‘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.)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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)

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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).

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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)

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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)

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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]

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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?

  42. 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?

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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?

  46. 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).

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.”

  60. 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

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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.

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. Dr Sarah says

    @GerrardofTitanServer:

    This reply is ending up very long indeed, so I’ll split it into two parts.

    ‘The links would be most welcome. Thanks!’

    Tim O’Neill discusses the Josephus mention of James in the second half of this post: https://historyforatheists.com/2018/02/jesus-mythicism-2-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/. (The first half is about Paul’s mentions of ‘James, the brother of the Lord’/’the brothers of the Lord’, and is also worth a read.) Carrier has a reply to O’Neill’s argument about Josephus at https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/14324 (although the reply isn’t to that post directly but to another one, so a lot of what Carrier says in the post isn’t relevant to this particular discussion; however, he does cover some of the points).

    Colin Green discusses Carrier’s article in more detail at http://gettingtothetruthofthings.blogspot.com/2015/10/a-response-to-richard-carriers-work-on.html (this also contains a very detailed breakdown of the quotes of this line in Origen’s work, and of Carrier’s objections). Carrier replies at https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15203.

    O’Neill discusses the Tacitus passage at https://historyforatheists.com/2017/09/jesus-mythicism-1-the-tacitus-reference-to-jesus/.

    ‘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?’

    Among Christians, it is indeed. (Actually, I suppose it isn’t ‘universally accepted’ even among Christians, but that’s a total sidetrack so I won’t get into it.) But there are a couple of important questions to be asked here.

    Firstly, how did the early church get to this belief in the first place? There was nothing in Judaism prior to that to suggest that the sacrificial system could be replaced by a once-and-for-all uber-sacrifice, or that a god could be sacrificed (in fact, that would be regarded as a horrifyingly pagan and idolatrous idea). Meanwhile, while beliefs on the details of the Messiah varied enormously, the entire point of the Messianic ideal was still that his existence would herald the time of peace, plenty, and liberation from all oppression that was described by various prophets; this is exactly why everyone was hoping for the Messiah so desperately. So, if we hypothesise a mythical Jesus, we need to hypothesise that somehow a group went off at a total tangent from current Jewish beliefs, came up with this very Hellenised idea of god sacrifice, and fused it with the very Jewish idea of the Messiah in a weird hybrid. This isn’t impossible, but it’s a lot more unlikely than mythicists seem to allow for.

    Secondly… even if the above did happen, how the heck would this group get to the idea that this god-sacrifice happened through crucifixion? They were from a culture in which ‘sacrifice’ meant ceremonial blood-shedding an animal in perfect physical condition, and ‘crucifixion’ meant the most humiliating of executions, considered by many to bring a curse on anyone executed in such a way. Those would have been strongly ingrained concepts. Deciding that actually the latter could be used for the former would have been like – I don’t know – reaching the conclusion that your uber-sacrifice had to take place via the god getting run over and becoming roadkill. Only more so.

    Connecting the concepts of sacrifice and crucifixion is such a leap that I think it only makes sense on historicity, because there you have a situation where people who already firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah then had to cope with seeing him be crucified. In that situation, it’s plausible that someone unable to face the crushing disappointment of their beloved friend being a) dead and b) not the Messiah after all, yet faced with the unarguable reality of seeing him crucified, could have reconciled the two by formulating a new belief that a crucified Messiah was all part of God’s great plan. (There’s also an argument that this happened in two stages, with his followers initially only believing that he’d been raised from the dead, and then Paul coming up with the ‘blood sacrifice for sin’ theology.) But we don’t have that explanation on a mythicist theory.

    ‘Earlier in Mark, we have the fig tree story. This is another obvious parable. […] 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. […] 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.’

    (grin) You don’t feel like joining in with the debate in the other thread (https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2019/12/03/deciphering-the-gospels-proves-jesus-never-existed-review-chapter-one/#comment-3112), do you? R. G. Price finds it equally obvious that this story is an allegory based on Hosea 9 and communicating the message of God’s displeasure, so seeing the two of you debating which of these obvious interpretations is the right one could be interesting.

    ‘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.’
    It’s not ‘exactly what we see’ at all! Mark ends with the women/the reader being told that Jesus has risen from the dead and that they’ll see him again; it doesn’t say anything about this producing an afterlife for anyone else. (One of the endings that was added on later does say something of the sort, but that wasn’t in what Mark originally wrote.)

    ‘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?’

    I thought your claim was that Jesus’s sacrifice was analogous to the slaughter of the other goat, and Barabbas’s freeing was analogous to the scapegoat ritual? This seems to be getting a little confused.

    ‘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.’

    The trouble with this is that, when you have really vague and ambiguous parameters, you can find all sorts of apparent coincidences. In this case, the ‘coincidence’ only holds up because you’re

    a) using the word ‘guilty’ to cover both a person who actually committed a crime and a creature that had the sins of others transferred ritually to it, even though those are two very different concepts
    b) using the word ‘released’ to cover ‘sent into exile’ (the actual fate of the scapegoat), even though those are also two very different concepts
    c) ignoring the long list of other significant differences between the two scenarios.

  69. Dr Sarah says

    (Part 2 of reply)

    ‘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”.’

    FWIW, Maccoby, in ‘Revolution in Judea’, has an interesting interpretation of this story; he thinks that Barabbas was actually the same person as Jesus. Here’s how he thinks this went down:

    a) Jesus, near the end of his preaching career, acquired the nickname ‘Barabbas’ or similar. (This could, as you point out, have been ‘son of Abba/the Father’; alternatively, it could have been ‘Barrabbas’, which literally means ‘son of the rabbi’ but which, according to Maccoby, could also be used loosely to mean just ‘rabbi’, or it could have been ‘Berabbi’, ‘house of the rabbi’, which Maccoby tells us was an honorary title given to those considered to be great rabbis.)
    b) After his arrest, the crowds – who were passionately pro-Jesus at that point, and weren’t going to be turned away from this belief quite as easily as the gospels claim – surrounded the court shouting for the release of the rebel Jesus Barabbas. Didn’t make a blind bit of difference, of course, since Pilate would have either ignored them or sent the troops to drive them away/make arrests, but the story of this protest got passed down.
    c) Several decades later, when Mark sits down to gather the many stories and myths about Jesus into some sort of written account, the story of the crowds shouting passionately for the rebel Jesus Barabbas is still remembered. However, over time, other things about the story have changed significantly. There’s now a strong element of ‘God turned his favour away from the Jews for rejecting their Messiah’ and of God choosing the Gentiles instead. Also, the interpretation of Jesus’s mission has shifted drastically; instead of ‘Messiah’ being interpreted as leader of anti-oppressor rebels, it’s been reinterpreted as a sacrificial role. Within this context, Mark interprets the story in a completely new way; the rebel Jesus Barabbas in the story is interpreted as a different Jesus from the Jesus Christ who was sacrificed, and poor put-upon Pilate is forced into choosing the wrong one by those evil Jews who have so little regard for their Messiah that they actually reject him in favour of a rebel criminal. Hence, the story we ended up with (with the ‘Jesus’ getting dropped off the ‘Barabbas’ in most manuscripts as time goes by).

    Is that what happened? I have no idea, and I’m agnostic on the point as it does require a few too many assumptions for me just to go along with it. I suspect there might simply be some completely different explanation that we just haven’t thought of. But it’s at least a plausible explanation, and it strikes me as a hell of a lot more plausible than ‘someone came up with a really bizarrely convoluted version of the scapegoat ritual in which they got almost every single thing wrong.

    ‘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’

    This would require Mark to jump from ‘rulers of the age’, to a decision that he somehow had to name a specific ruler of the age, to naming a figure from the powerful Romans whom it could have been a problem to antagonise (if nothing else, it didn’t make their religious group look very attractive to Gentiles to portray its founder as a criminal executed by one of the lawful rulers). And to do all this when, from his writing, it’s fairly clear that he wanted to avoid putting the blame on Pilate. Why would he do that? If he really was working from a ‘ruler of this age’ line, all he had to do was either stick with that and refer to Pilate as an Archon, or possibly use some vague Roman (or Jewish) title without naming anyone.

    ‘All of Mark had two reading, the face value reading that made no sense, and the allegorical meaning that actually made sense.’

    All of Mark? Most of Mark makes perfect sense. A travelling preacher gains followers, argues over religious issues of the day, gets some stick from his family, gets believed to be a miracle-worker and the Messiah by his followers, and gets executed by the Romans for being a Messianic claimant. There are certainly parts that I don’t believe happened, and for some of those parts it isn’t clear how we got from ‘that didn’t happen’ to ‘story claims it did happen’, but it seems like a tremendous exaggeration to say that the face-value readings of all of Mark make no sense.

    ‘On the historicity account, what Paul is writing here in Corinthians makes no 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.’

    The Romans were, if I understand correctly, heavily resented by the Jews for being a bunch of oppressive bastards, so it’s not hugely implausible that Paul might have meant something like ‘If the Romans knew killing Jesus would benefit the Jews, then they wouldn’t have wanted to kill him because they’re selfish oppressors who don’t want the Jews to have nice things’.

    But, yes, it’s also possible that Paul genuinely did think that Jesus was put to death by demon rulers. Let’s remember here that Paul is the person who believed he was getting all his information about Jesus from heavenly revelation, might very well have never met Jesus or had anything to do with him in life, and certainly seems to have tried to have as little as feasible to do with his followers after death. So, I agree Paul might for all we know have thought Jesus was put to death by demons, but I don’t agree that this is any sort of useful indicator as to what the rest of Jesus’s followers were saying about him.

  70. Dr Sarah says

    I do want to review Carrier’s book at some point, but I won’t get to it any time soon, especially not at the rate I write. 🙂

  71. Dr Sarah says

    ‘Paul literally held that supernatural “Demon Archons” executed Jesus. This is what he clearly writes in his letters.’

    I doubt that. Granted, it’s a while since I read them and also I don’t know the Greek, but my understanding is that he wrote that the ‘rulers of this world’ executed Jesus, and it’s possible to interpret this as meaning ‘demons’; not that he actually wrote ‘demons’ himself.

  72. db says

    Relevant material for the analysis of Paul’s meaning per “the rulers of this age”.

    Per Riley, G. J. (1999). “Demon”. In Toorn, Karel van der; Becking, Bob; Horst, Pieter Willem van der (eds.). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-2491-2.

    The competing gods of the Greeks are demons (1 Cor 10:20–21; cf 1 Cor 12:2), and Christians were once under the spiritual powers of the “elements” (= the stars and signs of the Zodiac; Gal 4:3, 8–9; Col 2:8, 20; cf. T. Sol. 18.3: “the heavenly bodies, the world rulers of the darkness of this age”).
    […]
    God disarmed the demonic rulers and authorities through →Christ (Col 2:15), and Christ at his resurrection was given mastery over all angelic and demonic “rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:21; cf 1 Cor 15:24–25), so Christians one day will sit in judgment over the (evil) angels (1 Cor 6:3). The demonic forces attack the Church: such →angels, principalities (→Archai), and powers try, but will fail, to separate believers from God’s love (Rom 8:38); false Christian apostles, servants of Satan, attempted to deceive the Corinthians with false doctrines (2 Cor 11:13–15); an angel of Satan even torments Paul (2 Cor 12:7); the writer of the Pastoral epistles predicts that in the last days the unwary would follow “deceitful spirits” and “doctrines of demons”, which included food taboos and the forbidding of marriage (1 Tim 4:1–3). —(p. 240)

    Godfrey, Neil (9 July 2018). “What they used to say about Paul’s “rulers of this age” who crucified the “lord of glory””. Vridar.

    In the previous post we looked at the arguments that “the rulers of this age” were human authorities or a combination of spiritual and human authorities . . . We now begin the case for the earliest known interpretation (Ignatius, Marcion, Justin) that the rulers of this age were spiritual or angelic beings.

  73. db says

    Godfrey, Neil (13 July 2018). “Once more on the “Spiritual Rulers” in Paul’s Cosmic Drama”. Vridar. [NOW BOLDED]

    So we come to the last name listed by Robert Ewusie Moses to represent the “immense” “scholarly literature” favouring the position that the rulers of this age in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 are in fact spiritual, not human, powers.

    Godfrey, Neil (23 July 2018). “Paul’s “Rulers of this Age” — Conclusion (Part ?)”. Vridar.

    Is this really the concluding post? No doubt I will find more reasons over time to add to the arguments.
    […]
    Here we return to the arguments of Robert Ewusie Moses [REM] in favour of the Paul’s “rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of Glory” being spirit powers.

    • See index: Godfrey, Neil. “”Rulers of this Age” in 1 Cor. 2:6-8″. Vridar.

  74. Dr Sarah says

    @db: I’m not disputing the possibility that Paul could have meant ‘demons’ when he wrote ‘rulers of this age’. I’m disputing the claim that ‘demon Archons’ is what he ‘clearly writes’, rather than just being a possible interpretation of what he writes.

    From the fact that there’s this much debate over it, I take it I was correct and ‘demon Archons’ is a (possibly correct) interpretation, rather than what he ‘clearly writes’.

  75. rationalrevolution says

    Sorry, late getting to this. Looks like a lot has already been covered. Of course Mark is following Paul so Mark has to portray Jesus as Crucified. Christ Crucified is a central teaching of Paul. Once we are dealing with crucifixion then we pretty much have to involve the official state authorities, as crucifixion is an official means of execution. Its like if you made a story that had to include someone getting put to death by electric chair. At that point you’d be pretty bound to have the US Government involving in the killing.

    As for why Pilate, there are a few possibilities. 1) Pilate was known as a ruler who executed many Jews by crucifixion, as described in a letter from Philo. 2) It also happens that Pilate was rule of Judea exactly 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple. There were a number of prophecies about there being 40 years between various events and the final end battle of the end of the age. In this case, Mark could have been pointing to the destruction of the Temple as symbolic of the end of the age and putting the events that set it in motion exactly 40 years prior to it’s destruction, as per the prophecies.

    But anyway, I’m sure there’s much more that can be explored here, and its a worth topic of discussion. However, I don’t think one can base a case for Jesus having been a real person on the fact that he’s killed by a Roman in the story. There are any number of reasons why the author may have made that choice.

    And remember, the letters of Paul and the letter to the Hebrews both tell their audiences to submit to the authorities and follow the wisdom of the leadership and ruling powers. Why would they say this if the leadership and ruling powers were the ones who killed Jesus? But if the death of Jesus wasn’t an act committed either by the Jewish leadership of the Roman leadership, but rather by heavenly powers as Doherty, etc. put forward, then this makes sense.

    If Jesus were actually killed by Romans, why does Paul say nothing about it in his letter to the Romans? Why do Paul and other early writers tells both Jewish and Gentile audiences to submit to the wise rule of their leaders? These would be the same leaders that had just put Jesus to death. Why do none of the pre-Gospel writings lay any blame for the death of Jesus on anyone? In all of those writings his death is a voluntary sacrifice talked about only in vague mystical terms.

    How can a movement that worships this person saying nothing about, “Those bastards who killed Jesus!”? There is no blame, no finger pointing, discussion of betrayal, no complaints, no talk of unfairness, no talk of a rigged trial, no talk of an arrest, no nothing. Al of that only comes with the Gospel narratives.

    In the pre-Gospel epistles the authorities are good, they’ve done nothing wrong, the death of Jesus is a mystical self sacrifice.

  76. rationalrevolution says

    To add to the issue I’ve mentioned above about pre-Gospel writings telling readers to obey their leaders, see my discussion of this on the book’s website: http://www.decipheringthegospels.com/beyond.html

    “Hebrews 13:
    17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

    This again betrays the character of the Gospel Jesus, who is a rebel against the leaders. How possibly could someone who knew of Jesus as someone who was executed by the Jewish leadership for having cursed and prophesied against them, tell his readers to “obey your leaders and submit to them”? The call of the Gospel Jesus was certainly not submit to the Pharisees. Why would the Jews be told to submit to the very people responsible for killing Jesus? Clearly, there was no concept of such a Jesus for the writer of Hebrews.”

    The same goes equally for the Romans. If Jesus is a person who was executed, and his followers are dismayed by his death at the hands of authorities, then why do the pre-Gospel epistles say nothing about this? Why do the pre-Gospel epistles say to obey leaders as if nothing they’ve had no role at all in Jesus’ death?

    And again, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he covers so much territory, where he goes into so many details about his theology and Christ and faith and the role of the Jewish people and the role of Gentiles, we have no mention whatsoever that anyone killed Jesus. No claim that the Jews are responsible for his death. No claim that the Romans played a role. Read Romans for yourself. How can this possibly be.

    Romans 13:
    1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

    Really? Paul can say this to a Roman audience after Jesus has just been killed by Roman authorities? Inconceivable!

    Romans 9:
    30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

    This is the theme of Mark. We see this in the narrative about Jesus healing the Gentile woman’s daughter. We see this in the Crucifixion scene with the Roman soldier who recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.

    This teaching, of faith over works and the law, was a central point of conflict between Paul and other apostles. This is what the letter of James is all about, which as Bart Ehrman notes, is certainly a forgery that was written in direct opposition to Paul’s letters. As Ehrman shows, the forger who wrote the letter of James had read the letters of Paul and was directly addressing statements such as the one above.

    The conflict in pre-Gospel writings is all around Paul’s teachings, and nowhere does anyone appeal to Jesus as a person whose teachings could be referenced to clarify the debate.

    But its clear that in order for the writer of Mark to address the issues he needed to address, both Jews and Gentiles had to be present during the Crucifixion of Christ. That’s a given. The whole of Pauline theology is about this issue of Jewishness and Gentileness and the role of Jews and Gentiles in the coming of the Kingdom of God. The war is of course all about the conflict between Jews and Gentiles. The outcome of the war is being viewed as a judgement. There was a dispute over who was right. The Jews following the law or the Gentiles lead by faith. The outcome of the war shows that it was the Gentiles who were right in the mind of the writer.

    So Jews and Gentiles must be present during the final sacrifice. The final sacrifice must be a Crucifixion. Gentiles must be the ones who recognize Jesus through faith. These are all givens going to the construction of the final scene.

    So, having some scene where a mob of Jews just stones Jesus to death clearly isn’t going to be appropriate. Having Jews execute Jesus all on their own won’t work either. Can we imagine a final scene in which the Jews, living under Roman authority, basically lynch Jesus via Crucifixion, right in the middle of Passover no less! The Jews themselves nail Jesus to a cross and raise him up right in the middle of their Passover festival? It would certainly be shocking to say the least, but not even the least bit conceivable.

    And how, then would Gentiles be involved? Why would they be there to participate in the sacrifice?

    Furthermore, for that matter, we can also see that it is the Romans who actually perform the sacrifice. So having Pilate be the one who officiates and the Romans be the ones who actually do the deed puts Pilate in the role of high priest. The Romans are the ones who perform the final sacrifice. Thus the atonement is for their sins. The Jews mock the sacrifice, thus God’s anger burns against them, revealed exactly 40 years later in the destruction of the Temple and the slaughter of the Jewish people.

  77. rationalrevolution says

    And as for the passage from 1 Corinthians, about the “rulers of this age” crucifying the Lord, clearly this is talking about heavenly powers, as I address in my book. But furthermore, this is another example of where those arguing for a literal reading fail to address the larger context.

    If Paul was talking about literal earthly rulers in this passage, then why do we find no support whatsoever for the idea that Paul understood the Crucifixion of Jesus as a real event perpetrated by real people elsewhere in Paul’s writings? This is like the issue of “James, the lord’s brother,” where those arguing for this being an authentic passage that means literal brother completely fail to address the broader evidence which shows that none of the early writers considered James to be a literal brother of Jesus.

    So here, instead of arguing over possible ways to interpret this passage, just look at the broader context of Paul’s writings. This is the one and only place in all of Paul’s writings where there can even be a dispute over whether Paul is saying that Jesus was killed by real people. Nowhere else does Paul even present any discussion of Jesus being killed by people. Really? Really, one can claim that this is something that would be left out?

    And the idea that this is a matter that simply didn’t come up is utter nonsense. Again look at the passages about obeying authorities. Really, we’ll have no explanation in these calls to obey authorities about why one should trust and obey the very people who killed Jesus? That’s something that wasn’t worthy of discussion?

    In all of the pre-Gospel writings, which again is more than many people realize (I’d argue for there being somewhere between 10 and 15 pre-Gospel writings produced by between 5 and 7 different writers), no where do we find any tribute to the memory of a person. No where do we find any calls to action in relation to authorities. No where do we find any lamentation for the killing of Jesus. No where do find find anyone appealing to the teachings of Jesus. No where do we find any discussion of Jesus’ family. No where do we see any calls to help the care for Mary. No where do we find anything that resembles in any way any kind of movement centered around a real person who had been unfairly executed by either Jewish or Roman leadership. No where do we find anything that looks like any kind of movement rooted in the following of a real man.

    Across 5-7 writers of around a dozen works, we find nothing that one would expect from people mourning the loss of a beloved teacher or prophet. No, instead what we have are arguments over theology rooted in how to interpret scriptures, celebration of the coming end of the world and final judgement, lots of arguing over how to run a congregation, and a bunch of talk about ancient mysteries that are being reveled now at the end of the final age.

    The pre-Gospel writings bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to what one would expect to find from a community of people suffering the loss of their beloved teacher. They contain nothing at all which indicates that Jesus had been unjustly executed by those currently in power. And as per usual, all of this is explained away with rationalization about things like, “Well they didn’t talk about any of those things out of fear for the authorities.” But this is pure conjecture.

    This is like me saying that there is a giant purple people eater under my bed, and then when you look under the bed there is nothing there and I say, “Well that’s because when I told you about him he knew you would look so he ran away while we weren’t looking.” Again and again and again in mainstream scholarship what we find are excuses and more excuses for why things that one reasonably expects to find in the epistles aren’t there.

    Why don’t the epistles talk about Jesus the man? Well, because after his death he was in heaven, so that’s why they only talk about a heavenly Jesus. Err… Why do the epistles say to obey the authorities, who would have just killed Jesus? Well, because they were afraid of the authorities. Why don’t the epistles talk about the people who killed people? Again out of fear. Why isn’t this fear expressed anywhere in the epistles? Again… out… of… fear???

  78. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Just noticed this, and getting back to it now, if you don’t mind. I’ll try to be short.

    Thanks for the links. I’ll have to read them carefully later. First reactions.

    I agree that the passages in Josephus are among the strongest evidence for a historical Jesus. I think this plus the authentic letters of Paul constitute much of the battleground for historicians vs mythicists.

    I tend to agree with Carrier’s arguments that Josephus’s references to Jesus and James are probably (but not certainly) interpolations in part or in whole. In particular, the argument that does it for me is this: Josephus is writing to a Roman audience, almost all who would be entirely ignorant of Judaism and especially Christianity. Josephus takes much more paper space discussing other minor cults than he does Christianity, taking pains to explain concepts that his audience would not be familiar with. Thus, it’s unlikely that the real Josephus would drop a term like “the Christ” without spending a paragraph or two to explain what that meant. Could Josephus have really written this? Yes. But possible does not mean probable. IMO.

    Firstly, how did the early church get to this belief in the first place? There was nothing in Judaism prior to that to suggest that the sacrificial system could be replaced by a once-and-for-all uber-sacrifice, or that a god could be sacrificed (in fact, that would be regarded as a horrifyingly pagan and idolatrous idea). […] So, if we hypothesise a mythical Jesus, we need to hypothesise that somehow a group went off at a total tangent from current Jewish beliefs, came up with this very Hellenised idea of god sacrifice, and fused it with the very Jewish idea of the Messiah in a weird hybrid. This isn’t impossible, but it’s a lot more unlikely than mythicists seem to allow for.

    Isn’t this also true on historicity? Someone had to invent it, and that person or persons were Jewish, right? Are you suggesting that it must have been an outsider, a non-Jewish person? I think I can easily counter that with: Why would a non-Jewish person decide to invent a new branch of Judaism? To appeal to existing Jews? Then we’re back to the same problem. To appeal to non-Jews? Why would he invent an offshoot of Judaism to appeal to non-Jews?

    Re crucifixion. You claim that it is very unlikely that someone inventing a fictional story for their hero would choose the most humiliating way to die. However, you forget that Paul spends a lot of his time emphasizing the normal reversal of expectations of this sort. “The meek inheriting the Earth” and so forth. See also Mark 9:35 “[…] Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all”. There are countless more examples of Paul and Mark making exactly this point. Having their savior and hero be executed in the most humiliating way fits this narrative perfectly.

    I don’t understand the confusion regarding the scapegoat ritual. In the scapegoat ritual, two identical goats are chosen. All of the sin is placed on goat #1 which is sent into the wilderness, exiled. This is Barabbas. Goat #2 is then said to be free of sin, and sacrificed for Yahweh. This is Jesus. Where did I say otherwise?

    Regarding the Pilate story, I’m not stretching. You’re stretching. You are the one going way beyond the evidence when you cite that hypothesis by Maccoby which goes well beyond the evidence to hypothesize lots of additional facts in order to salvage a historicity interpretation. The simple fact is that on the evidence that we have, the Pilate story contains an obvious fantasy, an impossible story element. The question is: Why does the story contain an obvious fantasy element? Why did the author create this fictional account? One option is because of historical reasons involving a bunch of highly coincidental and suspect hypothetical facts, as posited by Maccoby. Another option is because the author invented the story in order to make political allegorical point by tying Jesus’s sacrifice to an old testament thing. To me, the answer is obviously the allegorical reason.

    Moreover, regarding Maccoby’s hypothesis, the idea that the crowds might have been passionately pro-Jesus in the Pilate is unlikely. Christianity was a very minor and small religious group for the first 50 – 100 years of its existence, at least, according to the almost complete lack of references to it in the surviving sources. Maccoby’s explanation is highly unlikely on just this fact. Plus all of the additional ad hoc hypotheses, and it’s even way less likely to be true.

    Saying that the Pilate story is more likely to have a historical basis still seems quite wrong to me on the basis of these arguments.

    Regarding the fig tree. My interpretation seems quite obvious. I also think my interpretation widely accepted. I don’t know about Price’s interpretation offhand.

    All of Mark? Most of Mark makes perfect sense.

    Sorry. I retract this claim.

    However, note that there are several moments in Mark where the characters behave in unbelievable ways, aka they are props used by an author for making allegorical points.

    Mark 1:16-20, Mark 2:14. People leave their families and jobs after being asked by Jesus, so either he’s mind-controlling them, or this story is not real.

    Mark 2:4, they just cut a whole in some guy’s roof? Really?

    Mark 6:41-42, Jesus conjures a bunch of food. His disciples see this. Later, in Mark 8:4, the disciplines are worried because they don’t have enough food, apparently forgetting that Jesus can just conjure food, and then Jesus conjures food again. The behavior of the disciplines is not realistic at all.

    Also the fig tree story.

    Note this line: Mark 4:34 “[Jesus] did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.”

    So, I agree Paul might for all we know have thought Jesus was put to death by demons, but I don’t agree that this is any sort of useful indicator as to what the rest of Jesus’s followers were saying about him.

    What you said is clearly wrong. The truth of Paul’s beliefs is indicative in at least some small extent about the beliefs of other early Christians. It’s not controlling, but it should also influence us more than being irrelevant.

    Moreover, you are admitting that Paul as evidence is should not sway us towards historicity vs mythicism, aka Paul is useless as evidence for this discussion. That’s a really big admission. Keep in mind that the only real evidence for a historical Jesus is the testimony of Paul, a few other passages of dubious quality in other histories like Josephus, and what little value you can get from the gospels. Take out Paul, and what remains is really very weak. I’m still of the opinion that the gospels are useless and obviously created with no possible way to figure out if they had any historical basis at all, and that the passages in other sources like Josephus were either interpolations or simply cited the existence of Christians and not specifically the historical existence of Jesus.

  79. Gakusei Don says

    GerrardOfTitanServer says

    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.

    Paul seems to be using Psalms 2 here. First, let’s recap what Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 2:

    1. The rulers of this age did not know that Christ was being sent to be crucified
    2. If they had known it, e.g. if they had been wise enough, they wouldn’t have crucified Christ
    3. Now that they have crucified Christ, they are perishing

    Psalms 2 directly refers to the Messiah and what will happen when he comes, so Paul very likely knew the reference. The Psalm is quite short. The pertinent parts of Psalms 2 reads:

    Ps 2.1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
    2.2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed [Messiah]…
    2.7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee…
    2.10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth…
    2.12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way

    Here we see the ‘prediction’ laid out: the kings of the earth and the rulers will work together against God and His Messiah, but they should ‘be wise’ and ‘kiss the Son’, otherwise the kings and rulers will ‘perish from the way’.

    Obviously, from Paul’s perspective, the kings and rulers did not ‘kiss the Son’. They crucified Christ, and so Paul expects them to perish with Christ’s imminent return.

    If Paul understood Psalms 2 as a prophecy about the Messiah, then he would have assumed that Christ was crucified as a conspiracy at the end of this age by the kings and rulers of the earth. I doubt that Paul would have put much thought into this, like wondering ‘Is it fair to include Jewish rulers or Roman rulers or Persian rulers into this?’ Simply: the Hebrew Scriptures said it was a conspiracy of rulers, so he went along with that.

    Mark, using Paul, then wove Pilate and other rulers into his Gospel story since those were the rulers of that time.

    Personally I don’t see Paul meaning demons there. Psalms 2 is clearly about earthly rulers and frames 1 Cor 2 perfectly, with its call to the rulers needing to be wise. Paul contrasts human wisdom with God’s wisdom throughout 1 Cor 2. For Paul to suddenly be talking about the wisdom of demons seems out of place. There are other reasons for thinking that Paul thought that Jesus was a man (one of them being that Paul calls Jesus a man (“anthropos”) a couple of times!), but I think a fair reading suggests that Paul thought that the rulers and kings of the earth were the ones that directly crucified Jesus Christ, and not heavenly demons.

  80. Gakusei Don says

    GerrardOfTitanServer says

    … 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.

    There is no version of the Ascension of Isaiah where Jesus’s crucifixion takes place in outer space and is crucified by demons. In all three extant versions — Ethiopic, Slavonic and Latin2 — Christ is not crucified in outer space, and he descends to earth to live among men for a period. Dr Carrier creates his own hypothetical ‘reconstructed’ version based on his ideas about what the text should say. Some mistakenly believe that his ‘reconstructed’ version is an actual extant version, but it is not.

    I created a thread on Carrier’s use of the Ascension of Isaiah a couple of years ago on the Early Christian Writings forum that explains the different versions and documents the problems in Carrier’s analysis which you might find interesting: http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4640

    The bottom line is: there is no extant version (including fragments) of the Ascension of Isaiah where Jesus’s crucifixion takes place in outer space and Jesus is crucified by demons, not Romans.

  81. rationalrevolution says

    @Gakusei Don

    It’s not clear that Paul is making reference to Psalm 2 here, but no doubt Psalm 2 played some role in the development of Jesus lore and the concept of the rejected messiah.

    But even if Paul’s discussion is derived from Psalm 2 it still clarifies little about who “the rules of this age” are. And even still, it once again points back to scriptures being the basis of concept, not any real event.

    The problem with relying on our interpretations of scriptures is that we cannot in any way assume that the straight forward way that we would interpret a scripture is how Paul or other members of this cult interpreted these scriptures. We have a multitude of examples from Qumran and other sources of how Jews were interpreting scriptures in esoteric ways, viewing them as secret ciphers for hidden messages and things like this. So much of the lore of Enoch comes from these types of mystical interpretations of scriptures, where things that are stated in one way are taken in totally different ways. There are literally hundreds of explicit examples of this in the Qumran stash, where they say, “X, Y, Z actually means Q, R, J”. They explicitly lay out secret codes in the texts and invent new interpretations where beings described as people in the Torah are reinterpreted as heavenly beings, etc. This classic example is Melchizedek (11Q13).

    But look at what 1 Cor 2 is saying:

    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 speak
    of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom 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. 9 However,
    as it is written:
    “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived
    what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 but
    God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

    Who is “coming to nothing”? What earthly rulers were “coming to nothing”?

    ” we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden”

    Again, talking about mystical interpretations of hidden secret bible codes that were being deciphered by prophets.

    And then Paul refers to some other scriptures, not Psalm 2.

    But I’ll even grant that possible the “rulers” mentioned by Paul are earthly. Even if so, the whole concept is a scriptural one, relayed on a scriptural basis. This isn’t an account of some real event. This is talking about ideas derived from scriptures.

    But we get back to the larger point that I make above. If Jesus had actually been executed in the manner described in the Gospels, i.e. Pilate or some other Roman leader crucifying him at the request of Jewish leaders, how can Paul and other pre-Gospel writers tell their audiences to “have faith in the wisdom and authority of your leaders”?

    Why is it that Paul nor any other pre-Gospel writer places any blame on any leaders? There are actually multiple places in pre-Gospel writers where there is opportunity to talk about how Jesus was killed or by whom. No one ever does. We see multiple times a message to trust the wisdom of the governing authorities.

    Paul never says to trust at “archons”, the one he says “crucified the Lord of Glory”. When Paul says to trust authorities he uses different words that clearly indicate earthly rulers. He says they are good, they are to be trusted and obeyed and they they always do what is right.

    But Paul says the “archons” are the ones who killed the Lord of Glory, according to the scriptures.

    This is nothing at all like something one would expect to see in letters circulating among members of a movement who had just had their leader or teacher literally executed. Paul’s discussions, and those of all other pre-Gospel writers, are mystical and rooted in scriptures. No one is talking about real events, we see nothing like someone lamenting, “These bastards killed our beloved teacher. Shame on them. We loved him, he was so wise, etc.”

    No, we see, “Ancient mysteries have been revealed through the prophets. The Lord of Power and Glory has risen! He will come and bring judgement the earth as the scriptures have foretold in secret hidden codes!”

  82. db says

    GerrardOfTitanServer @6 says: “as described [by Carrier] 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.”

    NB: Carrier assigns a negligible weight to Ascension in his overall argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus.

    Per Carrier (5 March 2015). “McGrath on OHJ: A Failure of Logic and Accuracy”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    I only assign the effect of the Ascension a Bayes’ factor of 4/5 against historicity in my a fortiori column (and even just 1/2 in my a judicantiori column: p. 357), and even that is not for the Ascension, but the combination of the evidence in the Ascension with the evidence in Ignatius, so if we teased out the Ascension by itself, its Bayes’ factor would be even lower.

    Note how small a factor 4 in 5 is. It barely makes a dent against the probability of historicity. And it would be wholly impotent against real evidence for historicity (e.g. good evidence would have a Bayes’ factor of 5 to 1 or more, which would immediately overwhelm a poor 4 to 5 odds the other way). It is only because there is no such evidence for historicity that the evidence in the Ascension of Isaiah has any appreciable effect at all. Thus by waving his hands at a minor piece of evidence like this, McGrath gets to ignore the real elephant in the room: why such a weak piece of evidence can have such a notable effect on the probability of historicity. Answer: because the evidence for historicity sucks.

  83. db says

    There are literally hundreds of explicit examples of this in the Qumran stash, where they say, “X, Y, Z actually means Q, R, J”

    Given that the Markan author’s intent was to to create a new story to communicate his own point of view. The author clearly had no impulse to always respect the original scripture context he was riffing on.

  84. Gakusei Don says

    GerrardOfTitanServer @6 says: “as described [by Carrier] 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.”

    NB: Carrier assigns a negligible weight to Ascension in his overall argument for the ahistoricity of Jesus.

    Isn’t that interesting? An early text describing that “Jesus was crucified in outer space by demons” has negligible weight towards an early ahistoricist belief described that “Jesus was crucified in outer space by demons”.

    Why is that, in your opinion, db? Because this is what Dr Carrier writes in his book “On the Historicity of Jesus” (my bolding):

    Likewise that Jesus had a ‘body’ to sacrifice, from which could pour ‘blood’, is exactly what minimal mythicism entails: he assumed a body of flesh in the sub lunar firmament so that it could be killed, then returned to the upper heavens from whence he came. Exactly as the Ascension of Isaiah describes Jesus did… (page 544)

    Also

    Jesus would have been buried in a grave or tomb somewhere above the clouds, just as Adam was (Element 38). He would likewise have been abused and crucified there, by Satan and his sky demons (Element 37), just as the earliest discernible redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah imagined. (page 563)

    Also

    … since as we saw in the Philippians gospel (in §4), in order to die Jesus had to be clothed in a human body, which the Ascension of Isaiah originally placed in outer space. (page 570)

    Based on what Dr Carrier writes in his book, what weight would YOU put on the Ascension of Isaiah towards the idea that Jesus was crucified in outer space by demons? Because a lot of his readers come away with the idea that the AoI has a LOT of weight behind it as “proof-of-concept”. Do you think it has negligible weight?

  85. db says

    It is all well and good to comprehensively examine each individual item presented per the question of the historicity of Jesus. But let us not lose sight of the forest for the the trees.

    As I have have previously noted, some of the items presented have little relevance to Carrier’s overall argument for the ahistoricty of Jesus.

    For example:

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

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

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

    Also:

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

    what weight would YOU put on the Ascension of Isaiah towards the idea that Jesus was crucified in outer space by demons?

    Given that the extant material had been monkeyed with i.e. redacted, interpolated, etc.. I take no issue with Carrier’s reconstruction, as it is given in OHJ. Thus if correct, then it has great weight.

    However that is a big IF, thus it has little weight overall.

  86. Gakusei Don says

    db says:

    I take no issue with Carrier’s reconstruction, as it is given in OHJ. Thus if correct, then it has great weight.

    If you take no issue with Dr Carrier’s reconstruction, what do you make of Dr Carrier giving it “negligible weight” towards ahistoricity? His weighting seems contrary to the quotes I give from Carrier above — he seems in no doubt of the validity of his reconstruction. There is a disconnect there with Carrier that I don’t understand. What do you think is going on? How to reconcile the “negligible weight” comment to the “exactly as the Ascension of Isaiah describes Jesus did” type comments in his book?

    However that is a big IF, thus it has little weight overall.

    I definitely agree it is a “big IF”. In fact, he is demonstrably wrong in parts of his analysis. But that’s not how it comes across in Carrier’s works. I’ve seen many people over the years who, like GerrardOfTitanServer, are convinced from reading Carrier’s works that there is a text that explicitly says that Jesus was crucified in outer space by demons, and it simply isn’t true.

  87. Gakusei Don says

    @rationalrevolution

    Thanks for your response. This isn’t a good forum for doing point-by-point discussion unfortunately. If there is another forum that has a format easier to use, I’m happy to respond over there. I’ll also admit I haven’t read your book, so I’m only going on what you’ve written here and what I’ve read on your website. Apologies if I’m going over things you’ve covered already that I haven’t seen.

    But even if Paul’s discussion is derived from Psalm 2 it still clarifies little about who “the rules of this age” are. And even still, it once again points back to scriptures being the basis of concept, not any real event.

    I have the same criticism here that Dr Sarah has: that something can be tied back to scriptures doesn’t mean it doesn’t reflect some ‘real event.’ In reality, I doubt Pilate ever knew that Jesus existed, much less was involved in his crucifixion. But Psalms 2 does provide an explanation about what Paul means by “rulers of this age.” The similarities are too obvious, which is why Acts of the Apostles and Origen also view Paul through the lens of Psalms 2 on this point.

    Who is “coming to nothing”? What earthly rulers were “coming to nothing”?

    Those earthly rulers who conspired against God and His Messiah, assuming Paul is using Psalms 2. Does this mean that this actually happened? No. But it explains what Paul means by “rulers of this age” and “the wisdom of the rulers of this age.”

    If Jesus had actually been executed in the manner described in the Gospels, i.e. Pilate or some other Roman leader crucifying him at the request of Jewish leaders, how can Paul and other pre-Gospel writers tell their audiences to “have faith in the wisdom and authority of your leaders”?

    I honestly, honestly don’t want to sound condescending, but have you actually investigated reasons why Paul (and other Christians as well) might have written something like that? The idea of Providence in ancient times is the notion that God is always in charge. If the Jews get defeated by an enemy, it wasn’t because the enemy were stronger than God, but because God let that happen. According to the Gospels, Jesus tells Pilate that the only reason Pilate can harm Jesus is because God gives him the power to do it. Pilate isn’t stronger than God. God is in charge.

    Early Christians made sure they didn’t criticize rulers, even in ‘historicist’ texts. In Acts of the Apostles for example, we have:

    23:5 Paul said, “For it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.

    This comes from Exo 22:28 “Do not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.”

    There are pragmatic reasons for this approach, besides the philosophical ones regarding Providence.

    When Paul says to trust authorities he uses different words that clearly indicate earthly rulers.

    Really? Here is Rom 13:3 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?”

    Can you tell, from the surrounding context, how this refers to earthly rulers?

    This is nothing at all like something one would expect to see in letters circulating among members of a movement who had just had their leader or teacher literally executed. Paul’s discussions, and those of all other pre-Gospel writers, are mystical and rooted in scriptures.

    Yes, and again, without meaning to be condescending: have you investigated why this might be the case? One problem I have with what you wrote is that you seem to imply that Paul and early Christians were inspired by an extraordinary man to start a new religion. But that wasn’t how Christianity was perceived until a century or more later. Early Christians thought that Christ coming signified an ENDING not a beginning. The world was about to come to an end, fulfilling all scriptural prophecies. How to convince people of that time that scriptural prophecies were being fulfilled? By pulling out the scriptures and showing this! That Jesus was a wonderful leader or teacher only started to become important once the promise of him returning and ending everything — which Paul and the Gospels implied was going to happen soon — started to fade.

    There are passages in early writings to support this. From Acts of the Apostles:

    17:2 Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
    17:3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

    Note that it doesn’t say “Paul explained that Jesus was a wonderful leader and teacher and convinced them that way”, but that “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures”. Also:

    17:11 Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
    17:12 Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men.

    Now, Acts is a fictionalized text to reconcile Paul and Peter. But it could easily have said that Paul convinced people by showing how wonderful Jesus was, if you are right. Instead, it emphasizes that scriptures was used to convince people… and it worked! Why does Acts say it works?

    And other early Christian writers who were clearly ‘historicists’ emphasized how the Scriptures were used to convince people. The Gospels weren’t really considered authoritative until later in the Second Century.

    I haven’t addressed all your points, which is a bit unfair. I also haven’t read your book, so apologies if I am addressing something you’ve covered there. But it seems to me that you are criticizing a Christianity that doesn’t reflect what we see in Paul and the other early Christian writers. Instead, your analysis seems to start from when Christianity had moved away from the Scriptures being central, to a point when the Gospels had become important.

  88. rationalrevolution says

    @Gakusei Don
    “your analysis seems to start from when Christianity had moved away from the Scriptures being central, to a point when the Gospels had become important”

    Indeed, because that is the starting point of Dr Sarah’s remarks, which all of this is in relation to. Her question was: Why would the writer of Mark have had Jesus killed by Pilate unless it really happened? Why would the writer put Romans in the role that he did unless it were true? She implies that there is no narrative of theological explanation for this, and I’m explaining why that is most certainly not so. So the discussion is clearly about the Gospel narrative. I then go on to show that there is nothing in the pre-Gospel writings that indicates Jesus was killed by real people, thus the discussion about the various passages that say one should pay respects to the governing authorities because they are always good and right. Difficult to reconcile with a movement that had its leader killed by governing authorities as described in the Gospels.

    Now, Sarah is arguing for the overall validity of the Gospel narrative. You, on the other hand, are arguing against the validity of the Gospel narrative.

    “The similarities are too obvious, which is why Acts of the Apostles and Origen also view Paul through the lens of Psalms 2 on this point.”

    And yet Origen also believed that the archons were heavenly powers.

    Origen:
    “Accordingly, in the holy Scriptures we find that there are
    princes over individual nations; as in Daniel we read that
    there was a prince of the kingdom of Persia, and another
    prince of the kingdom of Græcia, **who are clearly shown,
    by the nature of the passage, to be not human beings, but
    certain powers**….But their snares being
    discovered, and the plans which they had attempted to
    carry out being made manifest when they crucified the
    Lord of glory, **therefore the apostle says**, “We speak wisdom
    among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this
    world, nor of the princes of this world, who are brought to
    naught, which none of the princes of this world knew: for
    had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord
    of glory.””

    “But it explains what Paul means by “rulers of this age” and “the wisdom of the rulers of this age.””

    No, again, because one cannot read the meaning of referenced scriptures into the current context. Determining what a scripture originally meant has nothing to with with how later Jews and Christians interpreted them. Miller’s “Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy” does an excellent job demonstrating this. Even within Paul’s letters what we find are re-contextualized uses of scriptures, that Paul twists to mean things that they didn’t originally mean. And again, at Qumran we find hundreds of explicit examples of how they were taking old passages out of context and reinterpreting them with entirely new meanings. So you can’t go back to the original context and infer its meaning into its later usage.

    The classic example is again Melchizedek, who was clearly described as a mortal person in Genesis, but is now described as Elohim at Qumran. The Melchizedek of Qumran is clearly derived from the Melchizedek of Genesis, but the Melchizedek of Qumran is now an eternal heavenly immortal. Clearly the Qumranic writers weren’t playing by your rules.

    “have you actually investigated reasons why Paul (and other Christians as well) might have written something like that?”

    This is just a bunch of post-hoc rationalization. This, of course, is the basis of NT studies, post-hoc rationalization. That’s the root of the problem. What NT “scholars” have does is essentially contributed a rationalization for why a real human Jesus is undetectable in the pre-Gospel literature. They’ve invented nonsense to explain away why Jesus is unseen in the pre-Gospel epistles.

    According to their rationalization, it is impossible to distinguish between a world in which Jesus was a real person and in which he never existed at all. It’s typical Christian nonsense, whereby, once they figure out that its impossible to prove their point, they instead argue that any position is unprovable, thus they can continue to accept their belief because it can’t be disproved. “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, therefore its perfectly acceptable to believe that he does exist.” = “You can’t prove that Paul wasn’t talking about a real human Jesus, therefore its perfectly acceptable to believe that he was talking about a real human Jesus.”

    But, just as with claims about evolution, you actually can prove these things.

    ” you seem to imply that Paul and early Christians were inspired by an extraordinary man to start a new religion.”

    Well, of course I’m arguing against that position, because that is in fact the foundational claim of Christianity.

    “Early Christians made sure they didn’t criticize rulers, even in ‘historicist’ texts. In Acts of the Apostles for example”

    Acts is just following the letters of Paul for one thing. For another, this isn’t even true. In 1 Corinthians Paul goes on about being a prisoner and being harassed by the Jewish leadership, etc. He’s not hiding that fact.

    “1 Cor: 23 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

    So, with all of this. Paul goes into all of this detail, and he goes on beyond this making more claims seeking to prove how worth he is of praise and of they devotion, and yet, Paul fails to mention that his troubles have any shared commonality with those of Jesus? He never compares his floggings, his imprisonment, his being run out of towns, etc. with the plight of Jesus? Despite all his boasting, where he later claims to have gone up to heaven itself.

    This is just like how Paul says all of these teachings, yet attributes none to Jesus. It’s because none of these things happened to Jesus or were said by Jesus. They happened to Paul and were said by Paul. The writer of Mark invented his Jesus based on Paul. You really think that with all of the parallels between Jesus and Paul, that Paul would have avoided mentioning any of them? Of course not. Paul would have pointed out the parallels between his life and the life of Jesus. But Paul didn’t do that because there was no life of Jesus. The life of Jesus is modeled on Paul, not the other way around.

    So, despite his run-ins with the authorities, particularly the Jewish authorities, Paul has no problem telling his Roman audience to obey the lovely authorities. It’s not because he’s afraid to criticize the authorities, he’s already done that in other letters. It’s because Paul had no concept of a connection between the crucifixion of Jesus and Roman authorities. And even if Paul were afraid to criticize the Roman authorities, he had no need to praise them as he did.

    “Early Christians thought that Christ coming signified an ENDING not a beginning”

    #1) We have no idea what “early” Jesus worshipers other that Paul thought.
    #2) The term “Christians” is itself late, and by the time anyone called themselves “Christians”, yes they believed in the foundational role of a human Jesus.

    “The world was about to come to an end, fulfilling all scriptural prophecies. How to convince people of that time that scriptural prophecies were being fulfilled?”

    Uh huh, and what role did Jesus play in any of this? None. That’s the point.

    “That Jesus was a wonderful leader or teacher only started to become important once the promise of him returning and ending everything — which Paul and the Gospels implied was going to happen soon — started to fade.”

    That Jesus was a wonderful teacher came to be believed as a result of the Gospels. That’s the point. As you yourself concede, the concept of Jesus as a teacher didn’t exist prior to the Gospels.

    Honestly I’m not sure what point you’re even trying to make. You seem to be making the point that the beliefs of Paul and other “early Christians” were rooted in scriptures and had little or nothing to do with Jesus, but that nevertheless Jesus was a person who played some role, because the Hebrew scriptures said so.

    Not really sure where to go from there…

  89. rationalrevolution says

    @Gakusei Don
    Did Paul think that Jesus had been killed at the request of Jewish authorities?

    The reading of his letters clearly indicates he did not. As I said, he showed no sign of shying from criticizing the Jewish authorities.

    “Romans 10:
    14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have
    not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom
    they have never heard? And how are they to hear without
    someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim
    him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful
    are the feet of those who bring good news!’ 16 But not all
    have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has
    believed our message?’ 17 So faith comes from what is heard,
    and what is heard comes through the word about Christ.”

    Really, he discuses this and makes no mention that it was Jews who tried Jesus and had him executed?

    The one and only passage in all of the Pauline corpus that can even debatably be interpreted as possibly indicating that Paul conceived of Jesus’ crucifixion in an earthly context is the passage from 1 Cor, that itself is still vague and rooted in scripture.

    Paul talked multiple times about his own persecution at the hands of Jews. He never claimed that Jesus was persecuted at the hand of Jews. In his letter to the Romans Paul criticizes the Jews. Paul talks about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Paul talks about the role of the Jews in the coming of Christ.

    In Galatians Paul goes into his disputes with James and Peter regarding the Jewish law and practices, etc. In none of this, where it is all extremely relevant, does Paul ever bring up anything about Jesus having been crucified either by Jews or Romans or anyone else. Yet, of course this would have been theologically relevant. It’s impossible to imagine how Jesus having been crucified at the command of the Jewish priesthood wouldn’t have had major implications in Paul’s mind.

    And yet Paul never appeals to the manner of Jesus’ death, or the identity of his executors, to justify any aspect of his theology. None of that makes any sense in a reality in which Jesus was a real person who was executed in any way shape or form of the manner described in the Gospels.

    If the Gospel narrative had even the slightest merit then of course the theological implications would have been inescapable, because of course the Gospel Crucifixion is written to be theologically significant. If the real event bore even the vaguest resemblance to the Gospel narrative, then it would have been impossible for Paul to have avoided discussing the theological implications of the event. And yet, Paul never ties any of his theology of the events of the Crucifixion. All of Paul’s discussion about the law, the primacy of faith over the law, the insufficiency of Jewish practices and Jewish adherence to the law, the role of Jews in the cosmological drama, etc., in none of that does Paul bring who killed Jesus into the equation.

    Paul never says anything about the Jews playing a role in the crucifixion of Jesus. That Paul would have avoided this topic, when its so central to everything he was talking about, so central to his pontification on the role of Jews in the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God, is unconscionable. And it can’t be explained away with claims about how Paul would have avoided the subject out of fear of authorities, because he goes into detail multiple times about his own persecution at the hands of the Jewish authorities!

  90. Gakusei Don says

    Now, Sarah is arguing for the overall validity of the Gospel narrative. You, on the other hand, are arguing against the validity of the Gospel narrative.

    I think ‘overall validity’ is painting with too broad a brush. I haven’t identified as a Christian for a long time, and Dr Sarah is an atheist. The question of the historicity of Jesus is a different one from ‘what do we know with any certainty’. We have a collection of early documents, and I would argue that the best explanation for their existence is that there was a historical Jesus. What we can then extract with any confidence from those documents will vary. I doubt that Dr Sarah nor myself really care on that point. ‘Validity’ isn’t the right word.

    Even within Paul’s letters what we find are re-contextualized uses of scriptures, that Paul twists to mean things that they didn’t originally mean.

    Yes, indeed. There are definitely cases where Paul has to twist the Hebrew Scriptures to make a point. This suggests he is constrained by some earlier tradition or even possibly some ‘real event’.

    ” you seem to imply that Paul and early Christians were inspired by an extraordinary man to start a new religion.”

    Well, of course I’m arguing against that position, because that is in fact the foundational claim of Christianity.

    I think you miss my point, which is: you aren’t reading Paul for Paul. You seem to be arguing against the foundational claim of later Christianity. You keep raising questions about Paul not agreeing with the Gospels, or Paul missing material which can be found in the Gospels. But before arguing what is lacking in Paul, you need to read Paul for Paul for what he does write. For Paul, Jesus wasn’t an extraordinary man who started a new religion. Paul’s Jesus was a Jewish man, a descendent of David and Abraham, who was the first fruits of a general resurrection signifying that the end of the world was imminent. That Jesus was that man could only be verified through Scriptures.

    Someone once said that mythicism was the use of 19th Century ideas to argue against 4th Century beliefs. Your points don’t address the question of historicity, they question the validity of Christianity. Again, I’ve only read what you’ve written on-line. I haven’t read your book, so I apologise if I am wrong when it comes to your book.

    … Paul fails to mention that his troubles have any shared commonality with those of Jesus? He never compares his floggings, his imprisonment, his being run out of towns, etc. with the plight of Jesus?

    Do you see what you are doing there? Paul doesn’t mention the plight of Jesus as detailed in the Gospels. But so what? How does that address a historical Jesus? It might affect the foundational claim of Christianity, but who cares? You are arguing against Christianity, not against the historicity of Jesus. That’s not a problem if your point is to critique Christainity, but it is a problem if you are critiquing the existence of a historical Jesus.

    Paul would have pointed out the parallels between his life and the life of Jesus. But Paul didn’t do that because there was no life of Jesus. The life of Jesus is modeled on Paul, not the other way around.

    ‘Interesting’ if that is given as a critique against Christianity. ‘So what?’ if a critique against the historicity of Jesus.

    You seem to be making the point that the beliefs of Paul and other “early Christians” were rooted in scriptures and had little or nothing to do with Jesus…

    What’s wrong with that idea? Isn’t that consistent with what we find in the epistles? Though I’ll note that Paul and other early writers twisted scriptures to their own purposes, suggesting there was an influence there outside of scriptures.

  91. says

    Here we see the ‘prediction’ laid out: the kings of the earth and the rulers will work together against God and His Messiah, but they should ‘be wise’ and ‘kiss the Son’, otherwise the kings and rulers will ‘perish from the way’.

    Obviously, from Paul’s perspective, the kings and rulers did not ‘kiss the Son’. They crucified Christ, and so Paul expects them to perish with Christ’s imminent return.

    There is debate among mainstream scholars over the meaning of “rulers of this age” so it is quite reasonable to accept the view of those mainstream scholars who acknowledge Paul is speaking of demonic powers and not conclude that mythicism is true. The primary argument against Gakusei Don’s point here is that Paul does not say that those rulers of the age will perish away or are expected to perish away, but that they are right now, since the crucifixion itself, perishing. Christ’s death was his victory and the defeat of the powers of evil — which will be completed (not begun) at his future coming (1 Cor 15:24-26).

  92. says

    His weighting seems contrary to the quotes I give from Carrier above — he seems in no doubt of the validity of his reconstruction. There is a disconnect there with Carrier that I don’t understand. What do you think is going on?

    Why don’t you understand? He explains his reasoning for his weighting — despite his personal “beliefs” — very clearly.

  93. says

    I honestly, honestly don’t want to sound condescending, but have you actually investigated reasons why Paul (and other Christians as well) might have written something like that? The idea of Providence in ancient times is the notion that God is always in charge. If the Jews get defeated by an enemy, it wasn’t because the enemy were stronger than God, but because God let that happen.

    You do sound very condescending and your “honestly honestly” claims serve only to underscore that tone. Have you actually checked the actual scripture in question to see if it supports your claim of ancient belief in Providence? Have you read Romans 13:1-4? Paul says that the powers with the sword are a terror to those who do EVIL. Not to saints whom God allows to be unjustly martyred. The passage also says that those who do good will be praised by those powers. Not executed! It says those who resist the powers will be condemned. But Jesus did not resist them, did he. Also, it does not say that God allows the evil powers to do whatever; it says that God “ordains” those powers — that is NOT part of the ancient belief in Providence of which you speak. The passage says that anyone who does good works has nothing to fear from those powers: so unless Paul is playing with words and saying death is nothing to be feared (contra his teachings elsewhere and the need to abolish death itself) then Paul is not writing a nice philosophical or theological piece about the common belief in Providence in those times.

  94. says

    Paul’s Jesus was a Jewish man, a descendent of David and Abraham, who was the first fruits of a general resurrection signifying that the end of the world was imminent. That Jesus was that man could only be verified through Scriptures.

    This surely misses the central message of Paul: that he and his congregants were right then and there IN THE END TIMES. The END times were NOW. Hence Paul’s many “twistings” of OT scriptures, “constrained”, as we was, “by historical reality” — that the message was being preached to the gentiles NOW. That is, the NOW was the END TIME of the Isaianic prophecies.

    Paul’s core message was that the prophecies about the word of the Lord going out to the gentiles was being fulfilled. If his entire eschatology and message hung upon a literal and personal interpretation of a single pronoun in 1 Thess. 4:17, an interpretation that Paul endorsed nowhere else in any of his letters, then you might have a point, but if you do, the full weight of it hangs entirely upon a very literal and specific interpretation of a single pronoun in that one solitary verse and in defiance of other more obvious interpretations that have sustained the Christian community for 2000 years.

  95. rationalrevolution says

    @Gakusei Don
    I’m just going to reply at the bottom so things don’t get lost.

    “I think ‘overall validity’ is painting with too broad a brush.”

    Sarah is stating very clearly that she thinks the narrative claim that Jesus was executed at the hand of Romans is historically accurate. She believes that to be true. That’s my point, that’s what I’m getting at. Her claims is, “why would anyone make up the claim that Jesus was killed by Romans unless it really happened?”

    I am explaining exactly why the writer of Mark was compelled to include the Romans in the execution by virtue of his following the theology of Paul. A major point of my book is about how the writer of Mark has based his story on the letters of Paul. A major theme of Paul’s letters is about the salvation of the Gentiles and the roles of Jews and Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles have to be present during the final sacrifice of course. That’s my point. It makes perfect sense as to why someone who is inventing this narrative would include both Jews and Romans in the final sacrifice. Especially when we see that the Roman soldier is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.

    “Yes, indeed. There are definitely cases where Paul has to twist the Hebrew Scriptures to make a point. This suggests he is constrained by some earlier tradition or even possibly some ‘real event’.”

    Not really. What earlier constraints forced the writing of 11Q13, the Melchizedek scroll? When we look at the Qumran writings we find countless fictive inventions and creative scriptural derivations. The idea that all of these reinterpretations of scripture were done to retroactively fit scripture to some reality is clear nonsense. It’s an invention of NT scholars trying once against to invent rationalizations to fit their conclusion.

    Look at all of the apocalyptic stories: Enoch, Ascension of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, etc. Does anyone argue that those stories are based on some reality? No, no one does. Everyone acknowledges that those stories are all total fabrications. The Gospel of Mark is no different. The Gospel is Mark is “as real” as the Book of Enoch. There is nothing about the Mark’s or Paul’s use of scripture that compels them to be based on real events any more than the use of scripture by the writers of Enoch or Ascension.

    And many of Paul’s tortured scriptural interpretations have nothing to do with any real person anyway, they are regarding things like whether the Kingdom of God is in heaven or on earth, in the future or the present, whether Gentiles need to obey the Law or not. None of those Pauline interpretations are forced by any real-life events. Yet, we can easily see that in many cases Paul’s interpretation is a non-standard not straight forward interpretation. But we also see this over and over again at Qumran as well, where its clearly a whole project of completely re-envisioning what the scriptures mean.

    “You seem to be arguing against the foundational claim of later Christianity.”

    Yes of course I’m arguing against the foundational claims of “later” Christianity, meaning everything from the 2nd century on. The point is that those interpretations are wrong. And without those flawed interpretations, no one today would even be arguing that Paul was talking about a real person. The only reason anyone today thinks the Jesus Paul was talking about was real is because of the Gospels.

    “For Paul, Jesus wasn’t an extraordinary man who started a new religion.”

    Which of course is a part of the point. Paul’s letters are incomparable with the Gospel narratives, which do portray Jesus as an extraordinary man who started a new religion, which is what the vast majority of mainstream scholars today still believe.

    “Paul’s Jesus was a Jewish man, a descendent of David and Abraham, who was the first fruits of a general resurrection signifying that the end of the world was imminent. That Jesus was that man could only be verified through Scriptures.”

    That Jesus is an invention from the scriptures. That’s the point. There was no real man who overcame death and rose from the grave. There was no man who was a descendant of David. That’s all just scriptural derivation. Paul’s Jesus came from the scriptures, that’s the point. Do you think there was some real person who actually had his linage back to David verified, and that this person with his verified David linage, was then Crucified at the request of Jewish priests in a ceremony that resembled the sacrifice of the Passover lamb? And you think he rose from the grave and thus inspired Paul to worship him (while leaving out the fact that he was executed by the Jewish priesthood any time he talked about this most important event)?

    “Do you see what you are doing there? Paul doesn’t mention the plight of Jesus as detailed in the Gospels. But so what? How does that address a historical Jesus?”

    Because the historical Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels.

    “That’s not a problem if your point is to critique Christianity, but it is a problem if you are critiquing the existence of a historical Jesus.”

    There is no other historical Jesus. Tell me some fact about the historical Jesus that isn’t derived from scripture. Describe the historical Jesus that Paul knew of. What, he was a descendant of David? Err Wrong. How possibly would that be a real fact? Why did Paul worship this Jesus? Paul says the only reason is because he rose from the grave. Err Wrong. Real people don’t rise from the grave.

    So as far as I can see, the “real Jesus” that you insist must exist, wasn’t actually a descendant of David, nor did he rise from the grave, nor was he a teacher, nor did he have a following of disciples, nor was he crucified by Pilate or by Jews, nor did he foretell the destruction of the Temple, nor did he walk on water, nor did he heal anyone, nor did he have crowds of followers, nor did he deliver parables.

    The “real Jesus” that you insist existed was what? A beggar in a local market who happened to have the name Jesus, but he never was crucified nor had any run-ins with the law, no had any teachings, or did anything. There was a man named Jesus who sold cheese in a market and died of old age. Okay, fine, such a Jesus existed. So what?

    The Jesus Paul worshiped was a figure derived from the scriptures, not a real person, period. The REASONS that Paul gave for worshiping Jesus are all scriptural. Paul never says, “Jesus did this, and it was amazing and that’s why I believe he was the Lord.” No, Paul says, “the scriptures say….”

    And those teachings of Paul were turned into a story that we call the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark is not based on anyone’s life other than Paul’s. None of the scenes in the Gospel of Mark are derived from stories about a real person. They are all derived either from the scriptures or from Paul’s letters about his teachings that are based on the scriptures.

    Nowhere does the anonymous Jesus who sold cheese in the market and never was crucified come into play.

    If nothing described in the Gospels actually happened, then by definition the Christian Jesus never existed.

    Yes, we know that there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people named Jesus in the 1st century. That people named Jesus existed is utterly beside the point. The point is, were Paul’s teachings inspired by the life or teachings of a person named Jesus? No, they were inspired by scriptures. Were the Gospels inspired by the life or teachings of a person named Jesus? No, they were inspired by Paul’s teachings and the scriptures.

  96. rationalrevolution says

    @Gakusei Don
    In addition.

    To explain on the main point of all this, which is Sarah’s claim that she believes no one would make-up Jesus being killed by Romans unless it really happened.

    As I said, the writer of Mark is interpreting Paul through the lens of the First Jewish-Roman War. He’s showing how Paul’s message relates to the events of the war.

    So the writer is compelled on the one hand to have Romans at the final sacrifice by Paul’s theology, and of course he’s also compelled by the war itself.

    As I say, I believe Mark is a commentary on the war, about how the Jews brought Roman destruction upon themselves. The Romans are the ones who conquered the Jews and destroyed the Temple.

    In the final scenes what we see are the Jews forcing the hands of the Romans, and the Romans, in spite of having those hand forced by the Jews to execute Jesus, are reluctant to do so and recognize Jesus as the son of God.

    Of course this relates to the war, where the author is making the allegory about how the Jews forced the hands of the Romans into executing them. The Romans, according to Mark, were reluctant tools of God’s plan, forced into the role of executioners by the Jews themselves.

    It’s not the Roman’s fault the Temple was destroyed, it was the Jews fault. The Romans were God’s tool for punishing the Jews, which God was forced to use because the Jews had so dishonored and rejected their own God. This is a theme found in the scriptures over and over, which the writer of Mark calls attention to by building scenes that reference such narratives in the scriptures over and over.

    So again, the idea that the only good reason to have Romans kill Jesus is because it would have been something that really happened is entirely untrue, especially in light of the fact that the only person who know of to discussion the Crucifixion of Jesus never attributes his death to either Jews or Romans. That’s the whole point of all of this.

    One can try to come up with rationalization about why Paul never ascribed the death of Jesus or Jews or Romans but none of that is actually evidence in support of the Gospel account. Indeed Paul gives us every reason to believe that if the Jewish leadership played in role in the execution of Jesus he would have said so, as he already was railing against them. And of the Romans he had nothing but praise saying that their authority was always right and to be respected. Neither of those things are comparable with Jesus having actually been executed at the hands of the Roans by Jewish demand. The best one can do is try to, once again, explain why the contradictory evidence should be ignored.

  97. Gakusei Don says

    @rationalrevolution

    That’s my point. It makes perfect sense as to why someone who is inventing this narrative would include both Jews and Romans in the final sacrifice. Especially when we see that the Roman soldier is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.

    And that’s a reasonable line of inquiry. But it seems to have nothing to do with historicity. Compare a Gospel that DIDN’T have the Roman soldier with a Gospel that did: does that affect the likelihood of historicity at all? I don’t see how. That’s my point. I haven’t read your book, but if your comments here reflect the content, then perhaps a more accurate title might be ‘Deciphering The Gospels Proves the **Gospel** Jesus Never Existed’, rather than a historical Jesus never existing.

    I’m arguing against the foundational claims of “later” Christianity, meaning everything from the 2nd century on. The point is that those interpretations are wrong…

    … Because the historical Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels.

    And that is what I mean. The historical Jesus doesn’t necessarily have to be the Jesus of the Gospels. We have a collection of early texts. For me, the best explanation for these texts is a historical Jesus. For Dr Carrier, the best explanation for the early texts is an ahistorical Jesus. And that’s fair enough. The approach is reasonable when addressing the likelihood of a historical Jesus.

    But your approach seems to be ‘Gospel Jesus or bust’. That’s reasonable when addressing the likelihood of a Gospel Jesus, but not reasonable when addressing the likelihood of a historical Jesus. But I think I’ve made my point, so no use repeating.

    If nothing described in the Gospels actually happened, then by definition the Christian Jesus never existed.

    We are in agreement there. Good to finish on a note of agreement!

  98. rationalrevolution says

    “But it seems to have nothing to do with historicity.”

    I’m not making a case against the historicity of Jesus here. I’m addressing Sarah’s question about why the writer of Mark would invent a narrative that had Jesus being executed at the hands of Romans. If that point isn’t relevant to historicity that has to do with Sarah’s question.

    Her statement: No one would invent such a narrative, so it must have really happened.
    My reply: Yes they would, in fact they had to and here is why. In addition, what we find in other pre-Gospel writings contradicts the claim idea that Jesus was actually killed by either Jewish or Roman rulers.

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