interpolated. The words have the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who, according to Christian tradition, led the Jerusalem Church about the time in question. This reader accordingly noted in the margin: ‘James = the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ (cf. the wording of Mt. 1:16: ‘Jesus. him called Christ’) and a later copyists took this note as belonging to the text and incorporated it. Other interpolations are known to have originated in precisely such a way. And it is also of interest that even a second century Christian account of ‘James the brother of the Lord’ (that of Hegesippus, preserved as a quotation in Eusebius) represents him as in some respects a Jewish rather than a Christian saint. This lends some force to my suggestion that the James of whom Josephus wrote was within Judaism. —(p. 11)

    Wells, G. A. (1982). The Historical Evidence for Jesus. Prometheus.

    Josephus’ other, briefer reference to Jesus, although often impugned (see DJE, p 11) is still defended by some scholars (sometimes on obviously inadequate grounds, as I shall show, p 211). But it too is set aside as being interpolated, by L. Herrmann, whose Chrestos. Témoignages pai’ens et juifs sur Ie christianisme du premier siécle (Brussels, 1970) is a thorough investigation. —(p. 18)

    Martin, Michael (1993). The Case Against Christianity. Temple University Press. pp. 49, 70, n. 38. ISBN 978-1-56639-081-1.

    [Per Antiquities 20.9.1] Scholarly opinion is divided over whether this passage is a Christian interpolation. (See, for example, J. C. Davies, The Early Christian Church: A History of Its First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1965), p. 7; R. Joseph Hoffman, Jesus Outside the Gospels (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1984), p. 55; Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p. 18.)

    • Not to confuse with 1 Corinthians 9:5 and Galatians 1:19

    Wells, G. A. (1986) [1975]. Did Jesus Exist? (2nd revised, corrected and expanded ed.). Pemberton. ISBN 9780301860015.

    I argued in HEJ (pp 167ff) that James is given this title [the Lord’s brother] because he belongs to a Jerusalem group which Paul calls the brethren of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:5), a term which is perfectly intelligible as the title of a religious fraternity. Paul complains (1 Cor. 1:11–13) of Christian factions which bore the titles ‘of Paul’, ‘of Apollos’, ‘of Cephas’ and — most significant of all — ‘of Christ’. If there was a group at Corinth called ‘those of the Christ’, there may well have been one at Jerusalem called the brethren of the Lord, who would have had no more personal experience of Jesus than Paul himself. —(p. 21)

    Cf. Wells, G. A. (1982). The Historical Evidence for Jesus. Prometheus. pp. 167ff.

    • says

      db,

      The words have the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who,

      A Christian marginal gloss would have said Jesus *was* the Christ, not that he was called the Christ. Also, when would this Christian have made this marginal gloss? It must have been before Origen.

      Scholarly opinion is divided over whether this passage is a Christian interpolation.

      In the sense that a handful or so still argue it is an interpolation, while the vast majority disagree.

      I argued in HEJ (pp 167ff) that James is given this title [the Lord’s brother] because he belongs to a Jerusalem group which Paul calls the brethren of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:5), a term which is perfectly intelligible as the title of a religious fraternity. Paul complains (1 Cor. 1:11–13) of Christian factions which bore the titles ‘of Paul’, ‘of Apollos’, ‘of Cephas’ and — most significant of all — ‘of Christ’.

      So, you propose a theory in which Paul supports and then opposes these fraternities in the same epistle, just to avoid the obvious meaning of the text?

  30. rationalrevolution says

    This has gone about like I expected, which is why I said I wasn’t going to engage in this discussion until Dr Sarah read my book and addressed the content of that book. Virtually everything talked about here is meaningless and misses the point and is full of easily disproved misconceptions.

    It’s like trying to have a discussion about the moon landing with people who keep bringing up irrelevant side issues, saying things like,”You can see the shadow of a camera man on the edge of this picture!” and “But the flag does’t move like it should in the video!”, etc. etc. Addressing all of those inane issues over and and over again is a complete waste of time, and so I don’t engage in that, and that’s all that’s gone on here.

    The case I’ve put forward in my book is sound, well supported, and easily proved by a volume of concrete evidence. No one here has engaged with nay of that materiel. That’s fine, real scholars are engaging with it and the support is growing. Press releases and reviews are coming soon. December is going to be a busy month….

    • db says

      • Hopefully Dr Sarah will do another post reviewing your book.

      @rationalrevolution is the newest version revised and expanded, and what is the published date?

      Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed
      By R. G. Price
      ISBN: 9781483487847
      Published: October 27, 2018
      Pages: 370

  31. Dr Sarah says

    @db, comment 29:

    Thanks. OK, going through this:

    “Now it is unlikely that Josephus would have mentioned Jesus here simply – as it were – in passing, when he mentions him nowhere else.”

    Question-begging, surely? We don’t know that Josephus mentions Jesus nowhere else, because we don’t know whether the Testimonium Flavium is partly genuine or not. While there’s enough doubt about the TF being partly genuine that it’s no good for proof of historicity, there’s also enough doubt about it being entirely false that we can’t make categorical claims that Josephus ‘mentions [Jesus] nowhere else’.

    “Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who, according to Christian tradition, led the Jerusalem Church about the time in question. This reader accordingly noted in the margin: ‘James = the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ (cf. the wording of Mt. 1:16: ‘Jesus. him called Christ’) and a later copyists took this note as belonging to the text and incorporated it.”

    This is the kind of explanation that seems at first sight to make perfect sense… until you sit down and work through the details of what would have to happen.

    1. What, in this case, did the original sentence say? If we take the phrase ‘brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ out of the sentence we’ve got, then that leaves us with that part of the sentence running, in English, “and brought before them whose name was James and some others”, which doesn’t grammatically work. Can anyone who knows Greek tell me whether the sentence would work in the original Greek? I’m dubious.

    We could of course try rewriting that phrase grammatically and thus hypothesise an original sentence that reads “and brought before them James and some others”, or possibly “and brought before them a man whose name was James and some others”. So, if a scribe was trying to rewrite that sentence by incorporating the phrase “the brother of Jesus, him called Christ”, then why on earth would they go for the odd construction of rephrasing the original in order to put that phrase before the word James, when the way that someone would naturally assume that phrase would be incorporated into those sentences would be as “and brought before them James, the brother of Jesus, him called Christ” or “and brought before them a man called James, the brother of Jesus, him called Christ”?

    2. Why would someone reading Josephus read the name ‘James’ – one of the commonest male names at the time – and leap straight to the conclusion that this meant this one particular James, out of all the possible Jameses in Jerusalem that it could have been? To the point of writing a marginal note about it? It’s really quite a leap.

    3. Why would a Christian reader writing a marginal note phrase this as ‘Jesus, him called Christ’? Firstly, as One Brow pointed out, that’s a very unlikely phrase for a Christian to use about Jesus. It’s not unknown – no less a person than the author of gMatthew used the phrase ‘called Christ’ at one point in his gospel – but, as far as I’m aware, there are almost no other examples. It would be vastly more typical for a Christian to refer to Jesus simply as ‘Jesus Christ’, or perhaps ‘Lord’, or some other variation on the phrase ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Secondly, this purported reader is supposedly making a note in the margin. They’d have very little space. Why would they add in the extra words ‘tou legomonou’, which would have been not only theologically problematic for them, but also entirely unnecessary in very limited space?

    • db says

      • Nicholas Peter Legh Allen argues that the following points hold for the “James Passage (JP)“, i.e. Jewish Antiquities 20.200.

      Per Allen, N.P.L. (2015) Clarifying the Scope of Pre-Fifth-Century C.E. Christian Interpolation in Josephus’ Antiquitates Judaicae (c. 94 C.E.). Unpublished Philosophiae Doctor thesis, Potchefstroom: North-West University. available online @ http://dspace.nwu.ac.za/handle/10394/14213

      [N]o reliable extra-biblical/scriptural accounts exist to support the historical existence of, inter alia, Jesus of Nazareth, James the Just or John the Baptist. —(p. ii)

      […] 4.7 Chapter Four Summary Based on the arguments reviewed thus far it can be ascertained that:

      1. Apart from the JP we do not have any other extra-biblical evidence that James even existed. Here, the Dead Sea Scroll literature cannot serve as evidence for James’ existence. Based purely on the NT it is possible to surmise that he was believed to be Jesus’ sibling, favoured circumcision and held a senior leadership position in the Jerusalem Church in the first century C.E. However, it is solely Christian tradition that supplies details of his trial and death;

      2. All Christian apologists cited (Origen, Eusebius and Jerome) misquote Josephus as regards the reasons for the destruction of Jerusalem. This means that, apart from them possibly regurgitating a Christian tradition, they were certainly capable of embellishment or there once existed a Josephan text that is now lost;

      3. Origen quotes the JP practically verbatim strengthening the notion that he had read it. However, he never refers to the JP as the JP – only in the context of quoting Josephus in order to justify the spurious cause for the destruction of the Temple;

      4. The JP is far less embellished than one would expect from the details of the Christian tradition;

      5. James’ mention is cursory. It has been suggested that he is only mentioned because his illegal execution causes Ananus to be deposed. However, given that he is uncharacteristically refered to as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” cannot be dismissed as being merely incidental;

      6. If a Christian forger had inserted a reference to Jesus in the JP, he would have more likely ensured that it received more prominence. However, this factor really depends on the actual opportunity and intentions of the forger. One should not generalise the specific reasons for this possible forgery;

      7. Josephus’ JP account differs in time and details from the official second century Christian accounts, suggesting early authorship;

      8. Albinus arrived in Jerusalem in c. 59 C.E. and could not possibly have arrived as late as say 68 or 70 CE as intimated by the Christian tradition. Therefore, if the Christian tradition is correct then the JP is a proven forgery. If the JP is authentic then the Christian tradition is inaccurate;

      and

      9. The preceding passages leading up to the JP appear to be skipping vital information.
      —(pp. 326f)

      • says

        @db,

        • Nicholas Peter Legh Allen argues that the following points hold for the “James Passage (JP)“, i.e. Jewish Antiquities 20.200.

        You can argue the sky is dark green, that doesn’t make you correct.

        [N]o reliable extra-biblical/scriptural accounts exist to support the historical existence of, inter alia, Jesus of Nazareth, James the Just or John the Baptist. —(p. ii)

        As long as you discount all the sources, sure.

        […] 4.7 Chapter Four Summary Based on the arguments reviewed thus far it can be ascertained that:

        1. Apart from the JP we do not have any other extra-biblical evidence that James even existed. Here, the Dead Sea Scroll literature cannot serve as evidence for James’ existence.

        We don’t have evidence, because Paul doesn’t count, Josephus doesn’t count, and the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t count.

        5. James’ mention is cursory. It has been suggested that he is only mentioned because his illegal execution causes Ananus to be deposed. However, given that he is uncharacteristically refered to as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” cannot be dismissed as being merely incidental;

        A brief, cursory mention of James can not be dismissed as being incidental, merely because it is incidental to the passage in question. Got it.

        6. If a Christian forger had inserted a reference to Jesus in the JP, he would have more likely ensured that it received more prominence. However, this factor really depends on the actual opportunity and intentions of the forger. One should not generalise the specific reasons for this possible forgery;

        One should provide reasons to suspect forgery to begin with.

        7. Josephus’ JP account differs in time and details from the official second century Christian accounts, suggesting early authorship;

        Perhaps authorship by Josephus.

        8. Albinus arrived in Jerusalem in c. 59 C.E. and could not possibly have arrived as late as say 68 or 70 CE as intimated by the Christian tradition. Therefore, if the Christian tradition is correct then the JP is a proven forgery. If the JP is authentic then the Christian tradition is inaccurate;

        Obviously.

        9. The preceding passages leading up to the JP appear to be skipping vital information.
        —(pp. 326f)

        Vital to whom? Not Josephus, since he was discussing Ananus.

  32. Dr Sarah says

    @rationalrevolution: Don’t know whether you saw my latest post, but my plan regarding your book is to read the whole thing before starting the review, rather than reviewing it as I go along. I’m fine with either approach, but assumed you’d prefer this one; otherwise I’m bound to be raising questions as I go along that are in fact answered later in the book. If you’d prefer me to review as I go along, just let me know.

    I’ve got another (and completely different) review project I want to work on (as well as finishing CCCFK), but I will keep on reading your book in the background, and start the review when I’ve done that, unless you want me to start it earlier.

  33. neilgodfrey says

    If we turn to a study of how historians work and what methods they use, we soon find that testimonies of Josephus and Tacitus are worthless for a reconstruction of Christian origins. Historians rely first and foremost on contemporary evidence and sources. That applies just as much to ancient as to modern history. So the historians that carry the most weight are those who identify themselves and explain to readers how they came by the information they wrote about.

    Sometimes we can tell which historians are more reliable than others and that is generally as a result of independent corroboration of their narrative. The events surrounding the life of Julius Caesar is a classic example.

    Other times we can find reasons to doubt the reliability of an ancient historian even when he claimed to have personally checked a written source himself, or was an eyewitness. Herodotus is a classic example of an ancient historian who claimed to be using and witnessing reliable sources that some historians have come to disbelieve entirely.

    Some historians are a mix of truth and fiction. Thucydides, for example, drew upon literary sources to recreate his “eyewitness account” of the plague of Athens.

    I have addressed this point of methodology many times now, citing numerous ancient historians, and have yet to find an exception to the general principles I set out above. When biblical or other historians claim that the NT gospels are “fantastic sources” about Jesus they are simply wrong if judged by the standards of historical inquiry by renowned professionals in the field of ancient history. One does not even have to turn to the works of M.I. Finley and co — one only needs to consult “manuals” for budding doctoral students in history to find the same principles.

    • db says

      Per Lataster, Raphael (2015). “Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories – A Brief Pseudo-Bayesian Metacritique of the Sources”. Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies. 6 (1): 63–96. ISSN 2155-1723.

      There are no primary sources (contemporary and eyewitness sources) for the life of the historical Jesus. [^12] Primary sources are vital to historians, not only as they provide direct evidence, but also serve as the benchmark by which secondary sources are measured. [^13] Unfortunately, biblical scholars do not have access to primary sources, arguably rendering all of their conclusions about the historical Jesus as susceptible to doubt. —(p. 65f)

      [note:12] Martha C. Howell and Walter Prevenier, From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 17-20. —(p. 65)

      [note:13] Leopold von Ranke, Sarah Austin, and Robert Arthur Johnson, History of the Reformation in Germany (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1905), p. xi.; Louis Reichenthal Gottschalk, Understanding History: A Primer of Historical Method (New York: Knopf, 1950), p. 165. —(p. 66)

      • says

        db,

        …arguably rendering all of their conclusions about the historical Jesus as susceptible to doubt.

        I agree all conclusions regarding the historicity of Jesus are subject to doubt. Currently, that Jesus existed is merely the best explanation of all the various lines of evidence we have, but more evidence could certainly change that conclusion.

    • says

      neilgodfey,

      If we turn to a study of how historians work and what methods they use, we soon find that testimonies of Josephus and Tacitus are worthless for a reconstruction of Christian origins.

      I agree. They tell us just about nothing about how the church began and developed, so there can be no reconstruction based on them. Their only value in this discussion is that they verify there was a human being around which the sect began, which does not do anything to allow us to reconstruct the origins of Christianity. Why do you think this point is relevant to the discussion of the historical existence of Jesus?

      Other times we can find reasons to doubt the reliability of an ancient historian even when he claimed to have personally checked a written source himself, or was an eyewitness.

      Do you have reasons doubt Tacitus’ or Josephus’ general reliability? If not, why is your point relevant to this discussion?

      • db says

        • Tacitus on Jesus is not reliable.

        Per Hermann Detering ap. Martin Bauer (30 September 2011). “Neue Zweifel an der historischen Existenz Jesu”. Humanistischer Pressedienst (hpd) (in German).

        [Bauer] Ist die berühmte Christenverfolgung unter Kaiser Nero, die uns Hollywood so eindrücklich vor Augen führt, nicht ein Hinweis auf ein frühes Christentum, und somit wenigstens indirekt auf Jesus?

        [Detering] Auch an dieser Stelle herrscht bei den frühchristlichen Zeugen wieder einmal tiefes Schweigen. Der von dem römischen Historiker Tacitus behauptete Zusammenhang von Rombrand und Christenverfolgung ist ihnen unbekannt. Es ist kaum anzunehmen, dass die christlichen Apologeten diesen schweren Vorwurf auf sich und ihren Glaubensbrüdern hätten sitzen lassen – wenn sie davon gewusst hätten. Dass die Christen wegen ihrer angeblichen Brandstiftung von Kaiser Nero verfolgt worden sein sollen, wird erst im 4. bis 5. Jahrhundert von dem Verfasser der gefälschten Korrespondenz zwischen Paulus und Seneca und von dem Kirchenhistoriker Sulpicius Severus behauptet. Auch hier ähnelt die Passage bei Tacitus der Stelle bei Sulpicius Severus sehr stark in Wortwahl und Ausdruck. Vermutlich hat ein späterer Christ die Tacitusausgabe mit einem Auszug aus dem Werk des Sulpicius „ergänzt“.

        Cf. Detering, Hermann (2011). Falsche Zeugen außerchristliche Jesuszeugnisse auf dem Prüfstand (in German) (1. Aufl ed.). Alibri-Verl. ISBN 978-3-86569-070-8

        • says

          db,

          The notion of a Christian interpolater referring to Christianity as “mischievous superstition” and “evil” is far-fetched, and Deterus seems to overlook that Suetonius had also referred to the Christian persecution under Nero, just a few years after Tacitus. So, I don’t trust his reasoning in doubting Tacitus.

          • db says

            • Per Carrier the Tacitus passage is, only in the relevant part, fraudulent.

            Carrier ap. “Transcript of interview with Dr Richard Carrier, Part 3”. The Free Thought Prophet. 1 October 2016.

            [time: 1:06:30] What had convinced me what was authentic before was the Tacitean style but what Roget’s argument is, is that just the one line about Jesus being executed, or Christ being executed by Pontius Pilate, just that one bit was the interpolation that was added later. The rest of the story is true but it’s the story about the Chrestiens, who were these Jewish rebels in Rome, following this instigator Chrestus, who was a completely different guy, where we have evidence from Suetonius. That’s his argument and that actually makes a lot of sense. When you look at the fact that nobody had ever heard of this story in Tacitus. Not even the Christians themselves, who were writing stories about Nero’s persecution of Christians, had ever heard of this story in Tacitus, for like 200 years, or really 300 years. The first time that anyone seems to notice that there was this Neronian persecution of Christians, involving the Fire Of Rome, the first time anyone seems to notice it, is in the late 4th century, decades and decades after someone forged the Seneca and Paul correspondence.

            In the early 4th century, someone invented or forged all these letters between the philosopher Seneca and Paul the apostle. It’s a fascinating read but it’s complete 100% bullshit. In that, there’s a letter that’s in the voice of Seneca, saying something about like, yeah isn’t it tragic that when there was the Fire Of Rome and the Jews were scapegoated and the Christians were thrown in too and they were all killed under Nero. That’s the first time anyone invented a story that we can see, where Nero persecuted Christians in connection with Christian Fire, and that author was connecting it to a persecution of Jews. That’s interesting because that’s not in Tacitus, but that is in Tacitus if you wipe out the one suspicious line. Then he’s talking about the Chrestiens who were these Jews who were scapegoated for the fire. So it looks like whoever forged the Paul-Seneca correspondence, took this seed of this opposition to the Chrestiens and the scapegoating of them for the fire under Nero in Tacitus, and just threw some Christians in there to get a Neronian persecution. Whoever wrote it knew there was a Neronian persecution, even though all the previous stories of a Neronian persecution coming from the Christians, have nothing whatever to do with the fire and do not talk about a mass persecution. It’s just Peter and Paul and maybe at most a few other companions and that’s it. Again, it is not connected to the fire at all.

            Then, suddenly we find this line gets added to Tacitus, it appears to be added to Tacitus, where it now fully assimilates the Chrestiens with the Christians. It says that was actually a passage about the Christians and then ever after, the Jews being involved is completely forgotten. It’s just the Christians being persecuted by Nero. [time: 1:09:30]

            See: “Jameson and Mythicism” Episode #28″. The Free Thought Prophet. 9 September 2016.

            Cf. Carrier, Richard (2014). “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44”. Vigiliae Christianae. 68 (3): 264–283. doi:10.1163/15700720-12341171.

            Cf. Rougé, Jean (1974). “L’incendie de Rome en 64 et l’incendie de Nicomédie en 303”. In Jacques Tréheux. Mélanges d’histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston. Paris: E. de Boccard. pp. 433–441.

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