Once again: did Jesus exist?

UPDATE: Several readers have said in the comments that this is a non-issue: why should anyone care whether a historical Jesus existed?  I would have thought the answer was obvious, but I’ll let Sajanas, who has already commented, give it:

But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

It’s important because one of the major world’s religions is based critically on the claim that a historical Jesus existed, which in principle could be supported with evidence. (It’s also supported by claims for the divinity of said Jesus.) Sometimes I get the feeling that people just say, “Who cares?” because they have a form of xkcd Syndrome.  But millions of Christians do care!

______

For some reason I’m very curious about whether the Jesus myth is based on a historical person. Even if such a person existed, of course, that gives no credence to his status as the divine son of God/part of God, or to the stories about him in the Bible. After all, many myths are based on historical people who are later deemed to have done miracles, been divine, and so on. “John Frum,” the iconic figure of the Pacific cargo cults, may well have been based on a real American G.I.

Christians, of course, are intensely interested in the historicity of Jesus, for if you can show that such a person existed, it at least gives a boost to their beliefs about his divinity. If, in contrast, there is little or no evidence for a Jesus-person, then the whole myth pretty much collapses, at least if you think Jesus was a real person walking about and doing stuff in Palestine. That’s why Christians are obsessed with whatever evidence exists for a historical Jesus, and why Bart Ehrman’s books substantiating such historicity are best-sellers.

The evidence for a Jesus-person, as we all know (and thanks largely to reader Ben Goren’s arguments on this site), is paper-thin. Because of this, scholars debate the issue hotly, with the “mythicists,” like Richard Carrier (who thinks that Jesus is not based on a historical person), fighting the “historicists,” like Bart Ehrman, who—while denying the divinity of Jesus—thinks that the Jesus myth is based on a real apocalyptic preacher who lived at that time.

Yet the more I look at the evidence—and I’m by no means an expert—the more dubious I become about the evidence for a historical Jesus-person. Yes, one may have existed, but where is the evidence?

As far as I can see, it lies solely in scripture: the New Testament.  There seem to be no credible extra-scriptural sources attesting to the existence of anyone like Jesus. There are no contemporary accounts of his presence and deeds, though there should have been some given the number of people who were writing then in that area of the Middle East, and the remarkable character of Jesus’s deeds. (This includes the earthquakes, renting of the Temple, and arising of zombie saints from their graves during the Crucifixion.) All the accounts come from decades or centuries after Jesus’s supposed death, by which time the myths may have begin forming—and around nobody in particular. In contrast, we have far more historical evidence for the existence of people like, say, Julius Caesar, including contemporary accounts, statues and coins with his image, and contemporary accounts.

As far as I can see, then, the “evidence” for a Jesus-person is twofold: first, that he’s described in the Bible (but so are Noah and Moses), and second, that people think that myths MUST have accreted around some historical person. The first I find unsatisfying; the second unconvincing. Myths may well have formed around no historical person at all. Was the myth of Paul Bunyan really based on some lumberjack who had a pet ox?

Yet it seems churlish—an offense to Christians—to doubt that a historical Jesus existed. It’s as if by being skeptical about that, you are deliberately trying to tick off Christians. And yet, I think, our doubt is warranted. We should not automatically concede to religionists that Jesus must have existed in some corporeal form, divine or otherwise.

This long introduction is to call attention to a new piece at Alternet by Valerie Tarico: “5 reasons to suspect Jesus never existed.” (Tarico is described as “a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” )

Her piece is a short and readable account, which I recommend, and I won’t summarize it except to give the five points that Tarico discusses in detail.

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. 

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

She also includes a quote from Bart Ehrman, who, curiously, thinks a historical Jesus did exist:

“What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57 of  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium)

Yet if that’s a real quote from Ehrman, and not taken out of context, why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

h/t: Barry~

581 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    “why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?”

    Book sales?

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      More that, by his own admission, doubting the historicity of Jesus will lead to the historicists trying to destroy your career.

      • DrDroid
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Taking Jesus away from Ehrman is equivalent to taking God away from the theologians. They got nothing to talk about.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure about that. It seems to me a scholar can make an interesting career out of revealing the truth about history – what is known and what is not known – without buying in to something he can’t support.

          • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Jesus=Dionysus(greek)=Isa(koran)=Horus(egypt)

            Jesus story of death and resurrection is common in ancient myths of sun gods. Jesus is the Son (Sun) of God (Universe). That’s why people worship Jesus on SUNday.

            • Tamsin Mc Cormick
              Posted September 2, 2014 at 1:26 am | Permalink

              They whorship on Sunday because that was the day the ancient Celts in Europe whorshipped the Sun. This day was hi-jacked by the Christian Cult to convert the pagans. Various other Celtic feasts were also “converted”
              Yuletide to Christmas although the man Jesus seems to have been born in March was it ?
              Ostara became Easter – that’s where all the egg
              and fertility rites come from – perpetuated by chocolate manufacturers. To be fair any religion that includes chocolate can’t be all bad !!

          • ryanjeanes
            Posted September 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. He could sell tons of books explaining why he was wrong.

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        More that, by his own admission, doubting the historicity of Jesus will lead to the historicists trying to destroy your career.

        Citation, please.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          It’s in his book, Did Jesus Exist? He’s includes himself in that number as well (historicists that should destroy the career of mythicists).

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted August 31, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink

            Do you have a page reference? There is no index in the book.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      “Book sales?”

      That’s been my guess, too. He seems to strike a very narrow balance in his writing and speaking so that both believers and skeptics find something they like.

    • Michael Sommers
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      Sure. If you can’t refute the other guy’s evidence or arguments, attack his character or motives.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        After what I’ve read so far, I don’t think you can defend the guy’s arguments. I’m pointing out an obvious possible motive. Richard Carrier elaborates. But, you are right, it’s only a guess. How can we know someones motives?

        • Michael Sommers
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          Then you haven’t read very much of what he’s written. Or you don’t understand it. Even if you have read and understood everything, and disagree, that does not justify you impugning his motives, especially when, as you admit, you have no evidence.

          As for Carrier, what about his motives? Why not impugn them, too? He apparently depends on his books for his living (Ehrman at least has his salary as a professor), so he needs to drum up sales for them.

    • Gwendolyn Gallagher
      Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s a little unfair. Ehrman is quite honest about the fact that the evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus is inconclusive, and that the lack of records argues against it. But he seems to feel that there was some spark that caused all that smoke. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced either way. But I do think we should recognize that there’s more than disproving Christianity (Why bother? It disproves itself!) involved in the quest. Wouldn’t you like to know if King Arthur was based on a real person? Robin Hood? I know I would!

  2. Kevin Alexander
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    When Tom Holland went looking for contemporary sources for Mohammad he found none.
    Devout muslims believe the the Qu’ran is the uncreated word of Allah. Less devout believe that it was inspired by god but composed by Muhammad. The only actual records we have are that it was written by the team of editors who collected the stories years later on orders from the Caliph and written with his political agenda in mind and then the contrary scriptures were destroyed.

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      He also shows the very first coin to have the “No God but Allah” phrase on it, and it was minted years after the start of the Arab conquest, during a time of civil war between various Arab factions.

      • Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Their equivalent of “In God we trust”?

        /@

        • Michael Sommers
          Posted September 2, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink

          It’s more fundamental than that. “There is no god but god” states emphatically that there is only one god. None of that trinity nonsense for them.

          • Tamsin Mc Cormick
            Posted September 2, 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

            I prefer the shorter version – There is no God.
            Enjoy your life.!!

  3. rebscar
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I am a fan of Bart Ehrman and I have read several of his books, including the one in question. Ehrman’s reasons for thinking that there was a historical Jesus are laid out quite clearly in his book which is well worth reading if you are interested in the topic.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      I too am a fan of Ehrman. But not of DJE?, which was a far cry from his usual careful scholarship. This would be the time for the Carrier review: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        If anyone is going to read Carrier’s blog, be sure to read what Ehrman actually wrote, not what Carrier claims Ehrman wrote. They aren’t always the same thing.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Citation needed.

          I followed the exchange between Carrier and Ehrman and I don’t recall find Carrier misrepresenting Ehrman. Of course I many have missed it, do you have an example?

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

            Better yet, so that you don’t have to believe me, here is a link that mentions one such case: http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/tag/bayes-theorem/

            It’s a little more than half way down the (long) page. Near footnote 42.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

              The only thing that I could find is the claim by Carrier that Ehrman implied that a scholar that would support a mythicist position would have hard time getting a job in academia. Is that what you’re referring to?

              I’ll have to look how accurate that accusation is. I seem to recall Ehrman making a statement of the form “No respectable scholar with a position in a prestigious institution would support such a thesis.” I’ll have to look it up. I guess it’s a matter of interpretation but I find Hoffman’s protestation disingenuous. As an example look at what happen to Thomas Thompson when he proposed that the Jewish Patriarchs are mythical: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/critscho358014.shtml

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 4:40 am | Permalink

                Ok. I did some looking up. Carrier accused Ehrman about implicitly threatening that people who hold mythicist views won’t be able to find jobs in academia in his critique of Ehrman’s Huffighton Post article. There Ehrman wrote:

                These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

                I don’t think Carrier’s interpretation is that far fetched, especially given what happened to Thomphson (see my previous post) or more recently to Thomas Brodie.

  4. Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Richard Carrier just had an article published on The Bible and Interpretation, giving a quick overview of the thesis laid out in his recent book, “On the Historicity of Jesus”. http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

  5. Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Just ask Sossianus Hierocles.

    • Gamall
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Why ? He lived three centuries later…

  6. Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Yet if that’s a real quote from Ehrman, and not taken out of context, why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

    An interesting question, and the answer I think is along the lines that he wants to be regarded as a serious scholar.

    The field he is in is still riddled with Christian apologists, and they can cope with a secular writer doubting Jesus’s divinity, but they simply can’t cope with one doubting Jesus’s historicity.

    Therefore they just get dismissive and angry with anyone arguing for it, and not even regard them seriously.

    The other part of this explanation is that Ehrman has swum in those waters for so long that he himself now cannot take seriously the idea that Jesus was not even a historical person.

    One thing is for sure, it is not because Erhman actually has evidence for Jesus’s historicity.

  7. Mark P
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I don’t mean to be crass, but who cares if a man called Jesus actually existed? Either way it is irrelevant; whether the fairy tale is ascribed to an actual person or to an amalgam of persons, or completely made up, it is a fairy tale nonetheless.

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Well, lets look at another example. The evidence for the Buddha is probably thinner than Jesus… his biographies were made hundreds of years after his death, making similar miraculous claims. But I think a fair amount of Buddhist philosophy would survive even if he never existed at all.

      But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

      • Jeff Lewis
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Further than that is just genuine curiosity. Was there ever a real King Arthur or Robin Hood? Those certainly aren’t all that important of questions, but many people are still interested in the answers.

        • Sajanas
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

          That’s certainly true too, and I think that the whole Jesus myth/history thing taps into a hunger not just for the real story, but for the story of how we know what we know, and how stories develop over time.

          I find it fascinating how you can have something that is obviously a myth, like Atlantis (which was just a literary device for Plato) and still have people think its real because it taps into some desire.

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            It is possible that the story of Atlantis is based on the eruption of Thera.

            • Sajanas
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              I think that neatly proves my point. It could have been based on any number of things… its not like ancient people were so sheltered they couldn’t conceive of an ancient civilization that collapsed. But an ancient civilization destroyed by Athens? Its just not real.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              Possible? Yes.
              Proven? No.
              A couple of years back I adjusted the family holiday to cater for my moderate interest in the topic by persuading the wife that we should take a week of our vacation on Santorini (the island of Thera). I don’t claim to have been doing novel geological research there (it’s the bloody Med ; it’s far too hot, though not as bad as being “cultural” in Athens the week before), but while there’s lots of interesting geology, I still remain to be convinced of the “Atlantis = Thera” theory.
              The volcano is intermittently grumbling from a new centre outside the caldera, according to divers in the area. Hydrothermal springs, intermittent earthquakes off the NE coast.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        I’m with Jeff on this, it’s an interesting but not relevant question. Myths are not important because of what they say about reality but of what they say about human perception. But seeing as there is no proof of Jesus’s existence, there can be no confirmation, so it’s irrelevant to a believer. Part of their belief is that he existed; you can’t erase that belief with any sort of proof of a negative.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          One can, however, erode the dominant narrative in society that coddles believers. Or more importantly, the narrative that is used to provide cover for organized religion. Imagine 100 years from now it is “common knowledge” that Jesus was ahistorical. There will be believers, sure — but I’d wager they’d be more likely to keep it in the closet if the larger consensus was against them. I’m reminded of Tony Blair’s desire not to appear to be a “nutter”.

          There’s individual-level dynamics… and I’m with you — I’m not inclined to give a crap. And then there’s the bigger picture. Politics, economics, morality… and religion. And one of those things is not like the others. Finding either Jesus’ corpse or such an absurdity of coincidences that it would be perverse to think that he really existed (the view I am drifting closer to) — either of those outcomes seem to me to be of colossal impact if subscribed to by the majority.

          • Mark R.
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            I haven’t believed Jesus was a historical figure for some time, and I’ve stopped caring about the debate personally. However, I think it is an extremely important debate for believers; especially in regards to what Stephen said since religion overlaps politics, economics, morality and I’ll add the way we connect with the planet. What is distressing to me is how moderate/liberal Christians politely refuse to have the debate and fundamentalists froth at the mouth when confronted with the debate.

            My parents are somewhere in the middle of moderate and fundamental Christianity, but I’ve stopped sending them articles on subjects such as these (at their request). First they always accused me of being drunk. wtf? (Most likely I was baked) 😉 I guess that was their way of rationalizing my fruitless attempts at showing them the other side. And they also asked me to stop because it’s “disturbing” for them to see how “far I’ve fallen”. So that’s what frustrates me; the people who really need to debate topics such as these (or even acknowledge the debate exists) refuse to engage. That to me is truly disturbing.

          • Kevin
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            Eroding beliefs is a good point, but there is more wishful thinking in it. Most Christians would simply scoff at the idea that Jesus did not exist (or that he was a white guy with a beard).

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              Most Christians today. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the effect of diffusion of innovations in the longer run, though. And there’s a strange kind of momentum to these things… most times people right in the middle of a sea change won’t know the game is on until way, way later, when things have already changed. And it usually takes a crisis for all kinds of attitudes to change… but when it does, look out. Peer pressure is just that kind of force that causes things to happen, I think. A good example to give is to consider the religiosity in Scandinavia right now. Now guess what those numbers looked like 100 years ago.

              I think one of the biggest motivators is not appearing foolish to one’s peers. All it takes is enough momentum on the attitudes of an influential 10% or so, and if the conditions are right, you just might be in for an avalanche.

        • Sajanas
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          As a former believer, I can tell you, even in a liberal church they aren’t upfront with you about the real historicity of Jesus until you’re an interested adult member. To say that proof is irrelevant to belief isn’t accurate… people claim all the time to feel God’s presence, to have answered prayers, and the like. The historicity of those stories is terribly important, or no one would have bothered to write them down in the first place.

          And I think the stories of a lot of the atheists here would tell you that knowing about the history of religion is a powerful incentive to abandon it. When you are given a bill of goods about your personal savior, and find out that, well, we don’t actually know if he exists or not… the story just doesn’t have the hold it once had.

          • Ann K
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

            I am of the group who think it doesn’t matter if he existed or not. I became an atheist on those common sense grounds, as I couldn’t believe some of the fantastic things. It just made no sense to me. But others have their faith grounded in different things, and I think most of them would let out a gasp if the life of Jesus could ever be disproved, yet they would keep on believing the same things anyway.

            • GBJames
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

              The problem is that disproof is impossible in many ways. Guy with that name could easily have existed. Carpenters certainly exist. Fanatical preachers certainly exist. How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

              But if this is what believers have to fall back upon, it is a long way from something to pray to.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

                The exact same way you can prove right now that there aren’t any angry hippos in the room with you right now.

                If Christianity was founded by a fanatical carpenter preacher named, “Jesus,” there would be credible evidence supportive of that fact; instead, the evidence contradicts such a claim. Indeed, the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of a perfectly incompatible position — namely the perfectly mundane one that early Christians were right and Jesus is indistinguishable from Perseus, Bellerophon, Mithra, and all those other Pagan demigods whom they themselves compared Jesus with.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                No, Ben, because these attributes are as common as fishes and loaves. It is perfectly reasonable that a guy with that name was a carpenter and a nutty preacher. This is a trivial possibility. Angry hippos in my room is the opposite.

                If believers have to fall back on the possibility that someone named Fred once ate a banana they’ve set the bar so low that your average turtle could jump over it. Which is the point. You can’t disprove the trivial possibility. But that doesn’t make the fellow interesting or historically important. Let alone divine.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                No, Ben, because these attributes are as common as fishes and loaves. It is perfectly reasonable that a guy with that name was a carpenter and a nutty preacher.

                But that a nutty carpenter / preacher named, “Jesus” would be thought of by Paul as being the terrestrial incarnation of the divine creative force that Spoke existence into being is is hard to swallow as an angry hippo in your room. Especially when so much of Paul is dedicated to the proposition that Jesus was an otherworldly figure, trebly so when so many other early strains of Christianity (especially the various Gnostics) would have considered the notion of Jesus sullying himself with the corruption of the flesh the most insulting blasphemy imaginable.

                Hell, even the New Testament records the evidence of that fight. 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.” If even the Bible has to caution the faithful against the many who claim that Jesus didn’t “come in the flesh,” how can one take seriously the possibility that he did?

                b&

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

                I agree here. Like with homeopathy, people will simply continue to look as there is no discrete “halt” state that force them to conclude.

                Of course, for everyone else someone whose popularity approaches zero can hardly fill the shoes of being such an important person. But isn’t this the situation already?

                However, there are countless arguements like these against Christian religion and none seem persuasive to the ardent believer. If all fails, Jesus joins the metaphors or allegories. He already died for one, so he could as well turn into one as well.

                Is it useful to apprehend yet another argument against religion, and that would be a big one? It always is. Will it have the effect everyone hopes it would? Most likely not. They’ll just keep looking.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

                The exact same way you can prove right now that there aren’t any angry hippos in the room with you right now.

                But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

                Not much. Construct a theory of Jesus recognizable as the central figure in Christianity, and we have scores of examples who couldn’t help but have noticed him but who didn’t. Construct a theory of Jesus as somebody insignificant enough to have escaped notice by all those who failed to notice him and there’s no way to reconcile him with the Jesus Christians (imagined they) knew.

                Same deal with the hippo. If the hippo at all resembles what people would recognize as a real, living, breathing river mammal, it’s trivial to spot in your living room. If the hippo can reasonably escape notice (because it’s invisible and intangible, or whatever), there’s no way you can claim with a straight face that it’s “really” a “real” hippo.

                b&

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

                If Christianity was founded by a fanatical carpenter preacher named, “Jesus,” there would be credible evidence supportive of that fact;

                Except that the religion that the Biblical Jesus preached was not Christianity, at least before John was written. Jesus said that the end of the world was nigh, not that he was god (except in a few isolated passages).

                Indeed, the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of a perfectly incompatible position — namely the perfectly mundane one that early Christians were right and Jesus is indistinguishable from Perseus, Bellerophon, Mithra, and all those other Pagan demigods whom they themselves compared Jesus with.

                Which early Christians were those?

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

                Except that the religion that the Biblical Jesus preached was not Christianity, at least before John was written. Jesus said that the end of the world was nigh, not that he was god (except in a few isolated passages).

                Paul’s Jesus was the divine creative entity who Spoke existence into being. The earliest-written Canonical gospel opens with said entity miraculously impregnating the Virgin Mary. It just don’t get any more divine than that, in either example.

                Which early Christians were those?

                Justin Martyr especially, and especially in his First Apology, which I’ve quoted and referred to and linked to repeatedly in this thread. Also Origen. Others who escape my recollection right now.

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

                Ben–If I say that you are the messiah, does this mean that: 1) you do not exist; 2) you do exist, but I have described you inaccurately; or 3) you do exist, but I have not referred to you because my description is inaccurate?

                The first and third possibilities have the interesting result of making it impossible to make inaccurate statements about real people. I think this is, at least, contrary to how language is ordinarily understood.

              • Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                Your trilemma fails as badly as so many of these.

                If you say that I’m the messiah, the “me” you’re pointing to clearly bears no semblance to the actual “me” whatsoever.

                Additionally, it’s quite common for claimed instances of messiahs to not have existed at all — and that’s pretty much universally the case when the messiah is not a contemporary but an historical figure. See every demigod from the Classical Era in which Christianity arose, as well as Moronism (Moroni doing his deeds a millennium before Smith) and Scientology (Xenu doing his deeds umpteen brazilian years ago).

                No accounts of Jesus were contemporary; most were about a century after the “fact.”

                Which of those two models would you say Christianity best fits?

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

                As another example, consider the following sentence:

                “Hillary Clinton is the President of Russia.”

                There is no person that fits the description. However, I think you know who I am talking about.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

                But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

                Not much.

                You have a bizarre sense of scale if you think my living room is the size of Galilee.

                Construct a theory of Jesus recognizable as the central figure in Christianity, and we have scores of examples who couldn’t help but have noticed him but who didn’t.

                Nonsense. Why should anybody have noticed him, outside those who had personal contact with him? Was he the only apocalyptic prophet in town? Was he the only person crucified? He was utterly insignificant, except to his closest followers, especially after he died.

                Even if your scores did notice him, they wouldn’t necessarily publish anything about him; and even if they did publish, those writings would not necessarily have survived.

                Would you please identify the “scores” of people whose writings about John the Baptist have survived?

              • Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                Why should anybody have noticed him, outside those who had personal contact with him?

                If you want a serious answer for that, you’re going to have to start by telling me who you think Jesus was. The Jesus of the only records we have of him was a zombie necromonger who terrorized all of Jerusalem. You’re clearly stripping away at least 90% of what we allegedly know about him, likely inventing from whole cloth lots more about him — and expecting me to know exactly what this Jesus of yours you have in mind is.

                So, if you would: describe who you think Jesus really was; give evidence that supports your position; and provide reasonable explanations for the evidence that will inevitably contradict your portrait of Jesus.

                Clear those hurdles, and the rest of your objections might be worth considering. But I’ve yet to encounter anybody who can actually clear those hurdles….

                b&

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

                Paul’s Jesus was the divine creative entity who Spoke existence into being.

                Huh? I think you’re confusing Paul and John.

                The earliest-written Canonical gospel opens with said entity miraculously impregnating the Virgin Mary.

                Again, huh? Mark says no such thing.

                It just don’t get any more divine than that, in either example.

                Sure, it does. Heracles was not a god (until he died). Neither were any of the numerous offspring of Greek gods and mortals.

                Which early Christians were those?

                Justin Martyr especially, and especially in his First Apology, which I’ve quoted and referred to and linked to repeatedly in this thread. Also Origen.

                Justin was second century, Origen third. Hardly “early” in the context of the current discussion.

              • GBJames
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                “…that a nutty carpenter / preacher named, “Jesus” would be thought of by Paul as being the terrestrial incarnation of the divine creative force that Spoke existence into being is is hard to swallow as an angry hippo in your room”

                To whom? Have you ever heard of Charles Manson? David Koresh? Ron Hubbard? Joseph Smith? Every one of them, and countless other equivalent nobodies had a handful of people willing to… well, you know the rest.

                It doesn’t take a remarkable being to sit at the root of a religion. It doesn’t necessarily take one at all, I suppose. But sometimes we don’t know.

                John Frum.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

                GBJames – Well, David Koresh was not a prophet. Therefore, any description of a “David Koresh” who *is* a prophet clearly does not refer to the actual person named David Koresh, but instead refers to an imaginary being who happens to have the same name. The two otherwise have no similarity whatsoever. And so on for your other examples.

                In order to refer to real people, descriptions must be accurate. If they are not accurate, they instead refer to imaginary people. This will presumably be great comfort to anyone who has ever been defamed–if it’s not true, *they weren’t talking about you*! 🙂

              • GBJames
                Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                @aspidoscelis: Who gets to define when a religious leader is a prophet?

                And what is the level of accuracy that fits your “must be accurate” claim? No description of anything is 100% accurate to the extent that descriptions are abstractions of real world things.

                We aren’t in the realm of certainty. We’re talking probabilities. So there is some chance that some real human with normal human weird leadership skills was the kernel from which grew that dreadful bush, Xtianity. There’s no way to disprove this possibility given the pathetic available evidence.

                What’s important is that it doesn’t matter. The possible existence of a totally mundane figure leads nowhere if your project is to demonstrate the existence of the Sky God and his Divine Alter Ego.

                Can we please now shift the conversation to who might have been the original real-world Kukulkan? It is _possible_ that there was a human at one time from whom the myths arose. Can’t we have some equal time spent on other divinity myth origins?

              • rickflick
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

                I would like to remind, too, that the minimum qualifications for being a Christian is to accept the divinity of Christ. If his existence is understood as at all doubtful, being a Christian doesn’t amount to much. On the other hand, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, if Socrates did not, in fact, exist, absolutely nothing is lost of his significance.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:23 am | Permalink

                If you want a serious answer for that, you’re going to have to start by telling me who you think Jesus was.

                Sorry, that’s not the way it works. You made the claim that Philo would certainly have know of Jesus, had Jesus existed. You did not qualify what you meant by ‘Jesus’. Therefore, for your claim to be true, it must apply to any kind of Jesus. And it is up to you to prove your claim. That you are trying to deflect attention merely indicates that you know that you can’t support your claim.

                Clear those hurdles, and the rest of your objections might be worth considering.

                Very funny. I’ve yet to hear anything from you that is worth considering.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:40 am | Permalink

                This is a rude and uncivil letter. Apologize for the rudeness, please, or you won’t post here again.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

                What is rude or uncivil about it? Goren flat out lied about what Justin wrote. Is it not permitted to point out such errors?

                I will certainly not apologize unless he apologized for the lie.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

                You can certainly point out errors, but rudeness is against my rules,which you apparently haven’t read. . Stating something inaccurately is not. You will never post here again, and we won’t miss you. Bye.

            • aspidoscelis
              Posted August 31, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

              GBJames – I agree with your objections. I intended to reduce to absurdity what I take to be Ben Goren’s position. I guess I wasn’t sufficiently absurd for this to be readily apparent. 🙂

              I think Ben Goren’s argument against a historical Jesus relies on this claim: that in order for a text to refer to a real person, it must describe that person *accurately*. I agree that it isn’t clear how accurate is accurate enough, but I don’t think this is the worst problem. If I say, “Barack Obama is a Muslim!” we easily understand to whom I am referring even though the only description I provide (“a Muslim”) is completely inaccurate. We can and do refer to real people while providing wildly inaccurate descriptions. Ergo, reference to real people does not rely on accurate description of them.

              There is some further complication here. For instance, sometimes we have to deal with multiple people who share the same name. Then we might fall back on a description, e.g., “Greaser Bob–the original Greaser Bob–is hunting north of the picket wire and would not begrudge its use.” However, even in this case what is required for the “original Greaser Bob” to refer to a particular person is neither accuracy (he might not be “original” in any particular fashion, he need only be *known as* the “original Greaser Bob”) nor comprehensibility to outside audiences (we may have no idea who the “original Greaser Bob” is, but it still serves the purpose of establishing reference if the speaker and intended audience *do*).

              Also, I agree entirely with this:

              “What’s important is that it doesn’t matter. The possible existence of a totally mundane figure leads nowhere if your project is to demonstrate the existence of the Sky God and his Divine Alter Ego.”

              If there was a historical Jesus, the biblical accounts of him are demonstrably false and contradictory… and that’s plenty.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                Well, this is the thing, isn’t it.

                If your argument for a historical Jesus relies upon events and characteristics described in the NT, then the lack of contemporaneous extra-biblical evidence is damning.

                But if you claim that the “real” Jesus (the person about whom the myth coalesced) was, at that time, too obscure for anyone like Pliny to notice, what events and characteristics described in the NT can you use to determine his historicity?

                /@

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

                But if you claim that the “real” Jesus (the person about whom the myth coalesced) was, at that time, too obscure for anyone like Pliny to notice, what events and characteristics described in the NT can you use to determine his historicity?

                And, at the same time, if the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?

                Another note: the only examples we have of people living this sort of double life are from fiction: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Clark Kent and Superman, Nick Bottom….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                We also have serial killers in modern times that led double lives; Ted Bundy comes to mind.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

                That sort of analogy doesn’t work. Criminals lead secret lives to hide from prosecution. Others lead secret lives to hide activities otherwise considers shameful.

                Jesus as the Christians knew him was very much out and proud, and he’s the one we’re looking for in history and not finding. For the analogy to work, the out and proud has to be simultaneously shameful and hidden. That can only possibly happen if the out and proud is completely fictional, putting us right back at my Clark Kent / Superman analogy.

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                The super heroes aren’t out. They hide their identity but I’m not really sure why. Serial killers hide their identity so they can keep doing their killing hobby.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Not Tony Stark!

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                Yes, that’s what makes Tony Stark awesome. He just can’t hold in that he’s Iron Man.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

                I think Ben Goren’s argument against a historical Jesus relies on this claim: that in order for a text to refer to a real person, it must describe that person *accurately*.

                No — or, at least, not exactly.

                If a description of a person is to be considered a real person, then there must be some independent standard by which you can separate fact from fiction.

                When you write that “Barack Obama is a Muslim,” we can identify a particular well-known very real person by that name, but we can also independently determine that the President is not a Muslim.

                But if you were to insist that being a Muslim is an essential characteristic of your Barack Obama, and that Barack Obama is nothing if he’s not a Muslim, then we’d be force to conclude that, whoever you’re referring to, he’s not the current President of the United States.

                Such it is with Jesus.

                You’d be damned hard pressed to find a Christian, today or in ancient history, who would recognize an individual as Jesus unless he fits the description given in the Credo: Born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended. Additionally, I don’t think you’ll be able to discard the Sermon on the Mount, the scene with the moneychangers at the Temple, the trial, and at least some healing / resurrection miracles. If you have some Jesus in mind who doesn’t fit that description, then, just as with Muslim Barack Obama, it’s some other Jesus entirely who bears as much semblance to “the” Jesus as does Brian.

                Now, for the sake of a naturalistic discussion, we can leave aside whether the supernatural elements in that biography were really real or a con artist’s sleight-of-hand or even just conspiratorial propaganda manufactured concurrently with the events. But they had to have been part of who he was from the get-go, or else he has as much bearing on the “real” Jesus as your Muslim fabrication does on President Obama.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

                “And, at the same time, if the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?”

                The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that you’re making the argument from incredulity. You wouldn’t let a creationist get by using it, so why do you rely on it. There are better arguments.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

                It’s not incredulity; it’s consistency.

                Let’s say we have a “report” that Superman stopped an airliner from crashing into the White House moments before impact, and that he saved everybody on board by gently setting the plane down on the White House Lawn.

                Is it incredulity to observe that CNN didn’t even have a mention on its news ticker?

                One of the most important motivating literary factors for the Gospel authors was to demonstrate how cosmically significant Jesus was — not just to mankind generally, but also to the locals. There was the prophecy of his birth, the Magi, the Herodian Massacre…the triumphant entry into Jerusalem…the Trial…the Ascension…indeed, the only stories in the Bible of Jesus which aren’t huge and / or hugely significant public spectacles are either of huge public spectacles in the spirit world or of him revealing mind-blowing cosmic Truths to his inner circle.

                At least for the Gospel authors, Jesus being some random nobody schmuck whom nobody had even heard of makes every bit as much sense as Barack Obama being a secretly gay married Muslim Kenyan. If the person in question really is a secretly gay married Muslim Kenyan, then we know for a fact you’re referring to somebody other than Jesus as understood by literally every Christian since Paul.

                At absolute best, that puts you into Michelle Bachman crazy witch conspiracy theory land. How on Earth is that preferable to simply cutting out the conspiracy, and saying that fictional made-up superstar Jesus is fictional and made up in exactly the same way as Dionysus, Perseus, Mercury, Mithra, and all the other fictional made-up superstars of the era?

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

                Ben, “I just can’t imagine such inconsistency” is the argument from incredulity.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

                In that case, then all science is an argument from incredulity. I just can’t imagine how CERN could get a six-sigma signal of the Higgs unless they actually found the Higgs.

                Let’s try another approach.

                I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that any proposed Jesus must be recognizable as Jesus to Christians ancient and modern. I would submit both that historicist proposals fall laughably short of that standard, and that, by the very way Christians have defined their Jesus from the beginning, no Jesus recognizable as such could possibly have existed.

                That’s the whole point of demigods.

                They’re not meant to be really real. We’ve got lots of really real people; what we don’t have, and what people want, and the need that demigods are meant to fill, is somebody more than human — superhuman.

                Why are you so hellbent on insisting that Superman really could be really real because you once heard of some nerdy guy who wore glasses and worked at a newspaper? What makes you think that Clark Kent is anything other than a literary device, and of what relevance could an historical Clark Kent possibly be to establishing the historicity of Superman? And why do you think the authors would even think to bother basing Superman on an historical Clark Kent, or that it would even occur to them that it might be a good idea to do so? Or, if they did because of some bizarre publicity stunt, that said really real historical Clark Kent was actually in any way even superficially connected to Superman? Or, to more accurately model your theory, that historical Clark Kent was the genesis of Superman?

                Can you not comprehend the absurdity of your proposition? Are you really that firmly convinced of Christian propaganda that they couldn’t possibly lie, would never make up stories?

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                “Can you not comprehend the absurdity of your proposition?”

                What is my proposition, Ben? Because I don’t think it is what you seem to think it is.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                At least part of it must be that there was an historical Jesus of one form or another.

                And any such position must be absurd in one (or both) of two ways. Either it contradicts all extant evidence along with all other examples of Classical Era pagan demigods; or it posits an individual so radically unlike Jesus that none but the person proposing it can see the semblance.

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                “At least part of it must be that there was an historical Jesus of one form or another.

                And any such position must be absurd…”

                Men named “Jesus” is not a difficult historical hurdle to jump.

                What is absurd is to assert with such repetitive certainty that no such name could possibly have been used by a guy two millennia ago.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                But that’s only part of the historicist position — and not even, for many, an essential one. “Jesus” was as popular a name then as it remains today in its modern form of, “Joshua.”

                Are all those men named, “Jesus,” the original Christian Jesus? Clearly not! So we need something more to identify the person we’re looking for.

                And it’s that “something more” that’s the kicker. Either that “something more” takes you away from the Christian Jesus, or he takes you into realms of fame if not fantasy.

                …another point I’ve not yet mentioned this time ’round. A literal translation of, “Jesus Christ,” could reasonably be, “YHWH’s anointed savior.” Strike the “Christ” and you strike the “anointed.” What are the chances that the human man was born with his job title? How much more likely is it that the name was chosen to fit the imaginary demigod? Where would you draw the error bars on those two propositions?

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                Ben, I’m tired of the game. You insist on framing your (overly lengthy) comments in terms that assume opponent positions instead of recognizing the actual positions. It is fatiguing and, frankly, pointless.

                It is like watching Don Quixote go after windmills. People point out that the windmill isn’t an actual knight on a horse only to see you wheel around and charge the windmill yet again.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–I think you’re just trying to cherry-pick in which cases and to what extent a depiction of a person must be accurate in order to refer to a real person–and doing so in a way that is convenient for your argument but otherwise indefensible.

                “When you write that “Barack Obama is a Muslim,” we can identify a particular well-known very real person by that name, but we can also independently determine that the President is not a Muslim.”

                If we could not do so, this would have no bearing whatsoever on Barack Obama’s existence. It would only change what we know. I’m quite certain there are people alive now who have never heard of Barack Obama. Those people are not in a position to determine whether or not he exists, or whether or not the description is accurate, but he still exists.

                “But if you were to insist that being a Muslim is an essential characteristic of your Barack Obama […]”

                Then you’d be wrong, but we would still know who you’re talking about. But no one says anything like that, anyways. The folks out there who say that Obama is a Muslim do not say, “And if he isn’t a Muslim, he doesn’t exist!”

                Similarly (although there are enough Christians with enough varying ideas about their religion that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone, somewhere, did say such a thing) a claim that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!” is not part of mainstream Christian belief. It certainly isn’t in the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed. It’s not a description of Christian belief, it’s a claim you are making, contrary to Christian belief–and are then ascribing to Christians.

                “You’d be damned hard pressed to find a Christian, today or in ancient history, who would recognize an individual as Jesus unless he fits the description given in the Credo: Born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended.”

                I think you have this backwards. If we knew of a well-documented, historical Jesus, we’d be damned hard-pressed to find a Christian who didn’t insist that he had these attributes regardless of what the historical record says. However, we’d also be damned hard-pressed to find a Christian who insists that the existence of a historical Jesus is contingent upon documentation of these attributes in non-religious sources.

                There are similar recent examples that are not hard to find and have been mentioned several times in this discussion. For instance, there is a well-documented, historical Joseph Smith who we know founded the Mormon faith. Adherents of the Mormon faith insist that he has various attributes (that he spoke to angels, received and translated a religious text inscribed on golden plates, etc.) that are not verifiable in the historical record. Non-Mormons generally disagree that he had these attributes. However, both Mormons and non-Mormons understand the reference of “Joseph Smith” to a particular person. Both agree that he was a real person and on various of his non-supernatural attributes (that he was born in Sharon, Vermont, published the Book of Mormon, was killed in Carthage, Illinois, etc.). Mormons do not insist that the existence of a historical Joseph Smith is contingent upon his having the various supernatural attributes ascribed to him by their faith (although they insist he did have those attributes) and neither do historians. So far as I am aware no one insists on that.

                “Now, for the sake of a naturalistic discussion, we can leave aside whether the supernatural elements in that biography were really real or a con artist’s sleight-of-hand or even just conspiratorial propaganda manufactured concurrently with the events. But they had to have been part of who he was from the get-go […]”

                If your meaning here is that if there was a historical Jesus that he must have been a religious figure who espoused doctrines in line with the biblical accounts and who was at the time considered to have various supernatural attributes and by his followers, sure, absolutely. However, that doesn’t get you where you want to go. Such a person could have been obscure! Your argument then relies on this: the biblical accounts describe him as being a very prominent figure and we would expect such a prominent figure to be recorded. That is, IMO, an extremely weak argument. It is not in the least bit surprising that members of a religion would view the founder of their religion as centrally important regardless of how he is viewed by society as a whole. The importance ascribed to Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, Rulon Allred, Joel LeBaron, Winston Blackmore, Elden Kingston, Leroy Johnston (and dozens of other recent examples) differs dramatically between their followers and society at large. Some of the people in that list are well-known because they either founded religions that are presently large and successful or because of high-profile confrontations with the law. Some of them are very obscure even though they lived quite recently or are still alive–but even these obscure people are founders of religious groups and considered to be extremely important by their followers.

                “If the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?”

                How can Rulon Allred be too obscure for most historians to give him even a footnote, while the same person is famous enough for the Apostolic United Brethren to think he was the most important person of his era? This is utterly trivial. He is central to the lives and beliefs of his followers. His followers are an obscure and unimportant group.

                A historical Jesus need not have been hiding in secrecy to avoid attention from contemporary historians, he need only have been unimportant to society at large. And a historical Jesus need not have been important to society at large to have been considered extremely important by his followers. You’re relying on his followers to have accurately depicted him even though it is commonplace and expected that members of a religion will not depict their central religious figures (real or otherwise) accurately. Inaccurate depiction of reality is an essential characteristic of religion!

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                Similarly (although there are enough Christians with enough varying ideas about their religion that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone, somewhere, did say such a thing) a claim that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!” is not part of mainstream Christian belief. It certainly isn’t in the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed. [Emphasis added.]

                I’m sorry; I didn’t make it past this. If you had anything substantive that didn’t rely on this or similar errors of fact, please feel free to re-work them appropriately.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles'_Creed

                The English text used in the Mass of the Roman Rite since 2011 is:

                I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

                [Emphasis added, of course.]

                Might I suggest? Your error is indicative of an ignorance of Christianity so profound that I doubt you’ve ever even attended Sunday services, let alone encountered any more formal information on the subject. You would be well served to at least read some Wikipedia articles about Christianity and Jesus before jumping back into the fray.

                Either that or, in your eagerness to defend the historicity of Jesus, you’ve blinded yourself (unknowingly, intentionally, or otherwise) to what are literally the most important and non-controversial facts about the religion. You’ve just said that the statement of faith repeated at every service doesn’t include what it includes…you can’t get more out of touch with reality than that.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                What of the non-creedal religions like Methodism? While many Methodist services include a creed — Apostles, Nicean, Korean or another — that is a local choice, not a requirement.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                With the possible exception of the Universalists, you’re just simply not going to find any mainstream Christians who don’t accept either the Credo or a basic formulation of the same claims. The most that you’re going to get is, for example, arguments about the nature of the resurrection — was it corporeal or spiritual? Did Jesus’s resurrected body have form, or did he only appear in waking dreams to the Apostles? That sort of thing.

                That sort of quibbling does nothing to change the balance of affairs when it comes to questions of historicity, even if it is more than enough to prompt schism and even intercontinental war.

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                As a lifelong Methodist, until recently when too many members wanted to move the church toward a more fundamentalist view, I was taught we were a non-creedal Christian denomination, a view supported by the Methodist ministers I have known, especially those who graduated from Claremont.

                The Methodists are guided by three books: The Holy Bible, The Book of Discipline, and The Book of Resolutions. While the first is always open for revision and interpretation, the latter two are modified every four years. None of them are binding. There is no way a Methodist can be dismissed from the church with the exception of ministers. Even they have great latitude.

                John Wesley’s credo was, “Think and let think.” Sounds good to me.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                So, which claims of the Nicene creed do the majority of Methodists /reject/?

                /@

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                As stated earlier, Methodism is a non-creedal church. None of the creeds — Apostles, Nicean, Korean or any other– are a part of the church discipline. They are included in a church service at the option of the minister.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                You did say that. But it’s not an answer to the question I asked.

                /@

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Ah, sorry. The answer is, “You would have to ask them.” Since no creed is an official part of Methodism, the decision as to whether any part of any creed is accepted by any member is their choice.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                Sadly, I cannot as they’re not readers of this b— website. I was hoping you might have some idea.

                /@

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                Within my circle of friends I would say virtually none. Still, I agree that too many are because they do not understand what Methodism is about. They get their instruction from parents and non-Methodist friends. I suspect fewer than 5% have ever read any of the Book of Discipline which is the basic text on Methodism.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                My point wasn’t to suggest that you had to agree to a certain dogma to be Methodist.

                It was that, if you were to survey Methodists about who they thought Jesus was and what vital biographical elements must be included in his story, you’d get roughly the ancient Credo with variations that aren’t relevant to the discussion we’re having about historicity.

                I’ve played more Christmas and Easter gigs at Methodist churches than I can count, and the Credo is a perfect summary of those services.

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Methodism does not have an orthodoxy. Each Methodist is free to find his/her way. My point was that Methodism is a non-creedal church. That’s all. Whether any creed has meaning is decided by each individual.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Never mind the proscriptive; we’re going for the descriptive here.

                Do a survey of Methodists that includes each of the key points in the Credo in some form or another, with enough variation and / or wiggle room to get, for example, accurate responses from both those who believe in a bodily and a visionary resurrection.

                I’m willing to bet that the number of Methodists who reject every single one of those key points is as close to zero as makes no difference. I’d further bet that the overwhelming majority of Methodists accepts the overwhelming majority of points in some form or another.

                Will there be disagreement as to the interpretation and nature and significance of those points, and perhaps even some serious contention over one or two of them? Of course. But that’s not relevant to the discussion of historicity.

                What is relevant is whether or not a Methodist would recognize an artist’s sketch of the Credo Jesus (“Yeah, that’s him, but his nose is a touch smaller.”) or if we’re talking about somebody completely different (“No, no, no — I told you it was an old, short, fat, bald Asian woman! Why are you still showing me pictures of NBA stars with dreadlocks?”)

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                Since I’m unsure as to your use of ‘proscriptive’ here, I will answer as best I can. Since no creed is a part of Methodism, the question as to whether any Methodist accepts any, part of or all of any creed is a personal choice independent of Methodism. That’s all. I suspect those who are raised in the church have varying views. I did not learn of Methodism being a non-creedal church until adulthood.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                What I mean is, let’s not worry about what the official Church does or doesn’t demand that a member believes, what it proscribes unto them. Rather, let’s ask what description actually best fits the members.

                Yes, each individual member is free to accept or reject, say, the Virgin Birth. But how many actually reject it? Continue on down the list, and I’ll bet you that, despite the freedom to reject all of it, virtually all members accept virtually all of the ancient Latin formulation of the Credo in some form or another.

                This should not be surprising nor derogatory. The Methodists obviously choose their association with the Church of their own free will, and that association is with like-minded individuals. It would be most bizarre, indeed, for a Neopagan Satanist Buddhist Yogi to choose to associate with the Methodist Church. Rather — what with it being a Christian church and all — you get, overwhelmingly, people who believe in Jesus Christ as he’s been understood since ancient times.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                You ask good questions the answers to which may be of interest to each individual, but not me. My involvement with the church was similar to what John Wesley intended. There is the Assembly, the local congregate body, and Classes, smaller groups within the Assembly. The Assembly meets weekly — today there are frequently two or more Sunday Services — which are probably attended by less than a half of the members. The Classes, not to be confused with Sunday School classes, are smaller groups which meet, usually weekly, for study, often Bible study or something akin to same. In my last two Churches I refereed classes focused on contemporary Christian scholarship, mainly the Jesus Seminar and some of its Fellows. as for what the majority of Methodists believe w.r.t. specifics, I really didn’t and don’t care. The work of the Church was more social than religious.

                That was true in my former affiliation. back to my main point, trying to characterize Methodism, even Catholicism, is a meaningless effort in my view.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                Then, in that case, I would suggest that the beliefs of such Methodists are even less relevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus than I had been giving them credit for. If the Methodist Jesus is as plastic as you imply, then there can’t even in principle be anything any historical person could have lent to it other than the name — and even that could just as well be a stage name.

                Of course, that still leaves open the question of what first- and second-century Christians understood Jesus to be, but that’s a different branch of the discussion.

                b&

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                The idea that there is a definite historicity of Jesus cannot be supported by any facts. Similarly for many others of that era and before. Two problems exist: the lack of verifiable record and the friendly editing of what little record exists.

                The question of Jesus’ virgin birth is dismissed by anyone who has read Crossan’s God and empire or Rank’s Myth of the Birth of the Hero.

                The only religious groups I know whose members march in obedient lockstep are cults of which neither Methodism nor any mainstream religion can be so classified.

                As is commonly the case, the greatest criticism of any field often comes from spectators. Your views are yours.

                As for first and second century Christians, I think those before the fall of the Second Temple were Jews and the separation began as they were excluded from meeting in synagogues.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                BTW, there aren’t any Universalists left. They merged with the Unitarians and Christianity is a personal, not congregational option. Atheists are not only welco but for the strength of many UU churches including the one I attend.

                If you want to dismiss honest discourse as quibbling, feel free. 🙂

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                Sorry for my lack of precision. I’m sure it’s important to congregants, but all I intended was that that general class of people don’t fit into the overwhelming class of Christians for whom Jesus was the virgin-born son of Mary yada yada.

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–

                Please feel free to point out what part of the quoted Nicene Creed says that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!”

                I think you missed those last five words. Would you care to reconsider your claim that I am profoundly ignorant?

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                The “or he didn’t exist” is implicit. Indeed, there wouldn’t even be any need for such a statement of faith otherwise. “I believe that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, and that grass is generally greenish and most kittens are fluffy” — what type of Credo would that be?

                The Christian (presumably) believes each of those things about Jesus to be true. Imagine a person who believed none of those things about Jesus; in what sense is that person a Christian? Now, imagine a person who not only believed none of those things about Jesus, but did believe that Jesus fought Darth Vader to the death in a lasso duel outside the Leaky Cauldron Inn. Do we really have to consider that this person’s Jesus can reasonably be identified as the “real” Jesus?

                To any Christian modern or ancient, your fabrication of an historicist Jesus is every bit as foreign and absurd as the one I just made up right here.

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                The Nicene Creed simply does not state a set of conditions under which a historical Jesus does not exist.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–

                “The “or he didn’t exist” is implicit.”

                I am aware that this is your opinion. I am not inclined to simply take your word for it. 🙂

                Out of curiosity, are you willing to agree, at least in principle, that members of religions might have incorrect beliefs about people who did in fact exist?

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                Out of curiosity, are you willing to agree, at least in principle, that members of religions might have incorrect beliefs about people who did in fact exist?

                I’d say that, in principle, this would have to be viewed as something on a continuum. One could, for example, postulate a religion who had an highly detailed and perfectly accurate description of somebody, save that the specification for the beard length was off by an eighth of an inch. We can certainly reasonably overlook such inaccuracies.

                We could also propose a religion pointing to somebody sitting in a chair, and stating that this person whom you see before your very eyes is the Great One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater who, right this very minute as you cast your gaze in his direction, is battling Zem, the evil mattress of Squornshellous Zeta, for dominion over the souls of all mankind. You and I would (I hope!) agree that there’s a real person sitting in that chair, but the rest is nonexistent.

                Now, if you’d agree with me that the presence of an human being sitting in that chair is entirely irrelevant to the question of the existence of the religious figure, we might be able to make some progress.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–
                “We could also propose a religion pointing to somebody sitting in a chair, and stating that this person whom you see before your very eyes is the Great One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater who, right this very minute as you cast your gaze in his direction, is battling Zem, the evil mattress of Squornshellous Zeta, for dominion over the souls of all mankind. You and I would (I hope!) agree that there’s a real person sitting in that chair, but the rest is nonexistent.”

                I was wondering if you would agree to the existence of a real person in even such a context. 🙂 I would characterize that as an inaccurate description of a real person. If you looked in the world for a person who met that description, you would not find one. You would be incorrect, though, if you inferred that the person to whom those attributes are ascribed does not exist–he does, he’s right in front of you sitting in a chair. He exists and his existence is not contingent on the accuracy of the description given by his followers.

                “Now, if you’d agree with me that the presence of an human being sitting in that chair is entirely irrelevant to the question of the existence of the religious figure, we might be able to make some progress.”

                I would not in the least agree to that! We have plenty of recent or contemporary “prophets” and whatnot to point to, and clearly they are not irrelevant to the religious groups of which they are the central figures. For instance, without the real, historical Joseph Smith there would be no Mormonism. Without Rulon Allred, there would be no Apostolic United Brethren. For Christianity, the question is essentially: was he a Joseph Smith or a total fabrication? Personally, I don’t think we have enough evidence to decide the issue. However, unless we are Christians who adhere to something like the Nicene Creed, the claim that there was a historical Jesus is not a claim that Jesus existed as depicted in the New Testament, nor that this depiction is particularly accurate or recognizable as a particular person documented in the historical record. It is a claim that there was someone like Joseph Smith–not supernatural, not accurately depicted by his followers, but nonetheless a real person who did in fact found a religion. That’s the proposition at hand in this discussion. I don’t think you’ve really addressed it in a meaningful fashion. You seem convinced that it just… isn’t there. I haven’t figured out why.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                For Christianity, the question is essentially: was he a Joseph Smith or a total fabrication? […] That’s the proposition at hand in this discussion. I don’t think you’ve really addressed it in a meaningful fashion.

                Really?

                <sigh />

                Once more, unto the breach.

                There was a Joe Smith figure at the origins of Christianity, no doubt — indeed, we know for a fact there were a number of competing such figures.

                But Jesus wasn’t the Joe Smith figure. Jesus was the Angel Moroni of the story.

                Let me do this with a short series of exemplary quotes, ones I’ve repeatedly used in this thread with full attribution and URLs and everything. You want to see them in context, look them up for yourself. Emphasis added, of course.

                Lucian of Samosata, Passing of Peregrinus 11. “It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

                Justin Martyr, First Apology 66. “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

                Plutarch, Vita Pompeii 24. “The power of the pirates had its seat in Cilicia at first, and at the outset it was venturesome and elusive; but it took on confidence and boldness during the Mithridatic war, because it lent itself to the king’s service. […] They also offered strange sacrifices of their own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites, among which those of Mithras continue to the present time, having been first instituted by them.

                [Geographical note: ancient Cilicea’s borders were roughly congruent with modern Turkey’s. The capital city was Tarsus, as in “Paul, of.”]

                Lastly, an extended Bible quotation:

                1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

                21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

                22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

                23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

                24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

                25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

                26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

                27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

                28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

                29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

                Was Paul Peregrinus? I tend to think so, but that’s not what I stake my mythicist claim on. But it’s perfectly clear that, either Paul was Peregrinus or we have Paul plus Peregrinus playing the role of Joe Smith.

                But wait! There’s more! All but the most fundamentalist of Bible “scholars” will readily admit that each of the Gospel authors were playing this game as well, adding their own Jesus sauces to the Christ stone soup. That’s the essence of the “Q” hypothesis: Mark was reworking “historical factual” oral tradition; Matthew and Luke “improved” upon Mark plus they also added their own interpretations of the “Q” “sayings” text. (I’m rather skeptical of “Q,” but the de novo invention in each is pretty obvious.)

                If even this isn’t enough to persuade you…I doubt there’s anything more I can offer.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–

                “There was a Joe Smith figure at the origins of Christianity, no doubt — indeed, we know for a fact there were a number of competing such figures.”

                And Joseph Smith has had his own successors “playing the role of Joseph Smith”. It’s a long list, including most of the modern “prophets” I mentioned earlier. At every period since the founding of Mormonism there have been competing figures trying to reshape it in one way or another. This is not an argument against the existence of Joseph Smith!

                Knowing that there are other historical figures who played various important roles in the development of the early Christian faith does not demonstrate that there was not a historical Jesus at the center of it. You might as well argue that finding a dozen spiders in my living room proves that there isn’t a spider in my bathroom (there almost certainly is, BTW).

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                Once again, you’ve got your analogy worng.

                Joe Smith = Paul + Peregrinus (if they’re not the same man) + Mark + Matthew + Luke + John + all the others

                Moroni = Jesus

                Walk the dog backwards with me.

                Do you agree that each of the Gospel authors added their own novel inventions to the Jesus story? That, for example, Matthew invented the Nativity? (Or, pedantically, that the Nativity didn’t exist when Mark wrote his gospel but did when Matthew later wrote his?)

                Do you agree that none of the Gospel narrative existed at the time of Paul, save for the Last Supper which Paul himself interpolated from the Mithraic Eucharist and vague and detail-free notions of the Crucifixion and Resurrection?

                If so, would you grant that all the rest of Jesus’s biography (including the words he’s famous for having spoken) was fabricated by multiple sources beginning with Paul and not even ending with John?

                Do you further agree that Paul’s Jesus was explicitly visionary, and that he was explicit in stating that all other experiences of Jesus were equally visionary?

                Now, if you agree with all that, you could still perhaps insist that there could have been some human who somehow inspired everybody’s visions. They palled around with this guy, but they also somehow claimed to have experienced some sort of fantasy vaguely associated with him in the spirit realm, and that’s what Paul was describing in his visions.

                But, first, do you have any evidence for this hypothesis, and how do you reconcile it with the previous points?

                And, more importantly…how is this not the case of you claiming that the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater is based on a real person, because somebody’s pointing to a person sitting in a chair and saying that that’s his true identity?

                Finally, walk it back up for me. If you still insist that, under this bizarre scenario you’ve constructed, we should consider your Purple People Eater to be the “real” Jesus…

                …are you prepared to now start insisting that Xenu and Moroni are also real historical figures?

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren–

                “Now, if you agree with all that, you could still perhaps insist that there could have been some human […]”

                Yes, I could. 🙂

                People make false statements about, have visions of, and write fiction about real people. Modern examples of statements about real religious figures that are fabricated or even intended as fiction (google “pope fanfic” for some horrifying examples) are so common that it really is not an extraordinary proposition that there might have been a real person a couple thousand years ago about whom we have accumulated a massive pile of BS in the intervening years.

                All of the necessary processes are readily observable in the present day.

                “And, more importantly… how is this not the case of you claiming that the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater is based on a real person, because somebody’s pointing to a person sitting in a chair and saying that that’s his true identity?”

                As I’ve already stated, yes, in such a case I would consider this a description of a real person (albeit a very inaccurate one).

                If we have a person in front of us, and someone points at him and says, “This guy has characteristics X, Y, and Z,” we have a description of a real person. That’s it. No other conditions are necessary.

              • Posted September 2, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

                Your definition of reality would seem to have no bearing on reality…but let’s see just how far you’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe Xenu as a real historical figure?

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe The Angel Moroni as a real historical figure?

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe Bacchus as a real historical figure?

                It might or might not be worth continuing this discussion, based on your responses….

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

                Ben Goren–

                “It might or might not be worth continuing this discussion, based on your responses…”

                I’m pretty sure it isn’t, based on yours. 🙂

              • Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

                Well, if, as you imply, you think that Xenu can be considered historical, then I’d suggest you’re demonstrating the danger of having a mind so open your brains have fallen out. If you ever find your way to Kolob, do be sure to send us a postcard, okay?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

                “Well, if, as you imply, you think that Xenu can be considered historical […]”

                *headdesk*

                I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but it ain’t me.

              • Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                Then, once again: in what real-world non-hypothetical sense, if any, is it reasonable to consider Xenu an historical figure?

                b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

                “Then, once again: in what real-world non-hypothetical sense, if any, is it reasonable to consider Xenu an historical figure?”

                I do not know. You’ll have to work that out on your own.

                Until next time, adios.

              • Posted September 2, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

                If you think it’s reasonable that Xenu could be an historical figure…well, that’s exactly what that original mind open / brains fall out quote was referring to.

                We could have a fruitful discussion over whether Jesus was more like Hubbard or like Xenu. But if you think Xenu is in any sense even hypothetically an historical figure, I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.

                b&

    • Chewy
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Well, dying on the cross etc etc etc takes on a far greater meaning for the vast majority of Christians of there was actually a human being type person named Jesus up there.

      Or so I firmly believe having been one once and having lived among them (Christians) and studied them all my long life.

  8. Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I’ve read that one reason to suspect Jesus was historical is because the whole Roman census story, where everyone has to return to their homeland, is such a stupid fiction that there’s absolutely no reason to bother with something so convoluted unless you need to cover up an actual person’s birthplace. If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with? There’s certainly no evidence that he was well known at the time, but considering how relatively few people made it into the historical record from that era, I’m not surprised that a preacher from the middle of nowhere got left out.

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      The problem is that the Roman census is itself a myth, and found only in one Gospel. Romans did have censuses, but none of them were Empire wide and requiring you to go back to your birth place. Could you imagine such a thing? It would be recorded, and it wasn’t.

      • John Harshman
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        That’s not a problem. It strengthens John’s point. The census was concocted to give a man known as “Jesus of Nazareth” the proper birthplace for a messiah. If Jesus is fictional, why make up such a complicated story rather than just making him “Jesus of Bethlehem” to begin with?

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          Because there were competing theological narratives for Jesus’s origins, including most likely some confusion between “Nazorean” and “Nazareth.”

          You see that sort of thing all throughout. Jesus was born of a virgin according to prophecy because Perseus and so many others were, but the Christians couldn’t well use Pagan prophecies about other demigods to prove the point, so they turned to Isaiah and found a prophecy that kinda sorta worked if you squinted hard enough — never mind that it was about a specific young woman who wan’t virginal who did, in fact, conceive according to the story in Isaiah. And this was known to Jews and Christians both at the time; see Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            I read somewhere that the born of a virgin is possibly incorrect due to translation error. That makes everything even worse as far as Christians are concerned since they sure do talk about that part a lot.

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

              Wasn’t Horus also born of a virgin?

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

              First, Jesus was born of a virgin for the same reason Perseus and all the others were born of virgins: to establish their divine origins.

              But what you’re specifically referring to is Isaiah 7:14. Even in the early second century, the first of the Christian apologists had to defend that misinterpretation:

              Trypho: The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,’ and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower.

              Martyr’s response to Trypho is no more compelling than the modern ones — indeed, because they’re exactly the same.

              Much more where that came from in the Dialogue with Trypho.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                heh heh. Trypho said “golden shower”. heh heh heh. heh heh. heh heh heh.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                It’s even conceivable that the modern phrase traces its origins to ancient times, and that similar titters would have been heard in the second century in response to that phrase….

                b&

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                Now I envision Beavis & Butthead in togas.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                I’m sure that every generation has had more than its fair share of such….

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                I tried so hard not to laugh. I guess I’m not as mature as I thought.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

                That’s okay, laugh it out. No need to be that mature here! 🙂

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

                Tried hard not to laugh. Not as mature as I thought I was I guess.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

                That’s a relief, I thought I was the only one…

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

                @Diana: To be honest I didn’t try that hard 😉

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 12:07 am | Permalink

                First, Jesus was born of a virgin for the same reason Perseus and all the others were born of virgins: to establish their divine origins.

                The problem is that Perseus was not born to a virgin. Take a look at this page, which contains extracts of the ancient sources of this story. I believe it is exhaustive. No where does it say or imply that Danae was a virgin after her encounter with Zeus.

                Here is Apollodorus: “Now some say that Proitos seduced [Danae], which led to the hard feelings between the brothers, but others say that Zeus had sex with her by changing himself into gold that streamed in through the ceiling and down into her womb.” No virgin here, obviously, despite the unconventional form of penetration.

                Hyginus: “But Jove [Zeus], changing into a shower of gold, lay with Danae, and from this embrace Perseus was born. Because of her sin her father shut her up in a chest with Perseus and cast it into the sea.” Zeus lay with her and embraced her. Sounds non-virginal to me. And if she were still a virgin, what was her sin?

                Homer: Zeus is speaking: “… when I loved Akrisios’ daughter sweet-stepping Danaë, who bore Perseus to me, …”

                Ovid: ‘”I [Perseus], who am the son of Regal Jove [Zeus] and her whom he embraced in showers of gold, leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell.”‘

                If you know anything about Zeus, you know that he couldn’t keep it in his chiton. He wasn’t interested in saying some magic words and impregnating some mortal woman; he wanted sex, and lots of it, sometimes using his godly powers to make the night last for days. The idea that a woman would leave an encounter with Zeus still a virgin is laughable.

                I would also argue that the reason that two of the gospel writers made up the virgin birth was that they thought that that would be a fulfillment of prophesy. They could have made him divine the way “John” did, by simply saying he was and always had been.

              • Posted September 2, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                See, that’s why Christian apologetics is such bullshit — all the legalistic cherry-picking and special pleading that doesn’t even pass the sniff test. If Zeus in the form of a golden shower impregnating Danae deflowered her, then so, too, did YHWH in his holy spirit form impregnating Mary deflower her. You want to deny Danae her virginity, then you’re also denying Mary hers. Is that really what you want?

                But don’t take my word for it.

                Justin Martyr, First Apology Chapter 22. Analogies to the sonship of Christ

                Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior — or rather have already proved Him to be so — for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.

                At that point, it matters not whether the Pagans themselves thought Perseus was born of a virgin; all that matters is that the Christians unquestionably thought that Perseus was born of a virgin.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • marvol19
              Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:40 am | Permalink

              I vaguely remember the same – something like the Greek word for young woman being the same as for virgin*.

              Given the myths they were following, quite a convenient “error ” to make.

              * mind that I think this is very common, i.e. in Middle Dutch the word “maagd” means both maiden/girl as well as virgin. In modern Dutch the former meaning has become unused; I would consider it (faux-)archaic in an expression like “oh schone maagd” (o, pretty girl).

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

                Ah yes, now I remember – parthenos παρθένος

        • jeremyp
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          The “of Nazareth” part was thought by the authors of the gospels too. It could be argued that both nativity stories are attempts to reconcile two fundamentally contradictory prophecies.

          • John Harshman
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            What prophecy calls for a dude from Nazareth?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Yeah, this always seemed stupid to me. As if people would even comply – how would the Romans know you weren’t from there?

        • Sajanas
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          Exactly, and what would it tell the Romans? It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you live now, and its probably easier to tax people if you don’t make them take a trip first.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

            Unless the Romans had done a side deal with the camel and donkey industry. Transport infrastructure is a very powerful lobby because it can collect taxes more efficiently than government can.

        • Michael Sommers
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

          As if people would even comply – how would the Romans know you weren’t from there?

          More to the point, how would you know what town your 40-times-great-grandfather came from? Even today.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with?

      The counter to that argument is that the first gospel to be written (Mark) doesn’t mention Jesus’s birth at all.

      The second (Matthew) does exactly what you suggest, just declaring that he was born in Bethlehem, and later lived in Nazareth.

      It is only the third (Luke), drawing on the first two, that then produces a reason for the birth in Bethlehem, and who knows that aspects of the story had by then accreted and needed to be explained?

      The reason for being in Bethlehem also emphasizes the descent from David, so there is a reason for emphasizing that anyhow — he is not just incidentally from Bethlehem, but he is of the line of David and thus also the City of David.

      • James Walker
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        But why not just have him born in Bethlehem to begin with? Why bring in Nazareth?

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Matthew does “just have him born in Bethlehem to begin with”. It’s only later he goes to live in Nazareth. Why? Who knows?

          Then Luke comes along and has to be consistent with Matthew, so he already has to include both places somehow.

          • James Walker
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

            I just wonder why they felt the need to have him “from Nazareth” (as opposed to “Jesus of Bethlehem” unless there was some Nazareth connection (i.e. based on a historical or mythical figure from Nazareth).

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

              The first mention of Nazareth is in the first gospel, Mark’s. Mark simply declares him “from Nazareth” and refers to him three more times as “… of Nazareth”, but otherwise makes no issue of Nazareth.

              Why “from Nazareth”? Who knows, it could be as simple as him having to be from somewhere.

              Then Matthew comes along, and Matthew wants him to be of the line of David (in the first line he declares Jesus “the son of David, the son of Abraham”).

              So, he simply declares “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea” (being the City of David).

              There is no contradiction with Mark, who had not mentioned any birth or childhood. But, then, to be consistent with Mark he declares: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”

              Now that suggests some significance to Nazareth, which may explain why Mark had him from there in the first place.

              Then Luke comes along, and to be consistent with Mark and Matthew he needs to include both places, so he does so by inventing the census story.

              At this point, Luke, who is the first to talk about the census, cannot just locate him as from a single city, otherwise he is inconsistent with Mark and Matthew.

              • James Walker
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                That makes sense. What prophecy refers to him as a Nazarene?

              • reasonshark
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                According to Matthew 2:23:

                And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

                As far as I can tell, though, Matthew was either referring to a scriptural passage since lost, or just making stuff up.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                “Mark simply declares him “from Nazareth” and refers to him three more times as “… of Nazareth”,”

                Actually, Mark doesn’t write “Jesus of Nazareth” ever. He writes “Jesus the Nazarene” throughout. Mark 1.19 is the outlier. Which is significant, because Nazarene — using the logic of Greek language’s demonym — doesn’t mean “from Nazareth” in Greek. It means someone from Nazara. Which, coincidentally, is what Matt and Luke write in Greek as well (but translators fudge over this confusion by writing all of it as “from Nazareth”).

                Internal to Mark is an example of why “Nazarene” means “from Nazara” as opposed to “from Nazareth”. At Mark 5.1, Jesus goes to the area of the Gerasenes (where he meets the demon Legion), which means “someone from Gesara”.

                The problem is that the town Nazara doesn’t exist, so subsequent writers probably doctored the logic a bit to make Jesus from a similar sounding town: Nazareth.

          • charles minus
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

            There was a Jewish sect called the Nazarenes which had nothing to do with the city of Nazareth. Mathew may have misinterpreted the term Jesus the Nazarene to mean that Jesus was from Nazareth.

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            Matthew does “just have him born in Bethlehem to begin with”. It’s only later he goes to live in Nazareth. Why? Who knows?

            Both Matthew and Luke had him born in Bethelehem to fulfill an alleged prophecy in Micah 5:2 (NRSV):

            2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, / who are one of the little clans of Judah, / from you shall come forth for me / one who is to rule in Israel, / whose origin is from of old, / from ancient days.

            The real Jesus, assuming there was one, probably came from Nazareth, so they had to get him there somehow.

            Then Luke comes along and has to be consistent with Matthew, so he already has to include both places somehow.

            I believe the consensus is that neither Matthew nor Luke knew of the other, although both used Mark and Q as sources.

            • Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink

              I believe the consensus is that neither Matthew nor Luke knew of the other, although both used Mark and Q as sources.

              Yes, that is the mainstream consensus, but it is less probable than Luke having used Matthew, and there not being any Q.

              There is no evidence for Q. the concept is invented only as a device to try to make Luke and Matthew independent of each other, and to create a link from them to earlier times nearer (the supposed) Jesus (“They can’t have just made stuff up, therefore they had to get it from somewhere, let’s call the somewhere Q”).

              The simpler version that Matthew was an embellishment of Mark, with Luke then using both, is more parsimonious and works fine. (See also Mark Goodacre’s “The case against Q”)

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 2, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

                There is no evidence for Q.

                Of course there is. You might not find it persuasive, but there is evidence.

                (See also Mark Goodacre’s “The case against Q”)

                I haven’t read his book, but I looked at his website. I found it underwhelming. He misapplies Occam’s Razor. The Razor cslls on you to minimize your assumptions, not your outputs. The existence of Q is not an assumption, but a conclusion. It is hardly outlandish that there were sources that no longer exist. Note that Luke explicitly states that he used “many” sources.

              • Posted September 3, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

                Your own post refutes “Q.” If there are many sources, what sense does it make to single out just one? How do you know which of the many are directly shared, and which are indirectly shared through some other intermediaries?

                In other words, it’s all hearsay. The most you can glean from hearsay is that there’s hearsay going on and what the person reporting the hearsay thinks the hearsay is about.

                This notion — shared by the Q hypothesis and Ehrman’s amazing Aramaic application — that, once you suspect the existence of another layer you can then reasonably come to conclusions about it…damn, but that’s literally the first thing any honest investigator knows is the absolutest stupidest thing you can do if you want to be taken seriously.

                Just check this Web site for all the references to prime Arizona oceanfront property for sale. Must be true, what with all those “independent” mentions of it? And there’s certainly consistency — always in Arizona, always oceanfront, always for sale. So, by your own reasoning, you’re a fool for not buying it from me.

                b&

      • Susan
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 2:18 am | Permalink

        You would get the same result if the mythical narrative was half written when someone decided to write about his birth. And then they noticed the birthplace problem. .The convoluted Bethlehem story could just as easily support a myth that evolved over time.

    • eric
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Ehrman covers this in one of his books (I forget which one). IIRC Ehrman’s argument goes something like this: different Gospel writers were trying to make different theological points. (The writer of) Luke was very much concerned with showing how Jesus fulfilled earlier Jewish prophesy, so he had to figure out a way to locate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem when Joseph lived in Jerusalem. So…the strange census thing. The reason it’s not in the other Gospels is because the other authors were not as concerned with showing how Jesus fulfilled various Judaic prophesys.

      Note that Ehrman doesn’t defend the story as factual, he’s just explaining why the author included it.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        But what the argument is getting at is that, if Joseph doesn’t exist, what do you need to explain away? If Jesus is entirely made-up, why isn’t he just from Bethlehem to begin with? I thought it was an interesting idea, but I’m far too ignorant of the research to have any sort of meaningful opinion on whether or not a historical Jesus existed.

        • eric
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          In Forged, Ehrman points out that forgers do just this sort of thing – they add nonsequiturs and unnecessary wierd details to make their writing look more “human.”

          • Folie Deuce
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

            Very interesting discussion. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming the “forgers” (i.e., the authors of the Gospels) were knowingly making things up. They may have sincerely believed the myth and did their best to try to connect the dots. Just because there is a more logical way to tell a story (so it conforms to a particular objective) in hindsight, doesn’t mean the author necessarily should have realized that at the time.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              Literal analysis of the gospels shows that their authors clearly knew what they were doing. Mathew and Luke used Mark and changed the details in specific ways to fit their own theological details. They were making things up and they knew it and it shows.

              A very good book on the subject is Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

                should ready “changed the details to fit their own theological agendas”.

          • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            Interesting!

    • reasonshark
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      I’ve read that one reason to suspect Jesus was historical is because the whole Roman census story, where everyone has to return to their homeland, is such a stupid fiction that there’s absolutely no reason to bother with something so convoluted unless you need to cover up an actual person’s birthplace. If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with?

      This seems a curious argument from incredulity. Most of what Luke and the other Gospel-writers wrote is such a stupid fiction that, according to this logic, it wouldn’t have been written if it wasn’t just an elaborate way of doctoring up an actual person’s exploits around Judaea. According to this logic, the twisted convolutions of the stories must be inverse proof that there was a real Jesus being doctored up.

      The problem with this argument is that it assumes mythicists think everyone involved was a conspirator rather than a dupe, which isn’t necessarily so. It’s perfectly plausible and likely that Luke had Jesus born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth simply because that was what he believed to be the case. His arguments for why this had to be the case would be weak nonsense like “scriptural prophecy said so, and it can’t be wrong”, and might be borne from unconscious biases, wishful thinking, and distortions, but they’d be arguments for what he considered true nonetheless.

      Arguments for historicism seem to forget how insane people’s thinking becomes when religion is involved.

      • reasonshark
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Well, I say the problem, but it’s not the only one. Another is that it seems to think that the concocter of the census story could only have been doctoring a true story, as if the notion of doctoring somebody else’s fiction for a niche audience wasn’t a viable option. That’s basically what sects do, not to mention people adapting a franchise and shaping it with their own biases, views, and interpretations.

      • Sajanas
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Its also worth remembering that the Jewish and Christian communities in Judah had basically gone through an apocalyptic war during or shortly before the writing of the Gospels. The Romans butchered and scattered whole Jewish populations, which I’m sure could lead to certain storytelling bottlenecks.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        I don’t see this as an argument from incredulity. It’s a big outlier that needs to be investigated. Once you look at this outlier, you see that other stories also contradict one another so you have shaky evidence in the bible and no evidence outside the bible. Therefore, there isn’t much of a case for Jesus.

        • reasonshark
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          I meant that it’s not a problem for mythicism if the writers tie themselves in knots trying to shoehorn details into a previously existing story. The argument from incredulity is an argument for historicism, trying to claim that a real birthplace (and therefore a real Jesus) must be behind the Luke account, or else Luke wouldn’t go to so much trouble to make the story “fit”.

          But this is an admission that the arguer is simply relying on personal incredulity, not any cogent counterpoint. A fanfic writer might shoehorn details into their Harry Potter story to make it fit with the events described in the books; by the logic of the argument from incredulity, no one would go to so much trouble unless they were massaging a true story into shape. As Coel explains above, Luke’s contortions were following at least one previous work.

          What would be good support for a historical Jesus would be a historical text that:

          – was plausible

          – contained claims that archaeologists could corroborate

          – was largely consistent with other texts reporting the same events independently

          – was written close or during the events themselves

          – fulfilled all the above criteria.

          The Pauline letters alone – the earliest accounts of Jesus – can’t pass any of these tests, never mind the Gospels.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            Ah I see. We are aligned then.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Wait a minute, are you saying that, because it’s a good story with interesting details, it has to be true? Surely not.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        What? You’re saying Tolkien was just making … oh noes, my world is crumbling! 🙂

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        I think the argument is more that if someone is entirely fictional, you don’t need to bother with a fictional explanation for why they were born in a certain city. You can just say he was born there. If he’s real and actually grew up in Nazareth, then you need the census story.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          The argument from embarrassment is a perennial favorite of con artists and others trying to pull a fast one. Look at that clean-cut man in the defendant’s seat; he wouldn’t admit to snorting coke off a stripper’s tits at a nightclub the night of the murder unless it was really true, so you just know that alibi is solid and there’s no way he could have been at the crime scene and so can’t be the murderer.

          b&

  9. Bender
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Hitchens used to argue that the whole census fabrication in Luke (in order to explain how Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem, as the messiah was supposed to) is a strong indication a person called Jesus of Nazareth must have existed, and been quite famous. Otherwise, it would have been a lot easier to directly invent Jesus of Bethlehem.

    • reasonshark
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I don’t recall him saying anything of the sort. In God Is Not Great, he said that this was a standard Christian argument for the bible – not his own – and then, after claiming an attempt to be “open-minded”, points out that John contradicts it by throwing out the whole idea. “If the apostles themselves cannot agree, of what use is my analysis?”

      From that context, it comes across more as “OK, that’s your objection, and for the sake of argument let’s grant it… we’ve still got problems with this book.”

      • Folie Deuce
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Hitchens did make such an argument in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza but he wasn’t convinced of it himself. First, he pointed out that there is no good evidence to believe in a historical Jesus then he said, well maybe the fraud is so ridiculous that it really was based on a real person. But this was speculation and he was far from committed to such a position.

  10. Sven
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Just my two cents…

    Extraordinary claim (which requires ordinary evidence):
    [the person known as] Jesus was born from the Virgin Mary according to prophecy. He, the Son of God, healed the sick and preached the word of God. He was put to death, descended into Hades, rose again on the third day and later ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right-hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    Ordinary claim (which requires ordinary evidence):
    A Jewish carpenter came up with some new ideas about religion. He traveled the region and obtained a cult following. He was executed by the local Roman government, at the behest of influential local religious leaders, for being a heretic and a rabble-rouser. His followers continued to embellish his story afterward.

    • Sven
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      NOOOO! I meant the extraordinary claim requires EXTRAORDINARY evidence! Curse my lack of proofreading!

      • rickflick
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Even ordinary evidence would be a good start. Doesn’t seem to be much of that either.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Of course, ordinary evidence isn’t NO evidence. We still have to look at the evidence available and see what the likelihood is that it supports the claim. Yes, the second claim is far more likely, i.e. has a much higher prior probability, than the first. Yet all the evidence we have talks about the first claim!

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      The problem as I see it is that there isn’t really any ordinary evidence of the ordinary man either. The best they can do is extrapolate backwards and argue that there must have been a real man. And yet, what have they been able to tell us of this ordinary man? Nothing. Not his name, where he lived, what his day job was before he took up apocalyptic preaching, who his family was. That ought to really bother people arguing for an historical person.

  11. Sajanas
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I think Bart Ehrman tends to tow the line of Jesus’s historicity by saying both that the Gospels were based on earlier Aramaic sources (which doesn’t seem to be obvious to me) and that its not that big of a stretch to imagine a historical preacher that myths crystallized around. But Ehrman and a lot of other scholars are pretty invested in the idea of Jesus as a person (and, usually, Jesus as a particular sort of person).

    But I do think that as people from other historical fields get drawn into looking at the Bible, there will be more people who have experience with historical figures that really are nebulous. The founder of Zoroastrianism was cloaked in the myth making of several different kings, and the dates for Buddha’s life vary a lot, and are based on much less contemporary sources than the Bible. Similar debate exists about Socrates, Homer, and others, even though they were considered historical by later (but still ancient) sources. Jesus being a myth isn’t too hard to imagine in that context.

    • redlivingblue
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Earliest gospels were written in greek. Not sure if claims have been made that the greek tomes came from earlier Aramaic txts (I’m highly doubtful). But i have seen english translations of the gospel of mark that had supposed direct quotes from Jesus in Aramaic followed by the english translation of course.

      • Sajanas
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        Yeah, I think in Mark, at least, Jesus uses some Aramaic words in the Greek text (I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong, of course). But Bart Ehrman then goes on to make the presumption that there are lost Aramaic sources in his book on the historical Jesus, and I don’t think that necessarily follows. It just means that the author recognized Jesus would use Aramaic in the time in which he was supposed to preach.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          Ehrman further states there are passages with awkward construction indicating they are a translation from Aramaic into Greek.

          • Sajanas
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            Of course, even if there were earlier Aramaic sources, that doesn’t make them eye witness accounts either. I’d be interested to see what neutral a non-NT scholar would think of his analysis. I like Richard Carrier a lot, but I lack the knowledge to really judge the claims treated between him an Ehrman on more than a cursory, ‘Does this look like some nonsense’ level.

            • redlivingblue
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

              If no Aramaic copies exist, how do we know that earliest copies of Mark are translations from Aramaic? Perhaps the fouled up or awkward translation is a result of translating from Greek to Aramaic. Perhaps early scribes (for lack of better word) translated jesus’ supposed words into his assumed native tongue for credibility reasons. This is all conjecture of course! I would be interested to hear from a few different experts on this subject.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

                No Aramaic sources have ever been found. In my view (admittedly that of an outsider) this is because there weren’t any. (Disclosure: I’m a mythicist, convinced by several matters I’ll mention below.)

                Having a few sentences in A. is such a *weak* argument that way. It is no more than an episode of MacGyver containing a few scraps of Russian or German to establish location for the adventure. (And I *like* MacGyver, but its use of langauge is ridiculous.)

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Ehrman specifically cites Mark 2:27-28 in which the use of the Greek phrase “Son of Man” makes no sense at all, but if it is regarded as a mistranslation of the Aramaic “barnash” which can mean both “son of man” and “man” then the passage makes sense.

                He also argues John’s Gospel can NOT be from Aramaic because the whole “born again” discussion contains a pun that only makes sense in Greek. Hence, Greek original, and very possibly something Jesus never said.

                Section beginning on p. 87 of “Did Jesus Exist?”

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 2:17 am | Permalink

                On that basis, the English versions of Asterix and Obelix must be the originals!

  12. TreeRooster
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    If I consider the collection of speeches and sayings attributed to Jesus, and allow the possibility that he was not a historical person, then the name ‘Jesus’ must be a pen-name. Perhaps used by a team of writers, but not too large a team since the sayings are a fairly small collection. Does anyone have a hypothesis for who the real authors are (sources), and is there any extra-Biblical evidence for their authorship?

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Read Justin Martyr’s First Apology. He lays out exactly which Pagan myths were used for which Jesus stories. Next, compare Lucian’s Passing of Peregrinus with Paul’s instruction of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11 — and keep in mind Martyr’s identification of the Eucharist as having been stolen from Mithraism as well as that Mithraism’s center was Tarsus (as in, “Paul of”).

      The Gospels themselves are pseudonymous works; all that we will ever know for certain is that they weren’t authored by the people whose names are printed at the front. Think of the Federalist Papers, but with all evidence linking the actual writers to the texts long gone.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        The Gospels themselves are pseudonymous works

        No. None of the Gospel manuscripts have names signed. Rather, they are anonymous works. Attribution to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are down to “early church tradition,” not anything in the manuscript themselves.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          I.e. we appear to agree in principle, I just think you are using the wrong word for it.

          • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

            Fair enough; the authors themselves didn’t pick their pseudonyms; the pseudonyms were assigned after the fact by equally-anonymous others.

            b&

            • JonLynnHarvey
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

              We can fairly say that six of the 13 letters alleged to be by Paul are forgeries (based on analysis of their language, syntax, and forgery). This is worse than a pseudonym. Is there a word for this ending in -nym?

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                The term you’re looking for is, Pseudepigrapha.

                b&

              • Draken
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                Is there anything Ben Goren doesn’t know?

              • GBJames
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                When he’s wrong?

                Sorry… The opening was too big to resist!

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 2:19 am | Permalink

                But that’s never the case.

                /@

  13. bonetired
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t bother me one jot whether there was a wandering Rabbi in 1st Century (and I know using that date format is an irony in itself) who preached that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be nice to each other and who pissed off the Vichyite Jewish leaders so much that they had the occupying powers kill him. It is possible but no more than that.

    What I flatly and completely deny is that this man was any form of deity.

    • eric
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Yeah I have the same attitude towards historicity. The bible paints John the Baptist as coming from a whole big group of ascetic Jewish troublemakers, so positing that there was some ascetic Jewish troublemaker on which the story is based seems perfectly reasonable to me…the walking on water, turning water into wine, ressurrection stuff? Not so much.

      However I’m glad Carrier and his like are in the ‘Bible’ field. Right or wrong, I think he’s doing good work by forcing the community to think more carefully and critically about some of its baseline assumptions.

    • Ann K
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard speculation that there were any number of “street preachers” around, much as we have even yet, and that there may have been many who contributed to the legend of the “composite Jesus”. That’s one way to explain some of the evident contradictions. However, christianity has only arguments rather than evidence, and rather suspect arguments at that. I dismiss any supernatural claims out of hand, until that extraordinary rock-solid replicable evidence shows up. I’m not holding my breath.

  14. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I read ” Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth” by Carrier et al. It is tedious to get through, but it shows that Ehrman has gone off the deep end lately and either did no research or very shoddy research for his historical Jesus. I used to be a fan of Ehrman and some of his earlier books but it appears that he has lost it.

  15. reasonshark
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    On this issue, I consider myself technically agnostic, but leaning towards the mythicist camp (if not actually in it).

    But this pales in comparison to what the first known Christian writings, those of Paul, reveal about early Christianity. After reading the Pauline letters (the authentic seven plus a couple of others), I have to conclude early Christianity is either total insanity borne from self-deluding gullibility, or someone’s cynical ploy to exploit others’ insanely delusional gullibility. Either way, the atrociousness of it is overwhelming, and you get the impression it would be roundly denounced as the internal ravings of a mad cult if it happened today. If there was a real life person who inspired the Jesus depicted therein, it wouldn’t improve the situation an iota.

    Not a chapter goes by where Paul the writer is some combination of spiritualistic, moralistic, emotionally manipulative, pathetic in his arguments, tribalistic, unpleasant in his false modesty, and just plain boring in how much he reiterates all these points over and over, as if he’s enjoying his own self-indulgence. As for any actual details of Jesus and Paul himself, they barely add up to anything substantial. The notion that the myth was invented, whether by nefarious scheme or insane delusion, doesn’t seem so unlikely to me, given how little ground there is to work off of and how much pontificating goes on in its stead.

    I wonder how “metaphoricists” can explain away Paul’s letters, because they’re clearly not wooish metaphors masking some secular humanist point. He’s explicitly writing them to clarify theological doctrine, make real-world claims, and alternately kick and coddle his believers into doing the “right” things with the threat of an impending apocalypse and the reward of a promised utopia.

    • smoothjimmyapollo
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      That’s actually where Ehrman is the strongest. He has books about early forms of Christianity and how what we know as the Bible came to be. If what he claims is true, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus went around telling the Jews they were being Jews wrong. When he died (assuming he existed) his brother James carried on Jesus’ message. Meanwhile Paul started his own version of Christianity meant to lure in non-Jews (no more required circumcision). Paul’s version of Christianity is what stuck more with what we know of the religion.

      Beyond that, it seems like many of Jesus’ superpowers came from other people’s Pagan gods. When traveling around spreading Christianity, people told stories of their gods rising from the dead, raising others from the dead, healing the sick, being born of a deity father and human mother, etc. If you’re trying to say your god is better, he better be able to do things the other people’s gods can do, so gradually, Jesus obtained the same abilities. We can see signs of this in how Christianity absorbed pagan celebrations of the vernal equinox and winter solstice into Easter and Christmas.

    • Ann K
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      You left out “misogynistic”.

  16. JustPassingThrough
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I respect and admire Erhman’s writings, but I’ve always thought Ehrman’s “evidence” in DJE was a bit below standard. For example, he states that Paul’s discussions with Peter and James serve as proof that Jesus existed. Isn’t that like saying Rowling’s discussions with Ron and Hermione prove Harry existed? Perhaps I’m missing something…

  17. Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Here is one lengthy comment about the evidence for an historical Jesus made by Ehrman on his blog:

    Even more telling is the much noted fact that Paul claims that he met with, and therefore personally knew, Jesus’ own brother James. It is true that Paul calls him the “brother of the Lord,” not “the brother of Jesus.” But that means very little, since Paul typically calls Jesus the Lord and rarely uses the name Jesus (without adding “Christ,” or other titles). And so, In the letter to the Galatians Paul states as clearly as possible that he knew Jesus’ brother. Can we get any closer to an eyewitness report than this? The fact that Paul knew Jesus’ closest disciple and his own brother throws a real monkey wrench into the mythicist view that Jesus never lived.

    The Brothers of Jesus

    To expound on the situation, I need to say something further about the brothers of Jesus. I pointed out in an earlier chapter that Paul knows that “the brothers of the Lord” were engaged in Christian missionary activities (1 Corinthians 9:5), and we saw there that Paul could not be using the term “brothers” in some kind of loose, spiritual sense (we’re all brothers and sisters; or all believers are “brothers” in Christ). Paul does frequently use the term “brothers” in this metaphorical way when addressing the members of his congregations. But when he speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5, he is differentiating them both from himself and from Cephas. That would make no sense if he meant the term loosely to mean “believers in Jesus,” since he and Cephas too would be in that broader category. And so he means something specific, not something general, about these missionaries. They are Jesus’ actual brothers, who along with Cephas and Paul were engaged in missionary activities.

    The same logic applies to what Paul has to say in Galatians 1:18-19. When he says that along with Cephas, the only apostle he saw was “James, the brother of the Lord,” he could not mean the term “brother” in a loose generic sense to mean “believer.” Cephas was also a believer, and so were the other apostles. And so he must mean it in the specific sense. This is Jesus’ actual brother. (The word, by the way, does not mean “cousin” as has sometimes been claimed; there is a different Greek word for that – ANEPSIOS).

    And so, Paul knows one of these brothers personally. It is hard to get much closer to the historical Jesus than that. If Jesus never lived, you would think that his brother would know about it.

    Mythicist Views of James

    Mythicists have long realized that the fact that Paul knew Jesus’ brother creates enormous problems for their view, that in fact the otherwise convincing (to them) case against Jesus’ existence is more or less sunk by the fact that Paul was acquainted with his blood relations. And so they have tried, with some futility in my view, to explain away Paul’s statements, so that even though he calls James the brother of the Lord, he didn’t really mean it that way. The most recent attempt to resolve the problem is in mythicist Robert Price’s comprehensive study, where he cites possible explanations for how James may not actually be Jesus’ brother. Price has the honesty to admit that if these explanations “end up sounding like text-twisting harmonizations, we must say so and reject them.” In the end he doesn’t say so and he doesn’t reject them. But he doesn’t embrace any of them either, which at least must leave his readers puzzled.

    One of the explanations is that which has been most forcefully argued by G. A. Wells, who revives a theory floated, without much success, by J. M. Robertson back in 1927. According to Wells, there was a small fraternity of messianic Jews in Jerusalem who called themselves “the brothers of the Lord.” James was a member of this missionary group. And that is why he can be called “the brother of the Lord.” Wells likens it to the situation that Paul refers to in the city of Corinth, where he calls himself the “father” of the community (1 Corinthians 4:15) and where some of the members of the congregation claim that they are “of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). As Wells concludes

    Now if there was a Corinthian group called “those of the Christ,” there could also have been a Jerusalem one called “the brethren of the Lord,” who would not necessarily have had any more personal experience of Jesus than Paul himself. And James, as “the brother of the Lord” could have been the leader of the group.

    Wells cites as well Matthew 28:9-10 and John 20:17 where Jesus speaks of his unrelated followers as his “brothers.”

    This view sounds reasonable enough, until it is examined in a greater detail. In evaluating it, the first thing to point out is that the final two Gospel passages that Wells cites are irrelevant. They do not refer to a distinct group of people who are zealous missionaries; they refer to the twelve disciples of Jesus, pure and simple. But Wells does not think that James (or anyone else) was a member of that group, because he does not think Jesus lived in the recent past and even had disciples. And so the Gospel references to the disciples as Jesus’ brothers does not support Wells’ claim that there was a select missionary group in Jerusalem that included James.

    Nor does it work to claim that there was an analogous situation in the church in Corinth. Paul thinks of himself as the “father” of the entire church of Corinth, not of a specific group within it. Even more important, we decidedly do not, contrary to what Wells asserts, know of a group that called themselves “Those of the Christ.” There were, to be sure, Christians who said their ultimate allegiance was to Christ (not to Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos). But we have no idea what they called themselves, because Paul never tells us. They are not, then, a named group comparable to what Wells imagines as being in Jerusalem, headed by James.

    And what evidence does Wells cite for such a group of zealous messianic Jews in Jerusalem that separated themselves off from all the other Jerusalem Christians? None. At all. What evidence could there be? No such group is mentioned in any surviving source of any kind whatsoever. Wells (or his predecessor Robinson) has made it up.

    And there is a good reason for thinking that such a group did not in fact exist. Throughout our traditions Cephas and James are portrayed as being completely simpatico with one another. They are both Jews, believers in the resurrection of Jesus, residing in Jerusalem, working for the same ends, participating in the same meetings, actively leading the home church together. Cephas, moreover, is a missionary sent out from this church. If there was a group called “the brothers of the Lord,” made up of zealous Jewish missionaries in Jerusalem, why wouldn’t Cephas be a member? Why is James the one called “the brother of the Lord,” precisely to differentiate him from Cephas?

    Since there is no evidence to support the idea that such a group existed, this explanation seems to be grasping at straws. It is important to review what we know. We have several traditions that Jesus actually had brothers (it is independently affirmed in Mark, John, Paul,and Josephus). In multiple independent sources one of these brothers is named James. So too, Paul speaks of James as his Lord’s brother. Surely the most obvious, straightforward, and compelling interpretation is the one held by every scholar of Galatians that, so far as I know, walks the planet. Paul is referring to Jesus’ own brother.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Hilariously, one group which has steadfastly supported the position that references to Jesus’ “brothers” did not mean biological brothers is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Among their reasons for doing so is their position that Mary remained a virgin all her life.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it neat how the forms of urban myths don’t change over the generations? “Hey, this has to be true, because the guy who told it to me got it from that guy’s brother. No shit, Jose, his brother; I shit you not.”

    • David Miller
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      The first book of Ehrman’s that I read was Misquoting Jesus. I thought it was an excellent book. However, given all of the difficulties Ehrman described in accurately reconstructing ancient texts, it seems like he and other historicists give an awful lot of weight to the presence of a few words in a single sentence. In all the letters of Paul, the best/only example historicists can point to of Paul referencing a biographical fact about Jesus is “James, the brother of the Lord”. Even if you dismiss alternative explanantions of the use of the phrase “brother of the Lord,” (and I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss them) it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough to counter the silence in the rest of the Epistles.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Carrier in the “On the Historicity of Jesus” interprets “brothers of the Lord” to mean simply “fellow Christians”. I can’t say that I find his arguments entirely convincing but they are plausible.

      IMO the historicists argument from this phrase would be much stronger if Paul actually said “brothers of Jesus” instead of “The Lord”. If brother is used in a biological sense I would expect Paul to use Jesus not Lord. The phrase “brothers of The Lord” sounds weird to me when it refers to a real human. Not saying it’s impossible that he meant biological brothers, it’s just not as clear.

  18. Mal
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Subscribe

  19. GBJames
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    a late “sub”.

  20. Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Often missing from these discussions is that there is overwhelmingly compelling second century evidence from Christians themselves that Jesus is every bit as fabricated as any other Pagan demigod from the era.

    In particular, see Justin Martyr and especially his First Apology. The whole point of his writing is that Pagans had no right to mock Christians for their beliefs — virgin birth, miracle healing, ascension to the heavens, even the Eucharist and lots more — because they were no different from what Pagans themselves believed. Granted, Martyr attributed the parallels to evil daemons with the power of foresight who planted the Pagan stories centuries in advance to lead honest men astray when Jesus finally arrived, but….

    We get the same story from the Pagan side. Lucian of Samosata told of the Passing of Peregrinus, a lovable cad who conned the Christians into taking him in as one of their own, and who “revealed” many of their own mysteries to them, shamelessly stolen from Pagan mystery cults. And whether or not Peregrinus was, as I suspect, Paul, we see exactly that when Paul (of Tarsus) instructs the Corinthians in how to perform the Eucharist, a ceremony we know from Martyr was a Mithraic rite (originating in Tarsus) before it was a Christian one.

    The mythicist position isn’t simply some ad-hoc explanation thrown together to try to reconcile some inconvenient facts for rhetorical reasons. It’s nothing more nor less than taking the earliest authors at their word when they themselves describe Christianity as invented from whole cloth. That it’s consistent with all other facts just seals the deal.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Marella
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      I have read at Vridar an interesting explanation of how Peregrinus could have been re-branded as Ignatius. It explains a lot of things, but I am not an expert.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        I’ve also heard of those who identify Peregrinus and Ignatius, and that one is also plausible.

        What I don’t think is at all controversial is that, whether Peregrinus or not, what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 11 is exactly the same thing that Lucian describes Peregrinus as having done.

        So, either Paul was Peregrinus, or there were multiple scam artists using the exact same con on Christians.

        I’m fine with either interpretation.

        b&

        • Marella
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

          Are you sure you mean 1C 11? I looked it up and it’s about women wearing veils in church.

          It is quite possible that some of Peregrinus’ letters were re-branded to the name of Ignatius and others were put under Paul’s name, possibly by different men. Wouldn’t surprise anyone I’m sure, but I wanted to see what it was that Paul and Peregrinus had both done.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            It’s in the middle — verses 23-25, where Paul turns the Mithraic Eucharist into the Last Supper.

            b&

  21. Scote
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    What does it mean to claim a “real” Jesus existed? How much does the “real” Jesus have to resemble the character in the New Testament for the claim to have any value? 5%? 10%? 50? We can safely say that there were people named Jesus, and that there were itinerant rabbis. Is that enough? Or does the historical Jesus need to be exactly the same?

    Ultimately, whether or not there was a historical Jesus tells us **nothing** about the veracity of the **supernatural** claims of the bible, no more so than a “historical” Paul Bunyan would give us any reason to believe in 15 foot tall humans. Even the100% certainty that there was a historical Abraham Lincoln tells us nothing about vampires being real nor that Abraham Lincoln hunted them, as a recent book and movie portray.

    What is the end game to this line of inquiry? What does proving or disproving a historical Jesus get us?

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I think a frank discussion of what we know about Jesus, how we know it, and how nebulous it all is brutally undermines the certainty that comes with the way the Jesus story is presented in churches.

      A lot of Christians simply don’t know that the Gospels aren’t historical accounts, and those that do know about the late authorship of the Gospels often think that Josephus and Tacitus are slam dunk evidence, which they aren’t. Showing people what a rocky footing the very *existence* of Jesus is on puts the supernatural elements even more into disbelief. And it also is a good way of showing what a rotten mess of self affirming believers the theologians and New Testament scholars are, since a lot of them overlook counterarguments, make personal attacks on their opponents, and the like.

    • Polyman71
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Scote, you nailed it.

      Sure, Jesus was a historical person. It is just that his name was not Jesus, he was not born in Bethlehem, he was not born of a virgin, never performed miracles, did not rise from the dead, was not the son of gawd.

      • Doug
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Here’s my 2 cents. Sherlock Holmes was a real person, only (as Polyman71 might say) his name wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, he wasn’t a detective, he didn’t live at 221B Baker Street, or smoke a calabash pipe, or have a friend named Watson or an arch-enemy named Professor Moriarty. His name was Joseph Bell, and he was a Scottish physician who sometimes aided police in investigations. Years later he taught medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where one of his students was Arthur Conan Doyle, who would go on to create Sherlock Holmes, based–he acknowledged–on Bell. Later on other writers, artists and actors embellished the character, adding the deerstalker cap, the calabash pipe, the line “Elementary, my dear Watson,” etc. If there was a real Jesus, he bore as much resemblance to the Jesus of the gospels as Bell did to Holmes.

        Or Jesus may have been like those figures from the American West (Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, etc.) who were featured in Dime Novels during their own lifetimes. They were real, but the adventures in these books were completely fictitious.

        So was he real? I dunno.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          I accept your whole critique, except for the “I dunno” part. 😎

          • Doug
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

            I’ll take it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      You could ask the same question about Julius Caesar, Arsinoë, or the line of dinosaurs that became birds. The answer in each case is we want to know the truth. Some people will not care and will even scoff that there are specialists in these fields that use every method of critical thinking to get to the truth because it is of no impact to their lives, however many think that knowing the truth is worth working for.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        But then we’d have people studying the reality of fairies, because we simply want to know the truth. There has to be at least a shred of reason to go looking for the truth in any one direction, and there are no shreds in the direction of an historical Jesus, so the exercise is futile and not worthy of serious consideration.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

          However, we are still documenting the lack of evidence. Also, it’s of interest because millions of people believe 1) the myth 2) the existence of the person 3) both.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Exactly. Who wouldn’t want to understand the origins of the foundational myth of the most powerful cult in all of human history?

        That’s what’s most frustrating to me. Doesn’t anybody care about what is and isn’t true?

        I’d have no problem were it to have turned out that Jesus was the Joe Smith or Hubbard of his day. But it was Paul who was (kinda sorta) real, and Jesus the equivalent of Moroni or Xenu. Wouldn’t you be upset to think that you thought that Moroni was a real historical figure, or to not care whether or not that whole fake Egyptian / early American colonization thing was really real or not?

        b&

        • Ian
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          What makes you think Paul was real?

          He was supposed to have raised from the dead, escaped death and shipwreck, have founded a mediterranean-wide religion yet is never mentioned in any secular history. The writings with his name on it were clearly written by a whole bunch of different people, even the few that seem to be by the same person are clearly edited together from earlier sermons, letters and sources. He claimed to have been a key figure in the early Jesus movement, yet is never mentioned by any source until decades after his death. And conveniently, he has a classic and frankly laughable conversion story involving being a persecutor of Christians who is visited by Christ himself.

          I don’t see why anyone would think Paul isn’t a convenient fiction for later religionists who need some framing ‘messenger’ myth to go with their mythical messiah.

          Sure, there may have been some wandering evangelist (who may or may not have been called Saul, Paul or something else) who wrote some letters (which originals, who knows), who was not able to perform miracles, who did not have divine visitation. But in what sense would that person be ‘Paul’?

          • Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            What makes you think Paul was real?

            Paul is almost as problematic an historical figure as Jesus. As you note, his official biography (especially in Acts) is clearly pure fiction.

            …but we do have an half dozen or so epistles, and somebody wrote them. Was that person’s name, “Paul”? I have my own suspicions that Lucian knew him by a couple other names that started with, “P.”

            So, when I refer to “Paul,” I’m generally using it in the same sort of shorthand as one would use Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to refer to the authors of the respective Gospels. We can be certain that the Biblical figures with those names aren’t the ones who wrote the texts, and reasonably confident that the authors didn’t have those same names…but we gotta call them by some names, and the traditional names are as good as any.

            And, in that sense, there most certainly was an historical figure who wrote the Epistles, and said figure played a similar role in Christianity as Smith and Hubbard played in their religions. Maybe more or less prominent, and certainly not the only such figure — but, than again, Smith also had Young and Hubbard Miscavige. Sussing out the org chart for first century Christianity is likely an impossible task, but it seems reasonable to suggest that “Paul” (or whatever was the name of the author of the Epistles) played a significant role in at least a major splinter faction.

            b&

            • Ian
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

              The author which epistles? You seemed to drop back into Paul-historicism towards the end there. Given that even the ‘authentic’ epistles of Paul are likely compilations and redactions of other documents, why do you think it is reasonable to suggest that there was a specific individual person at work there? Would the editor of, say 2 Cor, count as Paul, if the texts he edited together were written by someone else?

              On another note. Hubbard claimed to be the saviour of the universe (or humanity, depending on what day you caught him). Neither “Paul” or Smith does. Hubbard seems a bit of an awkward analogy. And you lost me on Young and Miscavige. Are you suggesting that Smith and Hubbard should also be considered non-histortical? Certainly one can very definitely make the case that LRH, in any form recognizable from scientologist claims, didn’t exist.

              Perhaps Muhammad and Gabriel, or maybe Shogi Effrendi and Bahaullah (who’s historicity shouldn’t get a free pass either, on the same grounds as above) are better analogies.

              Where are you on the existence of a historical John the Baptist?

              Sorry to give a big religious-figure dump.

              Perhaps it is better to see ‘historicity’ of a religious figure as a continuum rather than a binary.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                First, while we’re on the subject, I find it exceedingly unlikely that there was an historical Muhammad. It’s the exact same pattern we see with Jesus and all the others: no contemporary accounts, a generations-long oral tradition, and an official biography shamelessly stolen from well-loved Pagan heroic archetypes. Muhammad flew Buraq into the sunset for the same reason Bellerophon rode Pegasus into the sunset.

                There was undoubtedly a third-rate SF author named Hubbard who palled around with Heinlein and the crew who wrote Dianetics and founded Scientology. The official Scientology biography of Hubbard bears only passing semblance to the actual man.

                John the Baptist I haven’t seriously investigated. Seems plausible; no compelling reason I’m aware of to outright reject; definitely has an embellished biography if nothing else; and could also plausibly be a complete fabrication. Others not entirely unlike him would almost certainly have been not uncommon features of the landscape.

                Back to Paul…I’m not an expert on the Epistles. It seems reasonable that a plurality if not a majority of them share a common author. It’s also unquestionable that even the most-intact examples have gone through an incredible editorial filter spanning centuries — the provenance for the entire Bible sucks donkey balls, to put it politely.

                But, still, there are some broad facts one can be rather certain of about Christianity. One is that it was small but well established in the second century, giving it a generation at least in the middle of the first century. Its origins earlier than that get murky…it could even date back to the first or second century BCE as a tight-knit fast-evolving mystery cult that glommed onto Philo’s Hellenization not long after he authored it. Or it could have been the amalgamation of a couple different cults, or it could have been like Moronism and a charismatic figure (like Peregrinus) inserting radical new theology into an older cult and thus causing a schism. Or something else entirely.

                Somewhere in the middle of the first century, maybe the second half of the century, at least some of the epistles were authored seemingly by a single individual. This was before the fabrication of Jesus’s sermons and aphorisms, before the accretion of most (but not all: see the Eucharist in 1 Cor 11) of the Pagan biography so thoroughly detailed by Martyr, but after the adoption of the core Hellenized Jewish philosophy of PHilo (that later got formalized in John).

                That several of the Epistles were originally authored by a single individual seems reasonable. That subsequent edits to those Epistles happened in undocumented and irretrievable ways is unquestionable — as is the fact that the original texts of those epistles are long since gone. And that the figure in Acts bears no more relation to the author of those Epistles than Hubbard does to his official biography.

                That doesn’t leave us with an awful lot to stick a name tag of “Paul” to, but, again, it makes for shorthand as convenient as using “Matthew” to refer to the author of the first Gospel in the KJV Bible.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Ian
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                I’m confused what you regard as the ‘broad facts’, and what are your inferences about sequence and source material

                1. It was small but well established in the second century.

                I agree.

                2. Somewhere in the middle of the first century, maybe the second half of the century,

                You seem to be presuming dating based on historicist assumptions of timescales. What entirely mythicist grounds are there for assuming the “Paul” individual or group wrote/redacted in the second half of the first century, and not earlier, or later (I’m aware there are tiny quotes from other works assumed to be early C2, but as we’ve seen these epistles are often collections).

                3. at least some of the epistles were authored seemingly by a single individual.

                What does this mean? At least some of all pieces of writing were authored by a single individual.

                4. the epistles were later edited in undocumented ways.

                I agree.

                So are these the broad facts you mean? Or are your inferences about the source materials used also what you mean by ‘broad facts’?

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

                What entirely mythicist grounds are there for assuming the “Paul” individual or group wrote/redacted in the second half of the first century, and not earlier, or later (I’m aware there are tiny quotes from other works assumed to be early C2, but as we’ve seen these epistles are often collections).

                I don’t have any firm dating of “Paul.” The second century dating of the various early apologists seems not unreasonable, and half a century or so, thereabouts, give or take, seems a not unreasonable amount of time for Christianity to develop from the primitive nature it displays in “Paul” to the mostly-formed state we see with Martyr where all the major biographical elements are not only firmly established but clearly identified with their Pagan antecedents.

                What does this mean? At least some of all pieces of writing were authored by a single individual.

                Yes, and some significant portion of the Epistles seem to fit that single-author origin. Adopting the “Paul” name to refer to that author, about whom much more is difficult to discern, doesn’t seem at all a stretch, does it?

                So are these the broad facts you mean?

                I thought I made that clear. Christianity — or, at least, the branch that would survive the internecine wars to become established orthodoxy — coalesced into recognizably its current form in the early second century. “Paul” — whoever he was — was almost certainly writing significantly before that. Somebody had to have written those letters, so why not call him, “Paul”?

                b&

              • Ian
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

                I’m not trying to be antagonistic, Ben. I’m just puzzled why you’re giving such credence to historicist claims about Paul, when even a cursory reading of the scholarship on the epistles will show that the letters are amalgams and redactions of prior writings.

                Why is it reasonable to think that, in a text that is a compilation of other writings, the similarity is due to a single author, rather than a single redactor? Calling the writer “Paul” because somebody must have written them? Written which bits? Seems bizarre to me.

                And then your willingness to say that it is ‘reasonable’ that “Paul” is seen in some sense as the founder of Christianity seems really credulous to historicist scholarship to me. Plenty of people think it is ‘reasonable’ that Jesus was a historical character. Into every question some evidence must fall.

                If we don’t take on face value historicist claims, it isn’t reasonable to say there is a historical Paul, or that the person who ‘founded’ Christianity is the author of any of the epistles.

                I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but it sounds like you are very willing to take on historicist conclusions when you feel like it.

              • Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                You raise some good points I’ve clearly not thought enough about. Thanks; I’ll have to do a bit more digging.

                At the very least, I’m probably still going to be stuck using the single name, “Paul,” to refer to whatever person and / or persons who wrote and edited the Epistles collectively and / or the particular passage in discussion. I imagine that’s going to get confusing and / or tedious.

                b&

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

                This strikes me as a bit like the convention of calling the author of Shakespeare’s plays ‘William Shakespeare’. The fact that there is no credible biography of a person of that name that could have written the material and can be fitted into a historical context is (except for specialist historians of the period) not really relevant. (The last thing I read on the subject was by Mark Twain, but I doubt there’s a lot of new data.)

          • trou
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            I’ve wondered whether Apollonius was the inspiration for Paul. Apollonius was said to travel to the same places the Paul supposedly did and at the same time.
            I agree with you though. Paul doesn’t appear to be any more real than Jesus.

          • Marella
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

            Robert M. Price suggests that Paul was in fact Simon Magus rebranded to make him acceptable to orthodoxy. “The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul”. I have started reading it but it’s pretty dry.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      I do agree 100% there.
      There certainly were preachers who preached the eschaton. Probably thirteen in a dozen.
      On the other hand we know that stories about turning water into wine, virgin birth and the multitude of dead rising are BS.
      I think the probability of a kind of eschatological preacher on which the fictitious Jesus is based is good. After all Tacitus did not doubt that a Jesus was crucified. Admittedly at 60 ad, but still close. And Tacitus is a kind of reliable source(IMMO).
      The passage of Josephus concerning Christ is generally thought to be a later insertion, a hoax, in other words.
      Just like the Holy Trinity (as discovered by nobody less than Newton!) and the “he who is without sin throwest the first stone” (the passage in the NT which gives me some sympathy for christian doctrine) are fourth century fabrications.
      There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus promoted the things we would call christian now, in fact, Christianity (again IMMO) should be called Paulism.
      Pauls road to Damascus revelation appears indeed to be a genuine attack of epilepsy to me, the different accounts (auditory/visual) appear to me to give it some authenticity.
      So, if there were a historical Jesus he would not correspond (for lack of a better term) to the Jesus Christians believe in.

  22. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    “We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them.”

    That is a slight error, as Luke was not one of the apostles. According to tradition, Luke was an associate of Paul.

    • Daryl
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      If you’re talking about disciples, then neither was Mark. I believe apostles had a more nebulous connotation, and could refer to other followers of Jesus, particularly after the time of his death. See 1st Corinthians 15:5-7, where it appears that “the apostles” and “the twelve” are two distinct groups. But then again, the names of the twelve disciples is also inconsistent over the four gospels. They even differ in different manuscripts of the same gospel. It’s a complete mess.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      A *forged* tradition, almost certainly, or a retcon, mind. Paul doesn’t seem to know about his friend, IIRC.

  23. Christopher
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Richard Carrier’s new book, ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’, pretty much kills it. I defy anyone to finish it and not be embarrassed at how obviously made up the whole lot is.

  24. Susan
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Has anyone else read “Nailed: Ten christian myths that show Jesus never existed at all” by David Fitzgerald?

    I read it recently. I was left feeling fairly strongly that Jesus never existed, yet there were some parts where I sensed some possible intentional omission of inconvenient data. Nothing strong enough to say definitively one way another. I wound love to hear what others think.

    There were some interesting points I remember:
    – early christians collected every scrap that in any way alluded to Jesus, but multi volume histories they kept that should have mentioned Jesus are missing the one volume that covers the time of Jesus.
    – the calming the sea motif is common, so when the writers wanted one for Jesus, they picked the sea of Galilee for him to calm, not realizing it is closer to a big pond than a sea.
    – one of the supposed proofs of Jesus listed by christians is actually just an ancient critic who said something like “Those christians are gullible. They will believe any fraud who comes into their midst.”

    • marvol19
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:52 am | Permalink

      “Those christians are gullible. They will believe any fraud who comes into their midst.”

      Not much has changed in 2 millennia then.

  25. DrBrydon
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    There seems to be a popular idea that every myth must have some germ of truth at its center. (I’d like to know where that idea came from; probably the German Romantics?) We could say, therefore, that the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths all might have had something real in their origins. Surely no one would just make up such things? On the other hand, we have examples of modern faiths, such as Mormanism, which, not shielded by the mists of time, are clearly bunk, made up by men who are at best delusional and at worse frauds.

    There might a first-century Jewish preacher at that heart of Christianity, and his name might have been Jesus. Nothing in the evidence leads me to conclude that he was any more real than Romulus or Remus, though.

    I put my money on myth. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Biblical verses, by way of Runyon: The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    First a side digression praising author Tarico.
    [BEGIN digression]
    Valerie Tarico is one of my favorite atheist bloggers (though she is little known) and of the eight books I have read which combine an autobiographical account of exodus from fundamentalism and a systematic critique of same, her book “Trusting Doubt” is my top favorite!! One of its unique features is in the book she never discloses her current position (secular humanism) thus making the book accessible to atheists, Buddhists, and liberal Christians alike. Most books of this kind also trumpet the authors new views, while Tarico stays silent thereof. (but anyone who finds her blog “Away Point” can easily found out what she really thinks.)
    [END digression]

    I think all sides on the Jesus question overstate their case. Ehrman shows IMO that an existing Jesus is plausible but has not fully demonstrated that it is probable!!

    Valerie Tarico’s first four points are right on target, but the fifth is easily answered. The Albert Schweitzer/Paula Fredriksen/Bart Ehrman portrait of Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher is the only one that squarely reconstructs Jesus as a 1st-century Jew, not as a 20th-century liberal Christian (Marcus Borg) or proto-Marxist (Paul Verhoeven- yep the same guy who directed “Basic Instinct”, “Robocop” etc.) or in the service of some 20th/21st-century ideology. Even mythicist Robert Price admits it’s the most embarrassing (to modern religious) of all the reconstructions.

    A lot of discussion hinges on two contested verses in Paul. At least some of the mythicists claim a verse in Philippians illustrates Paul thought of Jesus as a mythical deity who fought demons in some heavenly realm and was never thought of by Paul as a man walking the earth. Historicists ride a lot on a verse in Galatians which involves Paul meeting various disciples and James whom he refers to as “brother of the Lord” and was believed by Jewish Christians of later generations to be the biological brother of Jesus.

    For about three centuries AD there was a group called the Ebionites who were non-Pauline Christians who thought Jesus simply came to reform Jewish Law and not abolish it. The only Scripture they accepted was the Gospel of Matthew (as easy guess to anyone familiar with the New Testament) and they claimed a dynastic succession from the Apostle James (Though there is historical dispute on this). See
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites#James_and_the_Ebionites

    Atheist blogger and YouTube poster TaylorX04 (Blogs http://godless-skeptic.blogspot.com/ and http://godlesshaven.com/) oddly came to the conclusion Jesus existed after all after reading a book on the Apostle James and his place as a figurehead of the Ebionite movement entitled “James the Brother of the Jesus” by Robert Eisenman. It’s one of the few major works on Jesus I haven’t read even part of, so it’s now on my list.

    Ben Goren makes a lot of good points (and some hilarious laughlines) but is mistaken in claiming that all historicists think the non-supernatural parts of the Gospels are entirely true. Lots of historicists think there is something “fishy” (pun on ichthys intended- so sorry) about the accounts of Jesus’s arrest and trial, and argue that it was really the Romans who had the biggest vested interest in Jesus’ arrest, and the Gospel’s insinuation that the Jewish religious authorities were the prime instigators is just wrong.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Actually, Tarico also needs to do more work on her second point, but I will concede that mythicist Earl Doherty has addressed it.

      There is a good case to be made that Paul and the Christians in Jerusalem were at odds with each other and that the latter might not have shared all their traditions with Paul. Either way the sayings attribute to “Q” in Matthew and Luke seem to be a tradition !*very independent*! of Paul running simultaneously on a parallel track.

      But as I say, Earl Doherty, has taken this into account.

      The book she cites at the end is by a good personal friend, David Fitzgerald, who has valiantly run the annual Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco for the past 5 years. My (tentative) disagreement with his conclusions has never eclipsed our strong affection for each other.

  27. Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I scratch my head at why no one other than believers wrote contemporary accounts. Paul claims that Jesus showed his risen self to over 500 people – you have to think that someone would have noted that? No a single early scientist/medic examined a man cured of blindness? Not a single court historian recorded the trouble in Judea with this rascally itinerant healing people, raising the dead, and feeding a large city (5000!) with a handful of fish?

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      I have tried to find the link for it, but somewhere, Richard Carrier made list of 40 prophets contemporary to Jesus that were recorded in historical sources, and, quite frankly, a lot of them were just losers who accomplished much less than even Jesus stripped of the supernatural bits did.

      That Jesus wasn’t on that list at all was a bit telling.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      First, nobody wrote contemporary accounts. The earliest by any measure is Paul’s, and he’s unabashedly a latecomer.

      Next, it’s much worse than you suggest. We have an entire library of the actual pieces of papyrus and parchment actually penned by actual millennialist Jews actually living in and around Jerusalem during the actual period this is all supposed to have happened — I refer, of course, to the Dead Sea Scrolls — and there’s not even the slightest hint of a peep of anything that could remotely be twisted into vaguely referring to Jesus or his remarkable biography. We’ve got most of what Philo of Alexandria wrote; he was the Jewish philosopher whose claim to fame was the integration of the Logos (of John 1:1) from Paganism into Judaism, and he was a member of the royal family and a diplomat active well after the reign of Pilate concerned with all the injustices that were most famously said to have been heaped upon Jesus. We have Pliny the Elder, obsessed with all things supernatural…the Roman Satirists whose stock in trade was the scandals surrounding the Temple scene and the Sanhedrin and Pilate…and and and and and….

      Fabricate the most banal story you might care to about Jesus that leaves him vaguely recognizable as “the” Jesus, and even that Jesus couldn’t possibly have gone missing.

      Yet he did.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. Good stuff. This fits right in with the myth of Jesus as son of god/savior being crafted by invested parties over the subsequent centuries.

    • eric
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I don’t scratch my head. If the ‘original Jesus’ was not a miracle worker and only convinced a few tens or at most a couple hundred people to follow his new sect of Judaism – not the thousands or tens of thousands that the NT implies – then the Romans and Jewish authorities would have very little reason to write about him. Consider this – do you know how many “tens of people” or even “hundreds of people” splinter cults there might be in the US today? No? Why not? Well, if you’re like most everybody, you don’t know beacuse such a small group is not newsworthy.

      Nondocumentation is certainly inconsistent with the sort of ‘major local figure’ that the NT implies Jesus was. But it is reasonably consistent with a small cult that exaggerates their own historic importance in later writings.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Good points. Thanks.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        Except that they did wrote about rascals – some of whom were named Jesus – who had few followers. There is not a vacuum of references to preachers, rabblerousers, and iconoclasts of the time. But there is zero about you-know-who.

  28. bobkillian
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I’d like to get Bart Ehrmann and Reza Aslan (“Zealot”) and David Fitzgerald (“Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All “) into one room to debate. The range of POV (existed vs. existed-but-misunderstood vs. pure myth) would be entertaining.

  29. Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I think Bart Ehrman makes a very compelling case in his book, DID JESUS EXIST? He’s obviously a scholar with a deep knowledge of ancient sources, and the fact that he’s not a believer gives him an objectivity that other biblical scholars lack.

    The argument that some people here have made–that Ehrman only wants to sell books or maintain his credibility with other scholars–reminds me of the arguments made by climate change deniers about how you can’t trust scientists because obviously they are all in cahoots and just want money to study this thing they just all made up. Ditto many of the mythicist arguments–awfully similar to the mental gymnastics of believers who want the facts to correspond to their preconceived outcome.

    The most parsimonious explanation for the origins of Christianity is that Jesus was a real person who became mythologized into a Christ figure. Whether or not that aids the arguments of religious people should not be a factor if we value rationality and intellectual honesty.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I agree with you that dismissing Ehrman with allegations of lucre-seeking or reputation-chasing is lame. However, Carrier makes some very compelling arguments too about why the Jesus character could plausibly be purely mythological in origin:

      “As Bart Ehrman himself has recently confessed, the earliest documentation we have shows Christians regarded Jesus to be a pre-existent celestial angelic being.Though Ehrman struggles to try and insist this is not how the cult began, it is hard to see the evidence any other way, once we abandon Christian faith assumptions about how to read the texts. The earliest Epistles only ever refer to Jesus as a celestial being revealing truths through visions and messages in scripture. There are no references in them to Jesus preaching (other than from heaven), or being a preacher, having a ministry, performing miracles, or choosing or having disciples, or communicating by any means other than revelation and scripture, or ever even being on earth. This is completely reversed in the Gospels. Which were written decades later, and are manifestly fictional. Yet all subsequent historicity claims, in all subsequent texts, are based on those Gospels.”

      http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      The most parsimonious explanation for the origins of Christianity is that Jesus was a real person who became mythologized into a Christ figure.

      Actually, I don’t think that’s parsimonious at all given that there is scant evidence outside the bible for Jesus’s existence. If you follow the evidence (or lack thereof) the most parsimonious explanation is that Christianity was yet another mystery cult along the lines of the Cult of Mithras, Cult of Isis, etc. with similar themes and contemporaneous of one another.

      • reasonshark
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        The problem isn’t that there’s only one group of texts that claim Jesus existed, even if they are biased to present him favourably; it’s that the only group of texts that claim Jesus existed are batshit crazy.

        The most parsimonious explanation is that a disturbing chunk of humanity in the first century AD were delusional and gullible. The unresolved question is whether everyone involved was, or if con artists entered the picture somewhere.

        Also, as there’s no independent evidence, and therefore no prior reason, to suppose they hijacked a real figure and used his image or likeness for their own purposes, I think we’d have to conclude an independent figure’s existence unlikely.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I think we have to look a little bit deeper than that. The Jesus historicity affair isn’t as shrouded in confusion as many would like to make it appear.
      For as long as religion was married to politics, questioning was simply frowned on- or worse. And that led to people taking certain things for granted- such as the case for a historical Jesus.
      Ehrman comes from a background of Christian belief whether or not he later changed his mind. Add to that the ‘unusual’ statements he makes in the book- and we’re left with some serious questions.

    • marvol19
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      Like the others have remarked, I don’t think that is the most parsimonious explanation at all – for this argument applies to, and is clearly wrong for, all genuinely fictional characters, from Rodion Raskolnikov to Harry Potter.

      There NOT being a very specific, highly defined person with a set of characteristics X is very much more parsimonious than there being one. That precise person existing is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted September 3, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that is the most parsimonious explanation at all – for this argument applies to, and is clearly wrong for, all genuinely fictional characters, from Rodion Raskolnikov to Harry Potter.

        Only if you ignore the fact that fictional characters are fictional.

        There NOT being a very specific, highly defined person with a set of characteristics X is very much more parsimonious than there being one.

        So you don’t exist? (Assuming you have a set of characteristics that describe you.)

        In the specific case of Jesus, you also have to account for the stories about him, and for the existence of Christianity. To account for these, you need a bunch of extra assumptions.

  30. Gordon Hill
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Interesting issues w.r.t. whether many of the historic figures existed. I’m a fan of the words of Jesus, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Socrates, Plato, and others mainly because they invoke in me a considerations to how to live a better life.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Personally I think Jesus was a bit mean to fig trees and herds of innocent pigs.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Me too! Poor fig, just because it was a bit infertile it gets cursed like that.

        • Chris Walker
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          It’s even worse than that! The fig tree wasn’t even infertile, it just “was not the season for figs” according to Mark 11:13.

          Think about how much of a crazy jerk I would come off as if I strolled into an apple orchard in late winter and cursed the trees because they weren’t producing any delicious Granny Smiths!

          • rickflick
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

            Why Chris! You mean to tell me you don’t have a local organization yet? Check out the web site and fill out an application. December is right around the corner and you’ll want to have, the outfits, the beany hats, and paraphernalia ready for the winter solstice.

          • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            Granny Smiths? Blech! I’d curse the tree for producing those at all. Much too bitter. Fuji red or golden delicious for me.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Rather narcissistic of Jesus!

        • Steven Beler
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          That fig tree story has always been lame. Anyone can kill a tree without much effort. I kill plants all the time! Bringing one to life; now that’s impressive.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          The fig was then and remains to this day the primary symbol of Rabbinic Torah scholarship. The cursing of the fig tree was a powerful bit of anti-Semitism, explicitly intended as such.

          What, you ask? Jesus as the original and most virulent anti-Semite? Can’t be — he was a Jew!

          News flash: Orpheus was a Thracian in the story, and yet the whole story is powerfully anti-Thracian. And in the exact same ways; Orpheus, too, was horrifically and barbarically executed after a travesty of injustice of a kangaroo court presided over a mockery of a trial. Both faced trumped-up charges that were really just an excuse to do away with this radical reformer who was trying to cleanse the local establishment of systemic corruption and bring new hope and new life to the common people. (Many more parallels between the two, but not directly related to the anti-Semitic / anti-Thracian theme.)

          It might help to understand that Christianity and Orphism are both purely Greek phenomena. That’s not a controversial statement with respect to Orphism. But remember that all the sacred Christian texts were originally written in scholarly Greek by native-Greek-speaking Greek-educated Greek authors and addressed in Greek to a Greek audience — and that all the plot elements and themes and especially theology is entirely Greek and consisted of stuff that Greek parents had been telling to their Greek children for as long as Greeks have been Greek.

          You greek? I mean, “grok”?

          b&

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Only if you read it as report instead of metaphor… as for me, I love bacon and sometimes don’t give a fig so he may be a soul mate… 😉

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Try the parable of The Good Samaritan

          “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rywVlfTtlMY”

          • Gordon Hill
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            That’s a good one considering that the Samaritan was not one of the chosen and still gave comfort.

  31. Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Pamela Turner’s comment closely parallels my own view. I think Ehrman makes a very good case in his book that there was an historical personage on which the Jesus myths were based. I wish Jerry would stop commenting on matters he is not adequately acquainted with. Sorting through bits and pieces of arguments about the historical Jesus to find those with which one agrees and excluding all the others seems to me to be confirmation bias.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      It’s worth noting that Jerry has already shredded Ehrman’s book:

      https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/i-have-a-look-at-ehrmans-new-book-on-jesus/

      Jerry is and always has been quite careful to properly place the error bars. He knows what he does and doesn’t know on this and other subjects. He most emphatically knows scholarship, and he rightly rips Ehrman a new one for the shoddy scholarship on display in that book.

      b&

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I happen to have read Ehrman’s books on the subject, and written about them. I wish Lamar would stop making comments telling me what to do, and assuming things about what I know that aren’t true. So, on the grounds of rudeness, incivility toward the host, and ignorance, you will never comment here again unless you apologize unreservedly. And no, Ehrman did not, in my opinion, make a convincing case for the historicity of Jesus.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      What!? Assertions like these are how people get away with spewing BS in the world. These books are written so that those who read them can evaluate their arguments for themselves and if those arguments are sound, meaning they are properly referenced with primary sources that support the argument, then the reader may feel they are convinced. This is called critical thinking.

  32. bonetired
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The earliest extant portion of the New Testament is a tiny piece of John’s Gospel which was written ( and I am being generous here) about 100 years after the event. Plenty of time for myths to coalesce around a historical Jesus in order to enhance, possibly for political reasons, the stature of Jesus and for certain “prophecies” to be fulfilled. Another example might be of the Robin Hood stories where there might have been a kernel of truth in them, for instance there is a historic Prince John – he is buried about 1km away – but have been so embellished that extracting the truth is all but impossible. Interestingly the time frames for the Robin Hood stories are somewhat similar with the first documented ones appearing about 100 years after the supposed events. Yes, there are major differences I agree but the similarities are there.

    • smoothjimmyapollo
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Agree. It’s like playing the game of telephone where each time the message is relayed from one person to the next, the message morphs a little bit. Now, try doing that game for 100 years among a group of people where only liek 10% could read.

      • bonetired
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        BTW, that piece of John’s gospel is in, of all the places, Manchester, England. Wonder if Matthew Cobb has seen it?

      • Steven Beler
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Absolutely;it’s like the fish catching stories where the fish gets larger with every telling!

  33. Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I recommend at least reading part of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ.

    I say this not because I think it will convince any of you; but rather because it provides a quick and easy overview of what partisans for the Jesus cult consider to be evidence for their historical Jesus.

    And incredibly lame it is. Just read a few of the chapters and you will realize that it’s all built on thin air.

    I had this book recommended to me by a Xian in some online forum. More or less: Oh yeah? Read Lee Strobel and then come back here and admit that you are wrong and now see that Jesus is real!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What struck me on reading it was: Seriously? This is the best that these partisans can do? This stuff is laughable!

    I’m sure some will say that this isn’t the best Xian apologetics can offer, and I don’t doubt that. But it was written as a persuasion piece intended to be read by lay people and (as I said) I’ve had (several) Xians recommend it as a great case for their cause.

    (I suspect that the academic writing on the subect simply uses larger words to gussy-up the same lame lack of evidence.)

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Some of the least-worst apologetics is of the variety of “look at these dozens of early historical references to Jesus!” Superficially, they are indeed very impressive.

      That is, until you go to confirm them for yourself. What you find is that not a one of them was penned by anybody alive at the time; all are merely reporting on the beliefs of Christians; and most paint the Christians as gullible lunatic idiots who bear a striking semblance to today’s Raelians. Suddenly, what seemed like an overwhelming weight of evidence in support of Christianity is made into one of the most powerful arguments against Christianity.

      b&

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Apologetics are only ever convincing to people who already believe in the Christian religion. Their problem is a simple but fatal one, and yet one that they seem incapable of realising: they all start from the base assumption that the Christian god is real in some form or other.

      It never occurs to any of them that the base assumption is not at all obvious to anyone outside of their religion.

  34. jeremyp
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

    It seems reasonable therefore that Christianity started with a single person. Paul does talk about the “Christ” a bit claiming he met his brother.

    I think, therefore, it is more probable than not that there was an individual who founded Christianity. Let’s call that individual “Jesus” because it is the Greek version of a very common name.

    Job done.

    OK, so it falls a bit short of Christian claims about the founder of their religion, But a lot of them are clearly false whichever way you look at it.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

      That’s a common theme, but not universal. But more to the point, the “single charismatic person” is often not the central deity in the religion. Hubbard isn’t Xenu; Smith isn’t Moroni…

      …and Paul isn’t Jesus.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Sajanas
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I think how the myth supporters tend to view it is that, rather than Jesus being the human source, its more of a situation of Mohammad and Gabriel. Paul (or some other person) was the human start of the religion, who claimed inspiration from a supernatural being, Jesus Christ, or just Christ.

      Its just that later people then took that supernatural character and made biographical accounts of him as a living person, rather than turning him into a more spiritual being.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        I think the evidence of the existence of Mohammad (an Arab warlord who conquered most of Arabia) is much stronger than for Paul.
        Note, much of the Hadith is made up later, but still, there actually was a kind of Mohammad -something we may doubt about Paul. The fact that I do believe there probably was a kind of Paul is just a matter of opinion, no hard evidence.
        Needless to say that this historical existence of Mohammad does not at all imply his preachings have any value, no more than the historical certainty about Smith or Hubbard does.

        • Sajanas
          Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

          My point was less that Mohammad wasn’t real (though there are interesting discussions to be had on that), and more that no one was claiming that Gabriel was a real, historical person. A lot of Jesus as Myth supporters view Paul as the real person and author of a portion of his letters, but that his source of inspiration, Christ, was just a supernatural being in his head.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Paul does talk about the “Christ” a bit claiming he met his brother.

      What he does is refer to someone once as “Brother of the Lord”. This could mean a biological brother but could also be a respectful way of referring to a Church elder or fellow Christian.

      Use of terms such as “brother” or “father” for fellow Christians was common then and now. Paul uses it in other places, when he is clearly meaning fellow Christians, e.g. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, …”

      • reasonshark
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        I’d go further. Even if there really was a person called James who claimed to be Jesus’ brother, that doesn’t rule out outrageous lying or someone’s delusion, especially when that same person is alleged to be a witness of resurrection through personal revelation. While not a conclusive factor, it should destroy the confidence in such nonsense as Ehrman’s claiming that “the fact that Paul knew Jesus’ brother creates enormous problems… that in fact the otherwise convincing (to them) case against Jesus’ existence is more or less sunk by the fact that Paul was acquainted with his blood relations”.

        Never mind that this argument doesn’t contradict any of the others for mythicism: The sheer nonsense Paul peppers his letters with suggests he was either an opportunistic liar – in which case his credibility as a reporting party is shot to hell – or severely deluded – in which case his credibility as a reporting party is shot to hell. If he spends one chapter telling his believers how he saw Jesus come to life in a magic vision, followed by six chapters eagerly explaining how this means all sin will be removed and utopia will come if you believe in him and also thank you for your earthly tributes supporting us back in Jerusalem… then how can I trust him in another chapter when he claims there’s a man called James back in Jerusalem who’s the brother of Jesus and who also saw him posthumously in a personal revelation?

        • Chris Walker
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          This is exactly how I felt about Ehrman’s James claims. I’m just supposed to take his word for it after all of the other crap he writes about? Like Paul is a completely unbiased source of information about this? Please.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          If Paul wasn’t Peregrinus, he was certainly cut from the same cloth. That he was a fraud and a charlatan there can be no doubt.

          It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

          Proof?

          1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

          21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

          22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

          23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

          24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

          25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

          This is far and away the earliest mention of the Eucharist in Christianity — and, incidentally, about the most detailed terrestrial biographical detail we ever get from Paul.

          Compare and contrast with Justin Martyr’s First Apology, chapter 66:

          And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist] [….] For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. [emphasis added]

          Forget not: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the home port of the Cilician pirates, who were notorious for their worship of Mithras.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

      Perhaps a good hypothesis to start with but that’s only the beginning. Now you need to go out and see if you can accept or reject that hypothesis and from what scholarship tells us, you need to reject that ol’ null and accept the alternate.

    • Susan
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      There is a good chance that there was in fact one charismatic person who created the myth out of whole cloth. His name was Paul.

      David Fitzgerald in Nailed argues that Paul may have believed christ was spiritual, not a real person, and attempts to merge Paul’s creation with a first century wandering jewish messiah’s came later.

      I’m not sure I buy everything in Nailed, but it was interesting to read.

  35. Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Several readers have asserted that they don’t give a rat’s patootie whether Jesus was a historical figure or not. I’ve added an update to the post (at top) responding to that issue.

    • Scote
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      It isn’t that I don’t care, but rather that I think that many people tackle this question without even so much as defining their terms first. We can’t really address the question of whether there was a “historical” Jesus until we define what that would entail. How much would the character in the New Testament have to be accurate for there to have been a “historical” Jesus? Would it count if the Jesus was a composite character? Would it count if there was a rabbi named Jesus who angered the Pharisees, but never made any supernatural claims or hinted that he was the Messiah?

      The discussion mostly seems to presume that one can discount a historical Jesus because there are no contemporary mentions of someone as as influential as Jesus supposedly is in the bible, but such arguments do not in any way disproves that there could have been a historical Jesus who only did some of the things in the NT.

      I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus or not but I doubt that there was one who did everything in the NT (not even including the supernatural stuff). But could there have been one who only did some of the things? That I don’t know. And, I’d say, can’t know, because such a Jesus could easily have escaped being recorded in contemporary records, especially ones that survive to this day. And there is my point. It isn’t possible to disprove a vague historical Jesus, much as it isn’t possible to disprove vague concepts of a god. Thus, as with theistic arguments, we need to specify what “kind” of historical Jesus we are arguing against, just as we specify what kind of god we are arguing against in theistic arguments.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I said more or less the same thing in comment 47. There’s a definite parallel in both the historical Jesus and God arguments. They both get very vague before they get even remotely plausible.

      • eric
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        We can’t really address the question of whether there was a “historical” Jesus until we define what that would entail. How much would the character in the New Testament have to be accurate for there to have been a “historical” Jesus?

        If you read Dr. Tenrico’s article (the one Jerry links to), two things pop out. First, that the scholars involved in the debate have done exactly what you insist they do (define what it entails), and you just haven’t read that they did it.

        The second thing that pops out is that the bar for an “historical” Jesus is set pretty low. She phrases it as a debate over the Jesus figure is mythologized history or historicized mythology. To count as mythologized history, you basically just need there to be a warm body living at the time around which the stories etc. accrued. Basically, none of NT accounts could be accurate, but if there was some guy at the center of the beginning of christianity because of what he said (even if none of it made it into the NT, and what we have in the NT is all lies), then there was a real Jesus in the sense of it being mythologized history.

    • Susan
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I think it is a question that should be resolved if it can be.

      If the evidence shows that no person resembling the gospel Jesus ever existed (which I think is the case), this is needed to counter the feeding frenzy every time some fake or real first century artifact surfaces with one specific fairly common name written anywhere on it. Remember the ossuary?

      Maybe one or more of the first century wandering jewish messiahs was named Jesus. The gospel myths are still appear to be nothing more than a collection of common motifs of the time with the name of the main character changed to Jesus.

    • marvol19
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      I used to think it doesn’t matter either, but actually considering the core claims of Christianity, I’ve come round to thinking it matters a lot.

      Very similar to the New Atheist shortcut of “where’s the evidence (for God)? “, it cuts the bull and goes straight for the jugular: “where’s the evidence for this Jesus bloke of whom you speak so highly?”

  36. GBJames
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Sometimes I get the feeling that people just say, “Who cares?” because they have a form of xkcd Syndrome. But millions of Christians do care!

    This doesn’t quite make sense to me. Yes, millions of Xtians care. And, yes, if JC didn’t exist then the Xtian project is totally undermined.

    But

    There might have been a person (quite a regular human type person) who led a cult that eventually became Xtianity. This doesn’t validate a single one of the claims for divinity that the religion asserts. So for me, not being an Xtian, I can say “who cares?” meaning “it doesn’t matter… the beliefs are still bogus”. Jeebus’ existence is necessary for the Xtian project to make sense but it is far from sufficient. Cult leaders are a dime a dozen. So… who cares if Xtianity can trace to one? The fact that L. Ron Hubbard existed doesn’t legitimize Scientology.

  37. Chris Laraia
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    What’s intresting to me is the work by people like Robert Price who looks at the other popular stories & myths that were known at the supposed time of Jesus to make the case that the wholle Jesus story in an appropriation of other material. Almost like plagarism.

  38. Alex T
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    While the lack of good evidence is interesting, the bible does count as evidence. Maybe not good evidence, maybe it’s very bad evidence, but it’s a nudge in support of the idea that there was an historical Jesus. However Carrier and other mythicists aren’t resting on the lack of evidence, they’re arguing that the bible accounts (plus some extra-biblical sources) show that the early Christians believed that Jesus was a heavenly being who was sacrificed in a heavenly/spiritual realm and whose teachings reach us only through revelation. This isn’t merely an argument from silence (though the silences are strong) but a positive argument against Jesus existing even as a mundane preacher.

    This argument has many lines of evidence. One note he left in a recent blog post touches upon this:

    In part 8, Covington says the content of Hebrews is “one of the most compelling arguments for mythicism.” I agree it is compelling. But I wasn’t sure it was that conclusive when I wrote OHJ, owing to its plausible vagueness. So I gave all the epistolary gospels collectively a 5:2 against historicity, or 5:3 a fortiori (p. 594). But Covington makes a good argument that, again, I was being way too generous to historicity. Observe the elegance of his argument:

    The author of Hebrews believes that there are copies of things in heaven mirroring the things on earth … and that the animal sacrifices [in the Jerusalem temple] are a copy or shadow of Jesus’ sacrifice … Think about the Hebrews author’s logic:

    1. There are imperfect earthly copies of heavenly things.

    2. Animal sacrifices are an imperfect copy of Jesus’ sacrifice,

    Therefore: Jesus’ sacrifice was a heavenly sacrifice.

    This is essentially what I myself argue, but I did not conceptualize it so clearly. It evokes a powerful syllogism:

    P1. Hebrews 9-10 says the imperfect copies of any x are on earth and the perfect copies of x are not on earth.
    P2. The sacrifice of Jesus is the perfect copy of x.
    C1. Therefore, Hebrews 9-10 says the sacrifice of Jesus was not on earth.

    You can read his blog and his books for more details. But it’s certainly not the case that he’s making some hand-waving, off-the-cuff argument that because we can’t prove absolutely that Jesus was real, we should then believe Jesus was a myth.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Is the Bible then a “nudge in support of the idea that there was a historical Noah”? If not, why not? The argument, by the way, isn’t the way you characterize it in your last paragraph. The argument is that if we can’t find even any remotely convincing evidence that a Jesus-person existed, we should not say that he did. It’s the same argument many atheists make against accepting God: no evidence. The Covington stuff is simply gobbledy-gook and doesn’t make Jesus’s existence one iota more credible. And if you think the bible counts for evidence, God help you, because there are tons of people in there that you have to say could have existed just as credibly as Jesus. Moses, Job, Jonah . . . etc. etc. etc.

      • Alex T
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        I may have spewed a bit of a brain fart, but I may have just explained myself badly. Sorry. I’ll try to clarify a bit…

        Is the Bible then a “nudge in support of the idea that there was a historical Noah”? If not, why not?

        Yea, but not enough to withstand the counter-evidence. If we were to look at all of the observations which could inform our belief/conclusion then a written account of the Noah character would have to factor in there somewhere. Because this sort of account can arise without there being an actual historical Noah and because the evidence against Noah is so strong, it’s not going to shift our confidence very much.

        Put it another way: I think that the bible is an object/observation which can be used to support the position that Jesus existed. One would have to evaluate the quality of the evidence to see how much it should shift our belief then weigh this against the evidence that Jesus didn’t exist.

        The argument, by the way, isn’t the way you characterize it in your last paragraph.

        I agree. I don’t think you’re saying that either. I have heard that presented as an argument by some people though. I think some mythicists spend a quarter of their time attacking bad mythicist arguments 🙂

        The argument is that if we can’t find even any remotely convincing evidence that a Jesus-person existed, we should not say that he did. It’s the same argument many atheists make against accepting God: no evidence.

        I’m not convinced these are equivalent cases. We have good evidence that ancient preachers and prophets existed and some inspired fictitious hero stories so that puts an historical Jesus much farther ahead of a god in terms of simple prior probabilities. Because a god claim is so extraordinary (ie: very low prior probability) it requires extremely good evidence which we don’t have.

        The Covington stuff is simply gobbledy-gook and doesn’t make Jesus’s existence one iota more credible.

        I had a little blockquote fail there, maybe the reason it looks like gobbledy-gook is because of that. It was a snippet from Carrier’s review of Covington’s review of Carrier’s book so context is probably also an issue 🙂

        What he and Carrier are arguing is not that the bible should be dismissed entirely, nor should it be believed uncritically. It contains indications of what the early Christians thought of Jesus. Carrier argues it shows they believed that Jesus was was sacrificed by the “Rulers of the age” which were demons, not humans. Jesus was a “perfect” sacrifice, and perfection is only achievable in the heavens which is further evidence Jesus wasn’t sacrificed on earth. Other elements like the way Jesus communicated to Paul only via revelation further strengthens the argument that that Paul believed Jesus was a heavenly being and not a human, corporeal one.

  39. Pliny the in Between
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    There appears to be very compelling evidence that L Ron Hubbard did in fact exist. No evidence what so ever that his revelations were anything beyond his third rate Sci-Fi pulp. And yet a lot of people have been indoctrinated to believe that he was some kind of messianic character. Same for Joseph Smith. So whatever mechanism accounts for the human ability to totally suspend belief probably isn’t tied to historicity in any meaningful way, but is instead a product of the marketing apparatus that springs up to support the mythology.

  40. rickflick
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

    Again, after reading most of Carriers critique (from link above) it appears Carrier has a possible answer to this question. Ehrman is writing outside his core area of expertise and appears to have put his book together quickly, unsupported by in depth research.

    “:he is fully competent to make up for not being a classicist or specialist in ancient history, by getting up to speed in what he needed (which for this task might have taken a year or more), but instead he just relied on “what he knows,” which was all just what he was told or has read in New Testament studies. Which isn’t enough. Disaster resulted.”

    Put that together with Ehrman’s certain knowledge that he would be writing a best seller, and…

  41. Diego
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I was greatly amused by one occasion when upon my professing to being an agnostic about the historicity of Jesus I was attacked by two good friends of mine. One was a culturally Jewish atheist and the other a very liberal Jew, so it seemed ironic that I got in hot water for criticizing the evidence for a historical Jesus. I was accused of sloppy-thinking, cherry-picking and ignoring both the historical evidence (which consisted of the accounts of Josephus and Tacitus) and the consensus of historians and theologians. Strangely I have never had a similar argument with a Christian.

  42. Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    As Ben Goren has indicated many times and in many ways (and perhaps does again in this thread – I haven’t read much of it yet). this statement doesn’t follow,

    But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

    In an of itself, the historical existence of some apocalyptic preacher named “Jesus” lends not one iota of validity to Christian philosophy – just as the historical existence of L Ron Hubbard or Joseph Smith lends not one iota of validity to Scientology or Mormonism. What we know about who Jesus could and could not have been and, especially, what we know about the insane and despicable nature of Christian philosophy renders that philosophy at least as invalid as philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid – quite apart from whether there was some guy named Jesus.

    • Minyoung
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      It’s true that Christianity in and of itself is invalid, but it is also true that the historical existence of Jesus is a necessary condition for the validity of Christianity. In order for Christianity to be true, the following two conditions need to obtain: (1) Jesus existed; (2) Jesus was divine. So, of course you could just deny (2) (which is much easier), but denying (1) is also a valid attack on Christianity.

  43. Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I am a mythicist. Several pieces of evidence converged to convince me:

    (1) Earl Doherty’s tome. This is meticulous and careful. As Richard Carrier will point out, it needed an edit and reformat, and a few corrections, but the thesis is correct as far as I can tell. (I have yet to read RC’s book, but I have heard him talk about it in person a few months ago.)
    (2) The non-canonical gospel fragments. These are so *odd* if there were a historical basis for any of it – they are even more contradictory and bizarre than the canonical ones. (See earlychristianwritings.net for one source)
    (3) Looking again at something as basic as an introductory Western Civilization textbook. Normally such basic course books have a few references to footnote their chapter on a subject. Suddenly the chapter is almost silent, and echoes D. and C.’s point that there are *no* extrabiblical soruces. Not even any *scholarly analysis of the bible* is cited for what they claim about what happened (which is admittedly quite “vague”).
    (4) At Doherty’s recommendation, the lines in Hebrews 8. Even the KJV preserves the “smoking gun” subjunctive: “If he had been on earth …”
    (5) Rereading the relevant other parts of Pauline letters *after* I had studied Plato and read some neo-Platonic stuff. I had not done that when I first did. It fell out plain as day that there’s more going on here than just “weird stuff” – it is specifically *Platonic* weird stuff.
    (6) Jewish-raised friends and colleagues (from different backgrounds – reform, conservative, orthodox) each, independently, telling me about how the gospels read like midrash.

  44. Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    One problem here is that demonstrating the lack of evidence that Jesus existed – or even finding evidence that he did not – is unlikely to convince many true believers. Perhaps the best one can hope for is, ‘all right, I accept he probably didn’t exist, but I affirm the teachings.’ This would get you a kind of Christian agnostic, and indeed, I have a couple friends like this. But, maybe that’s a good thing.
    An interesting social-historical question arises, though: Has the ideology so saturated our culture that we can’t quite think beyond it even when believe we do? Perhaps we feel the need to keep the Christian myth alive, if only to debunk it? Disturbing thought!

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      You should tell your christan-agnostic friends to read the ‘teachings’ again and judge for themselves how many are worth affirming, once you take away the myth. A lot of the stuff attributed to Jesus is deeply peculiar and morally objectionable to the unbiased mind.

  45. Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    What I find interesting is why people find the question of Jesus’s existence of any relevance. The origin of a myth has nothing to do with the function of the myth. That would be the equivalent to saying the George Washington myth is relevant because there was a George Washington. The origin of a myth is part of that myth’s myth. Which parts are real and which are illusory make no difference; it’s their combination into a myth which is significant, not their origin.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Ask a genuflecting Christian if he feels comfortable with his prospects of receiving everlasting life from a man-made myth.

  46. eric
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Re: the update.

    I get that demonstrating non-existence is a fatal (or near-fatal, you never can tell with religions) blow. But its also difficult to convincly do. It may be more effective just to chip away at the minor inconsistencies.

    Think of it this way: the mythic argument is a “high risk, high payoff” strategy to deconversion. There are lower risk, lower payoff strategies. And two people who might agree that deconversion is a good thing can still rationally disagree on how much time or effort to invest in either strategy.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Think of it this way: the mythic argument is a “high risk, high payoff” strategy to deconversion.

      I don’t know about that.

      1) To “win”, you don’t have to convince an opponent of the full truth of the mythycist position. You just have to get them to look into the evidence. They will in all likelihood be shocked at how thin it is.

      2) This is not necessarily a deconversion tool. Some of us care about the actual truth for its own sake.

      • eric
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        When you care about knowing the truth, you read up on the subject, you don’t tell others to read up on the subject. If you’re telling other people to read up on the subject, that’s a pretty obvious indicator that you’re trying to change their minds.

  47. karaktur
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    For an amusing account of what might happen after the body of the dead Jesus is found hidden in the catacombs under the Vatican, I would refer you to “Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins.

  48. Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    What does it even mean to say, “Jesus existed”? We seem to run into the same problems as we run into with the argument that God exists.

    Define Jesus. If we define him as the man who performed all the miracles attributed to him in the Bible along with the grotesque violations of nature, then of course there’s no evidence he existed.

    If we define him as an apocalyptic rabbi named Jesus who was from Nazareth and said some of the things attributed to him, well, the evidence is still quite thin, but at least it’s within the realm of plausibility.

    If we define him as merely an apocalyptic rabbi who pissed off the Roman authorities and was crucified (without saying his name was Jesus or that he was from Nazareth), now we’re getting vague enough to conclude that someone fitting that description is statistically likely to have existed. Now, remove the crucifixion and define him as merely a man who wandered the desert and had a group of people who listened to him, I’ll buy that someone like that existed, probably many such people.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      But in what sense can either of your second or third examples be considered the “real” Jesus?

      More to the point, we have mounds of evidence — especially including the New Testament — that is violently inconsistent with such an interpretation, and no supporting evidence.

      You can posit that Jesus was essentially as the Gospels describe him, which gets you something consistent with Jesus as he’s understood to be but inconsistent with reality. You can posit Jesus as any of an huge variety of influential mortal humans, but that’s inconsistent with well-established historical facts as well as with Christian understanding of Jesus. Or you can posit Jesus as one of an even bigger variety of utterly inconsequential nobodies — but not only does that fail where the previous example fails, it also fails to account for how this nobody could even theoretically have turned into the most consequential somebody of all history.

      Besides, once you’re fabricating that much about Jesus, why bother with an original Jesus in the first place?

      b&

      • eric
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        But in what sense can either of your second or third examples be considered the “real” Jesus?

        Since the topic is mythologized history vs. historicized mythology (Dr. Tarico’s terms), then the key “sense” for calling someone the real Jesus is there was some individual human living around the time on which the stories are based. If there was, it’s mythologized history. If there wasn’t, it’s historicized mythology.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          It’s the Ship of Theseus problem. Let’s say that there was an historical Jesus, but he wasn’t Jewish, he wasn’t a rabbi, he wasn’t apocalyptic, he wasn’t a carpenter, he never went to Jerusalem, and his name was, “Samuel.” But he was the real Jesus because…because!

          There’s a certain set of biographical facts which simply must apply to anybody whom one can even pretend to apply to a “real” Jesus, and there’s simply no way that that minimal set could possibly apply to any actual human being.

          Yes, there were men named, “Jesus.” It was just as popular then as it remains today in the Anglicized version of “Joshua” or the Latin version of “Jesus” (pronounced, “hay-seus”). Yes, there were street preachers, and rabble rousers, and miracle workers, and people tried by the Sanhedrin, and people crucified by the Romans, and all the rest. But it’s damned hard to find anybody with two of those characteristics — especially as soon as one adds the requirement that this person be in his thirties during Pilate’s reign, and most especially as soon as one adds a connection to Christianity.

          And, again again again, that’s all irrelevant as any such person would fail the ultimate test: being consistent with Paul’s Jesus. That’s just not possible, any more than you could conceivably find somebody who could plausibly be described as the “real” Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker or Clark Kent. The actual Jesus is so painfully and thoroughly and unabashedly fictional in every possible way that it still blows my mind that we’re having this discussion….

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        My more vague examples could only be the real Jesus in the sense that if this person had a group of followers who then started the religion we now know as Christianity, then that person was Jesus. Even if the things “real Jesus” said got lost in translation or other things were attributed to him, if there was a preacher around whom the religion started, I’d accept that as being a real Jesus.

        That said, those terms are much too vague to ever establish certainty about his existence in one way or another. The evidence we have is consistent with such a person existing and it is also consistent with the story being a whole cloth fabrication.

        From a traditional Christian perspective, there simply is no interest in such a person. Christians must accept at a minimum that Jesus existed, he was crucified, and then rose from the dead. The great majority of Christians believe all the teachings and miracles attributed to him as well. I’m in agreement with you that discussion about the existence of Jesus without the Resurrection simply isn’t relevant. Even if a Jesus existed in the vague sense I describe above, there’s nothing even particularly interesting about him. There is nothing especially original or earth shattering about anything he supposedly said.

        My main point was to draw a parallel between the arguments for Jesus and God and demonstrating that the only arguments for either that are even remotely plausible or compatible with what we know from science is such a far cry from what most Christians believe that all the work is still ahead of them.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          My more vague examples could only be the real Jesus in the sense that if this person had a group of followers who then started the religion we now know as Christianity, then that person was Jesus. Even if the things “real Jesus” said got lost in translation or other things were attributed to him, if there was a preacher around whom the religion started, I’d accept that as being a real Jesus.

          This may be a judgement call related to the problem of the Ship of Theseus.

          First, I’d argue that there’s no good reason to accept as plausible the scenario you outline, and overwhelming reason (especially Paul) to reject it.

          But, even if we grant it for the sake of argument, it seems too much to me like declaring Nicholas of Smyrna to be the “real” Santa. Shirley, there must be a recognizable speciation event somewhere along the line, even if there’s continuity of generations?

          b&

  49. cornbread_r2
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Recently added to the ranks of scholastics who think that Jesus never existed as a historical person — and my favorite to cite in discussions with Catholics on the subject — is Thomas L. Brodie, Catholic priest, co-founder and former director of the Dominican Bible Institute. Brodie had been building his case incrementally for decades without serious objection from the RCC until he wrote his conclusion for mythicism in his last book. Since then, he’s been removed from ministry and been forbidden to teach or write on the subject: a lesson on how the so-called Bible Guild polices its own.

  50. Jeffery
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I can understand why Xtian apologists and fundamentalists are quick to defend against any arguments casting doubts on the historicity of Jesus: if Jesus never existed, there was no resurrection and hence the entire foundation of Christianity is a lie!

    It’s interesting that such a relentless assault has been made against the theory of evolution, yet you don’t see much in the news (outside of the “learned circles”) regarding this, “Did Jesus Exist?” idea. The “defense” of the Garden of Eden story (manifested as an assault on anything that contradicts the myth), of course, is actually a defense of the literal truth of the Babble: if one part of the book can be proven wrong, perhaps the part concerning Jesus’ divinity is “guilty by association” as well?

    The question of Jesus’ existence remains low-key, I think, for two reasons:
    (1) They know that it’s going to be almost impossible to prove that Jesus DIDN’T exist; (2) to keep the fires of belief burning, all they have to do is pump out a book or article now and then that claims he was a real person, much as a defense lawyer only need raise a “reasonable doubt” in a jury.

  51. Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Reply to the reply:

    Yes, millions of Christians do care, but they already have their belief and it’s not predicated on what you or I think. The myth of Christ will never be more debunked than it is now, and that debunking means nothing to believing Christians. It’s only an obtuse argument that apologists like to get into; it’s right up there with number of angels on the head of a pin: no one is paying any attention. It’s not worth arguing the point with an apologist; just don’t let them take that ground; tell ’em it’s bullshit and they have to get more solid ground. Don’t legitimize the debate.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      “…will never be more debunked than it is now” – well, don’t we try to teach Science to every schoolkid? The most basic element of science is epistemology: what is evidence, what are facts? If people learn how to answer those questions at all, they can apply them to truth-claims in all areas of life, and religion is going to get even debunkeder.

  52. J Smith
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    This has gotten a lot of commentary. Probably a lot of this has been thoroughly covered but anyway….

    I honestly don’t think Jesus actually existed. But even if he did, most of what is said, written about him anyway from virgin births, miracles and rising from the dead is mythology anyway, so the Jesus of believers doesn’t exist anyway. Most of the figures in Genesis like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph etc. probably didn’t exist either, or reflect faint memories of ancient heroes. I think many historians doubt that Moses or even David existed. This is important as a historical matter, a kind of puzzle in a way. It matters in particular to Judaism, Christianity and Islam because their faith is tied to the existence of historical figures, in order, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. I’ve even heard there is some dispute as to whether Mohammed existed as well. To a religion like say, Buddhism, these historical figures don’t matter as much. To Buddhism, enlightenment is what counts, not the figure of the Buddha. Of course, that is not completely true, since there are forms of Buddhism, where the Buddha is treated almost like a god, Pure Land Buddhism.

    If a day comes when actual historians with the competence to judge, move the consensus that Jesus didn’t exist, it will hardly sway the faithful, except the more liberal ones perhaps. After all the documentary hypothesis, that the Pentateuch is a composite document with multiple authors, effectively refuting that Moses was the author, has been around almost as long as Darwinism, and has little effect on religion. The conservatives and true believers will just ignore it, like they ignore everything else.

  53. Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that there must have been some such figure as Jesus living in Palestine in the beginning of the first millennium. It’s not that the direct evidence for his existence is strong: there isn’t any. It is just that, if Jesus didn’t exist, it would seem very hard to explain the existence of Christianity and its early evolution as a faith.

    Without the Jesus actually existing in reality as a historical figure (however garbled the account of his life in various gospels), one has to resort to a conspiracy theory, or perhaps a series of incredible contradictions to explain how Christianity came to be. Secular critics like ourselves have to explain not merely the existence of the Gospels (which could easily exist without Jesus ever existing), but how the early Christian community came to exist and undergo its early evolution(s). It seems to me that the most likely explanation for this is that there was indeed some such person, living in ancient Palestine, around whom a community of spiritual followers formed a faith which became Christianity.

    Basically, it goes like this. Jesus lived in Jerusalem, and was an apocalyptic, the-end-is-nigh type of preacher, who are found everywhere throughout history. He preached of a kingdom to come for the Jews, which is the same as what is preached in the Jewish prophecies. He got a bunch of followers and declared himself king of the Jews. The Roman authorities viewed this as a threat and put him to death.

    His followers kept on believing that the end of the world was nigh, and went on preaching this same thing to other Jews around the region. But then… the world didn’t end. What was the community to do? They had to go on living, but the-end-is-nigh kind of religious belief doesn’t give you much to go on, so the religion changed. As Bart Ehrman puts it, Jesus’ preaching of end-times Judaism was transformed into preaching ABOUT Jesus. From a religion that Jesus proclaimed to a religion that proclaimed Jesus. That’s what the gospels and other “New” Testament books are for: to give the community moral and spiritual sustenance to stay together when end-times preaching didn’t give them what they needed.

    From there, Christianity became a runaway hit by declaring that membership in the community of One True God™ was not restricted to those descended from the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but open to anyone who would get baptized and make certain declarations.

    And that, in a nutshell, is the most plausible explanation as to how Christianity got started. Trying to explain all that, WITHOUT Jesus, seems to involve too much hand-waving. It’s not merely books that we’re arguing about here. It’s how a movement got started in the first place. They don’t started with mere books, they start with people.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Your argument can be applied equally well to conclude that every god ever worshipped must have an historical model.

      And, as for your conspiracy theory…you clearly haven’t read Lucian of Samosata’s Passing of Peregrinus, written in the second century, that establishes as fact exactly the fraud you so casually dismiss.

      http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/peregrinus.htm

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see that my argument above could be used to “conclude that every god ever worshipped must have an historical mode”, since my argument wasn’t intended to be conclusive. All I’m saying is that the existence of the gospels about Jesus, and the religion that grew up around an increasingly mythicized figure, is much more easily explained if there was a historical Jesus in the first place, than it would be if there wasn’t. If your position is that he never existed, how to explain the origins of Christianity?
        The Passing of Peregrines you linked above doesn’t prove anything.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          If your position is that he never existed, how to explain the origins of Christianity? The Passing of Peregrines you linked above doesn’t prove anything.

          If we take Lucian seriously, then Peregrinus inserted much Paganism into Christianity.

          If we take Justin Martyr seriously, then every biographical detail about Jesus has Pagan origins.

          Martyr even gives a very specific example of the Eucharist having come from Mithraism, and in 1 Corinthians 11 we see Paul insert the hitherto-unknown-to-the-Christians-in-Corinth Eucharist into Christianity in a manner exactly as described by Lucian. And let’s not forget: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the home port of the Cilician pirates who spread Mithraism in the second and first centuries BCE.

          Make a list of everything you could consider essential or even merely uniquely identifiable about Jesus. Now cross off that which Martyr or others reasonably identify as having a Pagan precedent. You’re left with absolutely nothing.

          Finally, compare Christianity with the aforementioned Mithraism, or with the cults of Osiris or Dionysus or Perseus or Bacchus or Orpheus or any of the others. Do you resort to historical figures to explain all of them, too? No?

          So, if you’re perfectly fine ascribing the origins of those cults to the typical stone soup mythical fabrication origins we all readily accept, what makes you think Christianity was so special that this one cult, out of all the wacko nutjob cults in human history, actually has a real basis to its foundation?

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Moroni? Xenu?

      We know they were made up, but each is the focus of a thriving religion.

      /@

      • Posted August 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Or, how ’bout Bacchus, Bellerophon on Pegasus, Mercury, Perseus, Mithra, or any of the many others Justin Martyr explicitly equated with Jesus? We know they were made up, too…but the Jesus who was an amalgam of this cast of fictional superheroes was himself somehow really real?

        b&

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

          Well, yes, but I was picking my examples as ones for which we know not only *that* they were made up but also by *whom*!

          /@

          • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

            True — we have much better documentation of the origins of the modern myths than the ancient ones.

            b&

      • Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        How do you know? You weren’t there…

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          I was, at least, alive when LRH made up “Xenu”!

          /@

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          This comment could well be a threadwinner. I love the snark, but it also gets to the heart of the matter with Jesus.

          I submit that any standard which reliably demonstrates the fictive origins of Xenu and Moroni will, when similarly applied to Jesus, also demonstrate him to be fiction.

          b&

  54. James Chalmers
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Jesus’s brief public career was mostly in a the rural regions of backwater province of the empire, visits (we’re not sure how many) to Jerusalem aside. There aren’t that many sources come down to us even about Julius Caesar. Who were the recorders of goings on in the Empire whom one would reasonably expect to have been trailing on apocalyptic preacher in the boonies and noting down what he was up to? What sort of paper trail could Jesus possibly have left for someone to come in later and gather up? Coyne says there should have been such a note taker. There in fact wasn’t, and why expect there would have been?

    Ignorance of detail. This fits Paul, but not a few important details, historical facts, about Jesus are to be found in Mark and in the double tradition first recorded in Matthew. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate, he was accused of pretending to be king of the Jews, he drew crowds not so much by the pungency of his teaching as by his success in exorcism and healing (of course this is in large part nonsense–but think of how successful spiritual healers are today and it’s easy to see how, among illiterates who knew nothing of bacteria and the circulatory system and epilepsy he could acquire a reputation for expelling demons–and believe it himself), Some of his sayings and teachings are of high literary quality and it’s not surprising they might have been remembered and orally transmitted. Crucially, of course, a handful of Jesus’s devoted followers after his ignominious execution came quickly to believe he had been raised from the dead. That opened the way to the founding of a new religion, one fundamentally diverging from the apocalyptic beliefs espoused by Jesus and many others in Palestine at the time.
    Anyway, there is a modicum of detail with historical value, as well as lot of legendary malarkey, recounted about Jesus in Mark and the double tradition.

    There is no eyewitness account of Jesus. His closest followers all or very many of them illiterate, and they expected his return as the harbinger of the Kingdom of God any day. Most couldn’t write, and those who could saw no reason to until it became evident the Kingdom wasn’t coming as soon as initially expected.
    But we do have the testimony of Paul writing twenty years or so after the crucifixion. Paul says he talked extensively with people who knew Jesus intimately, including his brother and Peter.

    Yes, the gospels are full of contradictions, some of them important (Luke’s serene Jesus as he faced the cross, Mark’s anguished and despairing), They’re also full of crap–demon-haunted herds of pigs leaping over cliffs, shriveled fig trees, walks on water, bread loves that reproduce themselves. Credulous people–as the first followers of Jesus and the early Christians surely were–believe lots of crap. But there’s also important solid historical evidence. Jesus created a ruckus in the temple when Jerusalem was a passover powder keg. (Fairly solid.) Jesus healed and exorcised. Jesus proclaimed the coming of he kingdom, as did John before him and Paul after. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate (nobody else had the authority). Jesus was charged with claiming to be king of the Jews. Jesus’s followers, some of them, came quickly to believe he’d been raised from the dead. (This belief was critical to the success of what was to become a new religion.)

    Many people who are well informed and highly intelligent interpret the evidence (yes, it all comes from believers till Josephus–what would you expect in this out of the way, in many ways isolated part of the world) that’s come down to us very differently. Well, duh. Many people who are well informed and highly intelligent insist global warming is some kind of hoax. Many believe Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him. The capacity to believe what’s preposterous and not to believe what’s obvious is very human and very deeply entrenched. Too bad so many of us atheists are discrediting our cause by joining the ranks of those who deny the obvious, the existence of the man who preached the coming of the kingdom so winsomely his followers couldn’t help but believe he hadn’t really died and would soon be vindicated, and embrace what anyone with a modicum of historical judgment rejects, another brand of the preposterous, mythicism.

    • eric
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Jesus created a ruckus in the temple when Jerusalem was a passover powder keg. (Fairly solid.) Jesus healed and exorcised. Jesus proclaimed the coming of he kingdom, as did John before him and Paul after. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate (nobody else had the authority).

      These are all NT claims, nothing more. How is any of this evidence?

      Your last parenthetical is a real howler. Whe some novelist writes a book about someone going to jail, I expect they’ll get the idea of a judge issuing the sentence right. That’s not evidence the story is true, it’s evidence the author has some minimal knowledge about how the local judicial system works.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      “Jesus’s …”.

      BZZT! Wrong, you are hereby excluded from further participation in this quiz contest!

      The question was whether or not a myth construction was corresponding to a real person in a testable sense. It was not a non-testable pattern search for confirmation of what you assume.

      So we can do two things:

      1. Ask for evidence of a historical person.
      2. Look at the statistical properties of myths.

      These yield evidence for “not (enough evidence for) a historical person” respectively “not a real person”.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Jesus’s brief public career was mostly in a the rural regions of backwater province of the empire, visits (we’re not sure how many) to Jerusalem aside.

      Except, of course, for the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the sermons preached in front of thousands of cheering admirers, the upheaval at the Temple, the bizarrely incomprehensible mockery of a trial by the Sanhedrin in the middle of the holiest holiday of the year, the way Jesus made Pilate into an utter ass — and that, of course, is long before we get to all the supernatural bits.

      There aren’t that many sources come down to us even about Julius Caesar.

      Bullshit. Purest bullshit.

      We’ve got Caesar’s own extensive autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul, for starters — and account that’s been repeatedly confirmed by archaeological digs. We’ve got letters he wrote and received, in many cases including both sides of the conversation, again confirmed by archaeological evidence. We’ve got other contemporary mentions, we’ve got detailed histories and biographies soon after and in every generation since. We’ve got buildings and roads and monuments and statues — hell, for about as much as you spend on a month’s rent / mortgage, you can buy for your very own collection a coin minted during his reign with his portrait on it.

      Who were the recorders of goings on in the Empire whom one would reasonably expect to have been trailing on apocalyptic preacher in the boonies and noting down what he was up to?

      The Dead Sea Scrolls, for starters — one of the greatest archaeological finds in all history, a copious library of the actual paper and parchment documents actually penned by actual millennialist Jews actually living in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after all this is supposed to have gone down. And they’re full of discussion of contemporary events of the same type as Jesus was interested in, as well as the prophecies he allegedly fulfilled. And not the slightest hint of anything remotely related to Jesus.

      Then we’ve got Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenized Jew who incorporated the Logos of John 1:1 into Judaism. He was related by marriage to the Herod Agrippa whom the Gospels describe as reigning at the time of the Crucifixion. He was a prolific author who mentioned all of his contemporaries who were even tangentially related. At the end of his life he was a diplomat who personally travelled to Rome to petition Caligula about the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans — and even a secular Jesus would have been the ultimate example of said mistreatment. Again, no mention of Jesus.

      And there’s Pliny the Elder, fascinated with all things supernatural…the Roman Satirists whose stock in trade was scandals of the type presented of the Sanhedrin and Pilate…and…and…and…

      …and that’s just the contemporaries! Expand that to the next generation or three, and the list grows exponentially, yet all are silent save for Christians and Pagans describing those wacky Christians and their bizarre beliefs.

      The rest of your screed is typical Christian apologetics (whether you yourself are Christian or not) that doesn’t even begin to make sense once this false foundation you’ve built upon is taken away, so I won’t bother addressing any of it.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • trou
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        Also, Nazareth didn’t exist at the time Jesus was supposedly living there.
        Read Rene Salm’s book or his blog.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted August 31, 2014 at 1:01 am | Permalink

        The Dead Sea Scrolls have “not the slightest hint of anything remotely related to Jesus” – unless you believe Barbara Thiering, who has a method she calls pesher (making shit up).

        • Posted August 31, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

          Maybe she can work interpretive dance into her methods? Inspired, of course, by a nice cup of loose-leaf tea, followed by the remains of a boned chicken….

          b&

    • Susan
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      There are places where you would expect to see Jesus mentioned. Herod had a biographer who should have mentioned him murdering baby boys, but didn’t. Contemporary accounts of Pilate’s time in Palestine don’t mention any itinerant preacher shutting down the city by riding in on a donkey or cleansing the temple.

      There are many places where the events of the gospels would have been mentioned, but were not.

      Historical figures like Julius Caesar are mentioned in multiple sources, including mentions by enemies and opponents.

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:35 am | Permalink

      Paul says he talked extensively with people who knew Jesus intimately, including his brother and Peter.

      No actually, he doesn’t. He never says that anyone he talked to had met an earthly Jesus. He shows no awareness at all of the concept “met an earthy Jesus”.

      Paul never, for example, distinguishes between those Christians who had met an earthly Jesus and those who had not. He never, for example, gives any special credit to anyone or their beliefs, owing to the fact that they had known an earthly Jesus.

      Indeed, he explicitly pulls rank and claims that *he* has the greatest authority, because *his* ideas come directly from Jesus — the road-to-damascus incident with a heavenly Jesus — which is a really weird thing to do if he thinks that others around had lived with an earthly Jesus for years.

      Where does Paul say that Peter had met an earthly Jesus? (Yes, there is the passage about Peter getting a post-resurrection vision akin to Paul’s own.)

      Yes, we’re aware of that one “Brother of the Lord” phrase, which can have all sorts of interpretations (given that “brother”, “sister”, “father” language was commonly used for fellow Christians then and now). But is that really it?

      • reasonshark
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:54 am | Permalink

        Well, there is 1 Corinthians 11, but…

        11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

        11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

        11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

        11:25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

        11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

        Judging from the other translations of 1 Corinthians 11:23, Paul really does mean that this one biographical tidbit about Jesus was divined through personal revelation, not from the disciples:

        https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Corinthians%2011:23

        And as I discussed elsewhere, Paul’s saying that James was the Lord’s brother is remarkably understated, given that this should make him a close eye-witness and a good source of biographical detail. Yet Paul spends more words talking about his argument with Peter over preaching to Jews and Gentiles, and seems to positively encourage revelation and “take my word for it or you’ll be damned” as valid conversion tactics.

        I’ve already said I’m agnostic-leaning-towards-mythicism, but at this point I have to wonder if the only case for a real apocalyptic executed preacher called Jesus with the son-of-God complex is as weak as the arguments for bigfoot.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          You’ve actually pointed out the smoking gun that proves that “Paul” invented much of what we “know” about Jesus.

          Yes, the sentence you’ve bolded is the Last Supper.

          But the passage as an whole is the Eucharist, in pretty much the exact same language as you’ll hear at Mass today.

          And we know from Martyr that the Christian Eucharist is an wholesale adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist.

          That’s not Jesus’s bread and blood Christians consume, but Mithra’s.

          See elsewhere in this thread for exact citations, quotes, links, etc., etc., etc.

          b&

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

            And we know from Martyr that the Christian Eucharist is an wholesale adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist.

            You’re joking, right? Justin (that’t the man’s name, not Martyr, which is an epithet) accuses the Mithraists of copying the eucharist from the Christians, not the other way around.

            Even if he had said what you claim he said, how in the world could Justin have possibly known what the secret rituals of the Mithra cult had been a century before he was writing? Even assuming he had some Mithraist informants, how would they have known? All they could have told him was current practices, not the practices of a century ago.

            But that’s not important. What is important is the Justin said the exact opposite of what you claim he said.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

              He attributed the imitation to the dame evil daemons who made Bacchus turn water into wine or Perseus be born of a Virgin or Mercury be the divine messenger or all the rest, all centuries before Jesus. And we know from Plutarch that the Mithraists were well-established and practicing their rituals at least a century before the Pauline Epistles were authored. Established religions didn’t steal their most sacred rites and beliefs from brand-new upstarts, but brand-new upstarts were all about stealing from their precedents.

              b&

  55. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Ask OJ Simpson. I am sure he could tell you if Jesus existed.

    The credulity of Jesus’ existence does not improve the veracity of any Christain claim. Christian mysticism is so deep, a ficticious leader is simply in the noise.

  56. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I’m very curious about whether the Jesus myth is based on a historical person.

    That is like asking whether the Santa Claus myth is based on a historical person. And quite obviously the answer is no, if we go by historical criteria. Paraphrasing Ben, ‘JC [the dictator] is historical, JC [the martyr] is not’.

    And it gets worse if you dig into the construction of the myths. The JC martyr persona is a riff of other myths, and purposefully set up to be self-fulfilled to boot. E.g. the Dead Sea scrolls’s diverse sectarian myths had some cases of those elements that asked for a magical prophecy fulfillment. And evidently those were picked for effect, or perhaps the effect picked them. (Selection among Dawkins’s memes.)

    So the question becomes, what would the likelihood be that a myth persona would be real, or based on a real person, be? Especially a conglomerate myth with a decidedly splintered history in, well, historical evidence.

    That is a statistical question over the set of myths, with a statistical answer: roughly 0. Especially for the subset of similar religious myths, all before the invention of the press, conspicuously with all (AFAIK) later being well known scam artists instead. Near enough 0 to correspond to a 3 or 5 sigma test at a guess.

    To quote The Authority once again:

    “[HISTORICAL PERSON]”?!? Mate, this [myth] wouldn’t “[impersonate]” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised! … ‘E’s passed on! This [myth] is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-[MYTH]!!”

    After all, many myths are based on historical people

    Claim in need of reference. The Cargo Cult example shows exactly the reverse, a historically unknown ‘originator’.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      You’re being too generous with the Santa Claus example. There is far more evidence for a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas"historical Santa Claus than there is for a historical Jesus. At least we have a man named Nicholas, who on occasion left gifts for people.

      The existence of Saint Nicholas is irrelevant to the claims about a bearded man who lives at the North Pole and flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer so he can leave gifts for people. The claim is absurd regardless of the existence of a man upon who these obvious mythical attributes were added.

      As ridiculous as these claims are, the claims that Jesus is a consubstantial being with another thing that can’t even be said to be a being and together this GoB/Being created everything ex nihilo is many orders of magnitude more ridiculous. Santa Claus is quite plausible in comparison, yet we find ourselves in a world where many people accept the Jesus claim and very few, if any, people accept the Santa claim beyond childhood.

  57. Cooperator
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Let’s be Bayesians for a minute. Consider the probability Jesus was a real person (J), given what the bible says (A) and that there is no other contemporary evidence (~B), i.e., we want P(J|A,~B). But I think that P(~B|A) is very close to 1, which means that P(J|A,~B) is almost the same as P(J|A).

    Here’s my thinking: Suppose Jesus was real and there was contemporary writing about him. Then surely that writing would contradict the biblical versions of what happened, and the early christians would have searched out and burned every last bit of it. There would be none left, nor a record of the purge (for obvious reasons). So the fact that there is no contemporary evidence around today does not really change the likelihood that he existed or didn’t exist.

  58. J Smith
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Another way to think about this is that science or any kind of rational viewpoint about the natural world was nonexistent, with the exception of the Greeks, and some the the practical engineering skills adopted by the Romans. There are other things here and there like the invention of mathematics by the Babylonians, and all kinds of other practical discoveries could be brought up as well.

    But by and large ancients, especially in Palestine lived essentially in the dark ages. It is hard to relate for example to all of the sacrificial rituals as spelled out in Leviticus. It has absolutely no meaning or sense to a modern person, even a fundamentalist. It is an utterly foreign world of savage superstition they lived in. Demonic possession is one of the most common motifs in the Gospels. Obviously this reflects the superstitious beliefs of the time. These people had virtually no knowledge whatsoever about the natural world, except practical matters like how to build buildings, plant crops and feed livestock. I’m skeptical that we can really fully understand the thought world they inhabited, nor do I think I would want to. I would be a world of fears, dominated by demons and judgmental gods, as well as eye for an eye frontier justice at minimum, like stoning kids to death for disobedience. For all we know, they may have envisioned the earth as a flat disk and the sky as a solid dome which god peered through from time to time.

    Once I read some of the journals of Columbus, and I was shocked by the rampant superstitious nature of beliefs even in his day.

    Of course lots of superstitions persist to this day, but it’s hard to imagine how one would inhabit a world in which virtually nothing was known about the natural world, which is the world of the Bible. I don’t blame them for their superstitions, they couldn’t know better. I don’t necessary blame modern fundamentalist superstition, particularly if they were raised in it, and have no exposure to outside ideas. But when exposed, reason should prevail and not adopt the views of superstitious people who couldn’t have known better.

  59. Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I looked into this a while back and came to the conclusion that the majority opinion (Jesus existed) is probably correct. Main reasons are:

    – As you look further back into the earliest sources (Paul, Mark, Q) you find a LESS mythologized Jesus.

    – Mythicists have failed to provide a satisfactory account of the data (the above, for example).

    As an atheist, I find it kind of embarrassing, actually. Denying the existence of Jesus when nearly all the experts (historians, Biblical scholars) accept it is uncomfortably similar to being a climate change denier, or evolution denier. If you haven’t investigated the evidence in detail, why do you think your opinion is superior to the experts’?

    My take on it here:
    http://mysite.verizon.net/vze12av71/id4.html.

    • Daryl
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      There’s a less mythologised Jesus in Paul? I’ve not heard that one before. Jesus in the epistles is basically a voice in the sky that has “revealed” himself to Paul. Seems very mythologised to me.

      Mark still contains a highly mythological Jesus. See my comment below (sorry, it’s a bit long).

      Q might be the best argument for a historical Jesus, but it is still a hypothetical document (there are arguments that it never existed: see Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q).Even if it did exist (as an amateur bible scholar I still tentatively accept it did) it might have simply been a collection of sayings that was doing the rounds. There’s not much in it that hadn’t already been said by Cynic and Stoic philosophers of the time. It doesn’t necessarily go back to the same person.

      An uncritical appeal to the majority in this area of study is dangerous. There’s an awful lot of motivated reasoning going on, even among non-fundamentalist sections of scholarship. It’s a poor comparison you make with climate research and evolutionary biology. These disciplines have solid empirical evidence to back them up. Historical Jesus studies have nothing like the same level of rigorous methodology and certitude of conclusions.

    • reasonshark
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      According to Paul, Jesus is the son of God, born from a mortal sinner woman and taking on human form to fulfil prophecy and reverse Adam’s fall by conquering death and becoming a spiritual body; he set up the Eucharist as a sort-of ritual cannibal feast; was crucified (possibly by Jews) and buried before rising from the dead on the third day; resurrection appeared as a spiritual vision to Peter/Cephas, 500 people, James the Just, the other apostles, and finally Paul, who is subsequently the only one to actually write anything.

      Oh yes, this is the less mythologized version of Jesus, all right. You can tell by the abundance and specificity of possible and credible biographical detail, such as:

      – he was born

      – he had a dinner with his followers that explains the ritual they subsequently follow

      – he got crucified

      Paul himself knew this, by his own admission, thanks to a time-honoured technique of historians called a mystical vision. He also claims to have met people who had similar visions and claim to be the Lord’s followers, so clearly he was getting the insider’s exclusive.

      And as for that unaccountable data on par with evolution and climate change, let’s not forget that this vision business was the standard way of proving one’s bona fides as a Christian in the day, again according to Paul’s own account. Let’s not also forget that other convincing tool of conversion Paul recommended: that one should approach particularly the poor, the unwise, and the less rigid Jewish, and convert them with the Pascal-Wager-esque logic that, if you don’t believe the story being told to you, you’re screwed when the apocalypse comes. Five hundred people and then their converted, some of whom died since and some of whom became a bit restless over this, can’t all be wrong about the existence of some person they never met and probably only ever saw through mystical visions, or else we’d have to conclude the worst about at least some of humanity during that time. Well, that’s practically no-nonsense modern science in its reliability, isn’t it?

      • reasonshark
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes, and James the Just is said to be “the Lord’s brother” by Paul a grand total of once in a throwaway line, while James himself gets a couple more background mentions as indistinguishable from the other disciples.

        Because why would Paul say that if there wasn’t a James, or if he wasn’t really a brother of a real Jesus? He wouldn’t lie or be delusionally gullible. It also doesn’t account for the huge amount of doctrine and clarifications Paul wrote about, which he either got in his vision or from the others who had their visions or claimed to be his disciples. It’s not like he or the others could have made stuff up, through delusion or mischief.

        So let me add that to the compellingly rich biography of Paul’s Jesus, shorn of the supernatural bits:

        – He was born

        – He had a dinner that explains the “origin” of a religious ritual

        – He preached apocalypse, which all explains what Peter and the others were, at best, gullible enough to end up preaching (assuming of course that this wasn’t something Paul got solely through the visions)

        – He was executed

        – He had a vision-prone brother

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        According to Paul, Jesus is the son of God, born from a mortal sinner woman

        Most of the rest of your analysis is reasonable, but I’m certain Paul never made any mention of Mary or the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. I think there might be mention that he’s of the line of David, but I can’t remember if that’s in one of the authentic or pseudoepigraphical epistles. That, and I’m certain nothing in the New Testament describes Mary as a sinner, and I don’t think any unambiguous statements exist as to her mortality.

        b&

        • reasonshark
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          It’s an incredibly brief and barely there mention in Galatians 4:

          4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

          4:5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

          The “made under the law” bit makes me think it means “in sin”, since humanity was supposed to be “in thrall” under the law as a result of its fall until Christ lifted the sin, or some such obfuscation.

          It’s not much to go on, and Mary or any family members except for James were certainly not identified in Paul’s letters at all, clearly being later inventions. It’s no more than Paul saying Jesus took on human form just to properly “die” and shed his fleshly form for a heavenly one.

          All this really shows is that Paul, on the rare occasions he makes a feint towards biographical detail, can’t rise above the minimum that’s necessary to license pages and pages of mystical hogwash.

          Seriously, every letter is about proper believer behaviour, anti-wealth and anti-intellectual sermons, the metaphysics of the apocalypse, why preaching to Gentiles and Jews are OK, why persecution is actually a good thing, and what believers should do about the doubters and heretics in their midst. Finding the lines that make even some stupidly basic attempt at describing what could be called a realistic Jesus is like trying to find a Tyrannosaur skeleton’s anatomical details in a Barney the Dinosaur colouring book.

          • Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for that. As you note, it’s not really much of anything to go on. Indeed, if anything, it’s quite damning…how could he make mention to Jesus’s mother and his birth but not her virginity and the nature of his conception? Clearly, Paul’s Jesus bore no semblance to the Jesus of the Gospels or of today’s popular Jesus.

            b&

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

              The Catholic Church has traditionally, and now I believe infallibly, held that Mary was sinless and went to Heaven without dying. Just another routine violation of the conservation of energy, but who’s counting at this point?

              Anyway, there are Bible verses Catholics use to justify claiming Mary was sinless. I find this one particularly interesting. “Without the proper faculties to enable them to sin, children before the age of accountability and anyone who does not have the use of his intellect and will cannot sin. So, there are and have been millions of exceptions to Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8.”

              This opens up the door to all sorts of interesting thought experiments revolving around why in the world we’d ever want anyone to live past the age of 7. But, when your livelihood is centered upon making shit up, it just tends to get piled higher and deeper.

              • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

                …it also rather implies that Mary couldn’t possibly have had the use of her intellect, else how could she have avoided sin?

                (I’m sure there’s a theological answer to that, though I rather suspect it involves a penguin viciously attacking one’s knuckles with a ruler.)

                b&

        • reasonshark
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Also, there’s a brief mention of Jesus being of the “seed of David” in Romans 1:3, but honestly, Paul is barely trying. That’s the only mention in the authentic letters that I can find:

          1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

          1:2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

          1:3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

          1:4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

          • reasonshark
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            How Paul could possibly know this is the question, which is why I don’t include “was a descendant of David” in my list of realistic biographical claims made by Paul.

            Also, sorry about the deluge of posts, but I keep thinking of points right after I think I’ve said what needed to be said.

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      As you look further back into the earliest sources (Paul, Mark, Q) you find a LESS mythologized Jesus.

      Really? First, how exactly do we look back into Q when, even if it did exist, we have no copy of it?

      In Paul, Jesus is *only* a heavenly being, appearing in visions. Paul never mentions all of the supposed earthly episodes that are in the later gospels.

      In Mark, there is much less normal-human stuff about Jesus (like him being born) than in the later gospels.

    • Posted August 31, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      These comments precisely illustrate what makes me embarrassed to call myself a skeptic.

      Yes, uncritical acceptance of the majority view is a bad idea. But if you followed my link, you can see that when I say I looked into this, I mean I read extensively in the scholarly literature, I didn’t just glance over someone’s website.

      Uncritical REJECTION of the majority view, without understanding the arguments that led to that view, is exactly what creationists are guilty of. Have you understood the basics of form criticism? Do you know the arguments for Marcan priority? Do you understand the arguments for and against Q? Do you know why some of Paul’s letters are considered authentic and others are not?

      If a creationist started arguing against evolution while showing a complete lack of understanding of the theory, you would probably jump down his throat. Think about that before you start spouting off about a subject you know little about.

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        I would urge you to read Carrier’s books on the subject. The first “Proving History” evaluates the methodology used in “Historical Jesus Studies” and finds it invalid. Then he examines the question of what methods one could use to address the question of the historicity of Jesus, and proposes a methodology based on Baye’s theorem.

        The point is that expert consensus in scientific fields, such as evolutionary biology, is much more trustworthy than consensus in the field of “Historical Jesus Studies”. In the former there is a proven valid methodology, in the latter there is not. This is evident for example, from the fact that using that methodology different scholars starting with the same data arrive at wildely different reconstructions of the the historical Jesus. Valid methodologies don’t do that.

        Furthermore, the question of the existence of Jesus has not been extensively studied per se. Scholars in the field take that for granted, it’s an underlying assumption upon which they built. The methodologies they have devised, such as they are, are not even designed to address that question, but rather to find what they can about the Historical Jesus, assuming his existence. In fact, the central question in “Proving History” is “what historical methods could be used to prove the existence of a person?”.

        In his second book, “On the Historicity of Jesus” Carrier employs the methodology developed in the first book to the specific question of the existence of a historical Jesus. His final conclusion, in page 606, is that the probabiltiy that Jesus existed as a historical figure is between 0% and 33%.

        I did look at the link you provided. Clearly you’ve spent substantial time researching this, but I noticed that your latest reference is from 2008. Things have changed somewhat since then. For example that Q existed is still the consensus but that position has lost substantial graound.

        I’m also an amateur (in both senses of the word) on the subject of ancient history but I think that you don’t need to be an expert to analyze the logical structure of the arguments and/or the methodology used in a particular field. I’m a mathematician by training and I think my training allows me to spot logical inconsistencies in theories.

  60. JimV
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    “There are no contemporary accounts of his presence and deeds, though there should have been some given the number of people who were writing then in that area of the Middle East, and the remarkable character of Jesus’s deeds. (This includes the earthquakes, renting of the Temple, and arising of zombie saints from their graves during the Crucifixion.)”

    This is an argument against the myths that been attributed to Jesus (as myths have been attributed to Alexander the Great, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and many other historical figures – see for example Plutarch on the cosmological signs that occurred on the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination), not against Jesus as a historical person. No such records would be expected of a charismatic, itinerant preacher who:

    Told people about to stone a sinner, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Told the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Pharisee.

    Told rich people that extreme wealth inequality is bad for a society (to put it in modern terms).

    Told people that all they needed to know from the Old Testament was the Ten Commandments, but in addition they should love their neighbors.

    Preached the Sermon on the Mount (the loaves and fishes might have happened – some people brought food, others didn’t; those who did didn’t want to give it all up, but when baskets were passed with food in them, added what they could spare).

    Ben Goren to the contrary, I know of no legends of pagan gods which parallel these stories about Jesus; there are of course pagan parallels to the myths (water into wine, etc.), for obvious reasons.

    Such actions could, it seems to me, inspire a cult. History records that such a cult did exist. It must have had a founder who espoused the rather unique philosophy described in the above stories. Why not one named Jesus?

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      or Paul?

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Paul’s silence about Jesus’s biography isn’t even the most damning omission on his part for the historicists. He repeatedly passes up perfect opportunities to quote Jesus for rhetorical effect, often instead going for tortured interpretations of Jewish scripture. It’s as if Paul knew nothing of any of Jesus’s famous sermons or sayings — which, indeed, Paul really was ignorant of, as that part of the story hadn’t yet been added to the stone soup.

        b&

        • JimV
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          The Christianity cult existed before Paul became a convert – unless you believe all his letters to various established churches were all made up. To think that all of Paul’s writings were part of a conspiracy to establish a radical cult which was scorned at the time because it repudiated the established cults is a bridge way too far for me. The various conspiracy theories about Obama are based on the same premise: all the records which contradict your thesis are lies. With that assumption, you are free to believe or disbelieve anything.

          To me, the believable stories I cited about Jesus and the writings of Paul have two separate and distinct voices, with the former being much more charismatic than the latter.
          The fact that Paul himself does not sound at all like the Jesus in those stories I mentioned is further evidence to me that Paul was not the founder. (And may not even have heard all of those stories himself.)

          This cult had a founder – who was it? If you ask the Mormons, the Branch Davidians (if there are any left), or the Moonies, they will tell you who their founder was – along with a lot of false information – but one thing they have no reason to exaggerate is the name their founder used.

          It is fair to counter the myths and false beliefs of Christianity with historical facts. It is not productive to insist dogmatically that no such person as the Jesus of the stories I mentioned ever existed because it sounds very much like an all-encompassing conspiracy theory and will allow believers to classify atheists as such theorists and ignore their better arguments.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

            The Christianity cult existed before Paul became a convert – unless you believe all his letters to various established churches were all made up. To think that all of Paul’s writings were part of a conspiracy to establish a radical cult which was scorned at the time because it repudiated the established cults is a bridge way too far for me.

            I clearly haven’t explained my position well enough.

            There was an extant religious cult before “Paul” (see discussion with Ian elsewhere in this thread for the scare quotes) came on the scene. Jesus Christ, in whatever form, was clearly the central figure of that cult.

            Equally clearly, that cult didn’t much resemble modern Christianity. And, just as clearly, Paul was responsible for inventing essential elements of modern Christianity — especially the Eucharist.

            And, very important, about half of the Epistles are unquestionably pseudoepigraphical, and the other half have very questionable provenance; Paul could have been a single individual as original author or a later editor who unified the works of others or any of a number of other variations. Regardless, motives can reasonably be considered varied and limited in scope to the particular passage. Still, it’s safe to suggest that “Paul”‘s motivations were some mixture of sincere belief, those of a con artist looking to ingratiate himself with the gullible Christians, and that sort of thing. Certainly, there wasn’t any big-government conspiracy to discredit Christianity from within.

            The scorn didn’t come until a number of generations later, when Christianity grew big enough for Pagans to notice. The Pagans ridiculed the Christians for badly ripping off Paganism; Christians responded that it was the Pagans who stole from the Christians — never mind that that makes no sense.

            But that passage in 1 Corinthians 11 shows a perfect example of the kind of early syncretism that Christians were denying at a later date.

            Does that help?

            b&

  61. Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I hope Coyne doesn’t take a lot of these comments too seriously, as many biblical scholars wouldn’t.

    One thing I find strikingly odd, is that if Jesus had never lived, how did no one pick up on this? Not one Jewish or Pagan opponent ever accused Jesus of being non-historical. Seeing as the movement started in Judea, how is it that no Jew caught wind of this? Surely that would have been a slam dunk case against Jesus’s historical doings had that been true. I would think that the rough integration of Gentiles, the conflict in the Gospel accounts, multiple and independent attestation, etc., all add weight to his historicity

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      The earliest Gospel was written after the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 CE — and it was written by somebody clearly far enough separated in both time and space from those events to horribly bungle basic facts about it. Considering that ancient standards of evidence, especially in religious / spiritual matters, were far shy of today’s, along with the very slow initial spread of Christianity and the general wackiness of all religions of that era, it’s not at all surprising that none of the already-generations-late authors thought to question any of it.

      Contradictions in the Gospels don’t lend credence to historicity. They can’t even agree on what year this is all supposed to have gone down.

      And there simply aren’t multiple independent accounts; Matthew and Luke copy copiously from Mark, and John is much later. At best, you’ve got two quasi-independent accounts: Paul and Mark — but Paul is notably lacking in biography and full of fantasy and outright fabrication (most notably including the Last Supper / Eucharist). And Mark is that Gospel author who couldn’t even get his basic history right.

      I suppose you could go the “multiple independent accounts” route if you wanted to expand to the heretical Gospels…such as Marcion’s in which Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin but instead beamed down from the heavens like Kirk…or the Ophites for whom Jesus was some sort of snake god…but that doesn’t really do much for the historicist argument, either….

      b&

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Your statement ignores a slew of other traditions and the fact that Paul was the first author of anything Jesus related, and he was writing 20 years after the traditional date of Jesus’s death. Mythers have to work hard to turn clear historical references to Jesus in Paul’s letters(Davidic descent, borne of a woman, Paul’s association with Jesus’s closest disciple in Peter and brother James, etc.)into celestial ones based on flimsy evidence (e.g. Philo’s Jesus reference).

        “Considering that ancient standards of evidence, especially in religious / spiritual matters, were far shy of today’s, along with the very slow initial spread of Christianity and the general wackiness of all religions of that era, it’s not at all surprising that none of the already-generations-late authors thought to question any of it.”

        That isn’t very convincing. Christianity was persecuted in its earliest stages and it seems almost unthinkable that a persecutor or opponent wouldn’t have picked up on it.

        From your statement it seems even Christians somehow forgot about Jesus’s celestial beginning.

        “ancient standards of evidence, especially in religious / spiritual matters, were far shy of today’s”.

        As were the standards of historical study. Historians frequently got things wrong, therefore should we hold the Gospel authors/redactors (who were not historians)to the same standards? It’s really no surprise that they got things wrong. With that in mind, it is striking that Jesus is re-worked by later authors. For instance, Mark says Jesus goes to the river Jordan to be baptized in repentance of sins, a story edited later for obvious reasons. The same goes with Luke and Matthew’s different ways of getting Jesus to Bethlehem where the awaited messiah (not a celestial messiah) was to be from. There are other examples as well. Had these people created a messiah out of thin air, you would think they would have gotten basic messianic features correct and not ended the story with a crucifixion, something viewed as a curse from Yahweh (Deut. 21:23).

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          Let me make sure I’ve got your thesis straight. The Gospel authors were incompetent historians by modern standards and the Gospels themselves represent unreliable and shoddy work full of fabrication…

          …ergo their central thesis that Jesus was really real is totally trustworthy.

          Might I interest you in some prime Arizona oceanfront property for pennies on the dollar? No need to inspect it for yourself; trust me, it’s a golden development opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance that you’ll never forgive yourself for if you pass it up.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • marvol19
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

            Hey, I read about these seafront properties!

            Except they were in Nevada when I read about them. But that only makes it more likely they really exist, right?

    • Cooperator
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Maybe lots of folks picked up on it, but their writings were systematically tracked down and destroyed by early christians.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        That theory doesn’t work. We’ve got lots of actual contemporary records where Jesus’s antics of any sort couldn’t possibly have gone missing, yet there’s no mention of him. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, several of the Roman Satirists, lots more. Expand that to near-contemporaries and the silence is deafening.

        b&

      • Susan
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        The early christians kept every historical mention of jesus. You will see these listed by christians with great reverence.

        Example: Lucian – Second Century

        When you actually read what Lucian wrote, here is the “PROOF” he provides to support the truth christianity:

        “The poor fools have persuaded themselves above all that they are immortal and will live forever, from which it follows that they despise death and many of them willingly undergo imprisonment. Moreover, their first lawgiver taught them that they are all brothers of one another, when once they have sinned by denying the Greek gods, and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws. So, they despise all things equally and regard them as common property, accepting such teaching without any sort of clear proof. Accordingly, if any quack or trickster, who can press his advantage, comes among them he can acquire great wealth in a very short time by imposing on simple-minded people.”

        From the time of early christians to today, this is held up as one of the proofs of the existence and truth of Jesus.

        Great gob help us.

    • trou
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      “Not one Jewish or Pagan opponent ever accused Jesus of being non-historical.”

      Take a look at this quote an think again.

      “Docetists were the mythicists of early Christian times—and they were everywhere. Docetists did not believe that Jesus had a fleshly body. This is exactly what today’s Jesus mythicists maintain!” – R. Salm

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 2:01 am | Permalink

      One thing I find strikingly odd, is that if Jesus had never lived, how did no one pick up on this?

      When did Christians first believe that a real earthly Jesus had lived? When is the first clear and unambiguous evidence for this? It’s possible that Mark was written as an allegory about Christianity, storifying what had previously been a heavenly god. In which case it could have been AD 130 or so before Christians believed in an earthly life of Jesus, and that is too long after the supposed events to “pick up on”.

      the conflict in the Gospel accounts,

      How does that help? Sects based on heavenly gods can have squabbles just as easily.

      multiple and independent attestation, etc.

      You do not have independent attestation of an earthly Jesus living as a human, all you have is Mark and later embellishments on it.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Well that’s not a very strong argument in the sense that we don’t know what the opponents of Christians said. Once Christians took state power they actively destroyed almost all books that argued against them. They didn’t even preserve any books by other Christians that disagreed with them. All evidence we have about such works comes from those that debated them.

      And there are some indirect evidence that some sects of Christians did believe that Jesus was only a heavenly being.

      I am not sure about this but I think that there are hints that Porphyry may have doubted the existence of a historical Jesus in his (surprise surprise) lost book against Christians. Can’t find the reference right now so I may be wrong.

      • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        And there are some indirect evidence that some sects of Christians did believe that Jesus was only a heavenly being.

        Indirect, hell. It’s right there in the Bible!

        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.”

        …then there’re all the gnostics, especially the docetists. Not hidden at all! Just slaughtered, mostly….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

          Right. The second epistle of John is what I had in mind mostly. I just said indirect because we don’t have anything surviving from those “antichrists” just references to them.

          I wish I could remember where I came across to that remark about Porphyry. Apparently his criticism of Christianity was so devastating that even it’s refutations by Christians have not survived.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

            I just said indirect because we don’t have anything surviving from those “antichrists” just references to them.

            ???

            There’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to them:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnostic_texts

            b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted August 31, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

              Ben, please read carefully what I said. We know about the gnostics, the docetics and the other heretics by what the proto-orthodox Christians say about them. We don’t have any work by them surviving. Actually very few Christian works from the first century C.E. have survived. That’s one of the factors that makes it very hard for historians to tell what really happened with a high degree of certainty.

              So I’m saying: We have indirect evidence that some Christians were saying that the Gospel stories about a historical Jesus were made up. Indirect in the sense that we don’t have the actual works by those that were saying that, but references to those works. And yes those references are in the Bible, but that does not make them direct evidence, at least not in the sense I was using the word.

              Here is a partial list of references in the New Testament that hint about other Christians saying that the stories about Jesus in Earth is bullshit. This is from Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus”, the quotes are from the King James version:

              In the second epistle of Peter:

              2 Peter 1:16

              For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

              2 Peter 2:1

              But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

              2 Peter 3.15-17

              And account that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.

              In the first epistle to Timothy:

              1 Timothy 1:3-4

              As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

              1 Timothy 4.6-7

              If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

              In the second epistle to Timothy:

              2 Timothy 4.3-4

              For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

              In the first epistle of John:

              1 John 1.1-3:

              That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

              The author doth protest too much.

              1 John 4.1-3

              Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

              The second epistle of John:

              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.

              Notice that all the above come from second century forgeries. So they are not strictly speaking testimony that there was disbelief about the Gospels when they were written. Surely though they’re hints that probably even in the first century there were those that believed that the stories about Jesus were “old wives’ fables”. The consensus dating for Mark, the chronologically first Gospel, is around the middle of the second half of the first century.

              Extrabiblically, in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho 8.4 we find the (fictional) Jew Trypho saying:

              But the Christ, if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere, is unknown, and doesn’t even yet know himself, and has no power until Elijah comes to annoint him, and make him appear to all. But you, on the base of groundless hearsay, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake you are now irresponsibly doomed.

              So even though we can’t expect the writings of any of the gainsayers to have survived we have enough hints to suspect that there were some.

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

                Erm…you need to spend some time at that Wikipedia page. The state of the art of archaeology has clearly advanced since you last looked at it. Many ancient texts have been discovered, such as at Nag Hammadi, which date to the same period as any of the oldest copies of Christian texts (and, indeed, are found alongside each other).

                Your Biblical texts are all great to use to demonstrate to Bible-believing Christians that this isn’t some lunatic fringe wacko conspiracy theory, but, if you want to get an idea of what the heretics actually thought, why not read what they actually wrote?

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted August 31, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                I know about the Nag Hammadi texts. You’re right we do have some early works from heretics. I don’t know how early these works are though. The gospel of Thomas is quite early I think, but I don’t kow about the rest.

                In the context of the thread though, do any of these contain direct refutations of the Gospel stories? I mean does any of these texts is saying that the story of the canonical gospels is bullshit and Jesus never existed as a flesh-and-bones eartlhy man? These are not rhetorical questions, I don’t know the answer.

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                We’re now getting a bit outside my area of (amateur) expertise, but I do believe that, at the very least, the Sophia should satisfy your curiosity:

                http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/sjc.html

                Also, if you read through the others, you’ll find a common theme of them relating stories about Jesus and the disciples that are utterly unfamiliar. If nothing else, one is left wondering how the canonical authors could have failed to have made mention of them were they real, or else how the heretics could have reasonably fabricated them otherwise. The latter makes sense in a diabolical conspiracy led by Satan, or else if Jesus was a syncretic Pagan demigod with different people and factions arguing for the supremacy of their own vision of him.

                b&

  62. Daryl
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s something analogous going on in the study of the historical David. Most non-fundamentalists scholars accept that the size and grandeur of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdom is exaggerated. Therefore they seek to chop the biblical narrative down quite a bit and say David did exist but not in the way depicted in the bible. David becomes something like a minor chieftain of a small unimportant kingdom. This on the face of it seems a reasonable method, but it’s something that’s been done in earlier scholarship to the stories of the Exodus and the conquests of Canaan, and today most critical scholars see those events as entirely mythical. A minority of scholars see the story of David in the same way: it’s turtles all the way down.

    Jesus scholars are doing a similar thing. They are drastically rewriting the gospel stories to make them seem historically plausible. They are paraphrasing and rationalising an ancient text full of implausible and absurd things in the quest to get at what they think is a historical kernel. So scholars end up with a Jesus who was an apocalyptic preacher, which is entirely plausible given what we know about 1st century Palestine. But this is NOT what you get from the gospel narrative. There, even in their most primitive form (Mark) you’re presented with an extraordinary god-man who heals the sick, cures blindness with spit and mud, walks on water, casts out demons, withers fig trees with a spoken command, cleanses a temple that was acres in size and knows the future of his death and subsequent resurrection. You have to throw a huge amount away (stuff that is integral to the whole story – the reason why they were written in the first place) to get to that supposed kernel. You’re basically writing a new narrative. It’s not necessarily a good way to do history.

    There’s a case to be made that those who doubt the existence of Jesus (and David) are treating the bible documents with more care than those who seek to mine them for nuggets of historical gold. People like Robert Price, Earl Doherty, Thomas L. Thompson and Philip Davies seem far more concerned to meet the ancient texts and accept what they are: artefacts from a vastly different culture that held vastly different ideas about what was important and what was possible in a world where God, angels and demons were thought to freely interact with human beings.

    In the end it’s very difficult to saying whether something is an exaggeration of real events or is entirely legendary. What you really need is good contemporary evidence OUTSIDE the particular narratives that mention the people in question and talk about them in normal profane ways. People like Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus have this, even though a lot of what we know about them is of a legendary and mythical character (virgin births, etc). With Jesus and David this is lacking. There’s little contemporary attestation for these individuals, and when some notice eventually does come it’s either dubious or frustratingly ambiguous (Josephus, Tacitus, the Tel Dan inscription, etc.)

  63. M Janello
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Something that has been mentioned here in several comments is the weakness of the arguments in favor of religious claims (Jerry’s descriptions of the ‘best’ arguments in ‘sophisticated theology’ come to mind).

    There was an apologist trope going around (I’m sure it still is) about how there is more evidence for Jesus than for Tiberius (I’ve seen this for Julius Caesar too, as mentioned above).

    Here:

    http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/ten-reasons-to-reject-the-apologetic-1042-source-slogan/

    is a great article about one of these tropes (THERE ARE 42 MENTIONS OF JESUS AND ONLY 10 OF TIBERIUS WOWEEE ZOWEEE), and it is nicely dissected therein.

  64. Jimbo
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “There are no contemporary accounts of his presence and deeds, though there should have been some given the number of people who were writing then in that area of the Middle East, and the remarkable character of Jesus’s deeds. (This includes the earthquakes, renting of the Temple, and arising of zombie saints from their graves during the Crucifixion.)”

    Exactly! Can you imagine ANY Roman with a scrap of papyrus lying around NOT writing about the earthquake or about the opening of graves and dead people walking about?

  65. James Chalmers
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    The argument presented regarding Philo, Pliny, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and others fascinated by the news of itinerant preachers in Galilee is of a “just-must” type.
    “Given the position of the author(s) and the sorts of things he or they generally wrote about, it just must be the case that (a) they’d have heard things about Jesus, and (b) written about them because (c) they wrote about other things of the same sort.”
    Now Jesus was, as a matter of historical fact, an apocalyptic preacher/exorcist. Apocalyptic preachers weren’t a rarity in first-century Palestine or the wider region, and we know one of them well—Paul. And we know a fair amount about another, John the Baptizer. And we know of others as well, such as Theudas and the Egyptian. So drop “just must,” and instead, look and see. If it just must be the case that Jesus would have been known of and written about by X, then there’d be evidence—the evidence being, that they did write about other apocalyptic preachers, ideally from the region of Galilee or maybe Judea as well. That is, “sort of thing they were interested in and wrote about” can and should be more precisely defined, and then evidence of it turning up can be detected.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Now Jesus was, as a matter of historical fact, an apocalyptic preacher/exorcist.

      Got any evidence to support the claim that Jesus was as you describe and no more and no less?

      No, of course you don’t.

      Anything that describes him as you just did also described him as the human incarnation of the creative divine force that Spoke existence into being, and whose earthly tenure was the most spectacular magical mystery tour in all of human history — complete with hordes of zombies dancing in the streets of Jerusalem.

      So backtrack a bit: got any rational evidence-backed way to keep just the bits you want to keep and discard all that inconvenient other stuff? And, in so doing, avoid instantiating Osiris, Dionysus, Krishna, and Quetzalcoatl as real historical figures as well?

      No, of course you don’t — and, this time, you’re really up the creek.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • James Chalmers
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        As you know and imply, of course I can cite lots of evidence from Matthew, from Mark 1, 9, passim and from Paul (I Thes. 4) that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. But you say also I may not cite this evidence, that its probative value is negated, because other things said about Jesus by Paul and by Mark and Matthew, aren’t true, and because some of what’s said about Jesus resembles Greek myths, mere fairy tales, of various sorts, and because in your view all everything said in Paul’s authentic letters and in Mark and in Matthew is without evidentiary value. I agree that much of what’s ascribed to and said about Jesus is false. But I see no reason to doubt that Paul did what he says he did in Galatians 2. Nor do I doubt that some of the reports relied upon by “Matthew” and “Mark” trace back to people who knew the historical Jesus. The aim of ordinary historical methods is to separate wheat from chaff. To put wheat where only chaff belongs is itself an error and acting against truth and what seeking it requires, as Lamar Hankins has also suggested.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          Nor do I doubt that some of the reports relied upon by “Matthew” and “Mark” trace back to people who knew the historical Jesus.

          You may have no doubt, but you also have no evidence. Worse, the evidence in Paul flatly contradicts the “reports” you so naïvely rely upon in the Gospels.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • James Chalmers
            Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

            Jesus was reputed to perform exorcisms.
            Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom.
            On what basis would one dispute these statements about Jesus? Are they implausible? Why should we believe Mark was mistaken in believing them?
            And where does Paul contradict them?

            • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

              Those same texts that make the claims you just repeated also claim that Jesus was a necromonger who zombified himself, and that he had a penchant for having his thralls grope his guts through a gaping chest wound.

              …”facts” about Jesus which, along with the exorcisms you mention, despite their astonishing nature and unquestionably earth-shattering significance, managed to either completely escape Paul’s notice or not at all impress him.

              b&

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted August 29, 2014 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

                …”facts” about Jesus which, along with the exorcisms you mention, despite their astonishing nature and unquestionably earth-shattering significance, managed to either completely escape Paul’s notice or not at all impress him.

                Paul was not much interested in Jesus’s life; he mentioned virtually nothing about what Jesus did when alive. What mattered to Paul was Jesus’s death and (alleged) resurrection.

                I would also point out that what is astonishing to us was not necessarily astonishing to the people of the first century. They believed lots of stuff that we, with good reason, now reject, such as demons and miracles.

              • Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                …combining responses to several of your replies into one…

                Paul was not much interested in Jesus’s life; he mentioned virtually nothing about what Jesus did when alive.

                Standard apologetic bullshit. It only makes sense if the New Testament was authored from the beginning by a committee with orders from an executive director, rather than the anthology even Christians brag about it being, and it fails to account for, for example, how often Paul bypassed a perfect quote from Jesus in favor of a very flawed quote from Hebrew scripture.

                I would also point out that what is astonishing to us was not necessarily astonishing to the people of the first century. They believed lots of stuff that we, with good reason, now reject, such as demons and miracles.

                Right. They’re unreliable witnesses. Which means that we can’t rely upon them — yet that’s exactly what you insist on doing.

                You have a vivid imagination. Which power brokers did Jesus “rub shoulders” with?

                John the Baptist and Joseph of Arimathea off the top of my head.

                Can you provide a link to Pilate’s memoirs?

                Can you provide a link to where I indicated such might even hypothetically exist?

                The fate of Jesus was hardly something that the Romans could have been persuaded was an injustice, him being a rabble-rousing revolutionary and all.

                You clearly have no clue who Philo was or what he was doing in Rome. The Romans didn’t care about any of the Jews, which was the whole point of Philo’s embassy. Jesus’s case would have been the ideal poster child, capturing all the key elements of Roman abuse. That, and Jesus was preaching to the masses the same philosophy that Philo himself had just invented — it don’t get more sympathetic than that. All this, indeed, is by design, as the whole Passion Narrative is a literary device invented to demonstrate exactly how evil the Romans were.

                You do realize that [Philo’s] works exist only in fragments, don’t you?

                You do realize that we’ve got over four dozen of his works, lengthy tomes, mostly intact, don’t you?

                So Philo mentioned every single early first century apocalyptic Jewish prophet?

                So that whole scene with Pilate and the Sanhedrin plus all of Jesus’s novel theology is bullshit?

                Philo was, after all, the first Jewish philosopher to incorporate the Logos (of John 1:1) into Judaism;

                That’s a neat trick, since Philo died decades before John was written.

                Huh?

                Philo invented the Jewish Logos at about the same time as Jesus was allegedly doing his ministry. John was written about a century later and incorporates Philo’s philosophy wholesale. How on Earth is that remarkable? Unless, of course, you’ve drunk so much KoolAid that you think that it was John invented the Logos.

                Christianity was hardly a mystery cult. If it was, it was the worst-kept secret ever.

                You know not what a mystery cult is. Modern fraternities are a good analogy you might be familiar with; the organizations are often well-known and even evangelize. The “mystery” refers to secrets only revealed to initiates. Mormonism and Scientology both fit the definition to a T. Very common — really, the norm — in Classical religion. There’re all sorts of references to hidden knowledge and Jesus opening disciples’s minds and that sort of thing that make plain that that’s what early Christianity was. Those inner secrets were either the Gospel narrative or have been lost to history (and / or both).

                Ehrman’s logic and conclusions are as embarrassingly unsophisticated as C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma and deserve little more in the way of rebuttal.

                In other words, you can’t rebut them.

                Quite the contrary. Jerry’s copy of his book is one that I bought, read, and sent to him.

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/i-have-a-look-at-ehrmans-new-book-on-jesus/

                Ehrman doesn’t even pretend to consider the possibility that, for example, the “original Aramaic” he so torturedly tries to fabricate could have been a ribald joke that went through several generations of “Telephone” before reaching the Gospel authors — even though he does admit to the several intervening generations. Nor does he even pretend to consider any of countless other possibilities other than that Jesus really was really real and the Gospels really tell his real story.

                That’s because the NT (specifically the four gospels, plus possibly the Coptic Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter) is the only source on the life of Jesus, for all practical purposes.

                BZZT1

                Have you any idea how much apocrypha there is?

                Again, clearly, no.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Testament_apocrypha

                “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury[….]”

                Not even remotely analogous. An adversarial proceeding like a trial, is not at all similar to a book, in which you can say anything you want, with no one right there to challenge you if you want to make something up or alter an inconvenient fact.

                Missing the point like a pro apologist. The embarrassment of an argument is that something unbelievable must be considered true because honest and sincere people don’t embarrass themselves by being unbelievable. That’s a perfect description both of my modern example as well as your sorry attempts at apologetics.

                I think that covers everything you wrote worth replying to….

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:59 am | Permalink

                Paul was not much interested in Jesus’s life…

                The problem is that Paul seems to be doing everything possible in order to discredit himself. He shies away from anything concrete about a terrestrial Jesus, the guy who supposedly is the real deal behind the movement, and can’t even say much about the other apostles, yet from time to time talks about his own biography in relatively decent detail. Paul never met any real Jesus, but claimed to have a vision of his resurrection and claimed to have met some people who were his followers back in Jerusalem, three years after Paul had his vision (by his own account) despite Paul claiming to have been persecuting Christians before then.

                Moreover, Paul spends almost all his writing gleefully laying out the “true” doctrine and explaining away problems and doubts and heresies being sown among the churches, and since his arguments are lousy, he resorts to character assassination of doubting Greeks, unconvinced Jews, and unbelievers generally. He emphasizes approaching the poor, spurning the rich, and using revelation and Pascal-Wager-esque logic to convert others. Add in the three times he discusses earthly tributes, and it’s indistinguishable from a con or a ludicrous fantasy.

                If the Christian movement could attract and convert at least one literate letter-writer and spread all the way from Judea to Rome during Paul’s time, then as Ben Goren points out, it is reasonable to expect at least some discussion of a realistic Jesus in other, more reputable contemporary historical sources. To quote Ben Goren from https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/bart-ehrman-says-that-jesus-existed/#comment-198369:

                First, first-century Judea was superbly well documented. Though most documentation from that period only exists in the form of copies of copies of copies, we actually have, quite literally, an entire library’s worth of original pieces of “paper.” The Dead Sea Scrolls were penned by Essenes Jews (the most likely sect Jesus would have belonged to had he not been a figment of the imagination) in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after any and all possible dates he could have lived. They include copies of the very passages of Isaiah that the Greeks mistranslated to come up with their “prophecies.” (Read Martyr’s Dialogues with Trypho to learn how, even in the second century, non-Christians have been calling Christians on their lies and the Christians have been ignoring the critics.) They include blessings (aka “beatitudes”), but not the ones Jesus was supposedly spouting off. They include commentaries on war and on peace and include all sorts of fascinating insights into the lives of Jews in first-century Judea.

                But they’re as devoid of Jesus as Monty Python’s Cheese shop is of cheeses.

                That right there should settle the case…but, as they say, wait, there’s more.

                Philo was a Jewish diplomat, philosopher, and prolific author. He would have been Joseph’s contemporary, had Joseph existed. He was the brother-in-law of Herod Agrippa, the King Herod the Gospels mention at the time of the Crucifixion. He is the person who integrated the Greek Logos — the “Word” of John 1:1 — into Judaism. His last surviving literary work was his account of his participation in an embassy of Jews to Rome where they petitioned Caligula about the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans.

                He didn’t mention Jesus, either.

                Pliny the Elder was fascinated with all things supernatural. Jesus must have had one Hell of a vanishing act, because he sure managed to fly beneath Pliny’s radar.

                The Roman Satirists made their stock in trade the exact type of humiliation Jesus heaped upon Pilate and the Sanhedrin. Perhaps Pilate abdicating his responsibilities and the Sanhedrin all but flinging poo at Jesus wasn’t scandalous enough for them to notice? Yeah, sure.

                Even the greatest historian of the era, Josephus, didn’t notice him (this we know because Origen bemoande the omission in the second century). Eusibeus, who espoused the Platonic “virtue” of lying to people to bring them to a “greater truth” was so upset by the omission that he forged the Testamonium Flavanium and “discovered” it in his copy.

                Want to know just how extensive his omission is from history? Here’s a partial list of authors, any one of whom could have noticed Jesus, all of whom should have noticed the spectacular events of the Gospels, none of whom breathed a word:

                Damis, Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, Persius, Pausanias, Epictetus, Aelius Aristides, Fronto, Dio Chrysostom, Aulus Gellius, Lucius Apuleius, Marcus Aurelius, Musonius Rufus, Hierocles of Alexandria, Cassius Maximus Tyrius, Arrian, Appian, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, Lucius Annaeus Florus, and Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.

                And what should they have noticed?

                Admittedly, the context was talking about the magical Jesus who did incredible things, whereas we’re talking about a low-key, realistic version, but the principle is the same. Claiming that Jesus was too insignificant to garner much attention is like saying the yeti exists, but it’s shy and reclusive and we can’t produce a specimen alive or dead, sorry.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 3, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                …combining responses to several of your replies into one…

                Thus making it easier for you to take things out of context.

                Standard apologetic bullshit. It only makes sense if the New Testament was authored from the beginning by a committee with orders from an executive director, rather than the anthology even Christians brag about it being, and it fails to account for, for example, how often Paul bypassed a perfect quote from Jesus in favor of a very flawed quote from Hebrew scripture.

                Nonsense. Have you ever studied or even read what Paul wrote? Ant that bit about a committee makes no sense whatsoever.

                As for not addressing the quotes, I was addressing the point you made previously, not every possible point. Moving the goalposts like that is a typical apologist tactic.

                Obviously Paul did not use certain quotes from Jesus because he didn’t know about them. He probably hadn’t read the gospels (which hadn’t been written yet).

                ight. They’re unreliable witnesses. Which means that we can’t rely upon them — yet that’s exactly what you insist on doing.

                Once again you completely miss the point. Another instance of moving goalposts. Try reading what I actually wrote.

                Plus, the notion that a document must be either accepted or rejected in whole is juvenile. You’d have to reject everything written before last Tuesday, and everything written today would have to be rejected in a few years.

                John the Baptist and Joseph of Arimathea off the top of my head.

                Where is the evidence that either of these was a “power broker”? And are you accepting them as real? Based upon what evidence?

                Can you provide a link to where I indicated such might even hypothetically exist?

                In the post to which I was responding. You said, “But we also have the personal accounts of some of said power brokers, and they didn’t know Jesus.” Surely Pilate was a power broker. If not him, where are the memoirs of John the Baptist and Joseph of Arimethea, who you have identified as power brokers? If not them, where are any of these alleged memoirs?

                To be continued.

              • Michael Sommers
                Posted September 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

                Continued.

                You clearly have no clue who Philo was or what he was doing in Rome. The Romans didn’t care about any of the Jews, which was the whole point of Philo’s embassy. Jesus’s case would have been the ideal poster child, capturing all the key elements of Roman abuse.

                And you clearly have no idea who Philo was dealing with. Do you seriously expect that the delegation could have gone to Gaius and told him about how Pilate had executed a poor, innocent Jew who merely claimed to be king of the Jews and to be god, and that Gaius would have allowed them to walk out of the room alive?

                That, and Jesus was preaching to the masses the same philosophy that Philo himself had just invented —

                Precisely where does Jesus teach this? It is in John, and only in John, but that is the author talking, not Jesus.

                All this, indeed, is by design, as the whole Passion Narrative is a literary device invented to demonstrate exactly how evil the Romans were.

                That’s ridiculous. The gospel writers wanted to show how evil the Romans were, so they made Pilate reluctant to execute Jesus, even had him declare Jesus not guilty, and put all the blame on the Jews.

                As for the cruelty of the execution, what makes you think that that was exceptional for the Romans, a people for whom gruesome executions were public entertainment? Do you really think Gaius would have bought such an argument?

                You do realize that [Philo’s] works exist only in fragments, don’t you?

                You do realize that we’ve got over four dozen of his works, lengthy tomes, mostly intact, don’t you?

                More apologistic trickery: taking a quote out of context, and modifying it so that it says something different from what it originally said.

                You were talking about Philo’s accounts of the delegation. I pointed out that they existed only in fragments. You then alter my post to have me saying that all of Philo’s works are fragmentary. You said, “Yet Jesus is perfectly absent from Philo’s autobiographical account of said embassy …”, and I replied, “You do realize that those works exist only in fragments, don’t you?”. Now you change my “those works” to “[Philo’s] works”. That is thoroughly dishonest. No wonder you wanted to combine replies to different posts into one.

                So Philo mentioned every single early first century apocalyptic Jewish prophet?

                So that whole scene with Pilate and the Sanhedrin plus all of Jesus’s novel theology is bullshit?

                Non responsive.

                That’s a neat trick, since Philo died decades before John was written.

                Huh?

                You seemed to be saying that Philo got the idea from John. I accept that you weren’t.

                You know not what a mystery cult is. … The “mystery” refers to secrets only revealed to initiates.

                Exactly. And where are the secrets of Christianity, known only to initiates? Without such mysteries, it can’t be fairly called a mystery cult.

                Quite the contrary. Jerry’s copy of his book is one that I bought, read, and sent to him.

                You evidently didn’t read it very carefully. I can’t address your point about Aramaic, since I haven’t got that far in the book, yet.

                Have you any idea how much apocrypha there is?

                Are you claiming that all of them are even semi-reliable historical documents? The two I mentioned are among the earliest, and seem to contain some things that might be at least a little reliable (plus lots that is obviously legendary, such as a walking, talking cross).

                Missing the point like a pro apologist. The embarrassment of an argument is that something unbelievable must be considered true because honest and sincere people don’t embarrass themselves by being unbelievable.

                Like a good creationist would, you create a strawman because you can’t honestly defend your position. Nobody claims that such statements must be true, just as no biologist says that a crocoduck must exist. You know that, of course, but that doesn’t bother you.

                That’s a perfect description both of my modern example as well as your sorry attempts at apologetics.

                You mythicists love to invent evidence where there is none, don’t you? You are the apologist here, coming up with bogus arguments and fake facts to support the unsupportable mythicist fable.

                I think that covers everything you wrote worth replying to….

                Very funny. What makes you think that anything you have written is worth replying to?

              • Posted September 4, 2014 at 2:54 am | Permalink

                Mr. Sommers, your last email is unconscionably rude. I don’t expect this kind of nastiness in discussions here, so you will apologize to those you insulted or you’ll never post here again. And I mean a real apology, not a notapology.

                Your next post will be that apology, please. You caould say everything you had to say without the rudeness, you know.

            • Kevin
              Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

              There is no evidence that Jesus performed exorcisms.

              • James Chalmers
                Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                Of course Jesus did not in fact cause demons to leave afflicted human beings. Demons don’t exist. Further, the notion that they could be exorcised with the assistance of God’s power raises the question why God permitted them to enter the poor afflicted sod in the first place.
                Of course also, many people believe in the existence of demons, their inhabiting some human beings, and the possibility of exorcising them. Probably most of the people to whom Jesus proclaimed his message held these beliefs, as did he himself.

  66. Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I think it likely that the Jesus myth was based on an actual individual. During Roman times and earlier, there were itinerant rabbis with messianic pretensions every generation or so. Undoubtedly, the more dedicated followers of these dudes would embellish their lives after their death. In one case, a particularly persuasive and conscientious individual happened to have popularized and further mythologized the life of one such rabbi a generation or two after his death to an extent that a critical mass was reached thereby insuring his myth would not die out.

    I very much doubt we will ever unequivocally establish that a specific rabbi was the one on which the myth was based.

  67. James Chalmers
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Of course I quite agree we have plenty of sources–half a dozen good fairly lengthy ones–come down to us that prove the existence of Julius Caesar. But he (or Augustus) is as good as it gets in ancient times, and it’s not nearly what we might wish.
    I think we have plenty regarding Jesus of Nazareth as well, to render the assertion he didn’t exist an absurdity.
    Shakespeare is an interesting case. The plays, of course, but it begs the question of authorship to let them in. So then evidence of Shakespeare’s time and environs, but of him himself? His baptism, a child’s death, property transactions, a will–better than Jesus, of course, but still not the makings of much of a biography.

  68. James Chalmers
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s obviously a mistake to say “if the existence of a historical Jesus is accepted, then everything said about him must be accepted as well.”

    One need not accept the historicity of the triumphant entry and assume Jesus was hailed by hundreds or thousands of visitors to Jerusalem who were on notice of his arrival. I rather doubt it occurred at all, and if it did, that it was so splendid an event as you take it to have been.

    You doubt the historicity of the trial before the Sanhedrin at this odd time, and so do I.

    And how could followers of Jesus known of the proceedings before Pilate–assuming Pilate himself bothered to give him a hearing. Agreed.

    It’s not a package deal. Much of what’s attributed to Jesus is patently, or not so patently (the burial in the tomb) false. It doesn’t follow that it all is. Let alone that he didn’t exist.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      It’s not a package deal.

      Why on Earth not?

      If I told you that I just saw Elvis carry his two-headed Martian love child out of a flying saucer that just landed on the White House lawn, would you conclude that there must be some kernel of truth to my claims because the White House is really real and Elvis was a real person?

      The same text that has Jesus making the Sanhedrin fling poo at him and reduced Pilate to a gibbering fool also has a massive zombie invasion descending upon Jerusalem. Yet you’re happy to twist some inconsequential minor bits of this text into evidence that Jesus was some random loser schmuck whom nobody would recognize?

      Just what color is the White House lawn in your world, and what sorts of dignitaries do you expect to see on it?

      b&

      • James Chalmers
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

        Everything in your Elvis example is implausible and preposterous, as is the assertion Jesus was born of a virgin.

        That Jesus was believed to perform exorcisms, that Jesus was born in Nazareth, that Jesus’ father was a tekton, that Jesus worked out of Capernaum, that Jesus taught in parables, that Jesus was crucified on orders from Pilate, that Jesus was left on the cross for some time and then his body unceremoniously disposed of–there are decent reasons to believe all these propositions, strong reasons to believe some of them, and no good reason to doubt Jesus was a human being like the rest of us.

        • James Chalmers
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

          It’s interesting what is and isn’t found to be civil hereabouts.

        • Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

          that Jesus was crucified on orders from Pilate

          bzzzt

          You’re right that Jesus was described as rubbing shoulders and butting heads with all the most significant power brokers of his time. But we also have the personal accounts of some of said power brokers, and they didn’t know Jesus.

          Philo of Alexandria, for example, couldn’t have picked a better example of Roman injustices towards Jews when he personally petitioned Caligula. Yet Jesus is perfectly absent from Philo’s autobiographical account of said embassy — as well as everything else Philo wrote, which included innumerable other instances where anybody even vaguely resembling Jesus couldn’t possibly have escaped his attention. Philo was, after all, the first Jewish philosopher to incorporate the Logos (of John 1:1) into Judaism; how could he possibly have overlooked the human incarnation of his life’s achievement, even if said incarnation was an impostor?

          …and that’s but one example of many, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Roman Satirists, Josephus….

          b&

          • Michael Sommers
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:31 am | Permalink

            You’re right that Jesus was described as rubbing shoulders and butting heads with all the most significant power brokers of his time.

            You have a vivid imagination. Which power brokers did Jesus “rub shoulders” with?

            But we also have the personal accounts of some of said power brokers, and they didn’t know Jesus.

            Can you provide a link to Pilate’s memoirs?

            Philo of Alexandria, for example, couldn’t have picked a better example of Roman injustices towards Jews when he personally petitioned Caligula.

            The fate of Jesus was hardly something that the Romans could have been persuaded was an injustice, him being a rabble-rousing revolutionary and all.

            Yet Jesus is perfectly absent from Philo’s autobiographical account of said embassy …

            You do realize that those works exist only in fragments, don’t you?

            … — as well as everything else Philo wrote, which included innumerable other instances where anybody even vaguely resembling Jesus couldn’t possibly have escaped his attention.

            So Philo mentioned every single early first century apocalyptic Jewish prophet?

            Philo was, after all, the first Jewish philosopher to incorporate the Logos (of John 1:1) into Judaism;

            That’s a neat trick, since Philo died decades before John was written.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

            Pilate is barely mentioned as well – and what we know of him is scant – I mean really scant – like one line of text in some government document or something like that. If he was the big executioner of someone like Jesus, you’d think we’d hear something more.

            • Michael Sommers
              Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

              There was an inscription found in 1961 in Caesarea Maritima. The only other near contemporary references are Tacitus and Josephus.

              If he was the big executioner of someone like Jesus, you’d think we’d hear something more.

              Why? Jesus was a nobody, as far as anyone then knew. He only became important when the religion about him got big. Roman governors were always executing people, so that by itself was not worth of notice.

  69. Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    People have mentioned Richard Carrier here often. He makes very interesting arguments, but even he does not think we should have a high degree of confidence in the mythicist case. He still approvingly discusses some historicist arguments, and he thinks atheists should not use the mythicist argument to argue against the validity of Christianity. Here is what he wrote in his bwebsite post entitled “Fincke Is Right: Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be a Strategy”

    “Philosopher (and FtB alum) Dan Fincke has written a good, concise piece on why atheists need to don a little more sense and humility when claiming Jesus didn’t exist. In his article On Atheists Attempting to Disprove the Existence of the Historical Jesus, Fincke makes a sound case for two basic points: (1) amateurs should not be voicing certitude in a matter still being debated by experts (historicity agnosticism is far more defensible and makes far more sense for amateurs on the sidelines) and (2) criticizing Christianity with a lead of “Jesus didn’t even exist” is strategically ill conceived–it’s bad strategy on many levels, it only makes atheists look illogical, and (counter-intuitively) it can actually make Christians more certain of their faith.”

    The rest is here:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4733

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      In his recently published book, Carrier concludes:

      There is only about a 0% to 33% chance Jesus existed. Furthermore, given my analysis in Chapter 3, this means the probability that minimal mythicism is true is about 67% to 100% (and most likely nearer the high end of that range).

  70. Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Christians love to claim that their Jesus Christ existed. They will line up behind a itinerant rabbi wandering around *until” one points out that they aren’t worshipping such a man but magical Jesus. That character has NO evidence whatsoever.

  71. Minyoung
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    This may not be entirely on-topic, but what do people think about the admiration accorded to Jesus by non-Christians?

    If we remove divinity and supernatural powers from the Gospel-Jesus, but retain all his sayings, then he is clearly a lunatic. So let’s be charitable, ignore the fact that he claimed to be the son of the god, and try to look at him as a philosopher — though I don’t think he qualifies as one, for the following reasons. His epistemic and metaphysical claims are clearly bullshit (Jesus’s views are, after all, Christianity!). He is mostly know for his moral philosophy (if it can be called that), but it basically comes down to “I’m the son of the god so you must do as I say” (ok, I know I said we’ll delete such things but then nothing’s really left) and he gives no independent justification for his declarations. The content of his morality just happens to be superficially similar to the kind of morality fashionable in modern democracies. Even if you agreee with the content (I don’t), is it really an achievement to declare “love thy neighbors”?

    I’m curious to hear what people on this website think.

    • reasonshark
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      I think the Pauline letters, the earliest Christian accounts, are more an indictment of Christians themselves. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there was a real executed apocalyptic preacher behind the mythologising. Paul pretty much admits that no devout Jew or critical Greek would accept the doctrine in Romans, so he moves on to anti-intellectual smugness as a cover. He targets the poor and the unwise, relies on revelation, argument from authority (whether his or God’s), and Pascal-Wager-esque carrots and sticks, and at least three times discusses arrangements for earthly tributes to Jerusalem from followers as far away as southern Greece.

      This can only work if a lot of people are delusionally gullible, and it’s likely a con artist of some sort may have played a role in the proceedings (suspects including the indirectly-discussed disciples and Paul himself). Faced with that, the spread of Christianity becomes an example of the less commendable aspects of humanity, and its success in getting itself spread across around two billion people says more about the magnitude of the problem than it says anything about the worth of Christ’s doctrines, which if Paul is any indication aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      My sense of Jesus as philosopher is that most folks feel he was unique in calling for love as a central premise. The quotes mentioned in modern sermons, I suspect, support this basic theme. Very little else, I think, can be said about him. The subtleties of his overall message and significance really are not appreciated by the majority of Christians, nor, probably many non-Christians. Not even the preacher class. Love thy neighbor is a good idea, but for an idea to have legs – really long legs – it has to imply, I think, love me too. Biologists call it reciprocal altruism.

  72. Ian
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    There are no contemporary accounts of his presence and deeds, though there should have been some given … the remarkable character of Jesus’s deeds

    This seems to be a non-sequitir, since you previously correctly described the discussion as between the hypotheses that:

    a) Jesus was an itinerant preacher who built up a following then got himself executed. His followers then embellished his story into a grandiose myth.

    b) Jesus was originally a mythical being who’s followers invented a detailed biography for, and later came to believe the biography as orthodoxy.

    Under neither of those hypotheses is it true that there “should” have been some contemporary secular written accounts of his remarkable deeds.

    It is an interest question whether Jesus is a historical person mythologized, or a mythical person historicized, but if you want to engage with the discussion, it is important not to accidentally slip into the error that the discussion is about whether “Jesus Christ” is a historical character.

    As you rightly say, even if Ehrman is right, it makes it no more likely that God became flesh and dwelt among us. No more likely that 500 dead people raised from the dead as the curtain of the temple was rent in two, accompanied by worldwide darkness. And so on.

    A bit of clarity as to what is being discussed by Carrier and Ehrman is helpful.

    [This is muddied by the fact that many Christians will take the conclusion “there was a historical Jesus” and hear “Christianity’s truth claims are correct”. Which is about as sane as a creationist taking an argument that points out Darwin’s (understandable) errors and hearing “Evolution is wrong.”]

    • Minyoung
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      I’ve found Ben Goren’s comments in this thread quite enlightening, but independently of that I agree we should clearly distinguish the claims for historicity of an apocalyptic preacher and apologetics. In fact, the claim that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher is *explicitly* a rejection of Christianity (because apocalypse did not materialize, and hence Jesus’s saying would be false), whatever the ulterior motive of the person making the claim may be, and while the point may be obvious I still think it is helpful to clearly state this fact just so there are no misunderstandings on either side.

      • Ian
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        I agree. For my 2c, I think atheism comes out on top whichever view wins out. The idea that the consensus among biblical scholars about the Historical Jesus is somehow germane to Christianity has always baffled me.

    • James Chalmers
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Any reading of Mark, Matthew and the authentic letters of Paul, the best evidence of Christianity, that applies ordinary historical methods will find that Jesus in history bears little resemblance to the Jesus of Christian doctrine.

      • Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Any such reading isn’t going to be able to get past the fact that it’s perfectly impossible to construct a coherent “theory of Jesus” from the sources you cite, as all contradict each other at every opportunity.

        …and from that morass of rampant contradiction, you expect to somehow find “Jesus in history”?

        b&

        • James Chalmers
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

          History is hard.

        • Kevin
          Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. A coherent Jesus is impossible. This is the case due to the only writings we have about him.

          • James Chalmers
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

            His describing and dealing with arguments against one’s own view doesn’t substantiate the conclusion that an author’s views are incoherent. It’s said here Ehrman’s views don’t cohere, that some of is conclusions are inconsistent with others. Maybe somebody could be specific and quote a couple of passages one of which contradicts the other.

            • Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              We’ve beaten Ehrman into the ground before on WEIT many times. Do a Google search for “Why Evolution is True Ehrman.”

              b&

  73. Todd De Ryck
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Raphael Lataster wrote a concise, convincing book “There was no jesus, there is no god”. He was, to put it kindly, not impressed with Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist” http://www.amazon.com/there-was-Jesus-God-Philosophical/dp/1492234419/ref=sr_1_1

  74. Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Jesus is mentioned in Josephus, who wrote in the first century, although some claim the references are later interpolations. Lucian’s satire, “The Passing of Peregrinus” is an interesting source, written in the 2nd century. It pokes fun at an off and on Christian who decided to immolate himself as a publicity stunt. Reading it, you get the impression that “Syrian soothsayers” were a dime a dozen. This is confirmed in the Bible and the Quran, where specific false prophets are mentioned as competitors of the “real prophets.” Lucian, certainly no Christian himself, also spoke of Christ as if he had no reason to doubt he really existed. Anecdotes in the Gospels about Jesus referring to a woman as a “dog” because she wasn’t a Jew, and getting angry at a fig tree because it didn’t have any fruit don’t strike me as the sort of stuff anyone would make up from whole cloth. I see no reason to doubt the historical existence of Jesus. He was just the most successful of what was probably a host of similar “prophets” who were active at the time. Just as Marx had his Engels, Jesus had his Paul to systematize his work. That was probably one of the major reasons he stood out from the pack.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      “referring to a woman as a “dog” because she wasn’t a Jew,”

      Yes? Makes me wonder if the Gospels were not carefully edited and filtered with time to remove some of the most regrettable passages. The books that were thrown out might shed light on what was considered taboo by the head of the early church. Have the discarded books been preserved? How do they read?

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Jesus is mentioned in Josephus

      No, he’s not. And we know this because Origen wrote that he didn’t and because Eusebius took credit for discovering the passage.

      Lucian’s satire, “The Passing of Peregrinus” is an interesting source, written in the 2nd century.

      I’m guessing you’ve only read the Christian Cliff’s Notes version, which is a shame because it’s short and a delightful read. Read the whole thing, and you’ll see Peregrinus portrayed as a lovable cad who shamelessly interpolated Pagan mythology wholesale into Christianity. And that, in turn, might have reminded you of Justin Martyr’s plain that, amongst all the plagiarism going on with respect to Christianity, he was particularly galled by the Mithraic Eucharist…which Paul himself interpolated into Christianity in 1 Corinthians 11 in the exact manner described by Lucian of Peregrinus.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted August 30, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        You must be a “Syrian soothsayer” yourself, since you’re so familiar with what I’ve read and haven’t read. Origen never denied that Josephus wrote about Jesus. In fact, he cited the passages in question. See, for example,

        http://roseandrock.blogspot.com/2006/11/origen-and-josephus-part-1.html

        The only references to Josephus in Origen that I am aware of may be found at:

        http://www.textexcavation.com/anaorigjos.html

        Have you discovered another one where Origen “wrote that Josephus didn’t mention Jesus,” contradicting what he wrote in the passages cited? If so, where is the link?

        The question of whether Eusebius actually “took credit for discovering the passage” or not is irrelevant, since he wrote mainly in the 4th century. The bald statement that Jesus is not mentioned in Josephus is wrong. Anyone can Google the relevant passages. As I said in my original comment, some consider these passages later interpolations. However since Origen mentions them, they must have been early interpolations, inserted long before the time of Eusebius.

        As for Peregrinus, I certainly didn’t get the impression that Lucian considered him “lovable.” Absurd would be a more appropriate adjective.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          There are two passages that refer to Jesus in the extant manuscripts of Josephus. The most famous one is the “Testimonium Flavianum” in Antiquities Book 18. Even though Origen, in “Against Celsus 1.47.” refers to the “brothe of Jesus” passage he does not refer to the “Testimonium”. That is an argument that the testimonium wasn’t there in the time of Origen, otherwise he would’ve use it to support that Jesus was a wise man.

          Not that I’m Ben’s lawyer or something, but I guess that’s what he was referring to.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

            Sorry; I obviously missed HelianUnbound’s post.

            Nikos, you far understate the case Origen makes against the Testamonium. In Contra Celsus 1.47, Origen complains that Josephus in book 18 of Antiquities incorrectly blames the death of James the Just for the fall of Jerusalem when he ought to have blamed it on Jesus. Clearly, Origen’s copy of Antiquities was radically different from Eusebius’s, where that “mistrake” was “corrected.”

            It’s also worth further noting that that same passage clears up the question about the relationship between Jesus and James: “Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.”

            Oh — and the other passage, wherever it is? A sentence or two later it clearly identifies the “Jesus” in question as being Jesus bar Damneus, the high priest who was the son of another high priest. The name was quite common in those days; if I remember right, Josephus mentions about a dozen different men by that name — even including one (but not that one) who was crucified by the Romans.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted August 30, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

              Right.

              I think that both references in Josephus are obvious interpolations, the first one (TF) intentional most probably by Eusebius and the second one accidental as a marginal note by a scribe.

  75. Posted August 29, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I remember reading (a few decades ago, so I cannot remember the source – it may have been the Encyclopaedia Britannica or a book I read about the history of Christianity) that at the Council of Nicea (the one in which the Canon was determined), a vast number of “gospels” had been rejected and burnt, among which a fair number apparently were written during Jesus’ lifetime by direct witnesses – but those did not jibe with the politics of the Emeror (Constantine, I seem to remember). So the man may well have existed and been a possibly remarkable teacher. The Gospel of Thomas is supposed to have been written by a contemporary follower of Jesus and contains only what Jesus taught and absolutely nothing about his life, about his birth, about his death, or about any miracles. I may be wrong, but that is what I remember having read.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      Your remembery of what you read may or may not be right, but the picture you paint is a bit jumbled.

      The canonization of the Bible was very much a political process, and it didn’t really settle until the end of the fourth century and the Vulgate Bible. It was as bloody a process as it was political.

      Many of the heretical Gospels survive either as intact as the canonical ones (i.e., rather distorted and with pitiful provenances) or as references in other works.

      None of them have any reasonable claim to better authority in any way to the canonical ones, and all are every bit as bizarre and contradictory as any other. Marcion’s gospel, for example, opens with an adult Jesus beaming down from the heavens like Captain Kirk. The Ophites worshipped Jesus as some sort of snake god.

      The Q Hypothesis is closest to what you describe. Matthew and Luke clearly draw a great deal from Mark, but they also appear to draw from another source that Mark didn’t use. This other source, if real, was mostly aphorisms and other bon mots. But the only evidence for its existence is that Matthew and Luke share material that doesn’t appear in Mark.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • James Chalmers
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        The Q hypothesis is probably false. Luke had Matthew. See Mark Goodacre’s books or site.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Q never did much for me. Even if true, at absolute most it means that there was some pre-existing material. But how do we know what that material pretended to be, let alone what it actually was? How do we know it wasn’t an article from America’s Finest News Source that fell through a time warp?

          The Gospel trail stops cold with the Gospels themselves. You can make guesses at to what direction it takes off in, but those guesses will be no better informed than any other. Only the most pathetic type of wishful thinking and special pleading — the exact type Ehrman shamelessly displays — can make you think it’s a perfectly straight line that goes right to Jesus and stops there.

          What’s perhaps most galling is that he really ought to have the academic credentials to know better. I simply can’t imagine his book making it past an undergraduate thesis exam, let alone a dissertation committee….

          b&

  76. Marella
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I remember how shocked I was even as a life long atheist, to be told that there were those who didn’t believe that Jesus was ever real. I started reading on the subject fully expecting to find that there was no support for this idea, only to become quite convinced that Jesus was in fact made up out of whole cloth by the earliest Christians.

    I started with the “Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?” by Robert M Price and realised that if Jesus did exist we know NOTHING about it him, which pretty much means he didn’t exist in any real sense. Then I read “The Jesus Puzzle” by Earl Doherty, a very dense but convincing tome showing that not only is there no evidence for Jesus existing but considerable evidence that he did not; that the earliest Christians viewed him as a celestial being whose activities were undertaken in heaven. I have since read further and am now as certain as one can be about something that didn’t happen so long ago, that Jesus never existed as anything like the person modern Christians worship.

    The reason this matters to me is that I like to understand things. It makes the history of early Christianity understandable in a way that the elevation of an unwashed preacher to cosmic god-hood in the space of a decade or so, simply isn’t. Religions, like everything else cultural, do not spring up out of nowhere, they evolve from what has gone before. The growth of Christianity out of earlier mystery religions can only be understood if we get the basic details correct to begin with. I am, like Ben, interested in what’s true.

  77. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s probably a matter of identity.

    No doubt there were itinerant preachers in those days. Technically, any one of them could be postulated as ‘the person subsequently known as Jesus’ – it would (assuming we had perfect historical knowledge which of course we don’t) just be a matter of picking which one the subsequent stories fitted best. One or more of them may even have been named ‘Jesus’ – there are millions of Jesuses alive today, after all.
    That kinda trivialises the whole question, of course. But it makes it difficult to contend, IMO, that no ‘real’ Jesus ever existed.

    But if you tie Big J down to the exact character described in the Bible (whichever version is preferred) then it becomes much easier to demonstrate that the probability of that Big J existing is very small.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      The problem with this theory is that it assumes that Christianity got its origins with an itinerant preacher, whereas it’s pretty clear that — as with all other Pagan demigod death / resurrection / salvation cults — the theology came long before the personalized deity.

      Christianity being the single ancient mystery cult to be founded on a real historical figure would be remarkable enough were it not for Paul’s and Martyr’s and others’s writings that make it clear that Christianity does, indeed, fit the common and ancient archetypal syncretic mold.

      b&

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        Christianity being the single ancient mystery cult …

        Christianity was hardly a mystery cult. If it was, it was the worst-kept secret ever.

        Paul’s and Martyr’s and others’s writings

        “Martyr” was not Justin’s surname, it was an epithet. Calling Justin “Martyr” is like calling Alexander the Great “Great”.

  78. J Smith
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m not going to diss Ehrman too much even if I disagree with his take on Jesus. I think he has done really excellent work overall. One thing he and others have pointed out is that early Christianity was a much more diverse movement than we can fathom. There were many other gospels written at the time, with all kinds of different interpretations of Jesus. Gnosticism in very different forms were widespread. So it is a myth even that there was a common Jesus that early Christians believed in. All these other forms of course were declared heresies and went by the dustbin of history.

    When I talk to believers, I don’t by the way bring up the idea that Jesus didn’t exist. I tried it once, and it was thrown back as the lengths atheists must go to disbelieve in god. Its too complicated an argument to bring up in a short conversation. So I generally stick to the argument that Jesus, if he existed, didn’t perform miracles, or more pointedly why didn’t he cure disease itself rather than the disease of a particular person, and such.

  79. Grumpy
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    New Testament scholars (ie those who study the NT from a historical point of view NOT a theological one) are fond of using the “criterion of embarassment” as a pointer to a likely historical Jesus. There are stories within the NT that are apparent cover-ups – if one was going to invent a mythical figure one would be unlikely to include stories that need to be explained away. The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is the example most often cited – on face value Jesus looks inferior to John, so the synoptic gospel-writers twist themselves as they try to rationlise this event. Why would they bother to make up a story that has to be argued away? (Their argument, not mine.)
    Indeed, the crucifixion is an embarassment – a form of capital punishment reserved for the worst of offenders. Christianity has done such a successful job of dealing with this embarassment that it has spent 2000 years glorifying it rather than dealing with it in its original context.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      New Testament scholars (ie those who study the NT from a historical point of view NOT a theological one) are fond of using the “criterion of embarassment” as a pointer to a likely historical Jesus.

      No, apologists are fond of that nonsense. As are hucksters of all other stripes.

      “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve just heard my client confess to snorting coke off a stripper’s tits at a dive bar clear across town at the time of the murder. A fine and upstanding citizen and devoted husband and loving father such as my client wouldn’t possibly think to sully his reputation with such an admission unless it really were true, so you know he can’t possibly be lying.”

      b&

      • Grumpy
        Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm, refutation-by-making-up-quotes. Interesting.

        Apologists may well use it, I wasn’t talking about them. The criterion of embarassment is actually discussed by NT scholars, despite your naysay. I’m not endorsing the position, just passing it on…

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve just heard my client confess to snorting coke off a stripper’s tits at a dive bar clear across town at the time of the murder. A fine and upstanding citizen and devoted husband and loving father such as my client wouldn’t possibly think to sully his reputation with such an admission unless it really were true, so you know he can’t possibly be lying.”

        Not even remotely analogous. An adversarial proceeding like a trial, is not at all similar to a book, in which you can say anything you want, with no one right there to challenge you if you want to make something up or alter an inconvenient fact.

    • marvol19
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      My problem with this “criterion of embarrassment” is that it is not logical at all. It’s simply an ad-hoc get-out-of-jail-free card.
      It also doesn’t help that the argument is not reversible, i.e. “this is not embarrassing, so it must be false”. One way logic is no logic.

      Viz,
      -“my hobby is playing chess”. This is not embarrassing, so more likely to be true.
      -“my hobby is watching German gay midget porn”. This is embarrassing, so why would i make it up? So also more likely to be true.
      That already starts to look shaky.

      -“actually, my hobby is watching Russian lesbian porn”. This is less embarrassing than the gay German midgets… So this is likely to be false now?

      No, I don’t think “embarrassment” helps any argument.

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted September 3, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        My problem with this “criterion of embarrassment” is that it is not logical at all.

        It is perfectly logical. It is even used in courts: Normally hearsay is not admissible, but statements against interest, a form of hearsay, are admissible, on the notion that a self-incriminating statement is likely to be true.

        It also doesn’t help that the argument is not reversible, i.e. “this is not embarrassing, so it must be false”. One way logic is no logic.

        You need to review your logic. Start by writing down the truth table for implication. Hint: It is not the case that (p implies q) implies (q implies p).

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      The criterion is not so much one of embarrassment. It has to do with massaging the story to make plausible diversions from the facts that people apparently already know, but, for reasons of prophecy (in particular Matthew), are thought essential to the story, despite Ben Goren’s gratuitous and crude reference to hucksters.

      Take Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Luke needs to get Jesus to Bethlehem — why? — probably because it was well known that he came from Nazareth — so he makes up the story of the census. Matthew, on the other hand, needs to get Jesus to Nazareth, so he dreams up Herod’s plot to kill him, and the family’s escape to Egypt, and then, because his life would still be in danger in Judea, after coming back from Egypt, has him go to Nazareth. The two things in common here are Nazareth and Bethlehem, though in practically every other respect the stories are different: Bethlehem in order to fulfil prophecy; Nazareth because it seems pretty clear that Jesus was known to come from Nazareth. It’s not embarrassment. It’s trying to find commonalities in the story that would be inexplicable if only a mythical figure were at the centre of the story.

      Anyway, all of this is really beside the point. I’m not sure why people are so determined to make Jesus a pure myth. There is enough mythical about him to bring his existence, as depicted, into question; but enough consistency in his teaching (and as Geza Vermes points out, enough contextual verisimilitude) to suggest that someone answering generally to the account given of Jesus really existed.

      But the real problem is that everyone who comments here is simply floating suppositions, instead of basing themselves on careful and critical historical analysis, a practice which, as the predilection for science and its methods of most of those who comment here, should be seen as a kind of trahison des clercs. What is the point of having discussions of this sort if you are not prepared actually to go both to the sources and to the critical analysis of those sources? Those who think the search for the historical Jesus is confined to the gospels have obviously not read very much historical Jesus literature, which ranges pretty widely within the whole historical and literary context in which the gospels came to be written. Amateur debunking of Jesus scarcely qualifies as the kind of critical empirical reason that those who frequent this site seem to apotheosise. I’m not an expert in the study of the historical Jesus, but most of the comments here are irrelevant to that study, and I wonder what is so important about it that it seems worthwhile to engage in amateur theatricals of this sort. Talk about embarrassment. It’s little wonder that religious people pay little attention to atheists, who spend so much time playing games with words.

      • Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        There is enough mythical about him to bring his existence, as depicted, into question; but enough consistency in his teaching (and as Geza Vermes points out, enough contextual verisimilitude) to suggest that someone answering generally to the account given of Jesus really existed.

        Seriously? “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” show consistency demonstrating contextual verisimilitude?

        Jesus has got to be the most schizoid figure in Western literature. Washing people’s feet one day, bringing a sword and ripping families asunder the next. Casting not the first stone one day, rampaging through the Temple the next. Praising the Good Samaritan one day, turning into the original anti-Semite with the curse on the Fig Tree and “brood of vipers” and the rest the next. How you get from that to “consistency in his teaching” is utterly beyond me.

        But the real problem is that everyone who comments here is simply floating suppositions, instead of basing themselves on careful and critical historical analysis, a practice which, as the predilection for science and its methods of most of those who comment here, should be seen as a kind of trahison des clercs. What is the point of having discussions of this sort if you are not prepared actually to go both to the sources and to the critical analysis of those sources?

        Sorry, but when learnèd clerics such as yourself can pull out with a straight face propagandistic whoppers like the one at the top, statements like the one above come across as presumptuous pontification. How dare we question you, who has so much more authority and learning than us dumb schmucks? Best not worry our poor widdle minds with such weighty matters, and leave it to our betters to tell us what to believe.

        b&

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          “Love your neighbour as yourself” is from Leviticus, and is quite appropriate as an expression of how one should treat one’s neighbour. The expression about slaughtering one’s enemies is part of a parable, and is not a saying of Jesus. It is, in fact, hyperbole, and has very little relation to the rest of the parable. However, it may be that we are meant to take it not only in the context of the parable, but also in the context of the gospel, in which it is said, in the very next verse, that Jesus went before them up to Jerusalem, and there, as we know (at least in the story), he died (was slaughtered, if you like). This would not be lost on readers of the gospel. Parables are very different from apodictic statements like “Love your neighbours as yourselves,” they are stories which evoke the temper of the times, and must not be taken as statements or recommendations of Jesus himself.

          That’s not to say that there are no inconsistencies in the gospels. Of course there are, just as there are inconsistencies in most biographies. Take different biographies of the same person and you will often meet different people. Why should we expect anything different from the gospels. But there is a fairly consistent pattern of thought throughout the gospels that gives us the picture of a believable person, and when this is done, many of the inconsistencies disappear.

          This is not a propagandistic whopper, as you so inelegantly put it. Not at all. It is merely a lifetime’s familiarity with the text. I have no money riding on this, but I think your criticism is hasty, ill thought through, and exaggerated. Parables are not sayings, and do not necessarily show approval for what occurs in them, but the meanings of the parables, as heard, can be very different to any of the sayings within them. The verse about the sword in Luke 22 is very mysterious, and it is hard to think of it as something said by gospel Jesus. It only occurs in one gospel. It is not clear why it is said. And it is inconsistent with too much else that is said.

          The point of my saying what I did was not to approve of all that Jesus said or did, or even what he is thought by his disciples and his followers today to mean. It is merely said to defend the idea that there may quite legitimately be thought to be an historical person at the centre of the mythicized Jesus. And nothing that I have heard convinces me otherwise. Indeed, if you are looking for real contradictions, the one about selling your cloak and buying a sword is much better than the words from a parable (which have meaning only in context). But of course, we expect there to be contradictions. This does not impugn the historicity of Jesus.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

            “Love your neighbour as yourself” is from Leviticus, and is quite appropriate as an expression of how one should treat one’s neighbour.

            I’m sure you’re well aware of Mark 12:31 and Matthew 22:39, so why are you implying that they’re not also Jesus’s words?

            The expression about slaughtering one’s enemies is part of a parable, and is not a saying of Jesus. It is, in fact, hyperbole, and has very little relation to the rest of the parable.

            Oh, come now, Eric. This is far beneath you.

            You know as well as I that the character in the parable is a stand-in for Jesus, and that the parable is all about Armageddon. And you’re fully aware that Jesus is prophesied to kill all non-Christians when the Final Trump sounds and the End of Days begins and the Four Horsemen ride and all the rest.

            Hell — it’s the freakin’ foundation of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Credo!

            This is not a propagandistic whopper, as you so inelegantly put it. Not at all. It is merely a lifetime’s familiarity with the text.

            Not the text. The “sophisticated” propagandistic exegesis of the text.

            Right here, you’ve demonstrated that you’re so far immersed in the apologia that you’ve completely forgotten not only the text, but the widespread common understanding of the text. Have you forgotten how many people expect Jesus to return in their lifetimes? How many more expect him to eventually return? Can you name one single period in Christian history, starting with the authorship of the Gospels, when the end wasn’t nigh for at least some? Do you not remember Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:27? You want your biographical consistency, it’s right there — Jesus as the harbinger of the end of the world.

            But of course, we expect there to be contradictions. This does not impugn the historicity of Jesus.

            In which scenario do you expect more contradictions of a more significant nature: a flesh-and-blood Jesus grounding all subsequent histories, or individuals and factions competing for mindshare in the definition of their new imaginary friend?

            I’ve repeatedly expressed the overwhelming hard evidence of the syncretic nature of Jesus, and the contradictory nature of the Gospels is only supplemental to that. But even you must admit that it’s a point that plays much more strongly in the mythicist court than the historicist — so why do historicists try to play it with this “criterion of embarrassment” nonsense?

            b&

            • Posted August 31, 2014 at 5:43 am | Permalink

              Well, of course, Ben, they are Jesus’ words — and if they are, then of course Jesus existed. If the gospels are simply the free composition of a mythmaking community, then none of the words are Jesus’s, and we should expect that the consistency between some attributed words of Jesus and others would be largely a matter of chance. To a certain extent this is true, because there was a myth-making process taking place, for, if there was a man at the centre of the stories, it is hard to get back to the original figure and the words that were attributed to him. One of the problems of historical critical study of the sources, supposing there was a real existing person at the heart of the stories, is to try to get back to the level of the real person. This is not a simple process, but not a ridiculous process either, as you can tell from the study of the early Greek philosophers.

              I did not mean to imply that “Love your neighbour as yourself” was not a saying of Jesus. I was merely attributing it correctly to its original source. No doubt Jesus did hold this. But let’s suppose that he did. There are other sayings that seem to back this up. “Love your enemies, do good to them that despitefully use you,” etc. But if these are Jesus words, then we need to sift through the sayings to locate those which are only doubtfully attributed to him. The parables are off to one side, because they are illustrative stories, and what occurs within a story cannot be safely attributed to the person who tells the story as a saying appropriately attributed to the story-teller as something said in the first person.

              Nor am I denying that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. That was Albert Schweitzer’s opinion, and it may be right. There seems to be an urgency about some of Jesus’ sayings that suggest that the apocalypticism was his. One of the worst sayings, to my mind, is the condemnation of the villages of Chorazim Capernaum and Bethsaida. And this is said in the first person. I’m not trying to picture Jesus as a perfect human being, for I don’t think he was. The fact that hell fire in the Christian Bible only makes an appearance in the Christian texts has always been, for me, one of the most obvious reasons for doubting Jesus’ moral rectitude. But I do not include as first person sayings anything said by a character in a parable, since Jesus taught by means of parables, and it is simply hazardous to attribute sayings of parable characters to Jesus himself.

              Nor am I denying that there are contradictions in the text. Some sayings of Jesus, like the sword verse, are not only puzzling, but are in conflict with other things attributed to him. Peter (I believe) is said to have threatened one of the guards in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus tells him to put down his sword, for those who live by the sword die by the sword, and for many generations no Christian was allowed to bear arms. My point is that none of this shows that Jesus did not exist. It is said that Bart Ehrman was not trained as an historian, but, of course, training in biblical criticism includes an essential training in historial methods, and if you read Ehrman’s book on the historical Jesus, you will see how he outlines the historical methods which underlie his own work.

              As to your question,

              In which scenario do you expect more contradictions of a more significant nature: a flesh-and-blood Jesus grounding all subsequent histories, or individuals and factions competing for mindshare in the definition of their new imaginary friend?

              I would say that the best answer would be whether it is possible, from the evidence we have, to discern a consistent, believable historical figure. This is what the Jesus Seminar attempted to do, and it seems to me that they got as close as anyone to achieving this. There is a consistency amongst a group of sayings that suggests a person at the heart of it. If he were just an imaginary friend, I think it would be difficult to do this, for there would be no reason, in this case, to worry about consistency. Inconsistency is inevitable, since so much myth-making was a factor in the telling of the story of Jesus, and each approached the myth-making in his own way (which is so much in evidence in the nativity stories). But why were those stories thought necessary? Mark has neither a birth story nor a resurrection story, so it is likely that those were mythical additions to the core story. The Q sayings source did not have a nativity story or a resurrection account either, which further supports the existence of sayings sources long before the myth-making imagination got to work. And it is on the basis of those sayings that Christianity was able to derive a fairly consistent message from the start. That may be largely due to the earlier period when sayings sources were all that Christians had. Remember that the NT did not exist as a unified body of work until at least the fourth century. That Jesus was also probably an apocalyptic prophet, as Albert Schweitzer suggested, is certainly suggested by apocalyptic sayings in the earliest gospel (Mark), and elsewhere. As the centuries have gone by, this apocalypticism has been largely left behind, except by fundamentalists and other extremists.

              The question is whether there is a believable person at the heart of the texts, and what that person was like, what were his primary emphases, and so on. I think there is enough core consistency to do that. I could be wrong. Ehrman could be wrong. But it is much harder to show that we are wrong than you seem to think, and telling me that I know better than that and that this is far beneath me isn’t really a very compelling response. This was in answer to my reference to hyperbole in the parables (or that specific one). Well, I think such hyperbole is a feature of the parables. They were pointed stories, sometimes very pointed, in order to make an impression and have an effect. Why should hyperbole not be one of the techniques used? As it undoubtedly is. And I still think, (i) that the hyperbole is this case is out of proportion to the rest of the parable, and (ii) that it ties in quite naturally to the remark about Jesus going up to Jerusalem. You also have to remember that those who wrote about Jesus, having watched him being crucified (if Jesus was a real character, and if the did die this way — there is simply too much obvious prophecy historicised — with Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 in the background — in the Passion narrative to be able to sort fact from fiction here, if anywhere), might well have had violent thoughts about those who did this. And since they blamed “the Jews”, and later treated the Jews with the kind of contempt illustrated by the king in the parable, it is not altogether surprising to find such feelings expressed there. No one is saying that the gospels are straightforward historical texts, or that they recorded Jesus’ sayings accurately, or that they did not add to the corpus of sayings (and parables). None of this is in question. It still doesn’t add up to a fiction, especially if it is possible to derive from the texts a consistent, believable character, which I think is possible. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t threaten those who heard him with hell fire and eternal punishment, one of the factors, I think, which must subvert Christian claims as to Jesus’ eternal significance. But nor does that mean that he did not exist, which is the matter at issue here, a matter which both Christians and atheists seem unable to divorce from their primary motivations (either to affirm or to demolish belief).

              • GBJames
                Posted August 31, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

                Right off the bat, Eric, you lost me…

                “Well, of course, Ben, they are Jesus’ words — and if they are, then of course Jesus existed.”

                Frodo said “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.”

                Did Frodo exist, too? Why not, by your logic? Because the author is a known individual instead of a collection of anonymous writers? That is an extremely weak case for existence.

                I don’t know who wrote The Urantia Book. Can I search it for clues about the historical Jesus? Why not? There is plenty about him to be found in The Fifth Epochal Revelation.

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Well, of course, Ben, they are Jesus’ words — and if they are, then of course Jesus existed. If the gospels are simply the free composition of a mythmaking community, then none of the words are Jesus’s, and we should expect that the consistency between some attributed words of Jesus and others would be largely a matter of chance.

                I’m sorry, but that doesn’t even begin to follow.

                You are aware, are you not, that many people have written stories about Sherlock Holmes since Doyle? And, if you were to read those stories, you’d find a remarkable degree of consistency amongst them. Does this mean that Holmes must be real?

                The parables are off to one side, because they are illustrative stories, and what occurs within a story cannot be safely attributed to the person who tells the story as a saying appropriately attributed to the story-teller as something said in the first person.

                Huh? That’s a particularly transparent cop-out. Jesus used these parables to teach particular points, did he not? And the point of the “Kill zem! Kill zem all!” parable was to prepare the audience for the Apocalypse, with the king in the story unambiguously a stand-in for Jesus himself. How on Earth can you justify setting that “off to one side,” simply because the character used his favorite rhetorical technique? It’s like claiming that one can’t conclude anything about the character of Holmes from any of his drawn-out syllogisms!

                Some sayings of Jesus, like the sword verse, are not only puzzling, but are in conflict with other things attributed to him.

                Eric, you need to take the time to, finally, once and for all, actually read the Bible. Not the various exegeses, but the actual Bible.

                If you do so, you’ll see that Jesus really is one nasty motherfucking sonofabitch, with the pleasant aphorisms you know him as a veneer as thin as Hitler kissing babies.

                There’s the “Kill zem all!” parable. There’s “bring not peace but a sword,” and the setting of fathers against sons, and the condemnation to hellfire of all those who love their parents more than they love Jesus. Right there in the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus — who is, after all, the ultimate judge of humanity — condemns to infinite torture all men who’ve ever looked admiringly upon a woman whom they’re not married to and failed to immediately gouge out their own eyeballs and chop off their own hands. There’s the virulent anti-Semitism, with the “brood of vipers” and the cursing of the Fig Tree (the ancient symbol of Rabbinic Torah study) and the rampage at the Temple and the poo-flinging Sanhedrin and the blood libel curse. Hell, even the raising of Lazarus is an horror story; the corpse was fetid and Lazarus’s family begged Jesus to let the poor schmuck rest in peace, but Jesus insisted on zombifying him anyway.

                Now, amidst all of that, are there some pleasant-sounding deepities about love and neighborliness? Sure. And Hitler really did kiss babies.

                In which scenario do you expect more contradictions of a more significant nature: a flesh-and-blood Jesus grounding all subsequent histories, or individuals and factions competing for mindshare in the definition of their new imaginary friend?

                I would say that the best answer would be whether it is possible, from the evidence we have, to discern a consistent, believable historical figure.

                But that’s merely the first step! You can come up with internally-consistent theories all day long. The only way to actually learn which theories are a reasonable match with objective reality is to test those theories against objective reality — and that’s where your own theory fails miserably. Since there’s no consistent objective criteria that can extract your Jesus even from the New Testament — let alone all the extra-Biblical evidence — your theory doesn’t even get out of the starting gate.

                The Q sayings source did not have a nativity story or a resurrection account either, which further supports the existence of sayings sources long before the myth-making imagination got to work. And it is on the basis of those sayings that Christianity was able to derive a fairly consistent message from the start.

                That’s it? An un-evidenced hypothesized set of common sayings is evidence that a real flesh-and-blood human matching the broad outline of the description in his biography is persuasive evidence of his existence?

                Let’s hand-wave Q into existence. How do you know they’re a real quotes file from a real human? How do you know Q wasn’t a poem, or the work of a committee, or a fraud perpetrated by a Peregrinus-like figure, or an ancient piece of secret scripture, or any of a brazilian other very reasonable possibilities?

                No one is saying that the gospels are straightforward historical texts, or that they recorded Jesus’ sayings accurately, or that they did not add to the corpus of sayings (and parables).

                You’re impeaching your own best witness. If the Gospel authors felt free to play so fast and loose with the facts, on what basis do you conclude that they were honest enough to start with real facts in the first place? Would it not be more convenient for such people to dispense with the messiness and inconvenience of reality for the purposes of advancing their agendas?

                Once you’ve established that a biographer is so dishonest and / or careless as to attribute Perseus’s birth narrative to Jesus — something you yourself did in this post — and once you discover that the rest of his biography was similarly stolen from other Pagan demigods — something Justin Martyr did in the second century — then, if you want to claim some remaining kernel of truth to the biography, you certainly can’t derive it from the biography itself. You’ve got to go to other independent, uncontaminated, proven reliable sources.

                And you most emphatically can not do so by inventing, from whole cloth, an hitherto-unknown Aramaic eyewitness account, which is what Ehrman did! That antic of his alone should be enough to utterly demolish his entire academic career, and it happens right in this book you’re entreating me to re-read.

                b&

      • trou
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        We’ve got some who think Jesus is based on some real person and they base their reasoning on the biblical scholars, what sounds logical and the scriptures themselves.
        Others on this thread have, as you suggested we do, based their arguments on ancient writings, a noticeable lack of Jesus sightings, and obvious plagiarism by early Christians.
        If I understand you, you seem to think that the fist group, those who leave it to the “experts”, are the wise ones. Scholors should know best because they study this stuff. Appeal to authority, huh.
        Bullshit. Why would I believe anything a Christian scholar says when the whole Christian enterprise is evil and based on lies.
        I’m in Ben’s camp. It’s a large camp full of scholars also, and in growing numbers, that aren’t authoritarian personalities that defer to their “betters”.
        Just as I one day saw clearly that god didn’t exist, and wondered how I could have ignored all the signs, I have for some time seen clearly that Jesus didn’t exist. It is so plain that I wonder what is wrong with those who tenaciously hold on to the Christian tainted views on the subject. It seems like such an accommodationist way of thinking to me.
        I don’t like to accommodate and I’m not an authoritarian personality either so your comment bugs me. It seems like you are saying that anyone who doubts the existence of a real Jesus should defer to the experts, or else get an education which would then convince us that we were wrong after all.
        I’m disappointed in your argument.

        • trou
          Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          I was writing my comment and Ben was quicker in submitting his.
          He said it much better than I and I could easily have not bothered at all, although I don’t like nonsense from someone I have admired to go unchallenged.
          Nonsense from knuckleheads is to be expected, but nonsense from someone who is respected and should know better needs a response.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Well you should, in a measure, defer to the experts, where the experts, like Ehrman, are writing as historians. We defer to the authority of science all the time, and the scientists who tell us what they have discovered about the world, even though we may not understand anywhere near fully what is meant. There is no reason why attention and a certain amount of respect should be paid to historians who know more about a subject than we do. We defer to them, not as people with authority, but as people with knowledge, which they present in a reasonable and forthright manner. Ehrman’s book may not be a scholarly work, and be written for the ordinary reader, but it seems to me, given his familiarity with the texts, and with the surrounding events of the time, that he deserves some respect. But his arguments, and the reasons that he gives are the things that gives him authority, and I have yet to see convincing reasons for doubting his claims. As I say, the five simple reasons given above are hardly rocket science, and are not particularly compelling, at least to me. Using these as a measure, the historicity of most historical figures known only at one or two removes from the persons themselves, would be called into question. It would make the history of classical antiquity almost impossible to write.

          Additionally, I would like you to tell me precisely what you suppose to be nonsense in what I have written in my first comment above.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            sorry ‘should not be paid …’

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            If I’m not mistaken Ehrman has a theological PhD, so he’s not strictly speaking a “historian”. Richard Carrier has a PhD in ancient history and in his recent book “On the Historicity of Jesus” he concludes that most probably Jesus did not exist. If you are interested in a historian’s perspective on the question I highly recommend the book, it addresses all of the points you raise.

          • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

            We defer to the authority of science all the time, and the scientists who tell us what they have discovered about the world, even though we may not understand anywhere near fully what is meant.

            But only because those same scientists present their evidence and reasoning for why we should believe what they say, and because independent verification of those claims hold up.

            Using these as a measure, the historicity of most historical figures known only at one or two removes from the persons themselves, would be called into question.

            As well it should be!

            It would make the history of classical antiquity almost impossible to write.

            So?

            It would be so much easier to do high energy physics if you didn’t have to deal with this five-sigma standard. You could just declare SUSY or whatever to be true, and you wouldn’t have to build multibillion dollar colliders to come to the truth!

            Alas, that’s not the way the universe works.

            b&

            • Posted August 31, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              Ben (this comment does not only respond to you, by the way), why do you deliberately interpret what I say in the least positive way that you can? Your physics analogy is completely beside the point, because history does not provide this kind of do or die evidence. My point about the difficulty of writing classical history if the same criteria were imposed on it as you wish to apply to to the textual evidence of the gospels, is that it is inconsistent to demand more stringent criteria to the evidence provided by the early Christian writings than are applied to other texts.

              As to cherry picking authorities as Trou suggests, I have not cherry picked authorities at all. I have spoken solely about Ehrman. But you might also like to refer to RJ Hoffmann, whose atheist credentials are impeccable, and who is part of the Center for Inquiry’s Jesus Project (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/jesusproject)(if not its director), and he has sharply criticized the mythicists about Jesus’ existence (in particular Carrier). The slander that people like Ehrman support Jesus’ historicity simply so that they can keep their jobs is ludicrous.

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Ben (this comment does not only respond to you, by the way), why do you deliberately interpret what I say in the least positive way that you can? Your physics analogy is completely beside the point, because history does not provide this kind of do or die evidence.

                That is the point.

                Historians — many, certainly not all — pretend that their conclusions are on ground roughly as solid as those of all the other sciences. But the standards of historians who practice their craft as you describe are indistinguishable from theologians when it comes to evidentiary basis for their claims.

                You don’t get to claim confidence in your conclusions because you’ve done the best you can. Not if you want to be honest.

                And, at this point, I must be fair to historians: many of them really are honest academics, and they base their conclusions on far more than the uncritical textual analyses you’re promoting. Julius Caesar is an excellent example; we’ve got (copies of copies of copies) of his autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul, but that’s not enough to be confident that the text is reliable. What we also have are extensive archaeological digs at many of the sites he mentions, and those digs confirm the presence of Roman military encampments perfectly consistent with Caesar’s descriptions. Having established his credibility on that front, we can now lend some (but certainly not all) of that credibility back to some of the other things he wrote about that didn’t get preserved in the archaeological record.

                As such, we can be overwhelmingly certain that Caesar conquered Gaul, and have good confidence in the accuracy of his description of how that happened.

                Nothing even vaguely remotely exists for Jesus — or, indeed, for so many of the other figures we “know” from history. See the discussions in this thread about Paul and John the Baptist, for perfect examples. In some cases there’s just no way to know much; in others, such as Jesus, we can plainly see the official Church interpretation soundly contradicted by its own most revered saints.

                An honest historian will acknowledge that our state of knowledge is as I’ve described it: gaping holes where little or no confidence is warranted, but some remarkable pillars that stand up to rigorous examination.

                What an honest historian won’t do is insist that the field can’t survive the serious application of the scientific method.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • trou
            Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

            You’ve asked for a response and once again others have said it better than I and quicker.
            However, (I must get in this box Maru style) your appeal to authority is nonsense because of the motivations of those you are appealing to. Their integrity is suspect because of the industry they are trying to maintain. Read Avalos. These scholars are indebted to Christianity which gives them their livelihood. Why would they impugn their own previous works or those of their colleagues which would be detrimental to their careers.
            Several atheists also fall into this group. Those who would lose out on speaking or debating gigs if they got too radical with their atheism.
            Even more nonsensical is that there are experts who have better credentials than those you choose to tout, those who are not beholden to Christian groups or organizations. They can and do follow the evidence where it leads and don’t fall into the role of apologist.
            I would respect you more if you too dealt with the evidence presented instead of this passive aggressive appeal to your cherry picked authorities while ignoring the evidence as presented.

  80. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    On second thoughts – OF COURSE Jesus was real. You can see him quite clearly in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avnz9YkAsJs
    – and this is by those notorious atheists Monty Python!
    Full video evidence – what more do you need?

  81. Kevin f
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman has made no secret of using the NT as his only source for the historical Jesus. From what I read his argument rests much more on how the NT was put together than what is in it. He does this by stating:

    1) The gospels all have material that is unique to them and material that is common. This seems to imply a variety of sources of stories about Jesus available to the gospel authors.

    2) The NT stories were written by articulate Greek authors who were almost certainly well separated from the events they describe both in time and space.

    3) All the stories about Jesus agree that he was from Nazareth and that he was crucified.

    Ehrman’s main argument seems to be that the only way for all the gospels to agree on these few points is if there actually existed a man from named Jesus Nazareth who was crucified. Put another way, if Jesus was made up, he must have been made up multiple times and it is hard to see how all the stories could agree on a few points if they weren’t based on fact.

    • Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman’s logic and conclusions are as embarrassingly unsophisticated as C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma and deserve little more in the way of rebuttal.

      b&

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        In other words, you can’t rebut them.

      • Posted August 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Nonsense, Ben, read him again.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          He was so bad I could barely stomach him the first time ’round, so I gave my copy to Jerry. He ripped Ehrman to shreds, too.

          https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/i-have-a-look-at-ehrmans-new-book-on-jesus/

          You might recall the fact; you commented on that thread.

          b&

          • Posted August 31, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

            I hadn’t remembered that Jerry didn’t read the book, but merely skimmed it an offered a few reflections based on a cursory glance at it. Scarcely a basis for a considered account of the book’s contents. I agreed with one point that he made, namely, that establishing an historical Jesus would give comfort to those who wanted to affirm Jesus’ divine sonship, or something like that. But that is not a reason for not establishing Jesus’ historicity. One of the things that worries me is that the Christian texts being scripture is being used as an argument not to accord them historical weight, and that, as Ehrman points out, is not a very compelling reason to dismiss the gospels as historical sources. I find it hard to understand why you could barely stomach Ehrman the first time round. It’s dispassionate and scholarly, acknowledges that the gospels are practically the only sources we have, although it is significant, I think, that Pilate is remembered mainly because his name is linked with Jesus’s name in the secular sources that we have. And surely Ehrman is right that we cannot reject the gospels as sources just because at a later date they became parts of Christian scripture. No doubt, from the start, they were written for religious reasons, but the gospels show that they are themselves dependent on other sources, since a comparison of the gospels shows this dependence, and, interestingly, those earlier sources show very little of the myth-making tendency that is very prominent in the four gospels in the NT. On the whole they were sayings sources.

            But my question to you was a different one. You said Ehrman’s logic and conclusions are as embarrassing as Lewis’ trilemma argument for Jesus divinity: either mad, bad or god. This is what I think is nonsense in your response, and needs support.

            • Posted August 31, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

              I find it hard to understand why you could barely stomach Ehrman the first time round.

              I addressed this in my previous response. That whole business of concluding from a few bon mots in Aramaic when the authors were clearly searching for le mot juste to add an air of verisimilitude to the magnum opus that there was an entire eyewitness account in Aramaic — and then going on to reconstruct what was in said account!

              I haven’t even encountered any USENET trolls who had the gall to be so brazen, and yet that’s the heart and soul of Ehrman’s book.

              But my question to you was a different one. You said Ehrman’s logic and conclusions are as embarrassing as Lewis’ trilemma argument for Jesus divinity: either mad, bad or god. This is what I think is nonsense in your response, and needs support.

              Kevin f summarized Ehrman’s logic up above: the Gospels contain both unique and shared material; the Gospels were written by Greeks far away and long after the events; they all agree that Jesus had been crucified by Pilate; therefore Jesus was real and he had been crucified by Pilate.

              I could go out on the street right now and ask an hundred random people who Pinocchio was, and they’d all say he was a wooden puppet who was brought to life with magic and that his nose would grow whenever he told a lie. Many would add various inconsistent details, such as whether or not he had strings, whether or not he sang to crickets, and even more significant variations once we started drilling down into the details.

              By Ehrman’s logic, Pinocchio must really have been really real, since all these people so far away and so long after the events agree on this basic core of facts about him.

              If you don’t see that as at least as embarrassing as the Trilemma, you’re beyond hope.

              b&

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                Ben, either you didn’t read the book, or, like Jerry, you just skimmed it, for the account of the Aramaic words in the gospels is not the only evidence he presents. Nor is it the case that his argument can be summarized in the simplistic way suggested:

                the Gospels were written by Greeks far away and long after the events; they all agree that Jesus had been crucified by Pilate; therefore Jesus was real and he had been crucified by Pilate.

                The matter of independent sources is briefly, but cogently, explained. As I said earlier, the fact that, in secular sources, Pilate is remembered because Jesus (or the Christ) is remembered, is pretty strong evidence for the existence of Jesus (or the man called the Christ). Independent attestations of something are, other things being equal, reasonable grounds for believing what is independently attested constitutes evidence for the thing attested to. Rules of evidence indicate this. As to Pinnochio, given the story, there is no reason to believe that what people said about him, however independent, provide any historical basis for his existence. We’re not talking about Jesus supposed miracles, only about the man himself, and there is no basis, simply based on the claim that he performed marvelous works, to doubt the existence of the man. So the Pinnochio analogy simply does not hold. A puppet coming magically to life is reason enough to deny the real existence of Pinnochio, no matter what people said. What is embarrassing is that you think this is an argument.

                But back to Aramaic. Not only does Ehrman point out that Aramaic phrases are preserved in the narrative, but also the fact that “some Gospel passages do not contain Aramaic words but … make sense only whne their Greek words and phrases are translated back into Aramaic.” This is strong evidence indeed that the original sources were Aramaic. And he gives a good example of this in the simple saying “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In Aramaic the word barnash meant both man and son of man, so that the gospel writers confused the issue by attributing sovereignty over the Sabbath to the Son of Man (that is, Jesus). But in the context the ‘therefore’ referring to Jesus as Son of Man makes no sense. But translate it back into Aramaic it makes perfect sense, since it would have had the word ‘barnash’ throughout, and Jesus’ response is not to claim peculiar sovereignty for himself (which doesn’t follow from ‘Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, but simply to affirm that his disciples were right to reap grain on the Sabbath (which is what they were accused of doing) because, being made for man (human beings), the (as human beings) were doing precisely what the Sabbath was made for. But this only makes sense in terms of the Aramaic word. The argument is stronger than you think. (This is around page 69 in the original — though I’m reading it on a Kindle.)

                I’m sorry, Ben, but you’re being hypercritical for no reason whatsoever. If you have some real arguments to pose against Ehrman’s book, by all means produce them, but don’t try to pass off nonsense as argument.

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

                Ben, either you didn’t read the book, or, like Jerry, you just skimmed it, for the account of the Aramaic words in the gospels is not the only evidence he presents.

                How many flies does it take to spoil the soup?

                As I said earlier, the fact that, in secular sources, Pilate is remembered because Jesus (or the Christ) is remembered, is pretty strong evidence for the existence of Jesus (or the man called the Christ).

                The latter can’t possibly follow from the former. Have you any idea how many fictions have been authored that picked real figures as their arch-villains? How many Christians know of the Pharisees as a scholarly Rabbinic sect rather than as cartoon caricatures of evil?

                Independent attestations of something are, other things being equal, reasonable grounds for believing what is independently attested constitutes evidence for the thing attested to.

                …and your evidence that the Gospels represent independent attestations is…an invisible common source? You’re not even being internally consistent with your theory!

                We’re not talking about Jesus supposed miracles, only about the man himself,

                Have you any evidence that separates the miracles from the man?

                No, of course not. I challenge you to flip to a random page in the New Testament and find it completely free of the incredibly miraculous.

                Yes, there are mundane elements to the story — but there’re mundane elements to every fiction! Hercules was a strong man, and there’re lots of strong men in the world, no?

                A puppet coming magically to life is reason enough to deny the real existence of Pinnochio, no matter what people said.

                And a man coming magically back to life from the dead, complete with gaping chest wounds, isn’t reason enough to deny the real existence of Jesus, no matter what people say?

                But back to Aramaic. […] This is strong evidence indeed that the original sources were Aramaic.

                So?

                I’ll grant you that, even if only for the sake of argument.

                How do you know that those “original sources [in] Aramaic” came from personal eyewitnesses? How do you know they’re not part of a bedtime story recited to Aramaic children? How do you know they’re not part of Peregrinus’s standup routine?

                I’m sorry, Ben, but you’re being hypercritical for no reason whatsoever.

                Hypercritical is what the peer review process is all about. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

                There’s no possible way that Ehrman’s work could have made it past a thesis committee, let alone a journal review board, in any respectable academic discipline. Not because of the informal nature of the presentation or the introductory level of the treatment, but because of the inexcusable sloppiness of his scholarship and reasoning. He could have gotten away with claiming that the Gospels support evidence of a shared Aramaic tradition, and he even could have made an attempt at reconstructing that text. But using those conclusions for anything further is beyond the pale, even for PoMo-infested humanities departments.

                b&

              • Posted August 31, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                Ben, ‘hypercritical’ means excessively and unreasonably critical, in case you need a lesson in semantics. It’s not that it’s too hot in the kitchen. It’s just that your stove is on fire. It’s perfectly useless to argue with you, since you clearly don’t have a single idea what you’re talking about. If you had actually read Ehrman’s book, and could offer reasons why you think his scholarship sloppy, that would be one thing, but the repeated claims to that effect without any clear evidence to show for it, is simply absurd. It’s not that I can’t stand the heat. You are so hypercritical that you don’t pay attention to a thing I have said. Your analogies are poor. Your judgement of Ehrman is silly and unfounded. And you knowledge of the quest for the historical Jesus is nugatory. Read something beside the mythicists, whose argument are almost all evidence of special pleading, then we can argue.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                It’s perfectly useless to argue with you, since you clearly don’t have a single idea what you’re talking about.

                Rather than launch into a pissing contest by throwing the exact same charge right back at you, let me ask you to take up the challenge I lay out here:

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/a-twier-exchange/#comment-1047476

                I think that cuts right to the heart of the matter, and, if anybody’s going to have a chance to meet the challenge, it’ll be you.

                b&

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                Ben, the requirements that you state in the comment to which you refer do not reflect the way that history is done. We do not in the first place, in attempting to answer the question “Did Jesus exist?”, decide beforehand what a uniquely identifying biography of Jesus would look like. That is to put the cart before the horse.

                What we are asking is whether a man named Jesus existed. We know that, whatever he was like, a lot of mythisizing took place around his story, so, in the first place, we do not know specifics about the historical Jesus. The question is, at the outset, not what he was like, but whether there is any reason to believe that he existed. So the first requirement is simply historically irrelevant.

                This makes your second requirement irrelevant as well, before it predisposes a uniquely identifying biography.

                This also means that your third requirement is also unreasonably anticipatory. It presupposes that we can know in advance, based on the historical evidence, what Jesus was really like, and there is no basis upon which we can make this historical judgement before we have done preliminary historical research into the question of Jesus existence. This is in fact the way that biblical scholars deal with the question: first of all, they ask whether we have sufficient objective evidence, in terms of independent sources, to suppose that a man named Jesus existed. Only after we have answered this question, can we go on to fill in the details of what might be considered a reasonable biography.

                Notice that this is precisely what Bart Ehrman does. His only question is whether Jesus existed, that is, a man around whom myths accreted. You seem to think that in order to prove the Jesus existed, we must end up with something like the Jesus in whom most Christians believe. Historically, this is completely misleading. We know that many of the stories about Jesus are, indeed, must be made up; because, for one thing, they include the performance of acts which simply do not happen in our world. But there are other elements of the life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels and other sources which are perfectly humanly credible. Amongst these the primary place must go to the teachings of Jesus. At one time in the Gospels Jesus is even made to complain that people won’t believe unless they see wondrous works, bus himself investing his teaching with greater importance and authority.

                So how do we set about establishing the historical existence of the man, prescinding from the historical accretions that clustered around his actions and words – presuming that he was a real human being who lived in the early first century CE? What Ehrman does is to look for independent sources of the sayings and deeds of Jesus, of which he finds several. The principle lying behind this is similar to the rules of evidence used in a court of law. If we find a number of independent witnesses who testify to having seen the defendant in the vicinity of, or in the commission of the crime of which he is accused, we are more likely to credit the stories of those witnesses. In one of your comments you speak about an unknown source, but there are good reasons for detecting within the Gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, independent sources used by the authors of those Gospels in telling their story. For example, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke both contain verses that clearly come from a common source. They also contain material that also comes from the Gospel of Mark. Besides this, they each seem to have a unique source of their own. Presupposing that these Gospels were written by different authors at different times and places, which is perfectly reasonable, the existence of so much common material is an indication that there were different sources in circulation at the time. This is a reasonable basis upon which to base the assumption that the Gospels are more than mere confabulations, and to suggest that there are is reasonably assumed to be a unitary source from which these independent sources derive. There is very little reason, under the circumstances, to deny that the subject of these sources is a mere figment of the imagination.

                This is the way history is done. It does not begin with unique descriptions of either the persons or events which are its subject matter. These are matters which will come out in the final product. To begin with such a unique description would be to make assumptions which are unwarranted before the historical research has been carried out. The reason that most mythicising theories of Jesus existence are wrong is precisely because they begin within appropriate assumptions, and so reading into the evidence conclusions to which they all along intended to come.

                There are basic issues of historical Method editor issue here, and those who question the existence of a man called Jesus has simply so far failed to face up to those basic issues. Until they do, their conclusions are valueless. They are, in many respects, like the fundamentalist counterparts: they know beforehand what their conclusion is going to be and they fail to carry out the most elementary historical procedures, a failure which vitiates their programme, just as it vitiates the conclusions of their fundamentalist doubles.

                In conclusion, then, the challenge which you offer is badly formed, or badly informed. Meeting your challenge head on, therefore, would be to commit a fundamental historical howler, which is clearly a trap for the unwary.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                Eric, I’m not asking for the epic tale of your quest in the search for an historical Jesus.

                I’m asking for the conclusions you’ve reached as a result of your research.

                Either you’ve performed a scientific (broadly construed) analysis, which means that you’ve got a rational analysis of objective observation supporting the proportion of your beliefs…or your research and / or analysis is incomplete (or you’re practicing some form of pseudoscience).

                Yes, of course. You can’t start with your conclusions. But, at some point, you do have to start a process that begins with a theory — a potential conclusion, if you will — and then see how well that theory compares with reality.

                That’s what I’m asking of you.

                The theory you’re offering is so utterly vague as to be utterly useless: that there was a man who lived in the early part of the first century whose name was, “Jesus.” Of course there was! There were dozens such — the name was as popular then as it remains today in its modern form of, “Joshua.” Is every person alive during the reign of Herod Agrippa with that name the Christian Jesus?

                So, again, by now, with all the research you think you’ve done, you really ought to know more about this individual than just his name.

                And that’s what I’m asking: what do you (think you) know about this really real Jesus, and what evidence do you have that supports your conclusion and no other?

                Don’t forget the importance of that last italicized bit. A scientific theory is one which could be proven worng if very specific observations reveal something not consistent with the theory. A conspiracy theory is one which can’t even in principle be proven worng. Careful observations reveal that Mercury’s orbit very slightly deviates from that predicted by Newton’s theory, demonstrating it to be not exactly right. But no observation can rule out the possibility that your tinfoil hat has slipped and aliens are controlling your thoughts with their mind rays.

                Worse, apologetics frequently creates false dilemmas and never even considers all the possibilities. Lewis’s Trilemma is the famous modern archetype. Ehrman’s Aramaic source fits that mold perfectly; there could have trivially been a prior Aramaic source shared by the Gospel authors that traces its origins not to a supposed Jesus but to Peregrinus; the existence of the supposed Aramaic source is entirely irrelevant to the question of Jesus’s own existence, even if conclusively demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt. To use your legal analogy, that’s a textbook example of hearsay, something that would get a lawyer jail time for contempt if she pushed it as hard as Ehrman does.

                Now, if it helps to explain a point by telling the story of how you discovered it, by all means, tell the story; just don’t forget to get to the point. Archimedes in the bath is a great classroom lesson in specific gravity, but you can teach the lesson without even mentioning the name of that delightful small city near the northern California border. But the facts must stand independent of the story, or else you’re practicing apologetics, not science.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                « The question is, at the outset, not what he was like, but whether there is any reason to believe that he existed. »

                But if we are have no notion of what he was like, how do we know what we are looking for?

                « first of all, they ask whether we have sufficient objective evidence, in terms of independent sources, to suppose that a man named Jesus existed. »

                Well, of course, /a/ man named Jesus existed …

                « What Ehrman does is to look for independent sources of the sayings and deeds of Jesus, of which he finds several. »

                Shouldn’t that be “the sayings and deeds /attributed to/ Jesus”? Even if Ehrman can find those sources, it’s not clear to me how he shows that they are all deeds and sayings of the same man — and of the particular man we’re looking for.

                « This is a reasonable basis upon which to base the assumption that the Gospels are more than mere confabulations »

                But why might we not assume that the original source (if one exists) is a mere confabulation?

                /@

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Sorry for some of the grammar and spelling mistakes. I’m trying Dragon Naturally Speaking for the umpteenth time.The third para should read

                This makes your second requirement irrelevant as well, because it presupposes a uniquely identifying biography.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                Man, I have never had luck with any form of dictation. I just don’t compose in that sort of linear manner. Hell — that word, “compose”? Started out as “write,” then, “think,” then, “write — or think –” and so on.

                I hate to think what life would be like if I had to give up typing. (Inserted sentence follows) I’d rather type through excruciating arthritic pain than dictate. How others do it^W^W manage to get anything (insert: “remotely”) coherent out of dictation is utterly beyond me….

                b&

            • Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              Ben, do you work hard at trying to misunderstand someone or does it just come to you naturally? First of all, I’m not talking here about personal research, although I have done some. My main concern is to show that the kind of research that Eherman does is not done unreasonably. The main question is not what kind of a man Jesus was, but whether he existed at all, and there seem to be good grounds for affirming that he really did exist as a first century Jewish prophet. Whether the man in whom Christians believe, that is, a man appointed by God to bring salvation to his people, and who can be described as son of God, the divine Logos, a man who was crucified died and was buried and rose again for us is another question altogether and cannot be settled by historical means. So the central question is whether Jesus as a man, a man like you or me, really existed, and carried out a prophetic ministry in Galilee and Judaea.

              So, the simple theory with which we begin is that Jesus existed as a man. It’s really just a simple as that, and that is really all that Bart Ehrman is talking about. We don’t need to go on about heavenly messengers, or god men, or any of the other paraphernalia of Christian theology or mythicising nonsense. So when you call Jesus a miserable son of a bitch, or when you speak of the New Testament as full miracle stories, this is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether he existed as a man or not. We don’t need any sophisticated theories; all that we need is evidence confirming that he existed, and that he performed and said certain things which led people to treat him with astonishment and adulation.

              You allege that the theory I present is so vague as to be absolutely useless, but all that we are trying to establish is that Jesus was a first century man and not a figure of myth. And, as Ehrman says, there is enough evidence to show that he did exist, that he was known for his sayings and parables, and that he was believed to have done marvellous works. It also seems very likely, based on the evidence, that from some complex of circumstances, he was tried by the Romans and crucified. Much of this is expressed in biblical terms – especially the story of the suffering, trial, crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, which rely heavily on Psalm 22 and on Isaiah 53. What can be said to be historical and what must be deemed unhistorical is something that must be discerned through a careful study of the original sources, and at least the resurrection must be assumed not to have been an historical occurrence.

              As to your question concerning scientific hypotheses, this, from my point of view, has very little indeed to do with history, and it is with history that we are concerned here. The question of sources is clearly an important one, and, if Jesus is supposed to have existed as a first century Jewish prophet carrying out a ministry in Galilee and Judaea, there must be at least some internal evidence in the sources that places him in that context. The fact that some of the source material we have indicates an Aramaic source is at least one piece of confirming evidence as to the Sitz im Leben of the source document. It may not be decisive evidence, but is at least some evidence of the context in which Jesus is said to have carried out his ministry. There are other indications in the Gospels and other written sources (and you really must read an expert in the subject if you are to learn more, for I am not an expert, and I do not have some of the linguistic skills that are necessary to discern the relevance of some evidence that is required to prove the point) that the events of Jesus life were located in first century Palestine. For example, it has been suggested by some that synagogues did not exist at the time, and yet very recently a first century synagogue has been found in the region of Galilee, so the fact of Jesus attending a synagogue, as the Gospels allege, is not so far-fetched, as has been suggested. However, the case is made not by one or two conclusively demonstrated examples of such relevance, but by the accumulation of evidence, of which, as Ehrman shows, there is a great deal. To take the Aramaic example that I have already alluded to, it would not be reasonably attributable to Peregrinus, since it is, first, biblical, and second, concerns the Jewish law, which would be of doubtful relevance to a cynic philosopher.

              None of these points can reasonably be considered apologetics, and Ehrman explicitly and reasonably denies that aim. The problem with revisionist historians who want to associate the story of Jesus with a dying and rising God, is that they begin with the story and then try to make the facts fit. The importance of the work of Ehrman, Crossan, Thiessen and others is that they do precisely the opposite, following the canons of critical history, and doing so none of them, or at least very few of them, end up with the traditional Jesus of faith. Your animadversions of Bart Ehrman are ill founded at best, and uninformed at worst. He provides the critical apparatus for the historical analysis that he does, and in order to show that he fails in his quest to show the likelihood of the existence of Jesus, his are the questions that you must answer, not mine. As to the identity of Jesus, and his significance, whether religious, secular, moral or cultural, I do not have an opinion, although, clearly, in our own culture and especially in relation to English and European literature music and art, knowledge about the Christian significance of Jesus is of some cultural importance. Other than that I have no comment to make.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                The main question is not what kind of a man Jesus was, but whether he existed at all

                As Ant has just pointed out, the two questions cannot even in principle be separated. Men are common as dirt. We’re not looking for any man; we’re looking for a particular man — and, to be able to say that he did or didn’t exist, we need to be able to pick him out of the crowd. We need a set of properties for this man that apply to exactly one man and one man only, no more and no less.

                You do, seemingly most reluctantly, give us some slight fragments to work with. Assembling them all here:

                So the central question is whether Jesus as a man, a man like you or me, really existed, and carried out a prophetic ministry in Galilee and Judaea.

                all that we need is evidence confirming that he existed, and that he performed and said certain things which led people to treat him with astonishment and adulation.

                he was known for his sayings and parables, and that he was believed to have done marvellous works. It also seems very likely, based on the evidence, that from some complex of circumstances, he was tried by the Romans and crucified.

                [fragmentary quotes; all emphasis added]

                So, we have a widely-travelled, charismatic, publicly popular prophet and (seeming, at lest) miracle-worker whom the Romans (not the Sanhedrin? and not at the height of Pesach?) tried and crucified.

                And, indeed, I will concede that the existence of such an individual as you’ve outlined is reasonably plausible, as we have records of many people who fit at least one of those characterizations.

                That leads us to the first problem: this Jesus whose portrait you’ve just painted has a superset of those properties such that would have made him even more noticeable than those who actually did get noticed. Granted, records are incomplete…but, still, this is especially problematic for the case of Pliny the Elder, who devoted so much of his literary career to the documentation of miracle workers and the supernatural; your Jesus, as blandly as you’ve described him, is already more notorious than could have reasonably escaped Pliny’s attention — yet he did.

                But you’re also stymied at the other end. For the historical Jesus to somehow be “the” Jesus, he must be somebody whom the earliest Christians would recognize as Jesus. Yet Paul never makes mention of Jesus’s miraculous deeds or his public adulation and never quotes any of Jesus’s famous saying or parables — even when you’d like to smack him upside the head for going to the Hebrew Bible instead of Jesus.

                Remember, it matters not that you have a theory that is internally consistent; what matters is how well your theory holds up to possibly inconvenient external facts. The Flat Earth theory is a perfectly internally consistent theory — and one that’s even the most useful one to work with at human scales. But the theory falls down, hard, as soon as you push it to larger or more precise scales; such is the case with your theory of Jesus. It stands on its own, sure — but like an house of cards. Breathe on it hard enough and it collapses.

                As to your question concerning scientific hypotheses, this, from my point of view, has very little indeed to do with history, and it is with history that we are concerned here.

                Either your conclusions are proportioned as indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation, or you’re spouting nonsense (innocently or otherwise). Your historical analysis falls short on all three counts. First, your observations are limited and explicitly exclude observations not friendly to your conclusion. Next, your analysis is irrational in that it fails to consider all possible conclusions consistent with the evidence. Last, it determines to be most likely one particular conclusion despite a lack of consistent method of assigning probabilities to all possible conclusions.

                …circling back a bit:

                To take the Aramaic example that I have already alluded to, it would not be reasonably attributable to Peregrinus, since it is, first, biblical, and second, concerns the Jewish law, which would be of doubtful relevance to a cynic philosopher.

                Erm…methinks it’s been a bit too long since you’ve read Lucian of Samosata’s satire, The Passing of Peregrinus. It’s short and entertaining — though, to be fair, quite insulting to Christians and Christianity.

                But the point, for this discussion, isn’t that Peregrinus was a learned philosopher of the school of cynics; rather, that he was a lovable cad who had set himself on fire outside the Olympics shortly before Lucian wrote of him — and, before then, he had an extended career as a scoundrel and con artist, with the Christians as his favorite marks. In particular:

                It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

                I ask you: on what basis do you conclude that Ehrman’s supposed Aramaic source was not one of the many books composed by Peregrinus in particular, or some other unknown charlatan in general? Or, should you somehow magically exclude duplicity on the part of the author of the Aramaic source as well as gullibility on the part of the Gospel authors, how do you know that it wasn’t, as I’ve previously suggested, some random poem or song possibly even from a generation earlier?

                That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Concluding that there was an Aramaic source doesn’t even get you in the front gates, let alone the playing field. If you want admission to the parking lot, you’re first going to have to be able to state with authority what, exactly, the Aramaic source actually said — and Ehrman doesn’t even try to meet even that prelimnary standard.

                I fully understand that this philosophy of history that you and other Jesus historicists and apologists hew to doesn’t concern itself with science (broadly construed) and the standards of evidence and analysis I’ve repeatedly laid forth. You needn’t explain further that that’s the case; I admit it.

                I’m trying to show you why that makes this discipline, as practiced, worthless pseudoscience.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                The kind of man he was will take shape as we consider the evidence that supports his existence, if there is any, which I believe there is. The mythicists are not convincing, as Ehrman and others have pointed out, despite their trying very hard to explain Jesus away, but the most economical explanation is that there was a man named Jesus and that he said at least some of the things that are claimed to have been said by him. The mythicist theories are far more complex, and there is very little evidence for them. However, if you think for one minute that I am going to write a book here to satisfy all your doubts (the Aramaic saying is only one small piece of evidence amongst many), you have another think coming. The burden of proof is really on the mythicisers, and I don’t think they have met it. There’s enough of a Jewish prophet about Jesus to believe that he is far more likely to have been a wandering Jewish prophet than and Greek cynic philosopher, although there are some who suggest that Jesus message has some relationship to the cynics. But of course, Galilee of the Gentiles would have been a primarily Greek speaking area, in any event, and no doubt there was a mixing of cultures there, so it would not be surprising for Jesus to have heard of and perhaps approved of some ideas of the cynics. This is an endless process. It won’t be settled here, and I don’t intend to try. AS for your oblique reference to the lack of scientific rigour amongst historians, I have always claimed that science (even broadly construed, if that makes sense without pinning it down more exactly than that) is not the sole source of human knowledge. In fact, I think the hubris of scientific atheists is a very serious piece of intellectual betrayal which could have consequences more serious than those who take this position even dream of. Now, since have other things do do, adieu.

              • Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                The kind of man he was will take shape as we consider the evidence that supports his existence, if there is any, which I believe there is.

                Why the doubtful conditional future tense? Has two millennia really not been enough to answer the simple question of who Jesus was?

                Indeed, ask an Christian, and the question is trivially answered by reciting the Credo (or, for Methodists, apparently, paraphrasing it according to how they’ve personally been moved by the spirit).

                And, for any other historical figure for whom we have credible evidence the answer is equally trivial. Gaius Julius Caesar was the first of the Twelve, a successful general (who crossed the Rubicon) and statesman whose term as Consul marked the beginning of the end of the Republic and the transition to the Empire. He was assassinated on the floor of the Senate on the Ides of March in 710 AUC / March 15, 44 BCE. You and I both know that I could write lengthy volumes with superbly well-evidenced true statements about the man…

                …yet you were incredibly reluctant merely to describe Jesus as being a preacher in a widespread geographical area in a vaguely-defined historical period!

                The mythicist theories are far more complex, and there is very little evidence for them.

                That may well be the case for nutjobs like Archaya S, but you haven’t read that post of mine in the other thread if you think that’s the case for me.

                Here’s the executive summary, so you won’t have the excuse of not clicking through to the link: Jesus was a syncretic Pagan death / resurrection / salvation demigod grafted onto Judaism, as described by Justin Martyr in his First Apology. Positive evidence includes said Apology and all the evidence Justin Martyr himself included. The formation of the myth followed the familiar pattern of Joe Smith and L. Ron Hubbard, as evidenced by Lucian’s depiction of Peregrinus doing the same. One particularly damning specific example includes the interpolation of the Mithraic Eucharist into Christianity in the form of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. Last, supportive evidence comes from the silence of contemporary accounts, what one would expect of a mythical figure but not of a socially-important charismatic one — as well as the universally larger-than-life figure that’s the only common feature of early Christian writings. Oh — and the earliest Christians couldn’t even pretend to agree on a coherent description of Jesus, not even in the New Testament, and especially not when also considering the apocrypha.

                There. See? Not complex; Jesus is just like all the other gods worshipped at the time you yourself, I’m sure, have no trouble dismissing as ahistorical. An entire volume of evidence from the very first of the Christian apologists supporting that claim. A simple theory for the genesis of the religion, that it was the same as we see with modern religions; and, there again, explicit ancient evidence stating exactly that in unambiguous language. And all evidence claimed for the orthodox interpretation better fits the “no ‘there’ there” theory, as all those inconvenient inconsistencies are problems for historicists but what what you’d expect with mythic origins.

                However, if you think for one minute that I am going to write a book here to satisfy all your doubts (the Aramaic saying is only one small piece of evidence amongst many), you have another think coming.

                I’m not asking for a book, Eric. I did mine in 332 words. If you can’t do something similar for the historicist case in 500 words, you have no such case.

                The burden of proof is really on the mythicisers, and I don’t think they have met it.

                No, the burden of proof is on the claimant.

                If you want to claim that Jesus was an historical figure, it’s up to you to prove the case. Until you do so, the rest of us are free, should we choose, to remain unconvinced and agnostic on the matter — and you’ve as much as admitted that the historicist claim is so poorly developed (let alone proven) that you can’t even give an identifiable description of the person in question.

                On the other hand, if I want to claim that he was a mythical figure from the get-go, the burden is then upon me to prove that. Which I’ve done by adopting wholesale Justin Martyr’s own second century proof, plus Lucian’s description of Peregrinus’s antics, and all the rest.

                Now that I’ve repeatedly shown you mine, are you ever going to show us yours?

                b&

    • Michael Sommers
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      Ehrman has made no secret of using the NT as his only source for the historical Jesus.

      That’s because the NT (specifically the four gospels, plus possibly the Coptic Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter) is the only source on the life of Jesus, for all practical purposes.

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 2:14 am | Permalink

      Ehrman’s main argument seems to be that the only way for all the gospels to agree on these few points is if there actually existed a man …

      … or that they agree on things because they all copied from the previous ones.

      Mark was first, Matthew copied from that; Luke copied from Mark and Matthew, and John copied from all of them.

  82. Gordon Hill
    Posted August 29, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I can understand the psychological ‘need’ so many Christians have to “know” Jesus lived. It eliminates any doubt as to their ‘truth.

    Regarding the differences in the testaments, a considerable amount of contemporary religious scholarship is available for examination, none of which is in full agreement and all of which cites the uncertainties of same.

    In my reading of Ehrman, Crossan, Funk, Borg, Pagels, King and others, their views seem to be offered as opinion not fact.

  83. marvol19
    Posted August 30, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    I once had a, very brief, discussion with a catholic friend about the historicity of Jesus.

    I cut it short after it transpired she considered every book in the NT a separate piece of concrete evidence. No further questions asked. And she’s a bloody scientist, too. There’s compartmentalisation for you.

    Also, “us atheists” get told we can’t criticise religion because we “don’t know enough about it”. But people like my friend are totally accepted as valid Christians despite obvious holes in their knowledge.

  84. David Evans
    Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Apologies if someone already answered this, but are there any secular documents (e.g histories of Judea or Roman administrative records) which should have recorded the events of the Gospels if they happened?

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Answered any times in this thread. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, the several Roman Satirists, Josephus, many many more.

      b&

      • Michael Sommers
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        There are absolutely no reasons whatsoever why any of those (except Josephus) should have noticed, much less recorded, a real Jesus. The idea that everyone is the Roman Empire was obsessively watching every wacky prophet in Palestine is just silly. If you claim otherwise, where are all their references to John the Baptist?

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          Great — so your Jesus is a “wacky prophet.”

          What’s your evidence to support that claim?

          Your evidence is guaranteed to say a great many other things about Jesus and associated events as well. How did the Jesus so described managed to escape attention?

          Or perhaps you’ve decided that 90% of what your sources report to be unreliable. What standard are you using to make that determination; why does it apply to your selected 10% and not the remaining 90%; and why does it not apply equally well to all the other demigods in whose mold Jesus was cast? For the latter, please pick at least one of those specifically identified by Justin Martyr in his First Apology.

          Cheers,

          b&

          P.S. I don’t see any overwhelming reason to consider John the Baptist historical. However, his biography is far less unbelievable than Jesus’s. b&

  85. Posted August 30, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Not one of these reasons is good enough to raise decisive historical doubts about the existence of Jesus (and those who above speak of Ehrman’s arguments as embarrassing need to look more closely at their own simplistic argumentation. At least Ehrman goes through the historical issues in a workmanlike fashion, actually giving reasons for his judgements, instead of playing freshman argumentative games).

    1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.

    2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

    3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

    4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

    5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

    There is, for example, practically no “secular” evidence for the existence of Pilate, since practically every reference to Pilate in non-Christian sources mentions Jesus in connexion with him. In other words, Pilate is remembered because Jesus is!

    The earliest New Testament writer (Paul) did not know a lot about Jesus’ life, and he thought about him as a cosmic figure, but Paul also mentions men who were followers of Jesus, whom he went to Jerusalem to meet. If he really is an early source, this should be counted in favour of the existence of the man Jesus. But the biographical details of Jesus’ life were not the most important things about him, which, at first, were his sayings, and it seems clear that the evangelists had early “sayings” sources upon which they based their gospels. (Even Paul shows some acquaintance with these sources.) Mark had a source of his own. Luke and Matthew seem to have had independent sources, but also a common source, which biblical scholars call Q. John is a spiritual gospel written long after the events recorded, and is clearly not intended to be an accurate account of Jesus’s life, but a spiritual understanding of what the author thought was Jesus’ true meaning. Indeed, John’s Jesus is far more like Paul’s cosmic Christ than the Jewish rabbi of the synoptic gospels.

    The fact that the gospels are not first hand accounts does not impugn their historical value. Many of the records that we have of other ancient figures are not first hand accounts, but are still considered reliable sources at least for the existence of the persons concerned.

    The contradictions in the gospels say nothing about their value as historical sources. Many historians disagree with each other as to the facts, but this does not mean that there is no way of sifting the sources to get closer to the truth.

    As to the differences between the pictures of Jesus created by biblical scholars — does not mean there was not an historical figure at the centre of a story which may be largely mythical (or, as Crossan calls it, prophesy historicised). I have been reading accounts of Field Marshal Montgomery’s life. The differences between the pictures drawn by many historians, as well as by people who knew him personally, are striking, but Field Marshal Montgomery undoubtedly existed.

    Fundmentalist and evangelical Christians doubtless depend upon the historical existence of the figure depicted in the gospels (suitably harmonised), but it is not clear that Christians as such do. I have very little doubt that a man called Jesus was at the centre of the movement that later bore his name (or the epithet most commonly associated with him, namely, Christ or Messiah). The Jesus Seminar, I believe, has gone some way towards discerning an historically credible person at the centre of the gospels, and there is very little reason to believe that there is simply no one at the centre of the stories told about him (just pointing the five points above certainly does gives us one). Obviously, the stories are overlaid with beliefs about Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, and in other ways mythicised, but that is true of a lot of historical figures (like Socrates and Pythagoras, for instance), and should not lead us to doubt that an historical kernel lies at the centre of the stories. As the historian of the classical world, Robin Lane Fox, says, we may reasonably be said to know more about Jesus than is known about many ancient historical figures, and there is little reason, historically, to doubt his existence. The mythicists are as desperate to show that Jesus is a myth as the fundamentalists are to be able to think of the gospel picture of Jesus as a figure of history. The facile arguments of both sides are a bit embarrassing.

    • J Smith
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      This is a great counterargument, which should make both sides cautious. I still think Jesus didn’t exist on balance, but not nearly to the point of certainty, but don’t make that argument with believers (did once with bad outcome)because it would take too long and wouldn’t accomplish much anyway, since there are plenty of other arguments available.

      We should be cautious about this argument. Information about most ancient figures except Kings and Caesars are murky at best as you point out. There is no direct evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays, providing ample room for conspiracy theorists to fabricate other Shakespeare’s to suit their particular biases.

    • Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      The earliest New Testament writer (Paul) did not know a lot about Jesus’ life, and he thought about him as a cosmic figure, but Paul also mentions men who were followers of Jesus, whom he went to Jerusalem to meet. If he really is an early source, this should be counted in favour of the existence of the man Jesus.

      Consider the case of a purely mythical Jesus, even one unabashedly so from the beginning. Would not such a cult also have men who followed the mythical demigod? Would they not also have a central meeting place?

      But the biographical details of Jesus’ life were not the most important things about him, which, at first, were his sayings,

      Then why was Paul so strikingly ignorant of Jesus’s sayings, so often going to obscure and ineffective Hebrew passages to make points that could have been made so much better with quotes from Jesus that everybody today knows well?

      The fact that the gospels are not first hand accounts does not impugn their historical value. Many of the records that we have of other ancient figures are not first hand accounts, but are still considered reliable sources at least for the existence of the persons concerned.

      Historians are notorious for unjustified and unjustifiable confidence in their conclusions — especially Biblical ones. Real academics and scientists would have the courage to admit that much better evidence than a very late and bizarrely fantastic (zombies!) pseudononymous anthology with the worst provenance in history is needed before coming to a conclusion of historicity.

      b&

      • Alex T
        Posted August 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Consider the case of a purely mythical Jesus, even one unabashedly so from the beginning. Would not such a cult also have men who followed the mythical demigod? Would they not also have a central meeting place?

        It’s discussions like this which are giving me a renewed appreciation for Bayes’ Theorem. It forces you to slow down a bit and ask not just “what are observations that support my position” but “what are the odds that I could make this observation and still be wrong.”

        So many of the observations used in support of an historical Jesus can easily work for a mythical Jesus as well. It really speaks to just how weak these observations are. And of course in science we really shouldn’t be winnowing down the observations to find those that agree with your position but by trying to find all the ways that you could be wrong. It’s only when you’ve dealt with the strongest counter-arguments that you can gain some confidence in your position.

        If, as Ben so rightly points out, the key bits of evidence upon which your argument hangs are so weak they don’t rule out the mythicist position (or even barely diminish the case) then what kind of evidence is it? Not very damn good, that’s what kind.

        • Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          There’s a lot of echo chamber effect going on. It’s simply unthinkable to suggest that Jesus wasn’t real, so people in the chamber don’t think about any possibilities other than ones that assume a real Jesus.

          That’s how we get things like C.S. Lewis’s trilemma. Lord, liar, lunatic, sure — and never mind that we’ve got lots of real-world examples of the latter two and none of the first. But what about the fish story Jesus so popular amongst historicists? Honest Jesus whose history got distorted by dishonest (even if sincere) biographers. It’s not a simple trilemma; it’s a broad and multi-dimensional spectrum that includes Jesus being exactly what he superficially would appear to be had his cult not survived to modern times: a syncretic Pagan demigod just like all the others of his era.

          b&

      • Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        As an (art) historian I have to (with shame) agree with your statement. All too often ego and/or notoriety trump evidence.
        This is at the root of the ‘Jesusicity’ debate.
        People with minds that are religiously-oriented have a tendency to accept diktats. I think that’s the case for Ehrman and for MacDonald.

        • rickflick
          Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          My point too. If he is going to be divine or even demi-semi-divine, as Christianity requires, he has to exist. Quod erat demonstrandum. Grant Jesus existence if you must, but agree that he might have been the residue of a half dozen actual living charismatic preachers. In our times, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker (who, incidentally, went to high school with my sister), Charles Colson…you know the type.

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

          And, in fairness, I know and know of historians, even music historians, who would laugh and / or shudder at the evidentiary standards propounded for an historical Jesus — at least, were such standards applied to their own fields.

          Eric’s description is a fair characterization of the field of Biblical history, and it’s a fair characterization of a number of Classical and otherwise ancient historians who’re most concerned with “better understanding” commonly-accepted “truths.”

          But there’re also significant numbers doing serious work, especially in conjunction with archaeologists and papyrologists and physicists (radiocarbon dating) and dendrochronologists and linguists and many, many others. Of necessity, it must be a multidisciplinary field — and it has the potential to be a particularly exciting and fruitful one.

          …just don’t expect it to confirm all your preconceptions….

          There’s an interesting parallel. For at least a century, now, Jews have initially struggled with and now generally accepted that Moses is a fictional character — at least, outside of hard-line conservative orthodoxy. The types of Buddhists Sam Harris tends to associate with will readily admit that there’s no compelling reason to accept there was an historical Buddha and immediately insist that, even if he’s pure fiction, his ideas stand (or fall) on their own merit.

          Yet serious modern challenges of Jesus’s historicity date back at least to Al Schweitzer…and Christians have instead dug in their heels and doubled down.

          I do not think this will turn out to be a winning strategy for them. Judaism and Buddhism are both well on their way to transitioning away from superstitious religions to woo-free cultural and philosophical traditions. But Christianity is setting itself up for a spectacular collapse, as soon as people like us sufficiently raise awareness of Justin Martyr and Lucain’s Peregrinus and the rest. The more progressive Christian sects might be able to survive…but I don’t see any of the mainstream sects being capable of tolerating significant cross-sections of the population, especially young people, questioning how somebody can believe in zombie Jesus more than they believe in Santa. For Judaism and Buddhism, it’s the culture and / or rituals at the center and the gods are a take-it-or-leave it sidebar. But Christianity, for oh so many, is not a religion but a personal relationship with Jesus….

          b&

  86. Eric Hines
    Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I still don’t see why you see this as important. The nonexistence of God the Father doesn’t seem to have “crushed” faith or any important part of it. But anyhow: lack of evidence is the norm in talking about ancient people. It’d be rather extraordinary if we had contemporary pagan evidence of Jesus. And given they were a small, marginal group, it’d be quite lucky to have any contemporary evidence.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted August 30, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      I don’t consider it important personally. I think it would be important, though, if Christianity, which we are repeatedly reminded is so important to the development of Western Civilization, was determined to have a mythical origin, and generally accepted as such, except by zealots.

  87. Posted August 30, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Disagreement with Ehrman and Vermes is your prerogative, but give them thorough, thoughtful, readings before you completely dump them. Also, become more familiar with human mythologies, how they originated, how they changed, how they spread. For example, the Biblical origin of the universe is a myth as is the origin of the first man and woman. Most cultures throughout the world have such creation myths and origin myths.

    Most religious myths and “facts” are modified over time to accommodate the cultures they live in and are surrounded by. Judaism, the religion of Jesus, was radically altered after the Diaspora and, subsequently, when surrounded by Greco-Roman culture. In the effort deal with inconsistencies, the Old Testament (Torah)was revised and was no more consistent than the later New Testament.(Read the two versions of Genesis, for example, and the genealogy of man from Adam.)

    In addition to Bart Ehrman, there have been, and are, numerous scholars writing about the mythical vs. historical Jesus, including Geza Vermes, whom I highly recommend in “The Changing Faces of Jesus”. Ehrman and Vermes identify differences in the depiction of Jesus and his beliefs in the periods of time covered by the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), John, Paul, Acts, etc. The Jesus depicted in each gospel or letter depended on what message the author of the gospel or letter considered most crucial to relay to his particular audience and time.

    In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is presented primarily as a wonder-working prophet sent to bring Jewry back to God in the last days. The religion is Judaism. The Samaritans and Gentiles weren’t included in the ministry until later. Jesus was not “God” other than that all Jews were “Sons of God” and particularly those who most closely followed the laws.

    The religion of Jesus, Judaism, was continued after his death (if he lived and died) by his brothers, particularly James. Jesus’ religion was practiced in Jerusalem,in the temple, following traditional Jewish practices. The notion of Jesus as a “Son of God”, “the Word”, “Christ” etc. came about much later when the “good news” was carried to non-Jews, and Greco-Roman philosophies and mythologies were incorporated.

    I would suggest that in addition to the works of Bart Ehrman and Geza Vermes, the following authors or works could provide useful information:

    The Bible
    The Torah and other Jewish writings
    Dead Sea Scrolls
    Nag Hammadi Library
    John Dominic Crossan
    James M Robinson
    Marcus Borg
    Albert Schweitzer

    • reasonshark
      Posted August 31, 2014 at 4:07 am | Permalink

      The notion of Jesus as a “Son of God”, “the Word”, “Christ” etc. came about much later when the “good news” was carried to non-Jews, and Greco-Roman philosophies and mythologies were incorporated.

      Where is the evidence for this claim of transition? The earliest peep of any sort of Jesus from someone who could remotely be called a possible contemporary is Paul, and he calls Jesus the Son of God as early as Galatians, not to mention the other epistles. The earliest Gospel, Mark, was at best written a decade after Paul wrote Galatians, and Mark calls Jesus the Son of God in the first verse of the first chapter, not to mention its affirmation three times more. The evidence suggests Jesus was the Son of God from the start.

      • Posted August 31, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        But Paul, as you may recall (or may not know) considered himself, from the beginning, the apostle to the Gentiles, so of course Jesus was given other than Jewish significance, because his letters were written to congregations founded mainly by him, and many if not most of them were Gentiles. In the gospels, while the means of Jesus’ death raised questions about his status as the Messiah, there is no claim that his messiahship was other than Jewish. Indeed, Jesus speaks of himself as being sent to the Jews, and explicitly repudiates the Gentiles, although a few faithful Gentiles are affirmed “because of their great faith.”

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          No. That’s just not true. Allegedly ‘Paul’, also allegedly thought x, y or z. You cannot go further than that.
          Do you not recognize that there are manipulations even at the very basis of this discussion?
          By associating one side with “history” and the other with “myth”, the discussion is being skewed. In my opinion, intentionally.
          This low standard of historicity wouldn’t be accepted anywhere where money was concerned.
          “The bible says this is a Monet”
          Sotheby’s head of department says “No, thank you.”

  88. Posted August 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman commented on this controversy last November:

    As most of you know, I’m pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates now. That is for several reasons. One is that the mythicist position is not seen as intellectually credible in my field (I’m using euphemisms here; you should see what most of my friends *actually* say about it….). No one that I know personally (I know a *lot* of scholars of New Testament, early Christianity, and so on) takes it at *all* seriously as a viable historical perspective (this includes not just Christians but also Jews, agnostics, atheists – you name it), and my colleagues sometimes tell me that I’m simply providing the mythicists with precisely the credibility they’re looking for even by engaging them. It’s a good point, and I take it seriously.

    In that connection I should say that I can understand how someone who hasn’t spent years being trained in the history of early Christianity might have difficulty distinguishing between serious scholarship that is accepted by experts as being plausible (even when judged wrong) and the writings of others that, well, is not. But experts obviously don’t have that problem, and the mythicists simply are not seen as credible. They don’t like that, and they don’t like it when it someone points it out, but there it is.

    The other reason for staying out of the fray is that some of the mythicists are simply unpleasant human beings – mean-spirited, arrogant, ungenerous, and vicious. I just don’t enjoy having a back and forth with someone who wants to rip out my jugular. So, well, I don’t. (They also seem – to a person – to have endless time and boundless energy to argue point after point after point after point after point. I, alas, do not.)

    Having said that, I should point out the R. Joseph Hoffman – a real scholar with established credentials (I first came to know his work over 25 years ago when he was a professor at the University of Michigan) – has decided to take on Richard Carrier’s new proposal to apply Bayes Theorem to historical study so as to establish the “fact” that Jesus actually never lived. I’ve always found the use of Bayes Theorem amusing, in no small measure because prior to Carrier’s use of it to PROVE that Jesus almost certainly never existed, the theorem was most commonly used, among those wanting historical results, by the likes of Richard Swinburne to PROVE that God *did* exist and that Jesus almost certainly was raised from the dead. How can they both be right?

    My first encounter with the theorem was in a debate at Holy Cross with William Lane Craig on the issue of whether historians can prove the resurrection. Craig followed Swinburne in mounting a mathematical “PROOF” of the resurrection, and I have to admit, I was probably a bit rude, because I simply couldn’t help laughing and telling him that if my colleagues at my university knew that I was seriously discussing the mathematical probability of Jesus’ resurrection they — to a person — would mock me to scorn. This is what intellectual life in America has come to??? After that debate I got a bunch of emails from mathematicians and statisticians who also thought Craig’s argument was outrageously funny – not to say outrageous – and explained to me mathematically why Craig had absolutely botched the “proof.”

    My point here is that if the *same* theorem can prove both that Jesus was raised from the dead *and* that he never existed, well, there may be a problem with the proof.

    To get a sense of some of the problems, I simply here give the link to Hoffman’s interesting, informative, and amusing response to Carrier and his use the theorem to advance his own ideologically driven view on the (non)historicity of Jesus. It’s a good read.

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/tag/bayes-theorem/

  89. Gordon Hill
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Interesting thread. In response to the amended premise… “I’ll let Sajanas, who has already commented, give it:

    But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it.”

    Maybe that crushes it in the mind of Sajanas, but no more than that of Socrates, Buddha, Lao-Tzu or any other who never wrote anything, rather we rely on the witness of others.

    On what authority? For me, the authority is in the mind of the beholder. After all there have been so many others who did write, like Hitler, whose ideas are dismissed by most.

    As I said, interesting thread.

  90. Keith Cook
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    The Jesus has left the building.
    It matters not a bean if he lived as been described or not, it is a myth explained by evolutionary psychology as to it’s existence.
    The real question? how this myth is going to stack up in the history of our time, embarrassment comes to mind…
    a regrettable percentage of 21st century peoples believing in something that is no more valid than a superman comic.
    If Jesus walked he didn’t do it on water.

  91. Sherry Bailey
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    When I was at Western Michigan University, long long ago and far far away, I went through a new-Christian phase. (I’m better now, thanks.) The campus Chaplin was a Lutheran minister and professor of ancient history, Paul Meier. He wrote a book called the First Christmas and one called The First Easter, which I used to own but gave away when I “got better”. They offered what in the 1960’s was supposed to be archaeological evidence (not “proof”) of some of the events pertaining to the life of “Jesus”. Sadly, I don’t remember much, but those books might be of interest to those who care about this quest. (Maybe by now they have been totally refuted, for all I know.)

  92. Kirby Wendler
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Acharya S made these same arguments and a couple more in her book “the Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold” a well written book and intelligently argued. Richard Dawkins as much as discredited her work. I’m curious why he is coming around this question at this time with Acharya S like arguments.

    • Posted September 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Acharya S is entertaining, but her solid and independently-verifiable facts are thin, to be polite. She reaches the right conclusions but for indefensible reasons.

      …at least, that was the case when I read her stuff online a decade or so ago. Maybe she’s improved since then?

      b&

  93. Nathan
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s a pretty simple proof. We have evidence of Paul being a historical person, and of Jesus’ brother James being a leader in Jerusalem after his death, the Gospels, etc.

    They all independently verify each other and Jesus’ account as a real human who was executed (just like Paul and James were executed some time in the sixth decade of first century).

    • Posted September 1, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Your evidence is bunk.

      “Paul” is certainly a composite figure of some sort or another. About half of the Epistles in the New Testament are known to have been authored by people who definitely weren’t Paul. The remaining presumed-authentic Epistles have miserable provenances and certainly have been subjected to extensive editing. His official biography in Acts certainly bears no relation to any actual historical figure.

      Still, granted, some of those texts likely represents the earliest glimpse we have into the history of Christianity…but that glimpse is of a person who only ever met Jesus in the spirit realm, and who established his bona fides with the rest of the church using that “fact” because that was the way the rest of them themselves knew Jesus.

      Oops.

      As for James, your claim is trivially disproven. In Book I of Contra Celsus, chapter 47, Origen clearly states, “Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.”

      Incidentally, that quote is in the context of chastising Josephus for blaming the fall of Jerusalem on the death of James when he ought to have instead blamed it on the crucifixion of Jesus; in other words, of laying bare the lie at the heart of the shameless forgery that is the modern passage referred to as the “Testamonium” and the least-miserable independent “evidence” for the existence of Jesus.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Nathan
        Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        You win, let me try again with what is probably (and sadly) the best evidence.

        It actually comes from the gospels, but, amongst all the fairy tales there is (more probable than not) possibly some truth.

        1) Jesus was supposed to be from David’s lineage, and born in Bethlahem. Yet the gospel writers (independently) say that he was from Nazareth. They don’t want him to be born there so it is somewhat probably (greater than 50%?) that they are talking about a man from Nazareth.

        2) It is not a good look to have your messiah baptized by another preacher (John). This makes John look superior to Jesus. Why would they put this tid bit in there if it makes their messiah look human?

        3) Crap, that is about the only evidence I can come up with for his possible (greater than 50-50) existence!

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          So…the best evidence is that the Gospel authors weren’t very good at the retcon game?

          Permit me to plagiarize myself from earlier on this thread:

          The argument from embarrassment is a perennial favorite of con artists and others trying to pull a fast one. Look at that clean-cut man in the defendant’s seat; he wouldn’t admit to snorting coke off a stripper’s tits at a nightclub the night of the murder unless it was really true, so you just know that alibi is solid and there’s no way he could have been at the crime scene and so can’t be the murderer.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Nathan
            Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            With the bar for evidence in antiquity placed so high I just wonder how many 10s (100s, 1000s?) of presumed historical figures would disappear.

            As with other things I am not an expert on – I’m gonna have to side with the overwhelming majority of experts.

            It’s not that hard to believe that a travelling preacher had a few followers and was executed (there were dozens of apocalyptic preachers back then). Stories were passed around via word of mouth for decades, heavily exaggerated (miracles/zombie crap), but if you trace it back to “the common ancestor” you find some random, probably illiterate preacher there.

            • Posted September 1, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

              With the bar for evidence in antiquity placed so high I just wonder how many 10s (100s, 1000s?) of presumed historical figures would disappear.

              Many, but far from all; we have huge mounds of evidence for Julius Caesar, for example, with everything from archaeological digs confirming his own autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul to contemporary portraits (coins) of him so common you can affordably buy one for your own collection.

              But yours is merely an appeal to consequences. You don’t like the thought of admitting that you don’t know as much as you want to, so you pretend that you really do still know it anyways. Frankly, that’s a most childish attitude to take towards scholarship, and not something that should even occur to a modern academic.

              if you trace it back to “the common ancestor” you find some random, probably illiterate preacher there.

              You couldn’t be more worng. The farthest back you can get is some of the Pauline Epistles, and the Jesus therein is the antithesis of an illiterate preacher; he’s the divine spirit-world savior of mankind and the personal manifestation of the creative force that Spoke Life, the Universe, and Everything into existence. More to the point, save for the Last Supper — which “Paul” himself interpolated into Christianity from the Mithraic Eucharist — and detail-free mentions of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, you get no mention whatsoever of any of Jesus’s biography nor sayings. This is even the case where Paul turns to Hebrew scriptures for rhetorical points that could have been made far more forcibly with examples from Jesus.

              Indeed, if you trace it back to the closest thing we have to your common ancestor, you find the same sort of otherworldly divinity as were all the other Pagan demigods of that era.

              If you’d like a thorough listing of examples of such demigods, Google Justin Martyr’s First Apology, scan the text for, “Jupiter,” and read the chapters where you find that name.

              If you’d like an entertaining read of one example of how this all went down, read Lucian of Samosata’s satire, The Passing of Peregrinus. It’s short.

              Cheers,

              b&

    • Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I could say Dr. Coyne is a Dr. because I saw him on the BBC. I also looked at Mr. Goren’s website and found him to be a trumpet player and computer person. And how about me? If people try to create a profile for me, what will they come up with? How much of it will be true?

    • GBJames
      Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Nathan, I have a bridge in New York that I think you might like to buy. Very reasonable price.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        I’ve seen it, and it is an excellent bridge. Crosses the river and everything. If I had the money, I’d buy it myself!

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          There we go, independent verification. 🙂

        • Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Doesn’t just cross the river; its Western endpoint is at a positively loverly Arizona beachfront property whose title I just happen to hold and would be reluctantly willing to part with for a pittance far below market value. I’ll even offer a discount if bought in conjunction with GBJames’s bridge!

          b&

    • Posted September 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      « independently »

      Are you /sure/?

      /@

      • Nathan
        Posted September 2, 2014 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        Not a biblical scholar but I think the reasoning is that Paul was writing his version of events in the 50s….author of Mark around 70….Author of Luke and Acts mid 80s (you can compare what Acts says about Paul with what Paul says about Paul)…And John his account in the 90s.

        Of course they contradict each other in big ways. But, when they get things right, for example being born in Nazareth littered throughout John and Mark and Acts. Being crucified, being baptized by John the Baptist, etc., and it is not a miraculous claim, it is thought to be independently written by different authors at different times.

        So maybe we could bring it a step further to reality and say that these things are not “facts”, but were probably in the oral tradition after Jesus’ death.

        • Posted September 2, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          And that shows independence, how exactly? Any more than Peter’s account of the journey there and back again is independent from John’s (written 75 years earlier).

          /@

          • Nathan
            Posted September 2, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

            All I mean by independently attest to each other is that two different authors, in two different regions, in two different time periods, write two different accounts, and some of the basic details match up identically.

            It doesn’t mean it is a proven fact. But it does mean that over the decades there were some things in the oral tradition.

            Maybe he wasn’t baptized or from Nazareth. Who knows. But clearly a dude from Nazareth and being baptized got into the oral tradition some time in the 30s-70s before the earliest gospel was written.

            Was a story made up out of thin air? Possibly.

            Was it based on a Jewish teacher that was executed around 30 CE? I would say this is more likely since Paul actually met Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ brothers, etc., in the 30s, and writes about them in the early 50s. He could have just writing letters based on complete lies.

            But, the 70s come along and some of the things in Mark and the later gospels match the basic story.

            At the end of the day, for me, it seems more miraculous to say that everything was made up out of thin air, all 100% lies, than it is to believe that a guy was really executed around 30 CE, and his followers went on spreading the story, with lots of exaggerations, which spread via oral tradition, and that eventually the heavily exaggerated story got put into writing, but at least a couple basic facts were correct.

            PS: There were lots of Jewish preachers that gathered followers and were executed. Why is it so hard to believe that the guy in the bible was one of many that happened to be born in Nazareth and baptized by John the Baptist.

            • Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

              Was it based on a Jewish teacher that was executed around 30 CE? I would say this is more likely since Paul actually met Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ brothers, etc., in the 30s, and writes about them in the early 50s.

              Paul wrote no such thing.

              Paul’s experience of Jesus was explicitly, unambiguously, and proudly visionary. And he used that experience to establish his bona fides with the Jerusalem Church because it was the same as their own experiences of Jesus.

              Origen, in the same passage where he lays bare Eusebius’s later forgery of the Josephean Testamonium, explicitly states that James (the only such brother mentioned) was Jesus’s brother not because of shared blood but because of James’s spiritual devotion.

              Search this thread for the full quotes and references.

              b&

        • Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

          Even taking for granted your unrealistically optimistic dating, in what universe can an author writing a generation later than a revered authority be considered “independent”?

          b&

  94. krzysztof1
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s reasonable to imagine Christians continuing to believe in Jesus even if it were proved he never existed. When Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s longtime manager, was asked after Elvis’s death what he (Parker) was going to do now that Elvis was gone, he said “Why, I’ll go right on managing him!”

    • rickflick
      Posted September 1, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed. The divinity exists even if Christ is nonexistent.

    • Posted September 2, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Except that Elvis has/had (presumably) intellectual property and the like to take care of.

  95. chris
    Posted September 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve ever really believed such a person as Jesus existed. And by that, I mean that an ordinary person whose name was Jesus Christ existed. Let alone an extraordinary one. I am castigated for this by friends and others, even those who are not religious. But I stick to my view, because unlike other historical figures, there seems a dearth of evidence for Jesus, and a mountain of reasons that somehow psychologically compel people to believe he existed in spite of the absence of historicity.

    • Nathan
      Posted September 2, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      Funny you should say that because in antiquity there is really only a couple figures that have more written about them than Jesus. And when that is the case it’s usually because that person wrote things down and was in the upper echelon of society, for example Julius Caesar.

      But for a wood working illiterate peasant from some no-name town in Galilee, it is shocking that there is so much written about Jesus. Is it enough to be “historical”/convincing that the guy was real? Probably not. But it’s the completely opposite of what you are saying (“a dearth of evidence for Jesus”).

      In fact, for being just above a slave on the social ladder, there is not a single person in antiquity that comes as remotely close to having as much evidence as Jesus has.

      The biggest problem is that none of the evidence is from primary sources, and most of it is from the oral tradition.

      • Posted September 2, 2014 at 5:17 am | Permalink

        « some no-name town »

        Or some non-existent town? There are no extant non-biblical references to Nazareth until around 200 AD.

        /@

        • Nathan
          Posted September 2, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

          Well, if they are saying he came from Nazareth in the 60s….and it’s not mentioned on a map until 200…That doesn’t mean the place didn’t exist. It just means the town was so small (a couple hundred people) that it wasn’t documented on a map until later. The whole River Jordan, Sea of Galilee, town of Nazareth thing are all real places.

      • Posted September 2, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Oh, bother — not this nonsense again.

        The “evidence” for Jesus is as absurdly pathetic as it gets. None of the prolific contemporary writers of the day even made slightest mention of anybody that could vaguely be misconstrued as him or the events surrounding him, even whilst they described innumerable similar and much less impressive people and events. (Ignoring, of course the supernatural bullshit like the Great Zombie Invasion of 33). The most notable subset of examples includes the Dead Sea Scrolls (the actual pieces of paper and parchment penned by messianic Jews in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after all possible dates); Philo of Alexandria (prolific philosopher who invented the Logos that a century later opened John 1:1, member of the royal family, and a diplomat who personally petitioned Caligula about the Jesus-like but not-Jesus mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans); Pliny the Elder (fascinated with all things supernatural and magicians in general); and the various Roman cynics (whose stock in trade was the scandal that followed Jesus, especially the trial and Pilate’s histrionics and the chaos at the Temple with the moneychangers).

        Hell, Jesus even went unnoticed by the subsequent multiple generations of non-Christians; all Pagan references to him are by people not even born until well after the latest possible date for the Crucifixion — and, even then, they all reference Jesus as the central object of worship for those wacky lunatic Christians. And the language used is the same you yourself would use for the Raelians.

        And the Christian “documentation” itself? Textbook-standard Pagan theology grafted onto Judaism. Read Justin Martyr’s First Apology for the superbly-evidenced documentation of what bits came from where — and read Lucian of Samosata’s Passing of Peregrinus if you want to know how Christianity was formed, not just what it was formed from.

        Contrast this with Caesar, whose extensive autobiographical record of his conquest of Gaul was confirmed by archaeological digs, whose contemporary portrait in the form of a coin is so common you can buy one for your own collection, and for whom the rest of the contemporary evidence is so plentiful I’d need several times as much as I’ve written in this note just to get started….

        Cheers,

        b&

  96. Martin
    Posted September 2, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I agree with Coyne that it DOES matter whether or not Jesus existed.

    Sadly, Bart Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist” was a “hack job” (Dr. Robert Price) that ruined Ehrman’s own credibility as far as I’m concerned. I will never trust him again. I read his previous books but, DJE was so bad that there have been over 80 rebuttals to it and Acharya S caught Ehrman in egregious lies about her work (which Dr. Price called “libel”):

    http://freethoughtnation.com/the-phallic-savior-of-the-world-hidden-in-the-vatican/

    The Alternet piece by Valerie Tarico was interesting except for the fact that it reads like an advert for Fitzgerald and smears Zeitgeist part 1 with lies – Valerie obviously never even looked into it and appears to have taken Fitzgerald’s word for it.

    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=4721

  97. Kake
    Posted September 2, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s obvious that Gospels are not historical. They are rather tailored to convince various ancient listeners that Jesus was the prophesied messiah, the heir of John the Baptist, the wisdom of God, the key to Gnostic knowledge etc. whatever the listeners where seeking according to their favourite scriptures and own doctrines.
    What was the objective of the writes of the Gospels then? To teach and spread the new covenant and the new commandment: “love one another.”
    The message is not voided, whether a historical Jesus exists or not, whether he is divine or not, whether he is a person in the trinity or not.
    One needs to bear in mind that Bible, Jesus and his early follows like Paul (whether fictional or not) do not teach about haven or eternal punishment in hell. These concepts have been added into the doctrine hundreds of years after their time.

  98. Geri Monsen
    Posted September 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a really good lecture from a Religious Studies professor at Yale explaining how using skeptical historical criticism, one can peal apart the mythological portions of the New Testament and focus on what was likely the “historical Jesus” who actually existed. I found his arguments (which are based in part on Bart Erhman’s work) compelling.

    http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/rlst-152/lecture-13

  99. Michael Rothstein
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    As a very small aside, if Jesus was a historical figure, the province in which he lived was named Judea, not Palestine. The Romans did not change the name of the province from Judea to Syria Palaestina until 135 AD, more than 100 years after Jesus purportedly died in 33 AD. (The name change was meant as a punishment to Judea’s population following the second Jewish revolt against Rome.) Commentators would have used the new Roman name to identify the province only after 135 AD. If Jesus did exist, he would have identified his home as Judea, not Palestine.

  100. Robert Carnegie
    Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    How much did it cost to rent the Temple?


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