Richard Carrier takes the Christ out of Christmas

This is perhaps a Scrooge-y thing to do, but readers will surely want to know about it. It involves new research paper by Richard Carrier that bears heavily on the evidence for a historical Jesus.

Most readers surely know of the controversy about whether the story of Jesus in the New Testament was based on a real person, divine or not, or was simply based on myths that agglomerated around a nonexistent person. Although most of us on this site firmly deny any divinity of Jesus, the controversy continues about whether those stories were based on a real person. While Biblical scholars largely deny (or ignore) the divinity part, they are divided about the historicity of Jesus. People like Bart Ehrman conclude that the myth is based on a real person—an apocalyptic rabbi living at that time. “Mythicists” like Richard Carrier deny that there was such a person, citing the absence of extra-Biblical evidence for a real Jesus.

Supporting the mythicists is the absence of contemporary evidence testifying to a preaching rabbinical Jesus. Philo (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), who lived during the era when Jesus was supposedly alive, was a Greek philosopher who lived in Egypt under the Romans, visited Jerusalem, and wrote extensively about politics in the Middle East. But what he says about Jesus: nothing. As one skeptical website notes:

Much as Josephus would, a half century later, Philo wrote extensive apologetics on the Jewish religion and commentaries on contemporary politics. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words are extant. Philo offers commentary on all the major characters of the Pentateuch and, as we might expect, mentions Moses more than a thousand times.

Yet Philo says not a word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. In all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to his alleged contemporary “Jesus Christ”, the godman who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising demons, raising the dead and causing earthquake and darkness at his death.

With Philo’s close connection to the house of Herod, one might reasonably expect that the miraculous escape from a royal prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40), or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads of troops (Acts 12.2,7) might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing of Agrippa “vexing certain of the church” or killing “James brother of John” with the sword (Acts 12.1,2).

Nearly all the evidence for the historicity of Jesus, then, comes from either the Bible itself (a dubious source!) or people writing decades or centuries after the supposed crucifixion, and is thus based on hearsay.

One exception is Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 C.E.), who lived shortly after Jesus supposedly died. Josephus was a historian who wrote extensively about contemporary events; as Wikipedia notes:

Josephus recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, including the Siege of Masada, but the imperial patronage of his work has sometimes caused it to be characterized as pro-Roman propaganda.

His most important works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into 1st century Judaism and the background of Early Christianity (See main article Josephus on Jesus).

If anyone should have written extensively about Jesus, especially his reportedly miraculous deeds, it’s Josephus.  But there’s almost nothing about that in his writings save a couple of mentions of the Wonder Rabbi.

In Antiquities of the Jews, there are two brief references that, to Christians, prove ineluctably that Jesus was real. To “historicists” these constitute the smoking gun for at least a historical Jesus.

But first, here’s what Wikipedia says about them in its article, “Josephus on Jesus“:

Modern scholarship has almost universally acknowledged the authenticity of the reference in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities to “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”  and considers it as having the highest level of authenticity among the references of Josephus to Christianity. . .

Scholars have differing opinions on the total or partial authenticity of the reference in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, a passage usually called the Testimonium Flavianum. . .

Let’s look at the mention in the Testimonium Flavianum first—the one that’s controversial:

Antiquities 18.3.3. “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

For many reasons, which you can see at this site (where the translation above was given), this is taken to be a forgery—a later interpolation into Josephus’s text by Christians. But some historians think it real. In his new paper (see below), Carrier analyzes the issue in footnote 1 and finds this case for Jesus unconvincing based on its context and the fact that the account is so short but is sandwiched between much longer descriptions of much more trivial affairs.  I consider the reference possibly spurious, and largely agree with Carrier. It’s not convincing evidence for a historical Jesus.

But on to the reference in Book 20, which Wikipedia says is “almost universally acknowledged to be authentic. ” Here it is (from Wikipedia):

And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus… Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

According to Carrier’s new peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Early Christian studies, discussed on his website (reference and link below), this, too provides no convincing evidence. (The link below goes only to the abstract, so if you want the full paper just ask yours truly.) Here’s Carrier’s abstract:

Analysis of the evidence from the works of Origen, Eusebius, and Hegesippus concludes that the reference to “Christ” in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200 is probably an accidental interpolation or scribal emendation and that
the passage was never originally about Christ or Christians. It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.

Carrier contends, and supports this with evidence that seems pretty convincing, that the “Christ” reference was added in the margins by some later reader or scribe who really wanted to strengthen the Jesus myth, and then became incorporated into the transmitted text of Joesphus from then on.

Carrier’s contention is not that the entire passage is a forgery, but, as seen above, that the “Jesus and James” names represented other, extra-Biblical people (both names were common in Palestine then).

At any rate, my verdict about whether Jesus was a historical figure is equivalent to the Scottish legal verdict of “not proven.” Carrier does a good job, and we find that the references in Josephus (taken up by later historians) form a slender thread on which to hang a historical Jesus.

And of course even if Jesus was a historical figure, that says nothing about his divinity. As Hitch might have said, even if you accepted Jesus’s historicity, “all your work is still before you.” And the evidence for divinity rests solely in the man-made Bible. But if one can’t even convincingly demonstrate a historical Jesus, then you needn’t do the work at all.

___________

Carrier, R. 2012. Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200. Journal of Early Christian Studies 20: 489-514.

217 Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Nearly all the evidence for the historicity of Jesus, then, comes … or people writing decades or centuries after the supposed crucifixion, and is thus based on hearsay.
    One exception is Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 C.E.)

    All consideration of the authenticity of those passages written by Josephus, he was not an exception to the stated conditions. He wasn’t even born until after the alleged death of Jesus H. Christ, and the writings in question were several decades latter. I don’t see how anything he wrote could be construed as evidence for a historical Jesus, rather than on activities and claims of the early Christian church.

  2. Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Hoo boy…I’d break out the popcorn if I weren’t headed off to Mom & Dad for turkey and stuffing in a bit.

    Jerry, first, Philo wasn’t Greek; he was a Jew. His big thing was incorporating Hellenistic philosophy into Judaism. And, indeed, the Christians basically lifted Philo’s philosophy wholesale as their own.

    Next, it’s important to note that Josephus wasn’t even close to a contemporary. He wasn’t born until 37 CE, which is years after the latest date apologists typically give for the Crucifixion. It no more makes sense to cite Josephus as a source for Jesus’s existence than it would to cite Carrier himself (b. 1969) for John F. Kennedy.

    And, lastly, you don’t even need to be any kind of a critical scholar to conclude that the Book 20 reference is not to Jesus bar Joseph, but rather to Jesus bar Damneus: it’s right there at the end of the paragraph.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Ray
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      “And, lastly, you don’t even need to be any kind of a critical scholar to conclude that the Book 20 reference is not to Jesus bar Joseph, but rather to Jesus bar Damneus: it’s right there at the end of the paragraph.”

      Really? I can’t for the life of me figure out why Josephus would refer to James as “the brother of Jesus” rather than the more normal construction “James bar Damneus” if that was what he was getting at. Especially since he hasn’t mentioned Jesus bar Damneus yet when he makes this reference.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Read the passage for yourself. It’s here:

        http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Antiquities_of_the_Jews/Book_XX#Chapter_9

        It’s pretty clear that there’s only one Jesus being discussed in the passage — and ends by stating that said Jesus bar Damneus was made high priest as a result of all the political infighting.

        b&

        • Ray
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          The relevant paragraph was quoted in the original post. I do not think it is at all clear that your reading is correct, especially since Jesus bar Damneus is mentioned exactly zero times before the reference to James, and people generally read a text forward and will not have in mind things they have not yet read. It seems odd Josephus would be so unkind to his readers.

          The fact that Jesus, the so called Christ, is mentioned only once is not relevant. The text is about the succession of the high priesthood, so anyone who was never a high priest (including both Jesus and his brother James) will only get passing mention. The text explains why Ananus was deposed, it doesn’t need to also explain the deliberations that led to the choice of his successor.

          Regardless, you have not answered my question. If Josephus meant what you say he meant. Why not simply refer to James as “James bar Damneus”? It reads a LOT better that way.

          • Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            I think you may be putting too much emphasis on the precision of the text. We know that scribal errors and interpolations were not at all uncommon, and there is very strong evidence that this particular instance is one of them. And, when we have reason to believe that Josephus’s original words were tampered with, it seems unreasonable to me to suggest that the reading of the precise wording of the tampering should be indicative of something.

            Consider the most likely and most-often-offered analysis: that one scribe left off the “bar Damneus” of the first reference; a later scribe / scholar / reader / whomever scribbled “the Christ?” as a marginal note; and that another scribe inserted the marginal note into the next copy. In that case, your objection is moot, as it’s what one suggests Josephus actually originally wrote.

            b&

            • Ray
              Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              Ah. So now you’re positing that original text read

              “The brother of Jesus bar Damneus, whose name was James”

              That’s not what Carrier is claiming. Not only does your hypothesis require an extra scribal error to have occurred at the same exact location as the other two Carrier is positing (quite the coincidence) without any of the intermediate versions being preserved, but it takes away his argument that the text with “who was called Christ” included was clunky Greek. Now, you’re proposing an “original” construction that is just as clunky (Granted I don’t speak Greek, but it seems like a nearly identical construction,) and unlike the extant wording, the whole 9 word monstrosity could be replaced by “James bar Damneus” without changing its meaning.

              I don’t plan on springing the money on breaching the paywall, but whatever Carrier is hiding there had better be pretty convincing (and therefore unlike the arguments he has made on his blog for similar claims over the years.)

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                Ray, the point isn’t which particular guess at a reconstruction of a chain of events is the most plausible.

                The point is that the “evidence” has clearly been tampered with, and that, lacking some other independent bit of evidence (such as either an earlier manuscript or some commentary on the differences between manuscripts or the like), there’s not only no way to know what the original said, there’s no point in complaining about how unnatural the mangled text seems.

                Either the text is genuine or it isn’t. If it isn’t, even if something in there originally referred to Jesus, there’s no way to know that, so it’s an entirely moot point. If it’s genuine, then we have a man not born for years after events in question writing as a septuagenarian mentioning in passing the most important figure in all of ancient Judean history, and said passing reference being the grand total of actual ancient references to said figure. Either way, the conclusion of ahistoricity is overwhelming.

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                “The point is that the ‘evidence’ has clearly been tampered with, and that, lacking some other independent bit of evidence (such as either an earlier manuscript or some commentary on the differences between manuscripts or the like), there’s not only no way to know what the original said”

                That’s fine if you’re talking about the Testimonium Flavianum in book 18 of the Antiquities, but there seems to be little if any evidence that the James brother of Jesus passage in book 20 was tampered with. So unless you’re prepared to call the whole contents of Josephus into question as “probably tampered with,” your default assumption for any given paragraph of text should be that it is entirely original.

                We can reject this default in the case of the Testimonium, but only for a number of strong positive reasons:

                1) The claim “he WAS the Christ” contradicts other claims made by Josephus, for example regarding his patron Vespasian.

                2)Early Christian authors like Origen and Eusebius, who explicitly wrote with an interest in finding support for Christian claims in Josephus never mention the passage. Indeed, they explicitly deny that Josephus believed the claim listed in 1.

                No comparably strong reasons exist for rejecting the James brother of Jesus passage:

                The reasons i’ve seen given for it are:

                1) The wording is clunky — but then the only “plausible” scenario you’ve given involves multiple scribal edits and an equally clunky original wording.

                2) Early witnesses to the Josephan text involving James the brother of Jesus (like Origen) also mention stuff that isn’t in the extant version, in particular the theory that the Temple was destroyed in punishment for the execution of James.

                I think the most plausible possibility is that one of these early authors, probably Origen, got their information from a Christian commentary on Josephus (for example the lost work of Hegesippus) and they confused the quotes with the commentary, and the rest got their info from the first one to make that error. That’s a pretty common mechanism for misattribution of quotations and views both in the ancient and the modern world. It seems Christian authors are at least as likely to get their information on the works of Josephus from other Christian authors as they are to get them from primary sources. On the other hand, Origen was writing when Christianity was still a minor persecuted sect, so it is unlikely that he would have gotten his copy of Josephus from a Christian source, let alone a series of Christian sources long enough to include three different modifications of the text. So the idea that the wording “the brother of Jesus called Christ,” quoted multiple times by Origen, came from an interpolated copy of Josephus is far less likely.

                3) We know for some other reason that Jesus never existed, therefore it must be a forgery. This is fine in principle, but I’ve seen no good reasons for rejecting the minimal historical Jesus who wasn’t particularly famous and had no magical powers, but was the brother of the James mentioned in Paul’s letters.

              • Ray
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                Suffice it to say, the above reasons are not sufficient to reject the default assumption that the paragraph in question is original to Josephus.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                Ray, as I pointed out, even if accept the Jamesian references as genuine, it still argues against historicity. It would mean that Josephus knew enough of this person who allegedly was at the center of Judean politics before he was born to make passing mention of him, but that he didn’t know enough of him to recount any more than that he was the brother of somebody at the center of a scandal decidedly less delicious.

                Once again, we’re left with Jesus as random schmuck, who cannot at all be reconciled with Paul’s Jesus. Even if such a Jesus was a real historical figure, he shared no more with the Christian Jesus than a name, and calling him the Christian Jesus is as absurd as claiming that some random English boarding student named, “Harold Porter” whom Ms. Rowling happened to know was the “real” Harry Potter.

                What, exactly, did your vision of the “Jesus” of “James, the brother of Jesus, who was the Christ” contribute to “the” Jesus aside from a very, very popular name?

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                I was never claiming anything more than Jesus the random schmuck. It would be helpful to know what you’re arguing against. Not many Christians frequent this here blog.

                As for whether this contradicts Paul’s account of Jesus — I don’t think it particularly does. Paul said very little about Jesus’s earthly life (as mythicists are fond of pointing out.) And of course, so what if it does. Paul never met Jesus in the first place. Those few details Paul would be able to confirm (e.g. that James claimed to be Jesus’s brother) are broadly consistent between Paul’s letters and other sources, so I don’t see the problem.

              • Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

                Squeeze me?

                If you think Paul thought Jesus was anything other than the heavenly son of YHWH, the sustainer of existence, the divine salvation of mankind, crucified by “the Archons of that age,” especially if you think Paul’s Jesus was even remotely compatible with the “random schmuck” theory, then there’s such a huge gulf in basic reading comprehension that there’s no room for further discussion.

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                Of course Paul believed Jesus was more than some random schmuck. Doesn’t mean he was. I’m sure the followers of David Koresh thought he was more than some random schmuck too. Doesn’t mean either is worth more than a passing mention in a history of the era. (for reference the Branch Davidians are mentioned not at all in the wiki article describing the Clinton administration, and there’s only a short paragraph on them that doesn’t mention David Koresh by name in the wiki entry for the BATF.)

                What earthly evidence does Paul cite in favor of Jesus being more than a random schmuck? The fact that a bunch of religious fanatics had visions of seeing him alive after he died? Color me unimpressed that that didn’t end up in any reliable historical source.

              • Ray
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                also, can I have chapter and verse for your “archons of that age” quote. I can’t seem to find it.

              • Ray
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

                On second thought. Nevermind, unless you don’t mean I Corinthians 2:6-8. With regard to whether being executed by “the rulers of the current age” makes you an important person. Ask yourself how many of the prisoners in Texas who had their death warrants signed by then future leader of the free world George W Bush were of any importance in the grand historical sense.

              • Posted December 28, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                What earthly evidence does Paul cite in favor of Jesus being more than a random schmuck?

                Ray, it’s quite the opposite.

                I challenge you to cite even one paragraph in the genuine epistles that portray Jesus as anything other than a wholly divine being of celestial nature and origin.

                That you seem to think that Paul thought of Jesus as a random schmuck, I’m sorry to say, so overwhelmingly disqualifies you for commenting on Christianity it’s not even funny.

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 28, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                “I challenge you to cite even one paragraph in the genuine epistles that portray Jesus as anything other than a wholly divine being of celestial nature and origin.”

                I Corinthians 15:12-19 comes to mind.

                “If a wholly divine being of celestial nature and origin can come back from the dead, so can your dead friends” doesn’t strike me as a very persuasive argument. But this is the argument Paul is making if we take your interpretation.

                Now I suppose you’ll probably claim I Corinthians 15:49 contradicts this interpretation. Now strictly speaking this would be irrelevant, since it’s not part of the paragraph you asked for, but also, in context it really only implies that the spiritual body Jesus acquired upon his resurrection is of heaven, not the earthly body that was destroyed by the crucifixion (compare I Corinthians 15:42).

                Of course even if Jesus was always “of heaven.” This does not preclude his identification with a historical person crucified under the Governorship of Pilate in Judea. Indeed formative Christian documents from the Gospel of John to the Nicene creed have unambiguously made both claims simultaneously.

                Thus your argument is spectacularly weak on every level.

                1)Paul’s epistles don’t make sense unless Paul believes Jesus is a lesser being than God (made explicit in I Corinthians 15:28) and similar in kind to other men (cf the paragraph I cited first)

                2) Even if Jesus was supposed to be some sort of divine being by Paul, it doesn’t mean he expected mainstream historians or “the rulers of the day” to regard him as anything special. Metaphysical claims are cheap.

                3) Even authors who view Jesus as far more unambiguously divine than Paul (e.g. the author of the Gospel of John) also unambiguously regard Jesus as a historical figure.

              • Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

                I Corinthians 15:12-19

                Ray, I think I must suggest you consider the First Rule of Holes.

                I Corinthians 15 is where Paul recites the list of everybody who personally witnessed Jesus after the Resurrection and included himself as the ultimate / terminal member of that list. It’s the most unambiguous example there is of how Paul thought of Jesus as what we would perceive a non-corporeal, spiritual being, and how he equated his personal experience of the risen Christ with everybody else’s personal experiences with Jesus.

                Unless you’re going to suggest that you think that Jesus was wearing a bedsheet or somehow else scammed everybody into thinking he had risen from the dead after being crucified, I’m afraid you’ve just proven my point as emphatically as can be.

                Did you actually read the chapter, or did you just hope that I wouldn’t know the context of that one sentence?

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                Did you even read the passage I cited? It’s not the list of post-resurrection appearances, it’s the passage immediately afterwards. The list is to establish everyone is on the same page as far as Christ rising from the dead was concerned. He then launches into an argument where he uses this shared assumption to “prove” that those members of his congregation who had “fallen asleep” we’re not “truly lost,” but would rise from the dead just as Jesus had. This argument only works if Jesus before he died was just like the dead members of Paul’s congregation. The more human and the less remote in time the pre-resurrection Jesus, the better, as far as his argument is concerned.

                I’m afraid it is you who are unfamiliar with the context of I Corinthians 15. If Paul’s purpose in listing resurrection appearances was to “equate his personal experience of the risen Christ with everybody else’s personal experiences with Jesus.” Why does he say “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle.” No, his purpose is merely to use Jesus to support the claim that a man who was born with a physical body could rise from the dead with a spiritual body. Now Paul never claims to have seen the physical body, only the spiritual body, but he must believe Jesus once had a physical body or he would not be making the argument he is making.

              • Posted December 29, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Ray, the practice you are engaging in, that you have just admitted to in detail, is called, “quote mining.” It is a lie, and perhaps the most odious form of all lies, for you twist the words of another into making the other seem to lie to support your own lies.

                It is for that reason that I ask not for one or a few sentences that support positions such as yours, for quote mining is trivial at the level of a sentence. As Cardinal Richelieu may or may not have said, “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.” Quote mining at the level of a paragraph is much harder, nearly impossible.

                As you acknowledge, the set-up to the sentences you quoted was Jesus’s post-resurrection grand tour and Paul’s establishment of his own bona fides by noting how his own experience of Christ (which we know most emphatically from multiple passages, especially including this one, was non-corporeal) was exactly the same as everybody else’s experience of Christ. Elsewhere in the chapter, Paul equates Jesus, the last man, with Adam, the first man, and that what makes both special is that they are spiritual beings; that it is through Christ that YHWH transfigures the corruptible flesh into incorruptible spirit; and that all this happened in accordance with the scriptures. That is, it’s not Paul’s (or another’s) personal corporeal experience of a random schmuck he’s reporting on, but his personal spiritual experience of a supreme heavenly being previously known to him and the others only through scripture.

                So, congratulations on finding something with which to hang Paul with your rope of Jesus the Schmuck. It is a pity that you are so desperate to preach your gospel of a real Jesus, any Jesus, whether sacred or profane, that you will so blatantly and shamelessly pervert the most passionate beliefs of the earliest-known Christian to your cause. At least when I mock Christians, I mock them for beliefs they actually profess, not for those I think it would be easier for me to mock them for if only they believed it.

                And I would again remind you of the First Rule of Holes, not that I expect you to pay attention to it.

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                Quotemining relies upon leaving out important context. I did no such thing. I told you exactly where to find the quote and you have done nothing to establish the fact that the context changes the meaning of what I quoted. Indeed, it is you who are ignoring the fact that the context of the quotation, in fact the entire point of I Corinthians 15, is to speak of the resurrection of the dead in general using Jesus as the first such case among many to come — the other cases of which, Paul absolutely unambiguously thinks to be ordinary humans and his own contemporaries.

                If claiming that Christ’s resurrection and dying “for our sins” are in accordance with scripture implies that Paul does not believe in a historical Jesus, then the writers of the Gospels did not believe in one either. This is an utterly absurd argument.

                Regardless, you have not refuted my original point that there is nothing in Josephus or elsewhere to indicate that the passage regarding James the brother of Jesus was interpolated. If you feel like persisting in your bizarre reading of Paul, which is a fringe position among both NT Scholars, and atheist historians, be my guest, but try to defend your positions with a little more humility. I’ve had just about enough of your unearned snark.

              • Posted December 30, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                Congratulations, Ray! In your efforts to prove the historical reality of Jesus, you’ve just proven the historical reality of every hero.

                How are we to emulate Robin Hood’s charity, reap the reward of Hercules’s labors, fight as bravely as Arthur, join Orpheus in the Elysian Fields, overcome our demons as did Beowulf, if they were not real historical beings?

                And as to the beliefs of the Gospel authors, I would first remind you that they were writing many generations, a century or so at least, after you would have us believe Jesus did his schuckery. Who cares that they thought that Jesus really did get his rocks off from having people grope his guts? But I would then further remind you of Justin Martyr’s First Apology, one of the most important points (to him) was that, yes, Jesus was real and really did all that stuff, but it was all the exactly same stuff as the various Pagan demigods, and it was those demigods who were made-up stories planted beforehand by demons to deceive honest men and Jesus’s fantastic history was the only such fantastic history in all of history that actually happened.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Ray
                Posted December 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                “Congratulations, Ray! In your efforts to prove the historical reality of Jesus, you’ve just proven the historical reality of every hero.

                How are we to emulate Robin Hood’s charity, reap the reward of Hercules’s labors, fight as bravely as Arthur, join Orpheus in the Elysian Fields, overcome our demons as did Beowulf, if they were not real historical beings?”

                Not at all. All I intended to do was to demonstrate that Paul’s letters purport to describe a historical figure, as do the earliest sources describing most of the legends you list.

                Now as it happens, there are sufficient other considerations (most notably the temporal and situational closeness of Paul and his associates to the setting for the purported historical figure of Jesus) that even Richard Carrier, for example in his most recent debate with Mark Goodacre, concedes that Mythicism is ONLY plausible if Paul DOES NOT PURPORT to describe a historical figure. Thus, as long as Paul purports to describe a historical figure (in particular one who is a blood relative of his associate James,) Historicism is proven beyond a reasonable doubt so far as Carrier is concerned. This however is not the case for accounts written by those who are more distant from the setting:

                Thus, the Gospels most certainly do purport to describe a historical Jesus, but neither the author nor the intended audience is in a position to confirm or disconfirm the historicity of Jesus. So they are insufficient evidence. Likewise for the earliest written accounts of Beowulf, Robin Hood, Hercules, Orpheus etc.

              • Richard C
                Posted December 30, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

                Ray: I haven’t seen that debate you’re talking about, but if I absolutely disagree that it would invalidate the theory. Paul never gave any dates for his events, and the only links to other people are vague and appear to be very spiritual in nature.

                Paul could have easily thought Jesus was a historical person, who had lived centuries or even millennia earlier.

                The Germanic people thought the Gothic/Norse god Odin was a historical person, a chieftain that founded the tribe of the Goths and then achieved immortality. The Roman pagans thought Romulus and Remus were actual historical people, literal demigods born of a vestigial Greek virgin who were left for dead, raised by a pack of wolves, and then traveled west to found the kingdom of Rome. And even though those tribes exist and must have gotten their start *somewhere*, that doesn’t mean their respective origin stories have any basis in reality.

              • Ray
                Posted December 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

                Richard C You can of course listen to the debate yourself here:

                http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={4D88EAB4-474E-4338-B8B4-7B7AD0410B24}

                I don’t know why specifically Carrier discounts the possibility that the death of Jesus occurred a long time in the past, but he quite clearly presents his idea that Paul meant Jesus to be a purely celestial being as the ONLY plausible version of Mythicism. I could of course guess a few arguments he might put in favor of that — e.g. it’s pretty unnatural reading to suppose that Paul meant to imply many centuries separating I Corinthians 15:4 and 15:5, which is required if the three days between Jesus’s death and resurrection were supposed to predate his appearance to Paul’s contemporary Peter by such a long period of time.

                I could also cite, Ben’s “archons of this age” quote (I Cor 2:6-8), which seems to imply that Christ was crucified by the generation of earthly rulers who are in the process of passing away at the time of Paul’s writing the letter, but that works equally well against Carrier’s celestial Jesus hypothesis, so I doubt he’d accept it.

              • Dermot C
                Posted December 31, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                Ray,

                A timeline for Paul’s near-contemporaneity with Jesus is, working backwards:

                1 Clement, written c. CE96, at least in the last 2 decades of 1st century. “He also draws upon traditions about and words of Jesus (but not, apparently, in the form preserved in the Synoptic Gospels). It is virtually certain that he used 1 Corinthians (by Paul, 53-57 written in Ephesus) and very likely Romans (by Paul, 55-58 written in Corinth) …” (The Apostolic Fathers 3rd edition, Michael W. Holmes). He also refers to Acts (written Trad. Luke c. 60s [?]), Galatians (by Paul, 50-60), amongst others.

                Acts refers to Paul’s encounter with Gamaliel, his erstwhile mentor, who died in 50CE. And then of course you go back in Galatians to Paul’s encounter, a few years after his metanoia on the road to Damascus, with Peter and James, the brother of the Lord.

                This puts Jesus’ death around the traditional date of 30 CE.

              • Posted December 31, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                Ray, the “C” in “Richard C” stands for “Carrier.” I think he’s quite capable of explaining his position without referring to a YouTube video of himself.

                b&

              • Richard C
                Posted December 31, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                Sorry Ben, I’m not Richard Carrier. :)

              • Posted December 31, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                My apologies, Richard! I honestly thought you were…I’m pretty sure he shows up here from time to time, and your icon, at its small size, does not look entirely unlike him….

                b&

              • Richard C
                Posted January 1, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

                That’s alright Ben, I’ll take it as a compliment!

              • Ray
                Posted December 31, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

                Dermot C

                While using Acts gets you a more precise estimate of the date when Jesus died than anything in Paul’s letters, it’s a bit problematic for the purposes of ruling out Mythicism.

                Acts and Luke just have too many obviously mythological elements, and a number of elements of Acts’s chronology can’t be reconciled with Paul’s own letters (the most well known example is that Acts seems to invent a number of extra visits to Jerusalem that seem to be ruled out by Galatians.)

                Also, Acts is almost certainly later than the 60s. It’s by the same author as Luke, who you’d think would have written his Gospel before his biography of Paul. Luke is quite obviously later than 70AD, since it mentions the destruction of the temple (Luke 21:5-6.) I tend to suspect all the synoptics are from the 130s or thereabouts, since a lot of the prophecies in Mark 13/ Matthew 24/ Luke 21 sound a lot like polemics against Simon Bar Kochba (see e.g. http://www.radikalkritik.de/Mk13%20JHC.pdf .) I don’t find this argument conclusive, since there are other periods in Jewish history — like the Great Revolt of 66-70 — that fit almost as well, but what few sources there are that seem to quote Gospel material before this date, like Ignatius, can just as easily be explained by way of oral tradition. It also strikes me as odd that the Gospel of Mark would, as in the most popular scholarly chronology, be written in the early 70s, become so popular that it is copied, not once but twice (in Matthew and Luke,) and then still not be well enough established that neither Ignatius nor Clement seems to know about it. The fight over Marcion’s Gospel also seems kind of implausible on a chronology where there are well known Gospels predating Marcion by 70 years.

                That said, if you are going to argue from a synchronicity with Acts, I’d recommend Gallio proconsul of Achaia, from Acts 18:12. He’s less of a Jewish cult figure than Gamaliel. It’s a lot easier to imagine the author of Acts making up that Paul was the student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, than it is to imagine him going to the effort of figuring out who was Procunsul of Achaia 80 years prior to his writing Acts.

              • Dermot C
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

                Thanks for the reference, Ray. I’ve briefly surveyed it and it seems right up my via in the patristical back-and-forth. Have had guests for days over New Year, hence the tardy and substanceless response.

                Cheers and Happy New Year.

  3. morkindie
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    That’ it? Two references on of which is likely to be a complete fabrication and another that seems to have been embellished and would otherwise be arbitrary?

    Wow!

    • morkindie
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Not arbitrary, ambiguous. He could have been talking about any Jesus. I have personally met Six, all from Texas.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        It says right there on the Wikipedia page that 20 people named Jesus are mentioned in the writings of Josephus.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          And none of them were from Texas.

          • Matt G
            Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            Just like my exes….

  4. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    And there are still Christians who accuse atheists of denying historical facts for not regarding these passages of Josephus – and even later writers! – as evidence for the historicity of Jesus H. Christ.

    • Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      There is this article which tries to compare “Today’s ardent Jesus-deniers remind me of a reckless gang throwing puerile insults at a gentle giant, oblivious to the fact that they are way out of their league.” The gentle giant is Joe Louis about whom the author tells an ‘apocryphal” story.

      http://tinyurl.com/cv7dknp

  5. Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    One other quick comment, perhaps my last on this thread.

    It’s instructive to compare the historical evidence for Jesus with that of a real historical figure: Gaius Julius Caesar. For Caesar, we’ve got physical evidence out the wazoo; you can buy, for about as much as you spend on a month’s mortgage / rent, a coin minted during his lifetime with his portrait on it. There are statues and monuments and buildings and canals and roads and all sorts of other things bearing his name and / or likeness, all of which have been dated by multiple means to his lifetime. We have (copies of copies of) his own autobiographical account of his conquest of what is today France; do an archaeological dig at one of the places he records he camped, and you’ll find the detritus of a 2,000-year-old Roman military encampment of the same size and type as Caesar described. We have letters he wrote and that others wrote to him, often including both sides of the conversation. We have other contemporary accounts that mention him, and he’s been referred to by historians in every generation since then.

    For Jesus, the living incarnation of the creative force that spoke the Universe into existence, we’ve only got the last and least type of evidence (mentions by historians)…and then, only beginning a few generations after the “fact.”

    I have no doubt but that somebody will complain that it’s unfair to expect anything more than fragmentary evidence for Jesus, claiming that he was just some random schmuck who understandably flew far below the radar. However, such a claim boldly contradicts every piece of evidence claimed for Jesus’s existence, leaving us with less than nothing. Besides, if you could dig up some young Englishman whose name was, “Harold Porter,” and you could demonstrate that Ms. Rowling knew young Mr. Porter when he went to boarding school, who would be stupid enough to mistrake him for the “real” Harry Potter?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • papalinton
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      The fragmentary factoids for a jesus is on a par with the fragmentary factoids for a god.

      “factoid |ˈfakˌtoid|
      noun
      a brief or trivial item of news or information.
      • an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.”

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      “I have no doubt but that somebody will complain that it’s unfair to expect anything more than fragmentary evidence for Jesus, claiming that he was just some random schmuck who understandably flew far below the radar. However, such a claim boldly contradicts every piece of evidence claimed for Jesus’s existence, leaving us with less than nothing.”

      On that basis, then, presumably we don’t need historical scholarship to start with. -Any- historical Jesus would of necessity boldly contradict the supernatural New Testament account of Jesus. No human could possibly have been this supernatural Jesus, so let’s just stop there; a historical Jesus is an a priori impossibility.

      (But if you’re going to reject the “random schmuck” Jesus in a way that renders any historical evidence, fragmentary or otherwise, moot… I no longer know what to make of the -rest- of your post. :-) )

    • Griff
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      I own a denarius minted by Brutus.

      I have had the “you can’t prove history” argument tossed at me by a Christian. By you are right, the volume of evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar is immense compared to the silence of contemporaries on the existence of Jesus.

      For most atheists, the existence or otherwise of a real human behind the myth is just an academic exercise – we aren’t emotionally invested in it. Human beings exist. They existed 2000 year ago. So what?

      But for Christians, the entire shaky edifice comes crashing down around their ears if the “man” did not actually exist.

  6. Christopher
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    May I have a copy of the paper Jerry, or do I need to email you?

  7. Dan McPeek
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Totally off topic, Mr. Coyne,
    but for you and all heathen
    cat lovers; have you seen
    this?

    Go immediately to website
    STUPID EVIL BASTARD.

  8. James Chalmers
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    As Carrier himself says, for purposes of persuasion or conversion, it will do the cause of atheism more harm than good to put forward a notion that will strike most of your listeners as preposterous. Of course, that unfortunate fact doesn’t bear on the truth of mythicism one way or the other.

    As to the truth of the notion, it has to be remembered Jesus came from nowhere–from the rural regions of a province of no particular importance or concern to any sophisticate like Philo. Even by the time Mark was written the movement may well have numbered only in the hundreds.

    The best and earliest evidence comes from Paul. One can hardly defend agnosticism adequately without considering how he came to be so badly misinformed as mythicism must take him to be.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Every sentence you wrote, James Chalmers, has an unclear reference.

    • Posted December 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      As to the truth of the notion, it has to be remembered Jesus came from nowhere–from the rural regions of a province of no particular importance or concern to any sophisticate like Philo.

      Can I call ‘em, or can I call ‘em?

      Jesus as described in the Bible was the antithesis of a nobody. Remember the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the sermons (including free food!) to thousands, the ruckus at the Temple, the trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, and on and on and on? Even Herod Agrippa gets in on the act, and Philo was his brother-in-law (depending on how you count the removals).

      The best and earliest evidence comes from Paul. One can hardly defend agnosticism adequately without considering how he came to be so badly misinformed as mythicism must take him to be.

      Oh, that’s easy. In the epistles agreed upon as genuine, Paul’s Jesus is decidedly remote and non-corporeal. It wasn’t Pilate and the Sanhedrin who had him crucified, but rather “the Archons of that age.” Paul often quotes the Hebrew Bible but rarely Jesus, even when a well-known quote from Jesus would better illustrate the point he’s trying to make. And Paul almost never mentions any of Jesus’s biography.

      In fact, the only biographical detail of significance we get from Jesus comes in the form of the Lost Supper…except it’s actually the Eucharist, and it’s in the middle of instructions on how to perform various other rituals. And Justin Martyr accused the Mithraists of steeling the Eucharist from Christianity…except that the cult of Mithra was much older, with Plutarch writing of Cilician pirates practicing Mithraic rituals a century or so before Jesus. And, the kicker? The Cilician’s home port was Tarsus, as in “Paul of.”

      And remember: Paul not only never physically met Jesus, he used his own spiritual encounter with him on the road to Damascus to establish his bona fides, and he explicitly equated that spiritual encounter with the same spiritual encounters of the others in Jerusalem — and that it was the spiritual, non-corporeal nature of those encounters that established their legitimacy.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Expanding my point above (for no particular reason, since you’ve probably not seen the other version yet :-) )… we know the New Testament is fiction, because it contains various impossible acts.

        So. Given that we know it is fiction: why would we worry in the least that it depicts a “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” et al.?

        Supposing for a second that the New Testament account of Jesus was based on a historical person, if the authors are going to make up various faith healings, immaculate conception, resurrection, etc., etc… why not make up a triumphal entry into Jerusalem while they’re at it? Why would we expect -that- part to be accurate, when the rest of the account is so obviously untrustworthy?

        I’m not sure that it is at all possible in this context to distinguish a very inaccurate portrayal of a real person from a portrayal of a fictitious person. Suppose 2000 years from now the only surviving account of Viggo Mortensen is some Lord of the Rings fan fic. You’d presumably be able to tell that that it was not an entirely accurate portrayal and maybe, if you’re really lucky, tell that no one fitting the fan fic description actually existed at this point. But could you tell whether or not Viggo Mortensen existed? Probably not, you just wouldn’t have enough to go on.

        • Griff
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Stop being so sensible! You know we are dealing with people who just accept men walking on water as “perfectly reasonable”.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          Given that we know it is fiction: why would we worry in the least that it depicts a “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” et al.?

          If you’re going to strip the natural bits of Jesus story away from him along with the supernatural bits, what are you left with?

          Santa is real! He lives in Florida year-round, his name is Harold, he hates children, he’s never worn red nor fur, he’s never left the Easter Seaboard, he’s never seen a reindeer, and the only Christmas present he ever gave anybody in his life was when his fifth-grade teacher made him do so as part of a class assignment. But he’s the real Santa!

          b&

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            “If you’re going to strip the natural bits of Jesus story away from him along with the supernatural bits, what are you left with?”

            You’re not left with much, certainly. That’s kind of my point, there’s just not much to go on. I don’t think you can make the leap from, “This story is unreliable and we can’t tell what parts (if any) to take seriously,” to, “This story was definitely not based on any real person.”

            • Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

              …which, again, is why the claim that Jesus is a myth isn’t based solely, primarily, or even significantly on the textual “evidence” of the Bible.

              Instead, it starts with the obvious observation, that Jesus sure does seem like an archetypal mythical figure, hardly distinguishable from Perseus or Osiris or Dionysus or Mithras or Orpheus or any of another variations on the theme — and nobody even hints that any of them were real historical figures.

              But, of course, such a casual observation isn’t enough to go on, so one then starts investigating things further. And then one discovers that not a single of any of the numerous contemporary figures breathed a hint of anything even vaguely similar to Jesus, which pretty much settles the whole matter right there.

              But one can keep going and consider what the Pagans thought about the matter, and you’ll discover that they all thought that Christians were lunatic fringe nutjobs not to be taken seriously. Again, that would be sufficient in and of itself.

              But wait! There’s more!

              One of those descriptions dismissive of the cognitive abilities of Christians, that of Lucian, described how Peregrinus conned them into accepting him as a mini-messiah and subsequently of incorporating various other Pagan myths wholesale into Christianity.

              As if that smoking gun weren’t enough, we can see what the Christians thought of the relationship between Jesus and other pagan demigods…and, as it turns out, Justin Martyr was so kind as to devote page after page after page in excruciating detail about how there was rampant copying between the countless “sons of Jupiter” (q.v.) and Jesus, except that Martyr attributed the copying to evil time-travelling demons hellbent on confounding honest men by making them dismiss Jesus as just the latest Johnny-come-lately.

              At that point, there really isn’t anything more that one could possibly come up with to sustain a conclusion of anything other than the obvious one we started with: Jesus is just yet another pagan Demigod, as fictional as any other.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                Hm. So… because members of other religions thought Christians were nuts, Jesus was not a historical person? The conclusion may well be right (hell if I know), but that is a silly argument.

                And why would we expect contemporaries to have noted Jesus? Because the accounts from the gospels suggest he was a very noteworthy figure?

                Eh, I’m sticking with “we don’t know”.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                So… because members of other religions thought Christians were nuts, Jesus was not a historical person?

                No.

                Because Martyr (the original Christian apologist) detailed all the pagan myths Jesus was stolen from; because Lucian credited (in a detailed and entertaining account) Peregrinus with fabricating at least some of Jesus’s biography from pagan myths; because there was great disagreement amongst Christians as to Jesus’s nature and biography, especially with respect to his corporeality (see, for example, the Ophites who thought Jesus was a snake god, or Marcion’s gospel which opens with Jesus beaming down from Heaven like Kirk); because Jesus perfectly fits the pattern of all the other death and resurrection demigods of the era we already know are fictional…

                and because everybody at the time thought the Christians were nuts.

                b&

    • papalinton
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      James Chalmers says: “As to the truth of the notion, it has to be remembered Jesus came from nowhere–from the rural regions of a province of no particular importance or concern to any sophisticate like Philo. Even by the time Mark was written the movement may well have numbered only in the hundreds.”

      It seems that whatever little information about jesus there is, the apologetics in Chalmers’ comment seems bent on reducing the jesus footprint to even a smaller non-entity characterised as a nobody from rural-nowhere with a handful of sycophants.

      The irony of it all, is that as historical research and scholarship challenges what little jesus stuff there is, there is an inversely proportional rationalisation from christophiles to make jesus an inconsequential target. Jesus is being inexorably rationalised out of existence.

      • notsont
        Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        Using the same method we could in effect prove the non non existence of Batman.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          Are the two “non” intentional or is it a typo? It makes sense both ways :)

    • Chris
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Does this basically boil down to “you can’t prove that Jesus didn’t exist”?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        Yes.

  9. marycanada FCD
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    sub

  10. Ian Liberman
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Archaeological Associations like the AIA take the stance that at this point there is no evidence for the historical Jesus and do workshops for ALA and affiliates, led by archaeologists like Katharina Galor and Robert Cargill. Evidence from the bible is only anecdotal and therefore not evidence. If you want to read a really entertaining book on that subject try Jesus Potter Harry Christ by Derek Murphy.

    • papalinton
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      This is a great read from Murphy.

    • RFW
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      The point about the bible being merely anecdotal has been made repeatedly. Spinoza made it, Tom Paine made it, and I think Hobbes made it but don’t remember for sure, to name the triumvirate of early modern atheists.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

        Spinoza and Paine were not atheists; not sure about Hobbes. Spinoza was a panentheist, or panenkuchen, or something. Paine was a deist.

    • Griff
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      I was told a few months ago by a Christian with whom I sometimes debate that “He wouldn’t let his kids read Harry Potter because it was full of magical, improbable things.”

      I had to bite my tongue so hard…

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        Why do that? Why not just point out the obvious?

        Tongue-biting or strident militancy? Such a difficult choice.

        • Griff
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Because it would be like kicking a puppy.

  11. MadScientist
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always found the claims of a historical Jesus to be pretty funny. It’s a bit like taking all of Aesop’s stories, rewriting them to ensure that every story has a character with the same name, and claiming that the character must have really existed. Add to that the fact that we have no historical evidence of the lion or the mouse or the tortoise or the hare …

  12. Richard C
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    There’s even less evidence for a historical rabbinical minister Jesus than there is for a devine virgin-born miracle-working Son-of-God Jesus. For the Devine Jesus we have the books of the Bible and that faked Josephus quote, not one of which describes him as anything but powerful and devine. And for the ordinary human Jesus we have… well, nothing but the wholesale assumption that it must be all based on a real person.

    To assume that there must be a real non-godlike human behind these stories is to discount every single first-century source as faked, doctored, and unreliable in the extreme — and then to hold up those same exact sources as our only proof he ever existed.

    • Chris
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      John Frum?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        Forrest Gump. One can read the original documents of the latter 20th century, and come to believe that characters like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were actual people. Only later do we find that Forrest Gump walked among them and knew tham all.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Yes! Absolutely right. The Jesus-as-random-schmuck position isn’t merely perfectly unsupported by any evidence whatsoever, it’s actively and vehemently contradicted by all evidence we have.

      …and it also ignores Martyr’s encyclopedic catalog of all the pagan sources for Jesus’s biography, the unanimous dismissal of Christians as lunatic wacko nutjobs by pagans, Lucian’s account of how Peregrinus duped them into accepting pagan myths as their own…and the fact that none but believers give even a second thought to the possibility that any other demigod was in any real.

      To paraphrase Stephen F. Roberts, when all y’all understand why you dismiss the historicity of Perseus, of Hercules, of Osiris, of Dionysus, of Mithra…then you will also understand why the rest of us dismiss the historicity of Jesus as well.

      Cheers,

      b&

  13. Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Well, all the arguments presented here appear to be arguments only against a very influential, well-known, perhaps even miraculous Jesus, but not against a fringe doomsday preacher who gathers a few dozen followers; a Jesus who was too irrelevant to be mentioned anywhere by chroniclers before his sect gained enough momentum a hundred years later.

    And that is also what I usually consider the most plausible scenario, especially considering that doomsday cultists like that are a dime a dozen and that many of the things written in the gospels appear too silly or embarrassing to be freely invented (cursing the fig tree, anyone?).

    But what Carrier is writing here under item 23:

    Philo does write about a Jewish belief in a pre-existent celestial firstborn son of God named Jesus, which Christians appear to have simply converted into a dying-and-rising demigod…

    That would be, if true and combined with the interpretation he gives it, the golden bullet that could convince me otherwise.

    • Marella
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Read Earl Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle” and you will be convinced.

      • papalinton
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        The reality here, as I understand it, is that the Jews did not for one moment buy any of the jesus-is-Yahweh story, right from the very get-go, even during the very time all this history was unfolding in the Middle East. And six hundred years later, whatever ‘evidence’[?] there was for the trinity or the jesus-is-Yahweh [Allah], Muslims also never bought it. The only concession they were prepared to make was jesus was a distinctly terrestrially-bound prophet, despite all three religions bubbling to the surface from the same stock-pot. So the evidence, Alex, is far wider and deeper than the commentary and arguments presented here.

        And in terms of the christian mythos, simply having some itinerant doomsday preacher who may have possibly existed, as an apologetical fall-back from the supposed super-duper christian god-incarnate, is moot. Any claim to the veracity of a christian jesus-god is simply shredded.

        Doherty’s completely revamped and expanded edition of ‘The Jesus Puzzle’, titled, ‘Jesus: Neither God Nor Man; The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, simply exposes layer by layer the heavily accreted jesus story as nothing more than a concocted yarn spun by Paul of Tarsus, an ethereal jesus that never set foot on this planet.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          I hope it is clear here that I don’t believe any of the Christian nonsense anyway. My working hypothesis has always been that he was a foaming at the mouth, deranged third rate doomsday preacher whose remaining followers just lucked out with conversions over the following centuries. Let a few accidents happen differently and the main religion of Europe and its former colonies might have been Manichaeism.

          • papalinton
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

            Understood. :o)

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Well, all the arguments presented here appear to be arguments only against a very influential, well-known, perhaps even miraculous Jesus, but not against a fringe doomsday preacher who gathers a few dozen followers; a Jesus who was too irrelevant to be mentioned anywhere by chroniclers before his sect gained enough momentum a hundred years later.

      And that is also what I usually consider the most plausible scenario, especially considering that doomsday cultists like that are a dime a dozen and that many of the things written in the gospels appear too silly or embarrassing to be freely invented (cursing the fig tree, anyone?).

      This senario has also serious problems though. The most serious problem, IMHO, is that such a character does not appear anywhere in the epistles, the earliest Christian documents. There is some debate whether there are any references to an earthly being, but there are plenty of references to a pre-existent divine being that sits next to God, is the high priest of the everlasting celestial temple, and so on.

      I find it very hard to believe, that a failed doomsday preacher, a nobody, was exalted to a divine being, preexisting alongside God and so on, within a few years after his humiliating death, and this transforamation happend to such an extend that there aren’t any traces of the original human being left in any of the earliest Christian documents, except some unclear references like “made of a woman”.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

        The workaround would be to assume that (1) the gospels are building on earlier sources than currently demonstrable, which have simply been lost, and (2) the earliest Christians were really just very few and could freely fabricate whatever they wanted or needed to be most effective for spreading their cult. It is also imaginable that Christianity is a syncretism between a stream of neo-platonic philosophers and a stream of disappointed Jewish doomsday cultists. As in, not just the ideas, which are obviously syncretist, but also groups of people.

        I am simply not yet sure enough that there wasn’t some charismatic Jesus-like cult leader at the beginning of one of the streams that ended up in Pauline Christianity. Many of the things in the gospels feel like they they are more likely to come from a real life cult leader (hate your family if you want to follow me, promises of great rewards, promise of terrible vengeance for non-believers, end of world imminent, etc.) more than from a group of metaphorically-minded people thinking in terms of a cosmic, spiritual savior on another plane.

        But well, I am a natural scientist and not a scholar of ancient texts, so what do I know.

        • johncozijn
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

          “Many of the things in the gospels feel like they they are more likely to come from a real life cult leader (hate your family if you want to follow me, promises of great rewards, promise of terrible vengeance for non-believers, end of world imminent, etc.) more than from a group of metaphorically-minded people thinking in terms of a cosmic, spiritual savior on another plane.”

          Yep

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          The workaround would be to assume that (1) the gospels are building on earlier sources than currently demonstrable, which have simply been lost, and (2) the earliest Christians were really just very few and could freely fabricate whatever they wanted or needed to be most effective for spreading their cult. It is also imaginable that Christianity is a syncretism between a stream of neo-platonic philosophers and a stream of disappointed Jewish doomsday cultists. As in, not just the ideas, which are obviously syncretist, but also groups of people.

          I am simply not yet sure enough that there wasn’t some charismatic Jesus-like cult leader at the beginning of one of the streams that ended up in Pauline Christianity. Many of the things in the gospels feel like they they are more likely to come from a real life cult leader (hate your family if you want to follow me, promises of great rewards, promise of terrible vengeance for non-believers, end of world imminent, etc.) more than from a group of metaphorically-minded people thinking in terms of a cosmic, spiritual savior on another plane.

          Sure all these things are imaginable. But where is the evidence? I mean, it’s not hard to imagine that there was a charismatic apocalyptic preacher that gathered a following and so on. Actually Josephus lists quite a few characters that fit the description and some aspects of the Jesus story are similar to theirs, and it’s not hard to imagine that some of the legends about Jesus were based on some of their shenanigans. But were all of them based on the deeds of the same guy? Maybe there were several streams of disappointed Jewish doomsday cultists originating from different apocalyptic prophets that coalesced to what became the first Jesus cult. I’m not saying that’s what happened but it’s certainly conceivable. If that’s the case does it even make sense to talk about a “Historical Jesus”? It seems to me, and I’m also not a historian or scholar of ancient texts, that there is not enough evidence to answer this question in the affirmative.

    • Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Regarding the fig tree episode, our beloved Ben Goren has pointed out elsewhere that in that time and place, the fig tree was a symbol of Jewish wisdom, and when the story says that Jesus cursed it for bearing no fruit, that was an obvious metaphor for dissing those frusty old Jews. Not to be taken literally, fancy that!

      And doesn’t the author of Mark come right out and say that all his stories are written as parables, in order to conceal their true meaning from us non-initiates? I’m spending Christmas with a cold and I don’t feel like looking it up, but if someone recognizes what I’m talking about, please chime in.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        Mark says that about Jesus’ stories, not about his own stories.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        Jesus curses the fig tree, goes to the Temple and throws a fit. The next day, they notice the withered fig tree. With the destruction of Jerusalem being a recent memory, Mark doesn’t need to finish the syllogism. The parable at the beginning of the next chapterlays the blame on the Jews. Jesus’ attitude and the description of the vineyard in the parable come from Isaiah 5 while the evil tenants are the suitors from The Odyssey .

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Joseph Atwill explains all in his book, “Caesar’s Messiah”. I have read it and find it thoroughly convincing. It is quite brilliant and I don’t understand why such as Richard Carrier don’t address it point by point, if they don’t agree with it. Last I saw (from discussions on IIDB in 2005) RC had not read the book, although he was dismissing it as ludicrous. It does not seem ludicrous to me that Roman imperials would deliberately invent a replacement religion for the militant messianic Judaism that was expensively rebelling against them. It is also obvious once pointed out that the Son of Man prophecy refers to Titus Flavius. They wanted posterity to appreciate their feat, so they put the gospel-parallel passages (or vice-versa if you prefer) in Josephus’ War of the Jews to prove they did it. Read the kindle book for eight bucks and judge for yourselves. It doesn’t require a professional historian’s domain knowledge to see the certainty of the authorship, when the relevant passages (and there are many, in order conserved across the two works) are presented side by side, as Atwill does.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Atwill’s theory is just so much Bible Codes conspiracy. While there’s no way to disprove his thesis, all he supports it with are the usual conspiracy theory techniques.

        There are parallels with any grand epic, including Josephus’s account of Titus’s conquest. There are more parallels with the Odyssey, and it’s more likely that Josephus stylized his history after Homer than that Titus was the real Odysseus and Jesus was a stand-in for Titus.

        b&

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Ben, have you actually read it?

          • Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            The whole thing? No. But I’ve read extended excerpts and detailed summaries, enough to know that there’s no “there” there where he’s trying to go.

            I also haven’t read Dan Brown’s stuff, though I did see one of the movies based on it. It’s entertaining, but so much fiction is.

            And a lot of the best fiction is told sincerely by its storytellers as fact.

            b&

            • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              Dan Brown’s book like the supposedly historical theory it’s based on is uninteresting on its face. I see nothing interesting about the question of whether a probably-nonexistent Jesus was married or not. Atwill’s thesis is of particular interest because if it’s true it’s likely the death-blow for Christianity. As someone who feels Christianity is a pox on humanity, I might have felt a certain obligation to look into it even had I not found the thesis plausible and interesting.

              The hypothesis that Christianity is a Roman invention is not Atwill’s alone, of course, and it’s a nice explanation for how it could become such a force as it became. Here is somebody who came to the Flavian version independently of Atwill, they claim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zlj5-iwKueQ

              Atwill’s discovery then can be just icing on the cake, if you look at the big picture. While I do know people who have read the entire book (first edition, at least) and come away unconvinced, I also think a lot of people who dismiss it as implausible or supported by nothing real would be convinced if they did read it. I was fully convinced by the first edition but the new “Flavian Signature” edition (with a new chapter, basically) is certainly even more convincing (to me). Possibly I was exceptionally easy to convince because I was never previously interested in how a big lie was created, and had few preconceptions about it. To me though, the parallels seem very rich and significant, and the large number of them and preserved order mean that if real they had to be deliberately placed.

              Unfortunately, although there is now a full feature-length Caesar’s Messiah documentary available, I don’t think it will convince many extreme skeptics on its own. It sets up the plausibility argument (the youtube clip above is from it, and there’s a trailer for the actual documentary there as well) but it cannot go into sufficient detail to claim to prove anything. (Also it is polluted by Achary S and some others that don’t even accept the CM thesis themselves.) I think the book though is proof and that eventually the CM hypothesis will become established history. I would like it to be so sooner than later.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Well, all the arguments presented here appear to be arguments only against a very influential, well-known, perhaps even miraculous Jesus, but not against a fringe doomsday preacher who gathers a few dozen followers; a Jesus who was too irrelevant to be mentioned anywhere by chroniclers before his sect gained enough momentum a hundred years later.

      Have you even one bit of evidence supporting the notion that such a person existed?

      And how do you explain away the inconvenient fact that all of the sources we do have violently contradict your version of Jesus?

      In other words, once you dismiss everything we have as so radically unreliable as to get even the most basic details so spectacularly worng, what on Earth are you left with on which to base this fantasy of yours, as opposed to, say, a claim that Jesus was a Roman secret agent sent to destabilize the Jews from within, or that he was an Oriental mystic, or even Elvis’s three-headed Martian love child traveling back in time?

      And, on top of all that, why do you dismiss the universal pagan agreement that the Christians were a bunch of lunatic nutjobs; Martyr’s obsessive and lengthy compilations of all the pagan myths from which Jesus was built (leaving nothing else for an historical person); and Lucian’s account of how Peregrinus duped the Christians into accepting pagan myths as their own?

      b&

      • Posted December 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        Ben,

        Interesting points for the most part but I don’t follow the bit about Lucian and Peregrinus. You’re not suggesting Peregrinus influenced the original Jesus sect right, considering he was a 2nd century fellow?

        -Sean

        • Posted December 29, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          Sean, once you realize that there wasn’t any “there” there in the first third of the first century, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s no point in attempting to twist the various chronologies into the standard apologetic ones.

          For example, the Gospels are commonly dated by Christians to the mid 70s, but that’s because they make references to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. They obviously couldn’t have been written before then. But, according to tradition, they were written by the men whose names are at the top (we know for certain they weren’t), and those men couldn’t have lived much longer than the mid 70s.

          But the Gospels don’t merely make reference to the destruction of the Temple, they do so in a way that only makes sense if the authors and their audience are significantly removed in time and space. For example, it would be weird for somebody writing today to place the assassination of bin Laden in the Second Gulf War, but it wouldn’t be quite so strange for somebody writing today to put the capture of Pensacola in the Spanish-Amiercan War.

          There are plenty of other reasons to put the Gospels as second century documents, and many Christians themselves are comfortable putting John as a second century document. Additionally, there were lots of other second century religious Christian works that were, a couple centuries later still when the Bible was canonized, discarded as heresies.

          So, yes. I have little doubt but that Peregrinus was quite influential in shaping foundational Christian theology and pseudo-history. Indeed, I strongly suspect he’s a well-known early Christian saint — though which one would be a matter for debate. Some say Irenaeus, but I personally have my suspicions that he might have even been Paul himself.

          Cheers,

          b&

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    It is nearly hopeless as a layman to get to the historical and archaeological evidence about religious myths.

    I have taken to observe the layers of religious flim-flam that protects the references on Wikipedia. While the non-abrahamic religions have only one protective layer of myth before you can read that the religious myth figures are non-historical (say, Buddha or Confucius), the abrahamic religions have two protective layers and an obscure referral.

    For example, this where, after religious scholars have described myth, the last sentence is different:

    “Although most established biblical scholars agree that Jesus did exist, R. Joseph Hoffmann has stated that the issue of historicity versus non-historicity of Jesus has been long ignored due to theological interests.”

    Hoffmann is a religious historian and is a forming member of a colloqium “to re-examine the traditions for the existence of a historical Jesus.” The Jesus Project is “designed to determine “what can be reliably recovered about the historical figure of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his activities, utilizing the highest standards of scientific and scholarly objectivity.””

    Apparently the historical status of the myth is an entirely open question, as far as religious history goes. “The project was temporarily halted in June 2009 when its funding was suspended, and shortly thereafter Hoffmann resigned, which effectively brought it to an end. He wrote that he no longer believed it was possible to answer the historicity question, because of the extent to which history, myth, and religious belief are intertwined.”

    While most of the myth is rejected on physical, geological, biological or archaeological basis,
    say no “exodus” out of Egypt.

    So what can be ascertained? There are abrahamic religious texts that appear on the archaeological record ~ 400 BCE to ~ 200 CE, the Dead Sea Scrolls that are carbon dated. They are broadly abrahamic, and even religious scholars seems to recognize that judaism and christianism had a common shared ancestry at the time:

    “Robert Goldenberg (2002) asserts that it is increasingly accepted among scholars that “at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’.””

    Some of these scrolls are greek, and many have pointed out the greek influence on the mythology. Therefore it is interesting that the earliest and most long time influential greek center for abrahamic religions is Alexandria.

    Alexander when entering Asia had to secure his back before attacking Persia. He did this by a coastal campaign along towards Egypt. He ransacked Thyros, an old “canaanite” phoenician city, where he let execute thousands of the elite defenders. On his way, he had a near defeat at the hill defenses of old judaic Gaza and was wounded to boot, so he exterminated everyone.

    The strategically founded Alexandria grew up with equal parts of egyptians, greeks and judaic merchants that relocated and perhaps foremost from the sacked coastal cities. They would bear a grudge.

    This mercantile and academic stew pot city had a long history of internal violence among these groups, and later adding the arising jewish and christian sects to that broth.

    Whether the original religious texts were imported into Alexandria and later translated to greek, or they were translated from Alexandrian greek originals and made their way out may be an open question. But to me the originating center of these sects seems to be Alexandria.

    What does the literature on the origins of these religions say?

  15. marksolock
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  16. johncozijn
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Since it can be fairly convincingly shown that pretty much everything in the gospel narratives is theological invention, I don’t think a great deal hangs on whether or not there actually was some dude known as Jesus of Nazareth on whom these fictions were later hung.

    Reputable critical scholars disagree, and the issue will probably remain undecidable.

    My own instincts favour the historicist position, since that assumption help make sense of why certain of the fables were structured in the way they were.

  17. Posted December 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    To me, the reason it matters is that if a theist can get me to agree that there really was a Jesus in the first place, he has his foot in the door towards defending the miraculous parts of the legend, like “If he wasn’t the son of God, then how do you explain the empty tomb?” But if there never was a living, breathing Jesus, then there was no virgin birth, no ministry, no crucifixion, no tomb. I can dismiss the entire business as fiction.

    Pointing out the embarrassing paucity of evidence for an historical Jesus forces the believer to justify the very foundation of his belief.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      “If he wasn’t the son of God, then how do you explain the empty tomb?”

      Simple, you don’t. Do you feel an obligation to explain the text printed upon golden plates to which an angel directed Joseph Smith? Does the fact that Joseph Smith existed get his foot in door?

      • Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        Not really, although the Mormons do have eleven (is it?) sworn witnesses, which is better than Jesus can muster. But the thing is, if Jesus is a myth, that kicks the legs out from under the Mormons just as handily as any other denomination. Works for Muslims, too, come to think of it, since they revere Jesus as a prophet, and the Koran is supposed to be infallible.

        • Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

          The point Timothy was making is that even if you concede a historical Jesus you’re not putting yourself in the position of having to explain “the empty tomb.” So these stories perhaps developed around the life and times of a guy who actually lived (I don’t think they did). That is not evidence for the empty tomb. You can still dismiss the empty tomb.

          W. A. Mozart really lived. The film “Amadeus” is filled with inaccuracy and complete invention. Noting that Mozart lived doesn’t put me in a position of having to treat everything in the film as a serious possibility.

    • johncozijn
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      That of course has nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of the mythicist position.

  18. Dave
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    It is not unreasonable to think there may have been someone who is the source of the Jesus character. Although, I’d bet he was considered a raving lunatic who would have been avoided at bus stops. We have plenty of those now and some gain followers and lead little groups/cults. Why is it so hard to believe there was a real person who inspired all this? It makes more sense than saying it was a complete fabrication. Embellished, enhanced, dramatized, blown out of all proportion, yes, but not complete fiction. There, that’s my gut feeling and we know what Sagan said about those.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      Why is it so hard to believe there was a real person who inspired all this?

      It’s not hard at all. Millions upon millions of people do. What is apparently hard is shaking off the belief, based on lack of evidence. Was Paul Bunyan based on a real person?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

        Paul Bunyan was not based on a real person, but Davy Crockett was (though the TV series is mostly fiction), and historians are split 50/50 on Robin Hood. Appealing to precedents in this way doesn’t help at all.

        An inteesting arguments I have seen in favor of Jesus’ existence are analyses of the contradictions in the Gospels that suggest they are circumstantial evidence of a real figure. Both Christopher Hitchens and Vincent Bugliosi have made this argument.

        Bart Ehrman makes much of the fact that the first 7 letters of Paul are widely regarded as authentic and Paul claims to know disciples who in turn knew Jesus “according to the flesh” as opposed to the vision that Paul had. That and the decomposition of the Greek Gospels into earlier Aramaic sources.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          Is it clear that these disciples all knew the same “Jesus”?

          /@

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            +1

            Doesn’t Paul talk somewhere about people preaching a different Jesus?

            • Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

              I don’t remember Paul doing so, but there’s this:

              2 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

              …and that’s before we get into Docetism and Arianism and the Gnostics and the Ophites….

              b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                I should’ve googled it before posting. It’s in 2 Corinthians 11:4:

                For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

          Except that Paul did not know ANY disciples, he supposedly knew only apostles; and “according to the flesh” does not necessarily mean what you think it means.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      It is not unreasonable to think there may have been someone who is the source of the Jesus character.

      It is if you have no evidence upon which to base such an assertion and if all the evidence we have contradicts it.

      Do you think it’s also not unreasonable to think that there was an historical Perseus, born of a virgin by the father of the gods in accordance with the prophecies? How ’bout an historical Orpheus who was driven by love to descend into the grave, who conquered death (but then slipped up) and then returned, and who was brutally executed by his own people in a horrible perversion of justice?

      Maybe you even think it’s not unreasonable to think that Harry Potter, Clark Kent, and Bruce Wayne are all historical figures?

      b&

    • papalinton
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Dave
      “It is not unreasonable to think there may have been someone who is the source of the Jesus character.”

      Like a David Coresh 30CE style?
      I would hardly imagine christians agreeing to that. Yet the parallels are all there, psychotypal behaviour, insurrectionist, anti-establishment, charismatic, doomsdayer, etc etc, a person who was killed for his beliefs.

  19. Dermot C
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    @JAC

    If anyone should have written extensively about Jesus, especially his reportedly miraculous deeds, it’s Josephus.

    I’ve seen this type of idea several times over the last few months, with reference to the Qumran Scrolls and to great lists of Greco-Roman who do not mention Jesus. Unfortunately, more often than not I find out that the claim is untenable, otherwise commenters would not have used that rhetorical point. It is not possible to say with any degree of certainty who would mention whom in the classical world. Josephus, the second most powerful Jew of the first century, is not mentioned once in contemporary Greco-Roman literature.

    On the question of Josephus: it is interesting to look at who else Josephus does not mention. He does not refer to the Essenes’ Teacher of Righteousness, nor to the founder of the Pharisees, the biggest contemporaneous Jewish sect. He breathes not a word about Hillel, the greatest of the Pharisee masters, nor about Yohanan ben Zakkai, who reorganised Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. Both the latter lived in his century and Yohanan was his contemporary. Josephus’ two references to Jesus are disputed, of course, but, given the gaps in his references to significant religious figures, it is not at all necessarily true that he would write ‘extensively’ about Jesus.

    I mentioned that I had seen similar claims made for the Qumran Scrolls, obviously by someone who hadn’t bothered to read as far as Geza Vermes’ introduction to his seventh English edition, which states: ‘The sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls…comprise…rule books, Bible interpretation of various kinds, religious poetry, Wisdom compositions in prose and in verse, sectarian calendars and liturgical texts…To these are to be added several “horoscopes” or…documents of astrological physiognomy…’ The documents aren’t concerned with history, like most Inter-Testamental literature, but with what I have quoted; besides the bulk of the extant material dates to the first century BCE.

    Massive lists of Greco-Roman authors are also produced, none of which mentions Jesus: what their reproducers often fail to mention is the number of authors in those lists whose writings are no longer extant; nor do they bother to isolate those writers who simply did not write anything remotely concerned with first century Palestine.

    Before we make comments indicating that we would expect so-and-so to mention whatshisname, I wish we could do a bit of fact-checking first, or at least to explain why you would anticipate a reference to turn up in this or that document.

    • raven
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Josephus does not mention. He does not refer to the Essenes’ Teacher of Righteousness, nor to the founder of the Pharisees, the biggest contemporaneous Jewish sect. He breathes not a word about Hillel, the greatest of the Pharisee masters, nor about Yohanan ben Zakkai, who reorganised Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. Both the latter lived in his century and Yohanan was his contemporary.

      How do you know that the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, Hillel, or Yahanan ben Zakkai ever lived? That they aren’t just myths?

      I suppose that even if Josephus didn’t mention them, somebody must have.

      But those somebodies must not have mentioned jesus, according to the xians, the King of the Jews and everyone else as well.

      There are a lot of oddities about jesus. One is that we don’t have a single document or word written by jesus himself. As least Josephus managed to leave a few books behind as did Hillel and Philo among others.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

        Of course Hillel is famous for the following piece of wisdom:
        “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

        Sounds vaguely familiar, no?

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted December 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          That is perhaps the least accurate summary I have ever heard.

          • johncozijn
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:49 am | Permalink

            It’s not a summary. Hillel predated Jesus, so was probably the proximate source.

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

              I think aspidoscelis was referring to the Hillel quote considered as a summary of the actual Torah, not of the GR attributed to JC :)

      • Dermot C
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        I don’t know that the Essene Teacher of Righteousness ever lived. I do know that the Qumran scrolls mention him more than passim, rather ad infinitum. I therefore know that the Essenes believed in all likelihood that he founded their sect. I also know that Josephus, Philo and Pliny mention the Essenes but that they are not referred to in NT or rabbinic literature. But I would not say, in reference to the latter two, that you would ‘expect’ them (even though they are actually multiple sources) to write of the Teacher of Righteousness.

        I don’t know that the Pharisee Hillel ever lived. But the reference for him is the Mishnah, which makes historical claims for him in his teachings and disputes with the Sanhedrin.

        Neither do I know that Yohanan ben Zakkai lived. I do know that his reference is as one of the most significant contributors to the Mishnah. You would ‘expect’ Josephus to mention Yohanan, as J did refer to Jewish messianic prophecies of J’s future mentor Vespasian becoming emperor; Yohanan did make such a prophecy, but Josephus still doesn’t mention him.

        We can play the ‘how do you know X wasn’t a myth’ game forever. Appolonius of Tyana springs to mind; I have seen the works of Damis nominated as a source, when none of his writings, if he ever existed, are extant. This, to me, is shocking. Amongst the many stories of Appolonius’ magical gifts, there are certain biographical, historical claims; and it is on the basis of that one source for Appolonius (his collection of letters is disputed) that we have to make a judgement on whether the man existed, not on Philostratus’ allegation of Appolonius’ heavenly assumption at his death.

        Which of course brings us to Jesus. The allegation of Christ’s historicity is based on his prosopography, and on that alone. It is not surprising at all that we have no word written by Jesus. 97% of first century Palestinians could not write. Discount all the magical stories. Why people bother raising them, when they would not do so for, say, Appolonius, I can not figure out.

        Historical claims are made for Jesus: that he was baptised, that he predicted the End Times within his own generation, that he ransacked the temple of his own religion, that he claimed a Messianic kingship over his own people, that he was tried and executed in that context. These are biographical claims; it’s easy and pointless in this forum to aver that the miracles did not happen.

        It is much more difficult to address the argument that the following sources make historical claims about Jesus: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, the author of the Gospel of Thomas, the writer of the Gospel of Peter, or of Papyrus Egerton 2, Papias, Ignatius, or the author of 1 Clement, or of Romans 1:3-4, the forger of 1 Timothy, or of 1 Peter, or 2 Peter, the composer of 1 John, or John the Revelationist, or the author of Hebrews, or Pliny the Younger, or Tacitus, or even Josephus. Analysing those claims is proper history.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      ‘Massive lists of Greco-Roman authors are also produced, none of which mentions Jesus: what their reproducers often fail to mention is the number of authors in those lists whose writings are no longer extant;’

      People love to explain why there is no evidence of the existence of Jesus.

      Somehow, they feel that if they can convince people not to expect any evidence of Jesus existing, they can prove that Jesus existed.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Dermot, I’m still awaiting your description of who you actually think Jesus was and the evidence you have to support your theory.

      b&

      • Dermot C
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Ben,

        You know, as well as I do, that I answered that question a few weeks back and you can read a further outline above in this thread. Briefly, that he was a common-or-garden apocalyptic preacher in first century Palestine, very similar to the Essene Teacher of Righteousness who preceded him by 150 or so years, in the sense that he saw himself in the tradition which sought the End Times. His early followers viewed him as the Messiah, the Son of God – emphatically not a divine figure, but one chosen by God.

        This ‘Son of God’ jargon derives from the Jewish tradition; Israel and King David are referred to variously as the Son of God. It is a complete misreading to interpret the phrase as we tend to nowadays.

        You also know that I provided you with 28 sources which allege Jesus’ historicity, which you chose, without giving further reasons, to call irrelevant. You also know that of the 3,000 or so words which I expended on the last thread with you, that, of 39 of my substantive points, I totted up 37 which you chose not to reply to. I have answered 100% of your two points. You answered 5% of mine.

        Cheers.

        • johncozijn
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          Don’t hold your breath. Some people are just born dogmatists.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Dermot, as I recall, your list was the exact same tired old list that Christian apologists are always trotting out. the Testamonium and Tacitus and Suetonius and even Mara bar Serapion, if I recall.

          So, permit me to clarify with the type of evidence I’d consider convincing.

          Offer, if you will, the single most convincing paragraph, which describes Jesus as an actual human being, “a common-or-garden apocalyptic preacher in first century Palestine, very similar to the Essene Teacher of Righteousness.”

          I’ll also note that you contradict yourself at the end of your paragraph: “the Son of God – emphatically not a divine figure.” The issue of gods and mortals are demigods, and they are most emphatically divine. See Perseus, Orpheus, Hercules, Orion, and many more.

          This ‘Son of God’ jargon derives from the Jewish tradition; Israel and King David are referred to variously as the Son of God.

          I don’t know why you would bring up such a point unless you think they’re historical figures as well.

          Who else do you think is historical? Moses? Abraham? Adam and Eve?

          Hate to break it to you, but they’re all mythical figures from a book of faery tales. Or, as a certain magician put it, there’s as much pizza in the Bible as there is history.

          b&

          • Dermot C
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            Ben,

            My list was not the ‘exact same old list that Christian apologists are always trotting out’, as I compiled it myself. It would be surprising if the two lists were not similar; it is the job of historians -historicists and mythicists – to analyse the documents on those lists, be they Crossan, Ehrman, Carrier or Price. Btw, I specifically discounted Suetonius, and you have the wrong Serapion; I refer to the Bishop of Antioch, not Mara Bar-Serapion.

            Mark 9:1 ‘And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”’ – evidence of Jesus being an apocalyptic human. For that matter, the NT passim, including probably hundreds of references, as well as those in extra-canonical sources and the heretical Antilegomenae.

            With regard to the Son of God question and its Jewish meaning, well if you refuse to understand the words on the page, then you’re the type of person who refuses to understand the words on the page. David was the son of Jesse, and of Nitzevet, according to the Talmud. Israel is demonstrably not the progeny of a god. This is different to Greco-Roman demigoddiness. Its obvious significance is that the early followers did not think of Jesus as divine; nor in Judaistic thought was any messianic figure. And the reason for bringing up the point is to stress how these people thought; they were first century Palestinians, thinking in first century Judaistic ways, with first century Judaistic expectations based on their Judaistic traditions. At no time, Ben, do you ever show evidence of getting to grips with that idea.

            If you want to know how a historian thinks and imagines him or herself into the era which s/he studies, I recommend that you read E.P. Thompson’s ‘The Making of the English Working Class’; the great man attempts to and succeeds in understanding the ways of thinking of the voiceless of a distant past.

            • Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

              Seriously, Dermot? I asked you for the best single paragraph describing Jesus as “a common-or-garden apocalyptic preacher in first century Palestine, very similar to the Essene Teacher of Righteousness,” and you offer Mark 9?

              >blockquote>Mark 9:1 And [Jesus] said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

              2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.

              3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

              4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.

              5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

              6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.

              7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

              8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.

              9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.”

              It’s from that which you somehow glean that Jesus was a common ordinary schmuck? Transfiguration into a glowing white angelic figure speaking with Moses and Elisha, with YHWH’s booming voice coming down from the clouds confirming it all?

              I’m sorry, but there’s just no way I can take you seriously at this point. At best, your standards for critical analysis are pathetic. Even if you’re sincere, all you’re doing is preaching third-rate Christian apologetics, wittingly or otherwise, and I have no respect for such nonsense.

              If you wish to continue this discussion, I’ll again ask you to copy and paste, right here into WEIT, your single best paragraph evidencing Jesus’s historical existence as “a common-or-garden apocalyptic preacher in first century Palestine, very similar to the Essene Teacher of Righteousness.” And any more Bible babble and I’ll just keep laughing.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Again, you arrogate to yourself the right to decide whether a person you have never met is a Christian apologist; you’ve done it before, apologised for it before and I have no doubt the pattern will repeat.

                Of course, the subsequent verses of Mark 9 are unhistorical; how remarkably simple it is to say that. The difference between you and serious historians is that they take the historical claims and subject them to rigorous analysis.

                You don’t: you, like any rationalist can, choose to ridicule them, and mildly amusing it is the first time you read it. But that’s easy.

                Do you really want to pick one of the hundreds of references to Jesus’ life in the early documents? To go through each one? To bring your and my non-existent Aramaic, Coptic, Syriac, Hebrew, Latin and Greek to bear on the issue?

                Or do you prefer to rail against weird first century beliefs whilst simultaneously accusing atheist strangers of being closet god-botherers? I hope you and your imagination are very happy together.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

                Dermot, I hardly think my request for your single favorite paragraph supporting your contention that Jesus was “a common-or-garden apocalyptic preacher in first century Palestine, very similar to the Essene Teacher of Righteousness” is at all unreasonable.

                Here, I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

                My own position is that Jesus is an entirely fictional demigod, in the standard model of Pagan demigods, grafted onto the Jewish pantheon.

                And I would offer up as the best early paragraph supporting my position Chapter 21 of Justin Martyr’s First Apology.

                There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

                You’ll notice that the entire paragraph, save the penultimate sentence, perfectly supports my position. You’ll also note that the surrounding context further supports my position; indeed, the preceding and following paragraphs are practically as good as the one I offered. And, of course, it’s no big thing to dismiss Martyr’s explanation of devils being responsible for the similarities with earlier myths — unless, of course, one thinks that there really are devils with the power of foresight hellbent on deceiving honest men to dismiss Jesus as not the first true demigod in all of history but rather just the latest in a long line of fables.

                You, on the other hand, would have us believe that the opening sentence of a story with no purpose other than to have, quite literally, six sentences later, YHWH’s voice from the clouds proclaim the divinity of Jesus…you would have us believe that that’s the best evidence you can possibly muster for Jesus’s historical reality as some random schmuck.

                Again. I don’t care that you don’t worship at Jesus’s altar; the arguments you’re presenting are Christian apologetics, pure and simple, through and through. Your reasons for advancing some Christian doctrines and not others don’t interest me. I’m just interested in the evidence, and the evidence you’re offering is Bible babble — literally.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

                Ben, your inability/unwillingness to understand the positions of others is breathtaking. We have a whole bunch documents — biblical and extra-biblical — and the question is: what set of assumptions is going to make maximal sense of this material in terms of a genuine historical inquiry? Mythicists and historicists bring different assumptions to bear (not a problem for apologists since they already know the answer).

                It is by no means clear that assuming the entire Jesus story is a total fabrication cut from mythical whole cloth provides the best explanatory framework for the understanding the contents of the extant documents.

                But in any case, both positions are working assumptions not provable deductions, and the test is what assumption leads to the more plausible historical account.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                John,

                The mythicist position is perfectly congruent with the passage I referred to from Justin Martyr, but I cannot fathom a way to reconcile it with the historicist position.

                Perhaps you’d like to try?

                Was Martyr not correct in his comparisons of every significant “fact” about Jesus with one or more Pagan demigods, or do you give credibility to his thesis that soothsaying demons intent on convincing honest men that Jesus was a knock-off were responsible for the parallels? Maybe you question the authenticity of Martyr’s works altogether?

                There are mountains of evidence inconsistent with historicity but consistent with ahistoricity, but Martyr’s First Apology would be sufficient unto itself to establish the case — at least, in the absence of significant contemporary archaeological evidence supporting Jesus’s historicity (say, if the Shroud of Turin hadn’t been conclusively dated to the thirteenth century) or convincing evidence of a fraudulent nature of Martyr’s work (either in original authorship or subsequent tampering).

                Cheers,

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                “The mythicist position is perfectly congruent with the passage I referred to from Justin Martyr, but I cannot fathom a way to reconcile it with the historicist position.”

                That paragraph seems singularly unconvincing for your point. So far as I can tell, all Martyr is saying in pointing out similarities between Christian and Roman mythology is: “What we believe isn’t any more absurd that what you guys believe.”

                It’s also hard for me to understand how the existence of a historical Jesus could in any way hinge on where the supernatural stuff came from. We already know the supernatural stuff isn’t historically accurate.

                Further, on this point:

                “do you give credibility to his thesis that soothsaying demons intent on convincing honest men that Jesus was a knock-off were responsible for the parallels?”

                Near as I can tell you’re just making things up. Martyr does not, so far as I can tell, say anything of the kind. When he says that “wicked devils perpetrated these things” he’s clearly talking about all the vile actions (murder, rape, etc.) attributed to the Roman deities. This is also clarified in Chapter 5: “For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself.”

                Put it all together and the gist of chapter 21 is: “What we believe isn’t any sillier than what you believe, but at least we don’t worship deities who are evil murderers & rapists.” Therefore there was no historical Jesus? Huh? I think you’re straining very hard to find support for your preferred position when it isn’t really there.

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                Interesting that women are “defiled” but boys are “corrupted”.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                aspidoscelis, I’m afraid you’ve just betrayed a distinct unfamiliarity with Martyr’s First Apology. Read chapter 54 and you’ll come to understand your error.

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–Well, you might just have pointed out where in the text you came up with the idea, instead of sending us to some other chapter that does not in any way support your claims! :-)

                So, OK, Martyr thought Roman gods were somehow mystically copied on Jesus’ supernatural traits. Still–so what?

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                aspidoscelis, the point is that Martyr made an exhaustive and accurate analysis of the Pagan origins of the Christ myth, one which I would only fault for not being even more complete than it already is.

                That he attributed the source of the copying to time-travelling demons who planted the Pagan myths ahead of Jesus’s advent is irrelevant. I think all rational people would agree that that part of his analysis is bonkers, and that, clearly, the Christians copied from the other Pagans.

                That it is Martyr, the first Christian apologist, writing nearly contemporarily with the authors of the Gospels, who made the analysis makes it especially delicious, but it is the analysis that matters, not the author nor his conclusions.

                One can either agree with Martyr’s analysis and conclude that there was wholesale copying between Christianity and other forms of Paganism, or one can disagree. Disagreement really isn’t a tenable position, unless you wish to claim his characterization of either side of the myths — and I have no idea on what basis one would make such a disagreement.

                So, if you agree with Martyr’s analysis, then all that’s left is which explanation best fits it. His explanation of time-travelling demons is batshit insane; the explanation that Jesus was no different from all the other gods Martyr mentions (and all the others he could have mentioned but didn’t), all of whom everybody agrees were entirely fictional, is pretty obvious.

                It’s also worth noting that, once you strip out everything that Martyr identified as having been copied (in whichever direction), there’s literally nothing left of Jesus except the name.

                If there’s some other rational conclusion, it entirely escapes me.

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                I’m still not sure why the origin of Jesus’ supernatural attributes is relevant. It has some fun implication for arguing with people who take that supernatural part seriously, but we already know the supernatural stuff was made up and non-historical.

                The alternate explanation, beyond the two you suggest, is pretty simple and obvious. There was some guy we don’t know much about, and his followers tacked a bunch of pilfered Roman mythology onto him.

                And, yeah, that person could have been the historical Jesus no matter where the supernatural stuff came from, and even if most of the non-supernatural stuff written about him is just plain wrong. The question isn’t, “Do we have an accurate portrayal of a historical person?” it’s “Was there some guy that all this stuff was initially based on?” It seems perfectly reasonable to figure that there was a historical person with some followers, and several generations later his followers said, “Hey, we should write this stuff down!” but got most of it wrong. I don’t know if that’s what happened, but it’s perfectly plausible.

                Ever play the kids’ game “telephone” (or, as it is called on wikipedia, “Chinese whispers”)? Run anything through a bunch of different people and it’s likely to get mangled. The final message may not even be recognizable as some variation on the original message. But this is a very bad reason to conclude that there -was- no original message!

              • Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

                aspidoscelis, have you even a shred of positive evidence to support your theory that “[t]here was some guy we don’t know much about, and his followers tacked a bunch of pilfered Roman mythology onto him”?

                And how do you reconcile your theory with Paul’s Jesus?

                And which of the other Pagan demigods do you think started off with some guy we don’t know much about whose followers tacked on a bunch of pilfered Greek (not Roman) mythology? Perseus? Orpheus? Mithras? Osiris? Dionysus? Are they all historical figures at heart? If not, which were historical and which are fictional, and on what evidence do you draw the lines?

                b&

            • Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              Mark 9:1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

              1 Thessalonians 4:15 We tell you this as it came from the Lord. Those of us who are alive when the Lord comes again will not go ahead of those who have died.

              Mark had Jesus parroting Paul.

              Mark 9:2-4
              2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

              Exodus 24:15-16
              15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud.

              Malachi 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

              We see Mark taking passages from other sources and making them into tales about Jesus. The Exodus passage is about Moses. The Malachi passage is about Moses and Elijah. Both appear in Mark. The passage continues with Peter wanting to build three tabernacles like Moses building 12 for the 12 Tribes in Exodus 24:5.

              In Mark 7, Jesus abolishes the food laws. This seems to be taken from Paul’s side of the argument in Galatians 2. Why would Peter have been worried about what James might think if Jesus had actually done that?

              There nothing in Mark that can be reliably traced to an early first century Jesus. The other gospels rely heavily on Mark, so they are no more reliable than Mark.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                1 Thessalonians 4:15 We tell you this as it came from the Lord. Those of us who are alive when the Lord comes again will not go ahead of those who have died.

                BTW, this is actually a miss-translation. In the original the word “again” is not there. Here is the original:

                τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου, ὅτι ἡμεῖς οἱ ζῶντες οἱ περιλειπόμενοι εἰς τὴν παρουσίαν τοῦ κυρίου οὐ μὴ φθάσωμεν τοὺς κοιμηθέντας·

                These kind of thing happens all the time wiht NT translations, the translators put in things that are not in the original. IANM the words “second comming” never appear in the epistles, it’s always simply “comming” (παρουσία).

            • johncozijn
              Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think it bears on the question.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                John, if you don’t think that it’s at all significant that the First Apology of the very first Christian apologist, writing about the same time that the Gospels themselves were being written, was devoted in large part to establishing the mythicist position verbatim, with the caveat that Martyr wanted people to believe that it was time-travelling demons responsible for Pagans pre-copying Christians rather than Christians copying Pagans, then I’m afraid you’ve been clouded by faith.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

                “I’m afraid you’ve been clouded by faith.”

                He, he … since I’ve never had *any* religious beliefs that would be a bit hard.

                I don’t see that accepting the working hypothesis that there probably was some charismatic cult leader called Jesus who was executed by the Romans (for whatever reason) entails assenting to any of the gospel accounts of his words or deeds. I wouldn’t stake my house on it, but it seems more probable than not.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

                And yet, you neither offer evidence to support your position nor attempt to counter evidence offered in support of the contrary position. Religious or not, that is the very definition of “faith”: belief apportioned not in proportion with a rational analysis of empirical observations.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                Both positions are working *assumptions* and the test is which makes better sense of the body of evidence, including the biblical documents. You’ve got things back to front.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                John, if you’re seriously proposing that the Bible needs to be taken seriously as an historical document, then this discussion is done.

                I’ll close by noting that the Bible opens with a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero; and concludes with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy where the antihero gets his rocks off by ordering his thralls to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound. Suggesting that there’s anything in there that deserves to be taken seriously is beyond insulting to the intelligence.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

                That the Bible is a set of historical documents is a fact that doesn’t say anything about their accuracy as history. Ditto the Epic of Gilgamesh or The Iliad. All are essential grist to the historian’s mill.

              • Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

                Either now you’re arguing for the historicity of the Sumerian and Olympian pantheons or you’re making my case for me, whether wittingly or otherwise. Whichever the case may be, it still argues for this as the conclusion of the conversation.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                It is possible that one can agree there may have a historical siege of Troy without having to believe in the Greek gods.

            • threecheersforreason
              Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

              i always appreciate your informed, cogent, clearly expressed observations.

              • threecheersforreason
                Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

                that remark was addressed to dermot c!

  20. Posted December 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree that the evidence for the savior of the world is skimpy at best.
    For all things about the non existent jebus and the tragedy that his followers have wrought click on over to …
    http://jesusneverexisted.com/

  21. Posted December 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the so called evidence for jebus is skimpy to say the least.
    For everything you ever wanted to know of his non existence and the calamity that his followers have wrought, click on over to http://jesusneverexisted.com/

  22. James Chalmers
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

    What is non-ocrporeal, decidedly or otherwise, about the body of Jesus while he lived and when he was crucified, dead and buried?

    To read Paul and the gospels as historical documents doesn’t require that one read them as do fundamentalists.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I must be tired, I can’t parse the above. Care to explain what you mean?

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

        “I can’t parse the above.”

        +1

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        I think James is quoting Paul in the first para., then the last to paras are his comments.

        /@

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

          Yeah, it looks like he’s just preaching to the deconverted. That’ll go down well.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          You’re right. Still I don’t understand what his point is though. What ithat quote from Paul is supposed to show?

  23. mordacious1
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Too many holes in the story. Some: Herod died in 4 BC. There was no census in that part of the world that would have caused J & M to go to Bethlehem, except that that would align with the Torah for where the Messiah would be born. There were several itinerant rabbis during that time named Yeshua who were preaching similar topics. If Jesus had been executed, it would not have been by crucifixion which was reserved for other crimes. The bible states that many zombies left their tombs with Jesus and went and greeted their families, but as astounding of an event that this would be (unless zombies were common then), there’s no mention of it other than the bible. Etc etc etc.

    The whole damn thing is weak.

    • johncozijn
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      You’re confusing the historicity of the gospel fables with the historicity of a person called Jesus. All historians agree that virtually everything in the King Arthur legends is fiction, yet a majority also think it’s likely there was a celtic chieftan who won a victory against an early Anglo-Saxon incursion, around whom the subsequent fables accreted.

      We are not talking about a fully fictional Abraham here, a mythic tribal father who purportedly lived a thousand years before the first scribe put quill to parchment.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      There were several itinerant rabbis during that time named Yeshua who were preaching similar topics.

      There were? News to me. Can you offer any examples?

      There were lots of people with that name, yes. The only one that I can think of that comes close to fitting your description was Jesus ben Damneus, but he was High Priest, not an itinerant preacher, and I very much doubt he preached anything like what “our” Jesus preached.

      b&

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        Josephus listed 18 High Priests from Herod’s time to the destruction of the temple and 4 of them were named Jesus, so it was probably a common name. Itinerant preachers were probably very common so it is likely that some of them were named Jesus. The New Testament is not about any of them, though. The Epistles don’t mention any ministry or teachings of any preacher named Jesus. Paul admits in 1 Cor 1:22-23 that he doesn’t know of any miracles or teachings.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          My point is that, while it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that there may well have been one or more itinerant preachers with that name active within shouting distance of the third decade of the first century, there actually isn’t any (credible) evidence of any. For all we know, there may well have been a dearth of such during that time, or there may have been dozens.

          The point is that there is absolutely no evidence on the matter whatsoever.

          b&

  24. James Chalmers
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman identifies what he considers to be two key data for Jesus’ existence: (1) Paul’s associations with Peter and James, particularly with the latter whom he refers to as “the brother of the Lord” (Gal 1:19), which point to reasonably secure eye-witness testimony; (2) a crucified messiah, which the early Christians would not have invented. The first point I take as self-evident (even Rick Sumner, who has moved from the historicist to the mythicist camp, admits that Gal 1:19 gives him moment’s pause), but the second brings us to the issue of what people are likely to invent, and under what circumstances

    Granted that messianic expectations were fluid at this time — Jews expected messiahs to be kings or priests or prophets or even heavenly arch-angels — the anointed one was always mighty and honorable. Jesus was a low-life, and executed as a criminal, the shame and scandal of which was a lethal obstacle to Christianity’s success. In my view, it is exceedingly unlikely that anyone would have invented a messiah like this. He became, to be sure, an inverted badge of honor. Virtually the entire NT — especially Paul, James, I Peter, and the synoptics — reshapes the way honor is conventionally assigned, reversing values, the last being first, etc. The early Christians not only celebrated their scandal (as Mark Goodacre phrases it), they reveled in it. But this only underscores the point, as a human response to embracing the unembraceable. You don’t invent a shameful failure that so thoroughly damns your cause in advance; you take a real-life shameful failure and discard it — or glorify it the only way you can, through paradox and irony, and with enough zeal to match the animosity of your detractors and persecutors.
    Busybody May 9, 2012 http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      ‘ Jesus was a low-life, and executed as a criminal, the shame and scandal of which was a lethal obstacle to Christianity’s success.’

      Especially as Paul says that the Romans were God’s agents, who held no terror for the innocent, and who did not bear the sword for nothing.

      Clearly , Paul had zero idea that the Romans had killed the Son of God.

      If Jesus was a low-life, executed as a criminal, why was he regarded by early Christians as the agent through whom God had created the world?

      Isn’t that like claiming that people came to regard Lee Harvey Oswald as the True President of the United States?

      The historicist thesis makes zero sense.

      The latest twist is now to claim that Jesus was very obscure, and refuse to answer the question of why the Romans crucified people who were no threat to them, and of whom they had not even heard (assuming obscure means what I think it means)

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        ‘You don’t invent a shameful failure that so thoroughly damns your cause in advance….’

        I guess Attis really must have been castrated. Who would invent that?

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        “Isn’t that like claiming that people came to regard Lee Harvey Oswald as the True President of the United States?”

        No.

        “The historicist thesis makes zero sense.”

        That’s probably a bit harsh. Both sides in the discussion (ignoring the apologists) are trying to come up with an explanation of the historical process by which the earliest documents (epistles and gospels) came to claim what they claimed.

        Now while it’s certainly possible that the raw material was entirely mythical tropes without any relationship to any historical events at all, it’s not clear to me that this approach leads to the best explanatory model. And given we are dealing with deeply ignorant people entirely captured by magical thinking, I don’t think “making sense” is much of a criterion.

        • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          I see.

          So one problem with mythicism is that people regarded Jesus as a criminal, although Christians regarded him as the agent through whom God created the world.

          When I suggest a modern-day metaphor, you just say ‘no’ , without actually being able to say why….

          Why did people regard a crucified criminal as the agent through whom God had created the world (1 Corinthians 8:6)?

          That makes no sense on the thesis that Jesus really was a crucified criminal, especially as Paul in Romans 13 takes for granted that crucified people had what coming to them, as the lowlife scum they were.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      (2) a crucified messiah, which the early Christians would not have invented.

      First, Ehrman’s latest book is a horrid disgrace to the world of scholarship. It’s religious propaganda, no more and no less. He actually has the gall to cite his own made-up fantasies of a long game of Telephone snaking through uncounted people and at least two, maybe three languages, as “contemporary evidence of an historical Jesus.”

      Second, claiming that nutjobs who accepted wholesale pagan myths wouldn’t have also adopted the most common of those myths, the unjust trial leading to disgraceful execution, followed by a conquest of death and a triumphant resurrection…well, if Ehrman can’t believe that the Christians wouldn’t have adopted it, then I’ve got some prime beachfront property here in Arizona to sell him.

      b&

    • DrBrydon
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Does the reference to James really carry that much weight? Isn’t it circular, in that we have to accept that there was a Jesus in order to accept that Paul met his brother? At the same time Peter’s claim to have met James (if he existed) doesn’t mean that Peter did.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      (1) Paul’s associations with Peter and James, particularly with the latter whom he refers to as “the brother of the Lord” (Gal 1:19), which point to reasonably secure eye-witness testimony;

      Paul uses that particular form of the Greek word for “brother” about a dozen times, always as a metaphor. There are about 10 suffixes used for “adelph-”. Paul uses them well over 100 times. The only time he uses it to mean an actual sibling is Romans 16:15 where he greets someone’s sister. Overall, the Epistles use forms of the word nearly 200 times and the only time it is used for a blood brother is a myth in 1 John 3:16 where Cain kills his brother. The plural of the phrase “brothers of the Lord” is found in 1 Corinthians 9:5 in a list between the apostles and Cephas. A similar list is found in 1 Corinthians 15 where the Twelve and the 500 are found between Cephas and the apostles. So we have no good reason to think that Galatians 1:19 means a literal brother and we have reason to think that certainly does not mean a blood brother. Can we even be sure Paul is not being facetious with “the Lord” referring to God as he seems to be defending his honor as an apostle in those cases and in 2 Corinthians 11 where he uses “super-apostles”?

      (2) a crucified messiah, which the early Christians would not have invented.

      They had some clear prophecies that David’s seed would always sit on the throne but they didn’t even have a throne. They were told this was punishment for not following the Law. They noticed that they were following the Law now but there was still no king. They began to read into out-of-context passages that a conquering Messiah would come.

      After awhile, they started taking verses on suffering out-of-context as more hidden prophecy to reason out that the Logos had been crucified in the mythic past and was about to return in conquest. We find these teachings in the Epistles of the New Testament.

      A generation later, people bagan to think Jesus was a real person in the early first century. The whole concept changed again. The Gospel Jesus is not the Epistle Jesus and neither is based on an actual person.

    • papalinton
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      “(2) a crucified messiah, which the early Christians would not have invented.”

      Methinks a hint of an Argument from Personal Incredulity embedded somewhere in there.

      • papalinton
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        From Erhman, that is.

  25. James Chalmers
    Posted December 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    The gospel accounts (and Paul’s, which afford more information about Jesus than is often noticed) of Jesus are of many parts. Much of what they tell us is manifestly historically untrue–the birth stories, walking on water, stilling the storm, multiplying the loaves and fishes, conversing with Satah, his clothes turning dazzling white prior to a visitation from Elijah and Moses, turning water into wine, and of course the resurrection–all these scarcely complete the list of what’s palpably false in these various accounts. Much the same is seen in the case of Buddha and Mohammed–believers have assigned to them from an early time many legendary attributes and feats. To infer that everything said of them is false because much is (let alone that they didn’t exist) is fallacious, and I’m sure Carrier’s argument doesn’t begin to take this crude form.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      This works both ways. We have a story with obviously false elements. What do we make of the remainder? We should not assume the remaining not-obviously-false elements are also false; nor should we assume they are true. Nor even that they were intended to be true.

      So far as I can tell, the argument against a historical Jesus relies on treating the not-obviously-false elements of the narratives as things that ought to be true if the narratives are based on a real person. So we look to see if the not-obviously-false parts match the historical record. I don’t think this works.

      Supposing there was a historical Jesus on which the gospels were more or less loosely based, there is no part of the gospels we can point to and say definitively–”This bit right here was intended to be an accurate depiction of the real historical person.” We know some of it is fiction. The rest, we can’t say one way or the other. Making that determination would require a reliable, independent history of Jesus… which, of course, we do not have. And without that, there is no basis for deciding which parts of the not-obviously-false portions of the narrative are also fictionalized.

      All we can say for certain, IMO, is that we’re dealing with unreliable narrators.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

        “All we can say for certain, IMO, is that we’re dealing with unreliable narrators.”

        If that’s all we can say, then we have a bunch of scholars, historicist and mythicist, wasting their time. In fact, interesting insights continue to be generated even if there is no “killer argument” that will decide the question to everybody’s satisfaction.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        So far as I can tell, the argument against a historical Jesus relies on treating the not-obviously-false elements of the narratives as things that ought to be true if the narratives are based on a real person.

        No. That’s but a mere fragment of the picture.

        We also look at what Christians said about Jesus (for example, Justin Martyr and his infamous “Sons of Jupiter”); what the Pagans said about Christians (every last one of them thought Christians were insane); and what affirmative accounts we actually have of the origins of Christianity (Lucian told of Peregrinus who scammed Christians into incorporating pagan stories wholesale).

        And, above all, we note that there’s no more reason to think Jesus historical than to think that any other pagan demigod popular at the time was historical.

        b&

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      To infer that everything said of them is false because much is (let alone that they didn’t exist) is fallacious, and I’m sure Carrier’s argument doesn’t begin to take this crude form.

      But that’s not at all what we do.

      We observe that the Gospels are flatly incredible, in every sense of the word. Therefore, we do not consider them as reliable evidence for anything save the beliefs they wished to promote.

      That means that they provide no evidence of Jesus’s historicity, just as they provide no evidence of zombie invasions.

      The problem for historicists is that, once you discount all the fiction writers, you’re left with absolutely nothing to support any claims of historicity.

      Worse, the Bible is far from the only collection of relevant evidence. It is the best collection of evidence in favor of its claims, but that evidence quite clearly point to it all being made-up bullshit.

      When we widen our search outside the Bible, we discover that, of the many sources actively recording events during and shortly after the relevant time period in and around the area, nobody noticed even a hint of anything that could be remotely mistraken for Jesus.

      But, further, we also note that the Pagans, when they finally noticed them, thought the Christians were lunatic wacko nutjobs; that the Christians themselves (especially Justin Martyr) made exhaustive, detailed, and impassioned pleas to the Pagans to accept Jesus as just another Pagan god because he was exactly like them in every detail; and that Lucian even described how Peregrinus duped the Christians into accepting lots of Pagan mythology as their own.

      And then, if we take even the slightest step back to put the whole thing in context, we see that Jesus perfectly fits the mold of all the other contemporary demigods whom all dismiss as ahistorical. Or do you think there really was a “real” Perseus, Orpheus, Dionysus, Mithra, Osiris, Bacchus…?

      b&

  26. Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    How does one go about asking Dr. Coyne for a copy of this article?

  27. johncozijn
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    This video from the excellent TaylorX04 covers pretty much the same ground as Carrier on Josephus to a similar conclusion.

    http://tinyurl.com/cmzmp3t

  28. Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Greg G here, posting from my phone and it’s using a different login, I see.

    There’s no contemporary evidence for Jesus and the extra-biblical accounts, at best, tell us that there were people who were in no position to know believed there had been a Jesus.

    The Epistles should be the best evidence but they rule out a teacher as they never mention the teachings or a ministry. They only tell about the crucifixion without any details.

    The gospels are based on Mark and that book seems to borrow from the Old Testament and Homer so much we can rule out oral traditions of an actual person. Then it becomes difficult to attribute the Q quotes to any specific person.

  29. MNb
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    “then you needn’t do the work at all”
    Wrong conclusion. You will have to explain why, where and by whom all the myths were collected and attributed to a fictional character – a practice absolutely irregular in that time. At the other hand attributing myths to an existing character happened all the time. Jesusmythologists typically fail to do their own work. Much like creationists they usually think they are done when they have formulaten a few objections to established scientific theory.
    And there is a piece of info they prefer to neglect. Both Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon and QSF Tertullianus report that Polycarpus of Smyrna was a pupil of the apostles. And apostles without a messiah don’t make much sense.
    The simplest hypothesis for all the known facts is a historical Jesus with a lot of legends attached to him. Ockham anyone?

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      You will have to explain why, where and by whom all the myths were collected and attributed to a fictional character – a practice absolutely irregular in that time.

      So, it’s your position that Perseus, Orpheus, Hercules, Osiris, Dionysus, Mithra, Bacchus, and all the others were all historical characters and not at all fictional?

      Indeed, your position is not only the diametric opposite of the obvious conclusion, but I suspect it’s the diametric opposite of the one you take with respect to every demigod save Jesus.

      b&

  30. MNb
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Suppose Jesus was a fictional character. Why would the unknown author(s) put the words “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matth 27:46) in his mouth? That doesn’t make sense, which resulted in 20 ages of theologian disputes.
    There is a simple explanation. The man at the cross mumbled the psalms to help him enduring the torture. When he had arrived at Psalm 22 the bystanders understood a few words and reported them later. Of course then there actually was someone called Jesus hanging there.
    This is called the Principle of Embarrassment. Jesusmythologists still have to come up with a credible explanation, except rejecting this sound scientific method of course. There are more examples like this, but I’m not an expert.
    To counter some strawmen at beforehand: the Principle of Embarrassment does NOT imply that an entire text should be literally true. Mixing fact and fiction was a very normal procedure back then. One sure way to go wrong is looking at ancient texts with modern 21st Century eyes.

    • johncozijn
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      While I count myself as a tentative/minimalist historicist, I regard that as a very poor argument, to say the least. The fact that Matthew puts the words of Psalm 22 in the mouth of Jesus is in fact just part of the prophecy-fulfillment project, which is particularly prominent in that gospel. In fact it strengthens the case that all of the reported details of the purported crucifixion are in fact theological fiction.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      This is called the Principle of Embarrassment.

      The Principle of Embarrassment is itself an embarrassment, something unknown outside of apologetics except as a joke.

      According to the Principle of Embarrassment, Darth Vader was real; why else would anybody seriously propose that a boy born into slavery would one day grow up to head the Empire’s army?

      Mixing fact and fiction was a very normal procedure back then. One sure way to go wrong is looking at ancient texts with modern 21st Century eyes.

      That’s why the ancient textual sources are generally unreliable as anything but evidence of what their authors wanted their audiences to believe. That doesn’t mean that you get to pick and choose amongst the works to try to divine what you think is fact and which is fiction; it means that you don’t use them to establish either the truth or veracity of anything they claim. You instead go to other, more reliable sources such as archaeology.

      That’s how we know that we can place a good deal of confidence in Julius Caesar as an historical figure and reliable historian himself. Go to a place where he described setting up camp in Commentarii de Bello Gallico and you’ll find two-millennia-old remains of a Roman military encampment that is perfectly consistent with Caesar’s description of number and type of troops and their length of stay and what-not.

      Does holding history to the same standards as we do any other academic endeavor mean that we don’t know as much about history as we think we do? Of course. But insisting that we know what we don’t have good cause to know is true actually is true is called “faith,” and faith is the ultimate evil.

      b&

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Suppose Jesus was a fictional character. Why would the unknown author(s) put the words “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matth 27:46) in his mouth?

      Mark wrote that first in 15:34. He had no knowledge of an actual Jesus so he mined the Old Testament, Homer’s Odyssey, and his familiarity of some of Paul’s letters. This verse comes from Psalm 22:1.

      Matthew and Luke enhanced their versions of the story with more OT verses.

      Why would that verse be embarrassing at a time before the Matthew Jesus, Luke Jesus and John Jesus were invented? Mark’s Jesus didn’t want to do it. Luke’s Jesus was practically giddy about the opportunity. John’s Jesus was the son of God from the beginning.

  31. DrBrydon
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how this idea began that all myths must have a kernal of truth behind? It seems to be supported by many folk legends — Robin Hood and Arthur have been mentioned in these comments already. I’ve seen it fairly often — Hey, did you know there really was a so-and-so? I’ve never seen stats on it, so it’s hard to know if it’s true that ‘most’ do, but the impression it’s left on me is that many legends have a basis in fact. I don’t think we can assume it safely, even for the sake of argument.

    When we begin to deal with religious folk tales, this seems especially problematical, and leads us back to Hume on miracles. If someone tells me a story of a wonder-worker, should I accept any of it as true? Is there a person behind the story of the tooth-fairey? In the case of religious folk tales, where even Christians accept so many of them as false, scepticism seems prudent.

    One might ask, why would anyone — who isn’t a fearful peasant trying to explain thunder — create (for themselves or others) falsehoods like that? Surely their very unreasonableness lends some credence to them? That is, some special pleaders might ask. Dunno. It’s not something that isn’t uncommon, though, even in the 20th century, and I am sure it’s already happened in the 21st.

    • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how this idea began that all myths must have a kernal of truth behind?

      This story is completely different however. St. Nicholas was an actual person who may have provided gifts. This legend grew into a magical elf with flying reindeer.

      The Jesus story started as a failed prophecy that David’s seed would always be on the throne. They began to read into their scriptures that his kin would conquer the oppressors and set up the kingdom. Many of those verses are taken by today’s Christians as prophecies of the Second Coming. The also began to fill in the backstory with verses on suffering to create the idea that this conquering Messiah had already been crucified in the mythic past. These are the verses today’s Christian point to as fulfilled prophecies in the Gospels. We see the development of this idea in the Epistles but we do not see anything about a ministry, teachings or even an anecdote about a real person, even in the letters that are by his alleged companions. The authors always give their own arguments on theological points when a quote from the Messiah would have proved their point more effectively. Paul even admits he has no miracles or wisdom to teach in 1 Cor 1:22-23.

      The idea of a real person in the first century is seen a generation later in Mark. Nearly every passage can be traced to Old Testament verses, Homer’s Odyssey, and Paul’s letters.

      Instead of tales being exaggerated into legends, we have a grandiose story that was already proved false being reduced to an itinerant preacher.

  32. Nate
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Mythologists are just wishful thinkers. They have taken the skepticism toward the divinity of Jesus to an extreme height and now question the existence of the man himself. If the evidence for Jesus is not enough to consider him probably historical, then the evidence is not enough for MOST historical figures of the time. Many people in antiquity are assumed to be real from only a single source, rather than multiple sources as we have for Jesus of Nazareth.

    Ehrman is no Christian apologist, just someone who takes historical scholarship seriously. The mythologists are full of nonsense.

    • Griff
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      I have no particular axe to grind re the existence of the man himself, but your statement is not correct. There is not one contemporary account of Jesus that I know of. The so-called multiple sources are all non-contemporaneous and clearly from word-of-mouth.

      Whereas Ben has already made one comparison with another historical figure, that of Julius Caesar, who died approximately 40 years prior to the alleged birth of Christ. Are you seriously suggesting that if the evidence isn’t good enough for Jesus Christ then it isn’t good enough for Julius Caesar? Coins, busts, 2 books (that I know) written by his own hand, inscriptions, archeological evidence etc. We even have a pretty good idea what he looked like (Compare any coin of Caesar with any bust)

      He is known not only from his own writings by from the writings of other contemporaries – both for and against him.

      Can someone enlighten me how the contemporary evidence stacks up by comparison?

      Not every well I’m guessing.

  33. logicophilosophicus
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Not all Christians, even, believe that Jesus was God. (I thpught I had won an argument many years ago with one of my teachers when I insisted that Christian monotheism was flawed – turned out he was a Christadelphian…)

    But, on the question of whether a completely human teacher called Jesus lies behind the stories, it is important to remember that teachers (as above) are only remembered by their students and disciples. Unlike Julius Caesar, who spent a fortune on the production self-congratulatory coins, statues and inscriptions. If you look for contemporary evidence of the early philosophers – Thales and Anaximander, to start at the beginning – you will find none. Their life is obscure and their ideas are preserved through the writings of admirers typically distanced by centuries from the men themselves. Looking at the ideas, I am content to perceive a real Thales, Anaximander and Jesus behind the preserved teaching.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      If you look for contemporary evidence of the early philosophers – Thales and Anaximander, to start at the beginning – you will find none. Their life is obscure and their ideas are preserved through the writings of admirers typically distanced by centuries from the men themselves. Looking at the ideas, I am content to perceive a real Thales, Anaximander and Jesus behind the preserved teaching.

      Anaximander wrote a book which is quoted by Aristotle. Many of the presocratics (not Thales though) wrote treatises (typically named “On Nature”) that are lost today but have left traces in later works. Also the sources that refer to their teachings are way more reliable than the sources we have for Jesus’; reading the works of Aristotle for example we see somebody that wants to understand how the world works and applies rational thought to achieve that, which can’t be said for the writers that refer to Jesus.

      Even looking at the teaching themselves we can see a distinct character, an originality that is lacking from the supposed teachings of Jesus. For example Anaximander said that the Earth is cylindrical and is suspended in the void, that human beings must have evolved from other animals, etc. These are highly original ideas that had not been expressed before, in contrast, the supposed teachings of Jesus are just moral platitudes and every single one of them can be traced to previous sources.

      So I think your analogy is not very apt.

      But even if we accept your point, that we have roughly equivalent evidence for Anaximander and Jesus, it still does not follow that we must therefore believe that both were historical. Even if what some apologists say was true, that we have the same evidence for Jesus as Julius Ceasar it still wouldn’t follow that we must therefore conclude with high certainty that Jesus was historical, rather it would question the assumptions about the historicity of Ceasar. If there is not evidence then at most we can propose tentative hypotheses; pointing out that the evidence for a claim A is as bad as the evidence for claim B doesn’t really increase the credibility of claim A.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        The suggestion that the teachings of Jesus were derivative and uninspiring is plainly contrary to the evidence – the early spread of Christianity. It is not hard to discover roughly what Jesus taught. Nowadays scolars refer to the Q source, but the exercise has been performed many times. Thomas Jefferson, for example – who has been cited in discussions on this website as an anti-Christian or anti-religious reformer, wrote:

        “We must… select… the very words only of Jesus… There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

        That assessment differs from your assertion that “…the supposed teachings of Jesus are just moral platitudes and every single one of them can be traced to previous sources.”

        I’m with Jefferson on this: I don’t accept that we must overlook or denigrate a great and good teacher just because his teachings are embedded in a dunghill of subsequent theology.

        Of the actual words of Anaximander, this is all that remains, despite his having written down his philosophy: “That from which all things are born is also the cause of their coming to an end, as is meet, for they pay reparations and atonement unto each other for their mutual injustice in the order of time.”

        Of the actual words of Jesus preserved in the Gospels, Jefferson’s cut-out verses amounted to rather more: “… an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.”

        Comments here suggest that Josephus, born 37 CE, is too late a source on Jesus, traditionally died c 30 CE. But Aristotle was born over 160 years after the death of Anaximander. More to the point, Paul and Luke were both born within a decade of Jesus’ birth, and spoke to people who knew him.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          The suggestion that the teachings of Jesus were
          derivative and uninspiring is plainly contrary to the
          evidence – the early spread of Christianity.

          I never claimed that the (supposed) teaching of Jesus were
          unispiring. I don’t see how the spread of Christianity is evidence
          that they were not derivative, which was my point. Since you seem
          to missed it let me try to express it again: Jesus supposed sayings
          were not that original, every single one of them can be traced back
          to previous sources, the OT, the cynics, helenized jews like Philo
          and so on. So those sayings do not require us to posit a teacher at
          their beginning, anybody leaving in the cultural milieu of that era
          could come across them. OTOH the ideas of Anaximader were highly
          original so, it seems to me at least, they give more weight to the
          corresponding hypothesis that somebody came up with them around the
          time that Anaximander was supposed to have lived.

          The fact that Jefferson thought that the teaching of Jesus were
          original does not necessarily make them so. Do you have any other
          argument to that effect? A saying perhaps that you think is
          authentic and original? (Actually from the quote you provide
          it’s not clear that he thought they were original, he just thought
          they were realy cool; but that’s really beyond the point.)

          I don’t accept that we must
          overlook or denigrate a great and good teacher just
          because his teachings are embedded in a dunghill of
          subsequent theology.

          I wouldn’t accept that either. Who’s the great and good teacher you
          have in mind? Just joking.

          Of the actual words of Anaximander, this is all that
          remains, despite his having written down his
          philosophy: “That from which all things are born is
          also the cause of their coming to an end, as is meet,
          for they pay reparations and atonement unto each other
          for their mutual injustice in the order of time.”

          Indeed, this is the only direct quotation. There are more fragments
          expressing his ideas though. But I don’t see the relevance to
          what I said. Care to elaborate?

          Of the actual words of Jesus preserved in the Gospels,
          Jefferson’s cut-out verses amounted to rather more: “…
          an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and
          unsophisticated doctrines.”

          Are you seriously suggesting that Jefferson cutting and pasting
          forty six pages out of the gospels, is evidence for the actuall
          existence of Jesus?

          Comments here suggest that Josephus, born 37 CE, is too
          late a source on Jesus, traditionally died c 30 CE. But
          Aristotle was born over 160 years after the death of
          Anaximander.

          I don’t know if Aristotle is the earliest evidence we have for
          Anaximander, is it? In any case Aristotle was in possecion of a
          copy of a work written by Anaximander himself. Since that work has
          been lost today this fact is not exactly primary evidence, but it’s
          maybe the next best thing: we have evidence that at some
          identifiable point in time a copy of a work written by Anaximander
          existed. And let me repeat that Aristotle is vastly more reliable
          than the early Christians who wrote the NT.

          IMO, we would have comparable evidence for Jesus if Josephus, had
          written something like: “and then there was this dude that wrote
          this book and here is a really cool quote”. But he didn’t.

          More to the point, Paul and Luke were both
          born within a decade of Jesus’ birth, and spoke to
          people who knew him.

          And how do you know all these details about the biography of Luke?

          And since you seem to missed it, or choose not to reply, let me
          repeat the last paragraph of what I wrote above:

          But even if we accept your point, that we have roughly
          equivalent evidence for Anaximander and Jesus, it still
          does not follow that we must therefore believe that both
          were historical. Even if what some apologists say was true,
          that we have the same evidence for Jesus as Julius Ceasar
          it still wouldn’t follow that we must therefore conclude
          with high certainty that Jesus was historical, rather it
          would question the assumptions about the historicity of
          Ceasar. If there is not evidence then at most we can
          propose tentative hypotheses; pointing out that the
          evidence for a claim A is as bad as the evidence for claim
          B doesn’t really increase the credibility of claim A.

          • logicophilosophicus
            Posted December 29, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

            ————————————————————————————————————————A) “I never claimed that the (supposed) teaching of Jesus were
            unispiring.” Cf: “the supposed teachings of Jesus are just moral platitudes…”
            Google: “Platitude, Noun: A remark or statement, esp. one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. The quality of being dull, ordinary, or trite.”

            B) “Do you have any… saying perhaps that you think is
            authentic and original?”
            Yes. Take your pick from the 5th and 6th Chapters Matthew, e.g. from Ch 6 v 7: “…when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do…” And, of course, as modern Jews, Christians and Muslims generally do.

            C) ” ‘Of the actual words of Anaximander [one quoted sentence] is all that remains, despite his having written down his philosophy’ … I don’t see the relevance to
            what I said. Care to elaborate?”
            The relevance is that there are many sentences from Jesus quoted verbatim in the Gospels.
            But I can elaborate. You claim the evidence for the existence of Anaximander is stronger. Let’s have a look. Over 1000 years after Anaximander, Simplicius wrote down a sentence from Theophrastus, 700 years earlier, a sentence we ONLY know from Simplicius. Theophrastus implied that he was quoting verbatim from Anaximander, but that’s almost certainly false since the key antithesis in the sentence – genesis and phthora [= "coming to an end"] is standard in the Peripatetic School (Aristotle, Theophrastus, etc). It should also be noticed that when writing about the early philosophers Theophrastus devoted a monograph to each (Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Archelaus, Diogenes of Apollonia and Democritus) implying that he had direct access to their writings. For Anaximander that is not the case. You write: “Aristotle was in possecion of a copy of a work written by Anaximander himself.” Evidently not. If Aristotle had possessed that work, then Theophrastus would have had access: Aristotle left his library to Theophrastus.

            “Are you seriously suggesting that Jefferson cutting and pasting
            forty six pages out of the gospels, is evidence for the actuall
            existence of Jesus?” The forty-six pages of quoted sayings (compared with one very indirect and probably innaccurate sentence from Anaximander), not the act of cutting itself, is the evidence. Your sarcasm is pointless.

            “Aristotle is vastly more reliable than the early Christians who wrote the NT.” In this context? Thinking about those 46 pages of QUOTATION as a benchmark, how many times did Aristotle in fact QUOTE from the philosophers he discussed? Rarely – and, in the cases of Thales and Anaximander, not once.

            D) “And since you seem to missed it, or choose not to reply, let me
            repeat the last paragraph of what I wrote above: “…even if we accept… that we have roughly equivalent evidence for Anaximander and Jesus, it still does not follow that we must therefore believe that both were historical…’ ”
            I didn’t address this point because it is embarrassing. Your implication is that we should doubt the existence of Anaximander rather than accept the existence of the Jesus reported and quoted at second hand by the authors collected in the NT. The fact is that the evidence for Anaximander’s teaching is fragmentary and at best third hand. If someone claimed that it is impossible to know much about the real Jesus because his life is mythologised in a “dunghill” (quoting Jefferson) of credulous theologising, I’d agree immediately. If someone said that the teaching of Jesus was a forgery by a conspiracy of liars, I’d say that was stupid. Where’s the precedent or parallel in ancient times? Cui bono? Of course there were a real Thales and Anaximander behind their teaching, and of course there was a real Jesus – a human being – behind his preserved teaching.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted December 29, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              “the supposed teachings of
              Jesus are just moral platitudes…”
              Google: “Platitude, Noun: A remark or
              statement, esp. one with a moral content, that
              has been used too often to be interesting or
              thoughtful. The quality of being dull,
              ordinary, or trite.”

              Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. The supposed teachings of Jesus are moral platitudes, not only from the modern perspective but from the point of view of ancient philosophy as well, any educated person from that era would have heard similar things countless times. Trite and tired platitudes have inspired people too often in the past and will continue to do so in the future. They become platitudes exactly because people find them interesting/inspiring so they keep repeating them. So, as I said already, the fact that they inspired people does not imply that they were original.

              “Do you have any… saying perhaps that you
              think is
              authentic and original?”
              Yes. Take your pick from the 5th and 6th
              Chapters Matthew, e.g. from Ch 6 v 7: “…when ye
              pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen
              do…” And, of course, as modern Jews, Christians
              and Muslims generally do.

              I really don’t follow this. First are you saying that Christian and Muslims are modern Jews? or are you saying that modern Jewes, Cristinans and Muslims generally do something (what?). And how is that supporting the originality of the quote?

              And are you saying that the entire sermon of the mount consists of
              original material that were not in the culturarl milieu of the time?
              Or are you making that claim only for the part contained in
              Matthew Capter 6?

              The relevance is that there are many sentences
              from Jesus quoted verbatim in the Gospels.

              I don’t think “quoted verbatim” means what you think it means. If they are quoted verbatim how come different authors use different words, order etc?

              About Anaximander, please, if you haven’t already done so, have a look at the entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

              He was the first who dared to write a treatise in prose, which has been called traditionally On Nature. This book has been lost, although it probably was available in the library of the Lyceum at the times of Aristotle and his successor Theophrastus.

              And

              Most of the information on Anaximander comes from Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus, whose book on the history of philosophy was used, excerpted, and quoted by many other authors, the so-called doxographers, before it was lost. Sometimes, in these texts words or expressions appear that can with some certainty be ascribed to Anaximander himself.

              You seem to be claiming that “evidently” Aristotle and Theophrastus did not have acess to the work of Anaximander. The use of “evidently” suggests that you have some evidence to that effect, if this is the case you should consider publishing your finds, or at least present your evidence in some detail.

              “Aristotle is vastly more reliable than the
              early Christians who wrote the NT.” In this
              context?

              Yes, and in almost any other context. Aristotle was a (proto-)scientist and was trying to understand how the world works using reason, he was very interested in the truth. The early Christians were not. The works of Aristotle are scientific treatises, the NT material consists of theological polemics, mythology and prophesies.

              My last paragraph, was counterfactual, I don’t believe that the evidence for Anaximander and Jesus are equivalent. I actually think that the evidence for Anaximander is much stronger–read my original post in this thread (carefully this time) to see why. But of course, if the evidence for Anaximander or even Julius Ceasar was as flimsy as the evidence fo Jesus is, I would find their existence doubtful also. What’s embarassing about that? In my view, it’s more embarassing to have certainty about things for which one has no evidence.

              If someone said that the teaching
              of Jesus was a forgery by a conspiracy of
              liars, I’d say that was stupid.

              Who said that?
              You seem to be “arguing” (I use the term broadly) against a strawman.

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                The teaching of Jesus is not Jesus’ despite the claims of the NT authors. Nor is it fraudulent. Your theory?

                Re Anaximander, read a proper study, not an Encyclopedia entry. I used Kirk and Raven (“The Presocratic Philosophers”). I agree with Int Enc Phil, and I know that the statements made there “with some certainty” are based precisely on the evidence I gave in detail. The statement that Jesus taught basically as recorded in the NT and Apocrypha is true with some greater degree of certainty. Exception: no one knows whether Anaximander wrote a book.

                “Verbatim” – that’s right. In the absence of stenographers and sound recording a verbatim account consists of the actual words as best remembered – Plebgate is a good example. (Translation from Syriac into Greek, and scribal copying, also affect accuracy of transmission.)

                Enough.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                The teaching of Jesus is not Jesus’ despite the claims of the NT authors. Nor is it fraudulent. Your theory?

                You need to work on your reading comprehension skills. As I explained several times already, they were moral platitudes, comming from several sources, some from the OT, some from cynic philosophers and so on. You seem to have the rudimentary skills of googling why don’t you do a bit or research.

                Re Anaximander, read a proper study, not an Encyclopedia entry. I used Kirk and Raven (“The Presocratic Philosophers”).

                Right, that’s a classic. From that book, page 101, fourth sentence from the beginning of the second section ( ii) Anaximander’s book):

                That Anaximander certainly wrote a book of some kind is shown both by Theophrastus’ incontrovertible quotation in 103 a, and possibly by Diogenes’ information in 96 that there was a `summary exposition’, which he took to be by the philosopher himself.

                You were saying something about Theophrastus, what was that again? Oh, I remember, he evidently didn’t quote from Anaximander.

                I agree with Int Enc Phil, and I know that the statements made there “with some certainty” are based precisely on the evidence I gave in detail.

                Except that a post above, you said the opposite from what the encyclopedia said.

                The statement that Jesus taught basically as recorded in the NT and Apocrypha is true with some greater degree of certainty.

                Says you without any evidence or argument whatsoever.

                Exception: no one knows whether Anaximander wrote a book.

                Have you actually read the book you referenced above?

                “Verbatim” – that’s right. In the absence of stenographers and sound recording a verbatim account consists of the actual words as best remembered – Plebgate is a good example. (Translation from Syriac into Greek, and scribal copying, also affect accuracy of transmission.)

                Please stop. You only dig yourself a bigger hole.

                Enough.

                Indeed. We’re done here.

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:36 am | Permalink

                I see the “vain repetitions” quote was ironically apposite. (BTW, you demanded a specific original idea from Jesus’ teaching, then ignored it.)

                You claim that every moral idea in, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, is just a platitude traceable to a previous source. Go to it: try the “vain repetitions” thing, and, say, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” These were original ideas not mentioned in the literate Greek studies. However, there are (say) “48 octavo” pages of this teaching. Even if each item had a precedent, who put them together? According to you, neither a real person (Jesus) nor a fraudulent Jesus-inventor.

                Kirk and Raven concerning Anaximander’s “book” entitled “On Nature”; read the WHOLE page (101:

                “It was the custom… to supply titles, in the absence of definite evidence… ‘On Nature’ was a standard comprehensive title which tended to be assigned to… almost all the Presocratics. That Anaximander certainly wrote a book of some kind is shown both by Theophrastus’ incontrovertible quotation [a partial sentence found in Simplicius, 6th century CE!]… and possibly by Diogenes’ information that there was a ‘summary exposition’, which… may have been a later summary (produced either by a pupil or, more probably, in the fourth century BC or later; or it may have been the original work, whose short, perhaps discontinuous… nature was not what was normally expected of a… book… Theophrastus had access to at least one oroginal sentence, but seems to have lacked full information… The possibility cannot be ignored that he, too, used a summary or handbook…”

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

                As far as I’m concerned this discussion is over. We’ve already reached the maximum depth of nested comments and it seems we’re going into cirles: we’ve both stated our opinions and I don’t see any new arguments with each new comment. So let’s call it a day.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                logicophilosophicus, surely you’re not claiming that the Christians were the first to celebrate peace and those who brought it about?

                If you are, you’re beyond hope.

                b&

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

                I didn’t quite say that. There’s a difference between celebrating peace and advocating pacifism, and there’s a difference between being the first to come up with an idea (say, pacifism in Far Eastern philosophies/religions) and originating an idea (pacifism in the Greek/Levantine world).

                Of course you could deny that Jesus/Christians were original thinkers (re pacifism) by asserting that they had access to Buddhist or Mohist doctrines (evidence?) But they certainly didn’t borrow/inherit pacifism from Near Eastern or Greek sources, which was the point at issue.

                Pacifism was, in any case, not my primary example.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                logicophilosophicus, Euripides was as much a pacifist as anybody in the modern era, and he wrote half a millennium before the earliest Christians. And he certainly wasn’t the only one, and unlikely the first.

                Which would you consider your best example of a Christian invention?

                b&

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                Euripides? A dramatist, not a moral teacher/philosopher. He wrote many plays – more than twice Shakespeare’s tally – and depicted all sides of human nature, including patriotism as well as the horrors of war. I don’t think you can attribute a philosophical doctrine, or even stance, to him. This is Grand Ol’ Wikipedia, a fairly orthodox view:

                “In Ancient Greece, however, pacifism seems not to have existed except as a broad moral guideline against violence between individuals. No philosophical program of rejecting violence between states, or rejecting all forms of violence, seems to have existed. Aristophanes, in his play Lysistrata, creates the scenario of an Athenian woman’s anti-war sex strike during the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC, and the play has gained an international reputation for its anti-war message. Nevertheless, it is both fictional and comical, and though it offers a pragmatic opposition to the destructiveness of war, its message seems to stem from frustration with the existing conflict (then in its twentieth year) rather than from a philosophical position against violence or war. Equally fictional is the nonviolent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos. Euripides also expressed strong anti-war ideas in his work, especially The Trojan Women.”

                I don’t have a rank order for Christian originality. As you know, I’m not a Christian myself, so I have no particular interest/expertise. I noted that the injunction to avoid repetitive ritual (also showy charity and public religiosity) is characteristically early Christian.

              • Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                Wait.

                I’m confused.

                Euripides wrote lots of plays about the zeitgeist of his era, including lots of stuff about pacifists and their pacifism…but it was the Christians who invented it a half-dozen centuries later?

                That just doesn’t make any sense.

                And I’ve already pointed out that, in the Sermon on the Mount (a very public (fictional) event), Jesus concluded his instructions on how to pray by leading the (large public) assemblage in a repetition of the Lord’s Prayer.

                But never mind that — all the rage at the time were the mystery cults, very into secrecy. You’re not seriously suggesting that none of them ever prayed in private, are you? And that none of them improvised their prayers?

                b&

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                You certainly are confused: not my fault.

                a) Euripides – as “everybody” knows – wrote “The Trojan Women” in disgust at the treatment of the Greek women and children of Milos at the hands of Athenian warriors (rape, slavery, ethnic cleansing). That is not pacifism as such. Nor was it even reflective of the “zeitgeist”. And, in any case, in other pays Euripides expresses the soldierly patriotism of a man who would rather die on his feet than live on his knees (his words). And, for completeness, note that Euripides is deploring the treatment of civilised Greeks: the Greeks had a completely different moral mindset in respect of barbarians. I’m afraid you won’t get any informed support for your overhyped misrepresentations.

                b) In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus includes the formula – not a prescription for ritual repetition – since called the Lord’s Prayer. No one had heard it before: there is no way the “multitude” could recite it (especially since, moments earlier, they had been told never to pray in public). Matthew 6 is hardly ambiguous – your version is again, I must presume mistakenly, a clear misrepresentation. You won’t get informed support for that either.

                c) “But never mind that — all the rage at the time were the mystery cults, very into secrecy. You’re not seriously suggesting that none of them ever prayed in private, are you? And that none of them improvised their prayers?” In solitary privacy, “in your closet” – yes, I do suggest that. They MET in secret to perform their mysteries. “Improvised”? Who knows (if their prayers really were “secret”)? But proably not – the “mystery” was a shared ritual, not an ad lib act of contrition. I can’t imagine you have any informed support for his one, either.

                Three strikes and you’re out, they say. I have nothing to add.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                logicophilosophicus, I’m confused.

                You just described Euripides as being disgusted with war, and yet you don’t think that being disgusted with war is pacifism.

                You think that the (fictional account of the fictional event of the) first pubic recitation of the most-ever publicly recited prayer at least in the history of the Western world is somehow evidence that the one leading the prayer disapproved of public recitations of common prayers.

                Clearly, what we have here is failure to communicate.

                And that you seriously think that nobody ever prayed in private before Christianity…I’m sorry, but that’s as utterly bizarre to me as suggesting that nobody ever said a prayer before eating a meal of bread and wine before Paul instructed the Corinthians in the Eucharist. I can’t believe that’s a serious proposition. Even if it is, it’s so ludicrous that I don’t at all feel even the slightest need to do other than mock it.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • logicophilosophicus
                Posted January 6, 2013 at 3:06 am | Permalink

                BG, I think you are wifully confused.

                Disapproval of the rape, enslavement and ethnic cleansing of noncombatant women and children is not disgust with war; so I clearly didn’t write what you claim I wrote. Nor did Euripides, who wrote stirring patriotic drama during the first decade of the Pelopponesian War, but wrote several plays (after the siege of Milos) disapproving of such treatment of (Greek!) non-combatants. I seem to remember the same sentiments expressed and acted on by Bush and Thatcher, Clinton and Major, Dubya and Blair – pacifists all, then?

                “…in your closet… pray after this fashion…” is, unambiguously, not the same as “Repeat after me.” The Lord’s Prayer – and, here, later Christians clearly disobey their own guru – is a private fill-in-the-blanks formula, not a mantra for “vain repetition”.

                “Nobody prayed in private…” I thought we were discussing mystery cults, not everybody? However, the question is not whether private prayer ever happened, it is whether any teacher previously disapproved of public prayer and shared repetition of prayer.

                I posed a sort of challenge: “I’m afraid you won’t get any informed support for your overhyped misrepresentations.”

                You declined: “I don’t at all feel even the slightest need to do other than mock…”

                If that’s how you prefer to debate, I’ll give it a whirl:

                “And when thou debatest, thou shalt not be as the empiricists are: for they love to debate relying on their libraries and in their universities, that they may interact with other well-informed men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou debatest, sit privately at thy computer, and when thou hast logged on, debate in solitary reference-free mockery; and thy peers who also delight in this isolation shall plus-one thee openly. But when ye debate, use not critical results, as the others do: for they think that they shall be supported for their many references.”

  34. Posted December 30, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Were there followers of the jerk in his supposed time and a little after? That to me is what we need to know! If there were, then they knew him or is it the case that they just felled for some nonsense about him without ever knowing him? That is, what history do we have for when his followers started following him? Of course, we cannot examine them.
    William Lane Craig believes what uncorroborated writers say in their uncorroborated writing in his defense of the Resurrection and everything they state anyway. What rational person accepts dubious writings from dubious people?


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] According to most scholars with anti-mythicist viscera I have come across, the very idea of a mythicist publishing in a scholarly peer-reviewed journal is not supposed to be possible. So it is heartening to see a mythicist’s publication in a pay-wall journal (you can’t read it unless you pay the publisher — and it doesn’t matter if you were one of those who contributed financially to Richard Carrier’s research grant) and not only that, but one that is noticed and publicized by a much wider constituency — Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True blog. [...]

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