‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed’ review: Chapter One, part 2


‘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.

In Price’s first two chapters, he focuses on making the case for his claim that the gospel of Mark is entirely a work of fiction (which Price believes to have been based on Paul’s letters and Jewish scriptures, and intended by Mark as an allegory about a mythical Jesus). What I want to look at in this post is whether this theory does indeed account for all of the key points in gMark, or whether there are any points that can’t readily be explained in this way. This is a question that particularly interests me, because my primary reason for believing in the historical Jesus has always been the fact that there are some points in the gospels – not many, but some – that I don’t feel can be accounted for under mythicist theories. I was therefore looking forward, on reading Price’s work, to seeing whether his theory would succeed where others had failed.

Price does, of course, have an explanation as to why gMark was written in the first place – as we’ve already covered – so that’s an excellent start. That still doesn’t explain why the other gospels were written (a question Price and I already discussed to some extent in comments on the introduction) but that’s probably better discussed when I get to the chapter about the other gospels. A couple of the other points that I had relate to material in the other gospels, so I’ll also leave those till then. That leaves us, as far as I can see, with one big question that’s relevant to gMark:

Why did Mark give the Romans in general, and Pilate in particular, the role he gave them in his gospel?

In gMark (as in the other three canonical gospels), the Romans are the people who ultimately put Jesus to death, with Pilate – an important, powerful historical figure – playing the key role of pronouncing sentence on him. And Mark clearly isn’t happy with having to portray them that way. He plays it down, plays up the role of the Jews, writes it to show the Jews insisting on the death sentence and Pilate/the other Romans reluctantly going along with this. It’s not at all surprising that he’d feel this way about minimising the role of the Romans in Jesus’s death; they were the powerful ruling class, so it’s understandable that Mark wouldn’t have liked the idea of casting them as the bad guys who killed his protagonist.

So… why has he put them in that role at all?

If Jesus was a real person who was condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans working under Pilate, then this approach makes complete sense. If this was the case, Mark wouldn’t have been inventing his story from scratch; he would have been working with existing traditions that had been handed down from people who remembered the real Jesus and his life, and that had become widely known among Jesus’s followers. While these traditions would probably be horribly inaccurate on many points by then, they would also have contained at least a few actual facts about Jesus… such as the detail of who put him to death. The simple and obvious reason why Mark would write that Jesus was condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans would be that Jesus actually had been condemned by Pilate and executed by the Romans.

But, according to Price’s theory, Mark was making up this story as an allegory about someone who had never lived on Earth at all, and thus never been executed by real flesh-and-blood people. If that was the case, then the story about Pilate and the other Romans being the ones who ultimately put Jesus to death wouldn’t have existed. So… why would Mark bring them into the execution narrative at all? Why would he want to invent, in however downplayed a form, the idea that the Romans were the people who ordered carried out the execution? And take that as far as naming a specific and powerful character as having passed the execution order?

While portraying the Romans as helpless followers of the demands of others isn’t as damning as portraying them as instigators, it’s still hardly a good look for them. If Mark was writing the crucifixion story simply in order to make the points he wanted, why do we get this conflict between Mark’s apparent wish to portray the Romans as well as possible, and his actual portrayal of them as playing such a major role in Jesus’s execution? If he were writing a totally fictional story in which he wished to blame the Jews for Jesus’s death, why would he not take the obvious route of having the Jews in his story actually execute Jesus?

I looked with interest, therefore, to see whether Price had provided an explanation for this point. Sadly, he hasn’t. Price theorises about details of the trial and execution being derived from OT scriptures (I’d agree with him about that, by the way), but I couldn’t find anywhere, either in the book or in his online essay, where he’d commented on this particular issue.

In short, what we have here is a major point that doesn’t seem explicable under the Mark-as-fictional-allegory theory. Without an explanation, Price’s cornerstone claim – that every significant point in Mark can be explained in ways that don’t involve a historical Jesus – doesn’t hold up. And that leaves a gaping hole in his theory.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Assuming, as most historians seem to do, that “Mark” wrote his story after Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, how could anyone not have pictured the Roman Empire as central to all acts of power in that place and time?

    (Ftr: pls consider me agnostic on the mythicist/historicist debate.)

    • Paul King says

      Don’t forget that the Gospel of John includes a public stoning. Paul allegedly persecuted the early Christians. According to Acts, Stephen was executed by the Jews.

      Then again, Mark could have set his story earlier and have Herod or one of his sons execute Jesus.

      Mark is commonly dated to 60-70 AD, so even the defeat of the Jewish Revolt can’t be assumed to be relevant.

      There is no obvious problem with Mark blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus – if the author was writing fiction.

  2. wsierichs says

    I’ve read both sides of the historicist and mythicist arguments, and that has made me an agnostic on the existence of Jesus. It’s not because I think anyone has proven that Jesus did not exist, but that no one has proven that he did exist. The problems with all of the gospels – the four canon ones and the non-canon ones – and other sources are so serious that they are impossible to use as historical sources. Unless someone comes up with some independent source of historical material about “Jesus,” the best anyone can say is that there might have been a historical person, but he was buried in so much myth-making over the decades that by the time people began writing his story, it was impossible for anyone to know credible, verifiable information about him. All we have is the mythical figure “Jesus.” We don’t even know when the historical figure might have lived. The official timeline has serious problems. His life and death, which was not certainly by crucifixion (see below), likely were a couple of decades, at least, before his official existence. He could have lived a century before the official timeline starts.

    Some scholars say Phil. 2 (roughly verses 6-11) contain an early Christian hymn that has two intriguing aspects. First, the scholars say that the verse, in its original language, does not scan properly if you include the words “death on the cross.” I do not have anything remotely like the scholarship necessary to offer any intelligent commentary on this. But if the scholars are right, then the original hymn did not know a crucifixion death.

    The other item is in verses 9-10, which say that this supernatural figure came to earth in a humble form, died, and returned to heaven in triumph, and THEN was given the name Jesus. This implies that the original figure had a different name, implying that “Jesus” is a gnostic figure (perhaps an older savior god), passing on wisdom about salvation, which Paul strongly implies. This point was first made by a scholar in the early 20th century. Again, I cannot offer any intelligent commentary on this, other than to say that, once I read those verses that way, it became hard for me to see Jesus as the original name of a historical figure. It might have been, but I no longer think that can be proven.

    • db says

      wsierichs says: “I’ve read both sides of the historicist and mythicist arguments, and that has made me an agnostic on the existence of Jesus.”

      Raphael Lataster makes a strong case for agnosticism. See: Lataster, Raphael (2019). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

      • Lataster, Raphael (August 2019). “When Critics Miss the Point About Questioning Jesus’ Historicity“. The Bible and Interpretation.

      Carrier published his academic book in 2014 and I have published mine in 2019. We are still waiting for a proper refutation of my case for agnosticism and his more ambitious case for outright mythicism. I suspect that this will never occur, because ‘at least agnosticism’ is very sensible.

      • Lataster, Raphael (2019). “Defending Jesus Agnosticism”. Think 18 (51): 77–91. doi:10.1017/S1477175618000362.

      All too often I see philosophers comment on biblical claims with an inadequate knowledge of the Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and religion in general. This can lead to scenarios . . . where too much credence — more than some Christian scholars of the Bible in some cases — is given to the sources. And all too often, I see biblical scholars make logical claims without the vitally important critical framework of the analytic philosopher. I believe that both are needed to answer questions of this sort. We need the knowledge and nuance of the specialist scholar of religion and the logical acuity of the analytic philosopher.

    • says

      Unless someone comes up with some independent source of historical material about “Jesus,” the best anyone can say is that there might have been a historical person, but he was buried in so much myth-making over the decades that by the time people began writing his story, it was impossible for anyone to know credible, verifiable information about him.

      We do have some historical material from Josephus (identified as the brother of James, and called Christ) and Tacitus. It’s tiny, but independent of the Christian traditions.

      • db says

        Yet Bart Ehrman, who has written a defense for the historicity of Jesus, does not resort to “Non-Christian sources” such as “material from Josephus” for attestation of the historicity of Jesus.

        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)

        • says

          db,

          Assuming Lataster has interpreted Ehrman correctly (and I have little reason to assum that), why are Bart Ehrman’s positions in some book relevant to wsierichs’ request for non-Christian sources?

          • db says

            wsierichs says: Unless someone comes up with some independent source of historical material about “Jesus,”…

            Given the following possibility of Josephus’s informants being Christian informants relying on the Gospels:

            Per 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 is 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.

          • says

            db,

            If I didn’t know better, I would think you were writing satire. The notion “It is not possible to prove …” does not belong in history, science, or any other empirical field; that’s for the domain of formal systems like mathematics and philosophy. There is zero evidence that Josephus used Christian sources for his information.

            Josephus was a member of the priestly class who spent time in Jerusalem shortly after the crucifixion occurred. He didn’t need Christian sources (neither did Tacitus).

          • db says

            One Brow says: “The notion “It is not possible to prove …” does not belong in history, science, or any other empirical field; that’s for the domain of formal systems like mathematics and philosophy.”

            The theoretically correct point is that “History” concerns what probably happened.

            • Garraghan, Gilbert J. (1946). Jean Delanglez. ed. A Guide to Historical Method. New York: Fordham University Press. [now with emphasis]:

            What we hold “beyond reasonable doubt,” we hold with certainty. . . . Although the historian can never attain the same certainty which is attained by the mathematician, the physicist, or the chemist, nevertheless, especially in the case of converging lines of evidence, he is able to reach such moral certainty as is [also] the basis of nearly all our [calculated] actions. —(pp. 78–79)

            • Freeman, Edward Augustus (1886). “The Nature of Historical Evidence”. The Methods of Historical Study. Macmillan and Company.

            We can then reach in our historical studies . . . the same kind of certainty which we reach in ordinary human affairs, public or private. We cannot reach mathematical certainty . . . But we can reach that high degree of likelihood which we call moral certainty, that approach to certainty on which reasonable men are content to act even in the gravest concerns of life. —(p. 151)

            Trial Juries are required to find a defendant guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” and not be content with a “probably guilty” verdict. Therefore, if we cannot see evidence that persuades us “beyond reasonable doubt” that Jesus existed, then we are compelled to maintain reasonable doubts and not deny them.

            It only needs to be shown—as Narve Strand asserts—”that the historicist doesn’t have real evidence that would make his purely human Jesus existing more probable than not.” [Strand, Narve (27 April 2019). “Why Jesus Most Probably Never Existed: Ehrman’s Double Standards”]

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

            This is similar to the agnosticism over God’s existence. Those agnostics do not need to have evidence that God does not exist. They just need to be unconvinced by the lack of good evidence for God’s existence. In other words, my case for Historical Jesus agnosticism does not need to rely on good alternative hypotheses, though it certainly can be strengthened by them. —(p. 131)

          • says

            db says,
            Trial Juries are required to find a defendant guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” and not be content with a “probably guilty” verdict. Therefore, if we cannot see evidence that persuades us “beyond reasonable doubt” that Jesus existed, then we are compelled to maintain reasonable doubts and not deny them.

            Naturally, you bypass entirely the standard of “best interpretation based on the evidence”. No one is seeking guilt or innocence here. In fact, the better standard is “preponderance of the evidence”, and the existence of a historical Jesus is the only side with positive evidence.

            It only needs to be shown—as Narve Strand asserts—”that the historicist doesn’t have real evidence that would make his purely human Jesus existing more probable than not.”

            1) There is real evidence Jesus existed. In fact, we have slightly more evidence than we do for similar preachers of that time.
            2) The assignment of such probabilities is entirely arbitrary.
            3) Agnosticism involves saying you think Jesus may have existed and we have no good reason to rule it out. If Lataster ever takes that position, you have not bothered to include it.

            The best explanation for the evidence we have is that Jesus existed. Regardless of the arbitrarily assigned probability, the explanations of any particular mythicist are even more far-fetched.

          • db says

            Carrier makes a positive case for the plausibility of the historicization of a celestial Jesus.

            Comment by Richard Carrier—14 November 2017—per “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 9 November 2017.

            01. . . . Many counter-cultural Jewish sects were seeking hidden messages in scripture.
            02. . . . Cephas (Peter), a member or leader of one of those sects, had “visions” telling him one of those messages was now fulfilled.
            03. . . . That fellow influenced or inspired others to have or claim supporting visions.
            04. . . . They all died.
            05. . . . Then some later folks did what was done for all savior gods: they made up stories about their savior god to promote what was by then a lifetime of the accumulated teachings, dogmas, and beliefs of various movement leaders.
            06. . . . They all died.
            07. . . . Then some later folks started promoting those myths as historically true.
            08. . . . Those who protested that, were denounced as heretics and agents of Satan.
            09. . . . They all died.
            10. . . . Those who liked the new invented version of history won total political power and used it to destroy all the literature of those who had ever protested it.
            […]
            Note that at no point is the historicity of Jesus even denied in these ten facts [i.e. a fact being: an established fact; or the evidence is consistent with it being the case such that it is “not refutable”—thus respectably possible/probable], individually or in conjunction. Because all ten can simply be a description of the invention of the historicity of the resurrection alone, not the man.

            And yet these same ten facts fully explain the historicization of either the resurrection or the man. If the one could happen (and it did), so could the other. And we can assert that without positing a single other fact about anything.

          • says

            db,

            Carrier’s “positive case” is absent positive evidence, that is, evidence that supports it happening. Further, he has three generations of people dying out between Cephas in the 30s and Paul in the 60s. That’s some pretty hefty turn-over. Do you really believe that happened?

  3. says

    Almost certainly, there was a charismatic street preacher who was the basis of the Jesus presented in the Greek Scriptures. Scholar Bart Ehrman in “How Jesus Became God” makes the case that the first “appearance” after death was a well documented psychological phenomenon where people feeling extreme grief or guilt will have a sudden respite of those emotions and attribute it the ghostly presence of the deceased. Everything else after that was confabulation, a game of telephone where each person to pass on the story adds their own embellishments.

    • db says

      Contra Bart Ehrman:

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

      • Doherty, Earl (2012). The End of an Illusion: How Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest. Age of Reason Publications, Online Kindle. asin B00A2XN7EQ.

      • Dykstra, Tom (2015). “Ehrman and Brodie on Whether Jesus Existed: A Cautionary Tale about the State of Biblical Scholarship”. The Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies (JOCABS) 8 (1): 1–32.

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

      The recent defences of Jesus’ historicity by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey lack lucid and competent methodologies, rely on highly questionable documents, and further make use of sources that no longer exist, if they ever did. —(p. 129) […] If the consensus view that a historical Jesus certainly existed is based on such tenuous methodology, it would seem reasonable that the consensus view should be reviewed, while not necessarily immediately rejected as false. —(p. 149)

  4. says

    @Paul King:

    Mark is commonly dated to 60-70 AD,

    I think this is probably misleading. What’s your evidence for this? Because ultimately what we want is not that somebody said it was written in the 60s, but the actual evidence that it was written in the 60s. So if you’re citing “some people said the 60s” to people who themselves had no good evidence, then this claim isn’t productive at all.

    And why should we believe that any of the people who propose dates might propose those dates without good evidence? Because paleographic precision on the order of 5 to 10 year intervals has been discredited. It can get you to a 50 or 100 year interval, but not to an interval as small as a single decade, much less a mere 7-8 years necessary to place the book in the 60s but before the revolt.

    Also, too, the other significant piece of “evidence” that people have used to say that Mark must have been completed before the destruction of the 2nd temple is that it is prophesying that destruction, and a prophecy must come before the event. This presupposes, of course, that a god exists that whispers a narrative of future events into the ears of earthly writers.

    Finally, you have to assume that nothing changed in Mark from when it was first written – even if the initial manuscripts did predate year 70 – to when we first have a copy of the text. I’m no expert, but it seems unlikely to me that proselytizing groups among Jews in that era would not change their message after the fall of the 2nd Temple. Your message would necessarily be somewhat different in 65 than in 75.

    I think the idea that the Revolt is not relevant holds little (though non-zero) merit. Unless by your statement,

    so even the defeat of the Jewish Revolt can’t be assumed to be relevant

    you’re responding to people who have entirely closed that door, I think your own statement needs a serious asterisk. There is a tiny chance that the 2nd revolt is irrelevant to understanding the Gospel of Mark, but that’s not the possibility on which anyone should bet money.

    • Paul King says

      First, I was responding to a claim that “most historians” dated Mark to after 70AD. If all you can offer is uncertainty about the dating that hardly constitutes a serious case for a post 70AD dating, let alone a case that historians in general prefer a date after 70AD.

      Second, I have considered the prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It is clearly based more on Daniel’s “prophecy” (of events in the 2nd Century BC) than the actual events – There was no “Abomination”, Jesus did not return. The quite drastic rewrite in Luke is closer to the actual events – the “Abomination” is replaced with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, Jesus’ return is put off to after the “time of the gentiles”. (See Mark 13 and Luke 22). I consider this revision to be evidence that the prophecy in Mark was written before the events, while Luke was definitely written after.

      In my personal opinion, if it was made up, I’d consider the prophecy to be more likely a response to Caligula’s intent to install his own statue in the Jewish Temple (which would plausibly qualify as the “Abomination”). That intent was never realised, but it certainly could have got out and be seen in terms of Daniel.

      • says

        .

        First, I was responding to a claim that “most historians” dated Mark to after 70AD. If all you can offer is uncertainty about the dating that hardly constitutes a serious case for a post 70AD dating, let alone a case that historians in general prefer a date after 70AD.

        I wasn’t making a case for a post-70AD date of writing, though I think I can. When I have seen people cite the consensus on dates, however, I don’t see anyone citing, as you certainly seemed to assert, a consensus that makes the Jewish revolt irrelevant. Most that I’ve read assert a range that includes the revolt in part or in total, and at least one historian I’ve read asserts about the consensus that the consensus is fuzzy and made up of many claims, typically in ranges of a few years, that begin in year 66 of the Christian calendar and end at the close of year 73. Even your range of 60-70 includes the revolt. On what basis, then, would you conclude that the revolt is irrelevant?

        it is this assertion – the purported irrelevance of the revolt – that I was attempting to rebut, and I need not support a post-70 composition date for Mark.

        Second, I have considered the prediction of the Temple’s destruction. It is clearly based more on Daniel’s “prophecy” (of events in the 2nd Century BC) than the actual events

        And this proves that Mark must have been written before the destruction of the second Temple how? There are obvious motives when producing religious propaganda for an author to draw on the language of already revered writing. It’s also well established that Mark, writing predominantly in Greek, was not writing for a predominantly Aramaic-speaking audience such as would be found in Jerusalem before and shortly after the destruction of the Temple. Thus is he is writing to people in Jerusalem, he’s writing significantly after the events. If he’s not writing to people in Jerusalem, then he’s writing to those who weren’t present. Either way, there’s reason to believe that getting the religious propaganda right is more important than lining up facts as one might in a modern journalist’s account of the destruction. (As for “abomination” – figurative language is figurative.)

        But let’s mention an argument that I believe strongly indicates a post-71 composition date for Mark: the argument from taxation. Christopher B. Zeichmann, an adjunct professor of 1st century history at the University of Toronto (which, if you don’t know, is a school whose reputation globally is similar to Harvard or Stanford or Cambridge – it’s clearly regarded as the most prestigious school at which it is possible to attend or work in Canada) examines Mark 12: 13-17 and finds that this passage would have to have been written after year 71. (See Zeichmann, C, “The Date of Mark’s Gospel apart from the Temple and Rumors of War: The Taxation Episode (12:13-17) as Evidence”. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, pp. 422 – 437 vol. 79, 2017)

        From the abstract:

        It is difficult to determine a precise date for the composition of the Gospel of Mark, even if it is widely believed to have been written during the decade spanning 64-73 c.e. I suggest in this article that the academic disagreement is due to heavy reliance on Mark’s ambiguous temple־and־war passages (esp. 13:1-23), which can be read realistically in disparate historical contexts. I propose to supplement such work with an examination of the taxation episode ( 12:13-17), a pericope with subtle indica- tors of Mark’s historical context, including geopolitical administration, coinage cir- culation, and tax policies. I suggest that these data cumulatively indicate that the Gospel of Mark was not written earlier than 29 August 71 c.e.

        He says “suggests” rather than “proves” because if Mark was written in Rome (or otherwise far away from Jerusalem and the Levant), it might be possible for the author to mistakenly presume that what is true in Rome is true in Jerusalem. No one living in or near Jerusalem would make those mistakes, however. An author writing Mark without ever experiencing the local realities of Jerusalem and the Levant presents other problems, of course. I don’t pretend to understand all these, but Zeichmann reports that because of these difficulties the proposition that Mark was composed in a location distant from Jerusalem has very little academic support.

        Zeichmann’s actual conclusions are thus fairly robust: Either the date must come at least seven months after the end of year 70 or much of what the scholarly world thinks they know about the book of Mark, its author (called for convenience here and elsewhere “Mark” even though we don’t know who penned the book), and its context has to be thrown in the trash.

        There is, of course, plenty of other textual evidence that Mark was aware of different events that occurred during the revolt. Many scholars have used these to establish a maximum age for Mark that puts the book no older than various dates within the range of years 67 to 70.

        The only significant rebuttals to this I’ve seen have been based on now-discredited paleography and/or an insistence that Mark “must” have been prophesying the Temple’s destruction rather than writing after the fact.

        I am, of course, willing to consider evidence that Mark “must” have been prophesying, but this can’t be a simple religious assertion. To convince me, someone would have to provide evidence demonstrating why Mark could not have written this gospel after or during the Temple’s destruction.

        Citing Daniel and arguing that the language in Mark is more reminiscent of that book than it is of a journalist’s recount of the events of the Temple’s destruction only provides such proof if the Book of Daniel was suddenly unavailable after the destruction of the Temple for enough decades that we already have a record of Mark before Daniel became available again. And even that requires us to assume that no one had any living memory of the Book, not merely that no copies were within easy reach.

        In short, there are good arguments to be made that Mark could not have been written before various events, one of which occurred in August of 71 and others occurring in the years 67 to 70. To say that Mark draws heavily on scripture and that, because scripture was available before year 67 the book need not have been written after one or more of the events frequently cited as necessary does not prove that it must not have been written after those events.

        Again I do not specialize in the history of this era. I do not even have a degree in history. I could be wrong. But you’re going to have to show me evidence that I’m wrong.

        And the idea that the revolt isn’t relevant to understanding Mark or its writing still seems to me to be vastly misleading. Asserting that scholars “commonly” date Mark as early as year 60 seems equally so.

        • Paul King says

          I asserted that the Jewish Revolt cannot be assumed to be relevant – I.e. an earlier date is a possibility. To argue against that you do need to argue for a date of 70AD or later.

          You fail to understand my point about Daniel – the issue is that if the Temple references are based on older scripture rather than current events, they cannot be used to date Mark by the events.

          The “Abomination” specifically refers to pagan worship in the Temple (that is what it refers to in Daniel) and I note that you don’t answer the point that Jesus did not return on schedule. That would be a bit hard to miss, and it is evidence that Mark was written before anyone realised that Jesus would not return before the Temple was destroyed as Mark claims.

          • says

            I asserted that the Jewish Revolt cannot be assumed to be relevant – I.e. an earlier date is a possibility.

            Yes, but you also asserted that Mark’s composition date was “commonly” attributed to years 60 to 70. And I didn’t say that was wrong, I said it was misleading.

            If I said that historians commonly dated al Qaeda’s attacks on NY’s World Trade Center to between the 1st of January, 1930 and the 30th of September, 2001, that would be factually correct. It would also be misleading.

            It’s very common for scholars to date Markan authorship to 66-73. 4 years of that period are within your range. So, sure, it’s common to date Mark’s composition to between 60 and 70, but only because it’s common to date it between 66 and 70.

            For the Revolt to be irrelevant, you’d have to prove a date of authorship from 60-65 (or earlier). Those last 5 years of your range don’t help your argument in any way, and therefore it is misleading to include them…especially because AFAICT the vast majority of dates for authorship start no earlier than 64 and even then is usually expressed as a range over at least 2 years, making only a small minority of those 64-73 dates workable for your “the revolt is irrelevant” hypothesis.

            To argue against that you do need to argue for a date of 70AD or later.

            No. Not true. Perhaps you’re just being way too careless while actually agreeing with me, but the Revolt started much earlier, the earliest phase beginning in year 66. For the Revolt to be actually irrelevant, Mark has to be written before any portion of the Revolt has occurred, meaning it must have been completed by very early in 66 and then have remained unchanged and unedited in any revolt-relevant part at any point from mid 66 on.

            For the destruction of the 2nd Temple to be relevant, you have to have a fully completed composition date in mid 70 or later.

            For the Revolt to be relevant, you only have to have a fully completed composition date in mid 66 or later.

            Is it possible that you’re thinking one thing while saying the other?

            You fail to understand my point about Daniel – the issue is that if the Temple references are based on older scripture rather than current events, they cannot be used to date Mark by the events.

            I understand just fine. Which is why I said that you can’t use any of Mark’s cribbing off Daniel to assert that the composition date of Mark is pre-war. If you cannot use those events to date Mark, then you cannot use those events to date Mark. You don’t get to magically insist that Mark must come before those events – that’s using the events to date Mark.

            So please be consistent – either admit that it’s valid to use the events to date Mark, in which case you have to deal with the scholarship that uses them to place Mark in 66 or later, or maintain your position that those events about war and rumors of war, etc., cannot be used to date Mark … and then don’t use them.

            Currently you’re engaged in special pleading, asserting that the events can be used to date Mark before the events, but they cannot be used to date Mark after them.

            So please, feel free to take back your assertion that

            [events] cannot be used to date Mark.

            and start your argument again. But if you choose not to take it back, you’ll have to make a different argument.

            The “Abomination” specifically refers to pagan worship in the Temple

            As for this, I’d be happy to read expert commentary on the passage since I’m not equipped to undertake that myself. But I will note again that figurative language is figurative so, borrowing the language for its cultural power doesn’t necessarily entail that the language is used to mean the exact same thing. You can see this in use of many popular phrases, including things like, “all’s fair in love and war”. The original meaning of the phrase is not that rules are equally absent in the two situations. The original meaning was an ironic juxtaposition which required “fair” to be rendered “beautiful” in the phrase “all’s fair in love” while rendered “without justification for punishment” in “all’s fair in war”. Yet now we frequently see people use the phrase as if the latter meaning of fair is supposed to apply to the situation of being in love.

            I do not assert that this happened with the “abomination of desolation” phrase, I merely point out that the issue is not rendered clear by your brief assertions here.

            It seems that if you want to use this to assert that Mark was completed in 65 or earlier, you’re going to need a more complete argument. I suggest you link to an actual peer reviewed paper on the topic.

            I note that you don’t answer the point that Jesus did not return on schedule

            Look, you didn’t even provide chapter and verse so I can be clear any response would be referencing the language you intend. If you want a response to something, at the barest, barest minimum you have to actually site what you’re talking about, not merely quote it and especially not merely paraphrase it. That’s not how this works. I’m not responsible for constructing your argument. That’s on you. Once you make an argument that’s specific enough for a response, then you’ll get a response.

            And, of course, I think you should link to peer reviewed scholarship on this issue. I’m not a historian, but I’m competent enough to read and understand the historical arguments made by others. I can try to articulate how I read an english translation, but there’s no reason you or anyone else should respect that, relying as it does on uncritical acceptance of others’ translation work.

            I really can’t respond to every issue you mention in passing without reading a longer and more comprehensive version anyway, since I don’t have a PhD in this stuff that would give me enough background to simply spout off as soon as an issue is raised in a general way. I am not an expert and need more information if I’m to take a position on something like this. I mean, for damn sure I’m going to need specific verses cited at the very least, and even then if you don’t give me more I’m going to have to hunt down the translations and the arguments, which might not be the arguments you specifically endorse or that make your best case. So why not actually detail your arguments if you want a response to them?

            However if you’re asserting that Mark writes explicitly that Jesus’ return is to come before the destruction of the Second Temple, I don’t think that’s right. Here’s the text from Mark 13:

            24 “But in those days, following that distress,
            the sun will be darkened,
            and the moon will not give its light;
            25 the stars will fall from the sky,
            and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.
            26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

            I have highlighted the phrase “following that distress” – meaning that Jesus is not to return until after the destruction of the Temple. So the immediate aftermath of the destruction is the earliest he might return, not the latest. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not reading the original Greek (because I have no training in that). But the clear surface meaning rendered in the english translation is that first the temple falls, and THEN Jesus returns. So writing in the aftermath of the fall, Jesus wouldn’t have missed anything …. unless there is a specified date for Jesus’ return, and, Ooops, no:

            32“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert[e]! You do not know when that time will come.

            Please point me to a peer reviewed article if I’ve gotten something wrong here, but the Argument from Jesus-Is-Godot seems like a big failure.

            And yet, even if it had succeeded, Mark could still have been written in early 70 – making the Revolt very much relevant.

            Finally I’ll note that it seems special pleading to me that you want me to address every point you make in passing, yet you do not even acknowledge the scholarship that demonstrates that no one familiar with the taxes or even just the currencies used in Judea could possibly have written the taxation passage in Mark 12:13-17 unless they were writing after August of 71.

            Unless you want to assert that the author of Mark was unfamiliar with the taxes and currencies being described in chapter 12 (and was also lying or making shit up or at bare minimum careless about his sources), that’s kind of the ball game for any assertion that the Revolt might be irrelevant to understanding Mark.

          • Paul King says

            I can’t reply to the reply, so I am replying to my post in the hope that the answer will come out in about the right place.

            Crip Dyke i don’t have to take back arguments I am not making. I am arguing for the possibility of an earlier date, not the certainty of it. Which means that you are should be taking your arguments back, not me.

            Even your reading of a Mark lacks context. The “suffering” is described in verses 19-20. It does not mention the destruction of the Temple. Indeed, that destruction is only mentioned in verse 2. My conclusion then is that the events described from verse 3 to the end are the events leading up to that destruction.

          • says

            Crip Dyke i don’t have to take back arguments I am not making.

            You don’t have to do anything. But you have asserted that we can’t use the events of the revolt, presumably including the destruction of the Temple, to date Mark.

            And you have simultaneously asserted that we can use the events of the revolt, specifically the destruction of the temple, to put a latest possible composition date on Mark.

            These two arguments are mutually contradictory. Now it may be that you’ve just expressed yourself badly and that when you said:

            if the Temple references are based on older scripture rather than current events, they cannot be used to date Mark by the events.

            You meant to say,

            “they cannot be used to provide an earliest possible date for Mark, but can be used to establish a latest possible date for Mark”.

            That would be consistent with what you’re arguing, but it’s not at all what you actually said. What you actually said was that you can’t use events in dating. Period. That’s it. Then you proceed to use events in dating.

            I’m curious as to why that is. This is a place where your writing directly contradicts itself. It cannot possibly be that both assertions (you cannot use events and that you can use events) are simultaneously true.

            So, sure, don’t take back anything you’ve said, but if you don’t then your main argument is nonsense.

            I am arguing for the possibility of an earlier date, not the certainty of it.

            Yes. And what you’ve said is misleading. While there technically exists a possibility of a final composition date so early that the revolt in its entirety is irrelevant, the vast majority of scholars disagree with you. Because of this, saying that Mark is “commonly” dated to 60-70 is misleading.

            It is similar to, but not as bad as, my earlier analogy that al Qaeda attacked the Twin Towers sometime between the beginning of 1930 and the end of September, 2001.

            It’s possible that al Qaeda launched an attack on them before 1993 when they exploded a bomb inside a van that they’d placed in the underground parking garage. However, if such a previous attack had been any way significant, we would have heard about it. But we don’t hear about any al Qaeda attacks before 1993. So we can’t rule earlier insignificant attacks out absolutely, but we have no good reason to think that any earlier attacks occurred.

            Likewise, we can’t categorically rule out the possibility of an early 60s date for Mark, but we have no good reason to believe that’s when Mark was actually written.

            This is why I say your statement about Mark being “commonly dated” between 60 and 70 was misleading, and why I don’t say it’s false.

            We simply have no good reason to believe an early 60s date is true. I haven’t categorically ruled it out, but on what possible basis would I conclude that there is good reason to believe it?

            Which means that you are should be taking your arguments back, not me.

            This makes no sense. The reason I asserted you should take back an argument was that two things you said were in direct conflict with one another. They can’t both be true.

            If I have said two things that are in direct conflict with one another, please feel free to point them out. Then I would have good reason to take back one claim in order to let the other stand (or perhaps I would retract both, realizing that I’m clearly uneducated on that matter and shouldn’t be making claims of any kind on that topic).

            Even your reading of a Mark lacks context. The “suffering” is described in verses 19-20. It does not mention the destruction of the Temple.

            Okay, so …?

            Indeed, that destruction is only mentioned in verse 2. My conclusion then is that the events described from verse 3 to the end are the events leading up to that destruction.

            And I think your reading is silly, because Jesus is clearly said to be “scheduled” to arrive after the distress, but never specifically said to be “scheduled” to arrive before the destruction of the temple.

            However, as I said, I’m open to information as I’m not an expert. Do you have any peer reviewed papers that agree with your interpretation that Jesus must have been scheduled to arrive before the Temple’s destruction?

            I’m just some weirdo on the internet, not a professional historian, so I shared actual, thoughtful argument made by an expert who had subjected his writing to peer review.

            I did not (only) share the random opinion of this weirdo on the internet. Currently, I have nothing but a random opinion from a random Paul King on the internet. I have no reason to think you have expertise in this area and your comments here certainly do not take the form of an argument, and they certainly have not proven themselves rigorous and well founded, with reasonable confidence in the premises, through a process of peer review.

            I admitted from the beginning that it is possible, in the broadest meaning of that word, for Mark to have been written so early that the Revolt was irrelevant to its writing (and thus to how we should read and understand it). My completely not-expert opinion is that this is entirely unlikely.

            Now, you have no responsibility to make an argument or change my mind, but if you want to change any minds, you will have to put forth evidence and argument, something you’ve so far not done.

            And that’s okay. i won’t hound you for follow up. It’s fine to leave your point as poorly established as you have. It’s the internet: have fun. Do what you want, say what you feel like saying. Go away when the conversation bores you.

            But so far you’ve made no serious argument and changed no minds. If that matters to you, perhaps you could put together a rational argument, preferably citing peer reviewed sources so that we can both be more confident that we’re getting things right than two random people on the internet can be based on nothing more than our own opinions.

          • Paul King says

            I have not argued that we can use the events if the revolt to date Mark. I have argued that the destruction of the Temple is not based on the actual destruction since it should happen after Jesus’ return which did not happen (and still hasn’t). That suggests that this (failed) prophecy predates the destruction but it doesn’t actually date Mark unless you assume that the author made it up.

            Your objection to my reading of Mark 13 also fails to make sense. My point is that Jesus is supposed to be saying when the Temple will be destroyed. So if it happens during the list of events he should say where it occurs. He doesn’t. Therefore it occurs at the end.

            I am sorry that you won’t accept reasoned argument, but I hardly think that is my problem.

          • says

            I am sorry that you won’t accept reasoned argument, but I hardly think that is my problem.

            I happily accept reasoned arguments, you just haven’t made any. Not only were you not citing specific verses, you weren’t even citing specific chapters.

            An argument sets out its premises in explicit terms. If the premises themselves are not guaranteed to be true, there will then be either or both of 1) an attempt to justify accepting these premises as true, or 2) an acknowledgement that the argument will move forward assuming the premises are true, but that the argument will not “prove” the case unless later efforts prove the premises.

            We have none of that from you. We do have exactly that from Zeichmann, however, which is why I quoted from his very good argument and linked his paper.

            Next we would have statements analogous to, Since we know x is true, we can then have great (or sometimes absolute, given the nature of the relationship) confidence y is true.

            This also we have in Zeichmann, who argues that since we know from written sources that Jews of the time avoided using coinage with rulers’ images, AND Rome practiced a policy of aniconism in pre-Revolt Judea (out of respect for Jewish customs and in an effort to stave off unnecessary unrest), AND we know that archaeology does not find anywhere in Judea any pre-year 71 roman coins with the emperor’s portrait in relief save a vanishingly small number found with other coins of later date, THEN we can conclude that Jews did not pay their taxes in roman coins that included a relief of the head of the emperor.

            But we don’t have clear, Given x, y statements from you. There are more vaguely written statements that imply such things, but they neither have the necessary clarity nor are they ever presented in a chain to form a complete argument. This is the best you get,

            My point is that Jesus is supposed to be saying when the Temple will be destroyed. So if it happens during the list of events he should say where it occurs. He doesn’t. Therefore it occurs at the end.

            But the conclusion you want to reach is that

            Therefore the composition of Mark was completed early enough that the revolt is irrelevant to its meaning.

            The one tiny logic chain you try to form stops WAY before the conclusion you wish to reach. So this, too, isn’t an argument. It’s a tiny piece of an argument looking for rest of its body, like the disarticulated finger of a dead Jew inching through the streets of Jerusalem on Jesus’ resurrection day. .

            Now I can imagine an actual argument made by you, but it wouldn’t be what you have above, vague and fragmentary as that is, reaching nowhere near your conclusion. No, something like your argument would have to look at least a little bit like this:

            Given what we find in verse 2, we know that the following verses must contain a list of events that occur before the temple is destroyed that no one stone is left on another stone.
            Given we are now expecting that list, we must try to find an endpoint for that list, since obviously it can’t include the entirety of the rest of the bible.
            Given the nature of verses 3 through whatever, I find the end of the list to occur exactly at verse X.
            Given that the return of Jesus happens in verse Y, and verse Y occurs before verse X, verse Y must be part of the list.
            Given that Y is part of the list, the events of Y, including the return of Jesus, must occur before the complete destruction of the temple.
            Given that Jesus must return before no stone from the temple is left on another stone, Jesus must be scheduled to return on or before whatever date is the last day that two temple stones rested one upon the other.
            The date on which there is/was no longer any stone upon another stone is This day in This year.
            Jesus must have been expected by the writer to return before TDITY
            Since from the author’s perspective this return is in the future, we know for certain that the author could not be writing after TDITY unless the author did not immediately know of the thorough destruction of the Temple

            There can be quite a number of these, Given x, y, statements chained together in a detailed argument, but eventually they will reach, Given z, we reach our conclusion, c.

            In your case, the conclusion would probably be something like,

            Therefore, either the author wrote mark before TDITY, or the author did not immediately know about the complete destruction of the temple.

            I understand what your argument might be just fine, but you’ve never actually made it. All you’ve done is express an opinion, not a rational argument that takes one from specific known or assumed premises to a specific conclusion which is known to be true or at least can be judged conditionally true, depending only on the truth of the premises.

            You literally don’t appear to know what an argument actually is. Ideas and opinions and “points” aren’t arguments.

            After all, if you had made an argument, I could have pointed out that whatever date you’re using for the day when no stone is left upon another, you’re wrong. Why? Because there are still stones left upon others that were part of the temple building. That’s what the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) is, and the fact that those stones, still stacked upon each other, are the still-standing partial remains of the temple is why Jews still pray there to this day.

            Since we haven’t yet reached the day when there’s no stone left upon another stone, all you can conclude is that Mark was written before tomorrow. But we know that on other, much better, and much less complicated proofs. For instance, i can prove that Mark was written before tomorrow by giving you an internet link to the book of Mark as it exists today.

            Now, as it happens, I also disagree with your opinion about where the list of pre-Temple destruction events ends, and thus whether or not Jesus is supposed to return before or after the fall of the Temple. But I’m not even a historian, I’m just a random atheist Jew who isn’t completely ignorant of the modern day practices of her religion, and even I can spot a huge gaping flaw in what really, really seems like a necessary portion of your argument. I shudder to think how a competent historian might respond to your opinions and points.

            Of course, you have made no rational argument where we can proceed step by step from what is already known to be true to some conclusion we can newly deem true. But I suspect that if you actually did manage to compose a rational argument it would contain at least the problem that stones still remain on stones. In any case, since I think very little of my skills in arguing about Roman, Jewish, and early Christian histories in the years 50-100 on the christian calendar, I take the fact that even I can see flaws in your probably argument to be a very, very bad sign for that not-yet-born argument. i strongly suspect that our hypothetical competent historian would be able to find more flaws in the argument than merely the continued existence of the Western Wall (though dear lord, that should be enough).

            This is why I encourage you to link to a version of your argument made by an actual, competent historian who writing has passed through peer review. it might be that what you seem to be saying doesn’t closely resemble the actual academic arguments and that there are actually quite good arguments from the destruction of the temple that Mark had to be written pre-71. I’d be happy to read them.

            I’d even be happy to read your argument, if you ever bothered to construct one. However until you do, the fact that you continue to rest upon opinion without specifying an epistemological chain reaching from premise to conclusion is very much your problem.

            Unless, of course, you never intended anyone to take you seriously or to agree with your opinion. In that case, you’re doing quite well.

          • Paul Kimg says

            I see no chance of serious discussion with someone who relies so heavily on misrepresentation.

            I am not arguing for an early date, I am arguing that the possibility of an early date – and arguing that the prophecy is not evidence of a late date, that it was not written with knowledge of the destruction of the Temple is part of that,

            The fact that my argument stops short of the conclusion you want me to be arguing for is a rather obvious result of the fact that I am not arguing for that conclusion.

            Even the complaint that I did not even reference specific chapters is silly. You were the one who introduced the prophecy into the discussion – without referencing chapter or verse. In my first reply to that I did cite the chapter – along with the parallel chapter in Luke.

            Your crazy argument about the dating only adds to the negative impression. The argument that the preservation of the Wailing Wall does not fit the prophecy contradicts your argument, not my response. It is a very poor argument, which is why I didn’t use it, but it is even worse as an argument for your position.

            The fact that you are doing much worse than I am should give you pause for thought.

  5. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    The entire story of Pilate and Jesus is obviously fictional. It makes no sense to cite it as evidence for historicity when it’s so clearly fictional and allegorical.

    Barabbas, a transliteration of “son of the father”, and Jesus, the son of the father, one perfectly innocent and condemned to die for the sins of the people, and the others guilty murderer, forced into exile.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas

    Also, there is no way that Pilate would have been forced release a condemned murderer, and there is no way that there was a Roman tradition to have done so.

    It’s all an obvious allegory for the Yom Kippur goat ritual to cleanse the people of sin.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scapegoat

    The standard Price, Carrier, etc mythicist position is that the Jewish writers in part wanted a messiah to come to bring about the end times, and for that they needed an end to sin (because existing scripture), and the Yom Kippur goat ritual is an obvious vehicle to do get rid of sin. If the blood magic sacrifice of a goat is good enough to cleanse sin for one year, then the blood magic sacrifice of a god should be good enough to cleanse sin forever, or so the argument goes.

    • says

      GerrardOfTitanServer,
      The entire story of Pilate and Jesus is obviously fictional. It makes no sense to cite it as evidence for historicity when it’s so clearly fictional and allegorical.

      While I’m sure Dr Sarah agrees the details of the story between Pilate and Jesus are fictional, this objection does not address why Mark put the Romans into the story to begin with.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            Why not just a convenient pick without a deeper meaning? They had to pick someone. Or maybe there is a deeper meaning that I’m not aware of.

            However, I don’t understand the other argument at all. It’s like arguing that Spider-Man is probably because a Spider-Man comic has Spider-Man meeting president Obama.

          • db says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says: “maybe there is a deeper meaning that I’m not aware of.”

            It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ 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’ Antiquities of the Jews.

            So if the Markan author understood that Jesus son of Ananias was born 1 CE. and died 70 CE during the “Siege of Jerusalem”. And he also understood that John the Baptist was executed by Herod Antipas c. 30 CE.

            Then the Markan author created a work of fiction by retrojecting the time and method of Jesus’ death to match Old Testament prophecy that foretold the temple’s destruction some X years after the shameful death of the “suffering servant” sent by Lord God.

            The timing of this story-line occurs during the 10 year administration of Pontius Pilate (26 to 36 CE).

            Thus,
            • the destruction of Jesus, is by Roman hand.
            • the destruction of the temple, is by Roman hand.

            If the Markan author used the works of Josephus as inspiration for his Jesus and John the Baptist figures, then this implies that the composition date was post 93 CE, and more likely second-century CE.

          • says

            GerrardOfTitanServer,

            Just out of curiosity, is that a Titan Server that plays Titan?

            Why not just a convenient pick without a deeper meaning? They had to pick someone. Or maybe there is a deeper meaning that I’m not aware of.

            Mark did pick someone to blame (the Jewish authorities) and someone to carry out the sentence (the Roman authorities). The question is why there are two separate choices here.

            However, I don’t understand the other argument at all. It’s like arguing that Spider-Man is probably because a Spider-Man comic has Spider-Man meeting president Obama.

            Except we don’t have the equivalent of a New York Times article mentioning Spider-Man exists, while we do have reports from Josephus and Tacitus.

          • says

            db says

            It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Jewish War—”Jesus son of Ananias”.

            I would not be surprised if that were true for many of the details of gMark, but the Jesus figure precedes the career of Jesus be Ananias by at least two decades.

            Then the Markan author created a work of fiction by retrojecting the time and method of Jesus’ death to match Old Testament prophecy that foretold the temple’s destruction some X years after the shameful death of the “suffering servant” sent by Lord God.

            Did this Markan author also send Paul around the Near East 20 years before he wrote?

          • db says

            One Brow says: “Mark did pick someone to blame (the Jewish authorities) and someone to carry out the sentence (the Roman authorities). The question is why there are two separate choices here.”

            • gMark is a fictional allegorical polemic against some “Jews”—a specific sect of Jewish converts to Christianity—not all Jews.

            Per Dykstra, Tom (2012). Mark Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS Press. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.

            Mark was written after a conflict had developed between Paul and the Jerusalem Christian leadership under the leadership of the “pillars” Peter, James, and John. For the Gospel’s original readers, the picture of obtuse, glory-seeking, slothful disciples couldn’t help but bolster the authority of the one Apostle who was not so characterized [i.e. Paul]. . . . in the terms of Mark’s own day and Paul’s perspective, the real traitors are among the Christian Jewish leadership, not the non-Christian Jews. The name Judas (“Jew”) corresponds so well to Paul’s view that his opponents were traitors to the cross of Christ by being zealots for Jewish traditions [e.g. still being Torah observant], that it is reasonable to suppose Mark deliberately named the betrayer Judas for that reason. —(pp. 116–117.)

            The Markan author’s purpose is to show why Lord God allowed the destruction of the temple, thus:
            • the destruction of the temple, is by Roman hand.
            therefore
            • the destruction of Jesus, is by Roman hand.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            to One Brow

            Just out of curiosity, is that a Titan Server that plays Titan?

            Gerrard, from Titan Server, FFXI.

            Except we don’t have the equivalent of a New York Times article mentioning Spider-Man exists, while we do have reports from Josephus and Tacitus.

            Are you saying that the modern New York Times is a better analog than the Spider-Man comics for the Bible? Are you serious? Of course Spider-Man is a better analog. The Bible contains all sorts of magic, miracles, contrivances – and a plethora of poorly written characters in order to make a story-telling point.

            Just because Spider-Man in the comics meets president Obama does not mean that it is evidence that Spider-Man is real. It’s just evidence that the author of Spider-Man knew about president Obama. Analogously, just because the Bible mentions real places and people is itself not evidence that Yahweh is real or any other unconfirmed detail of the book is true either.

            Preemptively, you might say “but Yahweh is magic and a simple preacher man is not magic, and therefore your argument doesn’t apply”, but then you would be missing my argument entirely. Obviously, if a plot detail is magic, then that’s good evidence that it doesn’t exist. However, I am making a separate point here. I am making the point that a mention of president Obama in a Spider-Man comic is not evidence that Jimmy Olsen is real – a mere mundane normal non-magic human, and comparatively, a mention of Pilate in an obviously fictional story in the Bible is not evidence for the truth of anything else in the story, even mundane details. (This is doubly true when the story clearly has an allegorical purpose in its creation.)

            Mark did pick someone to blame (the Jewish authorities) and someone to carry out the sentence (the Roman authorities). The question is why there are two separate choices here.

            Sure. On that, I don’t know enough to comment offhand, because I am but a rank amateur. Clearly to me, there must be some metaphorical point, as per Price and Carrier, because clearly the whole little story of Pilate and Jesus in gMark is constructed in order to make some sort of metaphorical point. As I’ve already described, there are too many core details of the story that are obviously fictional for it to be otherwise. Again, Barabbas’s name and Barabbas’s release indicate that the story is a reference to the Yom Kippur ritual to cleanse the people of sin, and there is no way that Pilate could have been forced to release a prisoner of the people’s choosing, and there’s no way that it was a Roman tradition to have done so.

            So, I would have to consult the experts in this matter to see if they know what sort of point the author of gMark intended to make by “blaming” both the Romans and the Jewish people. I don’t know enough right now, and I am not even willing to grant that the author means to blame both anyway.

          • db says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says: I would have to consult the experts in this matter to see if they know what sort of point the author of gMark intended to make by “blaming” both the Romans and the Jewish people.

            My reading recommendations:

            • An 18 page essay: Rutherford, Jonathan (2015). “The Gospel of Mark as Theological Allegory“.  Rational Realm. Online PDF

            • The book currently under review here: Price, R. G. (2018). Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed (2nd revised ed.). Lulu Publishing Services. ISBN 978-1-4834-8782-3.

            In his work, Dykstra proposes that, “Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his ‘Judaizing’ opponents.” I agree with that assessment, but would extend it by saying, “Mark’s primary purpose was to defend the vision of Christianity championed by Paul the Apostle against his ‘Judaizing’ opponents, [in light of the outcome of the First Jewish-Roman War]. —(p. 61)

          • says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says

            Except we don’t have the equivalent of a New York Times article mentioning Spider-Man exists, while we do have reports from Josephus and Tacitus.

            Are you saying that the modern New York Times is a better analog than the Spider-Man comics for the Bible?

            Josephus and Tacitus are not Biblical writers, they are historians.

            Clearly to me, there must be some metaphorical point, as per Price and Carrier, because clearly the whole little story of Pilate and Jesus in gMark is constructed in order to make some sort of metaphorical point.

            I agree it’s a story almost entirely made up, based around the actual death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, but with little more connection to reality than Geoffrey’s Arthur. The difference is we have no historians that mention Arthur within centuries of his existence, while Tacitus and Josephus are well under a century later.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            To One Brow
            The claimed extra-Biblical evidence is a non-sequitir to this particular discussion. Yes that evidence matters in the broader discussion, but it does not make the Pilate Jesus story into (strong) evidence. The Pilate Jesus story remains very weak evidence, if evidence at all, for the existence of Jesus. In other words, the existence of other reliable evidence does not change the reliability and worth of this evidence. the genre and context and consequent reliability of the Pilate Jesus story is still the same. The Bible is still much closer in genre and reliability to a Spider-Man comic than a New York Times article.

            Moreover, I believe that Richard Carrier cites and makes good arguments that the passages in Josephus and Tacitus that are claimed to refer to Jesus are not. They’re either blatant forgeries, or talking about someone else, or merely asserting that Christians exist and not asserting that Jesus exists.

          • db says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says: “I believe that Richard Carrier cites and makes good arguments that the passages in Josephus and Tacitus that are claimed to refer to Jesus are not.”

            Other scholars who have argued against the the “James Passage” in Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1 (§.20.200) being attestation for the historicity of Jesus.
            • Herrmann, Léon (1970). Chrestos: témoignages païens et juifs sur le christianisme du premier siècle (in French). Collection Latomus: revue d’études latines, vol. 109. Brussels: Latomus.
            • Wells, G. A. (1986) [1975]. Did Jesus Exist? (2nd revised, corrected and expanded ed.). Pemberton. p. 11.
            • Efrón, Joshua (1987). Studies on the Hasmonean Period. BRILL. pp. 336–337, n. 224. ISBN 90-04-07609-3.
            • Tessa Rajak , Josephus, the Historian and His Society , 2nd ed. (London: Gerald Duckworth, 2003), 1st ed. 1983;
            • Graham H. Twelftree , “Jesus in Jewish Traditions,” in Gospel Perspectives: The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels , ed., David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1985), pp. 289–341 (299–301);
            • Hillar, Marian (2005). “Flavius Josephus and His Testimony Concerning the Historical Jesus”. Paper published in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, Vol. 13. pp. 66–103 (Washington, DC: American Humanist Association.
            • Doherty, Earl (2009). Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Age of Reason Publications. pp. 570–586. ISBN 9780968925928.
            • Carrier, Richard (2012). “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200”. Journal of Early Christian Studies. 20 (4): 489–514. doi:10.1353/earl.2012.0029.
            • Ken Olson , “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (1999), pp. 305–322; “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum ” in Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations , ed. A. Johnson & J. Schott (Harvard University Press, 2013), pp. 97-114;
            • Allen, Nicholas P. L. (2017). “Josephus on James the Just? A re-evaluation of 20.9.1”. Journal of Early Christian History. 7 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1080/2222582X.2017.1317008.

          • says

            db says,
            The Markan author’s purpose is to show why Lord God allowed the destruction of the temple, thus:
            • the destruction of the temple, is by Roman hand.
            therefore
            • the destruction of Jesus, is by Roman hand.

            So, the Jews badgered the Romans into destroying the temple, just as Pilate was badgered into killing Jesus, in this supposed allegory?

          • says

            GerrardOfTitanServer
            The claimed extra-Biblical evidence is a non-sequitir to this particular discussion. Yes that evidence matters in the broader discussion, but it does not make the Pilate Jesus story into (strong) evidence.

            The questions is which explanation fits best with the Pilate story: an allegory by a Jewish writer on the destruction of the Temple or a fictionalization of a historical event. The first explanation doesn’t make sense.

            Moreover, I believe that Richard Carrier cites and makes good arguments that the passages in Josephus and Tacitus that are claimed to refer to Jesus are not. They’re either blatant forgeries, or talking about someone else, or merely asserting that Christians exist and not asserting that Jesus exists.

            Well, I’m not going to bother arguing your religion.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            > The first explanation doesn’t make sense.

            Why not?

            > Well, I’m not going to bother arguing your religion.

            This includes peer reviewed sources in proper respectable leading academic journals. I should think that this position should get at least a little more respect. What’s your problem?

          • db says

            @GerrardOfTitanServer,
            Here is how One Brow (see above) rebutted Carrier’s assertion that the “James passage” in Josephus can not be shown to be an independent source (i.e. you can not rule out the possibility Christian sources):

            Per 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.””

            [One Brow says:]…There is zero evidence that Josephus used Christian sources for his information.

            Josephus was a member of the priestly class who spent time in Jerusalem shortly after the crucifixion occurred. He didn’t need Christian sources (neither did Tacitus).

          • says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says
            > The first explanation doesn’t make sense.
            Why not?

            Because it’s a needless complication in an allegory. If Mark is writing that the Jews are responsible for killing the Messiah as some sort of allegory, why bring in the Romans at all?

            > Well, I’m not going to bother arguing your religion.
            This includes peer reviewed sources in proper respectable leading academic journals. I should think that this position should get at least a little more respect.

            Creationists also cite peer-reviewed articles on minority view points and exaggerate their importance. I give you much more respect than I give them.

            What’s your problem?

            That I’m enjoying this too much, probably.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            > If Mark is writing that the Jews are responsible for killing the Messiah as some sort of allegory, why bring in the Romans at all?

            It’s like you haven’t read anything that I’ve actually written. Could you please actually read what I write? It’s quite infuriating to be part of a one-sided conversation.

            That’s your interpretation. Mine is different. You didn’t even acknowledge that I just wrote – in this very subthread – that the point of this story is completely different. This complete lack of engagement with what I am writing is very frustrating.

            Again, I think the interpretation that makes far more sense is that it’s a reference to the Yom Kippur goat sacrifice ritual. The point of the story is not that the Jewish people are responsible for the death of Jesus. The point of the story is that Jesus died for our sins, and his blood magic sacrifice, along with the exile of the guilty “son of the father” Barabbas, completes the ancient Yom Kippur ritual to cleanse the Jewish people of sin. (Moreover, this time the sacrifice ritual will cleanse our sins forever because it’s a god’s blood in the sacrifice instead of a goat’s blood.) If anything, the phrase “let his blood be upon us” seems to me to be a direct reference to this blood magic sacrifice and removal of sin from all Jewish people by the blood of Jesus.

            Your interpretation – where Mark is trying to blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus – fits far less well. Again, we have a story with two “sons of the father”, and the guilty one is exiled, and the innocent one is sacrificed. It’s an obvious parallel to the Yom Kippur goat ritual. It also fits perfectly with standard Christian dogma how Jesus’s sacrifice allows us to get into heaven by “paying” for our sins, ala substitutionary atonement aka vicarious redemption. The typical Christian will also tell you that this is the point of him dying.

            Moreover, “the rulers of this age” in Greek is commonly interpreted as a reference to demons, and so one might even make an argument that “Pilate”, a ruler of our age, is really a reference to a demon, again fitting the Carrier story, as described in that one version of the Ascension of Isaiah where Jesus’s crucifixion takes place in outer space and Jesus is crucified by demons, not Romans. This makes perfect sense under the “view” that gMark is all metaphorical, and that there is the public meaning, and the secret hidden meaning, which was common for mystery cults at the time, and this sort of general theory of interpretation (one public meaning, and one secret meaning) is several times hinted at by early church fathers.

          • says

            GerrardOfTitanServer says
            > If Mark is writing that the Jews are responsible for killing the Messiah as some sort of allegory, why bring in the Romans at all?
            It’s like you haven’t read anything that I’ve actually written. Could you please actually read what I write? It’s quite infuriating to be part of a one-sided conversation.

            Sorry, I was just trying to be nice. Your interpretation of the text is completely at odds with the actual text.

            If you don’t like this translation, feel free to use another.
            https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+15&version=NKJV

            … along with the exile of the guilty “son of the father” Barabbas, completes the ancient Yom Kippur ritual to cleanse the Jewish people of sin.

            Barabbas is not exiled, he is released to the Jews.

            If anything, the phrase “let his blood be upon us”…

            This phrase does not appear in gMark.

            Your interpretation – where Mark is trying to blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus – fits far less well.

            9 But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. 12 Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” 14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.

            Pilate tries to release Jesus, but the Jews (at the provocation of the chief priests) insist on Barabbas.

            … and so one might even make an argument that “Pilate”, a ruler of our age, is really a reference to a demon, …

            Were one desperate to prove a position and lacking in any evidence at all, one might indeed make such an argument. One should expect to be laughed at.

            … again fitting the Carrier story, as described in that one version of the Ascension of Isaiah where Jesus’s crucifixion takes place in outer space and Jesus is crucified by demons, …

            Now you’re just trying to be funny, right?

            http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/10/mcg388028.shtml

            And so, turning to the question posed in the title of this article, does Ascension of Isaiah envisage Jesus being crucified in outer space, on the firmament, as Richard Carrier claims? That reading of the text still seems to me unlikely – the Beloved’s descent to the realm of sheol seems to envisage the journey including Earth and the realm of the human dead, given how that term tends to be used in ancient Jewish literature. But as we have shown here, even if Ascension of Isaiah does have this view, that the celestial Beloved descends from the highest heaven to the firmament and no further, then that still does not support mythicism. Ascension of Isaiah emphasizes that what happens on the firmament is mirrored in the terrestrial realm. We should not treat the crucifixion of the Beloved to be an exception.

          • GerrardOfTitanServer says

            > Sorry, I was just trying to be nice.

            Bullshit.

            > If you don’t like this translation, feel free to use another.

            Where did I say anything at all about disagreeing with your translation? I didn’t. You’re doing it again. You’re not engaging with what I’ve actually written.

            I don’t see any reason to further engage with an asshat like yourself who cannot even be bothered to read what I have been writing.

        • GerrardOfTitanServer says

          To One Brow
          I hit “post” early. Sorry.

          Look. No one “tries to be nice” by completely ignoring the main argument of their opponent, and instead responds to some other argument. You’re greatly disrespecting me, and doing the opposite of being nice. You’re being an asshat. I’m not going to engage with you any further if this is how you’re going to act. You’re going to engage with what I’m actually saying instead of strawmanning me, or I’m not going to engage with you at all.

          I am amazed that you tried to defend yourself in this manner. It’s obscene. Go fuck yourself.

  6. HelenaFTB says

    Gregory in Seattle:

    But the point is that apocalyptic street preachers were *common* at the time and in that place, and the description is so generic it could fit dozens of people, including probably historical individuals known from extra-biblical sources!

  7. Bruce says

    We can’t be confident about what writers in that era considered necessary for their text to sound good to their contemporaries. So we can’t conclude that the only possible reason was that it was a true story.
    So we have no reason to think it likely that gMark was based on anything true.

    • db says

      Bruce says: “We can’t be confident about what writers in that era considered necessary for their text to sound good to their contemporaries.”

      Confident (or not), there has to be a determination of the genre of the material. Before any consideration is given to—did the text “sound good to their contemporaries”.

      Per Neil Godfrey (22 November 2018) [now bolded]. “How Historians Know Their Bedrock Facts“. Vridar.

      If we follow Morley’s advice we must first ask what type of literature the gospels are and even IF they are indeed attempting to present real history or biography. A related pursuit is to establish what we can know for certain about their sources. If it turns out that a comparative literary analysis demonstrates that a common source for many of the details and structures of their narratives are borrowed and reworked from the Hebrew Scriptures then we find ourselves even further from the confidence we would like to have that they are in any way related to genuine past events.

      Biblical scholars have applied redaction criticism, criteria of authenticity and “memory theory” to the gospels in attempts to get closer to the history they believe must lie at their root source. None of those methods can ever offer the confidence that good old contemporary and independent accounts can offer.

  8. D_smith says

    i’ll just leave this here for those citing the josephus narrative as evidence of the historicity of the jesus figure in christian mythology.

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Josephus

    Scholarly consensus: Most scholars admit that at least some parts, if not all, of this paragraph, cannot be authentic,[5][6] and some are convinced that the entire paragraph is an interpolation inserted by Christians at a later time.[7][8][9][10] Duke University Professor E.P. Sanders, a New Testament scholar, argues that the uninterpolated Josephus said that Jesus died by crucifixion[11]. Even Christian scholars consider the paragraph to be an overenthusiastic forgery,[12][13][14] and even the Catholic Encyclopedia concurs.[15] Finally, everyone who is saying some part of “Testimonium Flavianum” is genuine is ignoring examinations younger than 10 years old and in some cases using data from 50 years ago.[16]

    • Dr Sarah says

      Hi, D_smith!

      ‘i’ll just leave this here…’

      By all means, but, since it’s a paragraph about the Testimonium Flavium and the people here are discussing a completely different passage in Josephus, it’s not particularly relevant.

  9. db says

    Per the OP:

    [O]ne big question that’s relevant to gMark:

    • Why did Mark give the Romans in general, and Pilate in particular, the role he gave them in his gospel?

    In gMark (as in the other three canonical gospels), the Romans are the people who ultimately put Jesus to death, with Pilate – an important, powerful historical figure – playing the key role of pronouncing sentence on him. And Mark clearly isn’t happy with having to portray them that way. He plays it down, plays up the role of the Jews, writes it to show the Jews insisting on the death sentence and Pilate/the other Romans reluctantly going along with this. It’s not at all surprising that he’d feel this way about minimising the role of the Romans in Jesus’s death; they were the powerful ruling class, so it’s understandable that Mark wouldn’t have liked the idea of casting them as the bad guys who killed his protagonist.

    • So… why has he put them in that role at all?

    IMO:
    The Markan text is a fictional allegorical polemic against a specific sect of Jewish converts to Christianity.

    Per Dykstra, Tom (2012). Mark Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel. OCABS Press. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.

    Mark was written after a conflict had developed between Paul and the Jerusalem Christian leadership under the leadership of the “pillars” Peter, James, and John. For the Gospel’s original readers, the picture of obtuse, glory-seeking, slothful disciples couldn’t help but bolster the authority of the one Apostle who was not so characterized [i.e. Paul]. . . . in the terms of Mark’s own day and Paul’s perspective, the real traitors are among the Christian Jewish leadership, not the non-Christian Jews. The name Judas (“Jew”) corresponds so well to Paul’s view that his opponents were traitors to the cross of Christ by being zealots for Jewish traditions [e.g. still being Torah observant], that it is reasonable to suppose Mark deliberately named the betrayer Judas for that reason. —(pp. 116–117.)

    Another purpose of the Markan author is to show why Lord God allowed the destruction of the temple—which reqiures the inclusion of Romans in the story, thus:
    • the destruction of the temple, is by Roman hand.
    therefore
    • the destruction of Jesus, is by Roman hand.

    Given that lots of mythical heroes were “killed” by named persons, in this case Mark’s selection of Pontius Pilate is an outcome of the story timeline.

    It is likely that Mark’s Jesus figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Jewish War—”Jesus son of Ananias”. Also it is likely that Mark’s “John the Baptist” figure is based/derived on a real earthly being attested in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.

    So if the Markan author understood that Jesus son of Ananias was born 1 CE (or whatever and simply backdated) and died 70 CE during the “Siege of Jerusalem”. And he also understood that John the Baptist was executed by Herod Antipas c. 30 CE.

    Then the Markan author created a work of fiction by “retrojecting” the time and method of Jesus’ death to match Old Testament prophecy that foretold the temple’s destruction some X years after the shameful death of the “suffering servant” sent by Lord God.

    The timeline of this story just happens to fall on the 10 year administration of Pontius Pilate (26 to 36 CE).

    NB:
    Irony of ironies, even though the Markan author would of regarded Josephus’ Jesus son of Ananias and John the Baptist as historical people—they likely were not.

    • Miller, Merrill P. (2017). “The Social Logic of the Gospel of Mark: Cultural Persistence and Social Escape in a Postwar Time”. In Crawford, Barry S.; Miller, Merrill P. Redescribing the Gospel of Mark. SBL Press. pp. 207–400. ISBN 978-0-88414-203-4.

    In a monograph comparing the story of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and the story of Jesus ben Hananiah in Jerusalem, Ted Weeden Sr. has occasion to draw on Kloppenborg’s discussion of the Roman ritual of evocatio to argue that Josephus has himself composed the series of portents and prodigies as a theology of evocatio, obviously not in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Roman ritual, but to show that God had decided to abandon the temple because of the tyranny, false prophecy, and bloodshed of the rebels. The final portent, the oracle of Jesus-Ananias (Weeden’s shortened form for Jesus ben Hananiah) against the city, the temple, and the people represents the devotio. […] Weeden has presented an impressive list of parallels between Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem and Jesus-Ananias in Jerusalem in a Greco-Roman environment in which the penchant for mimetic writing was a central feature of literary production. —(pp. 263–264)

    • 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.

  10. Dr Sarah says

    @GerrardofTitanServer (multiple comments):

    ‘It’s all an obvious allegory for the Yom Kippur goat ritual to cleanse the people of sin.’

    I don’t agree. Yom Kippur goat ritual:

    • Takes place at Yom Kippur
    • Decision between two males was made by lot
    • The first one to be dealt with was the one to be killed
    • Before this happened, however, the High Priest had to sacrifice a bull for his own and his family’s sins
    • The goat being sacrificed was then slaughtered in the usual sacrificial manner, which I believe (I’ll accept correction) was by having its throat cut
    • The goat’s blood was then ceremonially sprinkled in specified places in the temple
    • The High Priest had to undergo cleansing rituals
    • After this, the other goat then takes on the sins of the people via a ritual in which they are ceremonially transmitted to it.
    • It is then escorted out to the desert and exiled there.

    Barabbas/Jesus story:

    • Takes place at Passover
    • Decision between the two males is made by crowd demand
    • The first one to be dealt with was the one who was spared from being killed
    • He was guilty due to having committed crimes himself, not due to having anyone else’s sins transmitted ceremonially to him.
    • He’s set free. That’s the last we hear of him; certainly no mention of being taken to the desert and/or exiled.
    • The one being put to death is killed via a humiliating, torturous method of execution that’s despised by the Jewish people and associated with the oppression they hate, hence really not at all the kind of thing that mythologisers would be likely to incorporate into their myths.
    • The only account to mention his blood being spilled is written decades later; the description it gives of blood-spilling has it poured on the ground by a Roman soldier stabbing him, with no mention of it being sprinkled anywhere holy. Earlier accounts don’t even mention this.
    • The stories don’t contain any equivalent to cleansing rituals by a sacrificer or to a bull being sacrified.

    I know it’s possible to find a couple of details in that lot that match (two males, atonement, you can sort of draw a rather strained comparison of one being guilty and one innocent in each case), but that takes a heck of a lot of cherry-picking, so I can’t agree that it’s an obvious allegory.

    ‘Why not just a convenient pick without a deeper meaning? They had to pick someone.’

    Well, the author had already picked the Jews (or, more specifically, the high priests) and highlighted them as the ones to blame in the story. Why add the Romans in when he was simultaneously trying so hard to explain their guilt away?

    ‘However, I don’t understand the other argument at all. It’s like arguing that Spider-Man is probably because a Spider-Man comic has Spider-Man meeting president Obama.’

    The issue isn’t that Mark mentions a real person, but that he does so in a way that he’s obviously bothered by and trying to gloss over… yet could easily leave out were he actually, as Price claims, writing his gospel from scratch as a complete work of fiction. That’s a lot easier to explain if he were writing about a real person and felt at least somewhat constrained by his knowledge of particular facts about this person. Of course, in itself it’s not very much in the way of evidence; but it’s one of several such pieces of evidence pointing towards historicity (others of which I’ll get to further on in the review; this was the one that happened to fit within the discussion of the part of the book that deals with gMark).

    ‘The Bible is still much closer in genre and reliability to a Spider-Man comic than a New York Times article.’

    I think the main problem with that comparison is that it isn’t particularly close to either, so figuring out which one it resembles more is actually a case of picking the one that it’s less unlike, which doesn’t tell us very much.

    While a Spiderman comic does describe fantastical creatures and situations, there’s a significant difference in what the author was trying to do. A Spiderman author is deliberately trying to write a fictional story for purposes of entertainment. They know it’s fictional, and they know the readers know it’s fictional. It’s being written for fun and that’s it. The gospel authors, on the other hand, were trying to get a message across that they believed to be true (and of vital importance). As such, the gospels are rather more comparable a very badly researched and one-sided attempt at a newspaper article than to a comic.

    In terms of what genre the gospels are best described as, the best suggestion I’ve heard is ‘hagiography’, from Richard Carrier (prior to him moving to mythicism); a type of biography written about a saint or religious leader (by, presumably, their followers) to present them in a very idealised way. Alternatively, history student Matthew Ferguson has written a post here comparing the gospels to popular novelistic-type biographies of the time: https://celsus.blog/2016/03/26/greek-popular-biography-romance-contest-gospel/.

    ‘Moreover, I believe that Richard Carrier cites and makes good arguments that the passages in Josephus and Tacitus that are claimed to refer to Jesus are not.’

    I used to believe this as well. Then I went on to read quite a bit more about the issue, and found out about various flaws in Carrier’s arguments of which I hadn’t been aware. I can give you some links for further reading if you’re interested.

    • GerrardOfTitanServer says

      The links would be most welcome. Thanks!

      The entire point of Jesus’s death was to cleanse the world of sin so that people could have an eternal afterlife, right? That’s the standard, doctrinaire, universally accepted purpose of Jesus’s death, right? It was a blood magic ritual, where a god was sacrificed, to cleanse the people of the world from sin.

      Earlier in Mark, we have the fig tree story. This is another obvious parable. The story at face value makes no sense – why would Jesus curse a fig tree because it wasn’t bearing fruit when it wasn’t the season to bear fruit? It doesn’t make any sense, just like Pilate releasing a condemned criminal of the crowd’s choosing doesn’t make any sense. However, if you interpret it allegorically, then it makes perfect sense. The fig tree at the time was a symbol for the central Jewish temple, and the story is about Jesus saying that we don’t need the fruits of the temple anymore. We don’t need the temple to cleanse us of sin once per year.

      Inside of the fig tree story, sandwiched inside, is another story where Jesus chases out the moneychangers. The moneychangers were a crucial element of the temple’s purpose of cleansing the people of sin. Everyone had to come once a year, and trade the common money for special temple money, to buy their sacrifice or something, to cleanse themselves of sin for a year. It was seen as a particularly corrupt practice. By chasing out the moneychangers, Jesus is stopping the temple from cleansing the people of sin, and thereby setting up a future story for its replacement, Jesus’s sacrifice. After doing this, they see the fig tree, the stand-in for the temple, withered. It is no longer the season for it to bear fruit, and Jesus cursed it, and it died, and Jesus wished for no one to eat its fruit any longer.

      In an allegorical piece such as Mark, surely the story at the end would explain the penultimate purpose, which in this case is how we get an afterlife, and that’s exactly what we see. With the ability of the central Jewish temple cult to cleanse sin destroyed, Mark 15 sets up the replacement, Jesus’s sacrifice. Then in Mark 16, the final chapter, we see the benefits of that sacrifice – the cleansing of sin so that we can live forever.

      I should hope up to this point I have said only the mainstream, doctrinaire interpretations. Is it really so hard to make that one final step and see that the blood magic sacrifice of Jesus is really a blood magic sacrifice analogous to the scapegoat ritual? Either way, it’s a blood magic sacrifice. The only question is whether it was meant to be a reference to the scapegoat ritual. In this context, it seems mighty coincidental that we have a guilty man released at the same time, in the same judicial decision, that condemned an innocent man to die, whose death cleansed the world of sin. On top of that, the sacrificed man was the son of the father, and the freed guilty man’s name was also literally “son of the father”. In this context, this is way too coincidental for me to believe that the addition of Barabbas is anything other than a purposeful fictional addition in order to further make the point that Jesus’s sacrifice cleansed the world of sin forever.

      Now, at this point in the argument, you can accept my position, and still believe that Pilate had to have been included because there was a historical basis. However, it should still be undeniable that Pilate’s role in the story was heavily modified so as to be the officiator of the scapegoat ritual. I have a guess why Pilate was chosen to officiate the scapegoat ritual. However, even if we didn’t know why Pilate was chosen – maybe because of some historical record that necessitated his inclusion, everything I’ve said up until here should still be undeniably true.

      I really do think that it’s plausible that Pilate was chosen because he was one of the rulers of that age, and “rulers of that age” was also a common metaphor to refer to demons, and this can easily be tied back together via the Ascension of Isaiah and the related Descent of Inanna. In the Descent of Inanna, she wanted to be killed by the demons, and it would actually grant her victory. She tricked the demons into killing her. The demons didn’t know her strategy, and would not have killed her if they had known.

      And now back to Paul.

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+2%3A6-10&version=NIV

      None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

      Is this really so farfetched? Choosing Pilate as the stand-in for demons makes perfect sense to me. All of Mark had two reading, the face value reading that made no sense, and the allegorical meaning that actually made sense. In the particular case of Pilate, You have the face-value reading, where he’s just Pilate, and the story makes no sense because of his actions, but then you have the hidden allegorical meaning, where the “rulers of this age” accidentally killed Jesus, completing Jesus’s secret plan, and the demons didn’t know about the secret plan, if the demons had known about the secret plan, then they would not have killed Jesus.

      Now, try to make sense of this the other way. Try to make sense of what Paul is saying in Corinthians. On the historicity account, what Paul is writing here in Corinthians makes no sense. On historicity, Paul is saying that if the Romans and Pilate knew that killing Jesus would have brought about an afterlife, then they would have never killed him. That makes zero sense. If the Romans truly knew that Jesus’s death would have brought about an afterlife, then of course they would want to kill him. This verse from Corinthians only makes sense under the assumption that Pilate’s role was allegorical for the role of demons, as described in the Ascension of Isaiah and as paralleled in the Descent of Inanna.

      • db says

        GerrardOfTitanServer says: “Choosing Pilate as the stand-in for demons makes perfect sense to me.”

        Given that the Markan author is allegorizing the teachings of Paul.

        • Paul literally held that supernatural “Demon Archons” executed Jesus.

        Therefore in the Markan text the “Human Archon” Pontius Pilate executes Jesus as an allegory of a teaching of Paul.

  11. says

    Having recently read all of the epistles, I got to say that they work fine as just letters. I mean, sure, maybe there’s some secret layers of meaning in there, but as letters a chap might write to some people he knows, they scan perfectly well.

    • GerrardOfTitanServer says

      To Andrew
      I believe that the standard mythicist argument is just Mark is allegorical. The letters of Paul – the authentic ones at least – are meant as simple, straightforward letters. The later gospels, being derivatives of Mark, retain some of that allegorical nature, but it seems that the later authors wanted to make separate points, and so they changed the stories to suit their own political aims.

  12. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    More broadly, I did want to say that I trust Richard Carrier more in this matter, and IIRC, it seems like Robert Price goes a little further than what the evidence warrants, and creates additional narratives that might be true but which are not strictly necessary to advance a general mythicist argument. I’m not saying anything about whether you should continue your review, but I think that Richard Carrier’s book and other work is still the foremost work in the area of mythicism.

  13. says

    I guess then I don’t understand the “Pilate as a standing for demons” business. When Paul says that the princes of the world would not have crucified Jesus, I read it more simply as “if they had known how awesome he was, they wouldn’t have nailed him up, because, awesome.”

    • db says

      Per Paul, the Demons understood that if second-god died and rose. Then they would lose control of Earth.

      That is why they would not kill second-god. Not because “how awesome” second-god was, but for their own self interest to maintain control of Earth

    • GerrardOfTitanServer says

      To Andrew
      By itself, I would agree. However, the Ascension of Isaiah and the Descent Of Inanna change this for me. Maybe I came off too strongly, but maybe not.

      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians+2&version=NIV

      6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

      So, on the doctrinaire interpretation, in 6, Paul speaks of a message, of an unearthly wisdom, and not a wisdom of man, and the wise men will come to nothing. In 7, Paul speaks of a mystery plan for our glory. Together, this seems very much like Paul is speaking about the plan that Yahweh had for Jesus’s blood magic sacrifice to bring about an afterlife, and on the doctrinaire interpretation of verse 6, the earthly-wise rulers of this age will not get that afterlife (“come to nothing” vs “destined for our glory before time began”). But then comes verse 8, which still makes very little sense in this particular interpretative context. Verse 8 is very surprising to me. It’s one of major reasons that persuaded me to mythicism. Verse 8 seems to be saying that if the rulers of this age really understood this secret plan of Jesus’s blood magic sacrifice to bring about an afterlife, then they would not have killed Jesus.

      Perhaps I’m making a serious mistake here, and I fully admit that I am a rank amateur.

      Your interpretation doesn’t make sense to me in this context. I would have to be mistaken on the interpretation of the surrounding verses referring to Yahweh’s secret plan of Jesus’s blood magic sacrifice to atone for sin for the world in order to create an afterlife. How would you interpret the verse in its broader context? Honestly, I should look up the standard interpretations.

      • db says

        Paul speaks of a message, of an unearthly wisdom, and not a wisdom of man

        Paul sometimes uses Wisdom Personified as an epithet for second-god. I mentally substitute “second-god” for Jesus, Wisdom, Lord of Glory, etc.. to see if I can Grok better what Paul is saying.

        NB: Philo appears to have originated the Masculine concept of Wisdom Personified, whereas Sophia (Greek for wisdom) was traditionally Feminine.

  14. says

    Yes, db, I understand that one can read Paul as a kind of secret code.

    Gerrard seems to be both agreeing that the letters are just letters, and talking about the double meaning/secret code readings. Perhaps I am missing something? I don’t think I have people muddled up, but perhaps I do.

    • db says

      I understand that one can read Paul as a kind of secret code.

      If by “secret code” you mean Paul’s Exegesis of un-cited second temple period “scriptures” available to him (some of which are now lost forever). However it is possible to identify some of the OT scripture Paul was interpreting to confirm his hallucinations of second-god.

      The only question is: Did Paul understand these very real (in Paul’s view) second-god events as occurring on Earth or Outer Space, i.e. not on Earth. Paul is ambiguous on this question.

      Paul’s ambiguity on this question is bizarre, but even more so if he held that the second-god events occurred on Earth.

      • db says

        I understand that one can read Paul as a kind of secret code.

        Andrew Molitor, as I understand only you are claiming “that one can read Paul as a kind of secret code.” Or otherwise you are claiming this to be the viewpoint of someone else.

        In general, there is no “secret code” in the Pauline material that I am aware of. They are just normal letters.

        Paul literally held that supernatural “Demon Archons” executed Jesus. This is what he clearly writes in his letters. There is no “secret code” to his readers about this.

        The question we ask is: Where did this execution take place? Because Paul never unambiguously states where the execution occurred. Whereas Paul’s audience would have already known where.

    • GerrardOfTitanServer says

      and talking about the double meaning/secret code readings. Perhaps I am missing something? I don’t think I have people muddled up, but perhaps I do.

      Which secret meaning? On the mythicist theory, Paul is speaking plainly, and Paul is plainly speaking about demons. On the mythicist theory, the claim goes that everything in the authentic letters of Paul can be understood to be speaking at face value about demons killing Jesus in the lowest level of heaven, aka outer space. The curious thing is that Paul in the authentic letterw never clearly says anything that places Jesus on Earth. Historicists will argue that there are maybe approx 4 spots that do refer to Jesus bodily on Earth, and the mythicist says that there are alternative interpretations consistent with Jesus in outer space.

      Regarding this particular passage in Corinthians, I’m not asking you to interpret it via metaphor or parable or analogy. Just let go of your preconceptions that Paul believes in an Earthly Jesus, and then read the authentic letters naturally, as you suggested.

  15. says

    I don’t really know the details of any of the ways to double-read Paul. I just read them as letters.

    “Stop fornicating and worshipping idols you idiots, we discussed this. Also, please remember to bring my cloak when you come. Thx. Paul.”

    It just didn’t strike me as that complicated.

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