I had to say what I think of Jesus Mythicism


It’s the right thing to do on Christmas day.

Oh, yeah, the script:

Since it is Christmas day, I thought it only appropriate to say a few words about Jesus. Or rather, about Jesus Mythicism. This is the idea that a historical Jesus, founder of the Christian religion, didn’t even exist but was instead an invention of later proselytizers to justify their beliefs.

This is an awkward topic for me because I know all the major players on the mythicist side. I’ve met, and had pleasant conversations with, Robert Price and David Fitzgerald, and for a few years Richard Carrier had a blog on our network, Freethoughtblogs. I kept running into these guys, and for a while I was sympathetic to their views. I am not a historian, so I listened to the authorities I knew, and by some unholy coincidence there were a lot of mythicists among them. OK, sure, I said, I’d consider the possibility that Jesus never existed, and that some kind of conspiratorial cabal invented a figurehead. Why not? I wasn’t enthusiastic about it, but I’ll let them tell the story.

But here’s another awkwardness: I later had a falling out with all of them, and one could easily argue that my disagreement with mythicism could be personal bias, not objective analysis at all. That’s fair. After all, Richard Carrier tried to sue me and my friends for TWO MILLION DOLLARS, because we accused him of being a sex pest after he was banned from a conference for being, well, a sex pest. David Fitzgerald submitted testimonials on Carrier’s behalf, making salacious accusations against my friends. And hoo boy, Robert Price turned out to be a wild-eyed raving racist.

Furthermore, an organization called Mythicist Milwaukee has developed into a sponsor for all kinds of anti-woke conservative conspiracy theories. You could make a fair case that I have flung myself as far away from these people as I could, on the basis of issues other than an objective analysis of their mythicist case, and I’d have to concede that that is true in part. On the other hand, my counterargument would be that it suggests a deep problem in their theory, that it mainly seems to attract fringe scholars, pseudo-intellectual bible worshippers, wanna-be nazis, and misogynists and conspiracy theorists. I don’t like these people, making my opinion of their ideas suspect, but also…why do such unpleasant, unsavory characters gravitate towards Jesus Mythicism?

I have my own theory on that, based on my own initial interest in the idea. If you’re already an atheist and an anti-theist, then it is so tempting to be able to cock a snook at Christianity and point out that their messiah was nothing but a phantasm, like their god. It’s wishful thinking that we can pretend to make a religion we detest vanish in a puff of logic. Of course, we can’t do that — showing that ancient historical records about a radical preacher in first century Judea are spotty doesn’t prove much of anything, and people continue to believe in spite of the absurdity of many religious claims.

I think another factor in the acceptance of Jesus Mythicism is the bogus hyper-rationalism of so many new atheists. Everything must be reducible to Science, or worse, Math. Belief requires an unquestionable chain of logic and evidence at every step, and any absence of a step means the premise must be rejected. That is not how science works! It’s also not how history works, either. It’s the flip side of the Salem hypothesis, the observation that so many creationists who claim to be scientists are actually engineers. They have the mindset that every causal explanation must be clearly measurable and documented in a precise blueprint, or the entire idea must be rejected. That’s not how the real world works. We propose tentative explanations that are tested and evaluated on their consilience with a body of observation and theory.

Looking back on my casual dalliance with mythicism, that’s how they drew me in. The mythicists would peck at the Bible, finding problems in the canonical stories. See, the Bible says the dead rose and walked into Jerusalem — that didn’t happen, therefore the Bible lies. You can’t follow a star to a point location, therefore the story of the three kings was false. So much of the Jesus story about his birthplace is patently an attempt to shoehorn his origin to fit prophecy. Why don’t we have any civil records of his birth and early life, until suddenly he appears in the stories in his early thirties? Paul didn’t even meet Jesus, everything was written decades after his death! You get the idea. There are contradictions, inconsistencies, gaps, and doubts about the provenance of various bits of the story. If the anecdotes do not fit, you must acquit.

But that’s not at all how history works. Of course every historical account has inconsistencies. They are documented from multiple viewpoints by observers who have their own biases and may not have been trained in historical methodology. Errors creep in. Tall tales get attached. Propaganda modifies the stories.

How many Persians fought at the battle of Marathon? Contemporary Greek sources peg the number at two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, even half a million. Modern historians agree those numbers are improbably, impractically high, inflated to make the victory even more impressive. More reasonable numbers go as high as one hundred thousand, more likely twenty five thousand, which seems much more probable, given that they were routed by ten thousand Greeks. By Mythicist reasoning, the simplest explanation is that the inconsistent numbers mean the battle of Marathon didn’t happen.

Real historians would look at the totality of the evidence, including the political and social events in the aftermath of the Persian invasion, and conclude that there was a battle, it ended with a significant Greek triumph, and discount the propaganda.

It’s the same with the Jesus story, only more so. It was a local story, a small time event that only mattered to a small circle of believers, but it grew over time. Much of the story was dubious, but professional historians could look at the legends that arose over time and infer back to a reasonable, even likely beginning. And they have almost universally agreed that the most parsimonious explanation of the rise of Christianity is that it started as the teachings of a small-time holy man who was executed — that is, martyred — by the Romans, and that it prospered and changed over the years by evangelical preachers who spread it throughout the empire.

That sounds likely to me, a non-historian. It also fits with the anthropology of religious cults, which have arisen many times before and since. Look at Mormonism, for instance: would it make sense to argue that their prophet, Joseph Smith, didn’t exist, and was an invention by Brigham Young and the Mormon Elders? Was Scientology handed down directly by an alien named Xenu, or did it involve one guy, L. Ron Hubbard, making up a story? Was Lutheranism a conspiracy by a cabal of anti-Catholic fanatics, or did Martin Luther actually exist?

How many religions have coalesced out of the ether in the absence of a charismatic human catalyst?

It seems to me that the mythicists are the ones insisting that Christianity is unique and special and had to have originated by an exceptional process. I don’t buy it. And neither do the real historians who must roll their eyes in exasperation at every fringe kook who brings up an inconsistency or gap in the historical record. They already know about these problems, their whole discipline is about winnowing out hearsay and distilling information down to what is most plausible and reliable.

I am not going out on a limb, nor am I betraying atheism, if I plainly state that a preacher named Jesus existed in the Middle East in the first century, that he built a small following before he was executed, and that his disciples promoted a religion that spread around the world. That’s the most reasonable explanation for the start of Christianity, only weirdly deluded fanatics argue otherwise.

That doesn’t imply that I think he was the son of a god, or that he had magic powers, or that believing in his divinity is required to enter paradise after my death. I don’t believe that, nor do many of the historians who study his mundane and mortal influence on ancient history. I’ll trust the authorities in a scholarly discipline way outside my own, rather than the opinions of outliers and oddballs.

Comments

  1. nomdeplume says

    No, PZ, sorry, but your comparisons, analogies are not very good. Aslo it seems to me that “mythicism” exists on a spectrum from believing that the character was totally invented, through believing that myths were attached to several characters, or to one character, who bore absolutely no similarity to current religious beliefs about “Jesus”. I seem to have followed the opposite path to you. I started at the latter end of the spectrum, grudgingly accepting that of course there must have been a “real” person of some kind.Then I discovered mythicism, and thought “wow” perhaps the whole thing was invented, that is a real position it is possible to hold.

  2. DanDare says

    A lot of figures at that time are remarked in contemporary records. Their deeds and familly are recorded while they were alive.
    Jesus? Nope.

  3. says

    #2: Because Jesus was a dime-a-dozen nobody, completely unexceptional! Tiberius almost certainly didn’t notice his absence. No one was writing his biography.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    I strongly recommend The Star of Betlehem; A Skeptical View by Aaron Adair.
    He approaches the story in the Bible from every concievably angle, and finally the most credible remaining explanation is, the story of a star guiding a protagonist is inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid.
    There is no astronomical or astrological explanation. The politics of the era makes the story impossible, too.

  5. ealloc says

    Apropos to anyone looking for leisure reading, check out the short story “The Procurator of Judea” by Anatole France, an imagining of the later life of Pontius Pilate and his perspective on Jesus and Palestine.

    https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/58967/pg58967.html

    It has themes related to how history is constructed and the relative importance of people and events including the apparently minor person of Jesus, and also has themes related to empire, antisemitism and the ruling classes. Readers here might also enjoy Anatole Frances’ “freethought” themes. He was an outspoken dreyfusard (anti-antisemite), following Emile Zola, and likes to include skeptical points of view. Multiple of his books have godless characters (probably representing France himself) who read lucretius and provide a materialist epicurean point of view of any events at hand. He’s not a black-and-white sort of rigid atheist these mythicists seem to be.

  6. larpar says

    The ad I got on YouTube before the video was for Messianic Judaism. I know you don’t have control over that, PZ. I just thought it was funny.

  7. fishy says

    Just for a moment let me suggest that Jesus was a large contractor who more or less dominated his market.
    He got a little heady and stepped out beyond his purview and at the time there were actual repercussions for such things.
    His fanboys got upset and started a cult.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Some of us have, for the last few years, nit-picked Jesusoid details at Dr. Sarah’s blog, with little in the way of resolution so far. Anyone with an appetite for such debate might want to take a look; it should at least cure your cravings for amateurish hand-waving and extraneous extrapolations for a good long while. (Dr. S, like our esteemed host, takes a historicist position, and defends it quite well.)

  9. moarscienceplz says

    “How many religions have coalesced out of the ether in the absence of a charismatic human catalyst?”
    Christianity certainly had such a catalyst. His name was Paul.

  10. moarscienceplz says

    My problem with Jesus historicity is kinda like trying to restore an old boat full of dry-rot. As you rip out the rotted wood, there’s more rot underneath that, and so on and so on. At what point can you just declare there’s no longer a boat there?

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    Look at Mormonism, for instance: would it make sense to argue that their prophet, Joseph Smith, didn’t exist, and was an invention by Brigham Young and the Mormon Elders? Was Scientology handed down directly by an alien named Xenu, or did it involve one guy, L. Ron Hubbard, making up a story? Was Lutheranism a conspiracy by a cabal of anti-Catholic fanatics, or did Martin Luther actually exist?

    Your comparisons are wildly inappropriate.
    Joseph Smith actually existed. There is plenty of evidence for that. He was taken to court, he wrote things. He was married (multiple times). He was killed by a mob. Jesus H. Christ is more comparable to the angel Moroni. Does your analogy insist that there was a real angel Moroni, whose exploits got blown out of proportion?
    L. Ron Hubbard actually existed and wrote things. Jesus is more comparable to Xenu. If you want an analog of L. Ron Hubbard, try the apostle Paul, who actually wrote things.
    Martin Luther actually existed, there is sufficient historical evidence. He actually wrote things. There are writings from others who supported him and others who opposed him.
    These are all really crappy analogies.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    @14: My analogy is that we are throwing the baby out with the bath water. Show me the farkin’ baby. There’s nothing there.

  13. StevoR says

    Oh & good clear video that makes a lot of sense except I kept expecting the guy on the left hand side of the screen to speak! Spoiled by too many panel chats I guess!

    Oh & tangential, but I also saw a good episode of Expedition Unknown (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expedition_Unknown ) on youtube here – 41 mins long that noted in passing how so much of the Jesus story is mythology but still didnt go fullm mythicist and did suggest in the end that he was most likely born in Nazareth. By the way learn tfrom that that there’s actaully anotherless famous bethlehem too :

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

    Which was also discussed on that show as a more likely possibility than the more famous one for where he mighthave been born.

  14. specialffrog says

    @ nomdeplume: are you calling any view of Jesus that doesn’t agree with the gospels a form of Jesus mythicism? That seems like a stretch.

    From what I gather, the historical consensus is that Jesus was born, was baptized by John and was crucified by the Romans and any specific biographical claims beyond that are suspect.

    Are you arguing that this consensus is a mythicist position?

  15. nomdeplume says

    @18 Not sure I understand what you are asking. The “consensus” you refer to is like the “minimum facts” position – but there is no evidence outside the Bible for any of the “facts” you refer to. I spite of what PZ says (and he seems be adopting the “minimum facts” to claim Jesus as a real figure – but since there is no evidence for those “facts” there is no evidence for the reality of a human being. That is, the only way to,avoid being a Mythicist is to assume that some small number of myths are facts.

  16. StevoR says

    @11. Pierce R. Butler : Ah, I see you beat me to it with mentioning Geeky Humanist‘s relevant blog series here. It might have been before I refreshed / submitted and not there when I started writing or I might have just not read carefully enough first.

    @12. moarscienceplz : “His name was Paul.”

    Eventually anyhow. Started off as Saul. Hmm,, did I just dead name the founder of Christianity? If they are happy to use Paul, maybe they should be happy to allow others to adopt new names and accept those too?

    @14. moarscienceplz : Well, yeah, but at one point there was a boat before the dry rot destroyed it. Layers after layers of rot / myth on a real boat / person that was there once.

  17. specialffrog says

    @ nomdeplume: it is blatantly untrue to claim that there is no evidence outside the Bible. Many of the core mythicist arguments involve explaining why this evidence is insufficient but this inherently requires accepting that the evidence exists.

    And if I have misunderstood you on the spectrum point, what does the spectrum of mythicism look like?

  18. Erp says

    I considered mythicism many years ago but realized fairly quickly it had no reasonable answer to the main historical question which is what is the origin and early history of Christianity.

    I note that if Joseph Smith is somewhat equivalent to Jesus than Brigham Young is loosely the Paul counterpart. Note there is fairly strong evidence that not all early Christians were Pauline Christians (e.g., Ebionites) just as not all of Joseph Smith’s followers took Brigham Young as their new leader but went their own path.

  19. nomdeplume says

    @22 spectrum from mostly myth to entirely myth.

    I’m intrigued by the “evidence outside the bible” for anything except a recognition that christianity was developing and its central ideas. But there is no evidence for those central ideas.

  20. consciousness razor says

    From the Beowulf wiki page:

    The poem blends fictional, legendary, mythic and historic elements. Although Beowulf himself is not mentioned in any other Anglo-Saxon manuscript,[8] many of the other figures named in Beowulf appear in Scandinavian sources.[9] This concerns not only individuals (e.g., Healfdene, Hroðgar, Halga, Hroðulf, Eadgils and Ohthere), but also clans (e.g., Scyldings, Scylfings and Wulfings) and certain events (e.g., the battle between Eadgils and Onela). The raid by King Hygelac into Frisia is mentioned by Gregory of Tours in his History of the Franks and can be dated to around 521.[10]

    The majority view appears to be that figures such as King Hroðgar and the Scyldings in Beowulf are based on historical people from 6th-century Scandinavia. Like the Finnesburg Fragment and several shorter surviving poems, Beowulf has consequently been used as a source of information about Scandinavian figures such as Eadgils and Hygelac, and about continental Germanic figures such as Offa, king of the continental Angles.[11] However, the scholar Roy Liuzza argues that the poem is “frustratingly ambivalent”, neither myth nor folktale, but is set “against a complex background of legendary history … on a roughly recognizable map of Scandinavia”, and comments that the Geats of the poem may correspond with the Gautar (of modern Götaland); or perhaps the legendary Getae.[12]

    Can you even say anything like that about the other characters in the gospels who are said to have interacted with Jesus? Like what, for instance? But even the passage above isn’t saying Beowulf himself was a historical figure, just that we can tell that not everything in the myth was entirely fabricated.

    If you don’t for this sort of reason have a lower credence (whatever that amounts to) for a historical Jesus, then you’d better have some kind of fairly compelling argument for that, no? One which is hopefully pretty concrete, specific, detailed and so forth, not just speculation or analogies or some other such bullshit, because that’s some awfully thin gruel. Also not something along the lines of “well, who really cares anyway, so why not?” (Not if you’re attempting to make this convincing, at any rate.)

    But what’s that argument supposed to be? If for you it is just “that’s the consensus,” then what is their argument supposed to be? If it’s more than just pointing at some other people who think as you do, then let’s hear about it. If it isn’t actually more than that, then you don’t have a coherent argument at all, because those don’t consist of groups of people.

  21. LeftCoaster says

    I remember first running across the Jesus Mythicism in the late 90’s or early 00’s on the internet infidels message board and found it intriguing, but never gave it much more thought as it didn’t seem to matter one way or the other. You can never prove that Jesus never existed, but the scenario PZ describes is close enough – there was a small time messianic preacher named Yeshua bin Yosef who was active and had a small following in first century Palestine, too small to have been noticed by anyone writing histories at the time, who managed to get crossways with the Romans enough to get himself crucified.

    He had one or two fervent followers (Peter?, etc.) who continued to preach his message and by good fortune managed to achieve a self-sustaining number of followers. As the youtuber Paulogia has put forward in several of his videos, all it would have taken was one or two of his followers to have a grief hallucination and come to believe that they had indeed seen a risen Jesus and the rest could have easily steamrolled from there.

    One thing that continues to, in my mind, support the idea of an individual founder named Jesus, are the two gospels that go out of their way to propagate the story of a census to explain why someone repeatedly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth” was instead born in Bethlehem in order to conform to the prophecies that the later (still oral) stories were beginning to incorporate that Jesus was the actual Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures. If you were making something up out of whole cloth why not just have him hail from Bethlehem in the first place? This bit of mythmaking, would have probably happened within the first decade or so after his death when there were still a few people who had known him personally and knew that he was from Nazareth.

  22. says

    For the most part, I don’t care whether or not there was a real, living-and-breathing “Jesus” walking around the Middle East 2Kyears ago. The purely mundane aspects of the “Jesus” story, which include “Jewish kid” and “born in the Middle East about 2,000 ago” and “son of a carpenter” and yada yada yada? Sure, I’ll buy that there was at least one person back then who fits that purely mundane profile. Whatever.

    But if you want oe to believe that one particular Jewish kid who fits that purely mundane profile was the son of god and had a list of supernatural powers as long as your arm… well, you got some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy…

  23. StevoR says

    @21. John Morales on Paul / Saul being a double name not a change of name : Huh. Okay. Did not know that. Thanks.

  24. chrislawson says

    I think there is only one wrong answer to the question of Jesus mythicism and that’s excessive certainty.

  25. whheydt says

    Re: Reginald Selkirk @ #15…
    I knew Randall Garrett. Randall claimed to have been at the lunch with John W. Campbell, Jr and L. Ron Hubbard when Campbell opined that the sure fire ways to make money were to start a new religion or a new branch of psychiatry. Randall said that Hubbard looked thoughtful…

  26. Ed Peters says

    Thanks to PZ and many commenters for this interesting re-starter on the topic. Over the years I’ve heard some arguments and have at various times accepted then rejected Jesus Mythicism. At last I got tired of the chase because it just seemed everything I read was written by partisans, and when they quoted some ostensibly neutral source, they often seemed to be interpreting it wrong, like partisans will do. I never had time to find quality material to form my own firm opinion, so I am looking forward to some of the reading recommended above. I am hoping that if the Mythicists arguments against historical Jesus are as flimsy as suggested by PZ and others here, it should be readily apparent to even an amateur like me.

  27. Bernie says

    “It was a local story, a small time event that only mattered to a small circle of believers, but it grew over time.”

    The mythicists theory has the advantage of explaining facts that are otherwise difficult to explain. In particular, one would expect the earliest Christian writings to be full of quotes of the teachings and the biographical details of their founder if that was rabbi Jesus. The earliest Christian writings can be dated to precede the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by their lack of knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem or by their mention that the temple cult in Jerusalem was still functioning at the time of writing. These include Paul’s authentic letters, Hebrews, and First Clement. Yet these writings contain very little, if anything, that can be construed as teaching from the rabbi or biographical information on the rabbi. Instead these writings appeal to the Old Testament and to apostolic visions as the source of their teaching. In these writings Jesus Christ functions as the archangel who atones for humanities sins as the perfect sacrifice in a realm invisible to humans. The Gospels post date the destruction of Jerusalem, probably by a lot, and the earliest of these appear to have been written as allegories in which Jesus is cast as a rabbi to present Christian teachings.

    The mysticist position has in its support evidence of absence (of a Rabbi named Jesus as its founder). Note that this is different from absence of evidence, which is the excuse historicists offer for the lack of historical information about Jesus in the earliest Christian writings.

  28. robro says

    John Morales @ #5 — That’s a funny idea. Perhaps it explains why all the extra-Biblical manuscripts that mention Christus (or Chrestus) or Yoshua or Christians are from the 10th-11th century. There’s a long tradition among Christians and others of doctoring the evidence.

    Ever hear of the “Donation of Constantine”? Might explain why Eusebius of Caesarea had to make Constantine a Christian emperor.

  29. sarah00 says

    I’ve found the History for Atheists blog really useful in cutting through the pseudohistory peddled by a lot of new atheists.

    I dabbled with mythicism but I got increasingly suspicious of the scientism promulgated by many of the prominent new atheists promoting mythicism, and their disdain for social sciences and the humanities (all the while nitpicking the humanities in order to bolster their position). Ultimately, I don’t think it really matters if a historical Jesus existed but the way mythicism captured the movement was really informative for me.

  30. keinsignal says

    @28 – I don’t recall a source on this, but I do recall reading that Jesus “of Nazareth” is likely a mistranslation of sorts – that there was no place called Nazareth, but rather that “Nazarene” may have referred to a sect that Jesus belonged to, or was some kind of honorific akin to “rabbi” or “sage” – but the synoptic gospellers, who (unlike John) had no idea about the region or the culture Jesus came from, assumed it was the name of a town. I thought Galilee was likely his actual base of operations? Anyways…

    The conspiratorial-mythicist view does run into the problem that there were indeed forerunners of, and dissentors to, Paul’s version of Christianity. IIRC, John and/or James certainly had their own followings that did not think much of this newcomer to the faith. Obviously the “official story” of the Gospels is nonsense – on that point it’s worth mentioning that Matt, Mark, and Luke were some of the last books of the New Testament to be written, were in many ways explicit attempts to justify a particular version of Christianity and deligitimize rival sects (including the followers of John the Baptist, according to some accounts) and in any case two of them are largely plagiarizing & expanding on the third, so of course the history in them is going to be wildly distorted garbage. But, a lot of context regarding the state of early Christianity can be gleaned from the other books of the NT – the various letters and even the early bits of Revelation (which was one of the earliest-written books!), where John addresses the various “churches” – all of which were generally operating independently, with their own evolving dogmas and practices. Whatever the actual biography of the man a bunch of Greek-speakers would wind up naming “Jesus”, he wasn’t some figment dreamed up by Paul. The evidence points not only to Christian leaders who predated Paul’s ministry, including at least one or two who had known the J-man personally – but also that they appear to have viewed Paul with suspicion at best, and as a usurper and hated rival at worst. Not the sort of crowd you’d expect to hold a conspiracy of any scale together.

  31. says

    If you were making something up out of whole cloth why not just have him hail from Bethlehem in the first place?

    I suspect that this is a result of harmonizing between various traditions: One group insisting he was from Nazareth, another insisting that he must have been born in Bethlehem. Toss out either tradition and you’re losing half your members, so what do we do? Invent a compromise position, where everybody gets to be right.

    While religions can invent the most outrageous things and get away with it, they still have to respect the beliefs of their members to some extent, or people just leave. Once a tradition (real or invented) is accepted by the membership, it can’t just be tossed away, without causing a schism.

    To my mind, the main problem with the historicity of Jesus is that we just don’t have any reliable information. Even if we assume he existed, we know almost nothing about him. Is it possible that he was a preacher who was executed by the Romans? Sure, that probably happened dozens of times. But can you tell me anything about this particular guy? Can you even demonstrate that his name was actually Jesus?
    Part of the problem here is that “Jesus” is a term with so much baggage that people automatically assume they know a whole lot that they really don’t. In effect, “Jesus” is a myth. Whether Jesus was, who knows? I see mythicism as an exercise in separating the two.

  32. StevoR says

    @36. keinsignal : “@28 – I don’t recall a source on this, but I do recall reading that Jesus “of Nazareth” is likely a mistranslation of sorts – that there was no place called Nazareth, ..”

    Um, there’s definitely is sucha town a s Nazareth although itwas apparently pretty small back in Jesus’es day. See :

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

    As well as the last part of the show mentioned imn#17.

  33. Kagehi says

    @35

    If you mean “new atheists” in the sense that term is normally applied then I would have to agree with you without even knowing the context of your own objections. That says, I haven’t seen much “scientism” involved in any of the mythicist arguments I have seen. The main one I have seen seems to rest on a very basic concept – when studying cultures, history, etc., you can’t use a single source material to reference itself, especially if the best you can manage is copies that all where written 50+ years after the fact, and for which the only “contemporary” reference you have, at all, is a spattering of fragments, which barely fit on a post card, none of which even reference the professed history under discussion, and where even the references that are made to that single source are themselves written decades/centuries later, and then only do things like reference a name (i.e., the Josephus reference, which textual analysis suggest was added much later, and by someone who wrote very differently than the original author – i.e., it was added by someone else, after the fact).

    The basic problem seems to come down to this, “If you think the Bible, by itself, without any contemporary sources, can be a reference to events, which no one else records, you can derive some sort of ‘minimal facts’ from it. If you can’t trust a single book, with no prior sources, the specific passages of which you are examining seem to be clearly ‘adjusted’ to fit a narrative that reflects, but also distorts, prior passages and prophecy (to the extent that the new figure actually contradicts what those prior passages “expected” them to be), and you cannot find any other sources, at all, from the time the events where supposed to be happening, then it seem likely that the figure, whether a real person existed or not, is almost entirely made up.”

    Basically, it hinges on a simple principle – is their any other “history” that we trust, which is, literally, only references by one single source – the source we are trying to test for its historicity? Answer – nope, not at all, but we have an entire cult that is desperate to treat it as history, despite the fact that if fails even in the OT passages, where it actually mentions events we “do” know happened (sometimes repeatedly, like Jericho, making it similarly impossible to show that it is historical, and sometimes not at all, and are provably impossible, like Exodus).

    The whole book seems to be a mess of cases of people taking things that may have happened, possibly, and blowing them out of proportion, or rewriting them for their own purposes, or reinventing them to fit a new story, or, in some cases, just making shit up out of nothing, to portray themselves as something different than they where. We even have things like Genesis existing as 7 gods making the world, and no Garden of Eden at the end, and doing so almost word for word the same, and in the same absurd order, and us left going, “OK, so which one is actually older?” My own take is that the multi-god version is likely older, simply because the text of the Torah strongly suggests a religion with multiple deities, which was later taken over by a mono-theist sect, who then set about rewriting everything as, “Oh, well, that… Our one true god really did all that!”

    Point being – we can’t trust any of it to be history, and some of the OT stuff at least references “plausible” events, which other people made a record of – sometimes.

  34. Chabneruk says

    sarah00 – #35 PZ has been featured on History for Atheists before, first as a voice of the atheist community who sadly believes in Mythicism, then more positively as an example of someone who has listened to reason and moved away to a more “agnostic” state regarding mythicism. For my part I am happy that he has now arrived at “Mythicism is wrong”, being a former student of history myself (and someone who prefers theories based on facts, not on wishful thinking).

    I guess Tim played an important part on bringing about this change – sadly, he is not mentioned in the video. His blog is both well-written and well researched, he engages with critics in his comments (although his tolerance for bullshit is low) and can only be recommended for atheists who prefer facts over fiction. Which, sadly, are not all of them.

  35. specialffrog says

    @nomdeplume: you know that the writings attributed to Josephus exist, right? Those are evidence of Jesus outside the Bible. I know what the mythicist arguments around Josephus are and they might be correct.

    But those arguments are only necessary to make because they have to deal with contrary evidence.

    Evidence does not equal proof but it does equal evidence.

    @john morales: that is a decent summary of the mainstream vs mythicist position but I’m not quite sure how it makes my question moot.

  36. cartomancer says

    My considered position on this stuff, as an actual ancient historian, is that… it’s not an interesting question. It’s not something we can really make any progress in answering, given that the putative individual in question is so obscure as to have left no firm trace in the historical record (as opposed to the mythmaking that attached), and answering it one way or another makes bugger all difference to any other historical questions we have about the period. Assume, as a thought experiment, that we could conclusively demonstrate the case one way or another. What further interesting avenues of investigation would this open up? None that I can see.

    Let us take another example of a very obscure ancient historical figure, who may or may not have been real, and who has left very little trace in terms of evidence. “Emperor Sponsianus”. This controversy was brought back into currency with a study earlier this year into some of the tiny amount of evidence we have – a handful of very unusual coins found in a hoard from the 3rd century (modern Romania, known as Dacia in ancient times) bearing the inscrption “imp. sponsiani”. Apart from this name cropping up in one or two not very illuminating inscriptions, this is all we have. No ancient historian mentions Sponsianus as an emperor, or indeed in any other capacity. The coins have often been thought of as 18th century forgeries, though recent studies have suggested they are genuine 3rd century articles (the results are disputed by numismatists). If there really was a “Sponsianus” knocking around in Dacia in the 3rd century, he would have been some kind of pretender to the throne, local bigwig imposing some kind of personal order during the empire-wide political crisis, or other minor self-styled imperial imitator. That’s not an implausible story, and it would explain why his coins were so weird. “Sponsio” is also a Latin word for a trust, contract or financial arrangement, so rather than a personal name (there are no attached praenomina or cognomina), it might just be intended as “imperial paymaster”, because nobody could be sure who really was emperor amid the shifting power vacuum of the time. All reasonable guesses, but difficult to say for sure. Was Sponsianus an actual person, a bureaucratic cipher in a time of upheaval, or a modern hoax? We have the same sort of question here as our earlier Jesus example. What further investigations could be conducted if we had settled the question? What more would we know and how would our picture of the times have changed? Not very much. We already know there were obscure imperial pretenders. We already know that some of them minted their own coins. We already know it was a time of upheaval and revolt and collapse. We already know that 18th century scholars did occasionally conduct hoaxes of this kind. The only value to answering the question is that we’ve answered the question. There is no wider relevance hanging on it.

  37. says

    I agree, that should be the key point: it’s not a very interesting question. It mainly seems to be a focus for conspiracy-thinking.

  38. Reginald Selkirk says

    @45: @nomdeplume: you know that the writings attributed to Josephus exist, right? Those are evidence of Jesus outside the Bible. I know what the mythicist arguments around Josephus are and they might be correct.

    Yes, the writings of Josephus exist. Josephus who was born circa 37 A.D.. There is no way that he ever met Jesus H. Christ. Even if the mention of Jesus in his writing were genuine and referred to the specific Jesus in question (I read somewhere that Josephus mentioned about 20 people named Jesus in his voluminous writings. It was a common name.), calling that “evidence for historicity” shows just how incredibly weak the evidence for historicity is.

    A turning point for me on this issue was the book by Bart Ehrman summing up the evidence for historicity. My reaction was, “Wow, this is it? How lame.” Make all the criticism of mythicism you want, but the evidence for historicism is perhaps even worse.

  39. birgerjohansson says

    Läget i @ 42
    Jericho was sometimes populated, sometimes abandoned. I seem to recall a claim that Jericho lay fallow during the time attributed to the (mythcical) exodus, so Aaron would only have passed by a big heap of gravel.
    .
    För your amusement, you may fact-check the koran as it is an even more low-hanging fruit, made (mostly) by an arab Joseph Smith who cut and pasted misremembered bits of Judaism and Christianity into something akin to the book of Mormonai.
    – Miriam -the sibling of Aaron and Moses- is also the mother of Jesus! And… she is part of the Christian trinity.
    I did not know that and I am technically a Christian since my birth.
    The pharaoh of Egypt is credited with building the Tower of Babylon.
    The Jews are said to venerate Uzair (Ezra) the way the Christians venerate Jesus.
    BTW Jesus was never crucified and he personally wrote the gospels!

  40. Reginald Selkirk says

    @45 RE Josephus

    This reminds me of that time Cleopatra, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Paine got together for a chat. You might not believe this, but fortunately it was captured on film. Meeting of Minds, season 1, episodes 1 and 2.
    I will now compare this to the quality of “evidence” represented by invoking the writings of Josephus to support a historical Jesus H. Christ.

  41. birgerjohansson says

    My apologies to Kaghei @ 42, spell check altered the name to a Swedish word.

    BTW according to old legend Gandalf was the King of Alvhem, that is where Tolkien found the name.
    So a West Swedish iron age petty king died and was resurrected to save all men of Middle Earth!
    I like that myth more than the Bible.

  42. says

    I am surprised that there are so many mythicists lurking here.

    Much of the evidence for Jesus isn’t going to be eyewitness accounts, because very few people knew of him when he was alive. It’s going to be inferential, based on second- and third-hand stories. Complaining that you don’t have direct, personal accounts of an obscure person in history is just like complaining that we don’t have time-lapse video recordings of every step in the evolution of birds from Mesozoic dinosaurs! It’s true, we don’t, but evolution is still a reasonable hypothesis.

  43. StevoR says

    @ 50. birgerjohansson :

    För your amusement, you may fact-check the koran as it is an even more low-hanging fruit, made (mostly) by an arab Joseph Smith..

    What the.. ?!

    I .just .. can’t even.. what? Did I see right there?

    No fan of his at all. Respect you. But Arab? What?! J Smith made the Quran has gotta be the weirdest claim I’ve seen since … dunno .. Did I read that right?

  44. says

    I can get the appeal of Mythicism, specifically the version where Jesus is a composite character. It’s one more way to stick it to the fundies, and I don’t find it that implausible. Given how I’ve seen people rally around narcissists, though, an actual single charismatic figure is probably more plausible to me than it was a decade ago.

    I remember someone encouraged me to read the Gospels myself, thinking it’d reinforce my faith. At the time, I thought the church had been corrupted over the millennia. Reading the Gospels convinced me that Christianity started as a minor apocalypse cult that managed to outlive its leader’s death and thrived after it adjusted for broader appeal. So, it was terrible from the start.

  45. Reginald Selkirk says

    @54:

    WHOOSH!

    @ 50. birgerjohansson is not saying that Joseph Smith wrote the Koran. He is saying that an Arab equivalent of Joseph Smith wrote the Koran.

  46. StevoR says

    @41. dexitroboper : “The major argument in favour of mythicism is simply that people love to make shit up.”

    Yeah but they also tend to do that about people they actaually know.. generally I think?

  47. StevoR says

  48. chigau (違う) says

    Jesus wept for StevoR
    The paragraph you quoted is birger’s introduction to the following statements which are paraphrasing teachings in the koran.

  49. birgerjohansson says

    StevoR
    It is OK, if you overlooked the part where I was referring to the koran, it is understandable that you think I have gone full Alex Jones 😊
    (or Tuck Buckford, as channeled by
    my favv late night TV host Stephen Colbert)

  50. Reginald Selkirk says

    I get it now: PZ is arguing for the historicity of Xenu. I mean, not the supernatural, god-like Xenu and the volcanoes and the Thetans and all that; but there must have been some small historical core of fact about all that claptrap was woven. Because people don’t just make stuff up out of whole cloth.

  51. robro says

    I don’t care if there was a real Jesus behind the cult. If he was real, he certainly was not born of a virgin, did not perform miracles, did not raise people from the dead, and was not resurrected from his own death. Also, he didn’t die for man’s original sin. If he talked to Satan in the wilderness that may indicate a psychological problem. If that makes me a Mythicist, so be it, although I think I’m more in the Minimalist school…there’s not enough evidence to say one way or another about the historical Jesus…or Paul, or Mohammed, or most to the Bible stories. I don’t even know why any atheist should care that there was a historical Jesus.

  52. consciousness razor says

    I am surprised that there are so many mythicists lurking here.

    Much of the evidence for Jesus isn’t going to be eyewitness accounts, because very few people knew of him when he was alive.

    Also, much of the evidence for Beowulf isn’t going to be eyewitness accounts, because very few people knew of him when he was alive.

    But maybe Beowulf was instead just a fictional character in a story. (So was Grendel, his mother, the dragon and perhaps a lot more where those came from.) That’s also quite plausible, especially considering the source.

    Or, maybe there was a historical Grendel too (just some guy, who certainly did have a mom) as well as a historical dragon (although it wasn’t a dragon but something else entirely).

    Doesn’t seem like we can do much here, besides say that some stuff doesn’t seem very plausible while other things seem more plausible. That other people have a different take should hardly be surprising. It’s as if you still think you’ve got your hands on a bunch of reliable facts, so people ought to be able to agree with your reasonable conclusions derived from your straightforward arguments. The thing is, you don’t really have any of those here, you just think you do, so….

    Complaining that you don’t have direct, personal accounts of an obscure person in history is just like complaining that we don’t have time-lapse video recordings of every step in the evolution of birds from Mesozoic dinosaurs!

    Is it? We do in fact have decent sources, often enough multiple independent ones, of ancient people who were much more obscure than Jesus is supposed to be. What makes a person “obscure”? They did next to nothing that was even remotely notable, never did have a cult following that quickly spread and ran afoul of the political order, etc., and yet some at least decent, non-fantastical, not hard-to-believe mundane records of their mere existence were nonetheless produced at the time and have survived in some form or another. Perhaps just little fragments, a passing reference, mention of a name, an inscription, what have you … but it’s something.

    You make it sound like this is some incredibly high standard that nobody could ever meet, like videos of bird evolution in the Mesozoic, but that is just not the reality at all, even when we’re talking about some fairly marginal historical figures. You want to wildly exaggerate your case? Okay, go ahead. But then you don’t seriously mean one is “just like” the other. So what do you mean, if you have an actual argument that’s meant to be taken seriously?

    It’s not about Jesus all by himself either. We also have little or no evidence of other characters in the gospel stories or numerous events which are described in them. Herod? Pontius Pilate? Okay, those are actually a couple big names that were sprinkled in, which might still be recognizable to many decades later, but at least you can point to some tiny thread that loosely connects bits of the story somehow to historical facts. (Then again, whether those people really did what the stories describe their characters doing is not well supported at all.)

    But the rest of it? And I mean that’s after we’ve already tossed out the miracles and such too. What’s left that we should believe is history and not just old stories?

    I don’t even really get what you think you’re buying into with this. The whole idea actually seems to be that there isn’t much of anything to speak of, which is pretty odd. If you simply don’t want to be “on the same side” as Carrier or Price or whoever, that’s atrocious reasoning for one thing, but also, there are much easier ways of merely distancing oneself from people you dislike. You don’t need whole new sets of facts for something like that, and you don’t need to argue for them.

  53. consciousness razor says

    Or, maybe there was a historical Grendel too (just some guy, who certainly did have a mom) as well as a historical dragon (although it wasn’t a dragon but something else entirely).

    Of course, since dragons aren’t real, it was actually just a giant, one of the same historical giants* who Don Quixote had fought many years later, which had been moved piece by piece to Spain.

    *Technically speaking, for you pedants out there, it was an old windmill. But anyway, it was the very same monster/windmill as before. Everyone can agree about that.

  54. says

    PZ@47 there are definitely people who jump from “Jesus didn’t exist” to claiming Christianity was invented by the Romans to keep the rabble controllable and quiet, or something similar. They tend to think religion in general was deliberately invented as a form of social control, which is simplistic, and has more than a hint of “I’m not a dupe like those dumb people.”

    But having said that an obvious problem with the idea that Jesus was real was that Jesus seems to get treated in a way many other ancient religious figures don’t. (Buddha is another example.) There doesn’t seem to be many if any people looking through ancient texts to prove Heracles was an actual person running around ancient Greece, who of course didn’t have super strength, or was the son of a god. Perhaps that’s because there’s no wide spread worship of him or the other ancient Greek/Roman gods and demigods in the modern era.

  55. brucej says

    whheydt@32 That’s so much more mundane than the apocryphal telling in Jerry Pournelle’s “Inferno” that it was the result of a drunken con bet…:-) BUt I can totally believe it.

    Honestly we cannot really analogize a 2000-year old cult formation with modern ones where the actual documentary evidence still exists. We would have to fast forward another couple thousand years. A close reading of ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz” would orovide a framework :-)

  56. says

    I must express appreciation for PZ’s work here and all the thoughtful, carefully documented comments (and there are so many). However, I must express what I have found to be honest and true: that even though there are some religious people who try to be ethical and live moral lives, almost all religions have overriding obscene, murderous, immoral or bigoted elements that cannot be ignored. My organization rejects all the supernatural, fictional crap of religion and instead, we dedicate ourselves to rational honesty and love as the bases for our Omniascendent Principle.

  57. says

    Xtianity is successful and has grown only because throughout history huckster religious leaders were highly charismatic and able (just like the tRUMP) to get unreasoning people looking for an easy answer to shower them in power and money.

  58. says

    Oooh, oooh, wait I know the answer, it’s 3,000 angels that could dance on the head of a pin. But, only if you prayed real hard to J. Ohohsteen to give you a fortune.

  59. nomdeplume says

    PZ – bottom line – I don’t know why you would be an atheist about a god who has no evidence for his existence, and a christist about a messiah who has no evidence for his existence.

  60. says

    “God” is an extraordinary claim demanding extraordinary evidence.

    Messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

  61. Reginald Selkirk says

    @77: Your analogies have been challenged as off-target. You have said nothing to defend them.

  62. says

    “Historical Jesus” is, at best, a very poorly defined term, with no widespread agreement about exactly what it means. The more likely a definition is to tie to an actual historical figure or figures, the less interesting the concept of “historical Jesus” is – no one cares whether an apocalyptic peacher or six from 2000+ years ago drawing on some Jewish ideas preached some things that made it into some parts of the new testament.
    The earliest known Christian writings clearly contemplate an incorporeal Jesus, with Jesus the preacher appearing only in later writings.
    A “historical Jesus” adds no explanatory power to the known history of the development and spread of Christianity. All you need for that is a historical Paul, kinda like you don’t need a historical Moroni to explain Mormonism, just a historical Joe Smith.

    Famously, 1 and 3 above are essentially the same reasons used by P. Z. Myers to reject the very question of whether the Christian god exists as an invalid question – Jesus isn’t well enough defined for the question of his existence to be a meaningful question. Early Christian writings are just the nail in the coffin of “historical Jesus’s” existence.

  63. specialffrog says

    @nomdeplume: again with the “no evidence”. You can say it is bad evidence but your case is not helped by pretending it doesn’t exist.

    Mythicist arguments would be much shorter if they didn’t have to argue that mainstream historians give too much weight to this evidence.

    And for the third time, I am not defending this evidence or saying it is good.

  64. nomdeplume says

    @80 No, there is no evidence outside the bible. Nor is there any evidence for the disciples who supposedly wandered around with their leasder and who would have been a conspicuous bunch in a small town, nor is there any evidence for the events like “feeding the 5000” and the graves opening up, which again must have been pretty noticeable events had they occurred.

    And no PZ, the null hypothesis is that he didn’t exist – that there could have been such a person, that indeed there were similar persons, isn’t evidence for a particular person.

  65. wsierichs says

    So many have commented that I’ll throw in my one-cents worth (that’s about all my opinion is worth here).

    1) I’m an agnostic on a historical Jesus. It’s certainly possible there was a flesh-blood charismatic man leading a small cult that was the seed for Christianity. The official biography of Christianity is almost certainly fictional – it arguably existed in some proto-form before the 1st century – but it certainly could have started with a single group. My best guess it would have been something on the fringes of Judaism, mixing pagan and Jewish beliefs, which came out of one of the bitterly hostile factions to the ruling Jewish elite, both religious and governmental. Think of how the New Age beliefs of the 60s evolved into a mix of all kinds of fringe groups.

    2) Jesus is the Greek equivalent of Joshua, and there were quite a few Joshuas/Jesuses in Judea. Going from memory here but I think Josephus recounts 2 Jesuses who led anti-Roman groups/riothers and were executed, which might be the origin of the Jesus execution story. Around 100 BCE, the Hasmonean king crucified about a 100 Pharisees. Price says some early Christians reportedly believed Jesus lived about that time, so a leader who was executed might have left a very devout group of followers who built up a cult around him that became Christianity over the centuries.

    3) I think the best historical parallel is King Arthur. The earliest known references were written along after he supposedly lived and over time became wrapped in all kinds of stories. It’s possible there was a historical figure who led an anti-Anglo-Saxon, remnant-British-Romano resistance. Likewise, the only verifiable date for the Christian gospels is that toward the end of the 2nd century, bishops of what became the official Church (There were a lot of factions whose bishops eventually were thrown out of the official history) began accepting the four gospels (out of a dozen or so floating around) as the official ones. The names were assigned then, on no good basis and are probably wrong. Otherwise we don’t know who wrote them, when they were written, or how much they were edited, even rewritten.

    There certainly were edits and revisions. The last few verses of Mark were added to the original, whose original ending was lost or did not exist, the revision answering a puzzle. The authors of Luke and Matthew simply took Mark and revised that account; the author of Luke apparently had a gap in his version of Mark, which explains why he leaves out a section found in Matthew.

    4) For these and another reason, I consider the burden of proof to be on the historicists, The other reason is that the known biographies of “Jesus” contain a lot of mythical material and ruminations on supposed prophecies in Jewish scriptures. The Jewish “prophets” were not looking at a future involving Christianity. They were written for contemporaries, usually to address socio-economic issues (feed the poor, stop worshiping Asherah, worship god properly are he will rain fire on us).

    The virgin story obviously derives from pagan myths (OK, your heroes/gods were born of virgins, so was ours!) which is why someone took the mistranslation of a Jewish “prophecy” to provide scriptural support for the virgin birth, also the connection with Bethlehem. (Hebrew: “A young woman shall give birth [to a great leader]; Greek translation “A xxxxxx [;young woman or virgin] shall give birth etc.” Some scholars think the Bethelem statement was about a man, not a place, and that Christians understood it as referring to the great leader being born in Bethlehem, although there was disagreement about whether the mother got pregnant in Bethlehem or Nazareth, explaining the contradiction between Matthew and Luke.

    Other examples: The Lazarus story is simply a version of the Egyptian Osiris myth. The resurrection is another “your gods were resurrected, so was ours”; based on no actual knowledge of the supposed resurrection, which is why different rival Christian groups developed 6 different resurrection stories, each with contradictory details (the four official gospels, Acts and 1 Cor. 15).

    The fact that historicists don’t agree on what material actually represents the real actions, words and theology of Jesus is a problem so fundamental that it means we cannot know who/what he really was. There are about a half-dozen different ideas about what Jesus preached (the apocalypse; salvation; social criticism; “zen clown” as one suggests; etc).

    For these reasons alone I cannot accept any arguments that a historical, flesh-blood Jesus existed, or if he did, that we can tease his words/actions out of the later, obvious myth-making. The only evidence I would take at this point is the finding of actual, verifiably-contemporary material. I certainly would love for archaeologists to dig up a long-buried cellar or cave with a dozen amphorae written by Jesus of (where?) that allow us to finally separate the man from the myth. Until then, I’m with the historicists.

  66. tuatara says

    I think the question of the existence of an historical Jesus is very valid, if an historical account of Jesus can affect a realisation that he was not a demigod or god with miraculous powers but simply a human who was a product of his time and place. Finding an answer to this question helped wipe the remnants of my years at a christian school from me. I think it is the only human way of helping Christians to open their fucking eyes.
    That Jesus has been taken to absurd levels of supernatural acts and subsequent worship was a deliberate ploy by the writers. That much seems obvious.
    Perhaps he was born of a virgin (unmarried woman), the son of the holy spirit (the meaning of this being the David king – which as is made clear in the lineage of Jesus is what Joseph actually was). Jesus was an usurping, Helenist leaning friend of gentiles – hence given up for crucifixion by the Jewish high priest. But survived crucifixion due to the machinations of his allies.
    Christianity is a load of bullshit. I am sure most of us here can agree on that. But Jesus was made up? Na, I don’t buy it.
    Have a look at Jesus the Man, by Barbara Thiering. A good read for those who are interested. I know she isn’t an historian, but neither was William Smith a geologist. Not all non-scientists cannot do science.

  67. consciousness razor says

    Messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

    A tough guy from a long time ago who became an obscure king and died in battle? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

    Therefore, Beowulf was not a fictional character.

    This is palpably, unmistakably bullshit.

  68. mond says

    Messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

    It’s all moot anyway.
    Part of the reason some of us non-believers don’t want to give any ground in this area is that the ‘mundane…default position’ in the hands of believers becomes historical evidence for the Jesus Christ, son of God, with whom they have a personal relationship et al.
    There is obviously real historical academia that can be done in this sphere but it becomes a bait and switch used by many Christians once it leaves that academic sphere.

  69. Rob Grigjanis says

    mond @85:

    Part of the reason some of us non-believers don’t want to give any ground in this area…

    You seem to be saying that mythicism is (at least partly) ideologically grounded. I can believe that.

  70. John Morales says

    Rob, I read mond as saying it’s anti-ideological, actually — the belief (ideology) is on the part of the believers, the not acquiescing to it is a tactic on the part of the non-believers.

    (I do like the irony of your last sentence, though)

    The the bait-and-switch is the conflation of a historical figure (that is, one who actually existed) with the historicity of the claims about the figure (that is, one who actually did what they were said to have done.

  71. says

    The the bait-and-switch is the conflation of a historical figure (that is, one who actually existed) with the historicity of the claims about the figure (that is, one who actually did what they were said to have done.

    Exactly. Jesus (Yeshua, of whom there several) might as well be mythical.

  72. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @87: Not wanting to give ground is an ideological expression. And there’s no irony in the last sentence. Some antitheists can be every bit as dogmatic as theists. If you haven’t seen that in these pages, you haven’t been paying attention.

  73. says

    That’s fair.

    Indeed it is — I see no sign that you have engaged with Carrier’s arguments. ad hominem criticisms, regardless of how legitimate, are still fallacious.

  74. says

    Some antitheists can be every bit as dogmaticas theists. If you haven’t seen that in these pages, you haven’t been paying attention.

    FTFY

  75. consciousness razor says

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of griping at length about people who say there’s almost no factual basis for any of it because it’s myth, while insisting that your own claim (purportedly to the contrary) crucially depends on there being almost nothing factual that one can say about it.

    But yeah, if there weren’t an ideological component to it, I don’t think it’s likely that we would be having this conversation. Not that it doesn’t matter what’s history and what’s not, certainly not. But if that were the main point for most who dive into it, we could be having a genuine and perhaps even productive dialogue about that as it pertains to so many other historical topics. This one barely ever gets started on that project, because people tend to put a lot of other stuff first, for better or (usually) worse.

  76. Rob Grigjanis says

    Jim Balter @91: IIRC, Carrier ended up assigning, via “Bayesian”* arguments, a 30% probability to the existence of a historical Jesus. Hardly a firm position.

    *The quotes arise from reading mathematicians who question his reasoning. His mathematics appears to be as abominable as his physics.

  77. consciousness razor says

    Hardly a firm position.

    Well, if you bet all the time with a 30% chance of winning, you’re of course losing more than winning. I think that in practice (assuming you know what you’re doing) you’d be pretty firm about adopting that approach, even if it were closer to 51/49 and not 70/30.

    At the same time, if they had only thought there was a (roughly) 70% chance that they actually detected a Higgs boson, it wouldn’t have been treated as a “firm” discovery in particle physics. Not really the same thing.

    So, is this one of those cases where we can be (and maybe need to be) 99.99999% sure of something before believing it, or is it more like one where we don’t have that kind of data even if we wanted it and/or don’t have any particular need for it in actual practice?

    I mean, if you thought your life depended on being extremely confident that you made the right bet, if you bought into Pascal’s wager let’s say, then maybe you would say it’s more like the former. Most seem to think this one’s not like that, however, and many here have said it doesn’t really matter very much to them personally at all.

  78. Reginald Selkirk says

    @95: Well, if you bet all the time with a 30% chance of winning, you’re of course losing more than winning.

    Ooh, that depends on how much you win when you win, not just how often you win.

  79. says

    Carrier ended up assigning, via “Bayesian”* arguments, a 30% probability to the existence of a historical Jesus. Hardly a firm position.

    I’m aware of that. I’m also aware that a weaker claim is harder to defeat.

    The quotes arise from reading mathematicians who question his reasoning. His mathematics appears to be as abominable as his physics.

    A vague charge.

  80. says

    P.S. What the heck does #94 have to do with what I wrote previously? All I said was that PZ hasn’t engaged with Carrier’s arguments, only criticized him personally.

  81. Reginald Selkirk says

    Inspired by this discussion, I just did a little Wiki reading on John the Baptist. His existence, imprisonment and death seem well enough documented by Josephus, with the only other sources mentioned being assorted books of the New Testament. Naturally I am distrustful of the latter.
    It seems that JtB was a well enough known personality of the time, so the possibility that the Jesusites hijacked his memory to serve their own purposes needs to be considered. Thus, while it seems likely enough that there was at least one obscure Jewish preacher names Yeshua(Jesus in Greek) wandering about Palestine, I cannot accept the specific claim of His baptism by John the Baptist an an unquestioned commonplace, and certainly not as a “fact” (@18,19, usw.)
    Beyond the mention in Josephus, the bulk of the Wikipedia article on JtB seems corrupted by Christian interpretation, to the point that in the best Christian tradition, two Christian churches, one mosque and one museum claim to be the current resting place of his head.
    There is a small and obscure religion known as Mandaeism which claims JtB as their primary prophet. The scholarship cited seems a bit uncertain as to whether the sect actually dates all the way back to the relevant time frame though.

  82. specialffrog says

    One of the issues mythicist historians have is that they seem unable to convince their peers. And while it there is some plausibility to the claim that most historians in this area are Christians and unable to overcome their own biases it is a bit thin. And it makes another argument that warrants positive proof or it sounds like it is just as hominem.

  83. consciousness razor says

    Ooh, that depends on how much you win when you win, not just how often you win.

    Sure. I just wasn’t assuming anything complicated. And technically, if we’re just counting wins and losses, as I said, that’s of course not a measure of an amount (of money, notoriety, self-esteem, or whatever it may be) which is won or lost each time a win or a loss occurs anyway.

    That said, the point is just that in typical everyday cases, if you don’t want to lose, then 70% is usually nothing to sneeze at and is more than enough for it to be a good strategy or a good bet. The idea that one wouldn’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) be reasonably firm about something like that seems to be coming from a completely different mindset, which is maybe not so everyday, feet on the ground, rough and ready, work with what you’ve got, etc.

  84. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PZ:

    Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

    Why is “Jesus is like Joseph Smith of Mormonism” the default position instead of “Jesus is like Moroni, the angel that Joseph Smith talked to”? Rather, if we’re arguing based on analogy, then the default position seems like it should be “Moroni, angel, talked to the normal human dude Joseph Smith who started the religion” = “Jesus, angel-like creature, not just a human, who talked to the normal human dude Paul who started the religion” (with some simplification). We actually have good evidence that Joseph Smith created the angel Moroni wholecloth. Surely Paul and others could have created the angel-like Jesus wholecloth as well. I fail to see how this is not a mundane, pedestrian claim.

    Moreover, I don’t see anyone raise the arguments that persuaded me. Specifically, there are some parts of the Bible that make far more sense on Carrier’s mythicism compared to nomimal historicity. These little bits are very persuasive for me. For example, the lines how “the rulers of this age” who killed Jesus would not have killed Jesus if they really knew the consequences of doing so, e.g. immortal life after death for humans. It makes no sense when reading that line interpreting the “rulers of this age” as Romans, but it makes perfect sense to interpret it as “demons”. If the Romans really knew that killing Jesus would bring about immortal life after death, then of course they would kill Jesus. But the demons wouldn’t.

    I am far from certain, but I lean towards specifically Carrier’s minimal mythicism.

  85. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PZ

    Much of the evidence for Jesus isn’t going to be eyewitness accounts, because very few people knew of him when he was alive. It’s going to be inferential, based on second- and third-hand stories. Complaining that you don’t have direct, personal accounts of an obscure person in history is just like complaining that we don’t have time-lapse video recordings of every step in the evolution of birds from Mesozoic dinosaurs! It’s true, we don’t, but evolution is still a reasonable hypothesis.

    We do not have any authentic second and third hand stories. Paul very clearly says that everything he reports comes directly from his own personal hallucinations and not from any secondary eye-witnesses. The Gospels are all clearly constructed, and are so thoroughly fake and created for rhetorical purposes that no evidence can be drawn from them either way. And then we have the authentic extrabiblical evidence, which is practically none. All extrabiblical evidence is either clearly made up, interpolated, or simply reporting earlier Christian traditions.

    You are simply mischaracterizing the evidence that we have. Or you’re giving the Gospels way more evidentiary value than what you should.

  86. Ed Seedhouse says

    @PZ: “Messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.”

    The bible is not a single book, it is a compilation of many books. Textural analysis by mainstream historians seems to indicate that there are at least three sources for Yeshua being an actual person, namely (1) the synoptic gospels, (2) the gospel of John, and (3) the letters of Paul (Saul). These show every sign of being from separate traditions. The Gospels were written soon enough so that the writers could have known people who knew Yeshua. Paul actually says he knew Peter and the brother of Christ.That’s pretty good evidence for those ancient times.

    As PZ says there would be nothing unusual or surprising if the gospels and letters were about an actual person. So I agree with him that this guy was probably just that. Moreover I don’t see how you could prove he didn’t exist. The myths about him are of course just that, mythical.

    The same scholars who agree that Yeshua was probably an actual living person seem to generally agree that Moses and all the biblical patriarchs before him are mythical.

    Historians have developed methods for deciding these questions, and I don’t know if any of the writers here are actual historians, let alone ones specializing in the biblical writings. I am certainly not one, so I will defer to their judgements.

  87. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PS:
    Also, consider what second and third hand stories would look like. They would randomly cite many, many claims about the person, many important, but many unimportant. They would talk about his life. Except for the vague 3-4 verses that we argue about, Paul doesn’t do that about Jesus. The point is that it’s a mischaracterization and complete misunderstanding of Paul to say that Paul is doing that. If Paul were reporting second and third hand stories about Jesus, he would be dropping many interesting and many utterly irrelevant details about Jesus’s life on Earth, but that’s not what Paul does. For the sake of argument, even if I grant those 3-4 contested verses, it does not change the genre of Paul’s letters. It does not change Paul into reporting second and third hand stories. Again, Paul goes out of his way to clearly state that this is not what he is doing, and that everything he says is based on personal revelation (hallucination) and is not based on the testimony of others.

  88. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Paul actually says he knew Peter and the brother of Christ.That’s pretty good evidence for those ancient times.

    I assume you know the counterargument, which is that baptized members of the church are all called “brothers of Christ”, and it’s possible that Paul used that phrase “brother of Christ” to avoid confusion between some other person with the same name.

  89. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    As PZ says there would be nothing unusual or surprising if the gospels and letters were about an actual person. So I agree with him that this guy was probably just that. Moreover I don’t see how you could prove he didn’t exist. The myths about him are of course just that, mythical.

    Trivial. Dig up some new scrolls from the same authors that show that they were joking around, or earlier drafts with wildly different content.

    Barring discovery of new evidence, what Carrier aims to do is argue that the current set of facts is better explained by mythicism than nominal historicity, and I think he succeeds. There are some facts that don’t make sense on nominal historicity, but which do make sense on Carrier’s minimal mythicism.

  90. Ed Seedhouse says

    @111: “What “Paul said” ain’t evidence.”

    You saying it ain’t evidence ain’t evidence that it ain’t evidence.

  91. nomdeplume says

    @113 What the bible said Paul said is even less evidence. What someone decided the bible should say Paul said is no evidence of anything.

    The anti-mythicists here seem to believe that there must be a grain of truth in the bible, a kernel of facts, no smoke without fire. What if there isn’t? What evidence do you have that there is?

  92. consciousness razor says

    I fail to see how this is not a mundane, pedestrian claim.

    Of course the argument’s downright silly, but I think PZ means that a Jewish preacher in ancient Judea is not surprising, extraordinary, spectacular, etc. They’re a dime a dozen, so to speak. Supernatural beings are not, or so we can presumably agree. From there, everything follows (except it doesn’t, of course).

    It’s not like it’s false that there were such people, many of them even, but it is irrelevant. The relevant claim to make is obviously not that in history there has been at least one person of a Jewish persuasion (named Josh, etc.) who at least once preached something or other to somebody else who shall remain anonymous. That would of course be easy to support or defend, if that were all this was about. (It seems like you need some real contempt for your interlocutors to act as if they needed to hear something as inane as this. But whatever.)

    The trouble is that, instead, we’re supposed to be talking about the actual (not merely possible) existence of a single, specific person. This is supposed to be a person whose real and very much non-speculative life was in fact partly documented, in the real world we all know and love, with some appreciable accuracy, in a smattering of ancient religious texts riddled with fabrications, allegorical tales and all sorts of other fictions.

    Note that this is not a vague collection of properties that you might be able to attribute to some arbitrary number of distinct individuals, or what you may think is not impossible or not too unlikely about a hypothetical (and not actual) person that it is possible for you to imagine.

    If PZ had just wanted to suggest that nothing as far as he knows makes this hypothetical person’s existence impossible or overwhelmingly improbable, then the good news is that it’s saying basically nothing of any interest to anybody, and they probably won’t ever demonstrate that he’s wrong about that, because that simply wasn’t the issue.

  93. Pierce R. Butler says

    After chewing on this for years chezDr. Sarah, I have to fight back the urge to emit rejoinders to about half the comments here, thereby staying up half the night when I’d rather not, but I just can’t let jacksprocket’s # 38 go by.

    Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version may be the worst “secular history” of the Bible I’ve ever read, unless it’s the most straight-faced parody of that subgenre. For two things, Fox claims that the Book of Esther is the most historically reliable part of the Old Testament (no, not a single mention of the parallel Babylonian Marduk ‘n’ Ishtar lore long predating the B of E); and that the Gospel of John (y’know, the non-Synoptic one) is the same for the New Testament. [insert eyeball-roll emoji here]

    Please find better sources and start over.

  94. StevoR says

    @ birgerjohansson (#66, 50), #65 &62 chigau (違う) & #58. Reginald Selkirk : Mea culpa. Yeah, I was pretty tired, I had drunk a few beers watching the Strikers T20 game and yes, totally missed the point of the original post there, last night. My apologies.

  95. Silentbob says

    I must say I’m taken aback by the fanaticism of mythicists in this thread. People, there are two hypotheses for the advent of Christianity:

    1) A preacher call Jesus (or Yeshu or whatever) preached around the 30s of the first century that the kingdom of God was at hand, his followers thought he was the Messiah, but he was executed by the Romans when Pontius Pilate was prefect. To rationalise his death, his followers invented the idea he was the sacrificial lamb of God, and later that he was God incarnate.

    2) In early-to-mid first century, a new religion was invented out of whole cloth based on a completely fictional, mythical figure, although within a couple of decades, followers of this religion were claiming the new god walked the Earth as a man and interacted with historical figures in recent history (within the lifespan of people still living).

    All PZ is pointing out is that the consensus of historians, based on multiple lines of reasoning, is that the former is more likely to be true.

    That’s it.

    And in response this thread is full of ridiculous claims that PZ might as well believe in angels or Xenu. Or alternatively, that PZ is insulting everyone’s intelligence by simply saying it’s possible someone called Yeshu existed in first century Palestine. Get a grip people.

    Atheism does not demand you either have conclusive proof of a thing or it cannot exist. You’re allowed to say, on completely rational grounds, I think 60:40, or 70:30, one hypothesis is more like to be true than the other.

    And what PZ says is true: it’s very much a fringe position within the field that hypothesis two is correct, and there do seem to be an alarming number of cranks who are devotees.

  96. John Morales says

    Silentbob:

    … one hypothesis is more like to be true than the other …

    Obviously, since the event has actually already happened, either one or the other must be true (obs, ignoring the issue of the excluded middle here, and interpretation aside).

    There is no likelihood about the event itself; the likelihood to which you refer is about whether the inferences based on the available evidence match reality.

    (Many people don’t seem to get that)

  97. StevoR says

    What we need here is a time machine – specifically one capable of going back in time and directly observing & recording the events that led to Christinity arising in our own timeline, (As opposed to possible alternative universes.)

    In the absence of that and finding some tangible concrete evidence showing whether the Jesus of the NT definitely existed one way or the other eg. what #82. wsierichs suggested at the end of his comment or suchlike; I personally think there’s justinsufficient and inadequate evidence to draw any firm conclusions from.

  98. Steve Watson says

    I pre-date almost all of this: I came to the tentative conclusion the RCC was the husk of a mystery cult as a precocious child who had spent a lot of his time with his head buried in some volume of the ‘Britannica’ and then had to sit thru’ catechism classes. I wasn’t devoted to the Virgin Mary; I was praying to an avatar of The Goddess.

    That made far more sense to me in the Goddess’ near ubiquity than the miniscule footprint of Jehovah and Son.

    Later, i’d be thirteen or fourteen I think, I came across an author who pointed out Paul came first to papyrus a looong time before the rest of the Canonical New Testament was written and his Christ Jesus had almost the highest Christology possible: his Christ Jesus was already an ascended deity and was only known to Paul thru’ visions and scripture mining.

    Paul attests to a lot of his time squabbling with his predecessors as to whether their fellows should be circumcised and keep the Torah or not. None of these other folk chopped Paul of at the knees telling him they were Jesus’ besties and his brother and had knocked about Palestine for a year or three with him; or that they had heard none of Paul’s drivel from the man himself; but quite the opposite. No, they too were arguing from visions and scripture mining. They had no riposte of a Roman execution of a man against the claim of a deity killed in ignorance by “demons”. They were not arguing a man against the Angel of the Lord; but about what you should or should not do or believe to be saved.

    This is all from the first four Pauline Epistles; the ones with the widest agreement to be genuine. Martin Luther spoke and wrote of ‘Sola Scriptura’. Well, all of the above is soley from “Scripture” set against Paul being our earliest witness by a long way. Before, and not after, at least one and more likely three, near-genocidal Roman – Jewish wars.

    Whoever wrote the anonymous Canonical Gospels had damn-near no chance of being contradicted.

    I don’t think I need go further. Crack open a New Testament and you can read it for yourself. All this was thirty or more years before I came across the likes of Acharya S. or read any Doherty; Carrier; or Bob Price. Just someone asking me to keep an open mind and read the New Testament in the order the consensus thinks it was written.

    What is on the written page doesn’t require any pretzel twisting of what is there; or the introduction of “facts” or “argument” that aren’t either.

    I can keep Carrier the Historian and Price the Bible Scholar seperate from whatever either are or are not as people. Play the ball; not the man was what I was brought up and taught to do. That you, P.Z., might be as daft or as execrable a person to me as Carrier or Price might be to you wouldn’t stop me recommending you as a go-to-guy on octopuses and other molluscs. That you are kind to dogs or kick cats shouldn’t have any bearing on that expertise.

    So far; same old. You live down to low expectations. You should try and kick the habit: so much of your time and potential is taken up with acrimony. You are better than that.

  99. cheerfulcharlie says

    An early Christian Papias claimed to know of two early Christian manuscripts. Mark’s note from hearing Peter speak in Rome, not an organized history, and a manuscript from Matthew, a collection of sayings of Jesus by Apostle Matthew written in Amaric. Neither survive. The brother of Jesus James would have known what actually happened, but left no writings. After his death, the remaining followers left Jerusalem and were known as the Ebionites. These left no manuscripts. But would most certainly would have known the facts. Allthis to me seems to indicate a real Jesus, who was for some reason or the other was executed. And a few seemed to think he would be resurrected and bring in the Kingdom of God as prophecied by Iasaih 60 – 65. But real facts disappeared 1900 years ago. Obviously, Papias’s writings had no real knowledge to impart otherwise Eusebius would have noted that, knowing his writings. The Ebionites appear to have been illiterate. And nobody cared what they thought. It was not miraculous enough. The gospels and Acts are all FOAFtales at best. This is all we can really know about any of this aside from Paul’s letters. Which are theological epistles with little history. Paul was strangely uncurious about the early history of Jesus.

  100. Kagehi says

    @53 PZ

    Lets be clear here – We have a few mentions of the name, and I mean few, one of which is likely a forgery, added by later authors, a few attestations by “much” later believers that they personally think its all true, and only 3 actual accounts. These accounts consist of 1) a guy that might have plausibly met the man, and does little more than say he did some things, and then died on a cross, but not much else, 2) someone who may have been a contemporary to the first author, seems to have copied most of his account from the prior person, added extra stuff to the account, and mentions “other witnesses”, but can’t point to any of these accounts – he just claims some people where witnesses (this is.. not worth much), and 3) someone that “had a vision”, claims that hundreds of people witnessed something, lists none of them, couldn’t have know any of the people involved at all, also seems to have copied most of the account from prior authors, but added yet more silliness to it, to make it even more spectacular.

    So… What witnesses? What accounts? Where is the evidence any of these people actually saw anything, and where not like Trump’s “So, many people attended my rally. It was a bigger rally than any rally before. I mean, it was huge.”?

    Even many apologists admit there are gaping holes in their claims about witnesses – though, being “true believers”, and apologists, they wave away the problem, and jump on silly arguments like ad populum, or, “It would have been embarrassing somehow for women, who in Jewish tradition where those that dealt with the dead, to have been the ones finding the empty tomb, therefor, since I have no clue that it was the Jewish tradition (or just keep ignoring this), I have to insist that Christians would have been too embarrassed to have them find the body missing for it to not be real!” This is literally one of their arguments.

    Lets be clear, almost all attestation from later authors simply attest to the Bible accounts being true, or claim that the few we already do know about where true, or make no mention of “who” any witnesses actually where, or worse, they claim that “visions”, by various people constitute “witnesses”. They don’t add any “new” sources. They seem to be the equivalent of someone from 2134 claiming that they knew of a real account of someone that actually witnessed the final fight against Valdamort (but refused to admit the existence of “movies”).

    I am ambivalent about whether some guy existed with the name, and like something out of Life of Brian, he maybe was a bit less crazy that all the other would be messiahs running around, and he might “possibly” have pissed off the Romans, and got put on a cross for it. This isn’t interesting. That a cult formed from it is a bit more interesting, though only because some of those cult members in modern times are rabid loons, and cause endless problems. Otherwise… no one would care. But, since the real, and professed power of these loons is predicated on their work of fiction being accurate, and portraying real events, magic spells, and super powers (never mind the insane contradictions, like literally not one of them being able to turn water into anything other than piss, despite one of the promises of their wizard being that, “belief in me will allow you to perform similar feats, and even greater!”), having it be even 90% made up “should be” a serious problem for such claims, and actually matters. If its “all” made up…

    But, honestly, the Jesus thing is just the a key stone of the whole silly mess – the rest of it is all just as big of a batch of silly, going back to the first time the mono-theists stole something from some other cult, and reworded it to claims their “one true god” did it, instead of what ever other god, or magic spirit, it was originally attributed to. They all had a whole line of Joseph Smiths, its just that thousands of years ago they didn’t need to invent “reformed Egyptian”, and “magic gold tablets”, to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

  101. StevoR says

    @ ^ 122. cheerfulcharlie : What’s your source for all that please? Interesting.

    Again, for me the answer is we just don’t know because the evidence isn’t good enough to deterine the reality here. I’m happy to keep an open mind and look at all sides of this although, personally, as a non-Christian it doesn’t bother me either way and is merely a very moot academic, historical exercise.

  102. birgerjohansson says

    A lot of mythcical persons were built upon legends of real people, King Arthur might have started off as a local leader fighting the anglo-saxons after which his story grew bigger with each telling.
    “King” David may have been an early tribal leader that later was attributed with building a big kingdom (the oldest parts of Jerusalem are younger than the time he is supposed to have reigned).
    None of this should be a surprise.
    The only surprising parts would be if the oral tradition that built a myth turned out to be essentially correct!

  103. Reginald Selkirk says

    @118: And in response this thread is full of ridiculous claims that PZ might as well believe in angels or Xenu.

    Who brought Moroni and Xenu into the conversation? PZ did in the OP:

    That sounds likely to me, a non-historian. It also fits with the anthropology of religious cults, which have arisen many times before and since. Look at Mormonism, for instance: would it make sense to argue that their prophet, Joseph Smith, didn’t exist, and was an invention by Brigham Young and the Mormon Elders? Was Scientology handed down directly by an alien named Xenu, or did it involve one guy, L. Ron Hubbard, making up a story? Was Lutheranism a conspiracy by a cabal of anti-Catholic fanatics, or did Martin Luther actually exist?

    As pointed out repeatedly, these analogies are very poorly constructed, and when properly considered, work against PZ’s argument.

  104. Reginald Selkirk says

    @107: Textural analysis by mainstream historians seems to indicate that there are at least three sources for Yeshua being an actual person, namely (1) the synoptic gospels, (2) the gospel of John, and (3) the letters of Paul (Saul).

    How inconvenient that at least one of the three is a total fraud.
    Everyone’s Favorite Gospel Is a Forgery

    Since the 1960s many scholars have argued that ‘John’ (it might have been a different disciple because the text doesn’t give a name) founded his own community and wrote the Gospel. Academics, who have recognized that the Johannine letters are thematically similar but stylistically distinct from the Gospel, don’t think that they were written by the author of the fourth Gospel but that they were nevertheless the product of the same “Johannine Community.” The picture painted here is one in which a community of followers of Jesus, led and founded by someone who knew Jesus personally, produced all of these texts. There are numerous academic books and articles out there that try to chart the history of this community, its literary output, its social structure, location, and origins.
    A provocative and well-argued article published this week in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament threatens to turn this argument on its head. Hugo Mendez, an assistant professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, argues that the so-called “Johannine community” never existed and that the Johannine literature are forgeries that claim to be written by a disciple even though they were not.

  105. Reginald Selkirk says

    @77: Messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century? Mundane, pedestrian claim that ought to be the default position.

    OK then. The angel Moroni was a messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century.
    Xenu was a messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century.
    Perhaps King Arthur was as well.
    You have made your defaults clear.
    As for Jesus H. Christ; supposing he was a messianic Jewish preacher in Judea in the first century – we are asked to believe that He was simultaneously so obscure that there is no credible evidence for His existence outside of religious documents written decades later by true believers; leading to the current dispute, and that he was so popular that the government had him executed as a threat to their power. This makes it difficult for me to include “crucified by the Romans” as an uncontested “minimal fact” (@18, @19).

  106. Ed Seedhouse says

    Look, if you want to reject the consensus view of actual historians with actual degrees in the subject, including many non christian historians and biblical scholars, that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that “Jesus” was probably an actual historical character, a charismatic (and possibly slightly crazy) itinerant preacher in early Palestine, one of many such people, then you are free to do so.

    It’s not an important matter, but strangely here we are many posts later and those who reject the scholarly consensus just can’t seem to shut up about it. I simply don’t understand why accepting the scholarly consensus on the matter offends people so much.

    But, since I am the once complaining that other people won’t shut up about it, I guess it’s up to me to set an example and shut up myself. So I will do so.

  107. StevoR says

    @125. birgerjohansson : “The only surprising parts would be if the oral tradition that built a myth turned out to be essentially correct!”

    Troy and the Trojan war? Kinda?

    Until the late 19th century, scholars regarded the Trojan War as entirely legendary. However, starting in 1871, Heinrich Schliemann and Frank Calvert excavated the site of the classical era city, under whose ruins they found the remains of numerous earlier settlements. Several of these layers resemble literary depictions of Troy, leading some scholars to conclude that there is a kernel of truth to the legends. Subsequent excavations by others have added to the modern understanding of the site, though the exact relationship between myth and reality remains unclear.

    Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy

  108. Reginald Selkirk says

    @129: It’s not an important matter, but strangely here we are many posts later and those who reject the scholarly consensus just can’t seem to shut up about it…

    If you look at the content of my comments, I have never said anything resembling, “mythicism is true.” My role has been to point out the bad arguments made for the historicist side, and there have been quite a few. Starting with PZ’s original post, which consisted of ad hominem, guilt by association, and some incredibly self-defeating analogies. Add to this claims that writings a full generation later constitute contemporary evidence. When the people making bad historicist arguments shut up, then I will stop correcting them.

  109. Rob Grigjanis says

    Ed Seedhouse @129:

    I simply don’t understand why accepting the scholarly consensus on the matter offends people so much.

    Some people (Richard Carrier is a perfect example) simply think they have a better understanding than the experts.

  110. robro says

    Ed Seedhouse @ #129 — I’m not offended that some scholarly experts have a different opinion than other scholarly experts. There’s plenty of room for different opinions. Everybody’s got one. I just disagree with some and agree with others.

    Rob Grigjanis @ #132 — “The experts”? There are many experts in this area of study with a range of opinions. Who gives a flip about Carrier? Some of those who question Biblical historicity have a much better basis for their position than Carrier.

  111. Rob Grigjanis says

    robro @133:

    There are many experts in this area of study with a range of opinions.

    Sure, and the vast majority accept historicity. There are also climate ‘experts’ who deny anthropogenic climate change.

    Who gives a flip about Carrier?

    Some people in this thread.

  112. Deepak Shetty says

    Its mildly amusing how mythicists and their fans provide no evidence for their claims , content instead in pointing out how weak the evidence is for a historical Jesus using a mostly legal standard to evaluate evidence.

  113. vucodlak says

    @ wsierichs, #82

    The Lazarus story is simply a version of the Egyptian Osiris myth.

    That’s one hell of stretch. The very short version of Osiris’ story is:

    Osiris was born to be the heir to the kingship of the gods. He and his sister Isis fell in love in the womb, and were married. Their brother Set, whose wife was their sister Nephthys, also loved Isis, and envied Osiris’ position as heir apparent. So he tricked Osiris, and drowned him in the Nile.

    Isis began to search for Osiris’ body, intent on bringing him back from the dead. Set, knowing that if anyone could find a way to raise Osiris it was Isis, Great of Magic, so he tore Osiris into 14 pieces and scattered him throughout the land.

    Isis was not deterred. She traveled the world in human guise, seeking and finding 13 of the 14 pieces of the slain God. However, for all her magic, she didn’t have the power to raise the dead. Only Re, King of the Gods, had that power. Isis entreated him to raise Osiris but, jealous of his heir and determined to cling to power, Re refused.

    Isis came up with a plan. Re was an old man by this time, and he drooled as he carried the sun across the sky each day. Isis gathered up some of the mud from this, fashioned it into a serpent, and set it into Re’s path. The next day, it struck Re, and he fell.

    Re cried out to all the gods and spirits to save him. One by one they came to him, and one by one they failed to heal him. At last, Isis came to him and said something to the effect of ‘I can heal you, but I must know your true, secret name in order to do it.’ Of course, to know Re’s true name was to hold all his power. She healed Re, then returned to her beloved’s side.

    Isis bound the pieces of Osiris’ body together linen, except for his phallus, which had been swallowed by a crocodile. Isis replaced it with one made of gold. Then she transformed into a hawk and, with Osiris, conceived* their son Horus. Afterward, she raised Osiris from the dead with the Name of Power, and he became the ruler of the Land of the Dead.

    Now, compare that to the story of Lazarus. Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, and doesn’t go to see him right away. Lazarus dies. Jesus cries. Then Jesus raises him from the dead, after Lazarus had laid in the tomb for four days, and Jesus says to change his clothes. It’s a relatively minor story, checking off another box on the miracle checklist. We’re told that more people believe in and follow Jesus afterward, as with most of the other miracles in the Gospels.

    I left out a great deal in my summary of the Osiris myth. It’s a hugely important story in Ancient Egyptian religion (to say nothing of its importance to modern worshippers of the Ennead) and quite a few fragments of the story survive. There’s precious little similarity between the stories to start with, but including what I left out only makes the lack of commonality even more obvious. I suppose you could include the fact that Isis also wept as a similarity, but even there the importance of Isis’ weeping and Jesus’ weeping are pretty much opposites.

    When Jesus weeps, it’s a sign that he is a human as well as divine. He cries just like a human would, and that’s it. When Isis weeps, her mourning cries are so terrible that people are struck dead on hearing them, and her tears become the yearly inundation on which Ancient Egyptian agriculture depended. Her tears are a sign that, even in human form, she is divine.

    So yeah, big stretch.

    *I find the whole “virgin birth” thing with regard to this myth is something of a stretch, too. That Osiris was dead when Isis conceived Horus with him does not mean that he wasn’t a participant, particularly since Isis always intended to restore him to life, and did so later.

  114. Reginald Selkirk says

    @135: Its mildly amusing how mythicists and their fans provide no evidence for their claims , content instead in pointing out how weak the evidence is for a historical Jesus using a mostly legal standard to evaluate evidence.

    Yes, the weakness of the evidence for historicity is my main point, along with the bad arguments being advanced in lieu of evidence. Glad you can find amusement there.
    Yes, the evidence for historicity is incredibly weak by legal standards. By what standards is it not weak?

  115. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    the fanaticism of mythicists in this thread

    I don’t see fanaticism.

    In early-to-mid first century, a new religion was invented out of whole cloth based on a completely fictional, mythical figure, although within a couple of decades, followers of this religion were claiming the new god walked the Earth as a man and interacted with historical figures in recent history (within the lifespan of people still living).

    What? No. At earliest, the gospels were written when basically all of the eye-witnesses of a historical Jesus would have been dead.

    those who reject the scholarly consensus just can’t seem to shut up about it

    This thread is about the topic. What do you expect? “Talking about it” is not the same thing as “can’t seem to shut up about it”. To take a phrase, Jesus. Take a chill pill.

  116. says

    I’m late to the party commenting here, but since it seems a few other people are still posting, here’s my 2¢.

    The problem with mythicism isn’t just that they’re saying it’s questionable whether or not Jesus existed. They’re saying the mythical origin is a more likely scenario than a real person serving as the inspiration for the stories. I mean, it’s not like a story like Robin Hood or King Arthur that’s entirely lost to legend. We can trace it back to copies of letters from a guy who claims to have met Jesus’s brother, and who claims to have entered the group just a few years after Jesus died. That’s pinpointed a lot more precisely and concretely than other vague legends.

    There’s also the extraordinary claims/extraordinary evidence standard. To say that a cult was started by the guy the cult members claim started it is not a particularly extraordinary claim. The miracles and all the son of God stuff? Sure. But a guy starting a cult in his name? Those are a dime a dozen.

    The mythicists also seem to use some strained arguments. For example, in response to Galatians 1:19, they’ll insist it’s a metaphorical brother which doesn’t seem to fit the context (it’s almost like saying “but I did not see any other apostle except James the [apostle]”) . And in response to Paul’s multiple mentions of Jesus as a man or being physically executed (Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, Galatians 3:16, Romans 9:5, 1 Corinthians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5), they’ll insist that practically every mainstream translation of the Bible has mistranslated those passages, and Paul never was referring to an actual man.

    Anyway, I’ll just point back to Silentbob’s comment #118, and agree that the historical Jesus inspiration seems like a more parsimonious explanation than the mythicist explanation.

  117. cheerfulcharlie says

    @SteveR

    A few mantions about Papias have come down to us. Mainly from Eusebius in his Ecclesiasical History. Eusebius did not hold Papias in high esteem.

    Josephus mentions James, brother of Jesus. The exact history of the Ebionites is complex and not very exact. The word Ebionite can be found in Tertullian, Origen, Irenus and others.
    See wikipedia, Ebionites for details. They seem to have been a Jewish sect that accounted Jesus as a prophet, not the son of God. Later Ebionite sects seem to have been accounted as heretics by Christians and Jews alike.

  118. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    1 Corinthians 2:8

    That’s actually one of the best pieces of evidence for mythicism. How are you citing that in favor of historicity? It makes no sense on historicity. Taken plainly on historicity, it says that if the Romans understood that killing Jesus would grant them eternal life after death, then they would not have killed Jesus. That makes no sense. Surely the Romans, just like anyone else, would have cooperated with Jesus’s plan to kill himself to grant humans eternal life after death. By contrast, taken on Carrier’s minimal mythicism, “rulers of this age” is referring to demons who killed Jesus in outer space (heavens).

  119. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    cheerfulcharlie
    Both Josephus passages that mention Jesus are pretty clear interpolations. The Testimonium Flavianum especially so.

  120. says

    I was citing 1 Corinthians 2:8 in contrast to the mythicists who insist Jesus was killed in a mythical realm instead of being actually crucified.

    6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are being destroyed. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, a hidden mystery, which God decreed before the ages for our glory 8 and which none of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    Seems to me like Paul’s saying that if “rulers of this age” understood how important Jesus’s message was, they wouldn’t have crucified him. But I’m sure you’re going to give me some creative alternative interpretation, and how the “rulers of this age” aren’t actual people in leadership positions.

  121. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Why can’t crucifixion happen in heaven or hell?

    Seems to me like Paul’s saying that if “rulers of this age” understood how important Jesus’s message was, they wouldn’t have crucified him.

    Yes. It’s absurd to think that if the Romans really understood the importance of Jesus’s message, then they would not have killed him. If they really understood the importance of Jesus’s message, they would be first in line to kill him. Romans, just like any other human, would have everything to gain from killing Jesus and everything to lose if Jesus’s plan was thwarted. Saying that this passage talks specifically about Roman authorities makes absolutely zero sense.

  122. Dr Sarah says

    @GerrardofTitanServer, #143:

    ‘Both Josephus passages that mention Jesus are pretty clear interpolations.’

    That, I’m afraid, is a ‘tell me you know hardly anything about the subject without telling me you know hardly anything about the subject’.

    Parts of the Testimonium Flavium are indeed clear interpolations. The rest of the TF might or might not be an interpolation; there’s enough doubt about it that it’s not helpful to the historicist cause, but, since on analysis of the passage/the available manuscripts most scholars come down on the side of partial authenticity, it’s hardly accurate to describe it as a ‘pretty clear interpolation’. The comment about James is not thought, except by the occasional mythicist coming up with massively convoluted explanations, to be an interpolation.

  123. says

    I must say I’m taken aback by the fanaticism of mythicists in this thread.

    I will simply say that silentbob’s profound stupidity and intellectual dishonesty in opposition to mythicism is not alone an argument for mythicism.

  124. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Parts of the Testimonium Flavium are indeed clear interpolations. The rest of the TF might or might not be an interpolation;

    Apart from the strong textual arguments, the ending of the passage just previous to TF and the beginning of the passage just after TF fit well together as though TF was not originally there. The next passage begins with a reference to “another outrage”, which is implicitly referencing the passage just before TF. This sort of grammatical construction makes no sense under the assumption that any of TF was original, and this grammatical construction makes perfect sense if TF was inserted after the original writing.

    there’s enough doubt about it that it’s not helpful to the historicist cause, but, since on analysis of the passage/the available manuscripts most scholars come down on the side of partial authenticity, it’s hardly accurate to describe it as a ‘pretty clear interpolation’.

    Acceptable for the sake of argument.

    The comment about James is not thought, except by the occasional mythicist coming up with massively convoluted explanations, to be an interpolation.

    I am not prepared to get into the weeds here. However, briefly, all that is required is a simple accidental interpolation of the phrase “who was called Christ”, it’s a little hard to make consistent this story with other stories about James, brother of the lord, and it’s extremely dubious that Josephus would name-drop the word “Christ” like this without taking some time to explain the meaning of the term to his audience. Josephus spends far more time explaining seemingly far less important to his audience.

  125. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Also:

    Galatians 4:4

    Which says:

    But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

    Do you read the rest of Galatians 4?

    Galatians 4:24

    These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

    Even Paul is telling you explicitly that saying “Jesus was born of a woman” is allegorical, figurative, and not literal. Galatians 4 is entirely allegorical and clearly so. Claiming this as evidence of historicity is just bad.

  126. StevoR says

    @ ^ GerrardOfTitanServer : Er, wait, if Jesus wasn’t born of a woman what was he? Born of a man?

  127. says

    Reginald Selkirk@15,
    Jesus is more comparable to Xenu. If you want an analog of L. Ron Hubbard, try the apostle Paul, who actually wrote things.
    There was no person talking about Xeno before Hubbard. Paul was not the first Christian.

    Reginald Selkirk@49
    Even if the mention of Jesus in his writing were genuine and referred to the specific Jesus in question
    There are two mentions of Jesus in Josephus’s Antiquities, and the genuineness of the second is almost universally upheld, and refers to him as “who was called Christ”, leaving very little doubt about which Jesus this is.

    Make all the criticism of mythicism you want, but the evidence for historicism is perhaps even worse.
    What is the evidence for Mythicism (as opposed to against historicity)? I have not seen any.

    Reginald Selkirk@128
    we are asked to believe that He was simultaneously so obscure that there is no credible evidence for His existence outside of religious documents written decades later by true believers; leading to the current dispute, and that he was so popular that the government had him executed as a threat to their power.
    That description fits a handful of people mentioned in Josephus’s Antiquities, including Jesus (wh0o is mentioned twice in there).

    nomdeplume@19,
    but there is no evidence outside the Bible for any of the “facts” you refer to.
    I agree there is no evidence outside the Bible for Jesus’s baptism by John. However, there are three non-Christian historians who record that Jesus died on a cross (two as a statement of fact, not belief). If he died, he would have to have been born first.

    Bernie@26
    In these writings Jesus Christ functions as the archangel who atones for humanities sins as the perfect sacrifice in a realm invisible to humans.
    In the writings of Paul and Hebrews, Jesus existence as a person is vital to the points they make and the beliefs they espouse.

    consciousness razor@69
    Also, much of the evidence for Beowulf isn’t going to be eyewitness accounts, because very few people knew of him when he was alive.
    Unlike Beowolf, we have near-contemporary historians referring to Jesus as an actual person.

    consciousness razor@93
    But yeah, if there weren’t an ideological component to it, I don’t think it’s likely that we would be having this conversation.
    I agree. No one goes around claiming Theudas or the Egyptian prophet was a myth.

    Robert Johnston@79
    The earliest known Christian writings clearly contemplate an incorporeal Jesus, with Jesus the preacher appearing only in later writings.
    Paul teaches a corporeal Jesus. To whose writing do you refer?

    All you need for that is a historical Paul, kinda like you don’t need a historical Moroni to explain Mormonism, just a historical Joe Smith.
    There were Christians before Paul. There were no Mormons before Smith.

    Jim Balter@91
    Indeed it is — I see no sign that you have engaged with Carrier’s arguments.
    People versed in history have done that already.

    Steve Watson@121
    None of these other folk chopped Paul of at the knees telling him they were Jesus’ besties and his brother and had knocked about Palestine for a year or three with him; or that they had heard none of Paul’s drivel from the man himself; but quite the opposite.
    According to Paul, they did just that.

    GerrardOfTitanServer@143
    Both Josephus passages that mention Jesus are pretty clear interpolations
    There is zero evidence the second mention is an interpolation. That’s just wishful thinking.

    robro@68
    I don’t even know why any atheist should care that there was a historical Jesus.
    We shouldn’t. We should care that we are using evidenced arguments to make valid points.

  128. says

    Consider:

    1) Someone named Jesus lived in Judea at the beginning of the Common Era.

    2) Jesus was an actual historical figure.

    These are not at all the same claim. The first is literally false, as no one in Judea went by the name “Jesus” by either orthography or pronunciation. The English term “Jesus” comes from the Latin “Iesus” which comes from the Greek Ἰησοῦς which comes from the Hebrew and Aramaic ישוע (pronounced yeshua) which was a shortened form of יהושע (pronounced yehoshua). Did someone living in Judea at the beginning of the Common Era go by one of those Aramaic names? Sure … quite a few; the Greek historian Flavius Josephus referred to over twenty different people of the time using the Greek term Ἰησοῦς. Were any of them born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth? Maybe. Was one of them baptized by John the Baptist? Probably. Was one of them crucified by order of Pontius Pilate? Probably.

    As for the second claim, it depends entirely on what the term “Jesus” designates. If it refers to a divine being, then no. If it refers to someone who turned water into wine, then no. If it refers to Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, then no. If it refers to someone born of a virgin, then no. If it refers to someone who rose from the dead, then no. And on and on.

    There may well have been a historical figure named ישוע -> Ἰησοῦς -> Iesus -> Jesus, but it is not the Jesus referred to in our modern culture — that figure is a myth.

  129. says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@150,
    Do you read the rest of Galatians 4?

    Galatians 4:24
    This passage refers to the status of the first two sons of Abraham (mentionined in verses 22-23) as an allegory for the differences between Adam and Jesus, not that verse 4 was an allegory.

  130. says

    Jim Balter@154,
    As for the second claim, it depends entirely on what the term “Jesus” designates.
    When the term designates the leader of a small sect of Judaism, who were later join by Paul and which organiztion eventually became Christianity, then yes.

  131. says

    Jim Balter@91
    Indeed it is [referring to PZ’s statement — I see no sign that you have engaged with Carrier’s arguments.
    People versed in history have done that already.

    Completely irrelevant — my comment was only about PZ. Note that “Indeed it is” above refers to his statement “one could easily argue that my disagreement with mythicism could be personal bias, not objective analysis at all. That’s fair.”

    He goes on to argue

    You could make a fair case that I have flung myself as far away from these people as I could, on the basis of issues other than an objective analysis of their mythicist case, and I’d have to concede that that is true in part. On the other hand, my counterargument would be that it suggests a deep problem in their theory, that it mainly seems to attract fringe scholars, pseudo-intellectual bible worshippers, wanna-be nazis, and misogynists and conspiracy theorists. I don’t like these people, making my opinion of their ideas suspect, but also…why do such unpleasant, unsavory characters gravitate towards Jesus Mythicism?

    That is wholly, not just in part, an ad hominem argument. But never have I embraced the “fallacy fallacy” — that PZ’s argument is fallacious does not imply that his belief is wrong.

  132. says

    I’m with PZ on this, simply because it is not at all plausible that anyone would try to make up a religion around someone who didn’t exist and thus had never proved his ability to attract a following. The risk of failure is way too high. It would have made far more sense to find someone who had already got a following, and then embellish/make up stories about him knowing that his pre-existing followers, at least, would lap it up.

    It’s also not at all plausible to think that NO ONE existed in Roman-occupied Judea who could have preached a new religion, got a following, and got crucified for it. If there was a market for a new religion based on someone who never existed, there’d have been an even more ready market for one founded by a real person; and there would have been plenty of real people trying to fill that niche, with varying degrees of success.

    Not that it really matters — there’s no way to ascertain exactly who the “original” “Jesus” was, or what parts of his biblical story are true. All we can do is say what’s plausible — i.e., whatever doesn’t require supernatural agency and doesn’t contradict known historical or scientific facts. And that still leaves us with very little that’s even remotely close to provable. And none of these arguments are going to change the nature of the present-day religion that bears his name.

  133. says

    @156

    Again, that’s not “the Jesus referred to in our modern culture”. And your description is not accurate–Jesus of Nazereth was not “leader of a small sect of Judaism”, it was not an “organization” at that time, and Paul converted into a Christian long before he “joined” anything or anyone.

  134. says

    Some people (Richard Carrier is a perfect example) simply think they have a better understanding than the experts.

    What a moronic comment. Carrier is a professional historian who has devoted a great deal of time researching this issue and has written numerous books and articles on it — who the fuck are you?

    FWIW, I find some of Carrier’s arguments to be good and some of them not so good, and on a whole I think his probabilistic leaning toward mythicism to be in the wrong direction — but I think overall the quality of his reasoning is quite good–certainly better than that of a number of people here, including the top dog. Rather than this ridiculous and irrelevant historicity debate, I’m more interested in things like his Ontology of Logic, where again I think he has some good and not so good arguments: https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/20966

  135. says

    It’s also not at all plausible to think that NO ONE existed in Roman-occupied Judea who could have preached a new religion

    Jesus didn’t “preach a new religion” — the ignorance and stupidity of your comments is staggering but familiar. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian — duh.

  136. Deepak Shetty says

    @Reginald Selkirk @138

    By what standards is it not weak?

    Perhaps by the standards of which professional historians make deductions ? .

  137. Rob Grigjanis says

    who the fuck are you?

    A physicist who came across Carrier’s laughable ideas about physics. He thought he had demonstrated things which had somehow not been noticed by actual physicists in the last hundred years or so. Namely: That the universe is deterministic (based on a hilariously ill-informed argument using light cones), and that spacetime must be discrete (because there may be a minimum measurable distance).

    Of course, Carrier defended his crap in his usual obnoxious, I’m-smarter-than-you way, and one of his disciples defended him vehemently on FtB while admitting he knew nothing about physics. That’s Carrier’s talent; sounding plausible to the uninformed.

    You might say (as others have) “Well, that’s physics. Maybe his history is sound”. But that episode told me everything I need to know about the man. He has an unassailable, and totally unjustified, faith in his intellect. I wouldn’t trust a word he wrote.

    Who the fuck are you?

  138. says

    Jim Balter@157,
    Completely irrelevant — my comment was only about PZ.
    Skeptical people rely on the people who know best when making a choice on what is or is not real. It’s not the job of a biologist to engage in detailed historical analysis, and any refutations Myers made of Carrier’s argument would be on a surface-level only. Why should he reiterate what the experts have written more precisely?

    Jim Balter@159
    Again, that’s not “the Jesus referred to in our modern culture”.
    There are significant discrepancies between (for example) the Columbus of modern culture and the historical Columbus. Why should it be different for Jesus, if he’s just another man?

    And your description is not accurate–Jesus of Nazereth was not “leader of a small sect of Judaism”,
    In what way would the historical Jesus not have been the leader of a sect? What part of the definition would he fail?

    it was not an “organization” at that time,
    There were apostles who set the rules, and brothers who did not. That’s organization.

    and Paul converted into a Christian long before he “joined” anything or anyone.
    How long? A month? A year? A decade? What’s your basis for saying this?

  139. says

    Jesus didn’t “preach a new religion”…

    First, I wasn’t talking exclusively about Jesus, but about all the people who could have done something like what Jesus did — which would include both new religions and new interpretations of the old one. And second, actually, yes, Jesus did preach a new set of principles and priorities that weren’t a total rejection of what had gone before, but that were quite noticeably different, and that did indeed lead to the creation of a new religion, whether or not Jesus himself intended it. You need to read more carefully, Jim, before so loudly complaining about other people’s “ignorance and stupidity.”

  140. John Morales says

    Um, Matthew 5:18, Raging Bee.
    The New Testament Jesus was a practicing Jew, and this verse is definitive about his position on his religion.

    (I suppose nobody here has bothered to watch the multiple hours’ worth of history of the Bible I adduced @43, which is quite informative, in my estimation)

  141. says

    John: As I already said, I wasn’t referring only to Jesus, but to people in general who might have founded new cults/churches/organizations (whether or not preaching a new set of beliefs) and accumulated a following at that time and region. My point was that it is implausible to think that no such people existed, or that someone who wanted to build a new movement wouldn’t have had a choice of real preachers to work with.

  142. John Morales says

    Raging Bee,

    John: As I already said, I wasn’t referring only to Jesus, but to people in general who might have founded new cults/churches/organizations (whether or not preaching a new set of beliefs) and accumulated a following at that time and region.

    But the topic at hand is Jesus, no?
    His purported historicity or mythicality, to be precise.

    Again: he did not found a new religion.
    He was a Jewish preacher who preached Judaism as he understood it.
    It was other people who founded and preached Christianity, after his death.

    Which means your claimed set of “people in general who might have founded new cults/churches/organizations” excludes Jesus.

  143. says

    John, are you even bothering to read the whole of my comments before reacting to them? First, I was commenting on the plausibility of a historicist interpretation, as opposed to the mythicist kind, and saying there were most likely lots of real people who could have been used as the basis for later mythmakers. And second, yes, “people in general who might have founded new cults/churches/organizations (whether or not preaching a new set of beliefs)” does indeed include Jesus. Seriously, read the bits in parentheses.

  144. John Morales says

    John, are you even bothering to read the whole of my comments before reacting to them?

    Seeing as I directly addressed them, and I even quoted you, it should be evident that I do. No big bother, you’re not that verbose.

    And second, yes, “people in general who might have founded new cults/churches/organizations (whether or not preaching a new set of beliefs)” does indeed include Jesus. Seriously, read the bits in parentheses.

    Heh.

    Here, for you: Raging Bee, are you even bothering to read the whole of my comments before reacting to them?

    I quote myself:
    “Again: he did not found a new religion.
    He was a Jewish preacher who preached Judaism as he understood it.
    It was other people who founded and preached Christianity, after his death.”

    Again: Christianity, being founded after his death, cannot possibly have been founded by him. So what new religion do you imagine he founded?

  145. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    This passage refers to the status of the first two sons of Abraham (mentionined in verses 22-23) as an allegory for the differences between Adam and Jesus, not that verse 4 was an allegory.

    Seriously? You don’t think that there is allegorical point, that Paul is making a theological point, by taking about being born from a woman, under the law? You’re hopeless.

  146. StevoR says

    @ ^ GerrardOfTitanServer : Who are you referring to there?

    FYI. my #151 was an admittedly rather snarky & poor joke. Technically, almost everyone is a person “born of women” – although a few exceptional people will be born of trans men, non-binary and intersex people. That this term carries its own distinct poetic / symbolic / theological weight and significance and imputations I have no doubt.

  147. Kagehi says

    Seems we have gotten into one of those same arguments with “mythicism” as we do with “atheist” – “Well, the dictionary says that it only specifically means X, so no other type must exist!” My “mythicism” allows for the possibility that some guy existed, which said a few more sensible things than every other nut at the time, who was preaching on street corners, and a group of Jews decided to follow this person. Later, some of the Romans decided that this weird cult would make a nifty replacement for the polytheism that was currently practiced in Rome at the time, and adopted it. This was enough to create a movement of “true believers”, who, even when this cult came under fire, and other people tried to destroy it, where able to take it under ground, and salvage it from the fire. At various points in this process it also used blood and fire to erase all the other cults, including versions of its own, which didn’t quite serve the purpose that they wanted (which, at that time, was power and control). This was very successful.

    We can’t know if a single person was picked as the core of this myth, if they glued a bunch of people together, etc. We can/do know that, from the very beginning, they bent, twisted, and fabricated brand spanking new apologetics, to justify how this mythical figure somehow “met” the criteria for being a prophetic figure, destined to appear and lead the Jews into a new future, etc., but since the original intent seemed to start out (until the Romans themselves snapped it up) was to create a leader of peace, they had to do this by basically ignoring what the original prophecy said that “new leader” was supposed to be like, or do, and instead invented this silly, “I’ll be back to do what was really promised, some time in the fuuuuuture!” So.. myth? Definitely? Based on a real person/persons? Who the F knows. It doesn’t need to be, and half of everything supposedly “known” about the guy is contradictory, with multiple “origins”, silly claims about how this isn’t a contradiction, despite it being most plausibly just people trying to place him in the “right places” to fit, again, prophecy that is contradicted by his own message, but which he had to be from, or had to do, etc., to “be” the guy from the prophecy, etc.

    This is where the whole rest of the argument, about if he was real or not, comes in – we can’t trust anything about him, because almost everything about him “had to be” what they claim, or he “couldn’t be the messiah”. This means he could be anyone, or no one, but he “had to be” someone that they could shoe horn into the fable.

    So.. Is it easier to do that with someone that was real, and who they later shoe horned in, or someone that never really existed? All the claims for the former seem to all rely on either the Bible itself, a few vague references, many which could have been later forgeries, and stuff written, entirely, by believers, decades, and sometimes centuries later. Could they be both mistaken about his divinity, but right about his existence? Maybe… But they could also just be attesting to belief that he was real, because they believed he was real, and everyone prior was telling the truth.

    Point being, there is a fair bit of wiggle room in the definition of, “I think he was basically a made up myth.”, its not just, “He was completely made up.”

  148. Reginald Selkirk says

    @153: Paul was not the first Christian.

    I look forward to you presenting your sources.

  149. StevoR says

    So.. kinda consequentialist fallacy-ish but stay with me here please; what if either side could definitely prove its case with actual historical evidence? Who gains, most? Who loses most?

    What if new Dead Sea Scrolls with authentic, shortly after crucifixion testimony from oen or more key figures were discovered that proved a historical, real Jesus actually existed with the names of his Apostles & significant events listed etc . as in the NT that showed that the man was real and was, at least thought to be then, pretty much who Christians think & claim he was? Christians, of course, would exult but also the Historicists would be proven right – even if the figure still wasn’t claiming divinity, still very much a Jewish splinter group leader, etc.. For atheists and anti-theists that would be if not a worst case scenario then certainly not an ideal one.

    OTOH, what if documents came to light, perhaps smuggled out of the Vatcian after millennia confirming the mythicist belief showing, say, a dying confession of some member of a secret group – say a Peter / Paul / Saul figure or three (PPS for short?*) that conspired to invent & exploit the 100% made up figure of Christ in Rome’s war against rebellious, religious Judaeans around the time of Rome’s Jewish wars. Let’s say, they took elements of pre-existing different Jewish rebels and borrowed & mixed’n’matched from various groups to concoct an ideal imaginary cult figure (born in Bethlehem, no Nazareth!? A humble but charismatic bastard like that rebel we executed who was known to be the result of a temple guard’s rape? No, how about like the guy who claimed literal descent with some made up lineage from King David of the Jewish – but not specifically Herodian – Royal house who Herod had murdered along with his kids? Er, why not tell one mob of them, one story the other, the other and see if we can blend them in for now..?) and then also cleverly tied him to some unpopular even heretical and non-Jewish figures. (.. Hangs around with tax collectors, prostitutes and rich gentile Romans, suspiciously unmarried, even speaks well of those heretical Smaritans!) Suppose it was story that then got totally out of hand going toofarand being believed by too many and actually created a really popular cult that was then both useful and exploded a bit out of control and the founder had to keep the lies going and no one stopped believing in it – except the guys that made it all up in the first place? That they decided the Truth had to be recorded but kept secret because of .. their own peronal integrity – or blackmail fodder .. or political convenience for the Roman Empire later ..and the confession was lost or “lost” … until being found in 2023 or whenever.

    Imagine there was conclusive historically irrefutable proof that the NT Jesus & thus Christianity based on him was a complete fabrication with no historical kernal or skerrick of accuracy other than being conspiracy fiction. A case like Mormonism and Quanon only even more blatantly invented whole for exploitation for profit and power. (Yeah, hard I know.) For atheists basically disproving once and for all one of the Abrahamic faiths and discrediting others (Islam, Bahai, etc ..) that incorporate elements of the Jesus NT myth in variant forms. It’d kinda be an atheist, anti-Christian esp dream come dream and, whilst many Christians still wouldn’t believe it and would simply call fake, if it could be proven it would be earth-shatteringly ideal for us. Maybe? So .. yeah. I can see the appeal. But remember as the famous R Feynman quote goes :

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. (Is it really? -Ed) You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

    Source : https://speakola.com/grad/richard-feynman-caltech-1974

    So. Whilst Mythicism is a tempting ideal scenario that we might want to be true and might suit the known facts pretty well, we have be careful NOT to just believe it because I / we / person X, Y & Z want(s) to and it suits us.

    What is the actual evidence for it? Say, the best three things, evidence, lines of logic, circumstancial relevant facts?

    Also what do you think the other side has as their strongest evidences, arguments, indications etc ..and why are they wrong?

    Oh and for those who don’t want to believe Mythicism, who think for whatever reasons, however motivated that it isn’t true, the exact same applies mirrored, what are the best three arguments that Historicism has here; what’s the trio of strongest known evidence showing there is indeed a kernal of reality beneath the layers of fable and lie plastered over the real grubby, bleeding man who might have once inspired Christianity?

    Me, I simply do not know and don’t have enough knowledge I’m sure of to say either way.

    Me being me, I’m, also fairly sure I’m probly stuffing up and mischaracterising both groups here and oversimplifying massively so, okay and apologies. Educate me. I mean we’re almost certainly not going to resolve this matter one way or the other here given it is just, y’know comments on a blog even one as good as this, but still..

    . * Yeah so literally Christianity = PPS Pysch (op!) sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  150. StevoR says

    @176. Reginald Selkirk : Didn’t Saul / Paul supposedly start off by persecuting other “Christians” before he had his hallucination / conversion en route to Syria’s current capital? Also writing to a lot of already established churches? I mean, yeah, that’s just his word and dubious but still..

  151. says

    Reginald Selkirk@176
    @153: Paul was not the first Christian.
    I look forward to you presenting your sources.

    My source is Paul. Galatians 1: 13-14 (JB):
    You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.

    Perhaps, if you have so little knowledge about what Paul himself says, you’ll do some research before talking about how poor analogies are or are not. Perhaps you’ll even come up with evidence for some sort of Mythicism.

  152. says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@173
    Seriously? You don’t think that there is allegorical point, that Paul is making a theological point, by taking about being born from a woman, under the law? You’re hopeless.
    I think Paul is making a theological, non-allegorical point by expressing what he actually believed to be true. I further think that, since you have no response to noting verse 24 describes verses 22-23, the insult is feeble.

  153. says

    Imagine there was conclusive historically irrefutable proof that the NT Jesus & thus Christianity based on him was a complete fabrication with no historical kernal or skerrick of accuracy other than being conspiracy fiction.

    I imagine the believers, unable to live without their belief, would stone us to death and go right on believing. (And no, that’s not really “imaginative,” it’s just me remembering a story told by one of Tom Robbins’ characters in Another Roadside Attraction.)

    But that’s not something that really worries me at this time, since proving mythicism means proving a negative (that no real person existed who served, knowingly or not, as the inspiration for all the mythmaking); and we all know how hard that would be.

  154. says

    Again: he did not found a new religion.

    Actually, it was new and different enough that: a) he had to go out of his way to reassure his followers and potential followers that he wasn’t asking people to depart altogether from “the law” or ditch all of their previous beliefs or practices; and b) lots of Jews (among others) were rather concerned about the departure from the old ways that Jesus seemed to be advocating — even, in at least a few cases, to the extent of encouraging the Romans to nip his movement in the bud. So even if he wasn’t creating a new religion, he was creating a noticeably different branch/interpretation of the old religion; and getting followers who formed a group known for different beliefs and practices. So I guess it’s a question of when, how, and by what metric does a “branch” of an old religion become a “new religion.” (This is something some Christians agonize over WRT Mormons and even Catholics.)

  155. says

    PS: If you need one specific event to mark the creation of a new religion, I’m thinking that someone saying “I am the Messiah our holy text has been predicting” would definitely qualify. So if the person whose story has been built up into the Biblical Jesus we “know” today actually said anything to that effect, or at least didn’t stop any of his disciples from saying that, then yes, he did indeed found a “new religion.”

  156. rorschach says

    @179,
    “My source is Paul. Galatians 1: 13-14 (JB):”

    Well, there’s your problem in a nutshell. Like me saying, my source is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore 3: page 152-155.

  157. says

    rorshach@184,

    If you have a better source for deciding if there were Christians before Paul, do please share it with us. Sneering is easy, coming up with a feasible alternative is more difficult.

  158. says

    RagingBee@182,
    Actually, it was new and different enough that: a) he had to go out of his way to reassure his followers and potential followers that he wasn’t asking people to depart altogether from “the law” or ditch all of their previous beliefs or practices; and b) lots of Jews (among others) were rather concerned about the departure from the old ways that Jesus seemed to be advocating — even, in at least a few cases, to the extent of encouraging the Romans to nip his movement in the bud.
    I don’t think we can trust the Gospels to accurately depict what Jesus would have had to say mollify his followers or how the local Jews reacted to him. Statements such as you mention were stories handed down through highly motivated storytellers.

    RagingBee@183,
    There is the who notion of the Messianic Secret in Mark.

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

  159. says

    One Brow: I don’t think we can trust the Gospels either — but for the story of Jesus, they’re pretty much all we have. I don’t totally believe them, but I choose to give them the benefit of what little doubt there is. As I said earlier, I discount all the stuff that contradicts knows historical or scientific fact, and treat what remains as folklore.

    And while we can’t be sure Jesus really said what he’s quoted as saying in the NT, it’s not at all implausible to believe that someone in that time and place (or perhaps many someones) could have said more or less the same things. It’s not like they’re claiming he predicted quantum physics or Keynesian economic theory.

  160. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I just don’t have words. You really think that Paul is expressing that Jesus came out of someone vagina when he said that in that context, and not making a theological point about how Jesus’s teaching, death and resurrection, is a fulfillment of prophecy? I don’t have anything to say to such a patently absurd position.

  161. Dr Sarah says

    @GerrardofTitanServer, #149:

    However, briefly, all that is required is a simple accidental interpolation of the phrase “who was called Christ”

    However, this does then require a reasonably plausible mythicist-compatible explanation as to why anyone would be interpolating this phrase. If Jesus was thought to have been a heavenly figure with no earthly existence, why would Jews come to think a mortal man had been his brother? And why would this hypothetical interpolator think that this particular mention of a Jesus was the particular Jesus who was known as Christ, when Josephus mentions so many people of this name?

    it’s a little hard to make consistent this story with other stories about James, brother of the lord

    Which seems to make interpolation even more improbable, as per above. It’s not as though an interpolator would have read Josephus’s mention of a James here and thought ‘aha, obviously the James mentioned in Hegesippus’.

    (By the way, this argument always seems deeply ironic to me given that all other stories of James ‘the brother of the Lord’ come from Christian sources. Therefore, this argument only works if we work from the premise that Christian sources must be reliable. I’m going to guess that we can both agree that that isn’t a premise we can support, so I’m not sure why this argument is supposed to be convincing.)

    and it’s extremely dubious that Josephus would name-drop the word “Christ” like this without taking some time to explain the meaning of the term to his audience. Josephus spends far more time explaining seemingly far less important to his audience.

    Varies a lot, from what I’ve heard; there are certainly times when he doesn’t explain things that seem obscure to us. To take an exact parallel to this phrase, in Antiquities 20:196 Josephus refers to ‘Joseph called Cabi’ with absolutely no explanation of what ‘Cabi’ meant or what the significance was of Joseph being called this. So, either this was a reference that Josephus expected his contemporary readers to pick up on without further explanation, or he didn’t particularly care about having a reference that they wouldn’t pick up on. Either way, ‘Josephus didn’t explain this’ clearly doesn’t necessarily indicate that Josephus didn’t write this.

    (FWIW, I think the first possibility – that Josephus actually knew this mention would mean something to people of the time – is a perfectly plausible one. We know that Tacitus, by the time he was writing something like 12 – 16 years later, had heard of the Christians, knew they were called after a founder called Christ, and believed them to be a group of troublemakers. It doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch that these things might already have been known to many of Josephus’s contemporaries at the time that he was writing ‘Antiquities’, and that Josephus might thus have thrown in that detail in the knowledge that his readers would make the connection that this ‘James’ was executed for his connection with a group of troublemakers.)

    #150:

    [Galatians 4] Even Paul is telling you explicitly that saying “Jesus was born of a woman” is allegorical, figurative, and not literal.

    Yeah, I used to think that argument worked until I actually read the chapter for myself. Paul is actually saying that the story of Hagar and Sarah is allegorical. The comment about Jesus being born of a woman was several verses earlier in the chapter, and Paul says nothing about that being allegorical.

    Galatians 4 is entirely allegorical and clearly so.

    Yes, but it isn’t an allegory about birth; it’s an allegory about slaves vs. heirs, whom Paul compares to Jews under the law vs. Jews under the new covenant. Paul brings the story about Hagar and Sarah into it as part of this; Hagar was a slave woman who had a slave child, Sarah was a free woman who had a child with the same man who was his actual heir. Paul’s mention earlier in the chapter of Jesus being born of a woman has nothing to do with this. If Paul believed Jesus was a heavenly being, why would he be referring to him as allegorically being born of a woman or born under the law? For that matter, why would he be referring to God sending his son if he believed that Jesus had never left heaven?

  162. Dr Sarah says

    @rorschach, #184:

    Like me saying, my source is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    Rubbish. Paul wasn’t writing a novel, he was writing letters about the truth as he saw it. Of course, there are massive areas in which this isn’t the truth as we would see it (to put it mildly), but it’s hard to see why his mentions of an existing church would be one of those areas. Why would Paul invent, or believe in, an existing group of Jesus-followers? Particularly since this was in the context of vehemently disagreeing with them?

  163. Tethys says

    Paul can go suck eggs, but at least he was a real human.

    Jesus Christ was created and finite, not of equal divinity with the Father. Of course that requires that a believer also ignore the rapist part of the immaculate conception but clearly Abrahamic traditions were fine with slavery and treating women and children as property.

    Arians rule….Niceans drool!

  164. says

    If Jesus was thought to have been a heavenly figure with no earthly existence, why would Jews come to think a mortal man had been his brother?

    Because the beliefs changed over time? Because different groups believed different things?
    Christianity was never one belief system. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. That shouldn’t be controversial.

  165. says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@188
    I just don’t have words.
    Nor the evidence, nor the sensible continuity. You have nothing.

    I don’t have anything to say to such a patently absurd position.
    Then why are you posting?

  166. says

    LykeX@192,
    Because the beliefs changed over time? Because different groups believed different things?
    This is true on its face, and we have evidence for dozens of different belief systems. What we have no evidence for is a belief system where Jesus would be ahistorical. Even the people who think Jesus didn’t have an earthly body still thought he interacted with people on the earthly plane.

  167. Kagehi says

    #190 Letters? Really? So, what is you “secondary source”, which shows that such “letters” existed? The letters themselves maybe? Oh, right, we don’t have any such thing, unless they are hidden away some place in the Vatican (In which case, why do they never get trotted out as evidence for anyone, never mind historians, never mind literal believing Biblical historians?). We have to assume that they once existed, based on, as Paulogia would put it, “Because the Bible Tells Me So.”

    This is the crux of the problem. The Bible is not an encyclopedia – its a collection of stories, some of which we know with certainty where flat out, literally, made up. But.. for some reason, while no sensible person would reference content in, say, Exodus to “prove” some other part of it (at least no any more, unless they are a creationist, or one of these self claimed “literalist”), its deemed somehow totally fine to use it as a reference to itself for other parts, when no other secondary sources exist. The people saying, “He might have been made up.”, as expected to prove the classic negative, while the, ‘He did exist.”, side insists that, “Statements made by someone in the Bible should be good enough to prove that they where real, and referenced real events and people, even though other parts of the Bible do nothing of the sort.”

    My hang up is, I guess, that even if there are some references to a name, and possible person, from the “literate” people of the time, somehow none of those people mention any other aspect of anything – making this person, if they existed, so irrelevant that he wasn’t worth mentioning at all, or so unknown, outside a small cult following, that no one cared, until suddenly the cult got popular and someone felt the need to try to write any of it down. And, lest we forget, this is in a time when the Romans thought keeping track of things so generally pointless as the exact name of some guy that collected piss for the leather works, and probably details about his lineage. There should be “something” that isn’t decades, or centuries later, someplace. Right?

    This is the reason for the argument about referencing Dumbledore, and you know it – the Bible isn’t a reliable source, so, to show any part of it is even vaguely right, you need “other sources”. So.. where are these “letters” (or literally anything else)?

  168. says

    The people saying, “He might have been made up.”, as expected to prove the classic negative, while the, ‘He did exist.”, side insists that, “Statements made by someone in the Bible should be good enough to prove that they where real, and referenced real events and people, even though other parts of the Bible do nothing of the sort.”

    See my comment @158. The mythicists can’t prove a negative, and the historicists can’t prove any specific claims about the person(s) whose story, words and deeds got blown up into the Biblical Jesus. So all we’re left with is what’s most plausible. And that (IMHO at least) is that some real person (or maybe more than one) went about preaching his/their own take(s) on Judaism, and acquired a following, and then MAYBE rocked enough boats to cause some powerful people to have someone crucified; and then, much later, some people started writing stories about him/them and building a larger movement around his (alleged) teachings and claims. And beyond that, there’s really nothing worth getting hung up about — either way, the New Testament isn’t a reliable guide to the life or teachings of “Jesus,” and those teachings we see in the NT aren’t a complete and reliable guide to moral human behavior anyway.

  169. rorschach says

    This is a most bizarre thread. People are arguing seriously over garbled and edited scripts of multiply translated and edited and garbled parchments from orally transmitted sayings, poems and stories from 2500 years ago. It’s like it’s 2008 and Bart Ehrman never existed.

    @190, “Paul wasn’t writing a novel, he was writing letters about the truth as he saw it.”

    Who is this Paul you speak of? How were his letters preserved until today? Who translated them? In what social context? Why? What was omitted? How do we know this person even existed?

    Honestly, this is ridiculous.

  170. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    However, this does then require a reasonably plausible mythicist-compatible explanation as to why anyone would be interpolating this phrase. If Jesus was thought to have been a heavenly figure with no earthly existence, why would Jews come to think a mortal man had been his brother?

    see LykeX’s reply.

    Also. I’m sorry. This is not a serious reply. This is as bad as “if humans came from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?”. It is indicative of a complete failure to try to understand the other person’s position, which is quite surprising coming from you. Do you really think that my mythicist position says that modern day Christians believe Jesus was always in celestial realms and never on Earth? Of course not. Therefore, my position must be that Christian doctrine changed between Paul and now. This should be patently obvious. Therefore, why are you asking me this question as some sort of gotcha knock-down? This was not written in good faith.

    I’ll assume that this was an outlier and not how you normally operate.

    I was so annoyed, I will not read the rest of your post until you admit your gross error here.

  171. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PS: To be clear, the assumption / claim is that hundreds of years after Josephus, Eusebius or someone close to him accidentally or purposefully interpolated that phrase into his copy of Josephus. Remember that every copy we have today of Josephus came from Eusebius’s copy of Josephus. This time frame of approx 100 AD to 300 AD is roughly the time frame where mythicists claim that the shift in Christian Earthly Jesus doctrine happened.

  172. says

    I’m sorry to take this thread to the 200 mark, but when have any significant faction of Christians EVER believed Jesus to be “a heavenly figure with no earthly existence?” According to the narratives I’ve always heard at least, the WHOLE POINT of Jesus was to be a person joining other people in earthly existence, and earthly suffering and injustice. Seriously, that’s one of the few basic points that all the various factions of Christianity (that I know of at least) can agree on.

    Or are they talking about Jesus AFTER he got resurrected and went back home to Daddy after spending a long weekend dead for street-cred purposes?

  173. says

    [Galatians 4] Even Paul is telling you explicitly that saying “Jesus was born of a woman” is allegorical, figurative, and not literal.

    Not sure about the context of that statement, but I’m pretty sure Paul was being quite literal, and saying Jesus was God, or the son of God, incarnated in mortal flesh, as a human who came out of a woman’s womb just like all other mortals; and not, say, an angel or other non-corporeal superbeing.

  174. StevoR says

    Couple of things I wonder about is why the “prophecy” Jesus made about his second coming taking place “..before this generation has passed” i.e. in the lifetime of his contemporaries i.e. 1st C AD ( https://biblia.com/bible/esv/matthew/24/34 ) would be added or kept in given it wa s afew centuries later and they’d have been dead and that prophecy provably wrong. Then again there are still stacks of Christians who believe it will happen “A-aaa-ny day .. now.. Now.. Well, maybe tomorrow?” Seriously. ( https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/05/rapture-fear-evangelical-americans-church-miller.html )

    Then there’s the whole weird thing with Jesus cursing that fig tree for being a fig tree and only fruiting in fig season :

    https://thebricktestament.com/the_life_of_jesus/jesus_curses_a_tree/mt21_29.html

    Which just, what the hell, dude, why? (Yeah, I know it didn’t actually happen but the point of that nonsense? Other than showing Jesus was a jerk who threw a botanatically deadly tantrum when he could’ve get his preferred fruit killing a tree that did nothing wrong?)

    Its a pity they didn’t have better editors and script-writiers back when they were compiling and rewriting the Bible OT & NT alike as Hemant Mehta’s youtube read through series ( Everything Wrong With Genesis 1* in the Bible) among so many other deconstructions of it illustrates. As fiction so much of the Bible is just ..bad. As history ..unreliable. As a guide to ethics ..appalling. “Good book” my arse!

    .* Then Genesis 2 etc .. all the way up to Numbers 34 most recently.

  175. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales & #200 Raging Bee : See also :

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

    Monophysitism (/məˈnɒfɪsaɪˌtɪzəm/ or /məˈnɒfɪsɪˌtɪzəm/) or monophysism (/məˈnɒfɪzɪzəm/) is a Christological term derived from the Greek μόνος (monos, “alone, solitary”)[1] and φύσις (physis, a word that has many meanings[2] but in this context means “nature”). It is defined as “a doctrine that in the person of the incarnated Word (that is, in Jesus Christ) there was only one nature—the divine”. .. (snip) .. Some taught that in Christ the human nature was completely absorbed by the divine, leaving only a divine nature. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon, on the basis of Pope Leo the Great’s 449 declaration, defined that in Christ there were two natures united in one person.

    Plus : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christology#Early_notions_of_Christ as well as :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopon#Prosopon_in_Christology

    There was actually a novel written by Patrick Tilley (Mission published in 1981 with a different SF /fantasy explanation for this – plus although a secondary element, also the one in Frank Herbert & Bill Ransom’s’ 1979 ‘The Jesus Incident SF novel too – thinking better books & reads. (Low bar I know.)

  176. says

    John @203: I never approved of early Christian purges/censorship of differing doctrines, but boy howdy, this Docetism thing is one idea that really needed to die in a fire. From the article:

    In one version, as in Marcionism, Christ was so divine that he could not have been human, since God lacked a material body, which therefore could not physically suffer.

    In addition to being utter nonsense that’s flatly contradicted by the entirety of the Gospels, this idea completely nullifies the entire purpose and spirit of the work of Jesus — which was, to put it simply, to humanize a distant and inhumane God and create a spirituality and set of priorities that at least tried to honestly address and be relevant to real human life. And these Docetist jackasses wanted to say “Nope, sorry, this Jesus guy isn’t any more human, real or relevant than any other god!”? I don’t have to believe in Jesus, or look up to any of those who claim to speak for him, to see what laughably counterproductive airheaded rubbish this is.

    And all of that was based on ONE count it ONE Bible verse about “the Word made flesh?” God’s balls, what a joke.

  177. John Morales says

    Raging Bee:

    In addition to being utter nonsense that’s flatly contradicted by the entirety of the Gospels, this idea completely nullifies the entire purpose and spirit of the work of Jesus [blah]

    “the entire purpose and spirit of the work of Jesus” is not a consideration when the very existence of Jesus is the question at hand. To employ it as a factor would be to indulge in begging the question.

    Anyway, I was merely answering your (possibly rhetorical) question: “when have any significant faction of Christians EVER believed Jesus to be “a heavenly figure with no earthly existence?””

    (In passing, though not on topic, are you familiar with the Albigensian Crusade?)

  178. says

    Actually, yes, “the entire purpose and spirit of the work of Jesus,” and how that narrative was presented to us, can be a consideration when we’re interpreting the NT and discussing what it’s trying to say, whether or not we believe any of it to be true.

    And okay, I’ll bite: how is the Albigensian Crusade different from the other Crusades?

  179. John Morales says

    Raging Bee, you caught me at an opportune time, when I have nothing better to do. So.

    Actually, yes, “the entire purpose and spirit of the work of Jesus,” and how that narrative was presented to us, can be a consideration when we’re interpreting the NT and discussing what it’s trying to say, whether or not we believe any of it to be true.

    Well, yes… but the entire post (the topic at hand) is the mythicism — that is, whether or not Jesus existed at all. The question of what the alleged New Testament (New Covenant) is not part of that.

    And okay, I’ll bite: how is the Albigensian Crusade different from the other Crusades?

    Well, apart from taking place in the middle of Christendom (France), it was not that special. Kill kill destroy destroy take take type of thing.

    cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caedite_eos._Novit_enim_Dominus_qui_sunt_eius.

    Anyway.

    I brought it up because you (whether rhetorically or not) expressed incredulity as to whether any significant part of Christianity thought Jesus was not physical.

    I quote from this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albigensian_Crusade

    Cathars held that the physical world was evil and created by this demiurge, which they called Rex Mundi (Latin, “King of the World”). Rex Mundi encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful. The Cathar understanding of God was entirely disincarnate: they viewed God as a being or principle of pure spirit completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the God of love, order, and peace. Jesus was an angel with only a phantom body, and the accounts of him in the New Testament were to be understood allegorically.

    In short, they too were (infamously) extirpated, and they too “believed Jesus to be “a heavenly figure with no earthly existence””.

    And we’re now in the meat of Christendom, back when the Church had a shitload of temporal power, not about the founding stages of this new religion.

    (Which you persist in believing was created by Jesus)

  180. Silentbob says

    @ 209 John Morales

    you caught me at an opportune time, when I have nothing better to do

    Hahahaha. So you mean within the last – how long have you been trolling this blog now? – 12 years? Lol.

  181. John Morales says

    Actually, Bob the Not-at-all-silent, I had nothing better to do than to inform people who ask for information at that time. But then, I’m selfless that way.

    Also, my first comment here was in its first incarnation, back in November 2005.

    (Quite a bit more than a mere dozen years)

    Hey, did you know about the Cathars? Do you know about them now?

    (Sorry to bring you back to the topic at hand, instead of about me. I know that as my fanboi, I am the most important part of this blog for you, but still…)

  182. Kagehi says

    @200 To answer that question I would have to say – “We don’t know how many.” Why? Because we know it was probably at least some of them, based on Jewish doctrines about such ideas, and bits and pieces of writings that, even if they don’t specifically reference Jesus, do reference the concept and ideas, and does “fit” some of the absurdity of the story better. But, then we run into the same problem as with everything else – nothing seems to have survived, outside of the “official” versions, and we know that those official versions where edited to fit what the “new church” wanted it to say, not what ever it originally did. So, like everything else in this we can only say, “The idea that there is a mirrored reality in the heavens, and some of the stuff that was supposed to have happened makes more sense if it was happening in that mirror reality, was part of Jewish tradition, and ‘could have’ been the original intent, where as what we got, we only know is what survived all the edits.”

    Its not an argument that this “was” how it was intended to be, just that it fits some of the story better, and was part of the tradition of the people that originated it, so we just don’t know. It always comes down to – we don’t know, and neither do they, and until someone uncovered something from the actually time of the purported events, they CAN’T know, so shouldn’t be claiming to.

  183. StevoR says

    @205. John Morales : Cheers for that! Nice twist.

    Echoes of Orson Scott Card’s grimmer and stranger ‘Speaker for the Dead’ misunderstanding with the Pequininos
    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speaker_for_the_Dead ) which, yeah, I was once a big fan of.

    There’s also one other really great short story (?) where the twist was time travellers made up the entire crowd of those mocking and crucifying Jesus but I forget the name and title there..

  184. StevoR says

    @211. Silent Bob : To quotye Monty Python : Oh lay off him..

    Enough. We know you don’t like JM. Give it a rest.

  185. StevoR says

    Please Silentbob, seriously enough. Leave him be.

    I know John Morales has his moments and quirks and can be annoying ven infuriating at times – ditto me, you & probly everyone on the planet – & I don’t always agree with him myself, natch. I respect you and your comments here too (mostly -like well, most here) & youve heped me out with the embedding issue and respect and thanks..

    But.
    Just.
    Please,
    Give this a rest.

    Focus on other things, ignore him, whatever. I don’t think he’s a troll and more to the point neither does PZ. Peace and goodwill untoall for the season even if you don’t celebrate it? Think and be kind? Please.

  186. StevoR says

    How odd ironic* (?) / paradoxical that if The Biblical Iesus Yeshua of Nazareth did exist – saying and doing exactly what the NT says he did – most “Christians'” who claim to worship him do pretty much the extreme opposite of what he asked and taught* whilst most athiest – including scholarly experts think he was a real man , probly even a really good mensch yet think he was better despite NOT being “divine” and literally God & even despite maybe not existing at all and being just a fictional exemplar of good methcis mostly. Curisng the odd fig tree aside.

    .* “Ironic” being one of those awkward words that is misused & confusing meanings (Alanis Morisette among others, hearing her song in my head now) to the points where so many likely me included don’t get it but you know the whole Golden Rule bit ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule ) where you treat other people as you’d want to be treated – even those you dislike or despise such a sthose ba dSamariotan heretics as Isaac Asimov pointed out onc ein his IMHON best ever essay ‘Lost in Non-Translation” discussing who the Samriatns wer etothecontemporaries of Jesus when the NT was set. Ideally with 10 % leeway for error margin or suchlike as somebody clever er than em onc esauid and anyhow, y’all get the gist I hope..

  187. StevoR says

    This quote. So much seems i’m not alone infinding thispowerful &memorable here :

    In a nutshell, the basic problem with the common understanding of the Samaritan parable is that most people today are really not familiar with who the Samaritans were in the time of Jesus. The Samaritans were considered hated heretics, with whom the Jews had sustained a centuries-long conflict. The whole point of the parable is lost because the word “Samaritan” is not translated into its proper meaning: “someone from a group which receives and deserves nothing but contempt from us.” Asimov takes a stab at rectifying the non-translation, asking us to consider a story of a white man in the Jim Crow era South, beaten and left for dead, passed up by a mayor and a minister, but helped by a poor black sharecropper. He does a similar translation of Ruth… a widely misunderstood biblical story if there ever was one.

    Source : https://boards.straightdope.com/t/samaritans-and-moabites/96866

    Becoz my google fu falis me again at finding what I know I wrote and cited quite a few times on various FTB blogs already..

  188. StevoR says

    Aaarrrgh!

    How is it that I type the right word and then every time after I click “submit”” even after previewing – it somehow then isn’t the word spelled as I thought knew I typed it right.. For.. Pities.. Sake!!

  189. says

    Random thought: If it turns out that the stories of Jesus did have a historical basis, but they were stories of two separate people, later merged into Jesus, would that make Jesus historical or not?

  190. says

    John Morales@203
    Raging Bee @200, that’s because that belief was duly extirpated fairly early on.
    Under the beliefs of Docetism, Jesus would have been a historical presence, who interacted with other people on the earthly plane. Even for this most extreme version of deification, Jesus is historical; he seemed to eat, sleep, get crucified. There were no sects accepting a non-historical Jesus anywhere in the first couple of centuries after his death.

  191. StevoR says

    @ 220. LykeX : Dunno. Would that make the Jesi plural (not to be confused with the Jedi*) historical or not.. I mean.. kinda sorta .. ish, ish?

    .* They were a long time ago in a galaxy far away – although which exact galaxy never gets specified..

  192. says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@198,
    Therefore, my position must be that Christian doctrine changed between Paul and now. This should be patently obvious.
    Do you have any evidence this happened? Because it seems like a guess based on the assumption of Mythicism.

    Therefore, why are you asking me this question as some sort of gotcha knock-down? This was not written in good faith.
    It is a “knock-down”, because you have no evidence to offer why Jews would have this belief.

    I was so annoyed, I will not read the rest of your post until you admit your gross error here.
    Promise?

    GerrardOfTitanServer@199
    PS: To be clear, the assumption / claim is that hundreds of years after Josephus,
    Yes, the correct word is “assumption”, because rather than presenting evidence, you are attempting to explain away the evidence whilst your own cup0booard is bare.

    This time frame of approx 100 AD to 300 AD is roughly the time frame where mythicists claim that the shift in Christian Earthly Jesus doctrine happened.
    Can you point to evidence of a non-historical Jesus in any of the writings from this period? Here’s a list to start from:

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

  193. says

    Asimov takes a stab at rectifying the non-translation, asking us to consider a story of a white man in the Jim Crow era South, beaten and left for dead, passed up by a mayor and a minister, but helped by a poor black sharecropper.

    Actually, it might have been better to tell it with the poor black sharecropper beaten and left for dead in or very near a whites-only area, and passed up by everyone except a dirt-poor white guy.

  194. says

    LykeX@220
    Random thought: If it turns out that the stories of Jesus did have a historical basis, but they were stories of two separate people, later merged into Jesus, would that make Jesus historical or not?
    Depends on the merging that happened. Do you have any evidence this happened?

  195. says

    @One Brow
    I asked the question, because I just thought that considering the possibility might help illuminate what “historical Jesus” actually means. There’s a fair bit of ambiguity here and I don’t think that helps the discussion.

    E.g. There has been some discussion about Paul. It’s clear that Paul never met Jesus. As such, is the person he’s talking about actually the “historical Jesus” or is Paul’s writings an example of the myth that was attached to the historical Jesus? What does this mean for how we should consider Paul’s writings? Even if he believed that he was writing about a specific person, was he really, if he was just reporting on his own visions?

    I’m not presenting evidence, I’m asking how the evidence we do have should be considered.

  196. says

    LykeX,

    From what I can tell, both. Paul writes about the Jesus that lived, and also about the myth that was attached to him (more about the latter than the former, by far). I see that question as being very different from the question of whether there were two separate people named Jesus. By comparison, if I were two ask if there were two Socrates that Plato combined into a single teacher, I would not see that as the same question as asking about how much of Plato’s account was myth-making versus reality.

  197. Dr Sarah says

    @GerrardofTitanServer, #198:

    see LykeX’s reply.

    What, the one that was basically ‘people make things up sometimes, end of explanation’?

    Yes, of course people make things up. However, scribes didn’t usually write things they’ve made up into the middle of the things they’re copying. (Though hat tip here to the Bugger All This Bible in Good Omens, because somebody had to mention it.) When scribes added interpolations, it was typically because this was information they believed to be correct for some reason.

    According to mythicism, Christianity started with a belief in a Jesus who was a heavenly being, and then at an undefined later date started claiming that this Jesus had in fact lived on earth less than a century prior, and making up detailed stories about the human life they were now claiming he’d had. (Why they’d do that is another whole issue that mythicism answers rather badly, but set that aside for a second.) These stories supposedly included the existence of a brother called James who’d died a martyr’s death. However, as you’ve pointed out above, we know of no Christian stories in which this death had anything to do with an execution hurried through by the high priest Ananus without proper authorisation. On top of which, most of the population wouldn’t have known these stories anyway, since they were coming from what was at the time a rather small sect. (In answer to your comment in #199, Origen mentions the ‘brother of Jesus called Christ’ line in Josephus a couple of times in his work ‘Against Celsus’, so this line would in fact have had to be in a copy of Josephus early enough for Origen to have read it prior to 248, so we’re talking about a timeframe when Christianity was still fairly small.)

    Against this background, you’re hypothesising a hypothetical scribe who, for some reason, not only knew this obscure story about Jesus the founder of the Christians having had a brother called James, but also thought that these were the Jesus and James referred to in this story. Even though the whole story of Jesus having a brother called James was little-known, supposedly fictional, and had nothing in it about Ananus. Even though these were two extremely common names, used repeatedly in Josephus. Despite all this, for some reason this scribe supposedly assumes that this mention of ‘James the brother of Jesus’ must be referring to this particular James and Jesus.

    Can you see why I’m querying the likelihood of this explanation, and why I feel it is considerably less likely than the explanation that Josephus (who would have actually been local when the whole incident took place, and thus would have potentially been in a position to know if the executed James actually had been the brother of an actual Jesus called Christ) genuinely wrote that comment?

  198. Dr Sarah says

    Correction for #229:

    What, the one that was basically ‘people make things up sometimes, end of explanation’?

    Sorry, my bad; it was actually a rather vague comment about beliefs changing, which didn’t address the question of why a belief in Jesus as heavenly being would change to a belief that he had an earthly brother who was executed in a particular documented event. The rest of my points still stand.

  199. Dr Sarah says

    @Kagehi, #195:

    #190 Letters? Really? So, what is you “secondary source”, which shows that such “letters” existed? The letters themselves maybe? Oh, right, we don’t have any such thing

    What on earth are you talking about? Galatians and the other writings we still have from Paul are letters, which he originally wrote to the various groups of Christians he’d converted. What did you think they were?

    Also, I think you’ve missed the context of that particular bit of subthread; the comparison with Dumbledore wasn’t in answer to a claim about Jesus’s existence, it was in answer to One Brow saying that Paul was not the first Christian. Someone asked for a source for that claim, and One Brow cited Galatians because Paul mentions in that letter that the church existed before he converted.

    the, ‘He did exist.”, side insists that, “Statements made by someone in the Bible should be good enough to prove that they where real, and referenced real events and people, even though other parts of the Bible do nothing of the sort.”

    I’ve been reading these debates for years and I’ve yet to see a non-Christian mythicist claim that being in the Bible is automatically good enough for a statement to be true. Please cut out the strawman arguments.

    And, lest we forget, this is in a time when the Romans thought keeping track of things so generally pointless as the exact name of some guy that collected piss for the leather works, and probably details about his lineage. There should be “something” that isn’t decades, or centuries later, someplace. Right?

    No, that’s a common misconception. Since things at the time were typically recorded on papyrus, which rots away after a few decades, we have almost none of the original documents of that time; the only ones we have are the ones that someone thought it was worth saving, copying, and recopying, or the tiny proportion that were on some more durable material in the first place. If we could magically get back every single thing that was written in that time then, yes, we’d probably find some kind of record of crucifixions that mentioned a Jesus of Nazareth being crucified for claiming to be King of the Jews, but any such records will have long since have crumbled into dust. And it’s unlikely that anything more than that would have been written at the time; the Romans really didn’t care about the details of what some backwater preacher was saying, apart from the bit where enough people seemed to have latched onto him as a potential messiah that it ran the risk of starting an attempted revolution. (The person who collected piss for the leatherworks would at least have been marginally important in that someone would have needed to pay him and keep a record of his payment, which wouldn’t have been the case for Jesus.)

    IOW, it’s totally normal for us not to have any surviving contemporary records of people who lived at that time. ‘Passing mention by a historian writing about his brother’s execution sixty years later’ is actually pretty good going for a peasant living in those days, as far as surviving evidence goes.

  200. KG says

    Mythicism is as much a form of denialist nonsense as creationism and anthropogenic climate change denial. I’m not going to waste my time arguing with the mythicist numpties here, I’ll simply refer them to this series of posts by an atheist historian where just about every one of their points (as far as I read in the thread) is comprehensively refuted.

  201. says

    @Dr Sarah
    To be clear, I’m not interested in defending mythicism. To my mind, the main point of this subject is to simply figure out what people are even saying.
    E.g. this

    According to mythicism, Christianity started with a belief in a Jesus who was a heavenly being, and then at an undefined later date started claiming that this Jesus had in fact lived on earth less than a century prior, and making up detailed stories about the human life they were now claiming he’d had.

    is not my position.

    For one, I think that this framing almost assumes historicity. It assumes that there was a specific point where some new idea was invented, implying a specific person who did it. I think that all the ideas were already present in various sects and cults and some of those ideas and groups were selected into the particular branch that became Christianity.
    The expectation of a physical person and the notion of a celestial being were already beliefs held by various groups before any potential Jesus showed up. Fundamentally, Christianity is not a thing that started; it was the rebranding effort of a subset of existing cults.

    I will not assert any certainty that there was no historical basis for Jesus. That would be foolish, given the lack of evidence. I just don’t see how the situation is improved by asserting the existence of a person who we basically know nothing about.
    I can only defend historicity by cutting Jesus down into being only an abstract “person who inspired this cult”. I can’t reasonably assert any biographical fact about him. The best evidence I know is Paul’s letters; Paul, who never even claimed to have met Jesus. The other biblical accounts are anonymous and/or clearly mythical. All dates are assumptions made from texts that are already questionable. Extra biblical accounts amount only to reporting on what Christians believed, not what actually happened.

    I don’t think there’s much to be gained by discussing the facts when we have so few of them. There aren’t enough piece to lay the puzzle with any certainty. A such, I think this discussion is really more about how we think; how we use limited evidence and what assumptions we make when speculating on events so far in the past.

    And I apologize if my contributions sometimes seem a bit glib. It’s the “poke it with a stick” approach, because I’m not sure how to phrase better questions.

  202. rationalrevolution says

    I’m a bit late to the party, and as pointed out, Dr. Sarah has critiqued my book at length, but I’ll say these few things.

    1) About 400 years ago (Western) people started saying that the earth couldn’t be 6,000 years old and it seems that life has changed over time, it couldn’t possibly all have been created in 6 days. (actually people thought that 2,000 years ago, but, that’s a different matter). The Church said no, that’s crazy. What followed was several hundred years of various speculations about how life originated and developed on earth, that did not involve divine creation. Many of these proposals were wacky. Some were crazy. Many were proposed by people with unsavory political ideologies and agendas. Nevertheless, people could see that something was wrong with the status quo explanation for the development of life on earth. After dozens, if not hundreds, if failed proposals, Charles Darwin finally got enough data together and put together a clear enough explanation of that data to convince most people that indeed life did evolve over time and that everything we see on earth today was not, in fact, created in the span of 6 days. Now, the fact that many wrong proposals were made along the way was never really defense of the untenable claim that all life on earth was created in 6 days.

    2) This really isn’t that hard to understand and in fact the evidence at this point is pretty overwhelming. The “Jesus story” really developed in the late 1st or early 2nd century in response to the First Jewish-Roman War and the destruction of the Temple. That should be pretty plain to see.

    But what’s more, the Gospel of Mark is very clearly an allegorical story written in reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War, in which all of the scenes are derived from Jewish scriptures that were about the destruction of the Temple. You have to understand Jewish history.

    The primary theme of Jewish history is the account of the destruction of the so-called First Temple (Solomon’s Temple). That event occupies the greatest part of the Jewish scriptures. The account of 1 & 2 Kings, as well as most of the books of the prophets, are about the destruction of the “First Temple”.

    The Gospel of Mark uses these scriptures from beginning to end to craft a narrative about the destruction of the Second Temple, in which each scene refers back to scriptures about the destruction of the First. This was actually a somewhat common practice in Jewish story writing and prophecy writing called pesher. It was the interpretation of current events through the lens of older scriptures. Many Jewish narratives are written in this way.

    But the thing is, Roman scholars didn’t understand this. They saw the correlations between the Gospels and the Jewish scriptures as evidence that Jesus had fulfilled a bunch of prophecies. In reality, there was an original allegorical story, likely written by a Jew somewhat like Josephus (an educated Jew who nevertheless sided with the Romans). Many Jews, following the destruction of the Temple, interpreted this as a judgment against the Jewish priesthood. As in all Jewish stories, defeat of the Jews by foreign armies was interpreted as God’s judgment against the Jews for having done wrong. This theme is pervasive in the scriptures.

    The Jesus character of the Gospels is clearly, and provably, made up. The events of the Gospels are not based on any real person’s life and this can be proved definitively.

    The whole thing, including the Pauline letters, was a response to the destruction of the Temple. It does get more compilated, dealing with Marcion and the Gnostics, the counter-Marcionite revisions to the Pauline letters and the formation of the anti-Marcionite cannon, etc., but really, the evidence is overwhelming at this point that this was all fabricated in the late 1st and/or early 2nd century, and it originated out of scriptural interpretation and re-envisioning of what God wanted in light of the fact that God was displeased with the Jewish priesthood as evidenced by his commissioning of the destruction of the Temple.

    I recently did a presentation for History Valley on YouTube that walks through a lot of this in more detail. I highly recommend it, and would certainly challenge you to respond to it PZ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbvIwEiaAsU&t=0

  203. John Morales says

    rationalrevolution:

    The events of the Gospels are not based on any real person’s life and this can be proved definitively.

    Perhaps it can be, but it most certainly has not been, else the majority of scholars would accept that contention. This is not the case.

  204. rationalrevolution says

    @John Morales What “scholars” are you talking about? All of those people with PhDs in theology from seminary schools? The problem is that this is a field dominated by Christian theologians, which many historians defer to as “experts”, when in fact there is no real actual objective field of “biblical studies”. There is no such thing. Do you know who the people are that are considered “experts” in this field? They all have degrees in theology and divinity from seminary schools, including people like Bart Ehrman. 99% of “biblical scholars” are believing Christians. The ones that aren’t, like Ehrman, are people with divinity degrees that graduated from seminary school and then lost the faith, but everything they learned about the Bible they learned from theology programs. The field is a joke.

    It has been proved. It is actually easy to prove. Watch the video I linked. Won’t take you very long. Proof and acceptance are different things. It has been proved. It has not been accepted by the “experts” in the field of “biblical studies”, 99% of which are believing Christians, 100% of which have degrees from seminary schools.

    In the video I prove analysis of some scenes, and then compare that to analysis by Bart Ehrman and other theologians. What it for yourself and drawn your own conclusions. The Gospel of Mark is composed, line by line, from teh “Old Testament”. Literally, virtually every single line of the story comes form the Jewish scriptures. And virtually every single passage that is used to construct the story comes from scriptures about the destruction of the First Temple. The story is a commentary on the destruction of the Temple, in which every detail has been fabricated from prior scriptures. Watch the video, see how “biblical experts” explain this and compare that to much more rational explanations.

  205. John Morales says

    rationalrevolution:

    @John Morales What “scholars” are you talking about?

    Obviously, the majority of them — else, Jesus Mythicism would not be a disputed point.

    The problem is that this is a field dominated by Christian theologians, which many historians defer to as “experts”, when in fact there is no real actual objective field of “biblical studies”.

    Interesting. An argumentum ad hominem and also a dismissal of that scholarly field.

    Kinda self-defeating, no?
    When you assert “in fact there is no real actual objective field of “biblical studies””, it means you yourself are not objective, as well as that there is no such field. And that you are not a scholar, since there are none.

    It has been proved. It is actually easy to prove.

    Well, then — there is no dispute, is there?

    (heh)

    It has not been accepted by the “experts” in the field of “biblical studies”, 99% of which are believing Christians, 100% of which have degrees from seminary schools.

    You mean the field that does not exist, and which has no experts?

    (Again: you’re claiming you yourself have no expertise, since there are no experts)

    Also, you do realise the Bible — outside the New Testament — is a Jewish thing, no? Many, many experts (or, as you call them, “experts” are Jewish), many are actually practicing Jews.

    See, when you claim Jewish scholars represent less than 1% of biblical scholars, I can tell you’re just making shit up.

    Watch the video, see how “biblical experts” explain this and compare that to much more rational explanations.

    Mate! Richard Carried blogged here for quite some time, posted a shitload about it. I’m quite familiar with the arguments pro and con.

    PS

    It has been proved. It is actually easy to prove.

    Evidently, the proof is too long to fit into even a wordy blog comment.

    Thus, the only way to access it is to watch a video you made. ;)

  206. Tethys says

    Rational revolution @235

    The Jesus character of the Gospels is clearly, and provably, made up. The events of the Gospels are not based on any real person’s life and this can be proved definitively.
    The whole thing, including the Pauline letters, was a response to the destruction of the Temple.

    The Pauline letters cannot be a response to the destruction of the temple unless Paul was an actual prophet, since he died about five years before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

  207. Silentbob says

    @ 233 KG

    Good link, and good comment.

    I’m not sure if it’s been mentioned in this thread yet, but the idea there was no Jesus originated in the 18th century. Even the most virulent anti-Christians of ancient of medieval times never claimed he didn’t exist.

  208. Silentbob says

    @ ^

    To be clear, before I get scolded, there were groups that believed he was an incorporeal apparition that looked like a man. But none that said he was fictional like, say, Hercules, or Jason of the Argonauts.

  209. KG says

    Rational revolution @235,237
    It’s a useful heuristic than anyone whose nym includes words such as “rational”, “truth”, etc. is a complete numpty.

    Silentbob@240,241,
    One can expect the mythicist response “Ah, but the Church suppressed that “heretical” truth!!!!”. But we know of multiple “heretical” beliefs of early Christian groups, as well as of anti-Christian writers, either through their own writings, or through “refutations” from the faction that won out. We don’t have a single claim that Jesus never existed or existed only in the heavens, nor a single “refutation” of such a claim.

  210. John Morales says

    KG:

    We don’t have a single claim that Jesus never existed or existed only in the heavens […]

    Ahem. #209.

    That counts as “existed only in the heavens”, though was manifested here on Earth.

    (Extirpation)

  211. KG says

    Since things at the time were typically recorded on papyrus, which rots away after a few decades, we have almost none of the original documents of that time; the only ones we have are the ones that someone thought it was worth saving, copying, and recopying, or the tiny proportion that were on some more durable material in the first place. – Dr. Sarah@232

    I’ve read somewhere that all the texts and written records we have from the ancient Greeks and Romans would fit (written on paper, not microfiche, CDs or whatever), into a handful of sizeable bookcases. There are, incidentally, some papyri that have survived due to unusual environmental conditions, including some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but mostly the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, recovered from an ancient rubbish dump in Egypt. Only a small proportion of these have yet been transcribed.

  212. KG says

    John Morales@243,
    Nah. So far as we know what the Albigensians believed at all (which isn’t very far), believing Jesus was “manifested” on earth implies that people would have seen and heard him, which mythicism denies. They were also from long after the early-Christian period the whole dispute is about, when, according to mythicism, the early knowledge that Jesus was completely unearthly somehow got lost. Not up to your usual quibble-standard, John! After all, we know there were 19th and 20th century claims that jesus never existed/manifested/whatever on earth, closer in time to the Albigenisans than the latter are to Jesus’s claimed lifetime. Why not claim those as a refutation of my point@242?

  213. John Morales says

    […]believing Jesus was “manifested” on earth implies that people would have seen and heard him, which mythicism denies.

    Well, yes, if you exclude people claiming to have seen and heard him.
    Surely they could not be bullshitting, right? ;)

    They were also from long after the early-Christian period the whole dispute is about, when, according to mythicism, the early knowledge that Jesus was completely unearthly somehow got lost.

    Um, #209.

    Basically, after the original intimation, I noted an early belief that determined the truth-status of Raging Bee’s claim/question (see next quotation), then I added the (parenthetical) reference to a version of that belief being extirpated um, 1200 years or so later, as well. Infamously so.

    I quote from #200:

    when have any significant faction of Christians EVER believed Jesus to be “a heavenly figure with no earthly existence?”

    Heavenly existence, Earthly manifestation; those two conceits are not incompatible. I mean, I know you know all about Trinitarianism.

    Anyway, that was the point. Not only was that sort of belief extant at the very foundation of Christianity, but it was extant around 1200 years later, in the very heart of Christendom. It was a thing.

  214. StevoR says

    Weren’t there at least elements of the Jason & argonaut story that were based on truth too? Using fleeces to pan for gold in the streams of a certain region?

    @ 235. rationalrevolution : “..very clearly ..” & “in fact the evidence at this point is pretty overwhelming. “& “That should be pretty plain to see.” & “The events of the Gospels are not based on any real person’s life and this can be proved definitively.”

    I know you’ve literally written a book on this and all but Inigo Montoya’s “You keep using these words!” seems to apply given the, well, continuing debate and argument here -and elsewhere. If so persuasive your book and arguments are, why are more people not persuaded do you think?

    We’re not all Christianiists or Christians here (withafew possible exceptions) and we atheists are mostly not buyiong it so .. it isn’t just pro-Christian bias wnating Jesus to be real now is it? is it?

  215. StevoR says

    Huh. Italics didn’t work.. Dangnabbit. Well, I guess the quote marks make it clear.

  216. KG says

    John Morales@247

    Well, yes, if you exclude people claiming to have seen and heard him.

    According to the (alleged) Albigensian belief, people would actually have done so, which is precisely what mythicism denies. So I don’t get your point here.

    Basically, after the original intimation, I noted an early belief that determined the truth-status of Raging Bee’s claim/question (see next quotation)

    No, you didn’t. The “next quotation” @209 is:

    And okay, I’ll bite: how is the Albigensian Crusade different from the other Crusades?

    Or do you mean the next quotation @247? At any rate, there is nothing I can see @209 that “noted an early belief that determined the truth-status of Raging Bee’s claim/question”. Do try to be a little clearer, John!

  217. StevoR says

    @235. rationalrevolution : :

    I recently did a presentation for History Valley on YouTube that walks through a lot of this in more detail. I highly recommend it, and would certainly challenge you to respond to it PZ…

    & @ 238. John Morales response :

    PS “It has been proved. It is actually easy to prove.” – rationalrevolution (- ed & nb added quotes & italics for clarity.)

    Evidently, the proof is too long to fit into even a wordy blog comment. Thus, the only way to access it is to watch a video you made. ;)

    A very nearly 2 hour long video at that.* Sheesh.

    I was going to watch it now but it is already nearly 11 pm here, I have other things to do and work tomorrow & I doubt I’m alone in that.

    Can you summarise the main key points and evidence please? Do say a manageble 15 minute highlights / main key evidence version for those who aren’t as into every minor detail & side track here perhaps? I presume as an author you’re familiar with doing a precis or abstract?

    In the video I prove analysis of some scenes, and then compare that to analysis by Bart Ehrman and other theologians. What it for yourself and drawn your own conclusions. The Gospel of Mark is composed, line by line, from teh “Old Testament”. Literally, virtually every single line of the story comes form the Jewish scriptures. And virtually every single passage that is used to construct the story comes from scriptures about the destruction of the First Temple. The story is a commentary on the destruction of the Temple, in which every detail has been fabricated from prior scriptures. Watch the video, see how “biblical experts” explain this and compare that to much more rational explanations.

    Okay. That’s ..better I guess? But seriously? Also just one gospel out of the four ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel ) so .. 1/4 and leaving open there question of the other 4 – even if we grant you all the stuff is right about Mark which .. really don’t know based on a reasonable-ish layers view of the OT incl things like following Hemant Mehta’s read though of it starting from Genesis and now up to Numbers #34. See my #202 & well here for the start of the Friendly Atheists Bible read through series & this for Hemant Mehta’s latest episode.

    Even taking all all the begat chapters, the directions,the construction of Arks x 2 and Temple directions, the minor rules with death penalties for breaking them stuff and picking out just the ancient Jewish prophecy stuff alone ain’t a lot of that typically contradictory and opaque and debateable thus unclear anyhow?

    Oh and your analsyiss compared with other peopel’s analysis and .. you think this is what was it again? Oh yeah .. “.very clearly.. pretty overwhelming.. pretty plain to see” & “..can be proved definitively.”

    I dunno? Maybe? I might see that video of yours later when I have more spare time to do so – will try – but it’s gunna have to be really compelling stuff and not lose me quickly.. I mean I know I can hardly talk when it comes to being verbose /thorough.. but dude.

    Meanwhile your most solid and key evidence from it in your view would be? Say, your three main arguments and their main supporting evidence please?

    .* Circa 1 hour 50 mins to be more precise~ish.

  218. says

    …believing Jesus was “manifested” on earth implies that people would have seen and heard him, which mythicism denies.

    Does it, necessarily? I don’t see how that’s the case.
    Mythicism vs historicity is a question about whether there was a particular human being at the center of it. If there was only manifestations or visions, however life-like, that still means there was no human Jesus, hence mythicism.
    Unless we’re suggesting manifesting an entire, continuous human life, birth to death, in which case it’s indistinguishable from there just being a human Jesus.

    It reminds me of another version of my earlier question: What if “Jesus” was an alias deliberately created by a group of people and shared. When preaching to a crowd, they would claim to be Jesus, so if trouble arose, the authorities would be chasing after “Jesus”, while the real people had time to escape.
    Would that make Jesus historical (because there were real people at the bottom of it) or mythical (because Jesus was a fabrication all along)?

  219. rationalrevolution says

    Regarding Paul, the Pauling letters are not attested until Marcion “published” his collection of Pauline letters in the mid 2nd century. The letters cannot be definitively dated to any time from the 1st century BCE to the 2nd century CE.

    Almost all dating of early Christian writings is based on assumptions relative to the supposed death of Jesus under Pilate. I.e. If Jesus died under Pilate around 30CE, and Paul wrote 14 years after his death as his letters suggest, then the Pauline letters must have been written around 40-60 CE. And so it goes for the whole catalogue of early Christian writings including Clement and Ignatius, etc. The whole thing is a house of cards.

    On top of that, it is well established that early Christian writings have been heavily revised and edited, there are many frauds, indeed the writings are overwhelming fraudulent, which even Christians themselves acknowledge!

    What “Christian Lore” tells us is that the writings of the New Testament are “real and authentic”, but the NT was created because it was recognized that the overwhelming body of writings about Jesus were all frauds! So, even the early church fathers knew that most of the writings about Jesus were fraudulent. But now, you really think that these guys from the 2nd and 3rd century got it all right and they selected the “true writings”?

    Turns out, even modern scholars like Bart Ehrman acknowledge that essentially every single writing of the NT is ALSO fraudulent. Ehrman concludes that of the twenty-seven writings in the New Testament, only eight were authentically signed by their real author. All of the others are either anonymous or forged under a false name. Of the eight letters that Ehrman considers authentic, seven belong to Paul the Apostle, the other one is the Revelation of John.

    That’s actually a conservative view, because the fact is that nothing definitive can be said about the Pauline letters, other that they were first made known to the world by Marcion of Sinope, who came to be considered a heretic because he believed that Jesus was a heavenly being who descended to earth directly from heaven. And the evidence is quite strong showing that the orthodox Pauline letters that come down to us today are all actually derived from Maricon’s collection, which the opponents of Marcion altered to counter Marcion’s views. A big part of that was adding in statements about Jesus being “born of a woman” and being “of the seed of David”, etc. all things that contradicted Maricon’s teachings.

    Yes, Church traditions try to make all of this seem quite simple and clear cut, but when you actually dig into the data, so see that it is far from it.

  220. rationalrevolution says

    @SteveoR If you want to skip ahead, you can start around here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbvIwEiaAsU (37 minutes in)

    Following my assessment of the scene I then review mainstream commentary on the same scene.

    As for, “Also just one gospel out of the four.”

    Right, but the point is dealing with the first Gospel that was written and then showing how every other story about Jesus is copied from the first story. Of course many biblical scholars now acknowledge that all four canonical Gospels are reliant on teh Gospel of Mark. So once we recognize that details of the first stary are entirely made up by the writer, it is obviously the case that every other Gospel that includes those same narrative elements is copying something that never actually happened from from the first story. And of course what we see is that the Gospel of Mark is the core of every Gospel narrative that exists, even the non-canonical ones.

    So what we have is a fictional story that was then copied by many people and many variants were made of the one fictional story.

  221. KG says

    Does it, necessarily? I don’t see how that’s the case.
    Mythicism vs historicity is a question about whether there was a particular human being at the center of it. If there was only manifestations or visions, however life-like, that still means there was no human Jesus, hence mythicism.
    Unless we’re suggesting manifesting an entire, continuous human life, birth to death, in which case it’s indistinguishable from there just being a human Jesus. – LykeX@252

    I took it that John Morales was attributing to the Albigensians the view that Jesus did “manifest” an entire, continuous human life, but wasn’t really existing on earth. I agree with you that this is a distinction without a difference relevant to the mythicist/historicist issue. Marcion (c. 80-160 CE) held something like that view, but that’s certainly not the view mythicists attribute to the early Christians, as it implies (since there are in reality no such manifesting-but-not-really-here entities) the existence of a human, historical Jesus who Marcion mitakenly believed not to be human. But maybe John will clarify what he meant.

  222. John Morales says

    But maybe John will clarify what he meant.

    What I meant was that I was not referring to mythicism itself, but to RB’s “when have any significant faction of Christians EVER believed Jesus to be “a heavenly figure with no earthly existence?”. #209 was a direct response to a follow-up question, again not about mythicism itself.

    I thought LykeX made a good point, above.

  223. rationalrevolution says

    @KG Lol, yes let’s cite Wikipedia…

    Read Jason BeDuhn The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon I work taken very seriously in the scholarship.
    https://www.amazon.com/First-New-Testament-Marcions-Scriptural/dp/1598151312/
    Joseph B. Tyson Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, another work of serious scholarship.
    https://www.amazon.com/Marcion-Luke-Acts-Defining-Joseph-Tyson/dp/1570036500/

    It is widely accepted that the first attestation of the Pauline letter collection is from Marcion. And Marcion’s letter collection contains works widely agreed to be fraudulent, such as Colossians and Ephesians. Those works are also quite gnostic in nature. Those works are also included in the orthodox collection. How did they get there? Why does the orthodox collection include what appear to be Marcionite forgeries? There are multiple passages in the Pauline letters that appear to be Marcionite, such as statements about the Jews no knowing who God is in Romans 10.

    Marcion is the first to tout this collection, on that everyone is agreed because it is indisputable. Then the opponents of Marcion turn up a small time later with a longer version of Marcion’s Pauline letters, plus three new additional letters, which everyone now agrees are also pro-orthodox forgeries – the Pastorals of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, which are clearly from the 2nd century.

    So Marcion has a collection, it includes gnostic oriented forgeries. The orthodox later come out with supposedly the “authentic letters”, which also include the gnostic forgeries, but the orthodox Romans letter make the letter to the Romans the most important letter, which is now much longer, and their letters include a bunch of statements of pure Catholic doctrine that were not in Maricon’s letters. Marcion’s opponents claim that they got their collection by going back to the original recipients and obtaining the “true versions” after Marcion had “militated them”. “Riiiight”.

    Yes, keep citing Wikipedia, and the Pope as well while you’re at it…

  224. says

    rationalrevolution@235,
    The “Jesus story” really developed in the late 1st or early 2nd century in response to the First Jewish-Roman War and the destruction of the Temple. That should be pretty plain to see.

    But what’s more, the Gospel of Mark is very clearly an allegorical story written in reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War, in which all of the scenes are derived from Jewish scriptures that were about the destruction of the Temple. You have to understand Jewish history.
    Even if this is true, it does nothing to prove a mythical Jesus. Authors have been crafting multi-layered tales since centuries before GoM was written. Mark writing about a historical person is completely compatible with his weaving in allegory, Jewish scriptural references, and commentary about the Jewish-Roman conflicts.

  225. says

    rationalrevolution@258,
    It is widely accepted that the first attestation of the Pauline letter collection is from Marcion…
    It is widely accepted that the first reference many of the letters attributed to Paul came from 1 Clement, during the first century, likely some 30 years after they would have been written and 40 years before Marcion would have collected them. Clement did not regard them as a collection, but he did reference them.

  226. StevoR says

    @254 rationalrevolution : Okay. Thanks but can you answer the question I asked you in #241 :

    If so persuasive your arguments are, then why are more people not persuaded by them do you think? Why is there still this
    mythicist-historicist debate if things are as definitively proven in favour of the mythicist side as you say?

    Again, we’re not all Christianists or Christians here (with a few known exceptions most commenters here are atheists and at least secular) and most on this blog I think atheists are not buying your case so .. This isn’t just pro-Christian bias wanting & believing Jesus to be real now is it? Is it?

    Once again too, what is your main evidence and argument summed up simply in a sentence or two please?

  227. KG says

    rationalrevolution@258,
    So, do you deny that, as the Wikipedia article I linked to says:

    Most scholars believe that Paul actually wrote seven of the Pauline epistles (Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians), while three of the epistles in Paul’s name are widely seen as pseudepigraphic (First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus). Whether Paul wrote the three other epistles in his name (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians) is widely debated.

    Because that’s why I said your:

    And the evidence is quite strong showing that the orthodox Pauline letters that come down to us today are all actually derived from Maricon’s collection, which the opponents of Marcion altered to counter Marcion’s views.

    is complete crap, which no-one but a few flakes takes seriously.

    And from what I can see from reviews, BeDuhn says nothing of the sort: his work is an attempt to reconstruct (the content rather than the exact words of) Marcion’s Scriptural Canon. If he had made such a remarkable claim, I think reviewers would have mentioned it – but you can easily prove me wrong by quoting where BeDuhn makes the claim you do, or anything like it.

  228. KG says

    Turns out, even modern scholars like Bart Ehrman acknowledge that essentially every single writing of the NT is ALSO fraudulent. Ehrman concludes that of the twenty-seven writings in the New Testament, only eight were authentically signed by their real author. All of the others are either anonymous or forged under a false name. Of the eight letters that Ehrman considers authentic, seven belong to Paul the Apostle, the other one is the Revelation of John. – rationalrevolution@253

    No, he doesn’t. By your own words, Ehrman considers 8 of out 27 “authentic” – and 19 out of 27 is not “essentially every single writing”. But besides that, anonymity does not make something fraudulent. Even with regard to “forged under a false name” (a) this – extremely common in writings from the period – does not mean the content contains no useful historical information and (b) since I doubt you really sign your cheques “rationalrevolution”, it would seem that by your own criteria, every comment you have made in this thread is “fraudulent”. I wouldn’t quarrel with that conclusion, but you might.

  229. Dr Sarah says

    @LykeX, #234:

    If it helps, I wasn’t hugely bothered by what you said; the only reason I even mentioned it was because GerrardofTitanServer referred to it as though it was a perfectly good explanation, which it wasn’t, for reasons I went into in my comments replying to him. However…

    I just don’t see how the situation is improved by asserting the existence of a person who we basically know nothing about.

    That’s like saying that you don’t see how the situation is improved by arguing about whether, say, Richard III really killed the Princes in the Tower or not. Of course arguing about that doesn’t improve any situation; it’s something some people do because they’re interested in the topic. Likewise, Jesus historicity. Those of us who argue the subject, pro or con, typically aren’t trying to improve any ‘situation’; we just find the debate interesting.

    FWIW, I have zero problem with people holding the attitude ‘who cares, since we can’t find out any details/have any certainty on the subject anyway’. What annoys me is people who claim to hold that attitude barging into the debate anyway with uninformed or poorly-thought-out assumptions and/or tell those of us who do enjoy this as a topic for discussion that the whole thing is foolish/pointless, while continuing to announce loudly how much they don’t care.

  230. Dr Sarah says

    @rationalrevolution, #235:

    Nevertheless, people could see that something was wrong with the status quo explanation for the development of life on earth… the fact that many wrong proposals were made along the way was never really defense of the untenable claim that all life on earth was created in 6 days.

    True. Now, since I assume you’re using this as an analogy, please explain why you think the claim that Jesus existed is ‘untenable’. So far, the reason you’ve given for thinking this is that the author of gMark based a lot of his gospel on Jewish scriptures/Paul’s letters. But you’ve also stated that in that day and age it was normal for biographies to be embellished/partly mythologised (‘Deciphering’, Chapter 4), and the examples you’ve given of this embellishment in gMark include details of the story of John the Baptist, for whose existence we have good evidence (there’s a lengthy passage about him in Josephus).

    So, we have a perfectly good non-mythicist explanation for Mark basing lots of his gospel on other sources; this was normal at the time even for people writing biographies of historical characters. Given that that’s so, what issues do you feel are incompatible with Jesus-historicity to the point of making the theory ‘untenable’?

    [The structure of gMark] was actually a somewhat common practice in Jewish story writing and prophecy writing called pesher.

    No, it wasn’t. Pesher (interpretation) involved explaining what the writer saw as the true interpretation of the text. So, for example, if Mark had quoted 2 Kings 4:42 – 44 and then stated that the pesher of these verses was that the Messiah would similarly feed crowds of people with only a small amount of bread, that would have been a pesher. Writing a fictional story about a Messiah doing this in a fictional life on earth would not be a pesher. See the difference?

    As in all Jewish stories, defeat of the Jews by foreign armies was interpreted as God’s judgment against the Jews for having done wrong.

    Undoubtedly, yes. But you seem to be trying to claim that, as in precisely no known Jewish stories, in this case it somehow became interpreted as God’s judgement against the Jews for having executed a Messiah who never lived on earth to be executed in the first place.

    The events of the Gospels are not based on any real person’s life and this can be proved definitively.

    Rubbish. Whatever you think is the best explanation for the scanty evidence we have, it certainly can’t be ‘proved definitively’. The best we can do is to look at which theory explains the evidence better.

  231. StevoR says

    @ 264. Dr Sarah :

    FWIW, I have zero problem with people holding the attitude ‘who cares, since we can’t find out any details/have any certainty on the subject anyway’. What annoys me is people who claim to hold that attitude barging into the debate anyway with uninformed or poorly-thought-out assumptions and/or tell those of us who do enjoy this as a topic for discussion that the whole thing is foolish/pointless, while continuing to announce loudly how much they don’t care.

    Fair enough and hope that doesn’t apply to my comments here. Apologies if so.

  232. John Morales says

    … the attitude ‘who cares, since we can’t find out any details/have any certainty on the subject anyway’

    Close, but should include that the most salient realisation is that most believers will keep believing regardless of what the reality may be, no matter how indisputable that is.

    (Similar thing: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”)

  233. KG says

    About 400 years ago (Western) people started saying that the earth couldn’t be 6,000 years old and it seems that life has changed over time, it couldn’t possibly all have been created in 6 days. (actually people thought that 2,000 years ago, but, that’s a different matter). The Church said no, that’s crazy. What followed was several hundred years of various speculations about how life originated and developed on earth, that did not involve divine creation. Many of these proposals were wacky. Some were crazy. Many were proposed by people with unsavory political ideologies and agendas. Nevertheless, people could see that something was wrong with the status quo explanation for the development of life on earth. After dozens, if not hundreds, if failed proposals, Charles Darwin finally got enough data together and put together a clear enough explanation of that data to convince most people that indeed life did evolve over time and that everything we see on earth today was not, in fact, created in the span of 6 days. Now, the fact that many wrong proposals were made along the way was never really defense of the untenable claim that all life on earth was created in 6 days. – rationalrevolution@235

    Hmm. When you get your supposed analogy that wrong, it doesn’t particularly inspire confidence in your main claim. The notion that the earth was around 6,000 years old (never, AFAIK, actual dogma of the Catholic Church or main Protestant denominations, although various attempts had been made to calculate the “date of Creation”, from Bede in the 8th century to the best known, that of Archbishop Ussher, in the 17th), had been abandoned by scientists decades before Darwin voyaged on the Beagle, let alone published the Origin. The discoveries (and publications) of geologists such as James Hutton in the late 1700s already made such a date implausible, and in 1820s and 1830s the idea that the biblical flood could be detected in the geological record was refuted (Stephen Jay Gould, in his essay The Freezing of Noah, republished in his The Flamingo’s Smile (1985) recounts this episode, including the 1831 admission of the Rev. Adam Sedgewick that he had been wrong on the issue). Meanwhile paleontological discoveries made clear that past life-forms had been very different from those of the present, and this was accepted not only by those who speculated about evolution, such as Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, but by many eminent scientists who insisted all the fossilised animals were the result of successive “divine creations”, such as Cuvier and Owen. Charles Darwin’s work did convince a majority of scientists that evolution had taken place, but his and Wallace’s proposed mechanism for it, natural selection, remained highly contested (and for good reason) until the basics of genetics and the true timescale of earth history were elucidated around the turn of the 20th century. There’s very little in common between this long and complicated story of multiple generations of dedicated scientists dealing with rapidly emerging empirical evidence, powerful arguments (and of course, deep prejudices, including Darwin’s), and the mythicist vapourings of a handful of ideologically-motivated cranks.

  234. Dr Sarah says

    @StevoR, #266: No, actually, didn’t get that vibe from your writings at all! You’ve shot down specific points with good reason, but never done that whole thing of sneering at the whole debate. So as far as I’m concerned all’s good. Oh, and Happy New Year to you over on the other side of the planet!

  235. StevoR says

    @ ^ Dr Sarah : Thanks I was one of those saying we couldn’t know for certain given the lack of sufficient evidence and that I thought it was moot so I was worried a bit there.

  236. John W. Loftus says

    One way to look at it, probably the best way, is to ask ourselves how much of the Jesus we see in the New Testament is mythical? Of all the tales we read about Jesus, how much is made up, or borrowed, or based on faked OT prophecy? I’d say a great deal is mythical at the very very best. At the very least, there’s no way at all to corroborate the tales! That alone makes me a Jesus mythicist. Am I right or am I right? Source: https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2023/01/who-was-jesus-lunatic-liar-failed.html

  237. KG says

    Of all the tales we read about Jesus, how much is made up, or borrowed, or based on faked OT prophecy? I’d say a great deal is mythical at the very very best. At the very least, there’s no way at all to corroborate the tales! That alone makes me a Jesus mythicist. Am I right or am I right? – John W. Loftus@271

    No, you’re wrong. “Jesus mythicist” has a specific meaning, and it is not the one you claim it is. Jesus mythicism, in the sense of the term used both by most Jesus mythicists and by their opponents, is the hypothesis that there was no first-century CE historical person whose life and activities formed the basis of the accounts of “Jesus” in the four “canonical” gospels and elsewhere, and were causally connected to the beginnings of Christianity, which grew out of the activities of a group of his followers after his death. The majority of Jesus historicists (i.e., anti-mythicists) would agree that those gospel accounts include a good deal that is mythical. Your attempt to shift the meaning of terms simply confuses the issue, and I can’t help wondering if this is deliberate.

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