‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Intro/Chapter One


‘Deciphering the Gospels’ argues the case for Jesus mythicism, which is the view that Jesus never really existed on earth but was a mythical figure in the same way as Hercules or Dionysus. (The author, R. G. Price, is not the same person as Robert Price, also a Jesus mythicist author.) I’m an atheist who holds the opposing (and more mainstream) view that Jesus did exist, as a normal, non-divine, human being. I’m therefore reviewing Price’s book to discuss his arguments and my reasons for disagreeing.

The first post in this book review is here. All subsequent posts will be linked at the end of that post as they go up.

 

Introduction

I gave a brief summary of the introduction in my first post in the review and had planned to leave it at that, but I’ve realised that there are a couple of key points here that do need further examination; the questions of where this idea of a mythical crucified Messiah came from and where it went.

Price explains, in the introduction, how he believes the cult arose:

What set the Jesus cult apart was their belief that the kingdom established by the messiah would not be on earth, but rather it would be in heaven. They believed that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and that the “kingdom of God” could never be established on earth. Thus, they believed that an immaterial heavenly messiah would be required to destroy the evil material world and establish a perfect kingdom in heaven. The creation of an immaterial heavenly kingdom required an immaterial heavenly messiah.

So far, so good. While this would have been a very fringe belief among Jews of the time, not to mention flat-out ignoring the plain meaning of some prophecies, those are hardly factors that rule out this possibility; there are people in any time and place who are happy to adopt very fringe beliefs and to ignore evidence (as their society would have regarded prophecies) to the contrary. So, it is at least plausible that a group at the time could have adopted such a belief. Here, however, are two major questions to which we still need answers:

1. How would such a group have developed the belief that their messiah had been crucified in heaven?

The Jewish idea of the Messiah (a word which literally means ‘anointed’ and was also used more generally for any ruling figure) came originally from scriptural passages prophesying a wondrous future in which the Jews, freed from all oppression, would live in peace and plenty under the rule of a descendant of King David. It bore absolutely no relationship to the later Christian concept of the Messiah being an uber-sacrifice for humanity’s sins. While the Messiah’s job description was vague enough that it allowed for all sorts of interpretations, and technically didn’t exclude the possibility of him being crucified and resurrected on the way to the glorious future in which he ruled over Israel, that’s still a heck of a tangent for someone to have come up with. Any story of Christianity’s origins does need to account for how the early Christians made that leap.

Under a historical-Jesus theory, this is fairly straightforward to explain. If Christianity started with a real man who was crucified, leaving his adoring followers trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between their fervent Messianic hopes and the dismal reality facing them, then it’s perfectly plausible that they could have come up with explanations that wove the inescapable brutal fact of their leader’s crucifixion into their theology as part of their God’s grand plan. But, minus an actual crucifixion happening to an actual Messianic claimant, why would a group of Messianic believers spontaneously come up with the idea of their Messiah being crucified? How likely is it that one group would come up with two completely different radical departures from usual concepts of the Messiah (heavenly Messiah and crucified Messiah)? And, even if some Jews somehow came up with the unprecedented idea of their Messiah needing to be a sin sacrifice like the goats and sheep that were taken to the Temple altar, why in the world would they conclude that this sacrifice must take place via a loathed and stigmatised method of execution rather than via known, familiar, accepted methods of animal sacrifice?

2. How did knowledge of this group disappear so thoroughly from church history?

According to Price, the stories about a historical Jesus got started because Mark wrote an allegory which was mistaken for an actual book of prophecies, the other evangelists built on and embroidered the story, and people who’d read these works and mistaken them for accounts of real events somehow formed a religion based on them. So… how in the world, if you’ll forgive the unintentional pun, did it play out when they met the existing groups of Jesus-followers and realised that they taught that he’d never been on earth at all? Even if enough of the new believers clung to their version and managed to start a new cult that overtook the old, we’d still surely expect some records of the previous belief, even if only in the form of teachings from the new cult of why the old one was heretical and mistaken.

 

I don’t believe Price covers either of these two questions in the book. To be fair, it’s some months since I read it and I was rather skimming through on my initial read, so perhaps I’ve missed something; I’ll keep an eye out as I continue the review, and also, of course, look for Price’s thoughts in the comments. Meanwhile, I think that does complete the questions regarding the introduction, so on to Chapter One.

 

Chapter One: Deciphering the Gospel Called Mark

Price devotes the first two chapters of this book to the cornerstone of his theory; his belief that all of the gospel of Mark (apart from some filler) can be shown to have been based on other sources. He believes that from this we can deduce that the gospel of Mark (for which I’ll henceforth use the standard abbreviation gMark, for convenience) is entirely a fictional allegory. This chapter lists multiple examples of Markan stories that Price believes to have been derived from Jewish scriptures (or Jewish culture, in the case of the twelve apostles supposedly symbolising the twelve tribes), and Chapter Two does the same with examples of stories that Price believes to have been derived from Paul’s letters. For those interested in checking this out in more detail, he also has a chronologically ordered, and more comprehensive, list of all his examples online in his essay The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory, in which he goes through gMark explaining how each part of it in turn fits with his theory.

As I drafted out the comments I wanted to make about Chapter One, I found my reply fell into four parts. The first part looks at the logic underlying Price’s argument, the second at his claim that all the important points of gMark can be shown to have been derived from elsewhere, the third at a couple of Price’s specific examples, and the fourth at his theories about Mark’s motivation for writing. I’ll leave the last three of those for subsequent posts, and cover the first part here.

Price’s argument, as I understand it, can be summarised thusly:

  • All of gMark consists of symbolic or allegorical stories derived from other sources.
  • Therefore, all of gMark is fictional rather than factual.
  • Therefore, the protagonist in gMark – Jesus – is also fictional.

(He then goes on to argue, in subsequent chapters, that as the other gospels are derived from gMark this means that those are also entirely fictional evidence. I’ll discuss that when we get there.)

Edited to add: Price has now clarified, in comment #2 on this post, that my third point is incorrect: ‘Not true. Nowhere did I state that… I fully agree that merely showing that Mark is ahistorical does not prove that Jesus didn’t exist, and never made such a claim.’ I’m glad to have this clarified, and apologise to him for misunderstanding his argument. Since his book and online articles do come across as suggesting that ahistoricity of gMark would prove or at least provide evidence of ahistoricity of Jesus, I’ll leave the rest of this article up as written, since I think it’s worth clarifying that that is a logically incorrect conclusion to draw; however, the apparent logic flaw was not intended by Price and does not represent what he actually believes.

This chapter and the next one are both devoted to proving the first point on the list, by means of illustrating it with multiple examples. He has, overall, put an impressive amount of detailed and dedicated work into demonstrating the first part of his argument. Unfortunately, he seems to have assumed the subsequent parts of the argument rather than demonstrating them; his assumption seems to be that, if the stories in gMark are all allegorical fiction, then it must automatically follow that the protagonist is fictional. I can’t see that that follows.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Price is absolutely right about his main claim; that Mark did indeed mean his gospel entirely as a work of allegory and that he derived every single story he wrote from another source for this purpose. Why would this automatically mean that the character on which he based his story must also be fictional? It’s perfectly possible to write allegorical stories about a real character.

In fact, even according to Price’s own theory, this would have been precisely what Mark believed he was doing. Price believes Mark to have been a member of the early church (the Pauline branch), which would mean, according to Price’s theory, that Mark believed in Jesus as a spiritual being whose existence was entirely in heaven rather than on earth. While such a Jesus would obviously be fictional from our perspective, it’s important to remember that the people holding such a belief would see Jesus as real. If that had been Mark’s belief, then from his perspective he would have been writing about a being who – while existing in what was effectively another dimension – was nonetheless every bit as real as people on earth. If we’re assuming Mark was writing an allegory about a real (from his perspective) heavenly being, why should we assume he wouldn’t write an allegory about a real earthly being?

Ironically, when I started looking at Price’s examples in detail, I realised that the first example in this chapter perfectly demonstrates that Mark’s apparently symbolic stories can still refer to a real person:

I’d like to first focus on one simple element of the story to demonstrate that this is a fictional story, crafted by the author with the intent that readers use the literary allusions to understand the story. In the Gospel called Mark, John the Baptist represents Elijah. Knowing this is important for understanding the story. How are readers supposed to know that John the Baptist represents Elijah in the story? Readers are told this at the very beginning of the story through the use of literary allusion. In fact, readers are clued in to the fact that the story will parallel much of 1 and 2 Kings right from the beginning.

John the Baptist is, I agree, linked with Elijah in Mark’s account, in a way that could be symbolic. John the Baptist is also discussed in some detail by the well-known Roman historian Flavius Josephus, as a lengthy aside in Josephus’s account of the destruction of Herod Antipas’s army… which gives us solid evidence that JtB actually existed.

Of course, it’s worth examining other possible explanations for that Josephan passage. After all, we know that a different volume of the same work contains at least some lines about Jesus that clearly weren’t written by Josephus, and are now universally accepted as having been interpolated by a later (unknown) Christian who wanted to get their own beliefs about Jesus in there(1). So it’s possible that a Christian scribe might also have wanted to interpolate a passage about John the Baptist. Could this have been what happened here?

It’s certainly plausible that a Christian scribe might have wanted to insert passages that espoused his beliefs. What doesn’t make sense, however, is the theory that a Christian scribe would have inserted this particular passage. Not only is it different enough from the gospel accounts of JtB that it clearly wasn’t just drawn from them, it’s also included in the text specifically to make the point that some of the Jews blamed Herod’s loss of this battle on his unjust killing of John. I think we can safely say that a Christian scribe interpolating their faith-based opinions about Herod Antipas would have focused rather more on Herod’s rejection of Jesus, who doesn’t even get a mention in this passage. I think it therefore reasonable to rule out the theory that this passage was a Christian interpolation.

Of course, a scribe might have had some motivation other than religious belief to interpolate comments, and it is just about possible that someone could have had some motivation of which we’re unaware for interpolating a long passage about a relatively minor historical figure whose death, by that point, would have been many decades previously. (I know of no serious historians who believe this to have been the case, but I’m trying to be as open-minded as possible here.) However, even that outside possibility makes no sense unless John the Baptist at least existed in the first place. If he was only a minor fictional character in a rather obscure religious work, why on earth would anyone believe that the Jews were blaming Herod’s defeat on the murder of this non-existent character, much less write a long passage claiming this to be the case and inventing details that weren’t in the original story?

In short, the existence of this passage in our works of Josephus is good enough evidence to believe in John the Baptist’s existence. (For anyone interested in reading a much more detailed discussion of the interpolation theory – which also concludes that this passage is genuine – Peter Kirby has written a detailed post on the subject.) Regardless of whether Jesus existed, we can at least conclude that John did.

This, of course, tells us nothing whatsoever about Jesus’s existence. However, it does give us a clear example of a story of Mark’s that appears to be (and might well have been intended as) an allegory… but is nevertheless demonstrably about a real person. And as such, it blows a major hole through any theory that ‘allegory’ automatically equates to ‘fictional protagonist’. Which means that, right out of the gate, there is a fundamental problem with Price’s entire theory.

 

(1) The interpolation in Josephus is a fiercely controversial subject, so I shall take a second to clarify: No, we do not know whether or not all of the Testimonium Flavium is interpolated. It might be, it might not be; there is significant legitimate difference of opinion on that point even among experts, and I lack the knowledge or the interest to launch into that particular discussion in any detail. The point is, no-one seriously doubts that at least some of it was, and that, as such, it’s an excellent example of the fact that scribes could, potentially, interpolate bits of information into texts to satisfy their own agendas.

Comments

  1. Allison says

    Maybe it’s because I’m not much of an atheist, but I’ve never figured out why anybody goes to so much trouble to “prove” that “Jesus never existed.” What actual difference does the existence or non-existence of a putative Jewish wonder-worker who inspired a sect of Judaism that eventually broke off to become a world religion make?

    It’s not like it has any bearing on whether a God (however you conceive of her) exists, or (assuming she exists) what she is like or what she wants people to do.

    Moreover, Christianity most definitely exists, and its history is for the most part documented beyond reasonable doubt, and I seriously doubt that any “proof” that there was no flesh-and-blood person at the beginning would make much difference to either believers or the non-believers.

    It’s rather like the attempts to prove that Wm. Shakespeare didn’t write the plays and sonnets ascribed to him, but rather someone else did.

    The thing is, if someone ever did come up with a proof that a Jesus did exist — or did not exist — the whole cottage industry of arguments for and against would run the risk of collapsing. (But of course, people can always invent a way around any evidence that inconveniences them, so the debate would rage on in any case.)

    • db says

      Allison says: I’ve never figured out why anybody goes to so much trouble to “prove” that “Jesus never existed.”

      Leading mythicism scholars do not not assert that the historicity of Jesus is a black or white scenario, R. M. Price writes, “I don’t think you can ‘prove’ either that a historical Jesus existed or that he didn’t. What you can do . . . is to construe the same old evidence in a new way that makes more natural, less contrived, sense” [Price, Robert M. (2018). “Foreword” ap. R. G. Price 2018, p. ix.]; and Richard Carrier gives a 1:3 (~33%) chance that Jesus existed.

    • db says

      Per Edward van der Kaaij: “. . . I am trying to prove that the historical Jesus did not exist, because I think that the view that Jesus did exist is harmful to understanding the Bible.” Cf. Godfrey, Neil (12 March 2015). “Mythicism Making Christianity More Meaningful”. Vridar.

      “edward van der kaaij”. De ongemakkelijke waarheid van het christendom (in Dutch).

      Birth of Jesus
      Last week I indicated that there is only one source of the historical Jesus, and that is the Mark Gospel. You will find detailed proof of this in my book. [De ongemakkelijke waarheid van het christendom. de echte Jezus onthuld]
      […]
      I am aware that this is a striking proposition and that many believe that a minister with such an opinion places himself outside the Christian faith. That is why I say with great emphasis: I am a Christian believer, the Bible is for me – and according to the church order – source and norm of the Christian faith. And that is precisely why every believer must agree with me that good Bible interpretation is decisive.

    • Dr Sarah says

      @ Allison:

      ‘Maybe it’s because I’m not much of an atheist, but I’ve never figured out why anybody goes to so much trouble to “prove” that “Jesus never existed.” ‘

      Same reason people go to a lot of trouble to debate whether or not Richard III really killed the Princes in the Tower, or to dress up for Civil War re-enactments, or… name your hobby, really. IOW, we find it interesting and fun. If it doesn’t happen to be what floats your boat, then no worries; hope one of the other posts available on FTB today does catch your interest.

  2. rationalrevolution says

    HI Sarah,

    I think you’ve put the cart before the horse in a few places. What strikes me is that your approach to this topic is very similar to the Creationist approach to evolution. It is common for Creationists to begin their rebuttal to evolution something along the lines of, “But where did life come from? You can’t prove that God didn’t create life. Evolution can’t be true, because you can’t prove how life started, therefor only God could have created life, therefore evolution can’t be true.”

    This seems to be the approach you’ve taken.

    “Any story of Christianity’s origins does need to account for how the early Christians made that leap.”

    Indeed, and I will be addressing just that in my next book, which is actually a history book, while this is really just Biblical analysis. But this question is not actually important to the matter at hand, just as determining how life started is not important for showing that life has developed and is developing through a process of evolution.

    The evidence for evolution is clear and demonstrable, and that may lead us to the further question of how the process got started, but we don’t need to prove how it started in order to demonstrate that it is occurring and has occurred for millions of years.

    As for your second question (which is still putting the cart before horse): “How did knowledge of this group disappear so thoroughly from church history?”

    Chapter 5 is actually dedicated to this very question. Quite simply, and this is not something that I’m just saying, this is actually well established, #1 there was no continuous development of the religion. #2 there were dozens of “heretical” sects by the early 2nd century, many of which believed that Jesus was purely spiritual, some of which believed that he never came into this world at all, while others believed that he made an appearance on earth as a spirit only. These views were in fact discussed in detail by the proto-orthodox Roman Christians and denounced because such views contradicted their reading of the Gospels.

    It is clear, as I show in Chapters 4 and 5, that all knowledge of Jesus the man comes from the Gospels and nowhere else. The Gospels always were the one and only source of information about Jesus. There was no transfer of knowledge about Jesus from any community to founders of Christianity. The founders of Christianity were Romans whose sole knowledge of Jesus came from writings of unknown sources. Indeed every single writing in the New Testament is of unknown origin and was never known even to the earliest commentators on them. These were found writings, for which the Roman interpreters of the writings had no actual context, and indeed the Roman founders of Christianity stated very plainly that the Jews didn’t understand their own writings which was why Jews didn’t accept Jesus, because they couldn’t understand their own scriptures, only Greek and Roman Christians could understand them.

    “his assumption seems to be that, if the stories in gMark are all allegorical fiction, then it must automatically follow that the protagonist is fictional.”

    Not true. Nowhere did I state that. This is a twelve chapter book. It takes all twelve chapters, or at least 10, to make the case. I fully agree that merely showing that Mark is ahistorical does not prove that Jesus didn’t exist, and never made such a claim.

    “which gives us solid evidence that JtB actually existed.”

    I wouldn’t say it’s solid, but it’s also irrelevant. We can easily assume that JtB was real. So were Peter, James, John, Pilate, and likely others in the story. The point being made is not that any of the names for the characters in question represented real people, but that the narrative is a concocted one. I can write an entirely fictional narrative about George Washington. The fact that a man named George Washington existed doesn’t make my narrative real.

    The point being demonstrated was showing how the author was using literary references to craft an intricate and allegorical narrative. The point of that, is showing that the narrative was invented by the writer, and that it is not a product of “oral tradition”. That’s the point, showing that the narrative is a product of literary invention and showing how the author made use of symbolism and literary references in the story.

    Most of the rest of your post goes into a digression on Josephus, which is beside the point.

    Here is what I would like to know, in terms of a review of Chapter 1. Did you learn anything from Chapter 1? Did you come away from Chapter 1 with a different perspective on the narrative from Mark? Did you come away with an appreciation for the craftsman ship of the author of the story? Were you impressed with the sophistication of how the author must have crafted these scenes? Did you see why I conclude that the entire narrative must have been invented after the First Jewish-Roman War? Do you understand the role of the War in the narrative and in my analysis?

    By the way, here is a very interesting thread on Deciphering the Gospels on a Dutch Forethought forum: https://www.freethinker.nl/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=17878

    I was very impressed by the caliber of their discussion and it includes critical points, many of which I agree with myself.

    • db says

      rationalrevolution says: “[The point] is showing that the narrative was invented by the writer, and that it is not a product of “oral tradition”.”

      • So one can reject the simpler and demonstrable: “the narrative was invented by the writer” and plump for: oral traditions, that cannot be scrutinized, that changed over time, and that may well have been made up from whole cloth.

      Per Thomas Brodie, “Interjecting an unpredictable chain of communication into a period of less than a lifetime has the effect not of promoting claims to historicity, but of dissipating them.” [“Oral Tradition Is Unnecessary to Explain the Gospels”. Vridar. 26 October 2012.]

    • Dr Sarah says

      @rationalrevolution:

      Hi, R.G.!

      ‘What strikes me is that your approach to this topic is very similar to the Creationist approach to evolution.’

      I don’t think that’s the case. The issue with creationism isn’t that it points out problems with a theory; it’s that it proposes a solution (God did it) which is so vague as to be essentially unfalsifiable, while making no attempt to look for mechanisms beyond that. If pointing out problems with a theory were an issue in and of itself, scientists wouldn’t be able to debate competing theories, since a significant part of that consists of showing problems with one theory that are better explained by another.

      ‘Indeed, and I will be addressing just that in my next book’

      Ah, good!

      ‘But this question is not actually important to the matter at hand’

      Ooooookayyyyy… in that case, I’m afraid you’ve lost me here. I thought the matter at hand was whether Jesus ever existed as a real person or not. If that’s not what you see the matter at hand as being, what do you see it as? If that is what you see the matter in hand as being, how is it unimportant to ask which of those two theories (Jesus existed or Jesus didn’t) better explains different points?

      ‘The evidence for evolution is clear and demonstrable, and that may lead us to the further question of how the process got started, but we don’t need to prove how it started in order to demonstrate that it is occurring and has occurred for millions of years.’

      I recognise that it can be a mistake to take analogies too literally, but in this case we are discussing how the process of Christianity got started (i.e. with a flesh-and-blood or with a mythical Jesus), and that was what I asked about, so I’m still at a loss as to how a question regarding this isn’t important to the discussion.

      ‘As for your second question […] Chapter 5 is actually dedicated to this very question.’

      Ah, good! I’ll read it a lot more carefully this time around, and will leave further discussion of the question until I get there.

      ‘There was no transfer of knowledge about Jesus from any community to founders of Christianity. The founders of Christianity were Romans whose sole knowledge of Jesus came from writings of unknown sources.’

      I’d argue that the main founder of Christianity in the form in which it got passed down through the Gentiles is Paul. Still, can discuss that further when I get to those chapters.

      ‘I fully agree that merely showing that Mark is ahistorical does not prove that Jesus didn’t exist, and never made such a claim.’

      Not directly, no, but I still found that to be the strong impression that comes through from your writing. In the preface to your book, you put great weight on your investigations and conclusions regarding gMark and then make only passing mention of ‘researching other aspects of the Jesus story during this time, such as historical references to Jesus by non-Christian writers’ before stating that you had now concluded that Jesus was highly unlikely to have existed. In your online article ‘The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory’, you state ‘I will here argue that the author of the Gospel of Mark was writing a fictional story and that the author himself knew that Jesus was not a real person, but rather the author was using Jesus as a fictional character in an intentionally fictional and allegorical narrative’; later in the article, writing about your conclusions about how gMark was written, you follow them up with ‘The result being the acknowledgement that none of the story elements of the Gospel of Mark are based on reality, they are all based on other writings, which were themselves not based on any “life of Jesus”.’

      Now, fair dos, I think I did overstate it when I said that you seemed to have concluded from gMark that it ‘must automatically follow that the protagonist is fictional’. I apologise for that. But it did sound to me, and still sounds to me, as though your work on gMark at least left you very strongly inclined towards that belief, and that the rest of the reading you did was more about confirming what you already believed. If that isn’t the case, you might want to redo those passages. In the meantime, thanks for clarifying that this isn’t what you believe, and I’ll amend my post to add that I was wrong about this.

      ‘Most of the rest of your post goes into a digression on Josephus, which is beside the point.’

      I agree; I only included that to fend off the inevitable claims of ‘but that passage in Josephus is clearly an interpolation!’ that seem to follow any mention of Josephus in these debates. (Oh, look; got that claim anyway. Quelle surprise.)

      ‘Did you learn anything from Chapter 1?’

      I learned that the Jewish-Roman war started in Galilee, if that’s any good…

      ‘Did you come away from Chapter 1 with a different perspective on the narrative from Mark?’

      Not really, no. The idea that Mark based at least some of his gospel on other sources isn’t a new one to me. The idea that he based all of it on other sources is one that I’m afraid I still don’t agree with, for reasons I’ll discuss further in the next two posts.

      ‘Did you come away with an appreciation for the craftsman ship of the author of the story? Were you impressed with the sophistication of how the author must have crafted these scenes?’

      Unfortunately, the links you’ve made and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them are so tenuous that if I did agree with you that Mark intended them that way then I’d be very unimpressed indeed with his literary skills.

      ‘Did you see why I conclude that the entire narrative must have been invented after the First Jewish-Roman War?’

      You’re concluding that because you’ve reached a conclusion about Mark’s intentions in writing the story that I don’t think is backed up at all by the gospel itself. (I think it’s entirely plausible that the narrative was written after the war; in fact, I’d say that this is more likely than not to have been the case. I just don’t agree that ‘the entire narrative must have been invented’.)

      ‘Do you understand the role of the War in the narrative and in my analysis?’

      Your analysis concludes, among other things, that a) the war is being presented as God’s punishment of the Jews and that b) the punishment is for their supposed failure to live in harmony with Gentiles. I would agree that a) is plausible (I think gMark could have been written either before or after the war; if written after, I agree that this is the coming catastrophe referred to in the narrative and that it’s being presented as a punishment) and I would disagree with b), as I agree with more mainstream claims that the narrative presents this punishment as being for the supposed failure of Jews to recognise Jesus as the Messiah. I don’t think you’ve made a good case for b), which is something I’ll address in the fourth post, as planned.

      • rationalrevolution says

        “I thought the matter at hand was whether Jesus ever existed as a real person or not.”

        That’s the ultimate question, but its not the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether the Gospel narratives are historical or not. It is establishing if we can determine what the inspiration for the narrative elements of the Gospels stories are.

        Can we establish that the Gospels narratives are in fact inspired y the life of a person named Jesus? Can we establish that the Gospel narratives are inspired by anything other than the life of a person named Jesus?

        The whole point of the book is establishing that we can determine what the Gospels narratives are inspired by, and we can prove that they are not inspired by the life of a person named Jesus. So that’s the point, establishing what the sources and inspiration is for the Gospels narratives. What I’m establishing is that Gospel narratives are not based on the life of a person named Jesus.

        “we are discussing how the process of Christianity got started”

        Actually we aren’t, certainly not at this point in chapter one. What we are discussing is the basis of the Gospel narratives.Do we have reason to believe that the Gospels are describing a real person or not? The case I lay out is that, regardless of whether some Jesus person existed or not, we can establish that the Gospels narratives are not in any way based on the life of some Jesus person, because we can see that the Gospels narratives are based on entirely different things.

        As I discuss in the example that I linked, clearly the mainstream view is that the various scenes in the Gospels are based on accounts of real things that a real person named Jesus did. What I’m presenting in chapter one is the evidence that this is not true.

        “I’d argue that the main founder of Christianity in the form in which it got passed down through the Gentiles is Paul.”

        Of course, which is a main point of this book. Everything that’s attributed to Jesus actually came from Paul. But Paul never used the term “Christian” and Paul didn’t establish any of the tenets of Christianity.

        “Christianity” is a set of tenets established by readers of the Gospels and the letters of Paul, based on assumptions about what those writings mean. I discuss the Nicene Creed in chapter 5, which is basically the basis of Christianity. None of those points come from Paul, and we have no evidence that Paul believed the points laid out in the Nicene Creed.

        “you put great weight on your investigations and conclusions regarding gMark”

        True, and it is important, but its not enough by itself of course to prove that Jesus didn’t exist. It is a very important part of the puzzle, but its not the whole puzzle.

        Let’s just take two scenarios:

        Scenario 1:
        1) The Gospel of Mark is the first account of the life of Jesus that was written.
        2) The Gospel of Mark is shown to be an account based on documents and stories about a real person named Jesus.
        3) The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both borrow from Mark, but also include material from independent sources such as “Q” that can reasonably be assume to trace back to sayings of Jesus.
        4) The Gospel of John is a fully independent account of Jesus.
        5) The letters of Paul are yet another independent account from a member of the later community, which reflects an independent account of the same teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

        Scenario 2:
        1) The Gospel of Mark is the first account of the life of Jesus that was written.
        2) The Gospel of Mark is shown to be a fictional allegory that is based on Jewish scriptures and the letters of Paul.
        3) The letters of Paul are not an independent attestation to teachings independently recorded in the Gospels, actually the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are copied from the letters of Paul. The similarities are due to copying.
        4) The Gospels of Matthew and Luke are copied from Mark and the letters of Paul, and unique material in those Gospels was fabricated by the writers, it didn’t come from any sources that can be traced back to Jesus.
        5) The Gospel of John is also derived from the other Gospels. The similarities between John and the other Gospels are are due to the fact that the writer of John was building on the other stories.
        6) Paul had no knowledge of Jesus the person and did not even conceive of Jesus as a real person. Paul taught that Jesus was a heavenly figure who had been revealed in the scriptures by prophets.

        Scenario is basically the mainstream view. Scenario 2 is what I’m laying out. As you can see, chapters 1 and 2 deal only with point #2 here. They are a part of the case, but its not the whole case. Point #2 could be true and the other points could be false and that would fail to support the claim that Jesus never existed.

        So what I’m contending is that when all of these points are made, plus a few more (again I basically lay out 11 points in the book, each chapter, not counting the conclusion, being a point in the case). It is the culmination of those 11 points that makes the case, not any one point by itself. Just as support evolution isn’t established based on any single point, but on a set of evidence across multiple points.

        • Dr Sarah says

          R.G., I think most of this comment covers material we’re going to discuss or are discussing elsewhere, but there is one point that needs covering before we move on:

          ‘“we are discussing how the process of Christianity got started”
          Actually we aren’t, certainly not at this point in chapter one.’

          In fact, as you can see if you track that strand of the debate back, that was the part of the post where I was still discussing a point raised in the introduction. The question you were dismissing there was the question of how a group believing in a heavenly messiah would have made the leap to also believing in a crucified messiah. The reason I didn’t ask that question when I originally posted about the introduction was because I did assume we could get back to it later; however, I then realised I couldn’t remember any other points in the book where this came up, so I raised that question there so we didn’t miss it.

          If there’s another place in the book where you think that question would be better discussed, that’s fine; we can discuss it then. If not, then this post seems as good a place as any. Alternatively, we can leave it for a list of questions at the end.

          • rationalrevolution says

            “If there’s another place in the book where you think that question would be better discussed, that’s fine; we can discuss it then.”

            The chapter on Paul, chapter 9, goes into that issue.

            That issue is one that has been addressed extensively by Early Doherty, Richard Carrier, etc. There is no question that Jews, Greek, Romans, Egyptians, and others, worshiped and believed in beings from “other realms”, i.e. the heavens, who engaged in various activities. Beyond that, in the book I’m working on now I address the hundreds of figures that Greeks, Romans, and Jews believed that were thought to be real people but who in fact never existed.

            These are figures such as Orpheus, Heracles, the Sibyls, etc. These were thought to be real living people. Biographies were written about them. Writings were forged in their names. It is universally accepted that they never existed, and those are just the most well known figures. In fact there are hundreds of such figures. Whole dynasties were built on supposed relationships to such mythical figures.

            The story of Dionysus involves the birth of Dionysus in the heavens, and then the subsequent murder of Dionysus by the Titans. The Titans killed Dionysus because he had revealed the mysteries to mortals. The Greeks held that there were secret mysteries that taught that the body was material prison for the immaterial soul. Dionysus revealed the way to escape the material prison and become an immaterial immortal living in heaven. The Orphic school taught that our immaterial souls were trapped in a cycle of reincarnation into the corrupt material world, and that Dionysus had revealed the way to escape the cycle of suffering in the material world to set you soul free to live eternally in the immaterial world of heaven. For this, Dionysus was killed by the Titans.

            Orpheus is the one who supposedly recorded the accounts of all this. The prophet Orpheus too was killed by jealous worshipers. Orpheus spoke in riddles and wrote poems with hidden meaning – secret allegories that could only be deciphered by initiates into the Orphic cults.

            But of course Dionysus wasn’t real and neither was Orpheus. Yet Orpheus became the primary religious figure among Greeks and later Romans. By the 3rd century CE the religious landscape of the Roman world was largely dived int worshipers of Jesus and Orpheus. Orpheus became the face of opposition to Christianity.

            So the question of how a group would go from believing in a heavenly messiah to a crucified messiah is quite simple to address. This type of this was a core part of Mediterranean religions.

            And not only that, a part of hat being laid out here, and further in my new book, is how these believed developed in stages with different groups not having any real or direct connection to one another or understanding the other’s beliefs.

            This all started in a very Jewish setting. With a Jewish group worshiping a Jewish heavenly savior. We see exactly how this developed from the writings at Qumran. The idea of a heavenly suffering messiah comes from interpretations of scriptures, primarily Isiah, that we see taking place at Qumran. The idea of crucifixion also comes from interpretations of scriptures, in part Psalm 22, which, in translations that were popularly used at the time, talk about the piercing of the savior. This Jewish messiah was going to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression.

            But then Paul came along and took this messiah and taught that he was a universal messiah, not just a Jewish messiah. Paul was in direct conflict with others, such as James, John, and Peter about this very concept. Many of the people that Paul preached to where Greeks who had no real understanding of the Jewish basis of the cult.

            Then the Gospel of Mark was written as an allegory and was picked up by a new generation of Greeks and Romans after the First Jewish-Roman War who had no contact with any of the original cults. Their knowledge of whole whole thing came from the Gospels themselves. They weren’t a part of any community that stretched back to the original Jews who founded the cult. In fact they viewed the Jews as enemies and people who had rejected and denied Jesus and thus were people who couldn’t be trusted or relied on. They write about how the Jews totally misunderstood their scriptures and had no idea what God was talking about.

            So we had these series of developments in which writings and teachings passed from group to group without context. There never was a community of people who understood the original teachings and also adopted the later teachings. There were breaks. This is also why we see as early as the second century, so many writings about heretics who believed in a purely spiritual Jesus who had never become incarnated (Chapters 4 & 5). Those groups that taught that Jesus had never come to earth, or that if he did so it was in spirit only, were called heretics by the Romans and exterminated with extreme force.

          • Dr Sarah says

            @rationalrevolution:

            ‘The chapter on Paul, chapter 9, goes into that issue.’

            Thanks; I shall look out for that when I get there.

            ‘So the question of how a group would go from believing in a heavenly messiah to a crucified messiah is quite simple to address. This type of this was a core part of Mediterranean religions.[…] This all started in a very Jewish setting.’

            Well, if it started in a very Jewish setting (which is one thing I agree with, BTW), then what was or wasn’t a core part of Mediterranean religions wasn’t very relevant; very Jewish settings, by definition, wouldn’t have been likely to be influenced by what the Greek or Roman cultures did or didn’t do. But I think a bigger problem is that this conflicts with what you said in the introduction; that this cult supposedly believed that the material world was hopelessly corrupt and therefore the messiah would have to be an immaterial, heavenly creature who would destroy the material world. That’s quite a non-Jewish concept; precisely the sort of thing it’s hard to imagine a very Jewish community coming up with. (It would make more sense amongst Hellenised Jews who’d been influenced by Gnostic philosophies that taught this sort of spiritual-vs-material dualism.)

            ‘This all started in a very Jewish setting. With a Jewish group worshiping a Jewish heavenly savior.’

            Worshipping anything other than Yahweh is about as un-Jewish as it’s possible to get. I’d recommend you drop at least one of those two claims.

            ‘The idea of crucifixion also comes from interpretations of scriptures, in part Psalm 22, which, in translations that were popularly used at the time, talk about the piercing of the savior.’

            Again, this runs into problems with your claim that this started in a very Jewish setting; that’s exactly the sort of setting where people aren’t going to be using translations of their scriptures. They’ll use the original Hebrew, because they believe that’s how God handed it to them. But, even if we hypothesise that an otherwise Jewish group somehow ended up working from a translation of their scriptures instead of the original (and that a group who were known from an early stage for their poverty and illiteracy somehow managed to get hold of translated scriptures and find out what they said), what translation talks about ‘the piercing of the savior’?

            ‘This Jewish messiah was going to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression.’

            And, again… how did this group get from this traditional idea of the Messiah as delivering the Jews from oppression, to an idea that he had also suffered a loathed, humiliating form of punishment and execution that the Jews inextricably associated with being victims of Roman oppression?

            ‘Many of the people that Paul preached to where Greeks who had no real understanding of the Jewish basis of the cult.’

            While I disagree with most of the rest of what you said, I do agree that this was one of the key turning points in the development of the early church… just for a different reason than you. I think that this was the point at which the church headed off in its direction of seeing Jesus’s death as being a sacrifice for God’s forgiveness.

            I mean, we know that at some point early in the history of the church it started completely reinterpreting concepts such as the Messiah, Son of God, and sacrifice, investing them with meanings totally different from the meanings they had for the Jews. We also know that early in the history of the church Paul – a man who was passionate about his own interpretation of this new faith, yet showed almost no interest in what the existing church believed – put a great deal of time and effort into preaching his version of the faith to far-flung Gentile communities, and that he clashed with the existing church to at least some extent over what he thought. Which is the more logical deduction? That the two events had nothing to do with each other, but, rather, a staunchly Jewish community were the ones to reinterpret old concepts in a way so radically different from their previous interpretation by Jews? Or that the former event was caused by the latter; that the reason we got these new interpretations of who the Messiah was or what ‘Son of God’ meant was because a man with very new and different ideas was passing them on to Gentiles with a very different cultural background? I’m going with the second conclusion.

          • rationalrevolution says

            @DrSarah
            ” what was or wasn’t a core part of Mediterranean religions wasn’t very relevant; very Jewish settings, by definition, wouldn’t have been likely to be influenced by what the Greek or Roman cultures did or didn’t do.”

            This is just not true. The idea that Judaism was some truly distinct religion is a modern invention. The reality is that Judaism was very much a product of its surrounding cultures and was constantly being influenced by them. There is even a growing case that much of the Jewish bible was derived from Greek writings.

            “Jews” really were a group of Canaanites who adopted the sole worship of Yahweh around the 7th century BCE in conjunction with an Assyrian invasion. They were then of course conquered by the Babylonians and integrated a lot of Babylonian culture. The Persians then conquered the Babylonians and the Jews became vassals of the Persians, during which time they integrated many aspects of Persian religion. The Persians were then conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE at which time Greek became the de facto language of the Mediterranean and the Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek.

            During all this time there was constant appropriation of other cultures into Judaism, and constant rivalry within Judaism about what it meant to be Jewish and what was an wasn’t acceptable regarding foreign integration. All along there were many factions of Jews who adopted many aspects of foreign cultures, which of course is a constant theme in the Jewish scriptures.

            Jewish thought through all of this time was quite diverse, and it was really only around the 3rd century BCE, after all of the conflicts with Rome, and a deep cleansing among Jews, that a form of Judaism was defined that fairly closely resembles what we think of as Judaism today, and this mostly took place among the Babylonian Jews, who had remained separate from the Roman Jews. After the rise of Christianity and the Romans oppression against Jews, many Jews sought sanctuary among the Babylonian Jews and that were much of the Talmud, etc. was produced, laying out what would become the Judaism that we know today. This of course is all a very rough summary.

            Anyway, when you look at Jewish mythology it is very, very similar to Greek mythology in many ways, especially the mythology of early history. In fact, what made the adoption of Christianity possible by the Roman empire was the ease with which Jewish and Greek mythic history was able to be reconciled.

            The Romans Christians essentially had to explain the origins and development of the world and culture via the Jewish myths in a way was coherent with Greek and Roman lore. In this they claimed that Orpheus and Moses actually were acquaintances and that had been tricked or something (there were a variety of explanations) into adopting polytheism. The claims was that everyone originally only worshiped Yahweh, but then it was Orpheus who then mislead everyone and spread the worship of false gods throughout the world.

            All of this “made sense” because much of Jewish mythology was borrowed from the same sources as Greek so the stories were almost identical. In Greek mythology there is the Deucalion flood, which kills everyone on earth except Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, who then repopulate the world. The flood was brought by Zeus as a punishment because the king of Arcadia sacrificed a boy to honor Zeus, which is of common origin as the story of Abraham and Issac. Deucalion is told to build a boat that he survives the flood in. The son of Deucalion is Hellen, who becomes the father of the Greek people. The counterpart to Hellen in Judaism is Abraham who is a descendant of Noah and the father of the Jewish people.

            Etc., etc., I could go on and on with all of these parallels, but all of this stems from the fact that all of these religions derive from a common Mediterranean origin. Judaism was really not so different.

            “Again, this runs into problems with your claim that this started in a very Jewish setting; that’s exactly the sort of setting where people aren’t going to be using translations of their scriptures.”

            Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures were widely used among Jews. In addition there were both Hebrew and Aramaic translations and there were discrepancies even among these. The idea that these were prefect writings with no variations is just a Christian fallacy about inerrant scripture. The fact this there were several variants of these texts.

            Worshipping anything other than Yahweh is about as un-Jewish as it’s possible to get. I’d recommend you drop at least one of those two claims.

            In addition to that, we know that between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE many groups of course kept developing additional figures and so-called “second gods” that they worshiped. There is extensive evidence of this in the Qumranic writings. Judaism was not monolithic. There was contact squabbling among Jews, which is recorded in the scriptures themselves. Many Jews worshiped other deities in various ways, and even elevated others to God status, as we see directly in the writings from Qumran. Enoch, Melchizedek, archangels such a Michael and Gabriel, were all being worshiped by Jews as godlike figures around the time of Christian origins. The worship of messiahs was also prominent.

            Indeed it is known that there was in fact a supposedly “separate” cult that worshiped a coming messiah Joshua in the first century. There was a leader of this Joshua cult who tried to walk on water and cross the Jordan river around 60 CE, which was when it was believed that the end times were coming . Of course you know that Joshua just a different translation of the same name as Jesus. The Hebrew Yehoshu’a translated to Joshua via Latin and to Iesous via Greek. Iesous translates to Jesus via Latin, so Jesus is just a product of translating the name Yehoshu’a to Greek first.

            So what we’re really talking about is a 1st century cult that was worshiping a reinterpretation of the messiah Joshua, of which we know that there were in fact other first century Jewish cults worshiping a scriptural Joshua as a potential coming messiah whom they expected to come and free them from Roman oppression right before the First Jewish-Roman War.

            Anyway, I’ve gt to head out the door, but I’ll pick this up again later.

          • Dr Sarah says

            @rationalrevolution:

            ‘The reality is that Judaism was very much a product of its surrounding cultures and was constantly being influenced by them.’

            I agree. I’m not disputing the fact that this influence happened; I’m pointing out that the Jewish communities that had undergone such influence weren’t, by definition, the ‘very Jewish’ communities. They were the more Hellenised communities. A group of more Hellenised Jews is what I pictured when I read the description in your introduction, and it makes a lot more sense than trying to describe them as still ‘very Jewish’. In other words, we’re tripping up on terminology here.

            ‘Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures were widely used among Jews.’

            Again, I agree with this claim; what I’m saying is that these would be better described as Hellenised Jews rather than ‘very Jewish’.

            ‘In addition there were both Hebrew and Aramaic translations and there were discrepancies even among these.’

            Sure. Do we know of any discrepancies that we can reasonably hypothesise could have led a group with no prior knowledge or concept of a crucified Messiah, or of sacrifice being made in that form, to reach the concept of a sacrifice made through crucifixion?

            ‘Many Jews worshiped other deities in various ways, and even elevated others to God status, as we see directly in the writings from Qumran. Enoch, Melchizedek, archangels such a Michael and Gabriel, were all being worshiped by Jews as godlike figures around the time of Christian origins. The worship of messiahs was also prominent.’

            Have you got evidence that these beings were actually worshipped, rather than simply respected/considered important figures within the religion? Again, this is down to terminology, but ‘worshipped’ seems the wrong term here, from what I know. (For example, look at the Catholic faith today; it’s full of figures such as saints/the Virgin Mary who have extreme importance within the religion and whom Catholics will actually pray to, but it would still not be correct to say that those figures are ‘worshipped’, because only God receives worship.)

            ‘Indeed it is known that there was in fact a supposedly “separate” cult that worshiped a coming messiah Joshua in the first century. There was a leader of this Joshua cult who tried to walk on water and cross the Jordan river around 60 CE, which was when it was believed that the end times were coming .’

            That’s interesting; hadn’t heard that one. Have you got a reference for this? (And again, did they actually worship him, as opposed to just believing in him/making him an important figure in their belief?)

            ‘Anyway, I’ve gt to head out the door, but I’ll pick this up again later.’

            Thanks, will look forward to that.

      • rationalrevolution says

        Also, to keep with the evolution analogy. One of the first parts in the case for evolution is establishing that the earth is actually billions of year old. However, of course, establishing that the earth is billions of years old doesn’t prove that evolution is true. Nevertheless, it is a very important aspect of the overall case.

        Its the same issue with the Gospel of Mark. Establishing that Mark is an ahistorical fictional allegory doesn’t prove that Jesus didn’t exist, but its still foundational to the overall case in just the same way that the earth being billions of years old is foundational to the case for evolution.

  3. db says

    OP: “[W]e do not know whether or not all of the Testimonium Flavium is interpolated. It might be, it might not be; there is significant legitimate difference of opinion on that point even among experts…”

    IMO the discussion of Josephus’ testimony and other non-Christian sources is a “Red Herring”.

    • Given Arguendo: Josephus’ testimony and other non-Christian sources are all without interpolation and are not forged.

    It is still not possible to prove that Josephus’ testimony and other non-Christian sources are independent of the Gospels (and Gospel-dependent Christian legends and informants). Therefore under standard academic historical methodology, they are not considered as attestation for the historicity of Jesus.

    Per Guignebert, Charles (1933). Jésus (in French). L’Évolution de l’humanité. synthèse collective 29. Paris: La Renaissance du livre. “Let’s admit that all the so-called pagan and Jewish testimonies [to Jesus] do not bring us any useful information on the life of Jesus, that they do not even give us the certainty that he has lived.” [Confessons donc que tous les prétendus témoignages païens et juifs ne nous apportent aucun renseignement utile sur la vie de Jésus, qu’ils ne nous donnent même pas la certitude qu’il ait vécu. —(p. 23)]

    • Secular contemporary scholars (”e.g.” Maurice Casey and Bart Ehrman) who have written a defense for the historicity of Jesus, do not resort to “Non-Christian sources” for attestation of the historicity of Jesus in their works.

    Per Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

    Focussing on the non-Christian sources that are available, from within around 100 years after Jesus’ death, Ehrman generally dismisses the few extant non-Christian and non-Jewish testimonies, that of Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus. […] Ehrman quickly discards the disputed and irrelevant Talmudic references to Jesus, which he arguably should not have even mentioned […] Ehrman also adds that “my case for the historicity of Jesus does not depend on the reliability of Josephus’ testimony”. . . . Ehrman has been very bold — though mostly fair — so far. He has effectively ruled out the sources that we objective and secular scholars might place more confidence in… —(pp. 34, 36, 38)

    • db says

      OP: “[T]here is significant legitimate difference of opinion on that point even among experts…”

      Richard Carrier asserts that per the Jewish Antiquities: “No expert opinion on the authenticity of either [Jesus] passage is citeable, if it isn’t informed by” the respective “published research on it over the last ten years.”

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

    • Dr Sarah says

      3. @db: ‘It is still not possible to prove that Josephus’ testimony and other non-Christian sources are independent of the Gospels (and Gospel-dependent Christian legends and informants).’

      Josephus’s mention of James clearly isn’t gospel-derived, either directly or indirectly.

      Tacitus’s mention of Christ being executed by Pilate technically could be, but Tim O’Neill raises two good points against this: that it’s unlikely that this would be information that Christians would want to mention when discussing their sect with non-Christians, and that Tacitus’s clearly low opinion of Christians would make it unlikely that he’d use their views as his source of information anyway. It’s therefore far more likely that he got this from a source unrelated to Gospel teaching.

      • db says

        Josephus’s mention of James clearly isn’t gospel-derived, either directly or indirectly.

        Richard Carrier asserts otherwise.

        Per Carrier: “Foreword” & “Afterword” ap. Lataster, Raphael (2015). ISBN 978-1-5148-1442-0. [NOW BOLDED]

        [Per the Epistles] 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 then I found that no other evidence can be shown to be independent of the Gospels. —(pp. xi-xii)
        […]
        There is no independent evidence of Jesus’s existence outside the New Testament. All external evidence for his existence, even if it were fully authentic (though much of it isn’t), cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels, or Christian informants relying on the Gospels. None of it can be shown to independently corroborate the Gospels as to the historicity of Jesus. Not one single item of evidence. Regardless of why no independent evidence survives (it does not matter the reason), no such evidence survives. —(p. 418)

        • Dr Sarah says

          [db quoting Carrier] ‘All external evidence for his existence, even if it were fully authentic (though much of it isn’t), cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels, or Christian informants relying on the Gospels.’

          So… does Carrier explain how he thinks Josephus would have got James’ execution at the hands of an overzealous Ananus from the gospels or from Christian informants relying on the gospels, given that this information is nowhere in the gospels and Carrier in fact explicitly states in other writings that Josephus’s account here doesn’t match any of the other accounts we have?

          (Carrier’s stated position on the James quote is that it isn’t fully authentic but contains a partial accidental interpolation. While this isn’t a viewpoint that stands up well to examination – see https://historyforatheists.com/2018/02/jesus-mythicism-2-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/ or http://gettingtothetruthofthings.blogspot.com/2015/10/a-response-to-richard-carriers-work-on.html – even that claim makes somewhat more sense than the claim that a story about Ananus executing Jesus’s brother is somehow derived from the gospels.)

          • db says

            does Carrier explain how he thinks Josephus would have got James’ execution at the hands of an overzealous Ananus from the gospels or from Christian informants relying on the gospels…

            Carrier responds:

            Comment by Richard Carrier—5 January 2020—per “Jesus in Josephus”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 21 December 2012.

            On the supposition (though thoroughly enough contrary to the evidence) that Josephus actually wrote “the one called Christ” in the Jesus ben Damneus story, it would derive from the Christian “brothers of Jesus” legends derived from the Gospels (in which any prominent James was often assumed to be the brother of Jesus named James in the Gospels; see the section on Hegesippus in OHJ). Hence, “Christian informants relying on the Gospels.”

            (It’s also possible Josephus confused “Brother of the Lord,” the cultic status all baptized Christians claimed, as “Brother of Jesus Christ” and so wrote it, in which case Jesus didn’t exist and the James Josephus writes about was a Christian. But it’s just as likely his Christian informants were already making that conflation for him, as we see from later sources they started to do.)

          • Dr Sarah says

            @db
            (I posted my reply to this on Carrier’s blog, but no sign of it getting through moderation as yet, so I’ll post it here as well. Ditto for the other comment you quoted from him below.)

            Hi, Richard! Two questions about this:

            1. How do you feel that Josephus, or an informant of Josephus, would plausibly have derived the specific point of James being one of the people executed illicitly by Ananus on this occasion from any existing story of James?

            2. What evidence do you have that ‘Brother of the Lord’ was ‘the cultic status all baptized Christians claimed’?

            Thanks.

  4. db says

    OP: “Regardless of whether Jesus existed, we can at least conclude that John did.”

    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)
    […]
    5.8 Chapter Five Summary
    The following points, especially when taken collectively, mitigate against the BP [Baptist Passaage] being in any way an authentic Josephan text:
    • If Josephus wrote the BP then it follows that he also:
    01. contradicts the gospels as regards the date of John the Baptist’s activities;
    02. contradicts the gospels as regards the reason for John the Baptist’s arrest;
    03. shows remarkable familiarity and theologically advanced insights into Christian-based baptism rites;
    04. contradicts his statements about the range and scope of Jewish-based cults in the Holy land due to failure to mention any other Jewish sect even remotely connected with a Baptist cult or Christianity 312 ; [This assumes that the TF is an interpolation.]
    05. contradicts his avowed position on the dangers of Jewish religious upstarts;
    06. describes an impossible/contradictory situation at the fortress at Macherus;
    07. contradicts his previously stated reasons for Gods’ divine vengeance against Antipas;
    08. seriously disrupts the literary flow of his narration;
    09. fails to mention John the Baptist in his earlier work and in the same context (i.e. the BJ); and
    10. fails to mention John the Baptist in his table of contents (AJ).
    —(p. 361–362)

    • db says

      Per Doudna, Gregory L. (2019). “Is Josephus’s John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?”. In Pfoh, Emanuel; Niesiolowski-Spanò, Lukasz (ed.). Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays In Honour of Thomas L. Thompson. Bloomsbury–T&T Clark. pp. 119–137. ISBN 978-0-567-68657-2.

      This article proposes that Josephus’s ‘John the Baptist’ passage in Antiquities is a chronologically displaced story of the death of Hyrcanus II, the aged former high priest, by Herod the Great in either c. 34 or 30 BCE. As a matter of method the Gospels are set completely to one side and the focus is solely on analysis of the Josephus passage.

      The passage in Antiquities is in Josephus’s language and style, yet at the same time the passage reads as an insertion into pre-existing text, like an ancient excursus or footnote set into a text that would read perfectly smoothly without it (Schwartz 2013: 106–9). This description does not mean the passage is an interpolation by a later Christian scribe. For a number of reasons the passage is unlikely to have come from a later Christian forger, not the least of which is that Josephus’s John the Baptist is not in any way portrayed as Christian. Rather, the insertion of a story into preexisting narrative is a well-known phenomenon in the composition process of Josephus. But this composition process results in precisely the kind of passage that can be subject to Josephus making a chronological mistake, in this case attaching an undated story from a source to the wrong Herod. —(pp. 119–120)

    • Dr Sarah says

      @db #4: Sigh. OK, I shall probably regret this, but I’ll bite:

      1 & 2: he does indeed. Since I’m an atheist and you seem, from your previous comments here, to believe that Jesus never existed, I’ll take it we’re both fully on board with the idea that at least some of what’s in the gospels is incorrect, so I’m not really seeing the problem here.
      3. Christian-based baptism rites? Where the heck does he get the idea that a rite espoused by a Jew who wasn’t part of the Christian movement and in fact predated it somehow counts as Christian just because Christians would later adopt such rites?
      4. Contradicts which statements?
      5. Contradicts which position?
      6. This one actually is a valid point, but seems to me to be satisfactorily explained by http://peterkirby.com/a-conjectural-corruption-of-josephus.html (see also the post of Kirby’s that I linked to in the text of my post, above). In brief, the problem seems to be that a textual corruption of Josephus that gives us a slightly but crucially inaccurate translation of the previous comment about Macherus.
      7. How is ‘some of the Jews thought’ supposed to contradict the fact that Josephus himself thought something different?
      8. Only if you find asides particularly disruptive. I think the relevant question here is whether Josephus avoided asides; were they notably not a feature of his style, or something?
      9 and 10: doesn’t sound particularly strange for what was, after all, an aside, and likely therefore to be seen by Josephus as something of borderline importance.

      • db says

        The details of Allen’s argument is a moot point at this time, given that Doudna’s assertion per his article completely negates the view that Josephus ever wrote about a first century CE John the Baptist (a figure featured in gMark).

        In general, Allen’s argument indirectly lends support to Doudna’s analysis that the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities does not seem to belong where it is located,

        • The most likely implication of Doudna’s analysis is that gMark was compososed post 93 CE, However Doudna does not address this issue in his article.

  5. db says

    OP: “It’s perfectly possible to write allegorical stories about a real character.”

    True, but at some point there must be a “Habeas Corpus” for this putative “real character” and the gospel texts are not going to suffice for any scholar using standard academic historical methodologies.

    Per Carrier (30 September 2019). “Did Jesus Exist? Craig Evans’ Post-Debate Analysis“. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    [W]e discount the Gospels as at all reliable on standard historical methodologies that would produce the same result in every other field:
    • They’re late, post-dating any evident witness known to still be alive;
    • and written in a foreign land and language;
    • by unknown authors of unknown credentials;
    • who cite no sources, and give no indication they had any sources;
    • and never critically engage with their material but only credulously (e.g. they never discuss conflicting accounts or reasons to believe their information, unlike rational historians of the era);
    • and about whose texts we have no reactions, critical or otherwise—whatever people were saying about these Gospels when they came out, we never get to hear, not for many more decades, by which time we see those reacting have no other information to judge them by;
    • all the earliest of which texts just copy their predecessors verbatim and change and add a few things;
    • and which contain in every pericope patent implausibilities or wholly unbelievable stories (from a random guy splitting the heavens and battling the devil and wandering out of the desert and converting disciples to instantly abandon their livelihoods after but a few sentences, to mystically murdering thousands of pigs, miraculously feeding thousands of itinerants, curing the blind, calming storms, and walking on water; from having a guy arguing against Pharisees with arguments that actually were the arguments of the Pharisees, to depicting a trial and execution that violates every law and custom of the time; and beyond);
    • which stories have obvious and rather convenient pedagogical uses in later missionary work;
    • and often emulate and “change up” the prior myths of other historically dubious heroes, like Moses and Elijah;
    • and often contain details that can only have been written a lifetime later (like the Sermon on the Mount, which was composed in Greek after the Jewish War; or prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, likewise; or Mark’s emulation of the passion of Jesus ben Ananias or Luke’s confused cooption of The Antiquities of Josephus; and so on).
    • and for none which do we have any prior corroboration.
    There is no field of history—absolutely none—where such sources as these would be trusted as history at all.

    Biblical scholars do have a solution for this issue. They just lower the standards by which they measure a source’s reliability!

    Per Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

    Historians cannot lower the standards by which they measure a source’s reliability . . . even if this is what Biblical scholars actually do. That would be illogical and inconsistent; and its practice all but proves bias. Scholars could then proclaim any source reliable. —(p. 137)

    • db says

      A protest often heard from biblical scholars is that historians cannot apply the same rigorous standards to ancient sources as they do to modern ones or they would not be able to say very much about ancient times. Those who believe “standards must be lowered” for ancient sources fail to realize that—given the limitations of ancient sources—the types of questions historians can ask of them must be more limited.

      • Per Gager, John G. (1974). “The Gospels and Jesus: Some Doubts about Method”. The Journal of Religion 54 (3): 244–272. doi:10.1086/486389.

      [R]igorous historical method has been subordinated to religious and theological concerns. With dogged regularity, the desire to reach authentic Jesus material has led questers to sacrifice methodological rigor or to minimize the difficulties posed by the sources. —(p. 244)

    • Dr Sarah says

      @db, #5:

      [from Carrier] ‘There is no field of history—absolutely none—where such sources as these would be trusted as history at all.’

      I recognise that Carrier has a PhD in history whereas the sum total of my qualifications in the subject is… one O-level, grade B. So I could be wrong about this. However, from my distant memories of my history classes (and, to be fair, we had a dreadful teacher and I was singularly bored by the subject at the time and paying it minimal attention, so I’m not the best source here…), I recall that in fact historians do use propaganda pieces from a time period as part of their evidence about it. Not because they tell us anything reliable at all about the events they describe… but because they tell us something about what at least some people were claiming, and believing, at the time. And that can actually be a valuable contribution to what we know about that time period. (So, to pick an example I do happen to know something about, in the time of Mary Queen of Scots a propaganda picture was produced of which the message was that she was behaving in a way considered, at the time, sexually inappropriate. This tells us nothing about whether she actually was acting in such a way, but it does tell us that public opinion was being stirred up against her; and that’s useful information for our understanding of the political climate at the time and for why Mary ultimately lost her throne and had to flee into exile.)

      With that in mind… is there anything we can learn from the gospels if we read them from the point of view of ‘these are sources of information about what members of this cult believed in its early decades’? Well, one important thing we learn is that, within less than a century of Jesus’s supposed life and death, his supporters certainly seemed to believe that he had lived on earth and had been sentenced to death by a named person. Now, it’s notable that even Carrier (who is, of course, one of the leading proponents of the Jesus mythicism theory) seemed unable to come up with any examples of situations where people had reached this sort of belief about a mythical person within this sort of time frame. (‘On the Historicity of Jesus’, chapter 6, section 7.) So, while the gospels are fairly hopeless at giving us reliable details about this Jesus’s life, their existence does provide a useful piece of evidence in favour of Jesus’s existence.

      • db says

        his [sc. Jesus] supporters certainly seemed to believe that he had lived on earth and had been sentenced to death by a named person.

        Carrier responds:

        Comment by Richard Carrier—5 January 2020—per “Did Jesus Exist? Craig Evans’ Post-Debate Analysis”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 30 September 2019.

        Lots of mythical heroes were “killed” by named persons.

        But more importantly, this is simply an attempt to create a new reference class. But doing so cannot ignore other reference classes Jesus belongs to. I have a whole section on this in OHJ (Ch. 6.5). Thus, even if, say, the reference class of “persons claimed a lifetime later to have been killed by a historical person” had a rate of historicity of 99%, Jesus still belongs to a reference class (highly mythologized persons) with a rate of historicity of roughly 33%, so after iteration the prior probability still ends up at 33% (as explained and shown in that section in OHJ).
        This is the problem with trying to turn an uncorroborated claim into a mere frequency argument, that ignores data pertaining to frequency (argument by arbitrary selection of frequency characteristics). That’s simply not a logically valid maneuver.

        If one could adduce actual evidence (not speculations or assumptions) that ancient mythographers wouldn’t do such a thing, then one could get the likelihood of that evidence to be lower on ahistoricity than historicity and then use this as evidence for historicity. But we have no such evidence in this case. Ancient mythographers appeared completely comfortable incorporating historical persons in their myths.
        Indeed, Christians were especially fond of doing this (Herod killing the Nazarene babies; the Acts of Peter having Nero watch Simon fly magically through the sky; the Tertullianic Acts of Pilate having Tiberius convert to Christianity), and there are obvious and clear political reasons to choose the persons they did (Caiaphas and Pilate, representatives of the two world orders the Christians wanted to represent as the “archons of this eon” coming to an end). So it’s simply not improbable at all. Similarly, Eastern Christianity had Jesus killed by completely different historical persons, a hundred years prior to Pilate (OHJ, Ch. 8.1).

        I should add, BTW, that the timeframe argument is also refuted by the fact that so many myths were piled onto Jesus in that same timeframe. I have a whole section on that point, too (OHJ, Ch. 6.7). Proving the opposite conclusion: Christians were not at all dissuaded from inventing all sorts of fabulous things about Jesus in a mere lifetime, including his magically killing thousands of pigs, Herod murdering hundreds of babies, the sun going out for three hours over the whole earth, hordes of undead saints wandering into Jerusalem, Jesus appearing after death not in visions but as a walking, talking reanimated corpse hanging around for a month and having regular dinners with the Disciples and then flying into outer space before a dozen or more witnesses.

        We have many other precedents for just this kind of rapid invention, in the Cargo Cults and Luddite examples I analyze in OHJ, in the early history of Mormonism, in the Salem witch trial documents, in the Roswell myth, and so on. So it simply isn’t true that rapid development like this is improbable. And our estimates of probability expectations have to be based on the actual data, not things we make up in our heads; and on the actual context (e.g. an era lacking universal literacy etc.), not contexts wholly alien (e.g. an era with photography, newspaper archives, etc.).

        • Dr Sarah says

          @db:
          (As with the other comment of Carrier’s that you passed on above; I did reply to this on his blog, but as yet it has not come through moderation, so I’ll post my reply to Carrier here as well. I’ve edited the last part slightly for clarity; otherwise, this is what I posted on his blog that is currently awaiting approval.)

          ‘Lots of mythical heroes were “killed” by named persons.’

          Sorry, I should have been clearer; I meant a named person who was known to have lived relatively recently (i.e. not centuries ago/in the Age of Heroes).

          ‘But more importantly, this is simply an attempt to create a new reference class.’

          I was actually thinking of it as one of the other items that gets multiplied into the probability equation. (Sorry, been a while since I read OHJ in full so I’m hazy on what you called those; I think ‘consequent evidence’ was the term you used.) So the question here, if I have this right, would be ‘What are P(e|h) and P(e|¬h) for someone about whom multiple written works existed within about a century of his alleged death?’

          ‘This is the problem with trying to turn an uncorroborated claim into a mere frequency argument, that ignores data pertaining to frequency (argument by arbitrary selection of frequency characteristics).’

          Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t follow that.

          ‘If one could adduce actual evidence (not speculations or assumptions) that ancient mythographers wouldn’t do such a thing, then one could get the likelihood of that evidence to be lower on ahistoricity than historicity and then use this as evidence for historicity. But we have no such evidence in this case. Ancient mythographers appeared completely comfortable incorporating historical persons in their myths.’

          I think I might not have been clear enough about my point. My issue wasn’t with the general idea of incorporating some sort of historical person, but with the timescale.

          In OHJ 6.7, you state that euhemerised deities/heroes were normally set centuries in the past (either because they weren’t euhemerised until centuries after they first appeared as mythical beings, or because stories of their physical existence projected centuries back to the supposed Age of Heroes). If I’m understanding this statement correctly, it means you know of no examples in which the legends about a euhemerised mythical figure set the stories about this figure’s supposed existence on earth at a time only decades, rather than centuries, prior to the writing of the story.

          So, that’s evidence. While it obviously isn’t enough evidence for anything as sweeping as ‘ancient mythographers wouldn’t do such a thing’, it is evidence that they seem to have been unlikely to do such a thing. This means that stories (however obviously embellished) about a figure who was supposedly walking the earth only decades before the stories were written would be less likely to happen on mythicism than on historicity.

          ‘So it simply isn’t true that rapid development like this is improbable.’

          I’m not questioning whether rapid legendary development in general is improbable; I’m saying that based on what you said in 6.7 of OHJ, it seems that rapid development of euhemerisation is improbable. Not impossible, but improbable.

          ‘And our estimates of probability expectations have to be based on the actual data, not things we make up in our heads’

          Sure. So, in this case, the data is the existence of several fairly detailed writings claiming that a particular person existed within a timeframe that, although approximate, can be estimated to be less than a century before the stories were written.

          How many stories do we know to have existed in that sort of time and culture that fitted that description? Out of those, how many do we know to be about euhemerised mythical individuals rather than real people? (If what you’ve said in OHJ 6.7 is correct, then the second figure is currently zero, unless you know of any examples that have been discovered in the last few years since you wrote OHJ. I’ve no idea what the first figure would be, but I assume you could come up with some sort of rough idea.)

          Those figures would be enough for us to get a rough estimate of P(e|h) and P(e|¬h) for the existence of writings claiming person X existed within this sort of timeframe, thus giving us a consequent probability that could be put into the overall equation along with the other consequent probabilities.

  6. rationalrevolution says

    Dr Sarah,

    As I alluded to in my prior reply, your error here seems to be in trying to take everything in a single bite. The book is laid out in a methodical way that builds the case piece by piece. You’re looking at the first piece and declaring that the first piece doesn’t prove the case all by itself, therefor its all nonsense. That, of course, is not how any such investigation is done, whether criminal, historical or scientific.

    In addressing chapter one one needs to address the content and conclusions of chapter one. And I do realize that, while I tried to write this book for a general audience, it really does require significant familiarity with the Bible and mainstream biblical scholarship, which is a shortcoming on my part. I should perhaps have given more background. So I think a legitimate criticism of the book is that it doesn’t provide enough background for lay readers, which, BTW, is my target audience, so that’s certainly a significant issue.

    So, having read all of the Gospel of Mark yourself prior to reading this is certainly helpful. Having read several mainstream assessment of the Gospels is also helpful.

    What one should get from chapter one is not that “Jesus didn’t exist”, but rather an understanding that the traditional and mainstream assessment of “what the Gospel of Mark is” doesn’t make sense. It certainly helps to know what mainstream scholars think the Gospel of Mark is, which I admit I don’t do a thorough enough job establishing. (I briefly address it early in the chapter). But certainly mainstream scholars claim that the Gospel of Mark is a record of oral accounts of the life of Jesus, written down by an unsophisticated scribe who was just basically jotting down notes that he was told from a community of Jesus worshipers. Any symbolism in the narrative comes from the community. The writer is almost immaterial, he makes no contribution to the content, he’s really just recording the oral traditions, and these oral traditions were developed by people who knew directly of Jesus and passed down his teachings and actions, all of which took place around the late 20s CE.

    So the purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate why this understanding of Mark cannot possibly be true. The case I put forward is that Mark is a sophisticated writer who was developing a complex allegorical narrative, that must have been developed entirely after the First Jewish-Roman War, and thus did not originate from any community, but rather originated purely from the mind of it’s writer. This can be better illustrated with an example from the book’s website here: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/examples.html

    Reflecting on those examples can be helpful. There we can see how some of the most well established authorities on this topic assess these scenes. We have Bart Ehrman stating that he’s certain that “something” really happened at the temple. We have J.P. Meier, a conservative Catholic, making essentially the same exact case as Ehrman. That’s the standard approach to understanding this material. How does the approach that I’ve laid out compare to that in your mind?

    What do you think about the fact that the “leading authorities” on this subject, haven’t recognized the fact that this scene is actually derived from literary references? What do you think about the fact that none of the authorities who advocate for the historical reality of this event even acknowledge or address the relationship between the scene and the passage from Hosea 9? Do you think its not relevant? Do you think that the fact that the leading scholars who advocate for the historical truth of this passage are unaware of, or fail to acknowledge, the relationship between this scene and Hosea 9 is material? If it is material, and the leading authorities on the issue fail to address it, what does that tell you about the reliability of their conclusions?

    No individual chapter in this book is intended to make a giant leap. Its about taking steps on a ladder. What do you learn, and what perspective do you gain, if anything, from chapter one?

    • rationalrevolution says

      For a bit more on the temple cleaning scene see: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/blog/?p=40

      Notice there that the analysis of the scene by E.P. Sanders is almost identical word for word to Bart Ehrman’s passage. Note that E. P. Sander’s account was published before Ehrman’s.

      But again, this should really be the focus of assessing chapter one. Not evaluating whether chapter one proves Jesus didn’t exist, which isn’t even a claim being made, but rather does understanding these intertextual relationships provide new insight into how to understand the Gospel of Mark and to evaluate its relationships to historical reality?

    • db says

      rationalrevolution @7 says: “mainstream scholars claim that the Gospel of Mark is a record of oral accounts of the life of Jesus, written down by an unsophisticated scribe who was just basically jotting down notes that he was told from a community of Jesus worshipers. Any symbolism in the narrative comes from the community. The writer is almost immaterial, he makes no contribution to the content, he’s really just recording the oral traditions, and these oral traditions were developed by people who knew directly of Jesus and passed down his teachings and actions, all of which took place around the late 20s CE.”

      • Vorster, Willem S. (1993). “The Production of the Gospel of Mark : An essay on intertextuality”. HTS Teologiese Studies. 49 (3): 385–396. doi:10.4102/hts.v49i3.2499. [NOW BOLDED]

      In this essay I will discuss the importance of the unsolved problem of the production of the Gospel of Mark. To achieve my goal, I will first pay attention to current views on the origin of the material. —(p. 386)
      […]
      One can safely say that there has been little reflection on the role of the person who produced the Gospel, except for the descriptions I have mentioned, namely collector, composer, redactor and author. How one should picture Mark editing tradition in written or oral form by changing a word here and there, adding a sentence or two, rearranging the order of material, putting the traditional material into a narrative frame and joining separate units or episodes — as redaction critics make us believe — is difficult to imagine.

      There is much more to the production of a text than traditional views would allow. As long as the Gospels are perceived mainly from the perspective of their growth, the process of production is blurred. What is needed is serious reflection on the production of texts from the perspective of what happens when other texts, whether oral or written, are included in or absorbed by a new text. The traditional approach is anti-individualistic because the driving force behind the Gospels is the anonymous community. —(p. 389)

      rationalrevolution @7 says: “So the purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate why this understanding of Mark cannot possibly be true. The case I put forward is that Mark is a sophisticated writer who was developing a complex allegorical narrative . . . and thus did not originate from any community, but rather originated purely from the mind of it’s writer.”

      • Vorster ibid.

      I have elsewhere argued that Mark’s use of the Old Testament is totally different from that of Matthew or Mark . . . Allusions to and quotations from the Old Testament are usually absorbed into Mark’s story in such a manner that, except for a few cases where he specifically mentions the origin of the quotation, the allusions and quotations form part of the story stuff. They are so embedded into the story that, if it were not for the references in the margins and a knowledge of the Old Testament, the reader would not have noticed that Mark uses an allusion or a quotation (see Mk 15:24). This is best seen in Mark’s story of the passion of Jesus. —(p. 391)
      […]
      One of the inferences one should make from the use of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark is that the author created a new story with the aid of intertextual codes that helped him to communicate his own point of view. The Old Testament quotations and references formed part of the new story that Mark created in order to convince his readers of his point of view concerning Jesus and the implications of Jesus’ life, works and words for the prevailing situation. —(p. 392)

      • db says

        Per the above Vorster quote, Mark’s use of the Old Testament is totally different from that of Matthew or Mark

        • This is a typo in the source and should read: “Mark’s use of the Old Testament is totally different from that of Matthew or Luke”

        See: Vorster, Willem S. (1999) [1981]. “The function of the use of the Old Testament in Mark”. In Botha, J. Eugene (ed.). Speaking of Jesus: Essays on Biblical Language, Gospel Narrative, and the Historical Jesus. BRILL. p. 153. ISBN 90-04-10779-7.

    • Dr Sarah says

      @rationalrevolution, #7:

      ‘You’re looking at the first piece and declaring that the first piece doesn’t prove the case all by itself, therefor its all nonsense.’

      That’s quite a misrepresentation of what I actually said. The only reason I was focusing on the fact that the first piece doesn’t prove the case was because you had put heavy emphasis on that piece to the point where you did seem to think that it – at the very least – provided strong evidence for your case. As a logic flaw, that did need addressing, and so I addressed it.

      ‘But certainly mainstream scholars claim that the Gospel of Mark is a record of oral accounts of the life of Jesus, written down by an unsophisticated scribe who was just basically jotting down notes that he was told from a community of Jesus worshipers.’

      Curious as to your references for this? From the reading I’ve done, I don’t recall ever coming across a particular opinion one way or the other as to whether Mark himself played a part in shaping the traditions he passed on (except of course for the traditional church belief that Mark was merely writing down what he remembered Peter teaching, but that doesn’t fit your description of a community passing down traditions). What authors have you read who’ve presented Mark as ‘an unsophisticated scribe’ who did nothing but record pre-existing traditions while playing no part in shaping them?

      ‘This can be better illustrated with an example from the book’s website here: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/examples.html’

      OK… let’s do this. Hold onto your hats, because this is going to be a long one.

      In this essay, you argue that Mark 11:12 – 21 is a fictional allegory based on Hosea 9. Let’s break down these two passages and compare. Summary of main points in the Markan passage:

      • Jesus, hungry, sees a fig tree but finds it’s not in the right season to give fruit. He therefore curses it never to bear fruit again.
      • Jesus, on entering the temple, mounts an attack on the people taking part in commerce there (overturning tables, driving people out, refusing to let people carry merchandise within the court) while quoting a line from Isaiah and one from Jeremiah.
      • The chief priests and teachers of the law were afraid of the response he was getting from the crowd and started planning to kill him.
      • On their way back, they see the fig tree that Jesus cursed has withered.

      Now, here is a summary of the main points in the Hosea passage:

      • Israel is ordered not to rejoice, due to their behaviour
      • Israel is analogised to a prostitute and accused of leaving God (this is part of a long ongoing rant within Hosea on these themes)
      • Israel’s food and wine supply will fail
      • They won’t remain in their own country
      • The tribe of Ephraim shall return to Egypt
      • They’ll eat unclean food in Assyria
      • Their sacrifices won’t please God and will be defiling
      • Egypt shall gather them, Memphis shall bury them
      • Their possessions/valuables will be overgrown with nettles and thorns
      • Their sin causes them to be hostile to the prophet, whom they accuse of being a fool/mad
      • A repetition that God will punish them
      • God compares his initial finding of the Jewish people to finding ‘grapes in the wilderness’ or ‘the first fruit on the fig tree’.
      • There’s a reference to the time the Jews joined with local people to worship Baal of Peor (original incident in Numbers 25)
      • The tribe of Ephraim will become infertile, and even the ones who have children will die/suffer bereavement
      • Comparison of Ephraim in the past with a young palm tree*
      • Ephraim must now ‘lead out his children for slaughter’.
      • Another reference to infertility (this time to miscarriage)
      • Their evil deeds started in Gilgal
      • God will drive them out of his house and love them no more
      • The image of a dried-up root and bearing no fruit is used as a metaphor for infertility
      • Ephraim will be rejected and become wanderers among the nations.

      *The palm tree is in the translation I got when I pulled up the NRSV translation of this chapter on BibleGateway, as you said that was the translation you used; when I looked, I realised the line is translated differently in the version you quote in that webpage and in your book, so I’m not sure why you’ve got a different translation there. Still, not important for present purposes, I guess.

      Anyway, out of that long list of points from Hosea 9 you’ve picked a few that match to some extent with the Markan passage:

      • Fig tree/fruit/withered root
      • Lack of respect for authority figure sent by God (the prophet in Hosea, Jesus in Mark)
      • Driving people out of the temple for behaviour that’s considered wrong

      (and have also stated that, as well as these elements, the order in which they are presented is necessary to make the association with Hosea, which is strange because these elements in gMark are not presented in the same order as in Hosea, so I honestly don’t know what point that was meant to be making).

      And, based on these few elements existing in both Hosea and gMark, you’ve concluded that the gMark passage is ‘clearly based’ on the Hosea passage and that this means that ‘this scene is not based on any real event that ever took place… None of this actually ever happened; this isn’t a historical event.’

      Now, that is such a leap of logic that I’m honestly at somewhat of a loss as to what to say about it. No, we cannot ‘clearly’ or definitely conclude anything of the sort. All we’ve got there is a few points of superficial similarity that could just as well have been coincidental. About the best we can say is that Mark might have based his passage on the Hosean passage. If he did, then quite frankly I’d have to say he did a rotten job of it, since the themes behind even those basic points of similarity are different. But I don’t see any reason why the similarities couldn’t be either a) a coincidence, or b) based on Mark or one of his predecessors in the story chain deciding to highlight an existing story about driving people out of the temple with a symbolic detail – which might or might not have been inspired by the superficial similarity to Hosea – about a cursed and withered fig tree.

      Personally, I don’t have strong opinions one way or the other on whether the temple scene really happened or was a later invention. However, you’re using a few points of partial similarity between this passage and a passage in the Jewish scriptures to try to demonstrate that this scene is fictional, and you’re acting as though this is enough to conclude, definitely, that it is. That’s an extremely weak argument, and it comes nowhere near to providing enough evidence to reach the conclusion you’re trying to draw.

      • rationalrevolution says

        “As a logic flaw, that did need addressing, and so I addressed it.”

        There was no logic flaw, you misunderstood the point. The point is showing how the narrative is constructed and the way that symbolism and scriptural references are used by the author. It had nothing at all to do with claiming that either figure, Jesus or John, did not exist. Your claim was, “But John was a real person, so all of this is nonsense,” which completely fails to grasp what’s being presented.

        “I don’t recall ever coming across a particular opinion one way or the other as to whether Mark himself played a part in shaping the traditions he passed on”

        db provided some examples in this thread.

        “except of course for the traditional church belief that Mark was merely writing down what he remembered Peter teaching, but that doesn’t fit your description of a community passing down traditions”

        This is address is a later chapter. I talk about it in depth. Certainly the tradition view was that “Mark” was passing on an account from Peter. That view has been overwhelmingly rejected by modern scholars because its clearly unsupportable by the obvious evidence. However, what most modern scholars have done, again remember that 95% of these people are Christian theologians, is present an explanation for the origin of the Markan materiel that basically arrives at the same point as the claim that the material came from Peter. This is very common in biblical scholarship. When it becomes apparent that major assumptions are no longer supportable, they come up with Rube Goldberg explanations that arrive at the same basic point.

        This is the case with Mark. Once it was obvious that Mark couldn’t have been based on an account from Peter, the next most popular explanation was that Mark was based on oral tradition from “the time of Peter”. Thus, Mark isn’t based on a single account of that specific person, but its still account based on stories from the community that Peter belonged to.

        The point here is showing that that cannot possibly be true either. In fact, the best explanation of the Gospel of Mark is that its an allegorical story that was developed after the First Jewish-Roman War by a follower of Paul. Of course that’s what chapters 1 and 2 are about, laying out evidence for that.

        ” which is strange because these elements in gMark are not presented in the same order as in Hosea, so I honestly don’t know what point that was meant to be making”

        Certainly they are. Fig Tree – House of God – Root is the pattern in both the scene from Mark and Hosea 9. That should be obvious.

        “No, we cannot ‘clearly’ or definitely conclude anything of the sort. All we’ve got there is a few points of superficial similarity that could just as well have been coincidental.”

        Are you kidding me? Firstly, as is a part of the point of chapter 1, this isn’t an isolated case. This same type of scriptural reference is found dozens of times in the Gospel of Mark. That’s the point, scene after scene follows these patterns. This isn’t just something I’m making up, this is well established in the scholarship. Literally hundreds of books have been written on this aspect of Mark, all I’m doing here is adding a few additional cases, such as this one, to the long list of such scriptural references.

        And again, the whole point is that early Christians themselves recognized many of these references and interpreted them as proof of prophecy fulfillment. These very scriptural references are exactly what led to the adoption of Christianity.

        S this obviously is key to the entire book. If you don’t accept that the Gospel of Mark is constructed from scriptural references then of course nothing in this book will make any sense. However, how you can deny that is beyond me, and furthermore, its something that is widely accepted by biblical scholars of all stripes, from fundamentalists to mythicists.

        So if you’re going to deny the relationship between the Gospels and the scriptures you’re basically going to be on your own, denying black and white evidence that is accepted by essentially every biblical scholars in the world. Why is beyond me.

        All I’m pointing out in the temple cleansing scene is a new case that haven’t been widely recognized previously, but which fist the pattern of dozens of other widely recognized cases. This example is not much different than the universally recognized relationship between the Crucifixion scene and Psalm 22.

        Mark:
        13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
        15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
        20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

        Hosea 9
        10 when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.
        15 Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house.
        16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.

        Mark:
        24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
        29 Those who passed by mocked him, shaking their heads
        34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

        Psalm 22:
        1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
        7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads
        18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

        “But I don’t see any reason why the similarities couldn’t be either a) a coincidence, or b) based on Mark or one of his predecessors in the story chain deciding to highlight an existing story about driving people out of the temple with a symbolic detail – which might or might not have been inspired by the superficial similarity to Hosea – about a cursed and withered fig tree.”

        I believe most people would agree that the most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence is that the writer of Mark derived this narrative as a literary reference to Hosea 9, especially in light of the dozens of other examples of the same exact type of references throughout the Markan narrative.

        You’re now doing what many Christian theologians do. You’re coming up with more complex and unlikely scenarios to explain evidence that is far more simply explained in other ways. By far the most straight forward explanation for the evidence laid out is that the Gospel of Mark is a story that was fabricated by a single individual. That is, indeed, the point of chapter 1.

        Certainly you can make a case against that. But you have not done that. You’ve simple said, “I don’t believe it”, but you haven’t offered a coherent explanation of the evidence that is more likely that the explanation I’ve put forward.

        You really believe that this is better explained as “chance” than intention?
        Mark:
        13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
        15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
        20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

        Hosea 9
        10 when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.
        15 Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house.
        16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.

        And that goes for all of these examples. You’re basically going to argue that all of these apparent relationships between the scriptures and the story are all just random chance? I don’t even know what to say that that…

        And ultimately the point you’re trying to get to is what? That we simply can never know or understand why or how the story was written, so we just have to assume that its based in facts?

        What I’m putting forward is an analysis of the story within the context in which is was written, following a catastrophic war and the death of the spiritual leader Paul, using well established methods of intertextual analysis.

        And your saying, “Nah, we can’t figure anything out, its just a random story!”

        That doesn’t even make sense.

        • db says

          db provided some examples in this thread

          It appears that the consensus changed over the 1950’s to 1970’s period in viewing the Markan author as an independent editor. Vorster’s point beyond this, again challenges the contemporary consensus view (1993) by asserting that the Markan author is writing intertextual OT fiction on top of Jesus traditon.

          • See full article @ “Gospel of Mark (intertextuality) at 04:59, 17 October 2019 (Content attribution: (CC BY 4.0) Willem S. Vorster (1993)”. Wikipedia.

          [I]n the late 1950’s with the rise of the so-called redaction critical approach to the Gospels (see Marxsen 1959 & Peabody 1987). The material in the Gospel was increasingly regarded as edited tradition — an idea which goes far back, but one that had only recently developed. Although the Gospel as a whole came into focus, the interest was in the redaction of tradition. This resulted in detailed investigations concerning tradition and redaction in the Gospels. In the case of Mark it was extremely difficult to determine exactly what could be regarded as tradition and what could not, because of the absence of copies of the presumed sources. On the basis of style, regular occurrence of certain words and phrases, views that were peculiar to the specific Gospel, so-called seams or breaks in the text and other features, scholars reached a certain degree of consensus about redaction and tradition in the Gospel of Mark.

          Mark’s (theological) emphasis was determined by interpreting his redaction of tradition. At least a certain amount of creativity — however limited was ascribed to the redactor. Mark’s own contribution to the story of Jesus came into focus, despite the fact that he was soon described as a conservative redactor (see Pesch 1976). The emphasis which Wrede (1969) had put on Mark’s creativity in 1906 was newly appreciated.

          In circles where Mark was regarded as a composer, he received more credit for what he had achieved, and attention was given to the Gospel message as a whole. It was, however, only in the late 1970’s that scholars started paying serious attention to Mark’s Gospel’as a narrative, and to Mark as an author or author/narrator and to the Gospel as an autonomous text. —(p. 388)

        • Dr Sarah says

          @rationalrevolution:

          With regard to your first paragraph: If you’re going to come up with your own paraphrases of what I say, please don’t put them in quote marks; it’s misleading.

          Moving on to discussing your theory about the Temple scene:

          ‘[me] “ which is strange because these elements in gMark are not presented in the same order as in Hosea, so I honestly don’t know what point that was meant to be making”
          [you] Certainly they are. Fig Tree – House of God – Root is the pattern in both the scene from Mark and Hosea 9. That should be obvious.’

          That, R.G., was a bait-and-switch. And, in fairness, it’s a) almost certainly unintentional and b) minor as such things go. But it’s still a bait-and-switch and that needs to be clarified. Here, with emphasis mine, is what you wrote on the webpage:

          ‘We can see in the Gospel text that the cursing of the fig tree, the driving out of people from the temple (house of God), and the hostility toward Jesus are all related elements that are drawn from Hosea 9. All of these elements and the order in which they are presented in the Gospel called Mark are necessary to make the association between Hosea 9 and the narrative.’

          So, in your original writing, you were quite clear that ‘the hostility towards Jesus’ was one of the elements that you felt was necessary to make the association. In the section of Hosea 9 that you quoted, the line you highlighted as equivalent was v8, which occurs before the other elements; in gMark, it occurs after the cursing of the fig tree and the driving people out of the temple. Therefore, the elements you listed there were not presented in the same order as Hosea as they were in gMark.

          Now, from what you said above it seems you’ve now changed your mind and left ‘hostility towards Jesus’ off the list of matching elements. Obviously that’s your prerogative, but if that’s what you’re doing then

          a) be explicit about the fact that you’ve changed your mind; don’t just come out with an altered version of what you’re claiming and call it ‘obvious’ that that’s what you mean when it wasn’t what you originally stated

          and b) the fact that you’ve changed your idea about which points indicate an obvious link should give us at least some pause here. You’ve now decided it’s ‘obvious’ that the hostility-towards-Jesus theme isn’t a key part of the links you include, or at least that the positioning of that theme within the story order isn’t necessary. But that didn’t seem to be obvious to you when you wrote the original page; at that time, you listed that point as one of the necessary elements and stated that the order of these elements was also necessary. When you change your mind like that about what’s obvious/necessary for the link, that might be a clue that the links aren’t quite as ‘obvious’ as you think, and that at least some cherry-picking (even if quite unintentional) is going on here in order to highlight just those points you want for your theory.

          ‘Firstly, as is a part of the point of chapter 1, this isn’t an isolated case. This same type of scriptural reference is found dozens of times in the Gospel of Mark. That’s the point, scene after scene follows these patterns.’

          Unfortunately, R.G., several of the scenes you pick out follow precisely this pattern; namely, that you pick out a few surface similarities, ignore huge differences between the passages, and declare this to be sufficient proof that the second passage was clearly a) based on the first one and b) therefore fictitious. I’m fine with the idea that some of Mark’s gospel was derived from other sources – that wasn’t even news to me – but you do need to make more of a case for each individual such claim than you’ve made for this one or for at least some of your other claims.

          ‘So if you’re going to deny the relationship between the Gospels and the scriptures you’re basically going to be on your own, denying black and white evidence that is accepted by essentially every biblical scholars in the world.’

          I’m a bit staggered by the fact that, faced with my statement that there were other, more likely, explanations for the link you think you’ve spotted for this particular passage, you’ve leaped to a claim that I’m denying any relationship at all between the gospels and the scriptures. That colossal assumption of yours does not, for the record, represent my beliefs, and I see nothing that I’ve said that would indicate that it does.

          ‘By far the most straight forward explanation for the evidence laid out is that the Gospel of Mark is a story that was fabricated by a single individual.[…] Certainly you can make a case against that. But you have not done that.’

          Obviously I hadn’t done that at that point, because I hadn’t yet had time to finish the further posts I said I was going to make about Chapter 1. I have now got the next two posts up, and by all means critique them, but it’s a trifle premature of you to talk as though I’d decided to make the above post and leave it at that when in fact I’d clearly said I was going to make further posts on the chapter.

          ‘You really believe that this is better explained as “chance” than intention?’

          R.G., I’m going to look at your theory about how Mark wrote this story, and about what would have to happen during the composition process if your theory is correct. Let’s break this down here.

          • Mark decides to write a story to illustrate his belief that God is punishing the Jews for not heeding the message of harmony with the Gentiles.
          • Looking for examples to illustrate this, he picks a passage about God punishing the Jews… for committing idolatry. (To put this into cultural context; Judaism has historically had concerns about associating with Gentiles precisely because of concerns that the Gentiles would lead Jews away from following their laws, and the biggest concern about this has been the risk of Jews being led into idolatry. So, Mark hasn’t just picked a passage about God punishing the Jews for a different thing, he’s picked a passage about God punishing the Jews for essentially the opposite thing.)
          • Not only this, but the passage he’s chosen contains a reference (v10) to a time (Numbers 25) when friendship between the Jews and the neighbouring Gentiles led the Jews into worshipping the local god, Baal, thus bringing down God’s anger and punishment upon them. So Mark, looking for a good passage to illustrate his belief that Jews should be more friendly with Gentiles, has picked one that refers to a time when the Jews did get friendly with the Gentiles and it was an absolute disaster.
          • Whatever. Mark’s got his passage and he can start writing his analogy about Jesus throwing people out of the Temple for sinning against God. What wrong will he decide to portray these people as committing, in order to illustrate the fact that they’re being punished for committing it? According to your theory, he believes the problem is Jewish treatment of Gentiles; however, having chosen the Hosea reference, he might want to go further with that theme and portray them as turning away from God/committing idolatry. Which should he choose as the example sin here? He chooses… commerce. In his allegorical story, the people are being thrown out of the Temple for buying, selling, and carrying items. Well, that came out of left field.
          • Mark also needs to portray Jesus as making some sort of strong statement to drive the point home, whatever the point now is. He’s chosen to base his story on a passage from Hosea; the obvious thing would be to emphasise this by picking a quote from there about God’s punishment. Or perhaps he could choose a line about treating Gentiles better, since that’s what he wants his message to be in the first place; yes, that would also make perfect sense. What will he go for? Well, apparently his ideal choice is a line from Isaiah and a line from Jeremiah, creating a statement that ties in with the commerce theme that came out of left field before but has nothing to do with either his original theme or the theme of the Hosean passage he chose.
          • Mark also wants (according to your initial version) to get in the idea of hostility towards Jesus, to fit in with the image of hostility towards the prophet in the original Hosea passage. To represent these lines from Hosea – which refer to the prophet being considered a fool/a maniac, to him being a watchman, and to snares awaiting him on his paths – he makes no mention whatsoever of Jesus being considered a fool or a maniac, watching over anyone, or finding a snare on his path. Instead, he refers to the priests worrying that Jesus has too much influence over the crowd, which is pretty much the opposite of what’s happening with the prophet in Hosea 9. He also places this mention at a different point in the narrative.
          • Still, at least he gets the fig tree/withered root analogy in there. So I guess that’s something.

          Is it possible that someone would make all those decisions in composing an allegory? Yes. It certainly wouldn’t make him the skilled writer you’ve claimed him to be – the above would actually be a muddled mess – but there have always been plenty of people capable of writing muddled messes, so that’s not enough to rule it out as a possibility. Yes, that might have been how Mark composed this story.

          But what you’re trying to claim is that this is such a simple, obvious, likely explanation that it’s clearly what happened, to the point that we shouldn’t even take any other possibility seriously (including the possibility that Mark, or one of his predecessors in the story chain, noticed a passing resemblance to a line about Hosea in a story that had been passed down to them, and thus embroidered it with the lines about the fig tree; that seems just as feasible to me). Is it any clearer at all now why I don’t feel able to embrace this explanation to the extent that you do?

          • rationalrevolution says

            @Dr Sarah
            “That, R.G., was a bait-and-switch.”
            I’m not sure why you’re calling this a “bait and switch”, I’m just trying to clarify.

            “Here, with emphasis mine, is what you wrote on the webpage:”

            Okay, so I’m clarifying that. To me it seems obvious, but it seemed like you were struggling with it so I was spelling it out more.

            The main pattern of the reference is the early fruit – driving out – withered root. I was just lumping the early fruit and withered root elements together and calling those the cursing of the fig tree element. The hostility may not be a part of the pattern, but its also present in reference material. So yes, its a matching element, but no it doesn’t fit the pattern. Now, this relates is one area that I didn’t address in the book, which is the use of chiasims in Mark.

            You can read more about chiastic structures here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiastic_structure
            More about their use in Mark here: http://www.bible.literarystructure.info/bible/41_Mark_pericope_e.html

            The writer of Mark wrote his entire story using chiastic structures. These are paired phrases in the narrative, in patterns such as : ABB’A’, where A and A’ match and B and B’ match. So this explains why the writer would have used the patterns in this way, because he was fitting the narrative into a chiastic structure. The chiastic structure of this scene has long been recognized, with the fig tree elements forming elements of the structure. The prior links has an explanation of the structure of this scene. So a legitimate criticism of this part of my book is that I didn’t go into enough detail here. I was trying to keep it relatively simple, but maybe that wasn’t the right approach.

            “almost certainly unintentional”

            I don’t think that’s reasonable at all, and I haven’t talked to anyone else, across dozens of conversions on this issue including with biblical scholars, who thinks so. Everyone says, “Wow, that’s an important find.”

            So you’re view is that this is coincidence:
            Mark:
            13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
            15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
            20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

            Hosea 9
            10 when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.
            15 Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house.
            16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.

            “be explicit about the fact that you’ve changed your mind”

            I haven’t changed my mind about anything. I’m being more explicit with you because you weren’t grasping something that I thought was obvious. I didn’t go into minute detail initially because it seemed obvious to me. But that is also a legitimate criticism. I could have been more explicit to begin with. I was also intentionally avoiding the issue of chiasism because I felt it was an additional layer of complexity I didn’t want to get into, so I was trying to just gloss over this a bit. In this case, I think its necessary to get into the chaismic structures in order to fully explain the scene, but I felt like I was able to make the point about literary relationships without getting into that.

            I do think now that maybe that was a mistake and I should have addressed that. I’ll do that in a follow-up book 🙂

            I’ll get back to this, but again I’ve got to go so I’ll return to this reply later.

          • Dr Sarah says

            @rationalrevolution:
            Hi again!
            ‘[me]“That, R.G., was a bait-and-switch.”
            [you]I’m not sure why you’re calling this a “bait and switch”, I’m just trying to clarify.’

            Because, when I disagreed with a claim in your essay, you responded with an altered version of the same claim but with no acknowledgement of the fact you’d altered it in a way that got rid of the problem I’d disagreed with, and stated that this ‘should be obvious’ when in fact it was only ‘obvious’ because you’d changed what you were saying.

            ‘The hostility may not be a part of the pattern, but its also present in reference material. So yes, its a matching element, but no it doesn’t fit the pattern.’

            And that is precisely why it’s misleading when you say, of a list that included the hostility element, that ‘[a]ll of these elements and the order in which they are presented in the gospel called Mark are necessary to make the association’. One of the elements that you were appearing to include as one for which the order was important was, in fact, not in that order, and so that was why I queried it, and why calling it ‘obvious’ wasn’t particularly appropriate. Clearer now?

            ‘The chiastic structure of this scene has long been recognized, with the fig tree elements forming elements of the structure. The prior links has an explanation of the structure of this scene. So a legitimate criticism of this part of my book is that I didn’t go into enough detail here.’

            Alternatively, you could just leave out the sentence stating that the order of all those elements is important, since that’s what caused the confusion. But, yes, if you’re going to leave that sentence in then I think you should explain why you’re saying that when one of the elements on your list is in a different place in the order.

            ‘I don’t think that’s reasonable at all, and I haven’t talked to anyone else, across dozens of conversions on this issue including with biblical scholars, who thinks so.’

            You misunderstand. I wasn’t referring to Mark’s writing, but to yours, where you changed the list of elements that you were giving as being in an important order.

            ‘So you’re view is that this is coincidence’

            What’s most likely, I think, is that it’s a mixture of a real story and Mark embroidering it with details from the Hosea passage (I’m putting a bit more detail about this into another reply to you that I’m about to post). It’s also possible that Mark might have drawn on the Hosea passage subconsciously rather than consciously (as in, fig tree symbolism is associated in his mind with getting thrown out of the Temple, but he doesn’t remember that this is something he read in Hosea.) And it’s also possible that someone in the chain of story hand-down prior to Mark was the one to come up with the symbolism. And, yes… although it’s not very likely to be a coincidence, it doesn’t seem outside the bounds of coincidence that Mark (or someone prior to Mark) and Hosea could independently have come up with fig tree symbolism. With all these possibilities, I don’t see how we can or should jump to ‘Mark based this passage entirely on Hosea, with no historical input at all’ as the only plausible explanation.

            ‘I haven’t changed my mind about anything.’
            Your first list of elements for which the order was important included the ‘hostility’ element, and your second didn’t. I thought that was because you’d changed your mind. If not, then it probably just mean that you phrased your point incorrectly in the first case and that that needs editing.

          • rationalrevolution says

            @Dr Sarah
            “several of the scenes you pick out follow precisely this pattern; namely, that you pick out a few surface similarities, ignore huge differences between the passages, and declare this to be sufficient proof that the second passage was clearly a) based on the first one and b) therefore fictitious.”

            Okay, that’s a legitimate criticism. My approach wasn’t to provide an iron-clad analysis of individual passages, it was to lay out a broad range of examples. A full analysis of each passage would likely involve dozens of pages each. An entire book could be written just on the material that I laid out in chapter 1 alone, and would require getting into the original Greek as well as underlying Hebrew and Aramaic, etc.

            “But what you’re trying to claim is that this is such a simple, obvious, likely explanation that it’s clearly what happened, to the point that we shouldn’t even take any other possibility seriously (including the possibility that Mark, or one of his predecessors in the story chain, noticed a passing resemblance to a line about Hosea in a story that had been passed down to them, and thus embroidered it with the lines about the fig tree; that seems just as feasible to me)”

            Your assessment basically boils down to: If I were writing this story I would have done it differently.

            “So Mark, looking for a good passage to illustrate his belief that Jews should be more friendly with Gentiles, has picked one that refers to a time when the Jews did get friendly with the Gentiles and it was an absolute disaster.”

            Not exactly. Baal was a Canaanite god. Jews were Canaanites. Baal and Yahweh were the two main Canaanite gods. A group of Canaanites in the 7th century BCE developed a cult that exclusively worshiped Yahweh, which was in reality part of a process of consolidating political power by the priests of Yahweh. So really, Baal was not a “Gentile” god, he was a Semitic god along with Yahweh. It’s sort of like if a group of Christians declared worship of “The Holy Ghost” to be a heretical practice. “The Holy Ghost” wouldn’t be considered a “pagan god”.

            At any rate, the passage is about worshiping other gods, whereas Pauline Jesus worship was about spreading the worship of Yahweh and Jesus to other people. Convincing others to worship Jesus, not worshiping the gods of others. “The Lord” is not a “Jewish god”, “The Lord” is the god of all people.

            Hosea 9 has nothing to do with discouraging Jews from interacting with gentiles.

            Most of what you’ve said applies equally to all of the relationships between Mark and the scriptures. You can say all the same things about the Crucifixion scene and Psalm 22.
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+22&version=NRSV

            You can point to many elements in Psalm 22 that aren’t referenced in the scene from Mark. You can point to themes that don’t apply. All this means is that the writer of Mark viewed this materiel differently then you do.

            Whatever you may think about how all the other elements from Hosea 9 interact, you can’t escape the parallels:

            Mark:
            13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.
            15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
            20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

            Hosea 9
            10 when I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree.
            15 Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house.
            16 Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.

            “Mark, or one of his predecessors in the story chain, noticed a passing resemblance to a line about Hosea in a story that had been passed down to them, and thus embroidered it with the lines about the fig tree”

            With this are you stating that the scene is still based on Hosea 9, but that these things also really happened? So what you are envisioning is, there was some real guy named Jesus. He had followers going along with him, and he saw a fig tree a cursed it, then he went to a temple and threw people out of the temple, then he passed back by the fig tree and pointed out that it had died. This anecdote was remembered by someone who was in his group and they passed it along. Then someone noticed that there was a passage in Hosea 9 that contained this same sequence of references and they told the writer of Mark about it, and that person then referred back to Hosea 9 and used explicit language that tied his scene, which is based on real events, back to language in Hosea 9.

            Is that what you are proposing as being just as or more likely than the writer of Mark having fabricated the scene based on Hosea 9?

            The theme of Hosea 9 is clear. Punishment for the people of Israel. That’s the same theme that ties so many of these passages together. That’s my point. What is the theme that would lead the writer of Mark to these passages? Punishment of Israel, the bringing of destruction upon Israel, as just happened in the First Jewish-Roman War. The writer is writing just after Jerusalem has been sacked, the temple has been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews have been either killed or taken into slavery.

            We can see why the writer would have chosen this passage, because it is a passage about God bringing punishments upon Israel.

            And that is the larger point as well. The context of the war is what makes this passage and others like it relevant. The use of these types of passages wouldn’t have made sense prior to the war. The passages that deal with God punishing Israel are passages that only have relevance to the story after the war. That’s why I’m saying that this indicates that these entire scenes were invented after the war. When we look at scenes derived from passages about destruction and punishment being brought upon the Jews, I’m saying that the best explanation of such scenes is that they were all invented after the war, because it wouldn’t have made any sense to develop a narrative related to the punishment of the Jews until after the war.

            This same thing goes for the so-called “miraculous signs” narrative in John that I discuss later in the book. The “miraculous signs” narrative is clearly a late invention, not part of any early tradition, because the point of the “miraculous signs” narrative is to place blame on the Jews. It is an anti-Semitic trope. Early Jesus worship was not anti-Jewish, it was very much Jewish. Anti-Jewish themes became very popular after the First Jewish-Roman War when Gentile Christians took over the religion and rejected the Jews. The “miraculous signs” narrative from John is a part of that late anti-Jewish tradition, contrary to claims made by some Jesus scholars who try to claim that the “miraculous signs” narrative is part of some original stories that go back to eyewitnesses of the life of the real Jesus.

            So this is about understanding what elements of the narrative would only make sense to have been developed after the war, and thus cannot possibly be historical or part of any early community traditions. These are things that are later inventions that have no basis whatsoever in reality.

          • Dr Sarah says

            ‘Your assessment basically boils down to: If I were writing this story I would have done it differently.’

            Thing is, I wouldn’t have done it differently because of some whim or personal preference. I’d have done it differently because this way of doing it would be such a muddled, unclear, contradictory way of getting across the message in question.

            ‘So really, Baal was not a “Gentile” god, he was a Semitic god along with Yahweh.’

            On the one hand, I don’t think that explanation would stand up theologically within Judaism; worshipping Baal would still have been counted as idolatry, and that’s what the Jews of that time (and of today, for that matter) would understand Hosea 9 to be criticising them for. On the other hand, it’s occurred to me that Mark probably wasn’t Jewish and could very well have missed this implication of the passage. OK, I withdraw this particular objection.

            ‘Pauline Jesus worship was about spreading the worship of Yahweh and Jesus to other people. Convincing others to worship Jesus, not worshiping the gods of others.’

            That reminds me that I wanted to clarify this for the next post I’m writing, which is about Mark’s motive for writing an allegory. You’ve said this was to get the message across that the Jews were being punished, and in the introduction you said that what Mark believed they were being punished for was ‘not having heeded Paul’s message of harmony between Jews and Gentiles’. From other comments you made, however, it sounds as though you think what Mark blamed them for was for not being willing to include gentiles in their salvation plan; I’m not sure whether this is instead of the ‘message of harmony’, or as well as, or whether I’m misinterpreting that bit in the first place. So that I don’t waste either of our time arguing against a strawman, could you clarify at this point what you think Mark thought the Jews had done wrong and were being punished for?

            ‘Hosea 9 has nothing to do with discouraging Jews from interacting with gentiles.’

            Oh, not specifically; however, the context in which an observant Jew of the time would have read it would have been the concerns in Judaism that interaction could lead to idolatry/apostasy. However, as I said above, I realise now that Mark, as a Gentile (or at the very least someone who doesn’t seem to have had much background in Judaism), wouldn’t have read that meaning into the text, and thus I withdraw that point.

            ‘You can point to many elements in Psalm 22 that aren’t referenced in the scene from Mark. You can point to themes that don’t apply.’

            OK, that’s a good point. But that still leaves us with the question of why Mark would put other features into that passage; Jesus railing against commerce as being the problem here (when you say Mark has a completely different idea of what the problem was) and the priests thinking Jesus had far too much popular support (when part of Mark’s message seems to be that Jesus was rejected). If Mark wasn’t getting these points from things that actually happened, where was he getting them from? It’s possible to think of explanations that don’t involve historicity, but I don’t think it’s good enough just to wave them all away with the claim that Mark was clearly getting everything from other sources, end of.

            ‘With this are you stating that the scene is still based on Hosea 9, but that these things also really happened?’

            What I mean is that the Temple scene (or, at any rate, some kind of much weaker version of the Temple scene) could have really happened, not that I think the fig tree scene happened. So:
            • Jesus creates some kind of disturbance in the Temple.
            • This story gets passed down over the years, no doubt getting embroidered and exaggerated over time; the version Mark eventually hears includes Jesus throwing the merchants out, not just shouting at them.
            • This reminds Mark of Hosea 9.15.
            • When he comes to write this, he emphasises this perceived similarity by adding in the fig tree element from the same Hosean passage.

            Does anything about that version of events strike you as particularly improbable? I think it all sounds plausible. If this is what happened, then you’re right about Mark using Hosea, but the story was still based on a real event from the life of a historical Jesus. I’m not saying it is what happened, but that it’s a possible and plausible version of events.

            ‘When we look at scenes derived from passages about destruction and punishment being brought upon the Jews, I’m saying that the best explanation of such scenes is that they were all invented after the war, because it wouldn’t have made any sense to develop a narrative related to the punishment of the Jews until after the war.’

            Prior to the war, the Jews were living under Roman rule and hating it (that’s why there were so many messianic movements during that time); the belief that they were being punished by God would have made complete sense. I think it’s perfectly plausible that Mark could have been written after the war, but it’s not conclusive. (In fact, I’ve seen it pointed out that if he were writing Jesus’s prophecy after the war then he’d probably have put much more specific details into it.)

  7. db says

    OP: “Therefore, the protagonist [figure] in gMark – Jesus – is also fictional.”

    This is the mainstream position of scholars who do not hold that gMark was written as a biographical/historical treatise.

    • Thompson, Thomas L. (20 April 2009). “Historicizing the Figure of Jesus, the Messiah”. The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. Basic Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7867-3911-0.

    Whether the gospels in fact are biographies—narratives about the life of a historical person—is doubtful. Their pedagogical and legendary character reduces their value for historical reconstruction. New Testament scholars commonly hold the opinion that a historical person would be something very different from the Christ (or messiah), with whom, for example, the author of the Gospel of Mark identifies his Jesus (Hebrew: Joshua = savior), opening his book with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s son.”

    • Godfrey, Neil (26 November 2018). “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”. Vridar.

    I think most critical NT scholars would not accept that any of our canonical gospels describe a historical Jesus. I have never heard any scholar accept that claim except apologists. The gospels are uniformly said by critical NT scholars to be “mythical” or “christological” narratives that overlay a historical person, and that it is only be peeling back and applying various criteria or other methods that we can somehow find a historical figure.

    • db says

      Godfrey, Neil (17 November 2010). “The acts and words (and person?) of Jesus as Parables in the Gospel of Mark”. Vridar.

      [Per Mark’s Gospel] Jesus cannot even be said to be a true human in this Gospel. He is introduced to readers as being possessed by the Spirit of God . . . Readers are informed that from this moment Jesus is now the Son of God. This Spirit then casts him out into the wilderness where he engages with Satan and is sustained by angels. So the reader knows that Jesus is not a man, but God in a man. No-one else in the narrative ever knows this.

      Jesus stilling the storm demonstrates to readers that Jesus is the manifestation of the power of God at creation when the forces of chaos were subdued with a word, a theme that is repeated in several subsequent narratives (Exodus, Elisha, Jonah) and appears several times in the Psalms and Job.

      Peter’s “confession” that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah] is on a par with the understanding of the demons . . . Jesus soon afterwards calls him Satan when it is apparent that he misconstrues the Christ [Messiah] as a conquering king instead of a suffering servant.
      […]
      The Gospel narrative proceeds to follow well-recognized patterns of numerology, ‘topography, geography, travels, spatial markers and personifications.’ These are not the normal cues indicative of historical narratives. They speak of fiction. If such patterns are found in a story that is structured along lines very similar to the structures found in Hellenistic novels, poems and plays rather than those that more usually belong to works of history (even ancient historiography) — and I believe that is the case with Mark’s Gospel — then surely it is foolishness to even think the Gospel can be mined for anything “historical” at all.

    • db says

      Carrier (22 December 2019). “Tim O’Neill & the Biblical History Skeptics on Mythicism”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

      Jesus in Mark never behaves like a human: even when he isn’t doing works of wonder, he is acting very strangely compared to any real person; moreover, he is a supernatural being from the very start, parting the very heavens, defeating the Devil, and he continues as such in every subsequent chapter. If you count up incredible events, and divide by number of words, there actually is no greater miraculism in any other Gospel. The rate of the amazing per thousand words is the same, or as near enough as makes no statistically significant difference.

  8. db says

    OP: “This chapter lists multiple examples of Markan stories that Price believes to have been derived from Jewish scriptures…”

    Some of theses examples (or similar) are presented by other scholars as well, in regards to the intertextual production of the Gospel of Mark.

    Per Vorster, Willem S. (1993). “The Production of the Gospel of Mark : An essay on intertextuality”. HTS Teologiese Studies. 49 (3): 385–396. doi:10.4102/hts.v49i3.2499.

    One of the significant things about the use of the Old Testament in Mark is that he had no respect for the original context of the quotations and allusions to Old Testament writings in his text. The story of John the Baptist at the very beginning of the Gospel proves the point. In the first place the very first quotation (Mk 1:2-3) does not come from Isaiah the prophet, as Mark asserts. It is a composite reference to Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 which he connects to Isaiah the prophet. The quotation is taken out of context and worked into his story of John and Jesus in order to show the relationship between the two. The beginning of the Gospel does not prove the fulfillment of the Old Testament, it characterises John as the predecessor of Jesus. Only at a later stage does the reader realize the resemblance between the apocalyptic John and the apocalyptic Jesus. —(pp. 391–392)

    Per Price “Chapter One: Deciphering the Gospel Called Mark”:

    So by looking at the literary allusions in the opening scene of Mark, we see very complex foreshadowing and messaging. We are told in Mark 1:2 that a messenger is preparing the way for the Lord. We are told via the book of Malachi that the Lord will come to the temple, which foreshadows the temple cleansing scene in Mark 11.

  9. db says

    OP: “If we’re assuming Mark was writing an allegory about a real (from his perspective) heavenly being, why should we assume he wouldn’t write an allegory about a real earthly being?”

    • Yes it is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’s Jewish War—”Jesus son of Ananias”. Likewise it is likely that Mark’s “John the Baptist” figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews. But that does not mean that JtB met JsA on the Jordan and performed a baptism, any more than the movie “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” means Lincoln hunted Vampires.

    Per Godfrey, Neil (2 April 2019). “Much More Fully Informed History for Atheists — A Scholarly Introduction to the Two Jesus Parallels”. Vridar.

    Now, in what I expect will be my final post demonstrating the scholarly status of discussion about the relationships between the two Jesus figures, the one in Josephus’s Jewish War and the other in the synoptic gospels, specifically the Gospel of Mark, I will copy the preface by Mahlon Smith to the publication of Ted Weeden’s thesis in Forum, Westar’s academic journal, Fall 2003. . . . Here is Smith’s preface to Weeden’s thesis on the parallels, from pages 133-134:

    . . .[Ted Weeden now conclude’s] that Josephus himself created the story of Jesus son of Ananias and that Mark used his account. If this is the case, Mark could have been composed no earlier than 80 ce. That argument is presented here in an epilogue to the original paper.

    As Weeden notes, other scholars have previously called attention to similarities between the gospels’ depiction of Jesus of Nazareth and Josephus report about Jesus son of Ananias. But this is the first detailed case for the evangelists direct dependence on the latter story using the classic Greek rhetorical convention of creative imitation (mimesis).

    • db says

      why should we assume he wouldn’t write an allegory about a real earthly being?

      • The point is that Mark is allegorizing the teachings of Paul (who often allegorizes the Old Testament). And Mark then putting words on the lips of ”Jesus son of Ananias” just as does a movie puts words on the lips of “Abraham Lincoln” about vampires.

      The claim that Mark is allegorizing the teachings of Paul is addressed in Price’s chapter 2: “Mark’s Jesus is Based on Paul”, where he presents the scholarship on Mark allegorizing the teachings of Paul.

      Per Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

      Clearly, if Mark merely and primarily allegorised Paul’s writings, the traditional theories about the Historical Jesus — which borrow heavily from the Gospels rather than Paul’s letters — are in quite a bit of trouble. . . . Paul also allegorises the Old Testament, which is basically fictional, it seems that Mark’s account of Jesus, which forms the basis for later accounts of Jesus, is constructed from allegories of allegories of fictions. —(p. 257)

  10. db says

    Dr Sarah @2 says:

    Well, if it [sc. Christianity] started in a very Jewish setting (which is one thing I agree with, BTW), then what was or wasn’t a core part of Mediterranean religions wasn’t very relevant; very Jewish settings, by definition, wouldn’t have been likely to be influenced by what the Greek or Roman cultures did or didn’t do.

    rationalrevolution @2, replying to Dr Sarah, says:

    This is just not true. The idea that Judaism was some truly distinct religion is a modern invention. The reality is that Judaism was very much a product of its surrounding cultures and was constantly being influenced by them. There is even a growing case that much of the Jewish bible was derived from Greek writings.

    Per Carrier (22 December 2019). “Tim O’Neill & the Biblical History Skeptics on Mythicism”. Richard Carrier Blogs. [NOW BOLDED]

    Syncretism always transforms what it borrows, and creates an amalgam, in which only what is wanted is kept.
    […]
    [Whereas the evolution of a local religion is not actual syncretism between a local and another, usually dominating society’s religion.] Baal simply means Lord. It was a generic name for God among all the Canaanite tribes. Yahweh is simply the local name of the local Baal of one of the tribes of the Canaanites. The Jews were not syncretizing some other native religion of their own with Canaanite religion. The Jews actually were Canaanites. They then wrote stories claiming to be from somewhere else to justify their genocide of neighboring Canaanite tribes. Yahweh keeps many of the features of Baal and his lore because Yahweh was Baal. He was not “merged” with Baal.
    […]
    For a correct example of syncretism, you should look at how Judaism was transformed by exposure to Zoroastrianism: before it had no end-times apocalypticism, no Satan as the enemy of God, no resurrection (at all much less at the end of days), and no flaming hell where sinners are tormented after death, nor even much of any idea of the dead living in heaven. The original Jewish belief was of the dead remaining forever asleep, their souls only capable of awakening by witches; and only the rarest of heroes got to live in heaven, and not by dying, but by being taken up while still alive (like Elijah and Enoch and in some legends Moses). But after becoming subject to the Persians, Judaism adopted all those things from Persian Zoroastrianism, after modifying them to suit Jewish ideas and sensibilities and contexts. There are no “leftovers.” There is only what they borrowed, and how they changed it by merging it with their local ideas.
    […]
    [Per the viewpoint] that the Gospels share no narrative elements with other dying-and-rising tales. That’s been thoroughly refuted under peer review by Richard Miller, and others. See OHJ, “Element 47,” for example (in Chapter 5). The most similar storyline is of Romulus, for whom there were still publicly enacted passion plays, which Mark 15-16 tracks aspects of in outline. Mark simply combines this with emulations of the legend of Jesus ben Ananias and scriptural and Judaic material. But you can’t say the similarities with Romulus and other pagan translation stories are just a coincidence. Again, they borrow what they like, change and add what they want, and leave out what they don’t. Thus explaining why there are no dildos and dismemberments and other borrowed ideas from Osiris myth, for example: those narrative details were the least palatable to Christians when Mark wrote. They had no use for them.

    But that of course all relates to Mark’s construction of a myth. . . . [not] the original sect’s beliefs
    […]
    These narrative details in Mark did not likely exist in Christianity before his creative application. Christianity began, as we can plainly see in Paul, with a much more esoteric and mystical dying and rising savior myth. It had more in common with the cosmic myths of Osiris, which were advocated by a priesthood whom Plutarch tells us also derided the vulgar myths about dildos and dismemberments as convenient falsehoods.

    Understanding what the Gospel authors are doing with analogous myths in the constructing of their own requires reading what I actually say about this in OHJ (particularly Chapter 10). . . . Likewise understanding how the general tropes of mystery religion surrounding Judaism at the time influenced their construction of a mystery religion of their own—a process not the same as what’s going on in the Gospels—requires actually reading what I separately say about that (particularly in Chapter 4).

    • db says

      Per Mark’s construction of a myth vs. the original sect’s beliefs:

      “Misquoting Mythicism: Syncretism and Dying/Rising God Parallels w/ Richard Carrier”. YouTube. Godless Engineer. 20 December 2019.

      [@time 00:45:35] There’s the Gospels—which is different from the origin of the religion—we have to keep those two separate,
      • so the Gospels were clearly written by educated Greeks so we know they know what any educated Greek would know.
      […]
      [@time 00:46:09] So what they [sc. historicists] want to say is that [per the origin of the religion] well this can not have been influenced at the beginning [by educated Greeks] right. So the origin of the story can’t have come from this influence because
      • it came from these poor Galilean illiterate Jews. How could they possibly have known all this stuff?

      Carrier in the video subsequently opines on the cosmopolitan aspects of first century CE Galilee.

      • Chancey, Mark A. (2005). Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-44798-0.

      [Herod Antipas’s] rebuilding of Sepphoris and establishment of Tiberias allowed the [Roman] client king to demonstrate his enthusiasm for the mingling of Greek, Roman, and local cultures that was taking place throughout the Levant. . . . [exposure to pagan cities and their Greek and local deities and demigods] stood only a very few miles away, such as [at] Scythopolis and Hippos, and many Galileans would have known something of the pagan rituals that took place there. —(pp. 221–222)

      • Cappelletti, Silvia (2007). “Non-Jewish Authors on Galilee”. In Zangenberg, J.; Attridge, H. W.; Martin, D.B.. Religion, Ethnicity, and Identity in Ancient Galilee: A Region in Transition. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 69–82. ISBN 978-3-16-149044-6.

      Strabo is aware that Galilee had a mixed population . . . The sources seem to ignore the Hellenistic history of Galilee, its relations first with the Seleucid kingdom and then with the Hasmoneans. —(p. 80)

  11. db says

    Dr Sarah @2 says:

    [For Jews] Worshipping anything other than Yahweh is about as un-Jewish as it’s possible to get.

    rationalrevolution @2, replying to Dr Sarah, says:

    [W]e know that between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE many groups of course kept developing additional figures and so-called “second gods” that they worshiped. There is extensive evidence of this in the Qumranic writings. Judaism was not monolithic. There was contact constant squabbling among Jews, which is recorded in the scriptures themselves. Many Jews worshiped other deities in various ways, and even elevated others to God status, as we see directly in the writings from Qumran. Enoch, Melchizedek, archangels such a Michael and Gabriel, were all being worshiped by Jews as godlike figures around the time of Christian origins. The worship of messiahs was also prominent.

    Indeed it is known that there was in fact a supposedly “separate” cult that worshiped a coming messiah Joshua in the first century. There was a leader of this Joshua cult who tried to walk on water and cross the Jordan river around 60 CE, which was when it was believed that the end times were coming . Of course you know that Joshua just a different translation of the same name as Jesus. The Hebrew Yehoshu’a translated to Joshua via Latin and to Iesous via Greek. Iesous translates to Jesus via Latin, so Jesus is just a product of translating the name Yehoshu’a to Greek first.

    So what we’re really talking about is a 1st century cult that was worshiping a reinterpretation of the messiah Joshua, of which we know that there were in fact other first century Jewish cults worshiping a scriptural Joshua as a potential coming messiah whom they expected to come and free them from Roman oppression right before the First Jewish-Roman War.

    • One of the most relevant questions of the historicity Jesus is: Did a group of Jews prior to Paul, e.g. Philo, worship/revere a celestial second-god with similar attributes as those Paul attributed to his celestial Jesus, his Christ lord, his second-god?

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

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

    Per Lataster, Raphael (2016). “Review Essay: Bart Ehrman and the Elusive Historical Jesus”. Literature & Aesthetics 26 (1): 181–192. ISSN 2200-0437.

    [Bart] Ehrman argues that since there are Jewish texts that outlaw angel worship, there must have been Jews worshipping ‘non-God’ divine beings. . . . Ehrman even refers to the Son of Man of 1 Enoch as the “cosmic judge of the earth”, and acknowledges that some considered him to be the Messiah, and worshipped him ([How Jesus Became God] pp. 66-68). He also gives a nod to ‘Wisdom [personified]’ and ‘Logos [personified]’, and admits that Philo of Alexandria describes his Logos as divine, as God’s first born. Ehrman even realises that the Tanakh made it very easy for Jews to incorporate similar ideas from the Ancient Greeks (such as the Wisdom figure appearing in Proverbs 8, and Genesis 1’s ‘creative Logos’). All this only bolsters the claims . . . that all the elements needed to create Christianity, without a HJ [Historical Jesus], were already present in Judaism. —(p. 183)

    Per Lataster, Raphael (August 2019). “Questioning Jesus’ HistoricityThe Bible and Interpretation.

    [T]here were Jews who expected a Celestial Messiah who would bring abut somewhat of a spiritual victory; which makes sense as the poor Jews would have no hope of defeating the mighty Roman Empire, and most could not access the Temple. Philo even, directly or indirectly, connects this figure, his Logos, with the name ‘Jesus’. For more on all this, please read Questioning the Historicity of Jesus.

    Cf. Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

  12. db says

    Dr Sarah @2 says:

    [Jewish] people aren’t going to be using translations of their scriptures. They’ll use the original Hebrew, because they believe that’s how God handed it to them. But, even if we hypothesise that an otherwise Jewish group somehow ended up working from a translation of their scriptures instead of the original (and that a group who were known from an early stage for their poverty and illiteracy somehow managed to get hold of translated scriptures and find out what they said), what translation talks about ‘the piercing of the savior’?

    rationalrevolution @2, replying to Dr Sarah, says:

    Greek translations of the Jewish scriptures were widely used among Jews. In addition there were both Hebrew and Aramaic translations and there were discrepancies even among these. The idea that these were prefect writings with no variations is just a Christian fallacy about inerrant scripture. The fact this there were several variants of these texts.

    Per Brodie, Thomas L. (2004). The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-905048-03-8.

    [Per] Luke-Acts: several of its general features reflect the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX), so much so that Luke—Acts has been described as a mimesis or literary imitation of the LXX (Pliimacher 1972), and as a continuation of the LXX (Sterling 1992: 352-63). —(p. 85)

    • Justin Martyr reads as prophecy ‘the piercing of the savior’ from the LXX “Book of Psalms”.

    Per Miroslav Marcovich (2011). “Dialogus 96.2–97.4″. Iustini Martyris Apologiae pro Christianis. Iustini Martyris Dialogus cum Tryphone. Walter de Gruyter. p. 237. ISBN 978-3-11-092423-7. [NOW FORMATTED]

    Καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις πάλιν λόγοις Δαυὶδ εἰς τὸ πάθος καὶ τὸν σταυρὸν ἐν παραβολῇ μυστηριώδει οὕτως εἶπεν ἐν εἰκοστῷ πρώτῳ ψαλμῷ-
    [LXX Psa 21:17] Ὥρυξαν χεῖράς μου καὶ πόδας μου.
    [LXX Psa 21:18] Ἐξηρίθμησαν πάντα τὰ ὀστᾶ μου’αὐτοὶ δὲ κατενόησαν καὶ ἐπεῖδόν με.
    [LXX Psa 21:19] Διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτιά μου ἑαυτοῖς, καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν ἱματισμόν μου ἔβαλον κλῆρον.

    TRANSLATION: [Chap. xcvii (97). Other predictions of the cross of Christ]

    David in the twenty-first Psalm thus refers to the suffering and to the cross in a parable of mystery: ‘They pierced my hands and my feet; they counted all my bones. They considered and gazed on me; they parted my garments among themselves, and cast lots upon my vesture.

    Cf. Psa 22:16–18

    • It is likely that the Markan author made the same reading as did Justin Martyr.

    • db says

      Dr Sarah says: “a group who were known from an early stage for their poverty and illiteracy somehow managed to get hold of translated scriptures and find out what they said”

      This is a conflation of Paul, who bragged about the money he obtained and the Markan author (an expert Greek scribe) who was likely affluent. With the original sect whose resources are not actually known. Yes they took Paul’s money, but even rich people take free money.

    • Dr Sarah says

      @db:
      ‘• Justin Martyr reads as prophecy ‘the piercing of the savior’ from the LXX “Book of Psalms”.
      […]
      David in the twenty-first Psalm thus refers to the suffering and to the cross in a parable of mystery: ‘They pierced my hands and my feet; they counted all my bones.’
      There are a few problems with this. Firstly, as you probably know, ‘pierced’ is a poor translation here; the original Greek meant ‘dug’. Secondly, this is part of a passage in which the narrator is lying in the dust. Thirdly, it doesn’t (that I can see) say anything about a saviour.
      Now, of course, Justin Martyr read this as being about the Messiah’s crucifixion. But Justin Martyr, as a Christian, was reading this passage with a pre-existing belief that the Messiah had been crucified as part of God’s plan, and an expectation of finding prophecies of this in the scriptures. When reading the passage with this presupposition, yes, it’s possible to seize on the phrase ‘dug my hands and my feet’, and take it out of context and mistranslate it so as to interpret it as referring to a crucifixion; it’s a case of seeing what you expect to see. But that doesn’t mean that we can assume a situation where people without those presuppositions would have read the passage in this way.
      This is one of the (many) points at which a historical-Jesus explanation makes a lot more sense than a mythical-Jesus explanation. If Jesus did exist, then the sequence of events is:
      1. Jesus, a real person walking the earth and preaching, built up a devoted following who passionately believed him to be the Messiah.
      2. Jesus was crucified.
      3. His followers couldn’t accept the disappointment of believing he wasn’t the Messiah, so reconciled this cognitive dissonance by coming to believe in a crucified Messiah.
      4. This further developed into a belief that this crucifixion of the Messiah had in fact been exactly how God had planned things.
      5. Over time, some of his followers read various scriptures with this firmly-held preconception, which led to them picking out any phrases which seemed to support this idea of a crucified Messiah. This would also quite naturally include Greek translations of the scriptures, since, regardless of what was happening in terms of either Hellenisation or literacy in the original stages of the movement, by this point the growing church certainly did contain many educated, literate, Greek or Hellenised members who were quite capable of reading these translations.
      But if Jesus didn’t exist, then we have to account for the belief in a crucified Messiah without these prior stages. And if we try using the ‘they dug at/pierced my hands and my feet’ line as an explanation for this, then that effectively means hypothesising a situation something like this:
      1. The originators of this movement included at least one educated, Hellenised Jew who could read Greek scriptures and had access to a copy of them, yet somehow this faded from all records of the movement which then portrayed its early stages of consisting entirely of a group of peasants and probable illiterates, even when the existence of a more educated person among the originals could have been useful in convincing other people to convert to the movement.
      2. While formulating their theory about the Messiah being a sin-sacrifice in a spiritual realm, this person/these people read a passage in which the narrator describes being lain low in the dust by surrounding enemies who dig at his hands and feet, takes that as a description of crucifixion… and connects this with their sacrifice theory to think “This is obviously how this sin-sacrifice in the spiritual realm took place!”

      Of the two scenarios I’ve outlined, which sounds more probable? I know I’d go with the first scenario as sounding a heck of a lot more plausible.

      • db says

        Dr Sarah says: “Over time, some of his [sc. Jesus] followers read various scriptures with this firmly-held preconception, which led to them picking out any phrases which seemed to support this idea of a crucified Messiah. This would also quite naturally include Greek translations of the scriptures, since, regardless of what was happening in terms of either Hellenisation or literacy in the original stages of the movement, by this point the growing church certainly did contain many educated, literate, Greek or Hellenised members who were quite capable of reading these translations.”

        • This point with modification, also supports the ahistoricty of Jesus.

        The devotees of a celestial Christ/Messiah—Paul and the later Markan author—read various scriptures with a firmly-held preconception “that the Messiah had been crucified as part of God’s plan”. Therefore they had “an expectation of finding prophecies of this in the scriptures”, which led to them picking out any phrases which seemed to support this idea of a crucified Messiah. This would quite naturally include the Greek translation of the scriptures, i.e. the Septuagint (LXX).

        Per Paul’s original sect, which was a Torah-observant Jewish-Christian church, we do not know with certainly if it did contain many educated, literate, Greek or Hellenised members. But the later Markan author was certainly educated, literate, Greek or Hellenised.

        • Dr Sarah says

          @db:

          ‘• This point with modification, also supports the ahistoricty of Jesus.

          The devotees of a celestial Christ/Messiah—Paul and the later Markan author—read various scriptures with a firmly-held preconception “that the Messiah had been crucified as part of God’s plan”.’

          Yes, db, but how did they get to that belief in the first place?

          If Jesus never existed on earth, the early church wouldn’t be starting from a point of having seen someone they already believed to be the Messiah be crucified. They wouldn’t have that reason for making the connection. If they believed that their Messiah had been a perfect once-and-for-all sin sacrifice on a celestial plane, what led them to decide that this sacrifice had taken place, not via the usual methods of blood-letting, but via a completely different method of death that was inextricably associated with punishment and humiliation by their oppressors? What led them to make that link?

          ‘Per Paul’s original sect, which was a Torah-observant Jewish-Christian church

          Say what now? Paul’s teachings were all about abandoning the Torah to live under grace; he specifically clashed with the existing church about this. Where are you getting this from?

          ‘But the later Markan author was certainly educated, literate, Greek or Hellenised.’

          That I agree with, but he was also decades into the church’s existence, so that doesn’t tell us anything about the group among which the church was founded.

          • db says

            Dr Sarah says: “Paul’s teachings were all about abandoning the Torah to live under grace; he specifically clashed with the existing church about this. Where are you getting this from?”

            • Clarification: The one he originally joined.

            That the original “Christian” sect that Paul joined was a “a Torah-observant Jewish-Christian church” is the Mainstream opinion.

            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.

          • Dr Sarah says

            @db:

            ‘That the original “Christian” sect that Paul joined was a “a Torah-observant Jewish-Christian church” is the Mainstream opinion.’

            Ah, that makes more sense (well, for very loose values of ‘joined’, considering how little Paul had to do with them, but I suppose he technically became a member).

            ‘Paul […] held that his “Lord”, the second-god, had died while incarnate in a human body’

            OK, hold on a second. I agree that that’s what Paul thought, but you sound as though you also think Paul thought this. How is that not a contraindication to mythicism?

          • db says

            • Clarification of my “Clarification: The one he originally joined.”

            The sect that Paul originally joined is generally held to be the first “Christian” church.

            But if by “Christian” one means that Christians held that Jesus died and rose. R. G. Price has opined that there is available material that supports the viewpoint that some “Christians” held that Jesus did not die and was not a blood sacrifice. Which is attested in their practice of the Eucharist. If I understand R. G. correctly?

            Richard Carrier defines “Christian” as specifically the sect holding that Jesus died and rose as a blood sacrifice. And that this “blood sacrifice” is a novel innovation by the original Christian sect.

            Comment by Richard Carrier—23 May 2018—per “Historicity Big and Small: How Historians Try to Rescue Jesus”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 26 April 2018.

            The distinguishing characteristic of a Christian sect would be the archangel Jesus having died. There is no evidence Paul knew of any Christian sect preaching “another kind of death.”

            Though I should have qualified by noting Paul is never clear on what sort of death is meant. The words he uses also referred to standard Jewish executions (as for example by stoning). I cite scholarship and evidence of that in OHJ (pp. 61-62). So, for example, the sect outside the Roman Empire that preached Christ was stoned and then crucified, by the Jews (OHJ, Ch. 8.1; which Paul could be referring to, as he is sufficiently vague) could be more original than the souped up version invented possibly by Mark that has the Romans do it in collusion with the Jews.

            Other than that, there probably were pre-Christian sects (one of which probably became Christian, by novel revelation) that did revere the archangel Jesus and probably even taught he would be the coming messiah, but had not yet come to the conclusion that he’d died to effect his plans, thus had already initiated the end times timetable. There are hints in the Dead Sea Scrolls that the sect(s) represented there did have some such view (and may even have written up pesher prophecies of that angel’s future planned death). But we don’t know that for sure, we don’t know if the only such sect simply became Christianity, we don’t know if any members of that sect protested the revelation and stuck to the original timetable and thus broke away, we don’t know if there were other sects never impacted by the revelation who continued preaching their own thing. Paul does say there were sects preaching “another Jesus” whom the Christians should shun. So those could have been any of the above, for example.

            Another way to look at it is: the manner of death was too trivial to have a schism over at that point, especially as Paul is so vague about it—and you don’t go vague on a point that’s creating schisms; that’s what creeds are for: to demarcate what’s valid and what’s anathema. So clearly there were no anathemas regarding means of the killing; vagueness would at best mean an intent to “big tent” the movement and unite schisms. Notice that by the time we get to Ignatius, now the manner of death is a schism point built into the creed, indicating that by then there certainly were sects disagreeing (though exactly what they were disagreeing on or why we can only speculate). But that’s almost a hundred years later. But there could well have been sects still revering or expecting the Jesus angel as not having died, and who (like possibly Philo) thought it absurd that he would ever do so, and/or who (like possibly the Qumran sect) thought it was not time yet for it to happen, who were competing with Christian sects. They could be the “other Jesus’s” Paul talks about. But we sadly just don’t know.

  13. db says

    Dr Sarah @2 says [NOW FORMATTED]:

    [W]e know that at some point early in the history of the church it started completely reinterpreting concepts such as the Messiah, Son of God, and sacrifice, investing them with meanings totally different from the meanings they had for the Jews.

    We also know that early in the history of the church Paul – a man who was passionate about his own interpretation of this new faith, yet showed almost no interest in what the existing church believed – put a great deal of time and effort into preaching his version of the faith to far-flung Gentile communities, and that he clashed with the existing church to at least some extent over what he thought.

    • Which is the more logical deduction?

    That the two events had nothing to do with each other, but, rather, a staunchly Jewish community were the ones to reinterpret old concepts in a way so radically different from their previous interpretation by Jews?

    Or that the former event was caused by the latter; that the reason we got these new interpretations of who the Messiah was or what ‘Son of God’ meant was because a man with very new and different ideas was passing them on to Gentiles with a very different cultural background? I’m going with the second conclusion.

    Per Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

    [E]very crucial aspect of the best cases against historicity, and for agnosticism and mythicism, is already accepted in mainstream scholarship. That is not to say that all – or even a majority – of scholars accept all of them, but that each of these components is held to by a significant number of mainstream scholars, and even Christians. In other words, these sceptical theories may not be so ‘fringe’ or ‘unthinkable’ after all.

    Example:

    – Pre-Christian Judaisms were very diverse, and much is still unknown about them.
    – Pre-Christian Jews believed in multiple realms, and heavenly counterparts.
    – Pre-Christian Jews searched and reinterpreted the old scriptures for contemporary guidance and prophecy.
    Pre-Christian Jews believed in a divine and celestial Messiah/Christ.*
    – Pre-Christian Jews believed in a suffering, dying, and rising messiah.
    – Pre-Christian Jews required and developed spiritual solutions to the physical problems caused by the inaccessibility/destruction of the Temple.
    – Early Christians reinterpreted the old scriptures and perceived Jesus as a divine, suffering, problem-solving Messiah.
    – The Epistles – especially Paul’s – say little to nothing about a Historical/Earthly Jesus, and show little to no awareness of the Gospels.
    – The Epistles – especially Paul’s – describe a Celestial Jesus communicating from Heaven.*
    – Paul depicts Jesus as being killed by celestial demons.
    – Paul’s writings are influenced by Pagan ideas, and by Philo (or sources Paul and Philo share in common).
    – Paul’s stated sources for Jesus are the old scriptures and revelations.
    – Paul is himself an unreliable source.
    – Paul’s writings were cherished by ‘heretics’ and later edited by the ‘orthodox’ to make the existence of the Gospel Jesus more obvious.
    – There are no authentic pre-Gospel references to Jesus having any biological siblings.
    – Early Christianity has much in common with the secretive mystery religions.
    – The case for Jesus’ historicity effectively rests upon the canonical Gospels.
    – The Gospels post-date the Epistles, especially Paul’s.
    – The Gospels and later documents tend to ‘flesh out’ the story.
    – The Gospels’ Jesus has much in common with purely mythical figures.
    – The Gospels are unreliable, filled with supernatural and mundane fictions.
    – Current use of the Criteria of Authenticity is very flawed.
    – The later Gospels build on Mark, the first Christian document to unambiguously situate Jesus on Earth, in recent history.
    – Mark allegorises Paul’s writings.*
    – Mark allegorises – directly and indirectly – the Old Testament.
    – Mark is significantly based on other Jewish writings.
    – Mark is significantly based on Pagan writings.
    – Mark and the other Gospel writers fabricated much of their Gospels.
    – Positing hypothetical sources underlying the Gospels is illogical, unnecessary, and diverts attention from extant sources.
    – The Christian extrabiblical sources are of little use.
    – The non-Christian extrabiblical sources are of little use.
    – The best evidences for Jesus’ historicity are inauthentic.
    – In light of the state of the sources, it is possible that Jesus did not exist.

    The three asterisked points “demonstrate that the Celestial Jesus theory is reasonable, and alludes to an organic development from already-existing Jewish beliefs” (Lataster, pp. 460–461).

    • db says

      Dr Sarah says:

      [W]e know that at some point early in the history of the church…

      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. [NOW BOLDED]:

      Between the 30s and 70s some [of the many] Christian congregations gradually mythicize the story of their celestial Jesus Lord . . . Right in the middle of this process the Jewish War of 66–70 destroyed the original church in Jerusalem, leaving us with no evidence that any of the original apostles lived beyond it. Before that, persecutions from Jewish authorities and famines throughout the empire . . . further exacerbated the effect, which was to leave a thirty-year dark age in the history of the church (from the 60s to the 90s), a whole generation in which we have no idea what happened or who was in charge (Element 22). In fact this ecclesial dark age probably spans fifty years (from the 60s to 110s), if 1 Clement was written in the 60s and not the 90s (see Chapter 8, §5), as then we have no record of anything going on until either Ignatius or Papias, both of whom could have written well later than the 110s (Chapter 8, §§6 and 7).

      It’s during this dark age that the canonical Gospels most likely came to be written, by persons unknown (Chapter 7, §4), and at least one Christian sect started to believe the myths they contain were real, and thus began to believe (or for convenience claim) that Jesus was a real person, and then preached and embellished this view. Because having a historical founder represented in controlled documents was a significant advantage (Chapter 8, §12; and Chapter 1, §4), this ‘historicizing’ sect gradually gained political and social superiority, declared itself ‘orthodox’ while condemning all others as ‘heretics’ (Chapter 4, §3), and preserved only texts that agreed with its view, and forged and altered countless texts in support. As a result, almost all evidence of the original Christian sects and what they believed has been lost or doctored out of the record; even evidence of what happened during the latter half of the first century to transition from Paul’s Christianity to second-century ‘orthodoxy’ is completely lost and now almost wholly inaccessible to us (Elements 21-22 and 44).

      No element of the theory I just outlined is ad hoc.
      […]
      Euhemerization of god-men by placing them in historical contexts was commonplace in antiquity. That ancient texts could have symbolic and allegorical content is well established in classics and religious studies, has ample support in the sociology of religion and was common practice in ancient mystery cults and Judaism. Christianity did possess the central features of ancient mystery cults. And the fact that such ‘mysteries’ were kept secret and revealed only to initiates, who were then sworn to secrecy, is a well-known fact of ancient religion. Everything else is an undeniable fact: the Epistles do reveal the constant vexation of novel dogmas; the devastating events of the 60s did occur; the history of the church is completely silent from then until the mid-90s or later; a historicist sect did later gain supreme power and did decide which texts to preserve, and it did doctor and meddle with numerous manuscripts and even produced wholesale forgeries to that same end—and not as a result of any organized conspiracy, but simply from independent scribes and authors widely sharing similar assumptions and motives.

      The only element of the basic myth theory that is even incredible (at least at first look) is the idea that a transition from a secret cosmic savior to a public historical one happened within two generations, and without a clear record of it occurring. But the unusual circumstances of a major disruption in the church opened the door to rapid developments in its dogmas, and the complete silence of the record in the following period blocks any attempt to argue ‘from silence’ that there was no transition from myth to legend. That this development did not get recorded is because nothing got recorded.

      When we consider the prospect of newly evangelized Christians, handed a euhemerized Gospel, but not yet initiated into the full secret, and then being set loose to spread their unfinished beliefs and founding their own churches and developing their own speculations, the idea that a myth could be mistaken as and transformed into ‘history’ in just a few generations is not so implausible as it may seem, particularly given that the geographical distances involved were large, lifespans then were short, and legends often grow with distance in both time and space. There may even have been a ‘transitional’ state of the cult in which the historical narratives were seen as playing out what was simultaneously occurring in the heavens (so one could believe both narratives were true), or in which certain sect leaders chose to downplay or reinterpret the secret doctrines and sell the public ones as the truth instead (as Origen seems to have thought was a good idea). Any number of possibilities present themselves; without any data from that period, we cannot know which happened.

      Hence I already dealt with this objection more than adequately in Chapters 6 (§7), 7 (§7), and 8 (§§4 and 12). For comparison, even if we granted historicity, then we do not know how some sects transitioned to a cosmically born Jesus in the Christianities Irenaeus attacks as heresies (Chapter 11, §9) or a cosmically killed Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah (Chapter 3, §1), or to a Jesus who lived and died a hundred years earlier (Chapter 8, §1). Thus, our ignorance in the matter of how the cult transitioned is not solved by positing historicity. Either way, we’re equally in the dark on how these changes happened. —(pp. 608–610)

      Cf. Carrier (9 November 2017). “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

      Per Godfrey, Neil (26 November 2018). “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”. Vridar. [NOW BOLDED]:

      [I]n the Gospel of Mark the Jesus figure is most unlike any ordinary human figure in ancient (or modern) literature. He is a human, of course, with brothers and sisters and a mother, and he eats and drinks. But he is unlike any other figure in works that we know to be ancient biographies or histories. . . . With that background, the two horns of the dilemma are modified somewhat:
      • If Jesus did exist, we have to explain how, within a relatively short time of his death, he was being spoken of as some kind of mythical semi-deity in the writings of some of his followers.
      • If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as a parabolic or allegorical type of person who walked the face of the earth conversing with humans and spirits and did many inexplicable things and spoke in ways that his hearers did not understand.

      Or maybe I should make the dilemma a triceratops with a third horn:
      • If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how two of the three canonical evangelists [i.e. Matthew and Luke—following after the earliest: Mark] . . . “corrected” his account [as previously taught by Mark] and made him and his followers a little more realistically human.

      IMO: gMatthew and gLuke continue—more fully—the process of euhemerization and historization of second-god. i.e. Jesus, that began with gMark.

      • db says

        R. G. Price’s argument that the belief that gMark was not a fictional story is the result of a mistaken interpretation of a fictional story, i.e. gMark—is very cogent. Especially when the Gospel colored glasses are removed and one realizes the extent of Jesus’s inhumanity in gMark and one recognizes the possibility that gMark was a handbook for use by devotees of a Celestial Christ/Messiah or even the result of Theatrical performance.

        Per Price, R. G. (11 April 2019). “The State of Scholarly Mythicism”. Debunking Christianity.

        Where I differ from Carrier is, he proposes that Jesus was consciously historicized in order to achieve some goal. I, on the other hand, propose that the Gospel of Mark was the origin of the idea that Jesus was a real person, but that the Gospel of Mark was written as an allegorical tale that was only misinterpreted as real history. This misinterpretation of the story of Mark is what led to the belief that Jesus was a real person. Thus, the historicization of Jesus wasn’t a conscious effort, it was the result of a mistaken interpretation of a fictional story.

    • Dr Sarah says

      @db (quoting Lataster):

      ‘[E]very crucial aspect of the best cases against historicity, and for agnosticism and mythicism, is already accepted in mainstream scholarship. That is not to say that all – or even a majority – of scholars accept all of them, but that each of these components is held to by a significant number of mainstream scholars, and even Christians.
      […]
      – Pre-Christian Jews believed in a divine and celestial Messiah/Christ.*
      – Pre-Christian Jews believed in a suffering, dying, and rising messiah.’

      References, please?

      ‘– There are no authentic pre-Gospel references to Jesus having any biological siblings.’

      Who are the ‘significant number of mainstream scholars’ who believe that the Pauline references to Jesus’s brothers are inauthentic?

      ‘– The best evidences for Jesus’ historicity are inauthentic.’

      Who are the ‘significant number of mainstream scholars’ who believe that the Jamesian passage is inauthentic?

  14. db says

    Dr Sarah @2 says:

    [Given that] early in the history of the church [there was] Paul – a [Jewish] man who was passionate about his own interpretation of this new faith, yet showed almost no interest in what the existing [Jewish-Christian] church believed [about Jesus]
    […]
    Which is the more logical deduction . . . a staunchly Jewish community were the ones to reinterpret old concepts in a way so radically different from their previous interpretation by Jews? . . . [Or were] these new interpretations of who the Messiah was or what ‘Son of God’ meant was because a man [sc. Paul] with very new and different ideas was passing them on to Gentiles with a very different cultural background?

    “Misquoting Mythicism: Syncretism and Dying/Rising God Parallels w/ Richard Carrier” @time 00:47:25. YouTube. Godless Engineer. 20 December 2019.

    [00:47:25] We can’t make a claim that the origins of Christianity started with some hermit in an isolated village, who never left the village first of all.
    • We don’t know how educated these first guys were,
    • We don’t know where they came from.
    They almost certainly had to be educated rabbis, but we also know that the Galilean sect of rabbinical school was hostile to and different from the Judean Pharisee sect.

    So there are two different schools of thought here so that when people say like, “Oh the Jews are very hostile to Greek culture”, they’re talking about Pharisees. But that’s one sect and in fact it’s the sect that the Christians very clearly were the most hostile to so they clearly didn’t come from the Pharisees so you can’t make the argument that they were like Pharisees they were the opposite of Pharisees they were anti Pharisee from the very beginning. I mean Paul makes this clear, he was a Pharisee he says and then you know converted to Christianity but he was persecuting Christians as a Pharisee.

    So you can’t start from the example of what Pharisees thought about Greek culture or what kind of education they had or whatever you have to look at the fringe cults and if you look at the the countercultural culture look at the Dead Sea Scrolls for example where there are Greek literature I think we have a piece of or there’s a reference to the Enûma Eliš in the Dead Sea Scrolls stuff. So it’s just very pagan so they clearly know this stuff they they know about pagan information they have Greek language people who speak and write Greek among them you know educated Greeks so this idea that there can’t have been influence is just false. That’s even apart from when we get to the pilgrims.

    So one of the things about Judaism is the massive influx of pilgrims throughout the year at different times of year for the Yom Kippur and for Passover and so you have these Jews from the Diaspora who are coming from like Alexandria and Corinth and Ephesus and they’re coming from all these places where they get exposed to Greek and various foreign cultures. They come in mass like a million people will come into Judea over the course of a year these are Jews that are coming to Judea:
    • are they just not gonna talk about any of the things they heard of;
    • are they not gonna bring any books with them;
    • are there no libraries in Jerusalem.
    I mean it’s ridiculous to suggest that there’s no possibility of influence. [00:50:00]

    Per Severa, Jiri (2012). Do You Not Understand This Parable? : Mark’s Recursive Paradoxes as Key to His Gospel. academia.edu. p. 2. [NOW FORMATTED]

    The [Markan] gospel addresses two groups of outsiders separately:

    • one is a group of a different Jesus tradition to whom he offers the salvation through Pauline Christ on condition of their converting to the cross.

    • He savages and ridicules [the second group] the pharisaic Jews of his time by having Jesus defy the law and giving either himself or through Jesus, misleading references to the Torah (1:1-3, 2:26, 9:12-13, 10:19, 14:21, 14:49).

  15. db says

    Dr Sarah—25 January 2020—@13 says:

    [db says:] ‘Paul […] held that his “Lord”, the second-god, had died while incarnate in a human body’

    OK, hold on a second. I agree that that’s what Paul thought, but you sound as though you also think Paul thought this. How is that not a contraindication to mythicism?

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

    I and even Bart Ehrman argue (and others, whom we both cite), the first Christians [including Paul] were already sure Jesus was an incarnated archangel…so which one?
    […]
    Philo’s angel is the same being the first Christians thought their Jesus was. Which is equally weird, and thus equally likely, on either historicity or mythicism.
    […]
    Gullotta seems to think I argue that Paul definitely did not mean Jesus had human parents; when in fact on the a fortiori side of my error margin . . . I only argue we can’t tell (on the scant and ambiguous evidence we have). Maybe that’s what Paul meant. Maybe not. It’s unclear. That it’s unclear is itself weird (why should Paul speak so weirdly, evasively, and unclearly about the parentage of Jesus?).
    […]
    [Per the fact that Paul calls Jesus a man] This entails Paul believed Jesus was (briefly) human—but we already agree on that. That’s already entailed by mythicism. The question is not whether Paul thought Jesus wore a human body. It’s whether he wore it on earth. And Paul never says he did. Plain and simple.

    • Dr Sarah says

      @db: You know, I think Carrier is pushing it further and further with what he considers ‘weird’ or evidence of mythicism, or is willing to overlook as possible evidence for historicity. Hold your hat, I’m going to get snarky.

      ‘That it’s unclear is itself weird (why should Paul speak so weirdly, evasively, and unclearly about the parentage of Jesus?).’

      Well, just possibly because he somehow inexplicably failed to realise that two thousand years later Mythicists would be poring over his letters looking for evidence that Jesus never existed on earth? And declaring anything short of a clear statement that Jesus physically walked the earth to be evidence for mythicism?

      OK. End of snark. Some actual questions for you here. (And feel free to pass them on to Carrier if you want to, but that does seem kind of pointless; since he never did post my responses to his previous questions, as per further upstream in this comment thread, I’m going to take it that he’s not too interested in engaging in debate.)

      db, do you yourself find it ‘weird’ that Paul doesn’t give specifics of Jesus’s parentage in his letters? If so, can you be more specific as to where you would expect him to give specifics of Jesus’s parentage in letters that are about answers to religious questions? In what circumstances would you expect someone who’s writing a letter giving their views and the views of a higher authority on particular religious issues to add in biographical details about the higher authority’s parentage?

      Do you yourself feel that ‘evasive’ is an applicable word to use at this point? If so, then how so, considering that ‘evasive’ means avoiding something; are there questions here about Jesus’s parentage that you feel Paul is avoiding, and, if so, how do you think we know this, given that we only have Paul’s side of this discussion? (After all, it isn’t as though these are transcripts of discussions in which Paul was being directly asked about Jesus’s parents and was avoiding the questions. They’re letters written in response to particular issues or questions on which we no longer have any details beyond those preserved in Paul’s answers. I can’t see, from that, how we can conclude that Paul was ‘evading’ something.)

      (I know you can quote stuff. Endlessly so. But do you have opinions on these questions, and, if so, what are they?)

      ‘This entails Paul believed Jesus was (briefly) human—but we already agree on that. That’s already entailed by mythicism.’

      Carrier’s talking as though this were automatically so. In fact, if Paul did believe Jesus only ever existed in heaven, that certainly wouldn’t ‘entail’ Jesus being human. At best, it’s possible to argue – at a major stretch – that it would allow for the possibility of Jesus wearing a human body in heaven. Even that is a heck of a stretch, but it’s hardly something we can automatically assume.

      When we’re at the point of believing that mythicism could include the original followers believing that Jesus was effectively leading a human life in another dimension, then we’ve got a theory that’s so vague it’s effectively unfalsifiable.

      ‘The question is not whether Paul thought Jesus wore a human body. It’s whether he wore it on earth. And Paul never says he did. Plain and simple.’

      So. More questions:

      Do we have evidence that it was widely believed in these times that the gods, or semi-divine beings, would wear normal human bodies in their heavenly realm or whatever their dimension was called?

      And… Since a key part of Carrier’s entire Bayesian theory involves coming up with the probabilities of us having the evidence we have on either a) historicity or b) mythicism and putting those into the equation, could you give me your best estimate of the probability of Paul believing that Jesus had a human body if historicity is true (i.e. Jesus actually did have a human body), and the probability of Paul believing this if mythicism is true (i.e. Paul believed Jesus only ever existed in another, spiritual dimension)?

      • db says

        • Allocentric vs. Idiocentric vocabulary

        Carrier’s idiocentric vocabulary is often remarked upon e.g. Neil Godfrey states “I hate Carrier’s use of “weird”” but he also concedes that Carrier “has explained his use of such language and I understand why but I still hate it”

        I find that Carrier’s idiocentric vocabulary is not very different from the professional jargon of Doctors and Lawyers, I have no issue with it. In this particular case “weird” corresponds to a low Bayesian Probability estimate.

        • “Zeus was enamoured of Europa and decided to seduce or rape her” (the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth, per Wikipedia). Therefore he transformed himself into a tame white bull. Did Paul believe in the historicity of this “tame white bull”? If not, then many other people did.

        While previously unattested in any other material than the Pauline (AFAIK). That Jesus would take possession of a vegetative adult human clone body seems par for the course, to me (compare the belief of Zeus I have presented). The possibility of this belief by Paul is given greater weight by Carrier’s presentation of Paul’s likely theology. Therefore it is expected under Doherty-Carrier mythicism.

        Under historicity, Paul is not a reliable source for attestation of the historicity of Jesus. Paul denies that his knowledge of Jesus has any human source. And the Markan text is certainly not a reliable source for attestation of the historicity of Jesus. So while historicity (by definition) has a 100% expectation of Jesus on Earth as a real historical “human being”. It has a low Bayesian Probability of being the correct interpretation of the available evidence.

        Neil Godfrey also responds:

        Comment by Neil Godfrey—26 January 2020—per “A Response to Dr Sarah, Geeky Humanist, on the Jesus Question”. Vridar. 26 November 2018

        • Dr Sarah says

          @db:
          ‘I find that Carrier’s idiocentric vocabulary is not very different from the professional jargon of Doctors and Lawyers, I have no issue with it.’
          (snort) I do just want to comment here, as someone who is a doctor and who grew up as the daughter of a lawyer, that, yes, the word ‘weird’ actually is very different from ‘professional jargon’. Or at least professional jargon in any form in which I’ve ever seen doctors or lawyers use it. Maybe for historians it’s different?

          Anyway; joking aside, my issue was not with the fact of Carrier using the word, but of him using it in that context. But I’ve been over that, so, moving on to the actual point:

          ‘“Zeus was enamoured of Europa and decided to seduce or rape her” (the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth, per Wikipedia). Therefore he transformed himself into a tame white bull. Did Paul believe in the historicity of this “tame white bull”? If not, then many other people did.’

          The issue is not whether people believed in its historicity, but whether they believed that Zeus took on this physical form in heaven rather than on earth. Given the context, I’d say it sounds as though it was most definitely on earth. So, again… do we have any evidence that it was widely believed that divine beings would take on physical flesh in heaven? Because, if not, then the fact that Paul believed that Jesus was in the form of physical flesh at one point suggests that Paul had some awareness of Jesus having existed on earth as well as in heaven.

          ‘Under historicity, Paul is not a reliable source for attestation of the historicity of Jesus. Paul denies that his knowledge of Jesus has any human source.’

          Under any theory, Paul’s information regarding Jesus is indeed highly flawed, given that his goal seems to have been to learn as little as possible about the actual Jesus so that he could instead cling to his somewhat idiosyncratic view of Jesus. But it seems ironic to see a mythicist say so, given how often we get Paul’s letters cited as evidence for mythicism.

          As for Paul’s view that Jesus took on flesh… should we discard that with most of the rest of the Pauline information? I think that, given that Paul had a very spiritual-based view of Jesus and his importance and clearly wanted to focus very much on this aspect of Jesus, and given that the dimension in which Jesus existed would have been a basic enough fact about him that, even with his minimal knowledge of anything related to the actual Jesus, Paul probably could be expected to be aware of at least that much, I do find Paul’s belief that Jesus had a body of flesh something that’s worth noting for the pro-historicity side.

          • db says

            I do find Paul’s belief that Jesus had a body of flesh something that’s worth noting for the pro-historicity side.

            Per Carrier, “Paul’s belief that Jesus had a body of flesh” works equally well for both historicity and ahistoricity. Carrier’s argument is where this occurred.

          • Dr Sarah says

            I know Carrier said that. I disagree with him. I think that, even if it can be demonstrated that people of that time could have reasonably come to the conclusion that a heavenly being could have a body of flesh, it would still be noticeably less likely that someone would believe that of a heavenly being than they would of an earthly being.

      • db says

        Richard Carrier responds:

        Comment by Richard Carrier—27 January 2020—per “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 16 December 2017.

        I don’t see any arguments there. All those questions are answered in Chapter 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus. They don’t seem to know that. Or that I still count these passages as evidence for historicity! (So how can I be taking the point “too far”?)

        • Dr Sarah says

          @db:

          With regard to the somewhat bowdlerised version of my comments that you put on Carrier’s page; if you’re quoting me, could you please not amend the quote in a way that misrepresents what I said? I didn’t direct those questions ‘to an objective person’; I directed them very specifically to you. Not that it matters this time, that I can see, but it’s bad practice and I don’t want to be quoted misleadingly again.

          Anyway: Carrier’s argument in Chapter 11 of OHJ. In fairness, I did skim across this when I read it, because I read OHJ as part of his online course on the historicity of Jesus, which involved getting through quite a lot of stuff in just over a month in what was, for me, rather minimal spare time. And this was some years ago anyway. So, after Carrier posted that, I went back and read through this section quite a bit more carefully, and wrote down some of my thoughts, which got pretty long:

          1. Carrier gives two references to support his idea that Jews could have believed in a sort of cosmic sperm bank, so I checked them both out:
          a) 2 Sam 7:12 – 14: David is told that, after his death, God ‘will raise up thy seed after thee’, which Carrier takes to mean as God planning to keep David’s semen in heaven (OK, I just had a few minutes of wondering how that would work in terms of impregnating hypothetical random future women, but I guess that’s not important). The thing is, it seems to me that a much more obvious reading would be that ‘seed’ here means one of David’s existing sons or one of his descendants via these sons. (If ‘seed’ wasn’t generally understood as including the meanings ‘children’ or ‘descendants’ then we’re going to have some problems with reading Isaiah 53:10; I’m fairly sure no-one interpreted this verse as meaning that the suffering servant’s reward would be to look at a semen stain.)

          b) The demoness Igrat as mentioned in Dennis, ‘Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism’; Carrier says that this shows that ‘[later] Jewish legend imagined demons running their own cosmic sperm bank, even stealing David’s sperm for it, to beget his enemies with’. Since this book is on Google Books, I managed to read this section with the ‘Look Inside’ feature; what it actually says is ‘She [Igrat] had intercourse with David, and from his royal semen she gave birth to both the gentile kings who would become his enemies… and to Asmodeus, the King of Demons.’ I’m kind of stymied that Carrier’s interpretation of this is ‘demons [plural!] running their own cosmic sperm bank’, because what’s actually described here is a sequence of had sex → gave birth to babies, which is, let’s face it, enough of a time-honoured sequence that I can’t really see how we need to assume that it must have included storing up the sperm in a sperm bank to conceive at a later stage.

          So what we’ve got here, with both of these, is a situation where Carrier seems to be overlooking a fairly obvious textual interpretation, insisting instead on a much more unlikely interpretation which supports his theory, and declaring the latter interpretation to be the obvious one. I think that’s notable because of what it shows us about how Carrier interprets evidence.

          2. Carrier writes: ‘Minimal mythicism practically entails that the celestial Christ would be understood to have been formed from the ‘sperm of David’, even literally’. Now, since Carrier’s minimal mythicism theory is that Jesus was originally thought to be a celestial deity who only existed in a supernatural realm, what Carrier’s effectively saying here is that believing in a celestial deity in the supernatural realm would, for the early cult, have practically entailed that this celestial deity was formed from the sperm of a human historical man. Which doesn’t really seem to make sense, and the book seems a bit hazy on why Carrier thinks this.
          All I’ve been able to find by way of explanation is ‘simply by combining minimal mythicism with a reading of the scriptures and the established background facts of previous history’. As best I can figure out, what this means is that he thinks followers of a mythic Jesus would have had to have believed this because scripture predicts that the Messiah is going to come from the line of David. But anyone following the mythic Jesus that Carrier’s hypothesised would already have to be ignoring some of what scripture has to say (for example, scripture teaches that the Jewish temple sacrifice system was expected to go on forever, not be replaced), so why would we assume that they’d feel obliged to stick with the verses prophecying descent from David? Carrier says that because he could deduce this belief, this means there’s a very high probability that followers of a mythical Jesus would have held it. No, there isn’t; reverse-engineering a belief in the way he’s just done isn’t at all the same as coming to that belief from scratch.

          And, yes, I do know that – at the end of all this – Carrier does figure these into the pro-historicity side of the equation. Trouble is, he only does this after spinning those strained explanations, declaring how certain he is that all of this is perfectly well explained on mythicism, and behaving as though the points he grudgingly gives to historicity here are only due to extreme generosity on his part. I know that, when I first read this book and didn’t stop to analyse this part in detail, that impression was what stayed with me. Looking at his arguments in more detail does make me a lot more aware of the weaknesses in them.

          • db says

            Carrier gives two references to support his idea that Jews could have believed in a sort of cosmic sperm bank

            The “cosmic sperm bank” is just one possible interpretation of the Pauline material. Carrier and Lataster primarily plump for the allegorical reading of seed. Lataser writes, “neither Carrier or I believe in the ‘cosmic sperm bank’. From all the possibilities, we both prefer the allegorical reading.”

          • Dr Sarah says

            Depends what he means by ‘believe in’; Carrier might well not believe it’s the most likely explanation, but he’s made it clear he believes it’s a possible explanation. (In fact, in OHJ he was saying it was what he would expect to have happened.)

            For me, the issue is not that I feel Carrier’s argument stands or falls on that point. It’s that he displays such an uncritical evaluation of evidence when coming to a conclusion about what’s plausible.

  16. db says

    Comment by neilgodfrey—5 September 2018—per Myers, PZ (5 September 2018). “The ontology of historical figures”. Pharyngula.

    PZ — you have had discussions with Tim O’Neill. I have several times now offered to debate Tim O’Neill in any online forum on one condition: that he refrain from personal insult and innuendo in his discussions. He has declined till now. If you were to be a mediator of such a debate I would welcome the opportunity.

    Per Neil Godfrey, “Tim O’Neill has backed out of engaging with me in any serious debate now. His excuse is that I am too picky and not worth his time. But he will take time to launch a few insults when he can. Meanwhile, he happily ignores the fundamental flaws in his arguments, — ignoring them and lobbing the occasional insult at the one who has exposed them is his best tactic for maintaining his integrity…”

    • PZ and Dr Sarah would be excellent choices for mediators of such a debate.

    Dr Sarah, if you have any interest, are you in contact with PZ and able to follow up with him on such a debate?

    • Dr Sarah says

      Flattered to be asked, but a) I don’t think I could manage the time commitment and b) if O’Neill doesn’t want to debate, he doesn’t want to debate; I’ll respect that.

      • db says

        Well somebody needs to cogently debate this topic, or else round and round we go…

        • David Galston ap. Cassandra J. Farrin (18 August 2014). “Myth and the Historical Jesus”. Westar Institute. [NOW BOLDED]

        The critical examination of the Christian gospels, especially with the rise of form criticism [Form criticism is the analysis of the history of literary units like parables and aphorisms.], recommends the conclusion that Jesus as the center of Christian dogma emerged in the itinerant preaching of the earliest Jesus movements. . . . but sometimes the memory preserved expressed something Jesus very likely did say, or almost said, as a historical being.

        NB: I am uncertain who wrote this: Galston or Farrin?

        Comment by Dennis Dean Carpenter—19 August 2014—per Farrin, Cassandra J. “Myth and the Historical Jesus”. Westar Institute. 18 August 2014

        Did Jesus exist? It’s possible. The only Jesus Seminar vote I have seen is in “John the Baptist and Jesus,” p. 145. Their rationale was not convincing. They write, “Just as there was a person named John the Baptist, or Baptizer, so there was most certainly a person named Jesus.” My head spins with that argument! (The vote was 96% believing there was this Jesus.) Then, they mention footnotes by Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius and references in rabbinical writings, all written after the earliest Gospels, the first two having whiffs of the Gospels in their summaries, Suetonius rather confusing (Claudius expelling Jews because of Chrestus) and the rabbinical writings extremely late. None of those are compelling or even halfway convincing arguments.

        • Dr Sarah says

          ‘Well somebody needs to cogently debate this topic, or else round and round we go…’

          (snort) What, and you think that’s going to change if we just get the right people to debate?

          • db says

            Per the Richard Carrier debate with Craig A. Evans, entitled Did Jesus Exist?, held at Kennesaw State University on April 13, 2016.
            • Evans was clearly lacking cogency with his argument against Carrier’s position.

            Per the Bart Ehrman debate with Robert M. Price, entitled Did Jesus Exist?, held as a featured event of “Mythinformation Conference III”, hosted by Mythicist Milwaukee, October 21, 2016.
            • Price was clearly lacking cogency with his argument against Ehrman’s position.

            The obvious conclusion of who needs to debate is Carrier–Ehrman.

            While this certainly will not settle the issue, it will go a long way towards it… I hope?

  17. rationalrevolution says

    Okay, this is getting a bit hard to follow. I made two relatively recent replies here:

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2019/12/03/deciphering-the-gospels-proves-jesus-never-existed-review-chapter-one/#comment-3309

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2019/12/03/deciphering-the-gospels-proves-jesus-never-existed-review-chapter-one/#comment-3272

    Anyways. The main point of chapter 1 is to present the case that the Gospel of Mark is a story that was invented by its author in the context of the aftermath of the First Jewish-Roman War. The scenes are largely derived from scriptural references, many of which only make sense in light of the First Jewish-Roman War, and thus would had to have been invented after that events. This means that such scenes would not be part of traditions or accounts that come from some “early community”, etc.

    I take it that your assessment of what I laid out in the first chapter is that you did not find the material that I laid out convincing. You still believe that it is more likely that the Gospel of Mark is based on accounts of the life of Jesus that were recorded or memorialized long before the war and that the war has little to do with the narrative. You believe that the narrative of the Gospel of Mark should be viewed as likely being a relatively realistic account of the life of a real person.

    Is that correct?

    • Dr Sarah says

      @rationalrevolution:
      ‘I take it that your assessment of what I laid out in the first chapter is that you did not find the material that I laid out convincing. You still believe that it is more likely that the Gospel of Mark is based on accounts of the life of Jesus that were recorded or memorialized long before the war and that the war has little to do with the narrative. You believe that the narrative of the Gospel of Mark should be viewed as likely being a relatively realistic account of the life of a real person.’

      Is that correct?’

      The first sentence is correct.
      The second sentence; pretty much, but I would add something like ‘loosely’ or ‘originally’ before the ‘based on’, because I think it perfectly fair to take into account that the stories would have been pretty inaccurate by the time Mark wrote them down. I also think it’s hard to say how much the war influenced the narrative, so the last part of that sentence might or might not be correct; I’m neutral on that point.
      For the third sentence, I think we need to leave out the words ‘relatively realistic’, as it’s pretty clearly a hagiographic, fictionalised (not the same as fictional), heavily embroidered account which was very much about making the points the author wanted it to make (and based on stories that would also have been passed down by people making the point they wanted to make). However, I do believe that it is originally based (however loosely) on a real person.

      • rationalrevolution says

        I’m just replying down here at the bottom because its easier to keep track of.

        Regarding the question you’ve posed to me: “What do you see as the message that Mark wanted to get across by writing his gospel?”

        I think this is a question that I have a somewhat different answer to today than when I wrote the book. When I wrote the book I didn’t have as much of an understanding of the role of Paul and the Pauline movement as I do now.

        From the perspective of the book, which I think is correct but incomplete, Mark’s story is about the the Jewish expectation of a Jewish messiah who would lead to the Jews to domination vs the Pauline idea that Jesus was a messiah for all people, Jews and Gentiles. Throughout the first century there was a growing movement among various Jewish sects, which we see a lot of evidence of at Qumran, that the end of the present age was near, and that the end of the age would be marked by the coming of a Jewish messiah or messiahs(s) who would lead the Jews to victory over the Romans and lead to Jewish domination of the world, which would bring about a “Kingdom of God” on earth, etc.

        The Pauline message is that the “Kingdom of God” was not going to be realized on earth at all, because the material world was hopelessly corrupt (a Orphic idea), and so the Kingdom of God would be in heaven. And the Kingdom of God wouldn’t a place for Jews, and it wasn’t about Jewish domination, it was able ending human suffering for all people of the world.

        The story of Mark is about the folly of the Jews who believed that the Kingdom of God would be exclusive to Jews, evidenced by the fact that the destruction of the Jews during the war. The war was a punishment brought by God because the Jews still failed to understand the universal role of the messiah (according to Paul).

        What I didn’t realize at the time, however, is everything that was going on in relation to the Pauline movement. I think an excellent book that addresses this is Bert Ehrman’s “Forgery and Counterforgery”. In this Ehrman basically shows that virtually all of the early Christian writings revolved around Paul, and that virtually all of early Christian writings are forgeries. Th e”Pauline letters” in the NT contain 7 authentic letters of Paul, plus 6 forgeries that were likely produced by 3 or 4 different authors. These forgeries were debating theological concepts regarding the nature of salvation, and the Jewish vs universal aspects of the messiah, and doing so by using Paul as the authority because the claims. In other words, at this time, the best thing one could do to advance their theological agenda was to claim that these were things that had been said by Paul. Thus, people were making forgeries in Paul’s name. In addition, the letters of James and Jude are forgeries also revolving around Paul. These are anti-Pauline forgeries that Ehrman shows were written in direct contraction to Pauline letters. The letters to the Hebrews is based on Pauline writings. 1st Peter is a forgery based in Pauline style and was likely originally attributed to Paul. 2nd Peter is a letter trying to reconcile the conflict between Peter and Paul. So what we see in all of these letters is the extent to which they all revolve around Paul and are all rooted in the authority of Paul. None of these letters, except the late 2nd Peter, treat Jesus as an authority. In all of these letters Paul or other people like James are the authorities, and the discussions are about the nature of Jesus, but there is no indication that Jesus is a person who himself had any authority or provided nay teachings.

        This is where the story of Mark comes in. Here, in this mix of forgeries and counter forgeries all trying to identify “true Pauline teachings”, writer of Mark takes a different path. Instead of writing another forged letter in Paul’s name trying to clarify the “true Pauline message,” he puts Paul’s true teachings directly into the mouth of Jesus and now makes Jesus himself the authority. Now “true Pauline teachings” don’t come from Paul, they come from Jesus.

        So a big part of the writing of Mark was establishing “true Pauline teachings.”

        • Dr Sarah says

          @rationalrevolution:
          ‘I’m just replying down here at the bottom because its easier to keep track of.’

          Yeah, comment threading on this site seems to be a total disaster. Glad you reminded me, in fact; I think I really ought to turn it off, because it’s just making things more confusing than otherwise.

          Anyway; thanks for answering my question! Would you say this is – as far as it goes – a fair summary of what you think:

          1. The original group believed that their Jesus-figure was going to bring about a Kingdom of God that would be for Jews, who would have dominion over the other people in the earth.
          2. Paul – and then Mark – believed that this Kingdom of God was for everyone; Gentiles as well as Jews.

          • rationalrevolution says

            Not exactly. From the 3rd through 1st century several Jews conceived of some king of figure anointed by the Lord, messiah, who would bring about a Kingdom of God on earth. This Kingdom of God would be ruled by Jews, and Jews would be the supreme power on earth, much like the Romans were at the time. This view was particularly prominent in the late 2nd century and early 1st century. It is discussed in detail in the Qumranic writings.

            The initial group of “Jesus” worshipers, really Joshua worshipers, believed that the Kingdom of God would be in heaven, but it was for Jews only. Paul advocated the idea that the Kingdom of God could be for everyone, not just Jews. According to James, etc., you had to live by the Jewish laws and essentially become a Jew in order to enter the Kingdom of God. According to Paul, however, all you needed was to have faith in Jesus.

            It’s unclear exactly which beliefs were unique to Paul and which were a part of the original cult. We simply don’t have enough into to get very detailed on sorting out which beliefs were purely Pauline, but certainly the belief that you didn’t have to live by the Jewish law was Pauline. Beyond that its difficult to really sort out.

  18. Dr Sarah says

    @rationalrevolution:

    OK… so Mark was one of the people who believed that unconverted Gentiles should be part of the Kingdom, he believed that God was punishing the Jews for having initially insisted that Gentiles had to convert to be part of the Kingdom, and he wrote the gospel to get this message across via allegory? Have I got that straight?

    • rationalrevolution says

      Basically. I don’t know that he, “believed that God was punishing the Jews for having initially insisted that Gentiles had to convert to be part of the Kingdom.” Certainly his story is presented through the lens of the war as a punishment brought upon the Jews for not embracing Pauline teachings and the universal nature of the messiah.

  19. Dr Sarah says

    @rationalrevolution:

    ‘Basically. I don’t know that he, “believed that God was punishing the Jews for having initially insisted that Gentiles had to convert to be part of the Kingdom.”’

    Don’t know whether I’m just being dense here, but I can’t see how that’s different from what you’re saying apart from being reworded.

    Initial Christian beliefs: Only Jews get to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, this includes converted Jews, so Gentiles do have a way in; just not as Gentiles, they can only get in if they convert first.

    Belief as preached by Paul: No need for Gentiles to convert; everyone who believes in Jesus gets in, including Gentiles.

    (Edited to add) Mark’s motive for writing: Thinks that on this point Paul was right and the initial group was wrong, and that God has punished the Jews for getting it wrong.

    If I have any of the above wrong, then what do I have wrong about it?

    • rationalrevolution says

      I’m saying I don’t know what the author believed. Many people write stories that convey concepts they don’t necessarily believe. Can we determine what Mark Twain or J. K. Rowling believe based on their stories?

      I don’t know that gMark is a profession of personal beliefs. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It’s a story. It’s a story that I don’t believe was mean to be taken literally. It conveyed a message, just like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn conveyed a message about slavery and Southerners. I don’t know that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be taken as a specific profession of Samuel Clemens’ personal beliefs.

  20. Dr Sarah says

    @rationalrevolution:

    ‘I don’t know that gMark is a profession of personal beliefs. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It’s a story.’

    OK, hold on, hold on. I thought a key part of your argument was that Mark wrote this as a deliberate allegory that was then mistakenly interpreted literally, and that he did this to get a message across? I know we can’t know what he had in mind – all of this is essentially educated guesswork – but surely you at least need a plausible theory?

    Something led Mark to handwrite a story many pages long, in a time where paper and ink were expensive. That’s not something you do without some kind of a reason. In the historical-Jesus scenario, the reason is “Mark wanted to let people know about this man he believed to have been the Messiah, so he wrote a story that was a mixture of symbolism, exaggeration, and actual true stories about this man that had been handed down to him.” What’s the reason in your scenario? You say it’s allegory; OK, what idea does he seem to have been trying to get across? Unless it was a terrible allegory, it should be possible to tell what his point was. When we read ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, we don’t know exactly what inspired Bunyan, and we certainly don’t think he actually did dream this amazingly long and detailed dream, but it is pretty obvious that he’s trying to teach us some stuff about how lengthy and difficult a process it is to make it to heaven and about what the pitfalls are along the way.

    It’s fine if you don’t think we can be very specific about it, but you must have at least some kind of idea about what message you think Mark was trying to get across. Otherwise, why do you conclude he was trying to get any kind of message across? And if he wasn’t – and if he also wasn’t writing about a flesh-and-blood person he believed to have been the Messiah and to have done at least some of this stuff – then why was he writing this gospel?

    • rationalrevolution says

      It’s impossible to claim to know what many of these ancient writers really believed. There was so much fraud and deception and misrepresentation taking place it’s overwhelming. This isn’t just an issue with Christian writings, it’s all religious writings and practices throughout the Mediterranean. This is what a lot of the book I’m working on now is about. Fraud and misrepresentation were endemic in ancient religion.

      Did Paul really really believe any of the stuff he was saying? I have no idea. I know the theme of what he was saying. He probably really did believe that Jews and Gentiles should live in harmony. Did he really think there was some Jesus who was going to raise the dead, etc.? I have no idea. There are many things in Paul’s letters that indicate he was engaging in a scam. Did David Koresh really believe the crap he was telling his followers? Did Jim Jones? Most cult leaders don’t actually believe the crap they tell their followers. It’s pretty clear that Jim Jones didn’t really believe his crap. There are records of him telling people in his inner circle things that totally contradicted his public messages.

      When Paul says that be received visions and revelations from the Lord does this mean that he was delusional and that he is telling the truth that he had real visions, or was he just lying?

      What I show in my book is that we have hundreds of examples of ancient Greeks, Romans and Jews engaging in conscious religious fraud. Indeed virtually every aspect of Greek and Roman religion was fraudulent. Temples were constructed in ways to device people. They made secret tunnels in temples to manipulate statues and perform magic tricks on people. They developed ways to falsify prophecies and manipulate oracles. They spied on people and collected information that they used to then “predict” things about them. Judaism too is filled is conscious frauds. The whole origin of Judaism began with a fraud perpetrated by the priests during the reign of a an 8 year old king, whom they manipulated. They fabricated the books of the law and hid them in a temple and then claimed that they had miraculously appeared. This was in fact one of the most common religious scams of ancient times. There are records of this scam being pulled dozens of times by Jews, Romans and Greeks.

      We have hundreds of examples of intentionally crafted literary frauds, where forgers faked writings and did things to make them appear older than they really were, like using ancient langues and writing them on ancient materials such as leather or rock, even though they were actually recent fabrications. There are accounts of forgers being caught red-handed and punished, etc.

      There is evidence that one of the largest religious rituals in the Greek world, a mysteries at Eleusis, were performed using camera obscura projections to project images of gods inside dark temples. The secret of how the rituals were performed were violently protected and people who tried to discover them or said anything about anything they experienced it the temples were executed. A single family was grated by law sole authority over the administration of the temple, and at any given time only 1 person in the world was allowed to operate the inner mechanism of the temple. Modern excavation shows that the inner temple was most likely a projector.

      We have accounts after accounts of so-called “prophets” who used magic tricks to deceive kings and the public. Things like performing animal sacrifices and then claiming that various organs were missing from the body. What they were really doing was palming the organs and hiding them and then claiming that the animals never had a heart or a liver, etc.

      And all this just scratches the surface. The point is, who knows what these people really believed. So much of what was being done in the name of religion and various cults was fraudulent and manipulative its impossible to say what anyone really thought. We can know what they were conveying. What they actually truly believed is an entirely different matter.

      Most likely the author of Mark really did think the Jews had brought the was upon themselves. Did he really think that there was some Jesus figure, heavenly or otherwise, who was going to save anyone’s soul? I have no idea.

      • Dr Sarah says

        @rationalrevolution:

        ‘It’s impossible to claim to know what many of these ancient writers really believed.’

        True. But you’ve written a book arguing a particular position which you base partly on claims about what you think Mark believed when he wrote his gospel. I fully understand that there are going to be points we’re uncertain on and that it’s all going to be best-guess, but, if your argument’s going to stand up, you’re going to at least need some sort of plausible theory as to how we got from ‘Jesus’s followers thought he was some sort of heavenly being who never visited Earth’ to ‘Multiple people wrote books about Jesus’s life on earth’.

        Anyway… I am writing a post examining the following claims from your book:

        1. Mark’s gospel was intended to convey the message that the Jews were being punished for ‘not having heeded Paul’s message of harmony between Jews and Gentiles’.
        2. He conveyed this message via the feeding-of-thousands scenes/the scene with the Gentile woman.

        So, if you want to add, change, or amend anything on that particular topic prior to me making the post, fire ahead, now’s your chance.

        • rationalrevolution says

          I never claimed to know what Mark believed. I’m talking about what the story is about and how it was written. I can’t say anything about the personal beliefs of someone.

          One can analyze what Ovid’s The Aeneid is about, how it was written, and the meaning of literary and cultural references within the story without claiming to know Ovid’s personal beliefs.

          I don’t think there is anything controversial about that.

          • Dr Sarah says

            @rationalrevolution
            Maybe I wasn’t clear enough… I’m not asking what Mark believed about the reality of Jesus. I’m asking what you think he believed the Jews were being punished for. Your book says ‘for not having heeded Paul’s message of harmony between Jews and Gentiles’. Since that’s a bit woolly and things you’ve said in the comments seemed to point towards you having a more specific idea, I wanted to firm it up a bit. What do you think Paul’s message was that you think Mark thought the Jews weren’t heeding here? Was it just that Jews ought to have been a bit nicer to Gentiles generally? Or that the Jews in the early Christian movement ought to have opened their movement to Gentiles without expecting them to convert? Or something else? Or do you think we can’t really get a clear enough picture to comment beyond a general ‘harmony between Jews and Gentiles’? The passages you cite on this topic in Chapter 1 don’t really seem to add up to a convincing argument here, but I’m not sure to what extent that might be because I’ve missed the point you were trying to make in the first place.

          • db says

            what you think he [sc. Mark] believed the Jews were being punished for.

            Some possible thoughts of the Markan author as to why the Jews (specifically the Torah observant Christians of the Jerusalem church) were being punished.

            •Wrongly believed that the heavenly kingdom had already arrived and that believers were already participating in the initial stage of the the resurrected life.
            vs.
            Paul stressed that the resurrection was yet to come and the believers’ present life was more like the crucifixion.

            • Wrongly stressed the need to live communally (i.e. give away all of one’s possessions since the end-times had already started and the final countdown clock was ticking).
            vs.
            Paul advised people to keep working and earning a living since since the end times had not yet come. And that believers should seek to perfect themselves for the day when they stand before Christ to be rewarded.

            Cf. Mark, Canonizer of Paul ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2 by Tom Dykstra. Relying primarily upon Michael Goulder’s argument in St. Paul vs. St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions.

  21. rationalrevolution says

    @DrSarah

    “Or do you think we can’t really get a clear enough picture to comment beyond a general ‘harmony between Jews and Gentiles’”

    Probably this, at least for now. What’s clear is that the writer of Mark is: 1) railing against Peter, James and John 2) implicating the entire Jewish people as the persecutes of Jesus who fail to recognize their own messiah 3) making use of a many passages from the Jewish scriptures that contain themes of punishment and destruction brought upon the Jews by their god.

    Beyond that, its hard to say exactly what or if the writer has specific reason in mind. Of course a major theme of Pauline theology and of the Gospel of Mark is the idea of faith over the law. According to Paul salvation comes from faith. According to many Jews, apparently including James, John, Peter, etc. salvation came from adherence to the law.

    Something I address extensively in my new book it really the context of evangelical Judaism that Paul was a part of. This is something that most biblical scholars fail to address entirely. Actually, when Paul came on the scene, Paul’s ministry was the culmination of 300 years of evangelical Judaism. Jews had been proselytizing to Gentiles for centuries, and in fact that produced a number of forged documents that attempted to persuade Greek and Romans that Yahweh was the old god, that monotheism was the original religion, that Jews weer actually the old race of people in the world, that Orpheus had tricked people into adopting belief in other gods, that the Jewish scriptures contained secret hidden prophecies for the Gentiles, etc. They also produced a number of forged Sibylline oracles of a similar nature, and in fact some of these forged oracles were mistaken as “authentic” (in truth they were all forged, even the “authentic” ones) and used in the case for Christianity.

    What most people don’t realize is that prior to the rise of Christianity, and the specific Antisemitism that was produced by Roman Christianity, there were in fact many vigorous evangelical Jewish movements, and there were substantial efforts to convert Greek, Romans, Babylonians, Egyptians, etc. to Judaism. Paul’s ministry is really a part of that much larger project that had been underway for centuries, and in fact produced hundreds of documents and engaged in many debates and campaigns.

    And in fact many of these prior documents played key roles in the adoption of Christianity, and were critical in convincing Roman scholars that in fact Christianity was the one true religion. What happened was the older documents and efforts, which had been largely ignored and not that effective, were given a second look and now it seemed that the Gospels confirmed many of the claims made by these prior Jews and this was very convincing to Roman scholars.

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