Guest post: On the historicity of Jesus

Ben Goren, a regular here who frequently argues with other readers about the historicity of Jesus (he denies it), has written a post for general consumption. He’s leveling a challenge at believers equivalent to John Loftus’s “Outsider test for faith.” Ben calls it, well, it’s the title. . .

The Jesus Challenge

by Ben Goren

Many æons ago, in the heyday of USENET, I was first exposed to the idea that maybe there simply wasn’t any “there” there at the heart of Jesus’s story. It was, of course, at first a bizarre notion…but one that eventually become overwhelmingly compelling to me — and especially, ironically enough, after I took the time to look up the original sources Christian apologists offered as evidence for Jesus’s existence.

Somewhere along the line, I started challenging apologists to offer a coherent apologia, a theory of Jesus that was both self-consistent and supported by evidence. In all the years since then, I cannot recall even one single person, Christian, atheist, or other, who argues for an historical Jesus who has ever taken me up on this challenge, despite repeatedly offering it and even begging people to take a whack at it. And, so, I’d like to thank Jerry for letting me use his own soapbox to present this challenge to what’s, I’m sure, the largest audience it’s yet received.

It’s quite simple.

  1. Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?
  2. Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.
  3. Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?
  4. There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.
  5. Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.
  6. Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

And, for everybody’s sake, please be brief. You shouldn’t need more than about five hundred words to outline your thesis. By way of example and for the sake of fairness, here are my own answers making the case for Jesus’s mythical nature:

  1. Jesus is a syncretic Pagan death / rebirth / salvation demigod in the mold of Osiris, Dionysus, and Mithras grafted onto Judaism.
  2. Justin Martyr, the very first of the Christian apologists writing in the early second century, devotes much of his First Apology to exactly this thesis. Indeed, once you eliminate all the prior parallels that he unambiguously identifies from Jesus’s biography, nothing else remains. Further, Lucian of Samosata describes “Peregrinus” as having been a con artist who interpolated Pagan religion wholesale into the nascent Christianity — and Paul’s introduction of the Mithraic (as identified by Justin Martyr) Eucharist into Christianity in 1 Corinthians 11 is a perfect example of this in practice, especially in the full context of the chapter.
  3. Justin Martyr’s explanation for the extensive imitation (his word) is that evil daemons with the power of foresight knew Jesus was coming and so planted false stories of Pagan demigods centuries in advance in order to lead honest men astray. His identification of the Pagan elements of Jesus’s story stand on their own; I do not think it much of a stretch to discount his supernatural explanation for the cross-contamination.
  4. At least superficially, the Gospels purport to be honest reporting of Jesus and his ministry as the God’s honest Capital-T Truth. However, again as described by Justin Martyr, they are nothing more than fantastic faery tales imitating well-known Pagan myths. The Gospel according to Matthew, for example, doesn’t merely report that Jesus died on the cross; in the same passage, he claims that the Sun was blotted out, the Earth shook, and all the graves opened and an horde of zombies descended upon Jerusalem. As such, even if the author sincerely believed he was honestly reporting factual history, the death reported clearly is not that of a mere mortal nor an historical figure. Such is the case for all other Gospel stories; the mundane events are an afterthought that only serve as insignificant vessels for the spectacular pyrotechnics. Concluding historicity from them is like concluding that Luke Skywalker was an historical figure because he grew up as an orphan on a farm.
  5. Jesus wasn’t noticed by his contemporaries because he hadn’t yet been invented — or, at least, he was just starting to be invented. The Pauline Epistles represent an early stage in that process when Jesus was more divine spirit than human interloper; the Gospels represent the point at which the Church later decided development was complete. (And the Angel Moroni represents Smith’s continued development.)
  6. What I propose of Jesus is no different from what virtually everybody would agree is true of all the Pagan demigods Justin Martyr identifies with Jesus — Bacchus, Perseus, Bellerophon on Pegasus, Mercury, Mithras, and all the rest. Examples of entirely mythical gods are legion in antiquity. We see the same pattern continue into modernity; Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard were historical figures, but the angel Moroni and Xenu are purest fiction. Similarly, the various authors of the New Testament texts were real humans, but the “stone soup” Jesus they collectively created over the course of a few generations is not.

For those who’re counting, that was just about five hundred words. Any case for an historical Jesus should be possible to make similarly succinctly…

…but I’ll predict right up front that the streak will remain unbroken, and not a single soul will attempt to meet this challenge. Oh, sure; there’ll be plenty of replies to this post, esepcially many arguing with my own mythicist argument. But of actual point-by-point responses to the challenge there will be none.

664 Comments

  1. Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I deny everything!

    b&

    • Lowen Gartner
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      denial is a virtue

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        ….and a river in Egypt.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          You know who else denied Jesus … and ole Peter did alright for himself. Maybe Ben will wind up His Heavenly Bouncer in the hereafter!

        • Lowen Gartner
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

          • dorcheat
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

            Many thanks for that video. I had not heard that since I was a kid over 40 years ago. Back then, I still remember Julie London playing as the old school Nurse “Dix” on Emergency! Her version of Cry Me a River is just as fine as Diana Krall’s version.

            • Lowen Gartner
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

              I thought if appropriate because of the “denial/de nile” references as well as the fact, just like Christians, everywhere he looked he saw something that wasn’t there.

  2. Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I’d love to see Richard Carrier’s methodology put to use in this challenge, because a lot of what you’re asking for can be put into Bayesian terms. Overall, good challenge. The first point is probably the hardest, because if the state of current biblical scholarship is any indication, nobody can agree on it.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      And of course, this is pretty much what Carrier does to get to the same conclusion.

      (The books are a great intro to Bayes for humanities scholarship, btw.)

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      (darnit, didn’t tick “subscribe”)

      • Somite
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        I’m skeptical that Bayes’s theorem can be used in the humanities. Once you guess any of the probabilities involved the errors compound so much that your answer is probably meaningless. Here is a good write up of the issue.

        • Somite
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          Here is the write up:

          http://irrco.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/probability-theory-introductio/

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            Carrier does a pretty good job of showing how to use it even for “more likely”, “less likely”, “much more likely”, “much less likely” – given many humanities people are not great with numbers even given great intelligence and ability in their field. I was impressed. Basically he constructs a rigorous subset of common sense intuitions in a manner that would enable joined-up thinking on such matters.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

            Though yes, this is squishy as all get-out per the linked post.

            • Somite
              Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              My main objection is that Bayes’s is just used as a veneer of authenticity. I would be less suspicious if they just stated their arguments based on likelihood.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                But doesn’t Bayes give you a way of combining likelihoods in a systematic way?

                /@

              • Somite
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Yes. It is a way to calculate unknown likelihoods based on known likelihoods. But the known likelihoods can’t be guesses. They have to be known.

              • TJR
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                Bayesian inference, which uses Bayes theorem but which is much more than that, is based on the idea that all uncertainty should be quantified using probability.

                Hence the likely errors in your guesses of the probabilities are also quantified probabilistically, by using a probability distribution to describe your uncertainty.

                E.g. if you think that the chance of Jesus existing could be anything, your prior distribution is Unif(0,1).

                I’ve not read the details of Carrier’s work, so don’t know what he does exactly.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                Bayes used generally is a model of learning, akin to evolution. That is, your “fit” hypotheses survive, whether they are positively or negatively reinforced.

                And of course such a process can be used to learn likelihoods and so uncertainties. That is what Hidden Markov Models rely on, or bayesian testing et cetera.

                The trick is to take it from qualitative opinion (“guesses”, “subjective inference”) to quantitative likelihood. Opinion is not informative (at least without learning), likelihoods are. Most of the time the method is used as a way to reformulate opinion. (In my bayesian opinion.)

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          The core points of “Proving History” are 1) it’s not at all problematic to do, and 2) we know that because all correct historical reasoning already IS Bayesian. And he’s not the first to say so: Aviezer Tucker published “Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography” in 2009. It’s a book about the philosophy of history and the general practice of the discipline, and it comes to the same conclusion, that historians are already using Bayesian reasoning.

          • Reginald Selkirk
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            That’s nothing compared to the methods of Hari Seldon.

            • AdamK
              Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

              Although we might have to wait a few thousand years to see if they pan out.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          If one is a so-called “subjective bayesian” the procesure is fine. I am not, so I find that part of Carrier’s work to be dismaying. But the qualitative analysis is correct (or at least agreeable). There are folks who think that subjective bayesianism is acceptable, including some relatively prominent statisticians, so the matter is complicated.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          I once had a boss who would add up all the work proposals he’d put out, make an “educated guess” at he probability of winning each job, multiply the value of each job by its assigned probability, and then add up all the extended values to arrive at his “pipeline” of work. Thus, four proposals of $100,000 each with a 25% chance of winning would come to $100,000 of future work even though no project he put at <50% ever ever materialized.

          I am pretty sure that's not how it works.

          My point is figures don't lie but liars (or in my boss's case, crazy people) figure – so I share your skepticism that statistics can be meaningfully applied to propositions in the humanities, all due respect to the tl;dr research mentioned above. The compounded "errors" include "wild guesses" however sincere, which if they are correctly weighted – as zero – zero-out the whole chain of logic both following AND preceding the unsupported proposition.

          That is not an argument against speculation in the humanities, it's an argument against trying to dress-up speculation as something that it is not.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

            The Irreducible Complexity post is not tl after all – and his conclusion:

            Bayes’s Theorem is used in these kind of historical debates to feed in random guesses and pretend the output is meaningful. I hope if you’ve been patient enough to follow along, you’ll see that Bayes’s Theorem has a very specific meaning, and that when seen in the cold light of day for what it is actually doing, the idea that it can be numerically applied to general questions in history is obviously ludicrous.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          Somite:

          I share your skepticism.
          Application of the Bayes’s probability formula will not change the basic facts of skeptical biblical criticism accumulated over the last 200 years from Dupuis and Robert Taylor until today.

          For an easy review of the scholarship on the existence of Jesus, I would recommend, for instance,
          a wonderful little unpretentious book explaining the main issues:
          – Herbert Cutner: Jesus — God, Man, or Myth? An Examination of the Evidence (Truth Seeker, NY,1950).

          If you have access to a good library, enough interest and time, you would understand the issues much more clearly by going back to the original scholarship, for instance reading:
          – Albert Schweitzer’s indispensable “Quest of the Historical Jesus” (1906/1913) (and his great Ch. VIII on David Strauss, and Ch. XI on Bruno Bauer).

          And then get an idea of the major arguments of the great classics of the great British rationalist, John M. Robertson, and the school of rationalists that he spawned: Arthur Drews, William B. Smith, Paul-Louis Couchoud, and, still alive and kicking, G.A. Wells — most of it available online.

          A good summary of John M. Robertson’s immense output and erudtion is:
          – “J. M. Robertson (1856-1933): Liberal, Rationalist and Scholar”, (Pemberton, 1987), edited by George A. Wells.
          Robertson’s key books are still worth perusing:
          – “Christianity and Mythology” (1910),
          – “The Pagan Christs” (1903/1911),
          – and “The Jesus Problem” (1917).

          For Arthur Drews, this would be:
          – The most famous book of all, the epoch-making “Christ Myth” (1909), which launched the whole debate between “historicity” and “denial of historicity” of Jesus into world consciousness.
          – “The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus” (1912), presenting in well organized fashion all the major issues debated by everybody ever since.
          – “The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in the past and Present” (1926), which is a historical reviews of some 35 famous advocates of Jesus denial.

          The historical reconstruction of the formation of the figure of Jesus Christ by the French follower of John M. Robertson and Arthur Drews:
          -P.L. Couchoud’s “The Creation of Christ” (1939), which establishes a reconstruction over 300 years of the gradual development of the figure of the “Son of Man” in the visionary “Apocalypses” of Daniel and Enoch into a Christ as a “Son of God”. A very rare book to find, and which American Atheists is thinking of republishing.

          If you want a more modern, and scholarly thorough examination of all the points and the related sources, you can try the highly scholarly books by George Albert Wells, a British expert on German historical criticism, a super-diligent scholar, who is keenly aware of all the German, English, and French texts which have launched and promoted the idea of the non-existence of Jesus. He cites all the primary sources used in the debate about Jesus’s existence:
          Essentially, his four ground-breaking books, which, after WWII, revived in 1971 the old debate about the non-historicity of Jesus, and dissect all the arguments which are now the foundation of all contemporary writings on the subject:
          – “The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins” (1971), a book out of print and very difficult to find; which reopened the scholarly debate;
          – “Did Jesus Exist?” (1975, re-edited in 1986/7), which is a systematic reorganization of the key arguments presented in the previous book. This is the book that Bart Ehrman intended to criticize by borrowing its title for his own version (2012). Some (like me) doubt that Ehrman lent serious attention to Wells’s book beyond glancing at the Table of Contents and sampling some pages;
          – “The Historical Evidence for Jesus” (1982, re-ed. 1988);
          – And “Who Was Jesus?” (1989).

          Of interest also are Wells’s two books of the late 1990s,
          – “The Jesus Legend” (1996);
          – and “The Jesus Myth” (1999);
          where Wells explicitly accepts the hypothesis of a roving Galilean cynic-like preacher as a possible source of the sayings attributed to Q in Matthew and Luke.
          For Wells, the Jesus figure in the Gospels thus becomes a composite, fusing two entirely distinct sources: the mystical ideal Jesus of Paul as Christ in heaven, and a hypothetical roving Galilean preacher, also labeled “Jesus”.

          The very curious can try:
          – “Religious Postures: Essays on Modern Christian Apologists and Religious Problems” (1988);
          -and “Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony” (2004).

          Most contemporary writers on the problem of Jesus’s existence practically use (even plunder) most of Wells’s 60-year long examination of all primary sources and issues, usually without giving credit to any of the pioneers, John M. Robertson, Drews, Couchoud, or their modern interpret G.A. Wells for the sources of their arguments.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      I was fortunate enough to watch Richard Carrier debate a Christian apologist at the last Atheist Alliance of America convention in Seattle. The topic was “the historicity of Jesus.”

      I was more impressed than I thought I’d be. Carrier’s argument was very tight indeed, focusing mainly on Paul and the popular view of the time and place that there were 3 levels of reality: the material world, the spiritual world (which resembled the first one with streets and houses) and then a more vague and murky Highest Realm. Paul could and probably was talking about a life and resurrection in that second realm.

      The claim that startled me the most was that there is apparently historical evidence of a “Jesus” who rose from the dead after 3 days and saved mankind … from a hundred years before the presumed birth of Jesus. THIS “Jesus” story was explicitly told as a myth about a spiritual being who acted in the spiritual world. And then, a century later — what? It happened in reality?

      If Carrier is correct on this previous tale about resurrected Jesus then I think we’ve got a huge smoking gun here. I’d never heard about that before. Knowing Richard Carrier, though, he’s probably thoroughly researched and documented the hell out of it.

      I did ask a question in the Q&A: I asked the Christian whether a “spiritual” Jesus couldn’t just be incorporated into his own version of Christianity. After all, in those circumstances Paul took it seriously. He said “No.” Not for him. If there was no historic Jesus then that would be a deal breaker.

      Yes. I wanted him to draw that line. Limit faith. Sincere faith wouldn’t just keep insisting Jesus was a real person — a very sincere faith would begin to insist that Jesus as a purely spiritual being made Christianity EVEN BETTER!!11!1

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Well, it would neatly sidestep the historicity question. Sophisticated Theologians™ would love it.

        /@

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        The claim that startled me the most was that there is apparently historical evidence of a “Jesus” who rose from the dead after 3 days and saved mankind … from a hundred years before the presumed birth of Jesus.

        Oooh — that’s news to me! Any chance you can scare up enough to pin that down?

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          I asked Richard afterwards and he told me it was in his new book. There are 712 pages and yup I’ll bet it’s pinned down in there somewhere. (This argument was one of many which was “dropped” by the opponent, who seemed taken aback by Richard’s focus and apparently expected to argue Tacitus.)

          Or you could ask him directly. Since this is an area you’re keen on, I’d consider both routes.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            Thanks — I may well do so….

            b&

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

              I think the reference is to something said by Philo of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of Jesus, and the matter is depicted extremely misleadingly by Carrier. Philo offers allegorical interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures, and that includes ones that mention other people named Joshua/Jesus. That Philo finds “truths” about the divine Logos in texts which mention Jesus becomes, in Carrier’s writings, the claim that Philo said that “Jesus” was one of the names of the Logos.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                I’ve only skimmed and not properly studied his essay linked to above, but that’s not what I got as his point. Rather, that there was a figure extant in Judaism that Philo regarded as a precedent for Philo’s own Logos, and that said figure was a good match for the spiritual aspect of Jesus. That similar phraseology — the Branch / Jesse — links the two is suggestive but not necessarily critical to what I took away as Richard’s thesis.

                Still, this is very new to me and my initial reaction was one of very guarded skepticism. I think he may well be on to something, but he could also be barking up a branch-less tree, so to speak.

                b&

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

                James McGrath is a (liberal) Christian apologist who frequently misrepresents my work and gets facts wrong about the ancient world and sources (examples: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749).

                To be fair, he is here responding to someone else (Sastra) who innocently got what I said a bit garbled (although notably McGrath just revealed he knows so little of my argument that he didn’t even know to correct the person he is responding to).

                Sastra was referring to two separate things:

                (1) The evidence in the Talmud and Epiphanius that there was a sect of Christians who taught their Jesus lived and died c. 70 B.C. before Roman rule (in fact, this is the only form of Christianity known to the Jewish writers of the Talmud, compiled east of the Roman Empire).

                (2) The fact that the earliest reconstructable (undoctored) redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah, written between 80 and 130 AD (same time as most of the canonical Gospels), explicitly has Jesus being crucified in the lower heavens by Satan and his demons, and not on earth by Romans (in which no date is given for when this supposedly occurred).

                McGrath fails to identify either of those and completely confused those facts with a third, yet again separate, fact…and gets the facts wrong about even that:

                (3) Philo wrote c. 20-40 AD that the Jesus figure described in Zechariah 6 was not the earthly priest it ostensibly referred to (and was probably originally written to mean), but in fact to a celestial being (an archangel) known as the firstborn son of god, as well as several other peculiar things, all of which things fundamentally said of Jesus in the earliest Christian documents (e.g. Paul says his Jesus was a pre-existent being whom God used as his agent of creation; Philo says his Jesus was a pre-existent being whom God used as his agent of creation).

                There is no respect in which I depict any of these facts “extremely misleadingly” or even misleadingly. You know who has done that? McGrath.

                Philo did not find “‘truths’about the divine Logos in texts which mention Jesus” which then “become” in my “writings, the claim that Philo said that ‘Jesus’ was one of the names of the Logos.” Philo explicitly says the person in Zechariah 6 is that Logos. And that person in Zechariah 6 is named Jesus, in the very passage Philo quotes a portion of. He explicitly says that personage is the archangelic Logos (and all the other attributes matching Jesus). This is not an inference I am making. It’s what Philo is explicitly saying. To suggest Philo, the most revered Jewish scholar of his age known to us, somehow didn’t know that the man he is referring to was named Jesus in the very same passage he references is to suggest the profoundly absurd.

                But Christian apologists always insist on the profoundly absurd when the plainly obvious is too discomfiting to admit.

              • tomas
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

                //@Richard Carrier

                (2) The fact that the earliest reconstructable (undoctored) redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah, written between 80 and 130 AD (same time as most of the canonical Gospels), explicitly has Jesus being crucified in the lower heavens by Satan and his demons, and not on earth by Romans (in which no date is given for when this supposedly occurred).//

                This is kind of an odd statement. The second part of Ascension of Isaiah, the part in which Jesus is mentioned, is typically dated as late as the 3rd Century.

                Regardless, the writer didn’t have the crucification take place in the lower heavens, but rather that it was in seventh heaven that Isaiah was given a vision of what was to come, of Jesus being crucified, here’s the relevant passage:

                ” For Beliar was in great wrath against Isaiah by reason of the vision, and because of the exposure wherewith he had exposed Sammael, and because through him the going forth of the Beloved from the seventh heaven had been made known, and His transformation and His descent and the likeness into which He should be transformed (that is) the likeness of man, and the persecution wherewith he should be persecuted, and the torturers wherewith the children of Israel should torture Him, and the coming of His twelve disciples, and the teaching, and that He should before the sabbath be crucified upon the tree, and should be crucified together with wicked men, and that He should be buried in the sepulchre,”

                Notice the passage is not about what took place, but what is going to take place.

                And the writers says a great deal emphasizing a human Jesus: “. Nevertheless they see and know whose will be thrones, and whose the crowns when He has descended and been made in your form, and they will think that He is flesh and is a man.”

                In fact he even mentions Mary, and the virgin birth:

                “And I indeed saw a woman of the family of David the prophet, named Mary, and Virgin, and she was espoused to a man named Joseph, a carpenter, and he also was of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem Judah.

                3. And he came into his lot. And when she was espoused, she was found with child, and Joseph the carpenter was desirous to put her away.

                4. But the angel of the Spirit appeared in this world, and after that Joseph did not put her away, but kept Mary and did not reveal this matter to any one.

                5. And he did not approach May, but kept her as a holy virgin, though with child.

                6. And he did not live with her for two months.

                7. And after two months of days while Joseph was in his house, and Mary his wife, but both alone.

                8. It came to pass that when they were alone that Mary straight-way looked with her eyes and saw a small babe, and she was astonished.”

                http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html

                Your use of the Ascension of Isaiah as a defense for Mythicism, seems just a bit off in this light. Perhaps you’d like to explain a bit further?

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          I suspect that this is a reference to writings we have from Philo of Alexandria. From his recent article (http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml):

          “This “Jesus” would most likely have been the same archangel identified by Philo of Alexandria as already extant in Jewish theology. Philo knew this figure by all of the attributes Paul already knew Jesus by: the firstborn son of God (Rom. 8:29), the celestial “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and God’s agent of creation (1 Cor. 8:6). He was also God’s celestial high priest (Heb. 2:17, 4:14, etc.) and God’s “Logos.” And Philo says this being was identified as the figure named “Jesus” in Zechariah 6. So it would appear that already before Christianity there were Jews aware of a celestial being named Jesus who had all of the attributes the earliest Christians were associating with their celestial being named Jesus. They therefore had no need of a historical man named Jesus. All they needed was to imagine this celestial Jesus undergoing a heavenly incarnation and atoning death, in order to accomplish soteriologically what they needed, in order to no longer rely upon the Jewish temple authorities for their salvation.”

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for that.

            Frustratingly, he doesn’t give any citations for Philo! I’ll have to ask him for chapter and verse…Philo was quite prolific….

            b&

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          It’s on OHJ, I can check the reference when I get home. I remember it’s about the “Panarion” by Epiphanius, he say’s that some jewish Christians believed that Jesus lived under a certain king, not Pilate. And that king reigned about 100BC.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            Thanks. And, while you’re at it, can you see if you can find a reference for the non-Jesus Jesus in Philo he mentions here?

            http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

            That Philo bit actually has me a bit worried about him…it’s almost an unbelievably extraordinary claim and one very amenable to verification. If I have to scour Philo to search for it, I will…but I shouldn’t have to…and, if it’s not there….

            b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              Ok. This would be sometime in Saturday.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                No rush.

                So…are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:35 am | Permalink

                The reference in the “Panarion” is Epiphanius, Panarion 29.3 There it’s described how the “Nazorians” a sect of Torah observing Christians believed that Jesus had lived and died in the time of Alexancer Jannaeus. Carrier also mentions that the Babylonian Talmud also talks about Jesus been active at that time. This is at the beginning of Chapter 8, p. 281-285 of OHJ.

                The stuff about Philo is mostly contained in Element 40, of background knowledge starting in page 200. Turns out that Philo in “On the Confusion of Tongues”, 62-63 interprets Zechaariah 6, the same way that early Christians did. Zechariah 6 that Carrier translates:

                You shall make crowns, and set them upon the head of Jesus the son of Jehovah the Righteous, the high priest, and say to him: ‘Thus says the almighty Lord, “Behold, the man whose namne is Rising” and he shall rise up from his place bellow and shall build the house of the Lord, and receive power, and sit upon his throne.

                And here is how Philo refers to it:

                “Behold, a man whose name is the Rising!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in none other than the divine image, you will then agree that the name of “Rising” has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father.

                The word that Carrier translates “Rising” is “ἀνατολή” and is usually translated “East” but the more literal translation of Carrier fits better with Zech. 6. Note that the word translated as “rise up” is “ἀνατήλει”.

                Anyway, Philo doesn’t directly use the name “Joshua” but refer’s to a passage that does.

                Hope this was helpful.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

                Thank you!

                I do believe Richard may well be on to something. The KJV translation of that passage uses “The Branch,” in language that could just as well have been used for Jesse, King David’s father. Keep in mind the extensive Christian symbolism still popular today of describing Jesus as Jesse, the branch, the root, and the like.

                I needs must study this further….

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                Okay, I’ve had a chance to look into this a bit further, and I think Carrier’s point is compelling.

                Whenever possible, I like to use the KJV for these sorts of inquiries. Yes, it’s not exactly a scholarly translation, to put it mildly. However, if the point still stands in the KJV, and it’s not because of errors of translation in the KJV, then not only is the point definitely valid, but it’s something that can be used as demonstration even to the most fundamentalist of fundamentalists.

                So, first, the Bible Babble (with added emphasis, of course):

                Zechariah 6:9 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

                10 Take of them of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah;

                11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest;

                12 And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord:

                13 Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

                14 And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of the Lord.

                15 And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that theLord of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.

                Also very, very relevant is this very famous prophecy which later includes the bit about the lion laying down with the lamb:

                Isaiah1:11 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

                2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

                3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

                4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

                In both passages, we see Jewish scripture that Christians would generally agree as being prophecies of Jesus’s coming in passages that clearly describe the character of Jesus — and, and this, I believe, is Richard’s point — associating them with the same name and epithets as Jesus himself. This is not particularly shocking nor controversial; the faithful attribute it to the power of prophecy, and the less gullible to the efforts of the Gospel authors to “retcon” their work, if I’ve got the modern slang right.

                New Testament confirmation of the association between Jesus and the Branch comes trivially in the Gospels:

                John 15:1 I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

                2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

                3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

                4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

                5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

                6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

                But what of Paul? Was he also comfortable with this language? Clearly so:

                Romans 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

                14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

                15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

                16 For if the firstfruit [Jesus] be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

                17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

                18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

                19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

                20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

                21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

                Now, we come to the question of Philo. Does he really provide the glue to tie this together, to identify this Joshua / Branch / Rising / East of Zachariah et al. with his own formulation of the Logos and a clearly-identifiable preexisting Jewish Jesus? I think, credibly, so:

                Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues XIV. (60) But those who conspired to commit injustice, he says, “having come from the east, found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt There;” speaking most strictly in accordance with nature. For there is a twofold kind of dawning in the soul, the one of a better sort, the other of a worse. That is the better sort, when the light of the virtues shines forth like the beams of the sun; and that is the worse kind, when they are overshadowed, and the vices show forth. (61) Now, the following is an example of the former kind: “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East,” not of terrestrial but of celestial plants, which the planter caused to spring up from the incorporeal light which exists around him, in such a way as to be for ever inextinguishable. (62) I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

                I think we can consider that a smoking gun. The Joshua of Zechariah 6 shares the same divergently-translated appellation as Jesus, is clearly the same figure Philo is referring to, and Philo’s description is of the incorporeal divine spiritual eldest firstborn son of God the Father.

                Philo, right there, is clearly describing Paul’s Jesus.

                Thanks again for this, Nikos. It’s going to take a lot to refine this into soundbites…but I find it most compelling, indeed.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Marella
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        Apparently Papias thought Jesus had lived about 150 years earlier than now proposed, perhaps this is why.

        • Posted September 10, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          While Philo’s concept of the Logos is undoubtedly of the utmost importance in understanding how early Christians came to believe what they did about Jesus (Christ), I take serious issue with Carrier’s assertions regarding On the Confusion of Tongues XIV. In short, scholars have long posited that Zerubbabel originally appeared in this passage alongside the High Priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, and it is he, a descendent of David, The Branch of Jesse, whom Joshua is told to behold. Upon Zerubbabel’s deletion from this passage (possibly to prevent provoking the Persians with allusions to a Kingship), readers likely found the text a bit confusing. Was this Joshua told to behold himself? Philo, in my interpretation, is saying “no.” There was another figure in that passage, invisible to the reader, whom Jesus is told to behold: The Logos. Joshua, son of Jehozadak, was indisputably a flesh and blood historical figure who played a key role in getting the Temple rebuilt. What Philo wants us to believe, however, is that the Logos was also present and at work at this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

          • Marella
            Posted September 10, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

            You many well be right, but Papias may have thought the passage referred to Jesus. His contemporaries did not think very highly of his intelligence.

          • Posted September 10, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            What Philo wants us to believe, however, is that the Logos was also present and at work at this pivotal moment in Israel’s history.

            I believe that at least part of Richard’s point is that Philo’s voice was an influential one that was heard long before “Paul.” Even if the connection was Philo’s own invention, the fact that Philo had already made it is enough to establish that…well…the connection had already been made. The idea was “out there.”

            So, either a real man named, “Jesus,” “just happened” to take the same name and attributes Philo had already credited with the Logos, or the Christian Jesus was an imitation of either Philo or, if Philo wasn’t the source, whatever Philo’s source was.

            And, again: for a street preacher to take the actual name of Philo’s Logos and preach himself as its incarnation and for Philo to somehow have remained completely ignorant of the situation utterly beggars belief. For Philo’s Logos-Jesus to appeal to extant cults already steeped in this religion, culture, and philosophy.

            Though he almost certainly was ignorant of Christianity and unquestionably had no active role in the Church, it seems only reasonable to credit Philo as the true founder of the religion. You want your historical Jesus, it’s Philo — though, to be sure, he’d be horrified at being so labeled.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

              Hi Ben,

              With all respect to Dr. Carrier, the point that I am contesting is that Philo explicitly names the Logos “Jesus.” In my reading of the text, it is not clear. I think the more natural interpretation of the text is that Jesus/Joshua, son of Jehozadak, is being told to “Behold” a separate figure (The Logos). It really doesn’t make sense the other way, as the Joshua in question was very much an earthly figure, with a priestly lineage, and not of the lineage of David either (which rules him out from being the Branch/East). As I previously stated, Zerubbabel’s disappearance from the text caused a bit of confusion as to why there were multiple crowns referenced (this differs from translation to translation), the “priest by his throne/on his throne” and so on. Philo attempts to solve this problem by adding another figure into Zerubbabel’s empty space. At least that’s how I take it…

              • Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Again, the question isn’t so much as to how valid Philo’s analysis was. The fact that he made such an analysis and put it out there is enough to establish that, before the Christian Jesus, there was general knowledge of a divine being of the same basic properties and the same name.

                Either the Christian Jesus was a most remarkable coincidence, or else the Christians just adopted Philo’s Jesus as their own (perhaps indirectly).

                Considering we know for certain that they adopted everything else about their Jesus from the surrounding religious zeitgeist, that latter option becomes the overwhelming favorite.

                b&

              • Posted September 12, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Not sure why I can’t reply to your posts directly. Anyway, might I politely suggest that you’re still missing my point. Yes, Philo discusses the Logos in the context of a passage concerning the High Priest Joshua, but in my interpretation, Philo does not identify the two as one and the same. Logos does not equal Joshua to Philo. Rather, the Logos, perhaps in the form of an angel, was present in the scene alongside Joshua. I can see how Carrier comes to his conclusion, but this is not how I would imagine Philo or any other first century Jew would read the text.

                Regards,

                Matt

              • Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

                The passage from Philo, again, is:

                (62) I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity.

                The passage in the KJV which Philo is quoting is:

                Zechariah 6:11 Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest;

                12 And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The Branch [“The East” in Philo’s translation]; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord:

                13 Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

                So, a gold and silver crown is being placed upon the head of Joshua (“Jesus”) and YHWH is declaring his name (that Philo equates with the Logos) and prophesying that he shall build YHWH’s true temple (church) and shall rule upon the throne and be a prince of peace.

                Even without Philo, we’ve got Joshua being a great fit for the Christian Jesus. Add Philo’s Logos on top of it all and Bob’s yer uncle.

                b&

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted September 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Matt Morales: Rather, the Logos, perhaps in the form of an angel, was present in the scene alongside Joshua. I can see how Carrier comes to his conclusion, but this is not how I would imagine Philo or any other first century Jew would read the text.

                There is no basis for that in either Philo or the Septuagint text he is quoting.

                The text says:

                “…take of them silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Jesus the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and speak unto him, saying, ‘Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, ‘Behold, the man whose name is Rising, and he shall grow up out of his place and build the temple of Jehovah, and he shall receive power, and shall sit and rule upon his throne, and there shall be a priest at his right hand his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them.”

                There is no “angel sitting alongside” Jesus here. Jesus is the one being crowned and spoken of and named by God.

                He is also identified here as the high priest, exactly as Philo identifies the Logos, and as the one receiving god’s power and rule, exactly as Philo says of the Logos, and he is here said to be the son of the Righteous God (Jehozadak = Johovah the Righteous or Jehovah Justified etc.), exactly as Philo identifies the Logos.

                And so on.

                There simply is no basis for reading it otherwise, or to ever imagine Philo reading it otherwise.

              • Posted September 19, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

                Dr. Carrier,

                As a counter to your assertion that nobody would have read the text otherwise, might I point to its usage by Christians as a prophecy for the coming of Jesus (Christ). What you translate as “Rising,” I have also seen translated as “Branch” and “Shoot” in the Zechariah passage and as “East” in Philo. As I have no training in Greek, I would be interested in hearing the reasoning for the translation you use, especially as “Branch/Shoot” is widely held as reference to David or a Davidic heir. I would imagine many first century Jews would read Zechariah and understand it as a messianic prophecy for this reason alone.

                Concerning the term’s usage in Philo, however, perhaps I was hasty in speculating that the Logos may have been envisioned as an angel. In the preceding passages from “On the Confusion of Tongues,” Philo seemingly (again, I’m reading the English) uses the same term to refer to Eden being in the “East.” In other passages, Philo also compares the Logos to a place – for instance, when he speaks of the relationship of the soul to the body being analogous to the relationship between the Logos and the world. Wouldn’t a person named “East” be more befuddling than a person named “Rising” (humans rise every day in one way or another) and fit the context of the passage better? How would one reconcile this concept of “Logos as place” with a heavenly being known as “Jesus?”

                Finally, while you point out correctly that Philo writes of the high priest as an allegory for the Logos, it seems he suggests this of the office itself, and thus every high priest going back to the time of Moses. In “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo writes “For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the word of God…” when referring to regulations put forth in Numbers 35:25. If we are to take this literally, then we might say that the Logos is not only named “Jesus,” but also “Aaron,” “Eleazar,” “Zadok,” “Onias,” and so on.

                You must forgive me then, Dr. Carrier, for requiring more in order to be convinced that “Jesus” was known as a celestial being in the pre-Christian period. I do place some merit in mythicisim so far as it encourages a higher critical approach in the analysis of early Christianity, yet I do see a historical first century figure as the most plausible root based on the current evidence.

                Regards,

                Matt Morales

              • Posted September 14, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

                I certainly grant the relevance of this passage to Christian concepts of Jesus, but I have reservations that Zechariah alone is enough to account for the first century worship of a Jesus as the second power in heaven. I think most important to this topic is the realization that the many references to the Branch/East in the Hebrew Bible are universally understood to signify David or a Davidic heir. Added support for the differentiation between the Branch and Joshua is found in Zechariah 3:8. Then, in Zech 4:9, it is Zerubbabel who is to rebuild the temple. Once we get to Chapter 6:12-13, for whatever reason, Zerubbabel is not named. Scholars debate the reasoning of this, but perhaps it might be because the kingship was never re-established during this time period and Zechariah is written in retrospect several generations later. It’s also of note that in Zechariah 4:11-14, we can observe the appearance of the the dual messiah concept, which the Qumran sect later subscribes to. Going back to Chapter 6:13, some translations render the latter part of the passage, “and there shall be a priest on his throne” or even “and there shall be a priest by his throne” which point to more than one figure being spoken of in the text. This is followed up with the line as you quoted, “and the council of peace shall be between them both” which only makes sense when speaking of two persons, even if some scholars try to (unconvincingly) make the case that the author is suggesting that both offices will be filled by one person.

                While this passage probably referred to Zerubbabel as the Branch (at least tentatively), what we do know is that it came to function as a prophecy of the coming messiah. This is how first century Jews would have read the text and even today, a quick Google search turns up Christian groups who see the Branch as a reference to Jesus Christ–and they definitely don’t take him to be the same person as Joshua ben Jehozadak. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is most directly applicable to this discussion, the author goes to great lengths to show how Jesus Christ can be the Heavenly High Priest even though he is supposedly a descendent of David and not Aaron.

                If anything, we can credit Philo for the suggestion that the messiah prophesied in Zechariah would not (merely) be the son of David but the son of Yahweh. This belief is reflected in Mark 12:35-37. All this taken into account, while Philo is vague enough that Dr. Carrier’s analysis may be correct, given the context, it does not appear to be the case. Thus, there is no direct evidence for a pre-Christian power in heaven named Jesus and no rule which stated the messiah had to be named as such.

                Sorry if this veered into essay territory…

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted September 26, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                “What you translate as “Rising,” I have also seen translated as “Branch” and “Shoot” in the Zechariah passage and as “East” in Philo.”

                The Hebrew says shoot (which also grows). The Greek says rising (anatolê), which being also a reference to where the sun rises, was used in antiquity for what we mean by east. Philo is quoting and taking the Greek meaning.

                “I would imagine many first century Jews would read Zechariah and understand it as a messianic prophecy for this reason alone.”

                Certainly. Combine that with the theology Philo is reporting and you get: the Davidic messiah will be this archangel. On the metaphysics of that, see my discussion of “women and sperm” in On the Historicity if Jesus, ch. 11.

                “Concerning the term’s usage in Philo, however, perhaps I was hasty in speculating that the Logos may have been envisioned as an angel.”

                Not at all. Philo certainly regards it as an archangel. The problem was the insinuation that Philo is referring to some extra additional person (standing next to Jesus?) in Zechariah and therefore a different person in the passage than that Jesus. There is no such additional extra person. Philo is saying the Jesus of Zech. 6 is that archangel the Logos. Not someone else.

                “Philo seemingly (again, I’m reading the English) uses the same term to refer to Eden being in the “East.””

                Philo does not believe there was ever any such actual place, he explains elsewhere that Eden is an allegory. So this is moot.

                “In other passages, Philo also compares the Logos to a place – for instance, when he speaks of the relationship of the soul to the body being analogous to the relationship between the Logos and the world.”

                Logos means “reason”. The soul is the reasoning part of us, and thus participates in the entity called Reason. Thus we are touching God, a reflection of him, “made in his image,” because the archangel called Reason is God’s supreme Image, and we are copies in turn of that emanation. This archangel, Reason, is akin to the soul of the world, because it controls everything (by enacting God’s will). All of this is explained by Philo in several places. References are in On the Historicity of Jesus.

                “Wouldn’t a person named “East” be more befuddling than a person named “Rising” (humans rise every day in one way or another) and fit the context of the passage better?”

                Since Philo goes on to make a pun about rising, it’s obvious he is fascinated by that aspect of the term. It has a parallel in the Hebrew, since a shoot can also spring up, and thus “rises.” Philo does not seem at all aware of a messianic interpretation as descendant of David. Other Jews surely may have seen it so, though. And, when you combine the two, you get the early Christian doctrine.

                “Finally, while you point out correctly that Philo writes of the high priest as an allegory for the Logos, it seems he suggests this of the office itself, and thus every high priest going back to the time of Moses.”

                No, he explicitly says he is speaking of the celestial high priest ministering in the celestial temple of God, of which the earthly temple is a copy, just as earthly priests are copies of this celestial priest.

                “In “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo writes “For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the word of God…” when referring to regulations put forth in Numbers 35:25. If we are to take this literally, then we might say that the Logos is not only named “Jesus,” but also “Aaron,” “Eleazar,” “Zadok,” “Onias,” and so on.”

                No, Philo is here referring to the archangel, the celestial high priest, who originates everything, and which the earthly priests merely enact and embody. “Word” of God is again Logos (the same word). That is God’s agent of creation and through whom he communicates with people on earth.

                All of this is clear when you read all the passages Philo wrote about this archangel. Which passages I collect in OHJ.

              • Matt Morales
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                Dr. Carrier,

                I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions regarding the translation of “East/Rising.” Indeed, the terms were intrinsically linked for the ancients and with good reason. I do, however, still have my doubts concerning Philo’s identification of the Logos with Joshua/Jesus. Naturally, obtaining OHJ will perhaps clarify certain issues, but I must wonder a few things going in: How can we say that the Logos (which has many names) is called Jesus based on the passage in “On the Confusion of Tongues,” whereas in the previously cited passage in “A Treatise on Fugitives,” Philo refers to “high priest” as basically a code word for the Logos. The death of the high priest is interpreted not as the death of any OT priest, but the departure of the Logos. Can we not apply this same logic to “Tongues” and say that Philo is dubbing the Logos “Rising” in place of the high priest Jesus? Put simply, in “Fugitives,” Philo is saying, “The OT text is not actually referring to the high priest. It’s referring to the Logos.” Why not the same with, “Behold, a man whose name is Rising?”

                Also, if Jesus were a name of the Logos, why doesn’t Philo make it more explicit, as he does many other aspects/functions of this archangel? And why do we observe an absence of this Christological title from all early literature prior to the John traditions?

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

                I might be able to address that. I’m a bit over halfway through the book — one I can already heartily recommend — and past the presentation of the background materials and primary evidence and into the analysis of probability.

                You seem to be suggesting that Richard is claiming something, if I might be permitted a bit of hyperbole, akin to a dramatic reveal by Philo in which he says, “Ta-da! This Logos I’ve been describing all along is embodied in the Rising Jesus Christ of Zechariah, and that’s whom we should all bow down to!”

                That’s not the case at all. Rather, Philo has his own independent development of these same very common ideas floating around in not just Jewish but Pagan theology and culture. And, at one point, in something of a sidebar, Philo stops to observe that there’s this character in Zechariah 6 that “just happens” to be yet another instance of this prevalent theme popping up, and Philo observes how curious it should be that the character’s very name is so apt a fit for the theological purpose he serves.

                That character, of course, is the Risen Jesus Christ.

                We also see Paul’s Risen Jesus Christ shares all the other theological functions as Philo’s Logos, ones that Philo doesn’t (of course!) identify with the Risen Jesus Christ of Zechariah 6.

                So, what’s clear is that Philo saw this minor mention of an extant archangel whom he recognized as being the same as his own Logos, and that Paul sorta-inverted that and continued the identification and associated everything else about Philo’s Logos with his own Risen Jesus Christ.

                When it comes right down to it, it’s no different from the equation of Zeus and Jupiter — or, more topically, Osiris and Dionysus and Bacchus. Sure, they had different names and superficially different (but strikingly similar) biographies, but all were the outer mysteries used as cover for the same unified theological / cosmological principles.

                We even see this in twentieth-century Christian children’s literature, where C.S. Lewis’s Aslan (the Christ figure) explicitly states that it matters not what form nor name people know and love him by, but by the true nature of what they perceive and worship. Thus, the Calorman (Muslim analog) prince who worshipped Tash (Satan), but not the horrific monster Tash but rather an honorable Tash of love and beauty…he was welcomed by Aslan as one of his own, whilst the idolatrous monkeys who made an horrific caricature of an evil lion whom they called, “Aslan” (and, later, “Tashlan”) were consigned to the monster Tash, despite professing in words their love for Aslan. What mattered were the eternal underlying idealized forms, not the inconsequential superficialities of name and body and time and place.

                Richard’s point is that, for Philo, this Platonic ideal (but still really real) of a certain divine being was known to him as the Logos but that Philo recognized the exact same archangel at the heart of Zachariah’s Risen Jesus Christ. Paul knew Zachariah’s Risen Jesus Christ and recognized not only Philo’s Logos as being the same figure, but adopted wholesale the more fleshed-out and sophisticated aspects of the Logos as, of logical necessity even, equal properties of the Risen Jesus Christ.

                Richard, of course, feel free to jump in here and correct me; this is my own interpretation of what I’ve read so far of OHJ.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                I, for one, would enjoy greatly if you would write a brief history of the Christian religion including much of what you have included here. For me, it wouldn’t’ need to be something that refutes historicists arguments, just based on the evidence you find the most compelling, how things unfolded, who was who, who wrote what when, etc.

                Have you read regarding a Simonian origin for Paul’s letters? What do you think of that.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                Honestly?

                The farther I get in Richard’s book, the more I realize that he’s already written the book I would fantasize myself writing on the subject. He’s covered everything I might have, and expanded upon it with plenty I was unaware of.

                For example, where I’m fond of citing Justin Martyr for a precis of the mythicist position, Richard instead goes to extended examples from Plutarch and other actual primary sources. (I’ll still use Justin Martyr as it’s short, easily accessible, and has the rhetorical power of a Christian inadvertently making the mythicist case, but Richard’s approach is far more rigorous.)

                To top it off, he’s setting it all in a framework for objectively and empirically comparing all the bits to assemble them into a coherent whole. I don’t think I could improve on the way he’s doing it; I’d be much more tempted to do it informally and thus either get excessively bogged down in detail or gloss over too much.

                Have you read regarding a Simonian origin for Paul’s letters? What do you think of that.

                I must admit, that’s not ringing any bells.

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                I have just started the book, so will keep going. What I doubting is whether he covers what he thinked happened, speculating on the origins in a way that you have in a couple short comments. Price did that to some degree. I haven’t seen where Doherty addresses it but haven’t read all 800 pages yet.

                I reserve the right to come back to you and ask 🙂

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                I don’t know yet if he’s going to come right out and state his best guess for the origins, but it’s already not at all difficult to read between the lines. As I’m so fond of observing, Christianity really is a bog-standard syncretic Pagan death / resurrection / salvation mystery cult grafted onto the Jewish pantheon — save, as I was unaware until it was brought to my attention by Richard, not only were there even more similarities and intermixing between the Jewish and Pagan theologies than I thought, this particular demigod, name and celestial role and divine characteristics and everything, was already right there in toto from both ancient Hebrew scriptures and Philo.

                As such, it’s not so much that Christianity originated in the 30s or so with the Jerusalem Church and Paul. Rather, that’s about the time that one particular sect of Judaism started, like the First Reformed Baptist Church of the Living Jesus’s Bible of the Greater Outer Hoople Area, and it just so happens that modern Christianity traces its roots to that particular schism as opposed to the First Reformed Baptist Ministry of the Living Jesus’s Bible of the Greater Hoople Area.

                Aside, perhaps, from Paul’s “revelation” that Jesus’s sacrifice absolved all of the traditional Jewish sacrifices, including circumcision and not just the animals at the Temple, there really doesn’t seem to be anything distinguishing Paul’s church from those that were already common in the surrounding area, including the Risen Jesus Christ as the divine Word and the Son of the Most High God and High Priest of the Celestial Temple.

                Once Paul made that minor tweak, he opened the floodgates for Pagans to become Christians, thereby swelling the ranks of this particular denomination…and, unsurprisingly, they also brought all their Pagan analogies with them and thus had it “revealed” unto them that, surprise surprise, the archangel the Risen Jesus Christ was also born of a Virgin, turned water into wine, and all the rest.

                Much of it was really inevitable, hinging on only a few minor and completely unremarkable variations; the only truly notable variable is that, centuries later, Christianity had grown to the point that it inherited the remains of the Roman Empire. Were it not for that fact, Christianity would be in no way remarkable and instead viewed as just another minor variation on the same themes universal in that region. We wouldn’t merely identify Osiris as the Egyptian analogue of Dionysus and Bacchus as the Roman analogue and Orpheus as the Thracian analogue and Mithras as the Persian analogue, but Jesus as the Jewish analogue, and that would be the end of the discussion. It’d be mentioned right alongside Jupiter and Zeus being the same, Hera and Juno, Hermes and Mercury, Hephaestus and Vulcan, and so on.

                Do we agonize over the precise origins of those other gods? No, not unless you’re a scholar of ancient religion. Jesus is a double-edged sword in that respect…on the one hand, he has the potential to provide a superlative case study of the origins of gods, and one that you might expect would have popular appeal and thus help get the public excited about the subject. On the other hand…said public is devoutly committed to Jesus being not only divine but uniquely special and an astonishing de novo invention. But once you’ve been disabused of that misconception, though, the rest is really rather obvious.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                Thanks Ben – this was informative and useful.

                I suppose the details don’t matter – except, as you said, for the significance placed on the idea of Jesus by a large portion of the world’s population.

                YHWH/Jesus is kinda the last god standing for the western world and much of the rest of it too.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                Last god standing…sorta. There’re always newcomers to challenge the throne, and Muhammad is making a go of it from the outside and Moroni from the inside…of course, both are set in the same comic book superhero universe with Jesus still getting honorable mention…but look at where Moses, Jesus’s predecessor, is these days….

                b&

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                Philo explicitly says the Logos is the archangel who is the high priest of God’s temple in heaven. So I don’t understand your confusion. You don’t seem to be reading Philo or my analysis of these passages. These aren’t separate things. In his scheme, even earthly priests are just copies of the real priest, who is this archangel in heaven.

                As to why Paul never had occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus and thus that he is God’s Word (Logos), that’s because in none of the letters of Paul that survive does Paul have occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus.

                As to why Philo is not more explicit, Philo did not write a dedicated treatise about this being (or if he did, it was not preserved). Nor is he writing to convince an unbelieving doubter on the internet thousands of years later. He does not discuss all the attributes of this being in any passage. He just discusses those attributes that are relevant each time he discusses that being. We can thus add up all its attributes by adding up all the things Philo says about it in different places. One of those things is that this being is the Jesus in Zechariah 6.

                Statistically, it is extraordinarily unlikely that it is a coincidence that the exact same being with all the exact same unusual celestial attributes in Philo is named Jesus and the exact same one is named Jesus in Paul. And we should not prefer hypotheses that are extraordinarily unlikely. A vastly more likely hypothesis is that Paul and Philo are talking about the same theological entity. And since neither knows the other’s work, this entails they are both drawing on a Jewish theology that predates them. There are many other respects in which they do this, showing that Philo and Paul had similar theological works behind them, and I cite in OHJ the scholarship on that fact.

              • Matt Morales
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Dr. Carrier,

                Thanks once again for your response. Please allow me to reply:

                “Philo explicitly says the Logos is the archangel who is the high priest of God’s temple in heaven. So I don’t understand your confusion. You don’t seem to be reading Philo or my analysis of these passages. These aren’t separate things. In his scheme, even earthly priests are just copies of the real priest, who is this archangel in heaven.”

                I don’t think I’m as much confused as I am unconvinced, and I assure you that I have read the relevent passages in Philo and fair ammount of your anlaysis–including some passages from OHJ. I’m not disputing the role of the Logos as heavenly high priest. I’m disputing that this Logos is identified as Joshua ben Jehozadak (and that he was known as a celestial entity in the first century), for reasons previously stated. I understand how you arrive at your conclusion, but this does not seem to be the way Philo treats other OT passages, such as the one discussed in “Fugitives.”

                “As to why Paul never had occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus and thus that he is God’s Word (Logos), that’s because in none of the letters of Paul that survive does Paul have occasion to discuss the detailed theology of Jesus.”

                The epistles are certainly written for specific occassion, but have scholars not used this same argument in trying to explain why Paul is silent on details surrounding the life of the HJ/his teachings/etc.? Also, the identification is summed up quite succinctly in the introduction to John’s gospel. I find it odd that Paul would find room to mention the common functions of Jesus and the Logos, but fail to use the word itself, if this was a previously developed theology. Then again, you are saying Paul does not know Philo, so I suppose this is moot.

                “As to why Philo is not more explicit, Philo did not write a dedicated treatise about this being (or if he did, it was not preserved). Nor is he writing to convince an unbelieving doubter on the internet thousands of years later. He does not discuss all the attributes of this being in any passage. He just discusses those attributes that are relevant each time he discusses that being. We can thus add up all its attributes by adding up all the things Philo says about it in different places. One of those things is that this being is the Jesus in Zechariah 6.”

                Fair enough, but again, Philo’s point seems to be that the Logos is named Rising–not that the Logos is to be identified with Joshua ben Jehozadak. Philo discusses the signifigance of “Rising” but does not even quote the name “Jesus,” which we might expect him to find equal signifigance in. We cannot assume something which we do not have, even if it is for a simple lack of preservation.

                Oh, and just to be clear, I also do my doubting “irl”, and would welcome an in-person conversation if the opportunity ever arrises. Perhaps my doubt stems in part from this being the first time in thousands of years that (to my knowledge) it has been argued that Philo names his Logos “Jesus.” Zechariah’s Jesus, by all other accounts, was “merely” a historical high priest–albeit an important one no doubt. The vision of his changing garments is believed to symbolize a restoration of dignity to his family after it fell into shame a few generations after his death.

                “Statistically, it is extraordinarily unlikely that it is a coincidence that the exact same being with all the exact same unusual celestial attributes in Philo is named Jesus and the exact same one is named Jesus in Paul. And we should not prefer hypotheses that are extraordinarily unlikely. A vastly more likely hypothesis is that Paul and Philo are talking about the same theological entity. And since neither knows the other’s work, this entails they are both drawing on a Jewish theology that predates them. There are many other respects in which they do this, showing that Philo and Paul had similar theological works behind them, and I cite in OHJ the scholarship on that fact.”

                Of course a coincidence would be quite unlikely if we could prove, or even show it likely, that Philo really meant that the Logos was known as Jesus, son of Yahweh the Righteous. As it stands, it’s a novel and intriguing hypothesis, but it simply is not the slam dunk we need to make a surefire identification. There are other, and imo more consistent, ways to treat the passage…that is unless we can find further evidence to support your assertion.

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                You seem to be assuming that Philo didn’t know that the figure called Rising was named Jesus in the very same verse he quotes.

                You therefore have very odd views of ancient Jewish scholars.

                You also can’t avoid the coincidence even by adopting the absurdly improbable hypothesis that Philo did not know this.

                The rest of your arguments are simple non sequiturs.

                So I cannot conclude you are committed to being reasonable about this.

              • Matt Morales
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                Dr. Carrier,

                No, I do acknowledge that Philo was probably familiar with the passage from Zechariah and Joshua. I’m simply stating that he appears to reject the identification, just as he rejects that the laws discussed in “Fugitives” refer to any human high priest. I believe I made that clear, so I ask that you kindly do not create straw men. I am not invalidating your analysis by disagreeing with it.

                Best,

                Matt Morales

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

                Matt,

                I’m not seeing how you’re getting from point A to B.

                Even if Dr. Carrier or I were to grant you your assertion, that Philo considered but rejected the equation of Zechariah’s Jesus with the Logos, Dr. Carrier’s point still stands: there was at least enough similarity and / or continuity between the two for the comparison to be made in the first place — again, even if, as you assert, that comparison was ultimately rejected.

                The most succinct way to describe Paul’s Jesus would be as the amalgamation of Zechariah’s Jesus with Philo’s Logos. Every single characteristic of Zechariah’s Jesus is present in Paul’s, and if there’s a significant element of Philo’s Logos lacking in Paul’s Jesus I’m unaware of it. Even details like the two Adams, the one for the flesh and the other (Jesus / Logos) for the spirit…it’s all there. So, the absolute most you could claim with your thesis is that Paul accepted the comparison that Philo rejected…which doesn’t at all change the equation for consideration of historicity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                There is also simply no evidence that Philo “rejected” the equation of the Rising with the Jesus who is explicitly being called that in Zechariah. That “rejection” is just something being made up here. For no discernible reason.

              • Matt Morales
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                Dr. Carrier,

                Rejecting is exactly what Philo does when he says:

                “A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image…”

                Philo is saying that “Rising” shouldn’t be applied to a man, which every Jew knew Joshua ben Jehozadak to be–a flesh and blood human being. Our differences appear when you say, “Aha, that means Philo thinks Joshua was no man at all, but an archangel.” Whereas I am saying, “Philo thinks Rising is referring to something entirely different.” I then provided an example in “On Flight and Finding/A Treatise on Fugitives” where the word “high priest” is interpreted to mean the Logos dwelling inside the soul of all men, in effect demonstrating how Philo freely reapplies scriptural references to a human being to something allegorical and entirely different.

                This is not something I am making up, but how scholars have treated Philo for as long as his works have been studied. For your claim to gain acceptance, you must provide ample reasoning for why your interpretation is correct over theirs. Continuing to dismiss the notion, as if “Jesus in Philo” is just accepted fact, is not objective scholarship and a disservice to your own intellect.

                Best,

                Matt

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                “[This is] how scholars have treated Philo for as long as his works have been studied” — citation please.

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

                Philo is saying that “Rising” shouldn’t be applied to a man, which every Jew knew Joshua ben Jehozadak to be–a flesh and blood human being.

                Again — and I’m with Richard on this — even if I were to grant you what I see as a tortured interpretation, by your own interpretation Philo is concerned that somebody might incorrectly make the equation and is correcting the anticipated error. That right there would be evidence that others had or were expected to make the equation, even if incorrectly.

                Indeed, even if we grant you your interpretation, the most obvious reason Philo would have written such a passage would have been because he had heard of others making such an equation, possibly even through the grapevine that some mystery cult, even early Christians, had done so.

                Again, granting you your own argument, one I just don’t buy, for the sake of discussion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Matt Morales
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                Just because perhaps I worded myself poorly in the post regarding “A Treatise on Fugitives,” I’ll try to clarify a bit further. Where Philo talks about the law regarding the return of fugitives upon the death of the high priest, he says it does not seem fair if it refers to the death of the human high priest. Similarly, we might say that in “On the Confusion of Tongues,” Philo declares that “Rising” should not be applied to the human high priest, Jesus ben Jehozadak. Indeed, as I outlined earlier, there are reasons why first century Jews may have already questioned the identification of Jesus as “Rising,” such as the Davidic association and prior passages which have Zerubbabel building the temple. By the first century, the verses in Zechariah would be seen as talking of a future messiah, with Joshua and Zerubbabel being only symbols of what was to come. This future messiah is what we can identify as the Logos according to Philo.

  3. Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    //

    • Carl W
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      sub

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

        sub

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Christianity is a mystery cult like Mithras and Isis. It closely resembles the compassion expressed in the Isis cult in particular. Ergo, the characters that feature in Christianity are most likely as real as the characters that feature in other contemporaneous mystery cults. QED.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      Good point.

      Apparently there is a lot of denial of the obvious fact that Christianity originated as a mystery cult. After reading, “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Carrier, Elements 11-14, I can’t see how one could make a strong argument against that assertion. As Carrier puts it (page 96):

      The earliest definitely known form of Christianity was a Judeo-Hellenistic mystery religion. This is also beyond any reasonable doubt, yet frequently denied in the field of Jesus research, often with a suspiciously intense passion. So I shall here survey a case for it.

      The usual (and only?) argument for denying it, is that Christianity was not “exactly” like any other mystery cult. But as Carrier points out no mystery cult was exactly any other mystery cult. So by that argument there were no mystery cults at all!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        But as Carrier points out no mystery cult was exactly any other mystery cult. So by that argument there were no mystery cults at all!

        In which case, all mystery cults are completely alike.
        A = B and A=/=B , simultaneously.
        After passing you that wafer thin mint, I shall do my John Cleese impersonation into this plant pot.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          Ahem! I may have elided a “like” somewhere in that sentence.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

            My internal “AutoCorrect-I-Know-What-You-Meant-Not-What-You-Rote” function (it’s not just a spilling chocker!) had re-inserted the elided ‘like.’

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        Indeed, my I once bought, as a treat to myself after 1st year exams (because I’m a geek), The Oxford Classical Dictionary. I like it because it sources its material.

        Here is what my Oxford Classical Dictionary says about the Mysteries:

        The highest promise of the mysteries was a happy after-life. The rise of dualism which considered the corporeal world as evil stressed the need of salvation which was conferred by the participation in the mysteries: they promised even the deification of man. The myth was a symbolic expression of the doctrine and the god was the prototype of man, suffering, dying, and rising to a new life.

  5. Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Hopefully you won’t deny that you’re an excellent writer and crystal-clear thinker, though! Congrats on a fine guest post, to take its place alongside your hundreds of great comments on this site.

    On the Jesus issue, for what it’s worth, I tend to agree. No challenge here.

  6. GBJames
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    My reply is shorter than 500 words.

    “Sub”

  7. Rhaeyga
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Replace Jesus with Apollonius and see if you get the same answer

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      ++

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Incidentally, Carrier (and I, since I talked to him about it) thinks that it is about even that there was an Apollonius of Tyana.

  8. Somite
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    This is excellent. I had the following exchange with Reza Aslan over the twitters.

    https://storify.com/toxicpath/conversation-with-toxicpath-and-rezaaslan

    I appreciate Reza was kind enough to answer even though I misspelled “Jesus” in the first tweet!

    It is obvious to me that a hearsay account almost a century after the fact should not be considered evidence. However, do you know of more concrete reasons why Josephus’ account could be false? Any new developments on the possibility that Josephus mention of Jesus was forged?

    Thanks!

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      The passage about Jesus is often cited, but what I find most enlightening (and certainly damning as far as its authenticity goes) is what’s written just before and just after.

      Josephus’s account goes a little like this, if I paraphrase Jewish Antiquities, Book XVIII, ch. 3, par. 2-4:

      “Pilates did some plumbing work in Jerusalem and the local populace got irritated with his designs. This led to rioting and police brutality.

      At about the same time, a preacher named Jesus showed up and he was clearly the messiah and the son of God.

      Meanwhile, back to the important stuff. There was a scandal in Rome involving the nobility; a man from the equestrian order wanted very much to have sex with a married woman and relied on many convoluted plans to get what he wanted. This apparently deserves a lot of explanation and six times more space than what we mentioned just above”.

      As they say in school, one of these things do not go with the others. Josephus is relating a succession of mundane events: unrest over city planning, sexual scandals among the rich and powerful, and somewhere in the middle he almost absent-mindedly slips something that is arguably the single most important event* in the history of the world. It makes no sense at all.

      What does make sense is if a Christian copyist added messiah-related material at the appropriate spot. If you just remove a few words from the paragraph, the passage fits with the rest again: in between the waterworks-related riots and the Roman sexual scandal, we’re told that there was a preacher who was executed in Jerusalem. Since Josephus does not make a big deal of it, it was just worth mentioning but was not, at the time, as important as the kinky stuff happening in certain Roman boudoirs.

      *As far as Christians are concerned, and since Jesus is referred to as “the Christ” in the controversial lines, it really sounds as if the writer was a Christian himself, even though it’s clear that Josephus was Jewish.

      • Somite
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        This is a great explanation. Thanks Benoît!

      • James Walker
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Lying for Jesus – it has a long history!

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Even the scholar quoted in Lee Strobel’s book (The Case for Christ) admits that the supernatural claims about Jesus in Josephus were later forgeries. Adn that’s from an advocate for a “Historical Jesus”.

        [Strobel’s Expert] Edwin Yamauchi admits: “early Christian copyists inserted some phrases that a Jewish writer like Josephus would not have written.” (p. 79) Insertions such as: “If one ought to call him a man,” “He was the Christ,” and “on the third day he he appeared to them restored to life.” (all noted by the expert, Yamauchi, pp. 79-80) “The passage in Josephus probably was originally written about Jesus, although without those three points I mentioned.” (Yamauchi, p. 80)

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Origen, Contra Celsus, 1:47:

      I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of time after John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless — being, although against his will, not far from the truth — that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ), — the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. 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. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all theiractions to His good pleasure.

      Can we please stop pretending that Josephus mentioned the Christian Jesus? Even in that parenthetical bit that’s clearly about Jesus bar Damneus?

      b&

      • Ray
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Citing works from the 3rd century are we? Way to not play by your own rules. Since Origen cites Paul as the source of the claim that Jesus and James were not related by blood, why not cite the relevant passage of Paul’s letters that says the same thing? Oh, right, because there is no such passage.

        BTW, Origen is late enough that his claims could represent motivated reasoning in an effort to support the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (said doctrine is first attested in the mid 2nd century Protoevangelium of James.)

        As for the “Jesus bar Damneus” claim, if Josephus had meant to refer to James the brother of Jesus bar Damneus, he would have simply referred to him as “James bar Damneus.” I am aware that Carrier has attempted to get around this, but his theory requires multiple independent interpolations to the same passage, none of which are supported by any evidence aside from his desire to make the “James the brother of Jesus” passage disappear. As such, it is a gross offense against parsimony.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          Seriously?

          The first mention of the Testamonium, which you’re trying to use as evidence, occurs in Eusebius. Origen, writing well before Eusebius, makes painfully clear that not only did the Testamonium not exist, but that all the other Josephean references and hints are bullshit, too. Therefore, any claims that invoke Josephus are similar bullshit.

          (Indeed, once we realize that Josephus failed to mention Jesus, his silence is every bit as damnable as those of the contemporaries. Jesus as a street preacher would have been gossip too delightful for him to have overlooked.)

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Ray
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

            It’s not much use arguing with you if you can’t tell the difference between the “Testimonium Flavianum” and the “James the brother of Jesus” passage from Josephus, but I guess I’ll give it one more go.

            The Testimonium is in book 18 of Jewish Antiquities. I regard it as mostly or entirely the result of Christian interpolation, and I do not regard it as evidence of much of anything, nor could my previous comment have been construed as referring to it.

            The James, brother of Jesus passage is in book 20. It is cited by Origen, twice (included in the work you cited.) So at the very worst, we’re citing works from the same century. But, dating the Josephus quote to the 3rd century when Origen referred to it, rather than to the 1st century, when it was actually written, is ridiculous.

            BTW, the fact that the Testimonium isn’t quoted until the 4th century isn’t very strong evidence against its authenticity. Much stronger is the fact that the Testimonium says of Jesus “he was the Christ” while Origen, in the same passages where he talks about Josephus on James, says that Josephus “did not accept Jesus as Christ.”

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

              I’m sorry, but I’ve posted the full quote from Origen repeatedly, including in this thread, and repeatedly referred to it. He comes right out and says that in Antiquities 18 Josephus attributes the fall of Jerusalem to the death of James the Just and harshly criticizes Josephus for failing to mention Jesus in this context.

              When you stop getting your history from Christian apologists and start reading the actual original sources, there might be a point in continuing….

              b&

              • Ray
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                Um. Read it again. Origen says that John the Baptist is mentioned in book 18, as indeed he is. He doesn’t say where Josephus mentions James the brother of Jesus, but the wording is very similar to that in book 20, repeating verbatim the phrase “the brother of Jesus (called Christ).”

                The issue here is basic reading comprehension, not getting one’s information from “Christian apologists”

          • Tomas
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

            By what motivation would Christians have to enter neutral information about Jesus into the writings of Josephus, such as the references to James as his brother.

            Do you believe they did so, to trick people into believing that Jesus was an actual historical person?

            I’ve always wondering about how this supposed mythicist Jesus of a platoic-other realm, developed into a belief in a historical person. How early did this development take place? Was there a concentrated effort by the early christians to consciously do this, and this served as the motivations as to why they would have altered Josephus to include mentions of Jesus in his works?

            Or was this development unintentional, that no such early effort to create a historical Jesus from mythical one took place, but rather that we all have just been reading the gospels, and Paul’s writing wrong?

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

              Do you believe they did so, to trick people into believing that Jesus was an actual historical person?

              Absolutely. It is the kind of thing done all the time today. In the past, making things up instead of telling the truth was just fine. It still is in Muslim countries.

              • Tomas
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                @newengland bob: “Absolutely. It is the kind of thing done all the time today. In the past, making things up instead of telling the truth was just fine. It still is in Muslim countries.”

                People make up stories all the time, such as the three little pigs, or George Washington and the Cherry Tree, but the question i was asking was one about motivation.

                When my teacher told us the three little pig story, the purpose wasn’t to trick us into believing they really existed, but to convey some sort of moral.

                So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up? Were they actively trying to trick people into believing Jesus existed as a historical person. If so, why do you think they would do that? It’s unlikely that those who were consciously making this up, would have believed Jesus was the messiah, because they would in fact have known it was a con.

                There seems to be some underly conspiracy here, an interesting one in fact, that’s rarely ever given any real articulation by it’s tactile supporters. And I would like to see it more fully fleshed out here, in a rare space in which actual supporters of mythicist position are here to do so.

              • bobkillian
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

                “So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up? Were they actively trying to trick people into believing Jesus existed as a historical person. If so, why do you think they would do that?”

                To put it in a practical perspective, imagine you’re a snake oil peddler, er, itinerant preacher, and your pocket money depends on finding a lucrative market open to your sales pitch.

                Now place yourself in Jerusalem in 70c.e. The Romans have just destroyed the Temple, and decimated the Jewish population, scattering them to the four winds. Hmmm. What if you could modify your story enough to make your “product” palatable to Romans, i.e., where the money is.

                Your business acumen would prompt you to the most obvious re-branding to please this new market, such as making Pilate innocent and the Jews guilty, and waiving that pesky circumcision rule. Each successive gospel makes your (New! Improved!) messiah Product less a troublemaker provoking the Empire, and more an ethereal divinity. Cha-ching!

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up?

                Here’s one reason:

                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.

                b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

              Could you elaborate on this?

              By what motivation would Christians have to enter neutral information about Jesus into the writings of Josephus, such as the references to James as his brother.

              I’m not aware of any neutral information about Jesus in the extant works of Josephus. Are you refering to TF? that’s hardly neutral. Or are you refering to the hypothetical reconstruction of the “original” content that some scholars propose by taking out the obvious things that Josephus could not have said unless he was a Christian?

              Perhaps you should read pages 332-342 of “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Carrier. He explains why there is no reason to believe that Josephus wrote anything about Jesus where the TF stands in the extant manuscripts.

              Or are you refering to the “who is called Christ” phrase? A Christian scribe could easily have penned that as a marginal comment. Carrier actually makes a case for that, as well why that scribe was confused and Jesus could not possibly refer to our guy. See the page references above.

              I’ve always wondering about how this supposed mythicist Jesus of a platoic-other realm, developed into a belief in a historical person. How early did this development take place? Was there a concentrated effort by the early christians to consciously do this, and this served as the motivations as to why they would have altered Josephus to include mentions of Jesus in his works?

              Or was this development unintentional, that no such early effort to create a historical Jesus from mythical one took place, but rather that we all have just been reading the gospels, and Paul’s writing wrong?

              If you are really interested for the answers (I don’t mean to question your sincirety, it’s just hard to detect tone in online conversations) I would suggest you actually read the works of those that suggest this idea, for example Doherty and Carrier.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

                Nikos:

                Self-published autodidact Doherty, that no decent publishing firm would ever touch, is not a valid reference that any scholar would ever dream of using. (See the Wikipedia article and the TALK discussion.)

                Send Tomas instead to the books by George A. Wells, where all modern arguments and precise citations are lifted from (erudite, but reliably honest), or the cute and elegant summary of the issues in Herbert Cutner’s book, or further back to the fundamental books of John M. Robertson (heavy reading, but excellent to maintain any aging brain’s mental acuity) and Arthur Drews (best introduction, bar none), who launched the theory of the Christ Myth into international consciousness.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

                @Roo

                As far as I understand it, Wells’ theory was never that Jesus originated as a celestial being in some kind of “platonic-other” realm, but rather a myth based on a possibly historical person that lived in the distant past. So I don’t see how reference to his works would help Tomas answer his questions.

                Regarding Doherty, I find his books well researched and argued. He doesn’t have any relevant advanced degrees, but that by itself does not disqualify his arguments.

              • Tomas
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

                @Niko

                //If you are really interested for the answers (I don’t mean to question your sincirety, it’s just hard to detect tone in online conversations) I would suggest you actually read the works of those that suggest this idea, for example Doherty and Carrier.//

                I’ve read and listened to a bit of both Doherty and Carrier, and I don’t recall them ever answering this particular question. I do have an interest in the historicity of Jesus, but when it comes to devoting my time to fringe views, I have little interest in devoting myself to actually buying their books, anymore so than you would for creationism, or 9/11 truthers beliefs, but I’m open to reading what’s freely available, and accessible, and this much i have done already in regards to many mythicist views.

                But I am curious as to why rather than attempting to answer this question yourself, you directed me to them? It was fairly direct question? Is the absence of an actual reply here an indication that you do not have an answer for it?

                If those in support of historicity are required to actually argue their case here, why should those in support of the mythicist position not do the same?

                I am interested in the question, and I’m not trying to waste anyones time, but I am hoping that some supporter of mythicism can provide an actual answer to this question here, rather than send me on some wild goose chase by deflecting to some other persons works.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                @Tomas

                Carrier’s book is big, although I would say accessible to non experts with a willingness to put the necessary effort, so it’s hard to summarize. He compares what he calls “minimal historicism” versus “minimal mythicism”, which are theories stripped down to their essentials and defined precisely enough so that he is able assign probabilities to them. His aim is not to defend mythicism but rather to see which of the two theories better fits all the evidence. So the bulk of the book consists of detailed examination of the evidence and comparing the two “minimal” theories against it. Both “theories” are not fully developed explaining all the details, but are put forward as a series of propositions that have to be true in order for the corresponding position (historicism or mythicism) to be true.

                The “minimal mythicism” contain as a proposition an outline of an answer to your question. Roughly, the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers. This is the usual thing that all mystery cults did. Down the line, these allegorical stories came to be believed as true stories that really happened, and only secondarily, or not at all, allegorical especially by low level initiates. Again this is the usual thing that happened with all the allegories of all other mystery cults.

                Note, and this is a point that Carrier makes, that the question of how exactly that happened is independent of whether mythicism or historicism is true. This question poses itself even if we assume historicism, since these obviously allegorical stories at some point came to be believed as true by Christians. It’s possible, I would think even probable, that once a coherent and precise answer is proposed based on either hypothesis it wouldn’t be that hard to modify it to be based on the opposite hypothesis. In other words the answer to the question of historicity is probably largely irrelevant for the answer to your question.

                Ehrman has a new book out where he attempts to answer the question from the historicist perspective. It’s on my “To Read” list, and I’m pretty sure that his answer, if sound would be easily adaptable to a mythicist perspective.

                Doherty’s books are written to defend his theory of Christian origins so they’re the most likely place to find an answer to your question from the perspective of a particular full blown mythicist theory. It’s being a while since I read them, and I don’t have them near me at the moment, and I don’t recall into how much detail detail he goes about your specific question. So I suggested to read them yourself.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                “…the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers. This is the usual thing that all mystery cults did. Down the line, these allegorical stories came to be believed as true stories that really happened, and only secondarily, or not at all, allegorical especially by low level initiates. ”

                Now I may have to read the book. I have suspected for many years that Mark was written as a grimoire mean to be interpreted literally by low level initiates to guide their ethical behavior and advanced initiates learned that it was allegory to explain the mysteries including the greatest mystery “the Kingdom of Heaven is within”.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

                Now I may have to read the book. I have suspected for many years that Mark was written as a grimoire mean to be interpreted literally by low level initiates to guide their ethical behavior and advanced initiates learned that it was allegory to explain the mysteries including the greatest mystery “the Kingdom of Heaven is within”.

                There’s very clearly that sort of thing going on. How much was added when is an open question.

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                This concept is shared by those I know that have been through Thelemic initiation processes. I suspect that those that have survived those, or Masonic or even Morman initiations may see the similarities quite quickly.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                Greek (collegiate) societies, as well.

                b&

              • Tomas
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                @ Nikos: “I’m not aware of any neutral information about Jesus in the extant works of Josephus. Are you refering to TF? that’s hardly neutral. Or are you refering to the hypothetical reconstruction of the “original” content that some scholars propose by taking out the obvious things that Josephus could not have said unless he was a Christian?”

                That, and also the reference to James as Jesus brother.

                The other reference to Jesus, is typically argued as altered to bolster the image of Jesus, that’s generally the motivation attributed to why it was altered in such way.

                But I’m curious to know if the mention of Jesus, including the hypothetical one, were fabricated by early christians and the motivation was to place Jesus in history as an actual person. That they were worried that people would think or believe he never existed, so they altered passages into Josephus to make it appear that he was an actual historical person. Is this the view here?

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

                That they were worried that people would think or believe he never existed, so they altered passages into Josephus to make it appear that he was an actual historical person. Is this the view here?

                The Testamonium is first mentioned by Eusebius as a novel discovery. Origen, writing before Eusebius was born, berated Josephus for blaming the death of James the Just for the fall of Jerusalem when he ought to have blamed the death of Jesus. Eusebius was a proponent of Platonic deception to further bigger and more important “truths.”

                You connect the dots.

                b&

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

              Nikos and Roo have already given you great modern explanations, but you don’t need them to answer the question for yourself.

              The earliest mention of Jesus in Joseph comes to us from Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, who was born c. 260 CE. Origen of Alexandria wrote a rebuttal to Celsus in 248 CE that contains this passage:

              I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of timeafter John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing inJesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since theyput to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless— being, although against his will, not far from the truth— that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother ofJesus (called Christ),— the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.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. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.

              If you can read that and still think that Josephus wrote anything at all about Jesus…I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.

              b&

              • Tomas
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                @ben //”If you can read that and still think that Josephus wrote anything at all about Jesus…I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.”//

                I don’t see what exactly you believe bearing this Celsus passage has on Josephus?

                Are you trying to argue that Celsus is stating Paul’s reference to James as a brother of Jesus, is implying they were not blood brothers, and this means that Josephus references to James as the brother of Jesus, was not a blood relative reference?

                I hope not, because Celsus is not stating that they weren’t blood brothers, or that they weren’t brought up together, but rather that their relationship as brothers extends beyond that, that they were united in virtue and doctrine. I.E, “I love my sister, not so much on account of our relationship by blood, or us being brought up together, but rather because we been through so much together, and have a real and sincere relationship. ”

                If anything the passage like the one I wrote about my sister borrowing the same language, is an indication that they were in fact blood brothers, or at least believed to be blood brothers.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                Origen was blisteringly clear: Josephus should have written about Jesus, but wrote about James the Just instead. Of course, we don’t know what Josephus actually wrote; indeed, he might not have written about James, either. But he certainly didn’t write about Jesus.

                b&

        • Dr. Richard Carrier
          Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          //”As for the “Jesus bar Damneus” claim, if Josephus had meant to refer to James the brother of Jesus bar Damneus, he would have simply referred to him as “James bar Damneus.”//

          That’s what I propose he may have done. Replacing one word or phrase with another believing the one to be a dittograph is well established as a common error in scribal practice.

          //I am aware that Carrier has attempted to get around this, but his theory requires multiple independent interpolations to the same passage, none of which are supported by any evidence//

          First, it requires only one interpolation. Not several (the mere one-off insertion or substitution of two words). Second, I found quite a lot of evidence supporting this conclusion. Indeed, enough to be conclusive to anyone not dogmatically set against it.

          People can see for themselves in Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012): 489-514. Or my repro of that article in my book (available at Amazon), Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Richard Carrier published an article on Josephus two years ago.

      I see it as a total nonstarter. Josephus was born in 37 AD, so could not have possibly met a historical Jesus H. Christ. The passages in question were written > 90 AD. At best, it could be evidence for the existence of an early Christian church – which is not in question.

      Jesus was a common name at the time, at least 20 different Jesi are mentioned in Josephus’ writings (source: Wikipedia).

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Ha ha – Jesi.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          Jesodes!

          /@

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

            I actually thought about that – or maybe Jesoi (I’m not sure what kind of noun Jesus is).

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

              Proper nouns don’t have plural, but if they had Jssoi should be correct. It’s masculine ending in -οῦς, so it’s probably in the second declination.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

                Score! I think Ant was probably riffing on the snootiness of writing octopodes when pluralizing “octopus” when “octopuses” will do in English. 🙂

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                Exactly that. I had no pretension that I was actually right!

                /@

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Personally, I’m still a fan of either octopussies or octopuddlianisticists or the like….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                I like sea beasties!

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

                Argh!

                b&

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        20 different Jesus in Josephus.
        I have read this statement so many times that it seems to be accepted as incontrovertible by all scholars.

        Who was it who did the first count? And establish the number 20? It could be higher. Iesous seems to have been as common than as John or Peter are now for us (and were already then).
        In Spanish and Latin communities the first name of Jesus is still widely used.

        Nikos has to come in and endorse or correct all this.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          Thank you for your confidence but I’m hardly an expert in any of these. My expertise in ancient Greek comes from high school classes that all kids had to take in Greece in my time. I hated it back then, all these words that I sort of knew what they meant, but with all these weird endings and in totally the wrong order!

          It had it’s good moments too though. I remember reading in class Euripedes’ Orestes, that starts by declaring that Pelops is marrying the daugther of Oinomaus, and the verb that meant “marry” in ancient greek means “fuck” in modern. The same linguisting confusion made tolerable the increadible boring masses that I was subjected to as a kid. There is a passage in Mark (?) that states that in heavens nobody marries or gets married.

          Ah! Good times.

  9. Susan
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Something tells me you won’t get an answer. For 1800 years christians have been waving a list of “contemporary proofs” for the existence of a historical Jesus. One of them is Lucien, who says essentially, “Christians are gullible fools who believe anything and are robbed by every fraud who comes among them.”

    Today’s christians, like those before, don’t seem to see the irony of using that quote as proof of a historical Jesus.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      And Lucian wasn’t even contemporary. He was born 125 AD. At best, that is evidence of an early Christian church – which is not in question, and is not evidence for a historical Jesus.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      One of them is Lucien, who says essentially, “Christians are gullible fools who believe anything and are robbed by every fraud who comes among them.”

      So unlike today.

  10. Alex T
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I get why you lay it down as a “challenge” but, despite what Eric MacDonald said in his reply to you earlier, it’s hard to see these as anything other than the minimal requirements for defining and defending a position: state what it is you’re arguing for, explain what supports this position, and account for (seemingly?) contradictory observations. There’s a lot more that I’d like to know, like what are the chances that your supporting evidence would be present even if you were wrong (ie: how did you rule out the null), what alternatives did you consider, and what consistent methodology did you use when reviewing the evidence to guide your process?

    I just started reading Carrier’s new book and curiously he starts it in much the same way that Ben does. By investigating a crazy fringe idea, finding it hard to shoot it down. I have read a couple pro-historicist arguments and I’ve been bothered by the way they attack strawmen rather than the actual arguments mythicists present. Where’s the attempt to look at the evidence supporting mythicism and addressing it head-on?

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Where’s the attempt to look at the evidence supporting mythicism and addressing it head-on?

      That would make for an excellent follow-up challenge: explain an historical Jesus in light of the texts I link to as well as, for example, Pliny the Younger’s correspondence with Trajan describing the Christians as a wacko crazy lunatic nutjob cult, and all the rest….

      b&

    • Tomas
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      @ Niko

      @Nikos

      //Roughly, the stories about the earthly Jesus were originally composed as sacred allegories about a deity told to the community of believers.//

      Here lies a problem, the mythicist positions is sort of all over the place, with multiple individuals proposing all sorts of hypothesis. Here you arguing that the original story of Jesus was an allegory, perhaps along the lines of The Bacchae. But what is the supposed meaning of this allegory? When it comes to the Bacchae it appears to be an allegory about primordial chaos and its reign on human life. I can’t think of a plausible purely allegorical interpretation of Jesus, along the lines of let’s say Adam and Eve, or allegorical stories.

      What sort of elements did this allegory contain? Was the allegorical Jesus also an allegorical jewish messiah? Or were the messianic beliefs added later? Was the allegorical jesus one who had a message, one of the kingdom of God, and conveyed this message in the style irony, reversal, and frustration of expectations, as found in the Jesus of the gospels?

      Is this original allegorical Jesus the one found in Paul? If not, Is Paul’s Jesus allegorical? Or was he someone that existed in some sort of platonic-other realm or some other sort of otherworldly realm?

      If you know the answers to these sorts of questions, you should be able to provide them, or at least summarize a concise response, rather that keep directing me to buy one of Carrier’s book as some sort of salesmen. If you want to sit there and support a minority view, to overtake the prevalent view among laymen and scholars alike, you have to do a better job than plug in Carrier’s book.

      //Note, and this is a point that Carrier makes, that the question of how exactly that happened is independent of whether mythicism or historicism is true.//

      Actually it’s not. The question is which view has the greater explanatory power, one in which Jesus had a historical existence, or one in which he didn’t. You can have differing views on how it happened within these views, such as the case with the historical jesus, but they have to be plausible ones. Lacking this, doesn’t bode well for you, and in fact only reveals how weak the case for non-existence is in comparison to existence.

      And I believe this is what you’re are hinting at, that you don’t have any real plausible answers to most of my questions I’ve asked at least in regards to how a non-existent Jesus would place in it? And your defense is that this doesn’t matter?

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        Tomas:

        You sound so self-sure about all the abstractions you’re mentioning, that I lose sight of what they mean.
        Can you enlighten us and explain what you mean with:
        – “a non-existent Jesus” (as in “most of my questions I’ve asked at least in regards to how a non-existent Jesus would place in it?”)
        – “the historical jesus” (“such as the case with the historical jesus,”).

        There are at least 50, perhaps up to 100 basic documents (including all Christian Apocrypha, and other non-Christian, but related early documents) which are referred to when mentioning “Jesus” as a naked name. “Jesus” as such is an abstract word that corresponds to nothing in particular, or to no precise documents.

        To give a meaning to “Jesus”, you need at least to refer to some specific document where this name is mentioned, or even alluded to.
        In the case of “the historical Jesus”, could you be more precise, and indicate which document you are referring to in order to give substance to the abstract name of “Jesus”?

        For instance: One of Paul’s epistles; Shepherd of Hermas; Mark’s Gospel; Letter to the Hebrews; 2 Peter Epistle; 2 Clement epistle; Marcion’s Apostolikon; One of Ignatius epistles; Acts book, chapter No.; Q document; Eusebius’s Church History; One of Chrysostom’s Homilies; Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities 18; Polycarp epistle; 3 John epistle; Didache; 2 Thessalonians; 1 Peter epistle; Barnabas epistle; Marcion’s Evangelion; the Gospel of John; Tacitus Annals (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Suetonius (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Justus of Tiberius, or perhaps Photius (is there a “Jesus” in there?); Contra Celsum; Sepher Toldoth Yeshu; Babylonian Talmud; etc.

        Once you refer to an effective document, then we can understand which Jesus you have in mind, the one presented in that specific document.
        Otherwise your mentions of “Jesus” are, to be blunt, devoid of immediate meaning.

        And you cannot finesse this requirement by referring to the “Christian Jesus of all early Christian documents”, because there is no such unequivocal figure.
        Even the “Jesus of the four Gospels” is not a clear figure.

        There’s a need to be specific to give “Jesus” a real meaning.
        It is commonly repeated that there are at least 20 Jesuses in Josephus’s writings alone. So, we have to be cautious, and always refer to a specific document, or, if needed, a chapter in such a document, even the target paragraph, if ambiguity remains.

        • Tomas
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

          @Roo

          //You sound so self-sure about all the abstractions you’re mentioning, that I lose sight of what they mean.//

          For brevity, a Jesus who had at least four greco-roman biographies, written about him, of what we traditionally refer to as the Gospels, who existed in the first century, as a jewish preacher, who may have believed he was the messiah, or at least someone who his followers believed was; who preached a message of the kingdom of God, and was later crucified by the Romans. Who preached with a style that incorproted irony, reversal, and frustration of expectations, and at the bare minimum the source of the sayings and teachings that are multiply attested, or at least the ones the Jesus seminar, marked with pink and red beans, indicating they the very likely, or probably were things he said. The Jesus who spoke of non-violent resistance in the Jewish context in the Sermon of the Mount, such as the going the extra mile and Roman Law of Angaria, and parables such as the Good Samaritan, Dishonest Steward, Mustard Seed etc.

          A Jesus who had possible delusions of grandeur. A Jesus who had at least 4 greco-roman biographies written of him, that incorporated both fact and fictions just like every other first century bio, to not only convey events in his life, but more importantly the meaning and purpose of it. Who had a mother that that was referred to as Mary, and a brother named James. A Jesus who his followers after his humiliating death, attempted to come to terms with it by reading the events of his life back into the jewish scriptures, trying to convey the unexpected death of their messiah as the God’s ultimate will and plan.

          //Even the “Jesus of the four Gospels” is not a clear figure.//

          No he’s a pretty clear figure, even in a heavily stylized gospel like John, it’s pretty obvious that all four of the gospels writers were inspired by the same person. In fact all portraits of him, even stripped of all supernatural and fantastical aspects, leave a person who was pretty charismatic and influential, enough so to create a new religion around him, and to have his followers believe he was God himself.

          //Can you enlighten us and explain what you mean with:
          – “a non-existent Jesus”//

          Non-existent here means, that Jesus like the one I’m painting here did not exist as a historical person whatsoever, and that Jesus was something along the line of an allegory, like the three little pigs, or entirely fabricated like spiderman, or believed to have existed in some sort of otherworldly place, who did not die at the hands of romans, nor had an actual ministry in 1st century Jerusalem. There can be variety of things that non-existent can be, depending on which mythicist one is speaking to. But the bottom line is, non-existent in any real historical sense. That there was no man, who inspired these fantastical narratives, that incorporated both actual elements of his life, and fictions.

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 2:18 am | Permalink

        @ Tomas

        Sorry if my reply came across as a plug for Carrier’s book. It is the case that it’s the only book that specifically deals with the question of the historicity of Jesus, and where all the evidence and backround knoweledge is laid down explicitly together with the methodology used to address the question. To be precise, the methodology is laid out in his previous book: “Proving History”.

        I don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong. Same goes for the several mythicists. Given the pausity of evidence the more detailed your theory the more likely it is to be wrong, at least in some details.

        You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. You asked some questions and in good faith I directed you where I thought that you might find the answere.

        • Tomas
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          @Nikos
          //You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. //

          Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person. If you don’t have a theory, or view with greater explanatory capacity than this than it’s not surprising why hardly anyone is going to take the mythicist position very seriously. But if you’re sort of an agnostic on the topic, a resident fence sitter, who doesn’t wholeheartedly sway one way or the other, whose familiarity in the topic is too little to to articulate and coherently defend, then I have very interest in you.

          If you’re going to accuse those who have devoted their lives to studying the subject, the countless professors and scholars on these topics, secular and religious, of being too deluded by religious conditioning to honestly evaluate their respective fields, then you better put out, or be dismissed. If you’re going to be an advocate of some fringe view, then you better be a person versed well enough to defend it, or else you just fall into the same boat as creationist, and conspiracy theorist types.

          If this is not you, than I am looking to dialogue with those that are.

          //don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong.//

          I think what you are missing here is that there can be multiple views that can all be very likely, and there can be multiple views that can be very unlikely, to the point of being ridiculous. I lost my keys, I could have left them in my house, at my friends house that I visited today, they could have fell out my pocket at the grocery store, some of these situations may be more likely than the others, but all of them can be likely to a certain degree, but I surely didn’t leave them on Mars, which is a scenario so unlikely that the suggestion is ridiculous. And this is where the non-existent Jesus views fall, on the alters of the absurd.

          But in order to see how poorly this view holds up against historicity here, we need a staunch supporter, someone who feels as confidently versed in the subject as numerous folks here are in regards to historicity, this clearly by your own admission is not you.

          But if not you, than who?

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

            @Nikos
            //You seem to believe that I have an interest in defending a particular theory of Christian origins. I don’t. //

            Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person. If you don’t have a theory, or view with greater explanatory capacity than this than it’s not surprising why hardly anyone is going to take the mythicist position very seriously. But if you’re sort of an agnostic on the topic, a resident fence sitter, who doesn’t wholeheartedly sway one way or the other, whose familiarity in the topic is too little to to articulate and coherently defend, then I have very interest in you.

            Assuming that there is a “little” missing from your last sentence, let me assure you that the lack of interest is mutual.

            If you’re going to accuse those who have devoted their lives to studying the subject, the countless professors and scholars on these topics, secular and religious, of being too deluded by religious conditioning to honestly evaluate their respective fields, then you better put out, or be dismissed. If you’re going to be an advocate of some fringe view, then you better be a person versed well enough to defend it, or else you just fall into the same boat as creationist, and conspiracy theorist types.

            All I’ve done is suggest that the field of biblical studies lacks a valid methodology. This is obvious to everyone who just looks at the several contradictory reconstructions of the supposed “historical Jesus”. It’s not my job to fix that. My own field has dealt with its methodological crises at the beginning of the last century and moved on.

            Now it’s definitely a historian’s job to examine the methodologies used in a field with historical aspirations. Carrier, and many others within the field itself, have done that and found the methods wanting. Not only that he proposed a valid (or at least not obviously invalid) methodology instead. And not only that but he used the methodology he proposed to answer the question to the degree that the evidence permits. He found that the probability that there existed a historical Jesus, is at most 33%. You refuse to read his work, and you want me to argue for it. This is hardly a reasonable attitude.

            Stating an obvious fact is not an acusation. How can I trust a methodology with the property that several practioners, starting from the same data use it and arrive at wildely different conclusion? Furthermore, as it is also obvious, that said methodology, such as it is, is not designed to deal with the question of the existence of Jesus per se. It rather assumes that a historical Jesus existed, and try to figure out whot that guy really was. IOW, not only is their car broken, they try to use it to cross a lake!

            If this is not you, than I am looking to dialogue with those that are.

            Have you tried Carrier? he has a blog in which he allows comments and questions. You should of course be familiar with his work if you want to be taken seriously.

            Doherty also has a website, you could get his contact information and shoot him an email. I’m sure he will be happy to answer any questions you have about his theory. He still might ask you to read his books, or at least the content of his website. I get the impression that you might consider such a request to demanding of your time. In that case I doubt that you’ll get very far.

            //don’t know the answers to your questions wtith any certainty. Nobody does. That’s the point. The evidence is not conclusive. There are many “historical Jesus” reconstructed over the years, and by logic alone at most one of them is the right one. That means that the vast majority of biblical scholars are wrong.//

            I think what you are missing here is that there can be multiple views that can all be very likely, and there can be multiple views that can be very unlikely, to the point of being ridiculous. I lost my keys, I could have left them in my house, at my friends house that I visited today, they could have fell out my pocket at the grocery store, some of these situations may be more likely than the others, but all of them can be likely to a certain degree, but I surely didn’t leave them on Mars, which is a scenario so unlikely that the suggestion is ridiculous. And this is where the non-existent Jesus views fall, on the alters of the absurd.

            And I think that what you’re missing is that there are methods for deciding which of several possible explanations is the most likely one given the evidence we have. It’s called Bayes’ theorem. It’s a rather easy theorem in probability theory and many people have developed methods based on it that deal exactly with this kind of uncertainty. Those methods have had remarkable success in several fields. Carrier is adapting these methods to answrer questions in history. And to anticipate further questions, no I’m not going to defend the Bayesian methodology here. I’ve given you enough information for you to do your own homework and learn something, if you’re really interested. I may be willing to discuss it further after you’ve done your homework.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

              blocquote fail!

            • Tomas
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

              @Nikos

              //All I’ve done is suggest that the field of biblical studies lacks a valid methodology. This is obvious to everyone who just looks at the several contradictory reconstructions of the supposed “historical Jesus”. //

              There’s nothing wrong with the methodology. It’s given from what we have there’s room for multiple interpretations, such as in gradualism vs punctuated equilibrium in regards to evolution.

              I lost my keys may be a fact, but there’s room for more than one reasonable interpretation as to where I had lost them. I can use the same methodology to reach several reasonable conclusions as where I left my keys. The methodology may narrow down the possibilities, and exclude others, but at the same time not settle on just one. The same came be said of a crime scene, that there may in fact be more than one reasonable interpretation of what happened, based on the available facts. Though it may be a fact that a certain person was there at the time, and that this person ended up killing someone else, there may in still be several compelling explanations as to what exactly led to it, and motivations, etc… The evidence does show that Jesus was a historical person, that he was killed by the Romans. But there’s room for interpretation as to what elements of his person were faithful to how he actually was, and what where those that were a product of christian beliefs that sprung around him, i.e did he believe he was the messiah, or did his followers solely believe he was.

              //Stating an obvious fact is not an acusation.//

              You’re not stating an obvious fact, but an obvious misunderstanding of the process. We don’t have to settle on one sole reconstruction of the historical Jesus, that several of these competing reconstructions can be very likely. They also parallel each other in numerous ways as well. All these reconstructions reveal a historical person. And in fact even now, after several requests, and 100s of post here, not a single person has yet to provide a competent reconstruction of a non-historical view. At best we have folks suggesting we go out and buy Carrier’s book, or that they don’t have much faith in non-historical reconstructions either. I can’t even get an answer to if Paul viewed Jesus as an allegory, or as person living in some sort of supernatural otherworld? This just all goes to shows that the pockets of mythicists are fairy empty, and best pull out patches of lint.

              //Have you tried Carrier? he has a blog in which he allows comments and questions. You should of course be familiar with his work if you want to be taken seriously.//

              I’ve been having these discussion for almost a decade now, though I have not purchased any of Carrier’s works, I’ve read his numerous articles, watched a number of his debates, along with Earl Doherty, who I in fact watched debate online on an atheist forum regarding the topic. And have been following many others mythicists as well, from Price, Rook Hawkins, G.A Wells etcs, so I have been around the block regarding this.

              So i’m not completely ignorant of their views, in fact it’s based on following their works, that i accuse their arguments of incoherency. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a single person who can argue their case, as is evident here. To me, this suggests that their arguments actually are incoherent, when taken as a whole. What other possible reason is there for this?

              //I’ve given you enough information for you to do your own homework and learn something,//

              I have done my homework, in fact so have many others here, who have provided responses to the OP, scattered through out the comment section here, without having to deflect the questions by suggesting someone go purchase a book, like Ehrman’s or etc.. Those who are in support of historicity have been so far been the ones that have been forthcoming, and have been able to argue and defend the views themselves. So if those who are in support of mythicism did just this much, I would be fairly content, but so far their lack of commitment doesn’t bode well for future of it.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                Tomas, clearly we have different ideas about what “valid methodology” means. In any case if you believe that the deduction of existence of a historical Jesus is deduced based on a valid methodology please outline it.

                I have explained Carrier’s method and theory a few comments upthread. By its very nature it’s not easy to summarize: it consists of examining all the existent evidence and comparing which of the two theories fits it better, using Bayes’ theorem. It seems that you want him to be saying something else than what he’s saying, I can’t help you with that.

                You also seem to have hard time following what I’m saying or responding to it. I said that I had to saym, and this thread is already too long. I think it’s time to call it a day.

          • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I came here looking for mythicist who can defend either a particular theory, or at least a particular over arching theory, to compete with the current prevailing view of historicity, that Jesus was an actual historical person.

            We’re here, but the challenge is explicitly for the reverse: for historicists to present their own evidentially-backed coherent theories.

            I don’t see that challenge as having been met, providing very compelling empirical evidence that it cannot — which, in itself, is very compelling evidence of the ahistorical nature of Jesus.

            b&

            • Tomas
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

              @Ben Goren

              //I don’t see that challenge as having been met, providing very compelling empirical evidence that it cannot //

              Several posters have already addressed this, like Andrew Henry’s lengthy post regarding this very question. In particular he understood the sort of “evidence” you had in mind, and indicated that we don’t have this, nor would we expect to have it.

              //which, in itself, is very compelling evidence of the ahistorical nature of Jesus.//

              No it’s not. It’s no more compelling than a lack of observation of a ape like creature transitioning into a human like creature, is evidence that the Theory of Evolution is not true. Or lack of video footage is compelling evidence that a man did not commit a crime, unless of course it is expected that we should have video footage.

              This is also something Andrew and others have addressed, that this argument of silence is far from persuasive, unless you didn’t know better.

              What we have, is exactly what we would expect to have if Jesus were in fact a historical person, in fact we have lot more than what we would expect.

              If you don’t think so, I would like to hear what would be different? What sort of things would we likely have today, that we currently do not?

              As as is the case with any other truth claim, scientific theory, etc…, if you cannot develop an alternative explanation with greater explanatory scope than the current ones, than they still stand. This is exactly why it’s required that you in fact answer the challenge yourself. Others have already answered yours. The answers may not have been ones that you found satisfactory, particularly when you are your own judge and jury here, but they were provided nonetheless.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                No it’s not. It’s no more compelling than a lack of observation of a ape like creature transitioning into a human like creature, is evidence that the Theory of Evolution is not true.

                <ahem />

                http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/fossils

                Got anything comparable for Jesus?

                No, of course not — else you would have already provided it. And, as such, whether or not any particular mythicist theory is demonstrated, all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tomas
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

                @Ben Goren

                //all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.//

                lol, just because you keep asserting this doesn’t make it true, in fact it’s false. And it’s interesting that you avoided every other part of my post.

                //http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/fossils

                Got anything comparable for Jesus?

                No, of course not — else you would have already provided it. And, as such, whether or not any particular mythicist theory is demonstrated, all historicist theories are essentially invalidated.//

                Actually we do, if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person. You have little to no traces in support of spirit being Jesus, or even an allegorical one, as pointed out in your failed reading of 1 Corinthians 15.

                The Nicene creed indicates that Jesus was viewed as fully human by his followers. There were 2nd century claims, by critics of christianity such as Celsus, that Jesus was a product of rape, again asserting the view that he was a human being. The apologetic aspects of the Gospel of Mathew, addressing critics at the time who accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’s body, again a fossil pointing to a human Jesus, not a spirit one, or an allegorical one. Paul’s reference of meeting Jesus’s brother, his numerous verses indicating his death, and crucifixion, being born of a woman, that it was a human Jesus that died and ushered in the resurrection.

                Numerous aspects of the gospels attempting to shoehorn rather poorly Jesus into jewish messianic prophecies, which again is fossil evidence of his historical existence. All the evidence points to Jesus believed to have existed as a historical person, along the same time in which he was purported to have been existing,

                If a historical Jesus did exist we would see remnants of his skin, traces of his fossil all over the place, and this is exactly what we have. You can try and provide convoluted arguments to interpret all of this away, such as your horrendous reading of 1 Corinthian 15, but this only makes your case look even more poorly than it already is.

                Creationist use all sorts of specious reasoning to argue away the evidence for evolution. They might be too invested to see how their rational requires a long stretch of the imagination, and strains credulity. But those that capable of stepping outside this bubble, can see this all very well.

              • Posted September 9, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                Actually we do, if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person.

                Well, I’ll give you points for trying to make lemonade. Unfortunately, those’re dog turds you’re squeezing, not lemons.

                You have little to no traces in support of spirit being Jesus, or even an allegorical one, as pointed out in your failed reading of 1 Corinthians 15.

                Squeeze me? You mean that passage where Paul says that Adam was the first Man and Jesus the first Spirit? That we are born in the flesh in Adam and in death reborn in the spirit in Jesus? That 1 Corinthians 15?

                The Nicene creed indicates that Jesus was viewed as fully human by his followers.

                You left out the second half of that sentence — the one that reads, “who killed all the others who disagreed with them on this and other points.”

                Paul’s reference of meeting Jesus’s brother

                Please. Paul never uses “Χριστός” (Christ) or “Ιησούς” (Jesus) to identify who James’s brother was; instead, it’s always, “κύριος,” literally, “Master,” and the same word he always uses for YHWH — just as in the Septuagint itself. It wasn’t, “James, brother of Jesus”; rather, “Brother James.” We even get explicit confirmation of this from, for example, Origen in the passage I’m sure I’ve pasted into this thread multiple times.

                Numerous aspects of the gospels attempting to shoehorn rather poorly Jesus into jewish messianic prophecies, which again is fossil evidence of his historical existence.

                This is such a common trope of the apologists and such a weak one that I simply don’t understand why all y’all keep banging on this drum. If Jesus was a mythical figure, there’d be just as much retconning required to fit him into extant prophecy as there would be if he were historical. Just because you can explain a fact with your theory doesn’t mean you get to stop there; if you want to use it to bolster your position (rather than simply note that it’s not refuted) then you have to demonstrate that it works for your position and your position only. Is inventing two different genealogies for Jesus in independent attempts to trace his lineage from Joseph to David something consistent with an human who wasn’t of the Royal line? Yes. Is it an absolute requirement for a fictional Jesus? Yes.

                But…is Paul’s failure to quote Jesus even once consistent with historicity? Not really. Is Paul’s comfort with which he swaps Jesus in for Mithras in the central ceremony of his hometown religion consistent with historicity? Not bloody likely. Is Paul’s explicit statement that Jesus is the archetypal spirit of mankind explicitly contrasted with the corporeal archetype consistent with historicity? Fuck no!

                b&

              • GBJames
                Posted September 9, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                “… if we treat the way in which Jesus was viewed in numerous references christian and otherwise, as fossil evidence of Jesus existence, than all the fossil evidence points to Jesus existing as a historical person.”

                And if we treat the way we view cats the way we do salmon, then we have evidence of a land-dwelling fish that provides dialogs to WEIT.

                I’ve got to go now. I just noticed some of Jesus’ skin laying on the floor. I need to go clean up the mess.

              • tomas
                Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:46 am | Permalink

                @Ben Goren

                //ou mean that passage where Paul says that Adam was the first Man and Jesus the first Spirit? That we are born in the flesh in Adam and in death reborn in the spirit in Jesus? That 1 Corinthians 15?//

                The parts of 1 Corinthians 15, you seemingly ignore over and over again. Here I’ll highlight them again:

                In the Corinthians passage you referenced, Paul explicitly states Jesus was a human being: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
                For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.”

                Did you miss this part in your reading of the chapter? In fact even in the life-giving spirt passage you have in mind, Paul states: “But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual….Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one”

                Paul is speaking of how our natural bodies die, and resurrect as spiritual ones, that Jesus was a human being whose body died and whose spirit rose again. This is pretty evident in the context of the passage, and your reading of it is a pretty blaring distortion. (this was all taken from another post I addressed to you several days ago, which you ignored responding to)

                //You left out the second half of that sentence — the one that reads,//

                Again you seem to miss the point. My examples, was as to how early Jesus was viewed as historical person. Clearly by the council of Nicea they did, in fact in several of the other examples I provided, this seemed to have been the belief in the first century as well.

                So let’s clarify your views here a bit, when did Christians start believing Jesus was a historical person? When did they start believing he was crucified on the outskirts of Jerusalem? If early believers believed in a purely spirit Jesus, why would anyone feel the need to change the narrative to a historical one? Did the Gospel writers believe Jesus was a historical person?

                //We even get explicit confirmation of this from, for example, Origen in the passage I’m sure I’ve pasted into this thread multiple times.//

                And you seem to forgot that Origen mentions James as Jesus’s brothers all over the place, not just in the one place you quoted, which I already addressed previously, several days ago, which also went by ignored. Here are some of Origen’s other quotes regarding James:

                “said that these things came to pass against them in accordance with the ire of God on account of the things which were dared by them against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.”

                “ even says, being unwillingly not far from the truth, that these things befell the Jews as vengeance for James the just, who was a brother of Jesus who is called Christ”

                “For this [siege] began while Nero was still being king, and it lasted until the leadership of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, [C] as Josephus writes, [E2] on account of James the just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, [G] but, as the truth demonstrates, [actually] on account of Jesus the Christ of God.”

                Let’s also not forget that James relationship to Jesus as his brother, is mentioned in several different places, including Mathew, Mark, Jude, and Josephus. In fact he’s the only follower of Jesus given such a unique distinction in Paul. But you would like us to believe that this was a coincidence? That Paul’s reference to him, though uncanny as it is, was meant in some sort of symbolic general sense? Can you toss this idea in your head, without hearing how ridiculous it sounds?

                Do you not recognize how desperate much of the mythicist case is. Some mythicist argue that the James as Jesus’s brother portion of Josephus was a christian interpolation, yet we have Origen referencing this part as well. You can’t just keep peddling this inanity assuming that any rational person would actually buy it?

                The unwillingness to swallow the mythicist position has nothing to do with religious conditioning, not even Coyne is willing to attach himself to it, but rather because it stretches credulity, as is evident here.

                //. If Jesus was a mythical figure, there’d be just as much retconning required to fit him into extant prophecy as there would be if he were historical. //

                Let’s me mindful of our words, according to your view the original belief in Jesus was rather a spirit being, who dwelled in some platonic realm. If the inconsistencies that were retrofitted related to spects of this spirit being then you might have a point.

                The aspects we’re speaking of as being retrofitted, were aspects related to someone who had an earthly existence, for which certain inconstancies about that life, such as being from Nazareth, had to be retrofitted to support messianic prophecies.

                The only way this would work with your spirit Jesus, is if you were to claim that in this platonic realm of yours, there was a place called Nazareth as well, that people knew of at the time, and for which those peddling Jesus as the messiah had to create stories tying his birth to Bethelhem? Is this what you’re trying to have us believe?

                The writer of Matthew refutes accusation at the time that the disciples stole the body. Accusations of a stolen body don’t jive well with a spirit Jesus, unless of course this supposed theft would have taken place in the platonic realm as well?

                Spirit Jesus’s don’t really need retrofitting, because there’s no such thing as spirits, so whatever we have to say about them would have been made up whole cloth already. Why create a spirit being from Nazareth, when I could have just made him from Bethlehem? If you could manufacture a messiah solely from your imagination, I’m sure even you could create one that was a better fit than Jesus?

                //independent attempts to trace his lineage from Joseph to David something consistent with an human who wasn’t of the Royal line? Yes. Is it an absolute requirement for a fictional Jesus? Yes.//

                So, with this sentence you seem to imply that an absolute requirement for the Messiah would be lineage that’s traceable to David, but wouldn’t you have to be human to a have lineage like this? Therefore wouldn’t an absolute requirement for the messiah be that he is an actual human being?

                //But…is Paul’s failure to quote Jesus even once consistent with historicity?//

                Paul mentions several of Jesus’s teaching throughout his writing, and mythicist conveniently explain these things away as stating they came from somewhere else, like mithra or spiderman or some shit. Yet, what seems to be missing from the equation, is that Paul is writing letters to various Christian churches of the time, and his primary concerns was with church disputes, and in developing a Christology. His work is more akin to something along the line of Bonhoeffer’s “Christ and the Center”, than the concerns of the Gospel writers. Or in other words he was concerned with coming to terms of the meaning of Christ and the crucifixion, something which the Gospels writers left at the door for others to figure out. It’s why even today christians turn to Paul more so than others in developing such things as atonement theology.

                Paul’s letter were not written to cater to non-believers, but the concerns of believers, and particularly concerns of believers in the beginning stage of developing their theological beliefs.

                100s of thousands of writings by Christian preachers and theologians addressed to believers, resemble much of Paul’s writing. They all lack direct quotes from the Gospels, and rarely mention much about Jesus’s life, but rather devote themselves to addressing the idea of his death and resurrection, the relationship between Christ, God, and us, atonement etc…. Important issues for christians, in which the narratives of Jesus do not address, such as why did Jesus have to die?

                For those familiar with Christian theology, there’s nothing odd about Paul, because Paul is addressing an audience that already shared a variety of beliefs with him, already familiar with various aspects of the Jesus story, but was addressing concerns beyond that.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                Thomas. Sincere question:

                What aspects of Jesus’s life as reported to us in the gospels do you believe to be true with a 90% confidence level?

                What aspects of Jesus’s life that are not reported in the gospels do you feel you can say happened with a 90% confidence level?

                Why?

              • tomas
                Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

                //Well, I’ll give you points for trying to make lemonade. Unfortunately, those’re dog turds you’re squeezing, not lemons.//

                I confess, my fossil evidence analogy was a bit loose, but let me explain it in away to clear up any confusion as to what I was getting at.

                Mythicist primarily resort of using other peoples views at the time, as evidence of their position, such as Paul’s views on Jesus, or the writer of Ascension of Isaiah views on Jesus.

                If someone like Celsus accused Christians of making the story of Jesus up whole cloth, mythicist would run to it as their Holy Grail, proclaiming they have solid evidence that Jesus did not exist, that he was fabricated by the early Christians.

                If views of Jesus as mythical, as non-existent in the early writings are evidence that Jesus did not exist, than the opposite is true as well. Views of Jesus, from proponents and opponents, that express historicity, is evidence of Jesus’s existence. In fact, pretty much every reference to Jesus, even the ones often used by mythicist all support historicity in this way.

            • tomas
              Posted September 12, 2014 at 1:11 am | Permalink

              //@Lowen Gartner

              What aspects of Jesus’s life as reported to us in the gospels do you believe to be true with a 90% confidence level?//

              To borrow partly from the Jesus Seminar:

              “An itinerant Hellenistic Jewish sage and faith healer who preached a gospel of liberation from injustice in startling parables and aphorisms. An iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions both in his teachings and behaviors, often by turning common-sense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience: He preached of “Heaven’s imperial rule” (traditionally translated as “Kingdom of God”) as being already present but unseen; he depicts God as a loving father; he fraternizes with outsiders and criticizes insiders.

              A Jesus who had at least four greco-roman biographies, written about him, of what we traditionally refer to as the Gospels, that incorporated both fact and fictions just like every other first century bio, to not only convey events in his life, but more importantly the meaning and purpose of it. A Jesus who lived and died in the first century, as a jewish preacher, who may have believed he was the messiah, or at least someone who his followers believed was. And at the bare minimum the source of the sayings and teachings that are multiply attested, or at least the ones the Jesus seminar, marked with pink and red beans, indicating they the very likely, or probably were things he said. The Jesus who spoke of non-violent resistance in the Jewish context in the Sermon of the Mount, such as the going the extra mile and Roman Law of Angaria, and parables such as the Good Samaritan, Dishonest Steward, Mustard Seed etc.

              A Jesus who had a mother that that was tradionally referred to as Mary, and a brother named James. A Jesus who his followers after his humiliating death on the cross, attempted to come to terms with it by reading the events of his life back into the jewish scriptures, and tried to convey the unexpected death of their messiah as the God’s ultimate will and plan.

              //Why?//

              If i were to die, and if there were multiple accounts of this in circulation, and if all of them stated I died in a car crash, and none stated I died any other way, than you can confidently say that I very likely did die in a car crash.

              There is some degree of consistency in the portraits of Jesus. We have entire bodies of sayings and teachings, that all contain the same unique style, concepts, and ideas, attributed to no one other than a person named Jesus.

              We might have multiple historical reconstructions of Jesus, but at the very least, nearly all those reconstructions would agree with this minimum portrait that I painted.

              And the fact there’s no other compelling alternative explanation, as desperately as mythicist attempt to do so, allows us to hold with a good deal of certainty, that at least this much is accurate.

              • maryhelena
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 3:25 am | Permalink

                Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified. Just because faults can be found in the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory does not give the Jesus historicists victory by default. Likewise, because the Carrier-Doherty mythicists can find fault with the Jesus historicists, does not give their own theory victory by default.

              • tomas
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                @ maryhelena

                //Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified.//

                Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                //Just because faults can be found in the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory does not give the Jesus historicists victory by default.//

                It’s not just finding faults in a theory. You can find faults with any theory, even the ToE if you liked. The Mythicist theories in comparison to historicity is absurd, or to put in nicely, far less likely than competing theories of historicity, and this is why it’s rejected.

                I think the problem with most mythicist, and historicity deniers, or even the agnostic types, is that they have a very myopic sense of scope, that they lack a comprehensive understanding of the picture.

                Any theory, or explanation of evidence is deemed as likely to be true precisely because all other competing theories lack equivalent explanatory power. Historicity remains true precisely, because there’s no other compelling explanation of the data that we have available that’s on par, that offers a better explanation.

                This is not just true for the historicity of Jesus but for any theory or explanation of evidence. The one we hold as true, is true precisely because it rises above any alternative explanation that’s been offered. If ToE were to be proven false, it would be exactly because a competing theory came along that better explains all the evidence we do have that the previously held one.

                In essence no one is arguing merely the faults of the mythicist position, but rather showing how unlikely it is to be true, in comparison to historicity. So unless someone can offer a competing theory to historicity that has a great explanatory capacity, historicity will continue to be held as true for the foreseeable future.

                Mythicist may attempt to offer such a competing theory, but the ones more familiar with it, understand that they don’t have much. In reality even what they do have is usually the result of mental gymnastics, and quite visible distortions, as has been argued here ad infinitum.

              • maryhelena
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                @ tomas

                //Nothing in your scenario, your interpretation, of the gospel Jesus story, can be historically verified.//

                Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                ————–

                What I know or don’t know is not the issue here. The issue is a claim by the Jesus historicists that the gospel figure of Jesus was a historical figure. Obviously, or else there would be no debate, the Jesus historicists cannot historically validate their claim.

                Regardless of how many, or how unacceptable, some mythicist theories may be, the Jesus historicists need to take on board the unsubstantiated basis of their own theory. The lack of a historical basis for their claim aside, the simple story they want to tell is, of course, a much easier ‘sell’ than the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory. But simplicity is not an indication of probability.

                The probability that the gospel Jesus was a historical figure is low (re Carrier). Thus, the probability that the gospel Jesus story relates to something other than historicity for that figure is high.

                Whether that high probability relates to the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory or to some other ahistoricist theory, is where the debate needs to go.

                Holding out for an historical Jesus because one does not like any of the ahistoricist/mythicist alternatives, is to put too much weight on the low probability of that assumption.

                If it’s the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory that you don’t care for – then, why not attempt to develop your own ahistoricist theory? Or is it the idea, that the gospel figure of Jesus was not historical, that is just so absurd it’s not worth contemplating?

              • Posted September 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Well, if you were to say that I’d say you know very little about how historians verify anything, particularly when it comes to the pre-modern world.

                Yes, I think we’ve well established that Biblical “historians” are an especially gullible lot whose standards of evidence draw at best puzzled incomprehension and more often derisive howls of laughter from actual academics.

                That is, after all, the whole point. As the great man said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Just because you want to pretend that you know something about ancient history doesn’t mean that you can (reasonably) fool yourself into thinking you do based on inadequate evidence.

                Fortunately, though, there are historians who actually do do serious work, generally in conjunction with archaeologists and papyrologists and similar level-headed folk.

                b&

              • tomas
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                @ maryhelena

                //Jesus historicists cannot historically validate their claim.//

                The claim has been validated. It’s been shown to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.

                But you keep repeating this. Please define what you mean by “historically validated”? Because clearly you have some sort of undefined criteria here? What is required to historically validate the existence of a particular person in the first century? If we have all the evidence, and even more so than what we would expect, than it has been historically validated.

                But of course , we might have competing meanings of the term here. So i ask that you define what you mean.

                //But simplicity is not an indication of probability.//

                It’s not simplicity, but explanatory power. Which theory better explains the available evidence, not in ways that are simple, but in ways that are the most likely, and consistent with the context.

                //The probability that the gospel Jesus was a historical figure is low (re Carrier).//

                No it isn’t. The probability of Jesus existing as a historical person, particularly one absent of the miraculous attributes associated with him, is extremely high, to the point of certainty. That’s why you’ll find hardly any expert, professor, scholar in the field christian or otherwise denying this, and not because of “religious conditioning. We can put Carrier’s attempt to play with numbers using Bayesian probability aside. If you don’t know, WLC used Bayesian probability to much of the same effect to support the resurrection, and others have used it to show that God exists. The same problems that arose with their use arise with Carrier’s use as well, in that the numbers used to create a baseline here are ones we create ourselves.

                When I first started exploring the question I was leaning towards mythicism myself, but this was around the time there were all these savior comparisons being propagated on the internet. It took me a minute before I looked into the matter myself, and realized that these comparisons were for the most part bogus. Then I kept exploring the issue until I am where I am today, understanding why the historicity position is so confidently held.

                //Holding out for an historical Jesus because one does not like any of the ahistoricist/mythicist alternatives, is to put too much weight on the low probability of that assumption.//

                I don’t dislike the mythicist alternatives. So it’s not a matter of preference for one explanation over the other. But my view is purely based on the one best supported by the evidence. When Paul speaks of James as Jesus brother, does the evidence best support the view that he meant this figuratively, or literally? There’s a variety of sources confirming that James was a the literal brother of Jesus, from Josephus, to Jude, to Origin, to Mark to Mathew. All the evidence points to the fact that he meant it literally, and that it wasn’t just a mere and uncanny coincidence that the only one Paul uniquely refereed to as his brother, was also the one cited to be so by a variety of different sources.

                No one needs to be agnostic on the question of Jesus’s historicity. There’s a great deal of data to contend with. And the only folks who seems to promote agnosticism are those who admit to knowing too little on the subject. For me, I spent several years exploring the question myself, coming to places like this to argue and listen to opposing views, even took a few courses just for leisure. I enjoy the topic, i feel comfortable with the subject matter, and I’m familiar with much of the material regarding it. So I confidently sit on the side of historicity, not just because it’s the consensus position, but rather the most compelling one. I can say with great deal of confidence that Jesus did exist, though many of the aspects of what he did and who he was are open for some range of interpretation.

                //If it’s the Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory that you don’t care for – then, why not attempt to develop your own ahistoricist theory? //

                That’s sort of like asking me that since I don’t accept the 9/11 truther theory of events, I should develop an alternative non-official account theory of events.

                I can contemplate the idea, like try and throw it around in my head as to what it would look like if Jesus did not exist, and there’s a variety of things that would have came along with that expectation. The narrative about him probably wouldn’t look nothing like the one’s we have today. He likely wouldn’t have been treated as the messiah, because there’s very little room in the Jewish tradition for a fictional character to fill that role. We likely wouldn’t have accounts of people meeting his disciples, or his brother. There would probably be far fewer parables and stories, and the narrative would primarily consists of things he did rather than what he said, etc…etc…

                ….

                Mythicist overtime have made more polished versions of their views. Carrier’s view are far superior to Archaya S, because at least Carrier attempts to provide citations. Creationist over time have also made more polished versions of theirs, such as Old Earth Theory, accommodating small scale evolution, to the most refined such as Michael Behe’s ID views. But even these polished versions are not much more plausible than the turds, and often reek of the same dissonance.

                But for the time being define, what do you mean by “historically validated”, also I’d like to hear where you personally stand on the issue? I’m assuming you’re more or less on the fence, and that you can’t see yourself at this point endorsing one side over the other?

              • maryhelena
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                @tomas

                #I’d like to hear where you personally stand on the issue? I’m assuming you’re more or less on the fence, and that you can’t see yourself at this point endorsing one side over the other?#

                Where do I stand – on my own two feet…..;-)
                I’m an ahistoricist/mythicist who does not accept the Carrier-Doherty theory about a historicized Pauline celestial crucified christ figure.

                No fence sitting regarding the historicists historical gospel Jesus. The gospel figure of Jesus is not a historical figure.

                Neither of the above two positions can be historically verified. They are both interpretations of the NT.

                —————–

                Earlier reply ended up as post 62. I hope this post follows on to the earlier postings.

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

                To borrow partly from the Jesus Seminar:

                Okay, that’s the first step.

                Got any affirmative evidence to back up those claims? Is that evidence actually credible, or is it just a bullshit faery tale superhero fantasy?

                Got any way to reconcile those claims with the starkly contrasted picture of Jesus painted by Paul? I mean, you do know, do you not, that each and every single one of those “startling parables and aphorisms” went completely unnoticed by Paul, do you not?

                Make it past those two hurdles and it might be worth continuing.

                b&

              • tomas
                Posted September 14, 2014 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

                @Ben Garson

                Got any affirmative evidence to back up those claims? Is that evidence actually credible, or is it just a bullshit faery tale superhero fantasy?

                Sure, but please define for me the difference between just plain old evidence and “affirmative evidence”. All bodies of sayings have sources, and the name attributed to that source is Jesus.

                In your post you stated Jesus’s parables went completely unnoticed by Paul, solely on the basis that he didn’t make any references to them in his letters to the various churches. Is this lack of references “affirmative evidence” that Paul didn’t know of any of these saying and teachings?

                You reasoning here indicates that you used a certain type of absence as evidence for the truth of a particular claim of yours. But what type of evidence does this fall under? Is it, as you requested, “affirmative evidence”.

                I noticed that mythicist typically demand certain things from historicist, but yet have a different set of criteria and demands, needed to affirm their positions.

                I also noticed, as has become a frequent thing of yours, you tend to be selective in your responses. After writing an exhaustive post on your horrendous reading of Origen you went silent. Should I take this to mean that you understood that your reading of Origen, that he believed Josephus never mentioned Jesus, was wrong?

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Is this original allegorical Jesus the one found in Paul?

        1 Corinthians 15. Read the whole chapter. The TL/DR is Adam = flesh, Jesus = spirit, in Jesus is eternal life after death. Compare especially with the passages referred to elsewhere in this thread from Philo and Zechariah.

        b&

        • Tomas
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

          @Ben Goren

          // The TL/DR is Adam = flesh, Jesus = spirit//

          So Paul’s Jesus is not allegorical, but an actual spirit being, who existed in some sort of otherworldly realm, in which he was crucified, buried, and rose again?

          In the Corinthians passage you referenced, Paul explicitly states Jesus was a human being: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits* of those who have fallen asleep.

          For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.”

          In fact even in the life-giving spirt passage you have in mind, Paul states: “But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual….Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image* of the heavenly one”

          Or to summarize, Paul is speaking of how our natural bodies die, and resurrect as spiritual ones, that Jesus was a human being whose body died and whose spirit rose again. This is pretty evident in the context of the passage, and your reading of it is a pretty blaring distortion.

  11. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    1 thru 6: god didit.

    Now I be new pope.

    • Susan
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      You only used 10.of your 500 words. This leaves room for you to repeat the following 98 times. “Now send me your money.”

  12. Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this; an excellent challenge!

    I simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to question Jesus’ historicity in the face of the experts, but while I find mythicism *plausible* I’ve always leaned to the historic side. For me, this is an inference to the best explanation of the events in those early years, and does not rely on, for example, establishing a ‘clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was’, any more than I need such an account of any other historical figure to allow that they existed.

    R. Joseph Hoffman, a pompous windbag in many respects, is nevertheless an expert on the subject and here quoted Morton Smith on the problem with mythicism:

    The myth theory, he wrote, is almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul. “In order to explain just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed, the mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth . . . about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified… [presenting us with] a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/the-jesus-process-a-consultation-on-the-historical-jesus/

    That is the bar to clear for mythicists when trying to convince the experts, I think. They have done some good work toward that goal and what Ben writes here is a contribution to that. But many, many book length treatments of these issues have been made, and still the consensus of the experts go with historicism, according to Carrier – http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4733.

    Good luck, though, and I’ll be interested to read the discussion!

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Hoffman is wrong, unfortunately. There is positive evidence in the epistles, too. The author of Hebrews, for example *says that Jesus was not on earth*. (Read ch. 8 in a translation that preserves the subjunctive.)

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Doherty translates it that way but I’m not sure that’s the most straightforward translation. The passage is Hebrews 8.4. and the greek reads (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+8&version=SBLGNT)

        εἰ μὲν οὖν ἦν ἐπὶ γῆς, οὐδ’ ἂν ἦν ἱερεύς, ὄντων τῶν προσφερόντων κατὰ νόμον τὰ δῶρα

        and the KJ version seems accrurate to me:

        if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law

        The passage could be translated as Doherty translates it, but it’s not the usual way to tranlate “εἰ μὲν οὖν”. There are more straightforward ways to say in “if he had been” in koine greek.

        Even translating it as a simple counterfactual though, it’s still a strange thing to say about a guy that actually was an Earth, say 20 to 30 years ago. If the author was aware that the dude he’s talking about was on Earth in the recent past, one would expect something like “if he stil was on Earth”, or to at least make a comment that in fact when Jesus was on Earth he wasn’t a High Priest.

    • Folie Deuce
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I’m no expert but hasn’t Hoffman just invented a straw man to sidestep the pesky problem of evidence?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      “and still the consensus of the experts go with historicism”.

      A consensus not of historians, but “biblical historians”. But those are not the ones that anyone would, or could, want to sway, the area is apologetics.

      More interesting is what historians would say.

      It is interesting to see how historicity of religious mythical figures are treated in society. In Wikipedia that issue was, last I looked, buried not two but _three_ levels down. E.g. religious people need the myth posted as if it were true, then the need an intermediate “biblical history” layer that hides history and historicity issues beneath.

      In that article there used to be a description how _one_ [1!] historian was trying to gather funds and a cross-section of people from all areas to look at the historicity of the sectarian myth person. And how he was defeated by pressure groups that won’t have anything of it. Silly me, I didn’t save the reference because now it is gone and the article sanitized to be exclusively about biblical historians…

      As a skeptic I still lack evidence that historians have ever looked at this.

      “For me, this is an inference to the best explanation of the events in those early years, and does not rely on, for example, establishing a ‘clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was’, any more than I need such an account of any other historical figure to allow that they existed.”

      Not to move goalposts here, but my own model of these myths is different than Ben’s, and it seems suited to answer your inference issue:

      I look for similar myths and what we can say about their historicity as a set. Similar to other myths then, the myth persona has no supporting evidence. E.g. we know of a historical J.C. (Julius Caesar), but the myth “J.C.” has nothing similar despite that they were from the same period.

      This state of affairs continue until we get the book press, thereafter the religious founders appears as real persons and, surprise, surprise, scam artists. E.g. Smith, Blavatsky, Steiner, Moon (a businessman previously involved in scams), Hubbard, …

      So inference to the best explanation tells me the myths were myths and the later founders real scam artists.

      I am not sure how my example of Julius Caesar is not a “clear, concise, unambiguous definition” of a _historical_ person, i.e. someone who one can find contemporary evidence of – descriptions, documents, buildings, statues, tombs. The myth persona on the other hand, lacking such evidence, is not well constrained.

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        That’s why one of my steps towards mythicism was to crack out a very elementary textbook, and see if it was documented in any way at all. It wasn’t. (_Western Civilization: A brief history_ by Perry)

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      To even use the phrase “incredible beyond anything in the Gospels” implies a highly idiosyncratic sense of incredulity.

  13. Michael Johnson
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I’m sympathetic with mythecism, but I don’t like this “challenge.” My general objection is that there’s no argument given that meeting your challenge is necessary for establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Jesus.

    Here’s what I mean: suppose I issued the following challenge: establish a reasonable case that Barack Obama is real. To do so you must a. show me that fundamental physics appeals to Barack Obama and b. show me at least 12 instances where Barack Obama appears in 18th Century English novels. That’s a ridiculous challenge, because there’s no good reason to think that establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Obama requires either of those things.

    So, again, while being sympathetic to the thesis of B&, I think the issues are more complicated. I believe Euthyphro was a historical individual, although he appears highly fictionalized in one instance in Plato and then has a minor mention in Cratylus. I’m not saying that case is comparable, but I’m pointing out that I don’t meet anything comparable to B&’s standard with respect to Euthyphro, and yet I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe in his historicity.

    • Michael Johnson
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Sorry, I don’t think I was very clear so I’m replying to myself.

      Here’s what I was trying to argue: in judging cases for historicity there are more and less lax standards. I presented an absurdly high and arbitrary standard as an example (Obama). I also presented a relatively low standard (Euthyphro).

      I emphatically don’t want to hang anything on either case or standard. The first one was obviously ridiculous, the second one was off the cuff.

      My point, which I don’t think I articulated well, was that the standard for establishing historicity itself needs a justification. B& doesn’t give one, so the fact that people can’t meet his standard is not, without some further evidence, reason to think historicity can’t be defended.

      Sorry I’m such a terrible point-maker.

      • Susan
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        The challenge can be simplified.
        1. Define who you think Jesus was
        2. Find one piece of extra-biblical evidence to support it.

        Even the gospels don’t describe the same person. In Mark, Jesus was terrified before his arrest, in John, he was confident and defiant.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Honestly? I’d even be happy with somebody who just did the first one. It’s the one thing that historicists dare not do: let themselves get pinned down on who and / or what Jesus actually was. The rest of the points mostly just go to illustrate why that’s the case.

          And if nobody is even willing to define Jesus, how on Earth does anybody expect us to even have an intelligible conversation on whether or not he might have existed?

          b&

          • Michael Johnson
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            I’ll admit to being (boo! hss!) a philosopher by training. And employment. And probably everything else too. So fair warning.

            PLUG: Philosophers (contemporary analytic ones at least) are big on Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. Kripke is an orthodox Jew, and quite rightly regarded as one of the few (two?) philosophical geniuses since the beginning of the 20th Century.

            Without giving Kripke’s arguments here (you should really read N&N, it’s highly accessible), Kripke argues (among other things) that names don’t have definitions, and that ‘Moses’ and ‘Jonah’ might well refer to real historical individuals, even if everything we believe of them is false.

            So the idea that ‘Jesus’ needs to be defined, or that the definition needs to be satisfied or shown to be satisfied to provide evidence for Jesus’ historicity is one that I at least find to be highly contentious.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

              Without giving Kripke’s arguments here (you should really read N&N, it’s highly accessible), Kripke argues (among other things) that names don’t have definitions, and that ‘Moses’ and ‘Jonah’ might well refer to real historical individuals, even if everything we believe of them is false.

              Sorry, but this is exactly why philosophy is such a dirty word ’round these here parts.

              Santa is real! His name is Harold, he’s a skinny, bald Jewish retiree who lives year-round in Florida, hates kids, is allergic to reindeer, has never been north of New England, and never gave anybody a Christmas present in this life…

              …but he’s the real Santa!

              That sort of thing might be impressive to philosophers, but he spell breaks pretty quickly for those not in that particular cult.

              b&

              • Michael Johnson
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                Wait… philosophy is a dirty word because someone recommends a work that is widely regarded and instead of reading it you post some absurd straw man argument in response? That doesn’t strike me as remotely appropriate.

                Kripke gave the Locke lectures in the 70s on fictional terms and they’ve now been published in his collected volumes. You could, y’know, read that… but I guess calling an entire academic discipline a ‘cult’ is easier, so go ahead.

                Also, the dig is ridiculous. The historicists DON’T say Jesus is divine. Sure they don’t think he’s just some random retiree, but why does that mean to believe in his historicity that you have to know specific facts about his actions and doctrines, when those things are quite naturally obscured by history? That’s precisely what Kripke’s on about: that we can talk about people and genuinely be uncertain about them. The alternative is that we can’t even talk about that which we don’t already know what it is. (And to bring it back to Plato, that’s the paradox of inquiry.)

                What’s with the naive, unreflective, uninquistive positivism? When someone calls “Darwinism” a “cult” we tell them to go read a damn book… I suggested a consensus-classic by a consensus-genius, and you call me a cult member? That doesn’t help your case.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                Wait… philosophy is a dirty word because someone recommends a work that is widely regarded and instead of reading it you post some absurd straw man argument in response?

                No, philosophy is a dirty word because we have hard empirical evidence that consistency with objective observation is irrelevant to philosophy. And your previous post is a perfect example of such.

                The historicists DON’T say Jesus is divine.

                That’s nice…save for one niggling little problem: all the evidence says he was. And the historicists have nothing aside from incredulity that people could have believe in a made-up deity to explain away that inconvenient fact.

                That’s precisely what Kripke’s on about: that we can talk about people and genuinely be uncertain about them.

                I’m perfectly happy with ambiguity. You don’t have to tell me what he had for breakfast on his tenth birthday.

                But you do have to give enough specificity for me to be able to tell him apart from all the other people who lived in the world at the time. And is that really so much to ask for?

                If your proposed historical Jesus didn’t have to bear any semblance to the Jesus of the Bible, if he didn’t even have to have that name, then everybody alive at the time — man, woman, child — hell, even the livestock! — has a valid claim to being Jesus. And, in that case, I think most rational non-philosophers would recognize such a situation as being the textbook definition of a mythical person.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

                Ha. Poke a philosopher, and philosophism follows:

                “Positivism” is a philosophical insult. It has nothing to do with empiricism, and how science learns. (It has more to do with bayesianism, but the pivotal thing is testing.)

                I really don’t like how philosophy misrepresents science, and tries to insert itself into the process.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                Science is philosophy. Science and mathematics are the most ridiculously successful branches of philosophy, so successful they got their own name.

                So this is not “philosophy” versus “science”, but non-science philosophers versus the branch of philosophy called “science”.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                Science is philosophy.

                Only in the sense that astronomy is astrology and chemistry is alchemy. Or, for that matter, that philosophy is religion.

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                “Science is philosophy.”

                As I said, out comes philosophism – the erroneous idea that everything is philosophy or even amenable to its study.

                A simple test is to look for what is unique for science, testing. Philosophy can’t be tested, hence philosophy can’t be mapped onto science.

                In fact, since for every philosophy an equally valid philosophy can be put, like 5 year old’s arguing: “-Is so!”, “-Is not!”, it is story telling.

              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

                MJ: “why does that mean to believe in his historicity that you have to know specific facts about his actions and doctrines, when those things are quite naturally obscured by history?”
                If history doesn’t include specific facts, it isn’t history in my opinion. I’ll agree that the history of any thing (as we know it today) also includes random changes that obscure what otherwise would be specific facts, but if none of the original facts can be reliably inferred you have not history but myth.
                Signal, noise. Homology, homoplasy. Fossil, diagenesis. Capisce?

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

              If you want to play *that* game, remember what Daniel Dennett says in _Consciousness Explained_ about Santa Claus (my version):

              Someone says he’s real: his name is Frank Dudley, lives in Miami all year round, hates children, never buys gifts, and is allergic to reindeer.

              Is *that* Santa Claus?

              “Jesus” of course refers to real people, just not the figure of the gospels. There’s Jesus Alou, who played baseball for the Astros, for example.

              Further, if you’re going to adopt essentiality of origin a la Kripke, then the murkier still task of finding Jesus’ parents in the annals of history awaits you, it seems.

              • Michael Johnson
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                No that’s not Santa. Do you legitimately think that everyone whose theory claims belief in Santa is not warranted on such grounds also has a theory on which belief in the historicity of Jesus is unwarranted? You think those cases are parallel in every reasonable, acknowledgable respect? Because if you do, you’re wrong; and if you don’t, I fail to see how what you’re saying respects the norms of reasoned discourse.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                Sorry, but I’m not sure I can reliably untangle the double negatives, so this might not be the answer you were looking for.

                But I consider historicist claims of Santa — including those tracing back to that bishop of Smyrna — to be every bit as absurd as historicist claims of Jesus.

                b&

          • TJR
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            Indeed. Similarly, if you can’t even *define* free will or scientism, how can you possibly have a sensible conversation about them? Lucky no-one tries to do that, then.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            I think this is so simple – would citing only one extant source count as good scholarship? No. case closed.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

              In terms of establishing historicity, it’s hard to imagine a single ancient source being sufficient for confidence.

              Of course, I’m also making a stronger case: not just that there’s no justification for historicity (the point of my challenge), but that mythical origins are convincingly positively supported by evidence.

              You know: it just occurred to me…none of the historicists in this thread have addressed Justin Martyr or Lucian of Samosata’s Peregrinus…I wonder why…?

              b&

        • Michael Johnson
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          This is part of my worry, I think a lot of historicists are going to think that (2) is too stringent.

          Suppose Cratylus never mentions Euthyphro, or, being thousands of years old, Cratylus’ works are lost. Now all we have is a highly fictionalized account of Euthyphro in Plato. I couldn’t meet the challenge:

          1. Who’s Euthyphro? Uh… someone.
          2. Find one extra-Platonic source to support that definition. Uh… sorry.

          The general historicist line (and again, like I say, I’m sympathetic to mythecism, I just think it’s more complicated than what’s been presented here) is that we believe in the historicity of a vast number of ancient individuals on extremely scant grounds, down to a single mention in a single text. Why is Jesus any different?

          I DO think Jesus is different, but that’s why I’m uncomfortable with this “challenge.” There’s no evidence for the standards, and they seem to justify skepticism about other figures whose historicity, even if we doubt, is nevertheless rational to believe in. I think it needs to be spelled out why Jesus is a different case from other minor historical (?) figures and then argued on those grounds that a higher standard must be met.

          (Sorry, in the background is a philosophy paper I can’t recall the title or author of, who argues that since Jesus’ story has so much clear fictional absurdities, we need to doubt even its mundane claims, in a way we don’t for e.g. Euthyphro.)

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            I just think it’s more complicated than what’s been presented here) is that we believe in the historicity of a vast number of ancient individuals on extremely scant grounds, down to a single mention in a single text.

            That’s a bug, not a feature. There are many historians who take the position you describe, and it’s indefensible. The complaint is that, if we hold history to the same standards as we hold other academic areas, we won’t know anything. This is both false and a fallacious appeal to consequences. False because there are many honest historians who work closely with archaeologists and papyrologists and many others to actually build reliable history; Julius Caesar is perhaps the poster child, with archeological digs confirming details of Caesar’s own autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul. But, yes, it’s also the case that we don’t know much about history — but pretending otherwise by fantasizing about favorite stories doesn’t do anything to change the state of that knowledge!

            b&

            • Michael Johnson
              Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              That’s not how I’d put it.

              Everyone should be held to the same standard– in my opinion, the Bayesian one. Given your evidence, you can assert p to degree d, if the probability of p conditional on your evidence is d.

              What random lists of arbitrary standards of evidence do is ignore prior probabilities (roughly, ignoring the base rate, if one is a frequentist).

              What I was trying to suggest is that you can’t simply ignore the prior probabilities, and that the circumstances and claims about Jesus are f***ing relevant for determining his historicity. Some people (look at the commenters below) say otherwise, and claim that historians are in the wrong for deciding historicity cases on less evidence, while ignoring the prior probabilities.

              If you’re me, though, you think that scrutinizing the evidence is scrutinizing one variable in a two-variable game. IT MATTERS that Jesus and Euthyphro are substantively different in how they’re described and who describes them. Nothing in your list of demands, however, justifies or states why this is so. I’m sympathetic toward mythecism about Jesus, but I don’t want to be on the side of people (see below) who think that it’s “intellectually dishonest” to not be a mythecist about slews of historical (?) persons broadly recognized by historians. Evidential standards require priors, and those priors have to be justified. That’s what I can’t see here.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

            We can say historical people existed who we only have the Bible as evidence for: the people who wrote it. It’s reasonable to say someone we can tag “Paul” existed, because one person wrote seven of the books of the New Testament and partially wrote others (and had a few made up and attributed to him). Our only evidence is a consistent writing style and that he called himself “Paul”, but someone wrote them. I mean, Paul could be a fictional character created by yet another person, but not many people take that idea seriously.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

            re the philosopher: maybe Stephen Law?

            http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/published-in-faith-and-philosophy-2011.html

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            I’m not sure about single references to many historic characters but I am sure that if there are single reference, the existence of that particular person would be questionable. It is intellectually dishonest to say that someone existed with little evidence. It is intellectually honest to call out the lack of evidence and admit that we are uncertain as to said individual’s existence.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

              Someone came up with the ideas orecorded in the ancient books. Those people existed. What were their names? Who knows for sure. Did they use pen names?

              The key thing about the Jesus myth is that people build their lives around it. And kill for it.

              No one is building their life around the historicity of Achilles or Hector or Helen or Odysseus or Jason. Or killing over it (except conceivably in an obscure academic spat somewhere).

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                For me, I’m more interested in the truth. Unfortunately when you live and die for something, you aren’t open to the truth.

          • Gareth Price
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            “Sorry, in the background is a philosophy paper I can’t recall the title or author of, who argues that since Jesus’ story has so much clear fictional absurdities, we need to doubt even its mundane claims, in a way we don’t for e.g. Euthyphro.’

            Was it Stephen Law? I think I remember him arguing something like this in a post on his blog.

        • Mark R.
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

          I do find it interesting that the earliest Gospel, Mark, describes Jesus in the most human terms: questioning his own divinity, not always able to perform miracles, as Susan wrote above “terrified before his arrest.” And by the time John writes the last Gospel, Jesus is a superhero, confident of his divinity, performing miracles left and right and ready to save the world by his sacrifice.
          This change in personality fits with how myths become exaggerated and gain strength over time. John is of course Christian’s favorite Gospel…or at least the one they love to quote. Why wouldn’t it be? Here was Jesus the true saviour, not the brooding Jesus of Mark.

          I think Ben’s 5th point is the most compelling. Even the “most human” Jesus that Mark described would still have been a supernatural force and one surely to have been mentioned by contemporaries.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            It can also be indicative of why the bible is such a poor piece of evidence of anything, given that it was copied over and over and edited gratuitously between copies.

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:40 am | Permalink

            This is tangential, but one way to read Mark, is as an extended parable. A story told to the outsiders alegorizing the “mysterious” truths known to the initiates of the Christian cult but hidden to outsiders. “Mark” himself has Jesus say (Mark 4.11-12):

            And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that

            ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive,
            And hearing they may hear and not understand;
            Lest they should turn,
            And their sins be forgiven them.’

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

              Many other such examples exist. I don’t have chapter and verse (or even book) off the top of my head, but you often find references to lines like, “…and then their minds were opened,” or, “…and then they saw and understood.” From a modern perspective, it reads like the proverbial lightbulb going off, but it’s equally valid to interpret it as being code for that being the point where an inner mystery was revealed to an initiate — with similar patterning in both practice and language still being common today in fraternal Greek and other secret societies.

              b&

      • Folie Deuce
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        You argument is essentially: “Gee, we really don’t know if X existed but no one questions that so we should accept the historicity of Jesus without question too.”

        Instead of arguing for lax standards why not insist on better standards and apply them to Jesus and others alike?

    • Alex T
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Here’s what I mean: suppose I issued the following challenge: establish a reasonable case that Barack Obama is real. To do so you must a. show me that fundamental physics appeals to Barack Obama and b. show me at least 12 instances where Barack Obama appears in 18th Century English novels. That’s a ridiculous challenge, because there’s no good reason to think that establishing a reasonable case for the historicity of Obama requires either of those things.

      How do you think this is relevant to Ben’s challenge?

      His first step was to describe who you think Jesus is, so with your challenge the first step would be to describe how “Obama” was. If you say he’s an 18th Century physical phenomenon then yeah, you’ll have a difficult time. But so what? Are you saying that proving historicity is comparable to proving that Obama actually lived 300 years ago?

  14. Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Putting it in these terms more or less pulls the rug from under people who are adept at dissimulation and word games- a religious specialty.
    They’re masters at it. It’s quite obvious in the case of the anti-gay debate. Take when they use the term “unnatural” as a populist appeal to nature, but once one points out homosexuality exists in nature, they ad-hoc a convoluted reference to ‘natural’ law.
    If before people began speaking they were asked to narrowly define certain words, it would be the end of religious people debating.
    In that sense, a historical Jesus can’t be just some random apocalyptic preacher- many often resort to that explanation. It has to be a specific preacher born in a specific place, who would have had to be very good at magic tricks and conning people (perhaps a sufferer of mental illness?), and who was crucified etc. etc.

  15. bobkillian
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    “just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed”

    Paul may not have “believed” what’s attributed to him. If he really existed. It’s a parsimonious explanation to say he was a snake oil salesman who re-branded the religion of “Jesus” into a religion about Jesus, repackaging it to blame the Jews rather than the Romans for the crucifixion (as in the absurdly guilty Pilate) so he could peddle it to the Romans. Why? That’s where the money was.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      That’s where the money was.

      So he was the first Republican.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      There’s a simpler explanation: Paul was either Lucian’s Peregrinus, or another just like him.

      b&

      • Susan
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        I’ve started wondering the.same thing. Is there enough evidence about Peregrinus to figure out if he could have been Paul?

        Christianity being started by a confirmed fraud has a certain poetic ring.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          I’d be surprised if we were to find a convincing smoking gun identifying the author of the Pauline epistles as the same person Lucian says immolated himself outside the Olympics.

          However, more then enough evidence exists to demonstrate that they were cut from the same cloth.

          Re-read Passing of Peregrinus (linked in the original post) and note both how Peregrinus is described as second only to Jesus and the author of many Christian texts and “mysteries” which were Pagan in origin.

          Now, scan Martyr’s First Apology for mentions of Mithras and note how he gives it as the origin of the Eucharist.

          Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with the earliest mentions of Mithraism — specifically, Plutarch, where he describes it as the religion of the Cilicean pirates. And ancient geography: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the capital of Cilicea.

          Finally, read 1 Corinthians 11 and ask yourself: is Paul relating the story of the Last Supper as he presumably would have learned of it from the Jerusalem Church, or is he teaching the Corinthian Church the Mithraic Eucharist as a novel ritual of Christian worship?

          b&

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            Correct my memory if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Paul also call it “The Lord’s Supper”, thus removing it also from history?

  16. Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Mainly, the debate stays in the realm of angels on the head of a pin; it has no relevance to the function of the myth. Indeed the historicity of Jesus is part of the myth. It makes no difference whether or not any part of the myth is founded on historical events. It’s a moot point. The functions of myths have nothing to do with their origins.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      That’s a good point, but also a moot point. The function of the myth is not what this post is about. This post is about whether Christianity originated, in some sense, from an individual named Jesus or it started by some dudes telling stories about a celestial being that were later taken as events about a historical person that had lived on Earth.

  17. Prof.Pedant
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Idle Generalization Speculation:
    Jesus supposedly lived and died sometime between 10 BCE and 35 CE, but there is good reason to believe that he is entirely or mostly mythical.

    Who can you think of that supposedly lived and died more recently and who is similarly mythical? I am sure there are a variety of examples, but none come to mind at this moment.

    (Paul Bunyon is generally seen as entirely mythical, Johnny Appleseed is widely acknowledged to be a mythologizing of a real person – therefore both would be outliers as examples.)

    • GBJames
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Heck, if you take just the versions that exist in the minds of today’s Christian Right, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are almost entirely mythical.

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        If we’re going to use the example of the Christian Right, one could argue Ronald Reagan became a mythical figure to that cohort even prior to his passing. The deified Reagan who stars in so many Republican stump speeches is a very different character than the occupant of the oval office from ’81-’89.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          Wow – if you turn away from this page for a while and don’t reload it, you can get amusing “coincidences” like my comment below.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      John Frum is the go-to example, and he was within living memory.

      • AdamK
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Or the Luddites’ Ned Ludd.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Well, there’s pretty much every single comic book superhero, for starters — and Harry Potter and countless more where he came from.

      The Raelians were certain that there were aliens hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp who were coming to rescue them. The Raelians were certainly real, but the aliens in the spaceship?

      And Xenu…Moroni…Wotan…Quetzalcoatl….

      b&

      • Mark R.
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Re. the Raelians…I think they just had a broken telescope. 😉

      • GBJames
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        I don’t think Heaven’s Gate death cult were Raelians. They were their own little group of true believers.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          You could be right…”they all look alike to me”….

          b&

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          I’ve never been able to figure out why anyone would form a cult around such a terrible movie . . .

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

            I’ve never been able to figure out why anyone would form a religion around such a terrible asshole like Yahweh.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

              I think it’s because many of the followers of said religion have never actually read the old testament, or Revelations. I was already an atheist when I read revelations. It’s like somebody sent a teen-aged metalhead on tour with Slayer, pumped him full of meth and cheap beer, kept him awake for about 4 straight days and then asked him to write a book about the end of the world.

    • Susan
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Robin Hood and King Arthur go back farther, but their myths grew and expanded as jesus’s did.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Who can you think of that supposedly lived and died more recently and who is similarly mythical?

      There’s a guy named Ronald Reagan whose biography bears little resemblance to any person who ever lived.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      There are websites that deal in little known movie factoids.

      Such as the fact that a number of movie characters are based on or inspired by real people. Such as Popeye, Betty Boop, Jabba the Hut, The Great Lebowski. The two main male characters in Les Misérables are inspired by one actual person who played both roles in real life.

      My favorite rendition of the Jesus era is The Life of Brian, which portrays many street preachers, any of which could have inspired the myth. There being no Snopes.com to straighten things out.

  18. Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    1. Jesus was a Jewish preacher who was crucified in Jerusalem. I’m making no claims of divinity or miracles here. There’s nothing remarkable about a guy from the underclass who becomes a preacher and inspires a small group of followers. It happens all the time, even now.
    2. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the writings ascribed to Paul; the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. (I leave out the gospel of John because I think it misses the one-century mark.) The fact that the first four sources (and by this I mean whoever it was who actually wrote Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were adoring followers should not by itself disqualify them as sources. If we discounted all “admiring” historical sources we wouldn’t have many left.
    3. Some people seem to think that because these sources contradict each other in the details then that must mean they cannot be trusted to impart any historical information. But let me give you an example from research I conducted in writing a biography of a 12th-century samurai. Two sources give differing accounts of what he did when he entered Kyoto in the first month of 1184. What historians glean from that is that we can’t be sure what he did when he first entered Kyoto; but historians feel confident that he DID enter Kyoto, since both those sources agree where he was, if not exactly what he was doing. And before you protest that this person (Minamoto Yoshitsune) was not some sort of supernatural figure: there are also stories about him have supernatural powers, being trained by mountain spirits, and visiting the realms of the dead. No historian would claim that Yoshitsune did not exist simply because he acquired legendary status after his death, or because he was generally considered the hero of the works that describe him.
    4. Again, it’s the points of agreement in sources that are of interest here, not the contradictions. All of the sources mentioned in #2 (as well as later writings) agree on the basics about Jesus stated in #1. Yes, they all have many elaborations and differing interpretations of what it all meant–hardly surprising when considering such a highly charged subject. That does not nullify the points of agreement.
    5. “Take at least a moment to explain…” Honestly, this sounds like a creationist insisting that evolution must not have happened if you can’t show every single transitional form. Jesus was a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem who inspired a small group of followers. He wasn’t of interest to anybody else until much later. Why would anybody write about him? How much do we know about Pontius Pilate, who WAS an important figure during that time? Hardly anything. And you expect a nobody from Nazareth to have a significant historical record?
    6. OK, let’s take Minamoto Yoshitsune again. He’s the hero of the Tale of the Heike, which also includes an interlude about Tomoe Gozen, supposedly a female samurai. Tomoe Gozen is only mentioned in the Heike and not in any other sources. So despite the character’s appeal, historians have concluded that she didn’t exist and was added to the story as a fictional florish. But despite such occasional fictions, historians recognize the historical value of the Heike, including its description of Yoshitsune entering Kyoto in 1184. One just has to tread carefully. And by the way, the first versions of the Heike were written down about forty years after the events they portray, which is similar to the early gospels.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      First, thank you for taking up the challenge!

      That writ, I think you fall short on a number of key points.

      First, Josephus wrote nothing of Jesus. See this link in this thread for the notarized videotape proof:

      https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comment-1051718

      Next, the whole point of the Gospels you claim as evidence is to directly contradict your own claim of Jesus as not divine and not a miracle-worker. Is it your claim that Jesus gave the appearance of being a divine miracle-worker, but was just a charlatan?

      That’s crucial to clarify, for you describe him as having an adoring following, yet don’t think it remarkable that anybody noticed this guy doing impressive magic tricks with an adoring following — yet we have a number of examples of less-impressive street magicians with smaller followings who did get noticed.

      My third point wasn’t asking you to reconcile internal contradictions within your sources; rather, it was asking you to reconcile how your chosen sources contradict your own thesis. That’s what I’m getting at: you’re claiming Jesus was a random schmuck, yet I think you’d agree with me that the Gospel authors devoted their entire works to exactly the opposite proposition. How do you explain the fact that they could have been so convinced, so passionate about (to them) the fact that Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine force that Spoke existence into being, and that he really did do all those things that had been previously attributed to all those Pagan demigods…how do reconcile that belief and certainty with your own claim that he was instead the diametric opposite?

      Again, it’s the points of agreement in sources that are of interest here, not the contradictions.

      Sorry, but you can’t just handwave away conflicting evidence; you’ve got to reconcile the two. We’re essentially in “he said / she said” territory, and you’d have us ignore everything she said because what he said is all that matters.

      Jesus was a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem who inspired a small group of followers.

      But that’s just the point: to Paul, the earliest surviving representative of that small group, he wasn’t “a Jewish preacher crucified in Jerusalem.” Somehow, you’ve got to explain how Jesus could have gone from random schmuck to Paul’s otherworldly savior of all mankind. Simply ignoring that inconvenient detail doesn’t cut the mustard!

      b&

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        I think it’s really odd that mythicists like yourself, who I guess feel strongly about disproving the existence of Jesus, also try to insist that if Jesus DID exist, then those of us who accept his historical reality must also prove that he was a walk-on-water miracle worker. I think Jesus was a preacher who attracted a loyal following, and those followers tried to make sense of his death afterward in the only way they could, without abandoning their core beliefs: by convincing themselves and others that Jesus was really something much bigger than they thought, and his horrible death had a meaning after all. Thus the oral tales that spread after his death gradually increased his significance and his powers and became the gospels. And as to your notion that a preacher cannot attract a loyal following without working actual miracles: think of Jim Jones and Jonestown. He wasn’t working miracles and yet people died at his command. I’m not “handwaving” away conflicting evidence; you’re inventing it. It is not at all surprising that different small communities of early Xtians would tell different versions of events and those events would get written down differently in the various gospels, 40-50 years later. As to Josephus and how Jesus came to be considered a god, I think Bart Ehrman covers this very well in DID JESUS EXIST? and HOW JESUS BECAME GOD. He is far more of an expert than either of us, I suspect.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          I think it’s really odd that mythicists like yourself, who I guess feel strongly about disproving the existence of Jesus, also try to insist that if Jesus DID exist, then those of us who accept his historical reality must also prove that he was a walk-on-water miracle worker.

          It’s not me insisting that Jesus was a miracle worker and / or otherworldly divine savior of mankind. It’s the evidence you yourself is citing.

          And it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that Jesus appeared to be such but was merely a charlatan pulling a fast one on his marks — or, even, that everybody was sincere but misguided.

          What’s not reasonable is to suggest that Jesus didn’t even have the appearance of magic powers and / or divinity — or, conversely, to claim that he did have such an appearance but was still a random unremarkable schmuck whom one would expect to have escaped notice.

          b&

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            I’m only suggesting that the most parsimonious explanation for the evidence we have is that Jesus was a real flesh and blood person who was the basis for a conglomeration of tales and legends told by followers who passed these tales through an oral tradition for decades before anything was written down. As time passed Jesus became less of a preacher of the end of times and more of a divinity–just compare the earliest gospel (Mark) to the latest gospel (John). And remember that even Mark was written decades after the events described, which gives plenty of time for the stories to be embellished and embroidered.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

              By your own description, Jesus is 99 44/100% pure myth. Of what sense does it make, even with your own formulation, to claim that that remaining 0.56% that isn’t mythical but is based on one or more random nobody schmucks who could have been literally anybody somehow represents the “real” Jesus?

              Again, even by your own description, there’s more Perseus in Jesus than any human — and Perseus is but a minor spice in the stew. If you wouldn’t call Perseus the “real” Jesus, by what logic do you consider whoever it is you think you have in mind the “real” Jesus?

              Frankly, it all sounds like Homeopathic Jesus. Start with a real person, dilute by more people than have ever lived, discard all of them…but some how the essence of the original remains?

              And nobody’s claiming that each author independently conceived of Jesus. Of course there was an extant tradition of beliefs surrounding this particular demigod. How could it be otherwise?

              The only contention is this, frankly, bizarre notion that any of it was based in reality.

              What? Because Christians back then were honest and intelligent people who would never make something up and weren’t so gullible as to be fooled? Do you really need me to supply the copious amounts of evidence to the contrary? If so, just look for any of those all-too-common Christian apologetic lists of Pagan sources who mention Christ and read them for yourself. The picture they paint of Christians is not at all pretty….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                Ben, the original challenge was the debate over the existence of a historical Jesus. That’s all. Either a real person inspired the stories about Jesus or not. I do think some essence remains, just as some essence of a real war remains in the Iliad. Even if the stories are 99% made up but were inspired by a real person, then there was a historical Jesus–no matter how little we know about him.

                We have sources reasonably close to the time of Jesus’s life that all assume he was a actual human being, whatever else is said about him. They also say he came from Nazareth, which was a podunk town, and there was no reason to add that in. He died badly, which they all also agree on. Your claims about dying and rising gods have all been handily refuted by Ehrman in his books, particularly DID JESUS EXIST? so I’m not going to belabor those here. Anyway, it’s been a fun discussion, and I have to stop commenting because I have paying writing to do. But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events? We know the gospels and Paul’s letters agree on certain points–Jesus was a preacher who was crucified–so where did the original story come from? Who wrote it and why?

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                Even if the stories are 99% made up but were inspired by a real person, then there was a historical Jesus–no matter how little we know about him.

                Then, by your logic, Luke Skywalker is an historical figure. There are people named Luke, and I’m sure it wouldn’t at all be hard to find one who grew up as an orphan on an impoverished farm out in the middle of nowhere.

                We have sources reasonably close to the time of Jesus’s life that all assume he was a actual human being, whatever else is said about him.

                …except, of course, that we don’t. The earliest sources include 1 Corinthians 15, in which Jesus is clearly described as non-corporeal in direct contrast with the corporeal. Next up are the Gospels, in which Jesus is the very archetype of a Pagan demigod. Also notable are all the heresies, many of which have starkly different biographies for Jesus, many of which echo Paul’s non-corporeal Jesus but which put it front-and-center rather than something taken for granted.

                They also say he came from Nazareth, which was a podunk town, and there was no reason to add that in.

                Nazareth is pure fiction. It’s not mentioned once in the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Talmud. It’s not mentioned by Josephus, who lived an easy morning’s walk away. It’s not even mentioned on fourth century pilgrimage itineraries, and it’s missing from an encyclopedic map that traces its origins to the fourth century. The claimed location has first century archaeological remains of a graveyard, which never would have been inhabited by the living.

                As for the reason? There was a prophecy in some other earlier holy text about a Nazorean, which likely has more to do with a reference to a wisdom cult and almost certainly isn’t a geographical reference.

                Your claims about dying and rising gods have all been handily refuted by Ehrman in his books, particularly DID JESUS EXIST?

                That book is an embarrassment of bad scholarship, and Ehrman’s own “refutation” was summarily refuted two millennia ago by Justin Martyr — a refutation Ehrman is apparently perfectly ignorant of.

                But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events?

                First, “Paul” is himself a composite figure, and his official biography in Acts is undoubtedly fictional. As with so many fictions, Paul made up this and stole that. We know without doubt that he stole the Last Supper and the Eucharist from the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus, and that’s the single most specific and detailed biography of Jesus he offers.

                Ask yourself where Joe Smith got the Book of Moron from, or Hubbard Dianetics, and you’ve got your answer for the origins of Jesus.

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                Pamela:

                “Either a real person inspired the stories about Jesus or not”
                Why not make it 50 or 100 people, or even more?

                “But I am curious about what mythicists like yourself consider the original source of Paul’s writings and the gospels, if it was not actual historical events?”

                Why not try the development of the concept of the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7, the Book of Enoch, and the various “apocalypses” published by Jewish writers over the decades when the theme was fashionable. And don’t forget Revelation.
                (Jesus as the lamb of God.)

                All this with a nice wrapping of Hellenistic influences as described by Ben and repudiated by Justin Martyr.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

              I’m only suggesting that the most parsimonious explanation for the evidence we have is that Jesus was a real flesh and blood person who was the basis for a conglomeration of tales and legends told by followers who passed these tales through an oral tradition for decades before anything was written down.

              If you don’t mind, could you briefly describe what you consider “the evidence we have?” To judge which explanation is more parsimonious we really need to examine all the available evidence. Does your evidence include our background knoweledge about Jewish and Greco-Roman beliefs of the era? Non canonical texts? The knoweledge we have about mystery cults? These are genuine questions, not rhetorical. Richard Carrier does an extensive survey of all the evidence, in his recent book, and concludes that the probability that there was a historical Jesus is at most 33%.

              Even if we restrict attention to the biblical texts, I don’t think that “a flesh and blood Jesus” is the most parsimonious explanation. Frankly I find the mythisist explanation way less convoluted. However, I still hold an agnostic position about the question with strong leaning towards mythicism, because I don’t think that the most parsimonious explanation is necessarily true. Sometimes we have to admit that we don’t have enough information to draw conclusions with high certainty.

              If all we had were the gospels and the Acts, maybe the most parsimonious explanation would be a historical Jesus. I don’t think that’s true, but for the sake of the argument I grant you that. But the fact is that the earliest surviving texts we have, the one written closest to the origins of the cult, are not the gospels, but the epistles. And if one reads the epistles without imposing them interpretations derived from the gospels, there is very little about a historical Jesus there. And the little there is, is not that straightforward. As an experiment read Hebrews, and imagine that you haven’t heard any of the gospel stories. Are you sure that a historical person is the best explanation of all that stuff about the heavenly temple that has Jesus as its high priest, and whose imperfect copy is the ertly temple in Jerusalem? How probable is it that somebody writing 20 to 30 years after a guy had walked the earth would use the phrase “If he was on earth he would not be a priest”, without hinting that actually he was not a priest when he really was on Earth?

              The thing is that the christology of the early texts is higher than the christology of Mark, the first gospel. Is this really more parsimoniously explained by a historical Jesus? Isn’t it easier to assume that the writers of the epistles were talking about a heavenly being and that later authors, intentionally or by misunderstanding, put that being on Earth?

              The way the books of NT are ordered is deceptive, first come the gospels that set the historicist background and then the chronological earlier epistles. A casual reader, is then led to interpret the epistles in light of the stories in the gospels. This effect may well have been intented by the editors of NT. Inspired by a series of posts in Vridar I recently read The First Edition of The New Testament by David Trobish. He makes a good argument that the order of the books in NT was chosen with the intent to promote a specific theological agenda.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

                As an experiment read Hebrews

                As a similar exercise, read 1 Corinthians 15. The author — whom all agree only ever met Jesus in a vision — establishes his bona fides by identifying his own experience as equal to every other experience of Jesus. How could that even hypothetically work unless those experiences were also visionary?

                Should there be any remaining doubt:

                1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [i.e., Jesus] was made a quickening spirit.

                The author’s Jesus can in no way be considered an human of flesh and blood; the entire point of that chapter is to convince the audience of the exact opposite.

                b&

    • Alex T
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Some people seem to think that because these sources contradict each other in the details then that must mean they cannot be trusted to impart any historical information.

      Is there a point at which you say that the accounts should be assumed to be unreliable unless proven true?

      You’ve admitted that the writers are “admiring” (proselytizing, really), contradictory, with clearly faked portions so I’m curious why you seem to think that what’s left after removing the obvious falsehoods would be reliable.

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        “Proven true”? It’s actually very hard to “prove” things that happened centuries ago because sources are almost always scant. The best a historian can do — and this is a historical question — is to glean what is possible from what is available. In this case we have multiple sources who claim different things about a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine who was crucified. Now all these different accounts must be based on SOMETHING, since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine. The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          Since there are no actual contempory accounts, the most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact fabricated after the first-century by someone and passed along as gospel 🙂

        • bobkillian
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

          “…since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.”

          The gaping hole in that argument is “independently.” The four gospel writers wrote them in sequence, borrowing and embellishing from the previous ones, advancing four different agendas, depicting four very different messiahs. The first one was written two generations after the events, and the others stretch out over time. With copying, editing, translations, forgeries and suppression of evidence, it took centuries to get the story straight. Sort of.

        • Alex T
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          Now all these different accounts must be based on SOMETHING, since you can hardly claim that all of the gospel writers independently came up with the notion of a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          Okay. But no one is saying that all the bible accounts sprung up from nothing.

          The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the kernel of these stories was in fact a Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine.

          That’s your argument, that the presence of a couple stories shows historicity? Bleh. Way to go, you’ve argued for the historicity of King Arthur and a global flood.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Thanks Pamela. You answered the conspiracy theory, sorry, challenge, perfectly. Mythicism is a bit of an embarrassment…

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        A conspiracy theory is often, by design, untestable. (“The governments secret plans…”.)

        The challenge _is_ a test. Ironically it is devised to challenge conspiracy theories, that the conflicting or non-existing evidence points to a historical person, when no other historical person is so treated.

        Clearly for a skeptic, the embarrassment weighs on the other side. “Biblical historians”, indeed.

    • Paul S.
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I think I’ve got this; you simply ignore contradictions and use the gospels as evidence. By this reasoning we can safely assume that James Bond is/was a real person. His exploits are well documented by the following authors: Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis, John Pearson, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd. Most if not all of the geographical references are real places you can visit and many of people mentioned in the books are mentions in other contemporary writings. Why would all those authors write about the same person if he wasn’t real.

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        A historian would consider why a source was writing as well as the intended audience. The early Christians wanted to tell the story of Jesus (or whatever stories about Jesus had come down to them)and no doubt believed the truthfulness of these stories. That was the way they converted others to Christianity–with was they believed were truth claims. And specialists in a particular time period are generally pretty good at recognizing genre. So a 20th-century historian of the future would probably have no more difficulty in recognizing James Bond as fictional than you or I would. It has to do with voice, point of view, and many other stylistic choices.

        Which is not to say that fiction isn’t of historical interest. The historian of the future might discard all notions of jumping out of helicopters as unrealistic, but might glean some interesting cultural and social insights out of “tuxedo” and “martini.”

        As you can see I’m trying to answer your question seriously without being snarky. Please try to do the same.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

          To me, this sounds like the argument from authority.

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            A lot of people seem to misunderstand what the “argument from authority” is. Embracing the consensus of experts in a field not one’s own is what is recommended, and not a fallacious appeal to authority. The fallacious appeal to authority is when someone says that Michael Behe or Richard Carrier must be right because they have PhDs, even if they cannot persuade other experts with their arguments.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

              But it must flow both ways.

              Challenge Jerry’s authority with, say, an assertion that there are no transitional fossils, and he’ll rattle off the whole sequence of whales right off the top of his head, and finish it with hominids and maybe horses just to show off. And, if necessary, he’ll point you right to the peer-reviewed publications describing the finds as well as the museums with collections of these fossils on public display.

              But I’ve repeatedly challenged you and many others that there’s no credible evidence of Jesus’s existence…and all y’all respond with nonsense such as you yourself have with respect to Nazareth.

              You’re an historian. If I claimed no credible evidence for Julius Caesar, how long could you keep rattling stuff off your head, from Commentarii de Bello Gallico to coins so common you can buy them for a month’s rent or so? I bet I could keep it up for at least five minutes, and I’m no professional historian.

              But for Jesus?

              Hell — you can’t even define him, let alone provide credible evidence!

              Can you not see the double standard you yourself are presenting? Can you not understand just how damaging and damning this is of the field?

              b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

                I apologize if you feel I should have copied and pasted more references and links. On an iPad I find that the screen often refreshes and the attempt to copy and paste more than one link is often thwarted. Of course, you seem not to have read even that one link, which makes me wonder why you need more. But here are some links about Nazareth, for the benefit of whoever may be genuinely interested, whether that is you or others, including the one I shared a link to.

                Ken Dark, “Early roman-period Nazareth and the sisters of Nazareth convent,” Antiquaries Journal 92 (September 2012) 37-64

                H. Eshel, “A Fragmentary Hebrew Inscription of the Priestly Courses from Nazareth?” Tarbiz 61 (1991) 159–161

                And of course, Bagatti’s 1969 volume Excavations in Nazareth is worth consulting as a survey of what was done earlier, however problematic some of his views may be.

                Outside of academic publications, there have been noticed about the discovery of a building from around the time of Jesus: http://www.archaeology.org.il/news65.html
                http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2009/dec/21/israel-archaeology

                And for those who may not want to read the entirety of the article by Dark that I mentioned or others by him, there is a blog post by Helen Bond of the University of Edinburgh summarizing lectures that he gave there: http://christianorigins.co.uk/2013/06/07/dr-ken-dark-on-galilean-archaeology/

                There is of course more, but this should be enough to start with. Getting a book from your local library about archaeology in this part of the world is the obvious next step.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:39 am | Permalink

                I find this on your website:

                Jerry Coyne has been very candid about the anti-religious motivation that leads him and other atheists to want Jesus not to have existed, to find it advantageous if Jesus did not exist. Of course, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the extent to which solid evidence that Jesus existed but was different from what Christians claim might be even more desirable from that perspective. But I appreciate the honesty, even if it has not yet been matched with a recognition that we need to be cautious about our desires distorting our perception.

                This is a complete distortion of what I have said. I never started out by wanting Jesus not to exist. I had no opinion on the matter, and it was only until the controversy became public that I got interested and saw the paucity of evidence for Jesus.

                You can distort my words on your own website, but you will not be posting here any more.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

                Dr. McGrath, nobody is disputing the fact that graves were found in Nazareth. The question is over their significance.

                Unlike in modern times, when graveyards are to be found in the midst of inhabited areas, in ancient times such practice would be unimaginable.

                But never mind that…the graves you keep thumping on were situated at the claimed site of the Annunciation. If there is nastier blasphemy to be proposed, I cannot think of it. It means that it was not Gabriel telling Mary that she bore YHWH’s child, but a demon of Hell lying to her that she bore Satan’s child. Or, absolutely most charitably, it means that, shortly after the “fact,” the holy site was desecrated in the worst possible way, by turning it into a graveyard.

                Now, I happen to think that the Bible makes far more sense if it’s the story of humanity’s archenemy and his minions than of a tribe of heavenly love gods — but that does even more to demonstrate the fabulous nature of all of this.

                So, if you’re still going to insist on an historical Nazareth, you’re stuck at absolute best with it being located entirely elsewhere than currently proposed…in which case, you’re once again left with no evidence, for all said evidence is tied to the current location.

                In other words, you’re trying to square the circle. Yes, you can approximate the intended end result with modern computer graphics…but that’s not the point….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Mark Erickson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

                Please please please let the good doctor post more here. It is very instructive to see how poorly a member of the guild responds to such simple questioning.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          And specialists in a particular time period are generally pretty good at recognizing genre. So a 20th-century historian of the future would probably have no more difficulty in recognizing James Bond as fictional than you or I would. It has to do with voice, point of view, and many other stylistic choices.

          …must…bite…tongue….

          An historian specializing in Classical Judea would reasonably be familiar with Justin Martyr, no? Including this passage?

          And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; Æsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars?

          Or, how about this one?

          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.

          Now, I challenge you: read those passages, and then claim with a straight face that Jesus is a better literary and stylistic fit for reality than the fiction of the period.

          b&

  19. bleikind
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    WEIT readers,

    Here’s an excerpt from scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman giving a pretty good answer to Ben Goren’s challenge:

    “Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan” savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions). ”

    Dr. Ehrman’s entire essay is here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Hmm… no mention of Justin Martyr there…

      /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Funny, I started to reply saying the same.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      “It is, in no small part, because these deniers of Jesus are at the same time denouncers of religion — a breed of human now very much in vogue.”

      This is typical atheist bashing in the press. The vaunted Dr. spends most of the first few paragraphs attacking the credibility of those who doubt the historicity of Jesus (and in a very cheap and backhanded way, that of atheists as well) before he even addresses the actual content of their argument. This is a common debating tactic when employed by those with a weak argument.
      He offers no clear definition of who Jesus was. He offers reasons not to deny the credibility of ancient sources that confirm Jesus’ existence, without addressing the contradictory elements of those same sources, which Ben specifically addressed in his original challenge. He does address Jesus not being mentioned by his contemporaries, but again offers no specific explanation as to why, only that the Romans omitted other important figures of the time.
      I’m sorry, but in no way does Dr. Ehrman’s essay met Ben Goren’s challenge. Not even close.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Ehrman has been ripped apart by Carrier and others in a recent book. Everything Ehrman says on the historicity of Jesus falls apart on every ground.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Suggest you check out Carrier’s evisceration of that HuffPo piece you find relevant:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667

      Ehrman has pretty much lost all credibility on this issue.

  20. Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    “He’s still a young man and there’s still a lot of baseball left in him. That said, the Mariners seem to be doing the right thing by removing him from that pressure cooker, allowing him to clear his head and to put his focus on the bigger picture in life.” — MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports regarding the “rebel commando” Jesus Montero.

  21. Kevin
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Great piece. Makes me think the Gospels are more akin to something written by bots. For popular, commercial, political, and sociological reasons, the Gospels have been spun to win the hearts and minds of people (at the time).

    The longevity of the story partly comes from people not recognizing that this type of capability existed millennia ago and that most, if not all, of the story of Jesus was already commonplace.

  22. Syrmatae
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Wait, so Paul met and argued with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. How do you meet the brother of someone who doesn’t exist?

    • Alex T
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Romans 15: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

      Matt 28: “Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.””

      Are these all biological relations? Mary must have been extremely busy.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      The RCC doesn’t believe Jesus had brothers or sisters, for that matter.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Search this thread for the extended quote from Origen. James was Jesus’s spiritual brother, same as a modern monk might be.

      b&

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Paul met with Cephas, the apostle, and James, the brother of the Lord. He does not say that they knew Jesus. The gospels say that Cephas/Peter knew Jesus, but Paul does not. You can’t read the gospels into Paul. Paul calls himself an apostle, and never met Jesus; when he talks about Jesus appearing to Cephas, he uses the same verb as the one he uses for his own vision of Jesus.

      As for James being the brother of the Lord, that’s a title that was given to all baptized Christians. All it implies is that the James he’s talking about is a Christian.

  23. Susan
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    My opinion of a plausible scenario:

    1. A bunch of wandering messiahs roamed around Palestine, attracting crowds and followers. Maybe one or more was named Jesus.

    2. Paul, desiring money, power and/or prestige, decided the co opt the wandering messiah meme and merge it with another popular fad of worshipping spiritual saviors. Paul may or may not have believed it.

    3. People started telling allegorical stories of the half mystical Jesus, pulling in stories of other wandering messiahs, elements of Jewish prophecy, and the expected elements of any self-respecting god-on-
    earth story (e.g, virgin birth). Some of the stories were written down. There were differing versions, but the main points were consistent in the same way everyone “knows” Robin Hood lived in Sherwood forest, not London.

    4. Somebody forgot to tell new converts that the allegories weren’t real. Later christians believed in one human Jesus. They then went looking for proof of the historical Jesus. Not finding it, they inserted bogus text into real documents and pretended statements calling christians gullible counts as proof of Jesus’s existence.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Paul, desiring money, power and/or prestige, decided the co opt the wandering messiah meme

      I’m curious: what passage(s) in the Epistles do you have in mind where Jesus is portrayed as a wandering messiah?

      I ask because I am completely unaware of any, and I’m sure somebody would have called it to my attention ere now….

      b&

      • Susan
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        I’ve read that there were a number of wandering messiahs in Palestine around that time. It is plausible that some had a following, and that the concept would make sense to the audience in the same way that a hippie might be “cast” in a tale set in California in the 1960s.

        I don’t know whether Paul believed Jesus was a real person or was entirely spiritual. Or maybe he changed the story to fit the audience.

        I don’t believe that there was one messiah named jesus in Palestine who rose from the dead any more than I believe there was one hippie in California named Mike who rose from the dead.

        Beyond that, my post is simply an uninformed opinion. No warranty expressed or implied.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          Beyond that, my post is simply an uninformed opinion. No warranty expressed or implied.

          If you’d like to become less informed, may I suggest?

          Start with the links I offered in the original post. Read them in their entirety. Then dig up any of the very common Christian apologetic lists of so-many sources that mentioned Jesus, and read them, too. When you get to Josephus, be sure to first read the passage from Origen I quoted elsewhere in this thread.

          I think you’ll come to realize that the notion that Jesus was real is unsustainable, and his mythical origins will become painfully obvious.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Susan
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            Thanks. I’m with you. I personally believe Jesus never existed. I simply don’t yet have the knowledge to defend that view, so it remains my opinion. The list of so called proofs waved around by christians is laughable. That alone proves to me they’ve got nothing.

            Most of what knowledge I do have comes from reading “Nailed” by David Fitzgerald. I enjoyed that book and found it convincing overall. However, if left me with a queasy feeling that the author glossed over some contradictory evidence here and there. Do you have any thoughts on that book. What other books do you recommend? Preferably something not too scholarly, because I will listening to the audiobook while watching munchkins play baseball or soccer (with enough attention on the game to cheer appropriately).

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

              Again…the best reading suggestions I can make are the original sources, all of which are readily available online in decent-enough English translations. Why trust somebody else to interpret the data for yourself when it’s so easy to verify independently?

              b&

              • Susan
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                For the same reason I read WEIT instead of a few hundred scholarly journals. Experts can put facts in context and differentiate between substance and noise. Few have the knowledge or the bandwidth for original research on every interesting topic.

              • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                And even reading the interpretations of them by a partisan (such as in Strobel’s book) makes one (with and open mind) realize that it’s all just bollocks.

                Or, more succinstly: What Ben said.

                🙂

              • Susan
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                Tomorrow, as I listen to audio books and ferry munchkins between ball fields, I will devote succinct thoughts to your kindly book recommendations.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

              Hi Susan:
              Thank you for the kind words. Right now I’m working on the follow-up book to Nailed (“Jesus: Mything in Action”)which will take on the arguments we hear from atheists who insist we have good reason to believe there was at least an ordinary guy named Jesus who began Xty.

              That said, if you were left with the feeling I glossed over anything, please do let me know – you are my target audience for the new book and I want to be sure I’m answering questions readers have. My e-mail is:

              everybodylovesdave (at)gmail (dot) com

              All the best,
              -Dave Fitzgerald,
              Author of NAILED and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion

              • Susan
                Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                Thanks! I’ll reread it this weekend. It was just an impression that some areas were less supported, but it could also be that I read it too quickly (or the munchkins were calling).

                You definitely left me convinced. The quote by Lucien sticks in my memory. I also was impressed by the discussion of the works that could have / should have mentioned jesus but didn’t.

                The lack of any evidence is in itself telling, given the early church’s desperation to find and keep every shred of evidence. The fact that they could find nothing, and kept Lucien rather than burning it says a lot.

                I was also left curious about the real beginning of christianity. Was Paul a fraud who created the myth out of whole cloth, or a nutcase or a sincere believer in something? Did the earliest christians think jesus was purely spiritual? Wikipedia’s discussion of the life of Paul was disappointing – straight out of Acts with barely a mention that there is no other support. It would be hilarious if Paul and Peregrinus were the same person, but unlikely since they lived a century apart.

                Thanks again. I’m looking forward to the next book.

  24. Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I’m impressed with this challenge, so I posted it on another atheist forum, where a commenter has taken issue with the questions. He’s given me permission to post his comments here, as long as his name is kept out of it, he says.

    No doubt you’ve had your questions bad-mouthed before, Ben, but this response may interest you.

    >>> Here are my answers to his questions, which are very badly composed:

    1. He was a random street preacher of little significance at the time.
    2. This is a largely fake question. The Gospels, both canonical and extra-canonical, are within “a century or so”. Acts and Paul’s letters are also within that century – even within 20 years. But it’s a fake question because they support a larger-than-life version of Jesus, and that fact does not disprove the actual mortal person who was underlying them. As the questions are written it is impossible to show the existence of Jesus, because to do so requires accepting at least some of the magical stuff added on to the stories of his life.
    3. Simple reason – that thing atheists pride themselves on – suggests that all the magical stuff associated with Jesus was added in later to buttress the story Paul wanted to tell about him. So I “pick and choose” based on what is reasonably plausible in the real world. It is reasonably plausible that a random street preacher named Jesus existed, was crucified, and had a small Jewish cult based on him run by his family, as the Bible suggests.
    4. See above. The premise of this set of questions is that Jesus did not exist because there is no single, consistent record of him without all the magical stuff. That is a false premise. That magical stuff was later added does not show, does not even indicate, that there was not a real, non-magical man on which the movement was based.
    5. Simple. Jesus was not a “larger than life” figure. He was just a random street preacher of little significance at the time, with no reason to be noticed by those historians. He was not in the Dead Sea scrolls because those are Jewish documents, not Christian, and Jesus is not an important figure in Jewish history or religion. He was not “spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.” Again, the premise of the question is fake. It assumes the truth of someone with attributes he did not have, then shows that anyone with those attributes must have been recorded in secular or Jewish history. Since the assumption is false, the question is misleading.
    6. Again, a fake question. Since Jesus was not “a well-known figure” during his time, he had only a small, insignificant family-run cult that followed him after his death. Just a like all the others, there is no historical record of him outside of the religion itself. There was no reason for it. <<>> Let us assume, as I do, that there was in fact an insignificant street preacher named Jesus. He had a small following during his lifetime, was crucified just like tens of thousands of other insignificant Jews in those days, and a small cult continued after his death, run by his family. Later Paul made up a whole lot of religious significance to his life, and the Gospels retro-fitted it with lots of magical and mythological stories that were not true, but were told in service of Paul’s religion.

    On that basis, there is a record of his existence and of the family cult in the Bible. Those references began within 20 years of his death. Also, on that basis, there was not any reference to him outside of Christian sources, because there was no reason for it. He did not have a “spectacular public career”, he was not of any particular significance during his lifetime – just enough to get him killed by the Romans, like the tens or hundreds of thousands of otherwise unnamed, unrecorded Jews of the period. He was not an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure.

    The requirement, “Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it” is impossible to meet, and should be impossible to meet if my assumptions are true. That it is impossible, again, reflects the nature of the source documents, and does not in any way suggest that there was not a real person on which they mythological elements were later hung. <<<

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I don’t think a response is called for here, necessarily, since this commenter would rather confine his direct remarks to the other forum. But his seems as good a (provocative) take as any and worth thinking about, at least.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      2. This is a largely fake question. The Gospels, both canonical and extra-canonical, are within “a century or so”. Acts and Paul’s letters are also within that century – even within 20 years. But it’s a fake question because they support a larger-than-life version of Jesus, and that fact does not disprove the actual mortal person who was underlying them. As the questions are written it is impossible to show the existence of Jesus, because to do so requires accepting at least some of the magical stuff added on to the stories of his life.

      This anonymous commentator’s entire thesis is, “I have no evidence supporting that Jesus was insignificant, only evidence that he was significant. But insignificant Jesus is consistent with the laws of physics and significant Jesus isn’t, so therefore all the evidence that he was significant is irrelevant. But I’m not going to discard that evidence; rather, merely rewrite it entirely so that Jesus is rendered insignificant.”

      Especially since he’s not interested in defending it personally, I see no reason why it deservers anything further than simply a dismissal as somebody who rejects the call for evidence or the need to defend it.

      b&

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        This anonymous commentator’s entire thesis is, “I have no evidence supporting that Jesus was insignificant, only evidence that he was significant. But insignificant Jesus is consistent with the laws of physics and significant Jesus isn’t, so therefore all the evidence that he was significant is irrelevant. But I’m not going to discard that evidence; rather, merely rewrite it entirely so that Jesus is rendered insignificant.”

        That pretty much sums up nicely the evidence for Jesus presented by many historicists.

  25. Syrmatae
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    As to whether the references to Jesus being the ben Damneus – why would Josephus refer to this Jesus by two different appellations in one passage – something he does nowhere else in his work. Also, why this “Jesus son of Damenus” would become great pals with the guy who killed his brother, which is what your interpretation requires of the text.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      The only mention of the Christian Jesus in that passage is as James’s biological brother. But we know explicitly from Origen (see full quote elsewhere in this thread) that James wasn’t Jesus’s biological brother but his brother-in-spirit — the same as a Christian monk today still is.

      Therefore, we know that the text is altered. In that light, two different Jesuses makes no sense, but a single Jesus with a Christian interpolation of “Christ” into the text makes perfect sense.

      b&

  26. Paul S.
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    WTF is this. “Let us assume, as I do, that there was in fact an insignificant street preacher named Jesus. He had a small following during his lifetime, was crucified just like tens of thousands of other insignificant Jews in those days, and a small cult continued after his death, run by his family.”
    So he’s saying there was a guy named Jesus who isn’t anything like the Jesus in the bible, but he was the Jesus in the bible?
    Seriously?

    • Paul S.
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      dangit, that was supposed to be a response to Don.

  27. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    An Atheist’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus
    by Neil Carter

  28. Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on bbnewsblog and commented:
    Do you believe Jesus was/is divine? Then Ben Goren’s Jesus Challenge should be something for you to meet.

    It’s quite simple. Ben Goren lists sex problems to solve/explain. These are:

    1) Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?

    2) Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.

    3) Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?

    4) There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.

    5) Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.

    6) Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

    BTW: Don’t forget to read Ben Goren’s own answers to these six questions/problems. And don’t miss all the comments; some of them are really interesting.

    • Mark R.
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but that typo gave me the lolz.

      “Ben Goren lists sex problems to solve/explain.”

      Hmmmm, what could those be? Well, the virgin birth for one.

  29. Richard Rosario
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    My essay is simple and in support of the proposition.

    There is absolutely no credible evidence beyond the insular citation of the bible that jesus Christ ever existed. Period. End of story.

    I have the bible, and Christian knowledge theologically to have this debate with anyone but I would not waste a second debating an insular proof that is so entirely flawed as to offer no proof whatsoever to the proposition in the first place. Thus, for me, any engagement in such is simply intellectually dishonest in the first place and Christian apologetics…which I am quite aware of and can answer any question on any scripture quite the way the Christian theologians, scholars and apologetics would…since I am familiar with all of their arguments and every one is lacking in logic and any type of substantiation even from their own text which they twist and turn to fit their prejudices. Even within Protestantism there are multiple interpretations and doctrines concerning major bible doctrines. I view all of these discussions as simply an exercise in mental self-stimulation for all participants and a nice ego stroke…puns very intended…I don’t know if I’m coming or going right now…no definitely coming…

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Theology: Examining one’s own thoughts and deciding what attributes one would like one’s god to have.

      • marvol19
        Posted September 6, 2014 at 2:04 am | Permalink

        Then compare notes with others who did the same, and discuss, ad infinitum.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    A very nice exposition! And I love how there are no takers.

    • wonderer
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that much of there being “no takers”. (Though I’d even disagree that there have been no takers, since some have already presented critiques here.)

      I did post about this thread on William Lane Craig’s forum in hopes of increasing the likelihood that there would be takers. You can read the response here:

      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/forums/choose-your-own-topic/the-jesus-challenge-6027427.0.html

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        As in the post, no takers that fulfill the criteria of the challenge. They all dodge out.

  31. Dermot C
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Ben,

    You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication. We are looking, instead, for explanation. The modern bibliography on Jesus’ existence is voluminous: it’s a question of reading it.

    1. Jesus was a preacher in Galilee in the early 1st century CE who probably died in Jerusalem.

    2. References: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Q, M, L, the author of the Gospel of Thomas, the writer of the Gospel of Peter, or of Papyrus Egerton 2, Papias, perhaps, maybe Ignatius, or the one behind 1 Clement, s/he who wrote Romans 1:3-4, the forger of 1 Timothy, the pseudepigraphist of 1 Peter, or of 2 Peter, the composer(s) of 1, 2 and 3, John, John the Revelator, the epistolator of Hebrews, the mind behind the Didache.

    3. The nub of the problem: the weighing of individual claims within the texts. This is not really about Jesus’ existence; it’s about the historical method.
    a) Discard miracles (Hume) but not the fact that contemporaries could really have believed them to have happened.
    b) Cultural coherence – what is contemporaneously credible (and believable to us) in the story? What does early Christian jargon mean?
    c) Literary influence – how similar are the NT and non-canonicals to contemporary genres?
    d) Theological development – what is the significance of the huge gap between interpretations of Jesus? From human to high, divine Christology.

    4. The question is not of contradiction, but of weighing of evidence. For example, that Jesus preached. Are preachers common in that era? Is there independent attestation of the fact or content of his preaching?

    5. The core of your cavalier attitude to the sources. You have repeated so many times the fact the Dead Sea Scrolls do not mention Jesus and I have responded so many times that they do not name any 1st century Palestinian. The secondary point is that your interpretation of Jesus’ fame is thoroughly imbued with modern lay-Christian imaginings and you set that up as a straw-man. There are 30 references in 4 centuries of Roman literature to Palestine from the 1st to the 4th century CE.

    6. Your criterion is not validation, it is . Can we assert Apollonius of Tyana’s existence on the basis of one extant source written 100 years after his death by Philostratus, based on the hypothetical Damis document and subsequently worshipped by the Roman royal family: and simultaneously deny the existence of a Jesus figure on the basis of several independent sources written 20-60 years after his death, based on several hypothetical documents and subsequently worshipped by the Roman royal family?

    On your Jesus’ mythical nature points:

    1. Crudely true, but how does the Jesus cult differ from Roman and Greek religion?

    2. Date for Justin is wrong. How do you know that Justin, Lucian were right about Jesus and everybody else wrong?

    3. True.

    4. How do you know how the Gospels were written?

    5. Wrong on Paul: he believed Jesus existed.

    6. All irrelevant if Jesus was a man.

    500.

    Slaínte.

    • Dermot C
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Missing from the first point 6. …it is by analogy.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication.

      In this case, it is both a pun and the literal first definition from my dictionary: a formal written defense of one’s opinions or conduct.”

      Jesus was a preacher in Galilee in the early 1st century CE who probably died in Jerusalem.

      …and?

      Have you any clue just how many preachers there were in Galilee? And you do realize, do you not, that every one of them who spent the last part of his life in Jerusalem died there, right?

      I’m sorry, but I can’t take seriously anything so vague. How are we supposed to pick your Jesus out of the literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who perfectly fit your description?

      b&

      • Dermot C
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        @Ben Goren,

        Me: You confuse the meaning of apologia. It is a vindication.

        Ben: In this case, it is both a pun and the literal first definition from my dictionary: a formal written defense of one’s opinions or conduct.”

        You wrote about apologia in the context of criticizing atheists who are historicists. It is not the first time you have done it and it is plain wrong. Just because I believe Stalin existed does not make me a Stalinist.

        Ben: Have you any clue just how many preachers there were in Galilee?

        No, not off the top of my head. But I do know many of the preachers who were in Palestine at the time: because I listed them for you.

        Ben: And you do realize, do you not, that every one of them who spent the last part of his life in Jerusalem died there, right?

        That’s a tautology. Of course they did.

        Ben: How are we supposed to pick your Jesus out of the literally thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who perfectly fit your description?

        The sub-clause is peculiar coming from you, Ben. You have previously described the sources for those preachers, miracle-workers, charismatic leaders as completely unreliable. Why are they now reliable? Or are you as usual flip-flopping on the sources in order to make a rhetorical point?

        My minimal definition of Jesus the man is entirely deliberate. I don’t think it is possible with absolute certainty that Jesus said or did this or that. For example, the Jesus Seminar could only attain 92% agreement that Jesus spoke about rendering unto Caesar. And that was the highest degree of their consensus. The question of what he actually said is bedevilled by the problem of circular reasoning: one’s interpretation of a real Jesus figure will colour one’s determination of what he said.

        There, I have answered all your substantive points.

        I count 14 of my substantive points that you failed to respond to. You may have done so elsewhere in the thread, to be generous, but you have form on this. Man is a pattern-seeking animal: I recall one interchange when you did not respond to 37 of my points. You do not answer points with which you disagree and you have done it again in the comments to your initial post.

        Your literary comparisons are severely atavistic. The last significant wave of Greek mythologizing (the NT was written in Koine Greek) occurred around 750-600 BCE. What was the significant literary form, 700 years later, in the 1st century philhellenic Roman empire? Historical writing. Fragments from 1,000 historians exist around the 2 or 3 centuries of Jesus’ time.

        Your historical method demonstrates spurious argument. Did Jesus exist? You say, ‘look at what Justin (ca.160 CE) and Origen (3rd century) say.’ Only if you propose that the Jesus story was made up just before Justin’s time would this have any weight on the man’s existence. And you have not produced a timeline.

        On the existence of a Jesus 100 years before our Jesus, I’ve read all of Philo and I don’t remember that at all. I could be wrong.

        More undue weight given to sources: Justin, Origen, Lucian. No explanation given of why they are to be privileged over others. Absolutely no indication of why Justin is more reliable than, say, Mark.

        A basic ignorance of Judaistic theological jargon. You show a modern understanding of the phrases ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of God’, even ‘Messiah’, ‘Anointed One’. Inability to distinguish between Philo’s ‘Logos’ (pre-existing, heavenly) and earlyish Christianity’s ‘Logos’ (animate, real).

        Constant appeals to analogy, often anachronistic, both to the past and the future. Ooh, look, isn’t this a bit like that? Therefore this did not happen. It does not cut it.

        A refusal to use best arguments for your case, possibly due to personal animosity towards me. For example, I’ve pointed out before that the most compelling argument against the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum is Photios’ failing to mention it. I don’t have space to detail the reasoning. But it goes once again to your capacity to weigh evidence and to produce arguments which go beyond satire into true historiography. Yet, then again, if the Testimonium Flavianum falls – and I think it should – so what?

        I accused you of arguing against a straw-man – the Empire-wide famous Jesus of Christianity. You do. All your arguments are based on this one allegation. You know, as well as I do, that this idea among serious Biblical scholars – and despite the uninformed and not serious comments of some in this thread, there is such a thing – is out of date by at least 180 years. It is ridiculously easy to argue against a world-renowned Jesus. Nobody in the field does it. Why do you? Apart from to get cheap laughs. Yes, I’ll get cheap laughs from Jesus: but in a satirical context. I won’t play fast and loose with the historical method. I suggest that you do the same.

        If you had submitted any of your posts to me as a 1st year Classical History under-graduate tutor, I’d ask you to re-write them, as you show minimal indications of having considered the weighing of evidence. And I would need a lot of convincing that your conclusions derived from the evidence: and not that your evidence derived from your conclusions. For nowhere do you consider all that we can know of the classical past: what possibly happened, what probably happened or what probably did not happen.

        Finally if you’re wondering why nobody has ever taken you up on your absurdly macho ‘challenge’ to argue for an historical Jesus, I can only think of Jane Austen’s Elinor in ‘Sense and Sensibility’, who ‘did not consider that he deserved the compliment of rational opposition’.

        Oh, that I had followed Ms. Austen’s advice.

        Slaínte.

        • Susan
          Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

          I too have noticed a trend that every answer, no matter how thoughtful, is eviscerated by Ben if doesn’t say what Ben wants to hear and use his words. I got rather tired of it half way though. There are some fascinating conversations to be had here if they weren’t being squelched.

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            I suppose I’m not the only one to notice that rudeness by Ben is just fine on this website, while rudeness to Ben is against “Da Roolz”.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Dermot, your post is already longer than what Professor Ceiling Cat tends to tolerate, and a point-by-point rebuttal on my part would both be longer and take me into the wee hours of tomorrow morning.

          So let me offer one single example that I think is a reasonable representative sample.

          Justin Martyr bitterly complained that evil daemons with the power of foresight planted imitations of Jesus amongst the Pagans generations, centuries in advance in order to lead honest men astray. One of the dozens of examples he cited was the Mithraic Eucharist as an imitation of the Christian Eucharist — and, therefore, inextricably, the Last Supper.

          Do you agree that the two ceremonies were, indeed, similar enough for such a charge to be leveled in the first place?

          If so, do you agree with his explanation for the direction in which the copying went? If you don’t agree, what is your own explanation?

          Let’s start with that.

          b&

          • Dermot C
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            Sorry, Ben, as it says at the end of some film noir, ‘It’s too late’.

            Some mythicists are worth engaging with. Carrier is. You are not. (I do recall you mistaking a quotation from Carrier for apologetics because it contained a discussion on the meaning of Judaistic theological jargon and several technical terms written in the original Greek).

            If I want to discuss historical questions earnestly, I’ll continue on the Classical History Forum and take seriously the several thoughtful commenters who appear on this site. And long may they do so, as long as they are not exasperated by the intemperateness of one of your replies.

            Slaínte.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

              You do realize, do you not, that most will take this post of yours as an unambiguous, unequivocal, and ungracious admission of defeat?

              b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                yup

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

                And there precisely is your problem, Ben. ‘Defeat’? ‘Challenge’? This is not a battle or sport. It is not about apologia or vindications. It is about explanation, a collective seminar in the search for truth, or as near as we can get to it. Not about being the loudest writer on the planet.

                Let me come to an end in words of one beat.

                I will not trust you if you lie. You lie in your point about the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you know that you lie. And I know that, too. So, if I can’t trust you, I see no point in a back and forth with you.

                When I point out that you do not know the source of a quote, that you think he is a man of faith, that you do not know that he holds Christ to be a myth, I am shocked. Then I laugh. And had I thought what you did, I would feel shame. You seem not to.

                For 2 years I have seen you shout, slight and slur. I have more things to do with my time.

                Bye bye, Ben.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

                You lie in your point about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

                I reject this accusation utterly. As I have repeatedly written, they are the actual pieces of parchment penned by actual Millennialist Jews living in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after all possible dates for Jesus’s ministry. They include the very prophecies Jesus was claimed to be fulfilling. They include diverse commentaries on the same subjects he preached about.

                What they don’t contain is Jesus.

                How many other individuals they do or don’t mention is irrelevant to all but apologists. If you’re writing a bunch of beatitudes, but not those beatitudes, and make no mention of Jesus Frickin’ Christ preaching his own Beatitudes to the masses who’ve just been fed by his table scraps…we know it’s because Jesus literally ain’t on your radar.

                b&

  32. JimV
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Other commenters above have restated the case I made in previous threads on this subject, which have not been answered to my satisfaction, so I’ll try to be brief. We (those commenters and I) don’t know whether Christianity had a founder named named Jesus; we don’t believe in the Jesus myths (walking on water, resurrection, etc.); we know Christianity existed as of sometime after the range of dates that have been historically accepted for Jesus’s death and was not known to exist prior to that time; cults like Christianity tend to have founders (e.g., Joseph Smith, Rev. Moon, David Koresh, etc.) to whom fictitious legends are attached; we see no reason that a person named Jesus might not have founded a small, insignificant cult which, just as a tiny quantum event may trigger the inflation of a universe, snowballed into today’s Christianity. We see no reason to defend the historicity of the Jesus myths, but equally see no compelling reason to deny that some Jesus existed, and perhaps the one with the philosophy of “let him without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Pharasee and others, and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Any so-called Bayesian estimate would have to factor in the consistency of that philosophy throughout many individual stories, its unusual nature for that time and place, the mention of Christianity by Josephus which (unlike the forged additions) is not disputed, and the afore-mentioned empirical tendency for cults who claim to follow the teachings of an historical individual to have actual founders whose name is what the cult members say it is.

    The mention by Sastra of a new piece of evidence from Carrier is potentially significant, but I would need much more information on it – you wouldn’t want me to take it on faith. Frankly, the obsessive insistence that the figure of Jesus must have been entirely fabricated approaches the status of a “true believer”, and we know that true believers are willing to make too much of evidence without considering alternative explanations for it, mis-interpret evidence, or even fabricate it to promote their worthy causes. Okay, that is too harsh, but remember what Feynman said about fooling yourself.

    To summarize, without knowing for sure one way or another, it seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity. Further evidence could change my opinion.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      To summarize, without knowing for sure one way or another, it seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity.

      Your position is not that of an historicist, but of an agnostic on the subject. That’s a kettle of fish of an entirely different color.

      b&

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        That’s a kettle of fish of an entirely different color.

        Is it the kettle or the fish that are of an entirely different color?

      • Jayso
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Can you expand on a bit on the distinction between the historicist and agnostic positions? I find JimV’s comment very persuasive. (At the same time, I’ve found your explanation of the anti-historicist position very clear and convincing.)

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

          An historicist is somebody who claims that Jesus was a real historical figure. An agnostic on the matter hasn’t come to a conclusion one way or another and simply says, “I don’t know.”

          Of course, we all have error bars, so drawing that line can get fuzzy. But, in practice, you generally only get people arguing for a position when they’re reasonably convinced of it….

          b&

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

            And, to your point Ben, when the error bars get so wide they encompass thousands of possible people, then … what’s the point? You really know nothing.

            I think all agree that there were people alive in Palestine at the date range in question who were named Jesus. So what? That fact carries now water.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      Agnosticism is okay, but as often I think we can do better.

      Two problematic points:

      cults like Christianity tend to have founders (e.g., Joseph Smith, Rev. Moon, David Koresh, etc.) to whom fictitious legends are attached;

      I’ve commented before and elsewhere here that there are two sets of religious “founder” personas:

      1) Historical persons, that happens to be scam artists and did their best to fictionalize legends about their own person. Those show up after the invention of the book press and a better coverage of documents

      2) Ahistorical personas, that do not meet the usual criteria for historicity. Most arise before writing permeates the area, they are century old oral legends written up. (E.g. Buddha, Mohammed, et cetera.) What are the chances that they were actual individuals as opposed to legends like trolls and fairies?

      The “Jesus” persona lives in a boundary where writing permeated the area just after the period, but is not exceptional seeing how many chinese sect founders with arguable (insufficient) historicity were placed in an environment with at least central documentation.

      Frankly, the obsessive insistence that the figure of Jesus must have been entirely fabricated approaches the status of a “true believer”,

      The insistence is on that we should have the same amount of evidence as when historical persons are accepted by historians. I would say that scientists, and so skeptics, are obsessed with evidence and insisting on it. There are reasons for that.

      This field is full of apologetics under the conflating name “biblical historians”, often placed at mixed religious and historical chairs. Consequently it is very hard for a layman to locate reliable historians, placed at historical sections of universities, that have published anything on the historicity of abrahamistic founder personas. If we listen to “biblical historians”, 99 % of the religious texts have a historical background. After some light reading on the archaeology of the area, I would say that 99 % of it is non-historical.*

      *It hits me that is another issue here. If 99 % is bull, why would the apriori likelihood on this specific point differ?

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I agree entirely. “It seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus founded the cult of Christianity.” That possibility does not require any extraordinary claims whatsoever. Could there have been such a historical Jesus? Sure! Do we *know that there was* such a historical Jesus? Nope. However, “We don’t know,” is a perfectly reasonable position *when we don’t know*.

      If you’re going to claim that there definitely was a historical Jesus, there is a burden of proof to meet–and Ben Goren’s challenge is a decent summary of that burden of proof. If you’re going to claim that there was not a historical Jesus, the burden of proof is equivalent–you need to demonstrate that *we know there was not such a person*. Until either burden of proof can be met, we are left with, “We don’t know.”

  33. Peter Robbins
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Some of this may have been covered above, but herewith is my off-the-top-and-without-doing-any-research response to Ben’s noble challenge:

    1. Jesus was an wandering preacher, with a small but devoted following, who created a minor disturbance in the Temple and was executed as a criminal.

    2. If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars I have read to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark. There might be other stuff, too, but I’m no expert. If by “positive” you mean “absolutely certain,” I am not absolutely certain of anything and don’t aspire.

    3. I assume some stuff in Mark got stretched a tad. To try to tell the sheep from the goats, I use as a rough guide the standard criteria described by Ehrman, Meier, Sanders, et al., in their books. (I assume you don’t need the cites.) Of course, these textual criteria do not result in certainties but only relative probabilities, and they don’t establish much that is even relatively probable.

    4. Already answered. For the requested example, I don’t think the rising of the saints in Matthew 27:52 actually happened. The event is impossible, Mark doesn’t have it, and his supporters have every reason to make Jesus seem more important than he was.

    5. Jesus’ immediate following was small, and I’m guessing an execution of a minor criminal in a distant corner of the Roman Empire was not considered such a much at the time. The larger-than-life miracle stuff is some of what I assume got stretched or made up later.

    6. I think King Arthur was probably based, very loosely, on an actual military leader who resisted the Anglo-Saxon invasion. I imagine his legends got stretched in much the same way as those in Mark.

    Having now discharged my responsive obligation to the best of my meager ability, and seeing as how I still have 223 words left, here’s bakatcha, Ben, with what troubles me about your theory:

    1. Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet? That’s like writing a review of book one hasn’t read, and who does that? And why does Paul apparently know a few concrete details (e.g., Jesus was killed) but only a few? If the character is entirely fictional, Paul should be able to make up all kinds of things. He certainly had the imagination.

    2. Why does the risen Jesus do so little? That seems like a real failure of the mythic imagination. Indeed, why are all of Jesus’ miracles, even the resurrection, such small potatoes by biblical standards? Plenty of people in the Bible, such as Tabitha and Samuel, return from the dead. Cures? Child’s play. Elijah and Elisha could do that. Again, this seem like a real failure of mythic imagination, but it is perfectly consistent with the way legends about real people get stretched here and there to fit somebody’s later agenda. In my opinion, you have to get to Revelation before some really mythic events occur.

    3. Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths? Why does every gospel writer and his uncle use the same hero at about the same time? They couldn’t think up their own characters? I can see how individual tales might recycle the same character but entire life histories? Why is the author of Luke so hyper about “correcting” the record? It’s myth. Who cares?

    4. Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth? I can see why one would stick legendary events into a real-life story to liven up the dull years, like young George Washington throwing the silver dollar, but not the other way around.

    5. Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures. Had to be a real person somewhere in there. Real mythical heroes do mighty deeds, slaying the monsters without to defeat monsters within. They don’t just gasbag and wait around for something bad to happen to them. That’s what real people do.

    I humbly await my thrashing.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars I have read to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark.

      Then we need consider no further. Origen debunked the Testamonium long before Eusebius forged it in Josephus’s name; see elsewhere in this thread for the passage. And Mark’s Jesus was no mere preacher who created a minor disturbance at the Temple; he was far, far, far more than that. Characterizing Mark’s Jesus as you did is like calling Luke Skywalker an orphan who grew up on an impoverished farm, as I indicated in the original post.

      Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet?

      Because he’s fabricating the fiction. Why did Joseph Smith comment on the significance of the angel Moroni?

      Why does the risen Jesus do so little?

      The same reason no other ascended Pagan demigod does: that’s the end of the story. Bellerophon rides Pegasus into the sunset (and Muhammad rides Buraq into the same sunset) just before the credits roll.

      Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths?

      It is. Paul doesn’t set the Crucifixion at the recent past; it’s the “archons of that age” or some other such turn of phrase. And the author of Mark is so far removed in time and space that he places events that happened in 70 CE when the Romans conquered Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion.

      Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth?

      Seriously? You must not have read any myths. It’s the oldest and most common technique in the book for adding verisimilitude.

      Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures.

      Again, seriously? Jesus’s sermons are only a small part of the Gospels. The rest of the time, he’s raising the dead, walking on water, battling the establishment, fighting the devil for the control of humanity. Have you even read the Bible?

      b&

      • Peter Robbins
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        No, the last one was joking, and yes, some of it, a long time ago. But bottom line: “beloved actual person inspired followers to record some of his sayings and doings and then later add some fantastic (albeit rather ho-hum and imitative) legends to his life story” seems to me a lot more plausible than “mundane speeches and events added to fantastic legends of completely imaginary character invented by other people decades earlier so as to make the fantastic parts seem more believable.” Can you give any other examples of the latter literary phenomenon? I’m willing to be convinced.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          First, what makes you think any of Jesus’s speeches are mundane?

          And can you really think of no example of that sort of thing in fiction?

          b&

          • Peter Robbins
            Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

            Touche. But I don’t think Hamlet was written so as to trick anyone into thinking the legendary character on which it was based really lived. For one thing, Shakespeare changed the name of the main character to make the play his own. I think the author had other aims than making the story seem more plausible. And the original character was not a mythical being with amazing superpowers who was brought down to size by the Bard. If anything, the opposite. Shakespeare threw in a ghost. And, finally, I don’t know for a fact that there wasn’t some factual basis for the original legend. We used to think the Trojan War never happened. Where there’s smoke there’s probably at least a little fire, that’s my working hypothesis.

            It was fun playing. Gotta run. The last word is yours.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

              But I don’t think Hamlet was written so as to trick anyone into thinking the legendary character on which it was based really lived.

              Okay. What about YHWH and all his obnoxious Commanding in the Torah? Dude doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.

              Indeed, are you aware of an holy text that doesn’t include some form of sermonizing? Much of the Q’ran is Gabriel dictating to Muhammad. I seem to remember Homer having the Olympians lecture to the Greeks. I’d be astonished if Moroni doesn’t do the same.

              b&

  34. Peter Robbins
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Herewith my off-the-top-and-without-doing-any-research response to Ben’s noble challenge:

    1. Jesus was an wandering preacher, with a small but devoted following, who created a minor disturbance in the Temple and was executed as a criminal.

    2. If by “positive” you mean “affirmative,” I rely on those portions of the famous Josephus passage that are believed by scholars to be authentic and on the Gospel of Mark. There might be other stuff, too, but I’m no expert. If by “positive” you mean “absolutely certain,” I am not absolutely certain of anything and don’t aspire.

    3. I assume some stuff in Mark got stretched a tad. To try to tell the sheep from the goats, I use as a rough guide the standard criteria described by Ehrman, Meier, Sanders, et al., in their books. (I assume you don’t need the cites.) Of course, these textual criteria do not result in certainties but only relative probabilities, and they don’t establish much that is even relatively probable.

    4. Already answered. For the requested example, I don’t think the rising of the saints in Matthew 27:52 actually happened. The event is impossible, Mark doesn’t have it, and his supporters have every reason to make Jesus seem more important than he was.

    5. Jesus’ immediate following was small, and I’m guessing an execution of a minor criminal in a distant corner of the Roman Empire was not considered such a much at the time. The larger-than-life miracle stuff is some of what I assume got stretched or made up later.

    6. I think King Arthur was probably based, very loosely, on an actual military leader who resisted the Anglo-Saxon invasion. I imagine his legends got stretched in much the same way as those in Mark.

    Having now discharged my responsive obligation to the best of my meager ability, and seeing as how I still have 223 words left, here’s bakatcha, Ben, with what troubles me about your theory:

    1. Why is Paul commenting on the significance of the life of a fictional character whose story has not yet been written yet? That’s like writing a review of book one hasn’t read, and who does that? And why does Paul apparently know a few concrete details (e.g., Jesus was killed) but only a few? If the character is entirely fictional, Paul should be able to make up all kinds of things. He certainly had the imagination.

    2. Why does the risen Jesus do so little? That seems like a real failure of the mythic imagination. Indeed, why are all of Jesus’ miracles, even the resurrection, such small potatoes by biblical standards? Plenty of people in the Bible, such as Tabitha and Samuel, return from the dead. Cures? Child’s play. Elijah and Elisha could do that. Again, this seem like a real failure of mythic imagination, but it is perfectly consistent with the way legends about real people get stretched here and there to fit somebody’s later agenda. In my opinion, you have to get to Revelation before some really mythic events occur.

    3. Why isn’t the Jesus story set in the ancient mythical past like other myths? Why does every gospel writer and his uncle use the same hero at about the same time? They couldn’t think up their own characters? I can see how individual tales might recycle the same character but entire life histories? Why is the author of Luke so hyper about “correcting” the record? It’s myth. Who cares?

    4. Why would anyone deliberately stick mundane events into a myth? I can see why one would stick legendary events into a real-life story to liven up the dull years, like young George Washington throwing the silver dollar, but not the other way around.

    5. Finally, and most importantly, only an academic would create a mythic hero who spends all his time giving lectures. Had to be a real person somewhere in there. Real mythical heroes do mighty deeds, slaying the monsters without to defeat monsters within. They don’t just gasbag and wait around for something bad to happen to them. That’s what real people do.

  35. Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  36. michaelfugate
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Q. Did Jesus exist?

    A. meh

    • marvol19
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 2:18 am | Permalink

      Well, to be fair, his followers ARE self-proclaimed sheep…

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Just what I was thinking. 🙂

  37. weareatheism
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I posted it to my Facebook page with nearly 15,000 fans. Let’s see if we can get you that answer.

    (BTW: Jesus was a myth. David Fitzgerald and Richard Carrier do an excellent job show how jesus never existed.)

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks! As I included in my email to Jerry when I sent the challenge to him, “Share and enjoy!” (And, of course, perhaps, also, go stick your head in a pig….)

      b&

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      I posted this on Canadian Atheist too which shows in the Ping back.

  38. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Unbelief in the miracles attributed to Jesus = unbelief in Jesus as depicted in the New Testament. The very many miracles allegedly performed by Jesus fundamentally define him as a person. Striping Jesus of his miracles makes him someone that cannot be conflated with Jesus. The search for the historical Jesus is a futile enterprise for anyone rejecting miracles. Such a researcher can at best find someone that has nothing to do with miracles. In other words nothing to do with Jesus.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      With this I agree.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Such a researcher can at best find someone that has nothing to do with miracles. In other words nothing to do with Jesus.

      So the quest to try to identify the historical basis for the King Arthur legends is pointless because the “real King Arthur” didn’t have a Round Table, a wizardry-devised conception, a tame wizard (Merlin), a Grail to quest for . . .?

      Similar legends, after all, surround the historical figure of Charlemagne.

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        How many coins did Arthur have minted?

        http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/g/gold_solidus_of_charlemagne.aspx

        The question isn’t whether myths accrued to historical figures. Vespasian cured blindness by spitting in people’s eyes, just like Jesus.

        The question is whether we have independent reason to think the person real — Charlemagne and his coins, for example — or if the person’s entire biography is fantastic (see Justin Martyr for details).

        b&

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          The question is whether we have independent reason to think the person real

          Agreed, but that isn’t the point that the commenter was making. S/he said that we can discount there having been a historical figure because we can discount the miracles. As you’ve just observed yourself, that’s nonsensical reasoning because, despite the attributed miracles, we know that Charlemagne was a historical figure.

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

            The difference is, strip the miracles away from Charlemagne, and you still have the coins and all the rest of the archaeological evidence plus lots of solid documentary evidence.

            Strip the miracles away from Jesus, and you’ve got the most noticeable mere mortal of the era. Strip that away, too, and you’ve got nothing.

            b&

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

              I absolutely agree with you, but that wasn’t the bit of reasoning to which I was responding.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

              Strip the miracles away from Jesus, and you’ve got the most noticeable mere mortal of the era. Strip that away, too, and you’ve got nothing.

              Unfortunately, this is not what the original commenter said. You might want to check back.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      The historicists — and you can see it in this thread — try to have their Kate and Edit, too: they claim that Jesus either was a magician who fooled his followers into thinking he was a miracle-worker, or that the miracles were absent from the get-go and added later to a Jesus who was exactly like the Jesus of the Gospels after you’ve stripped out everything supernatural.

      The problem with the first is that even a prestidigitator who could convincingly pull off the miracles of the Gospels still would have been the talk of the town…and the non-supernatural parts of Jesus’s story are every bit as spectacular (and often deliciously scandalous) as the supernatural parts.

      So, then, the historicists often take it a step further: Jesus not only didn’t even appear to do anything miraculous, but his actual biography didn’t even bear the slightest semblance to that in the Gospels…and, oh-by-the-way, his name might not have even been, “Jesus.”

      You know what the rest of the world calls that last scenario?

      “Mythmaking.”

      b&

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

      Nonsense, Nicolas. Anyone can accept that the people at the time believed that Jesus did marvelous works, but it does not follow that any Christian is bound to accept any more than that. People are believed to do miracles even now, but classical Christian theists believe in faith healing. Some of his miracles — such as his walking on water — is obviously symbolical, for the sea, in Jewish scripture, represents death and chaos (nothingness), and Jesus is shown, in this story, a sovereign over death and nothingness.

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Well, Eric, when did you become the expert on what parts of the Bible are metaphorical and which literal. What is it in scripture itself that makes you think that walking on the water wasn’t supposed to have happened, except for a rather unconvincing analogy to Jewish scripture. And tell me, is the Resurrection supposed to be real or symbolic, too? After all, pre-Jesus mythological figures were also resurrected. Maybe it’s just symbolic of a spiritual rebirth!

        Can you give us a list of which miracles are supposed to be real, and which metaphorical? I’d really like to see that!

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        It is true that not all Christians believe any given thing, but this is not a get-out to claim that any possible list of beliefs is not at least normative.

        (This is close to the “sophisticated theology” argument against The God Delusion, when common Christian beliefs I’ve observed in a quite mainstream CoE in London E17 include the full selection of miracles, Isaiah being echoed in Mark as evidence of actual prophecy rather than of Mark having been written with a copy of Isaiah to hand, and then there’s the creationists including one of the ministers. I know lots of Christians of the extremely erudite and knowledgeable variety, but they too concede that the run-of-the-mill Christian gets their belief system from Sunday school stories.)

  39. Posted September 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Over at Jesusneverexisted.com

    Kenneth Humphreys has an impressive history of, ” Jesus denial ”

    Demolishing the historicity of Jesus – A History

    For more than 200 years a minority of courageous scholars have dared to question the story of Jesus. Despite the risks of physical assault, professional ruin and social opprobrium, they have seriously doubted the veracity of the gospel saga, have peeled away the layers of fraud and deceit and eventually have challenged the very existence of the godman.

    Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768).1778, On the Intention of Jesus and His Teaching. [link] Enlightenment thinker and professor of Oriental languages at the Hamburg Gymnasium, his extensive writings – published after his death – rejected ‘revealed religion’ and argued for a naturalistic deism. Reimarus charged the gospel writers with conscious fraud and innumerable contradictions.

    Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778). [link] The most influential figure of the Enlightenment was educated at a Jesuit college yet concluded, “Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world … The true God cannot have been born of a girl, nor died on a gibbet, nor be eaten in a piece of dough.” Imprisoned, exiled, his works banned and burned, Voltaire’s great popularity in revolutionary France assured him a final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris. One story is that religious extremists stole his remains and dumped them in a garbage heap.

    Baron d’Holbach (‘Boulanger’) (1723-1789) Philosopher of the Enlightenment. 1766, Christianity Unveiled, being an examination of the principles and effects of the Chrisian Religion. 1769, Histoire critique de Jésus-Christ (Ecce Homo). Classics from the Age of Reason. Holbach concluded that:

    “Religion is the art of inspiring mankind with an enthusiam which is designed to divert their attention from the evils with which they are overwhelmed by those who govern them.” – Christianity Unveiled, 16.5

    Count Constantine Volney, 1787, Les Ruines; ou, Méditation sur les révolutions des empires (Ruins of Empires). Napoleonic investigator saw for himself evidence of Egyptian precursors of Christianity.

    Edward Evanson, 1792, The Dissonance of the Four Generally Received Evangelists and the Evidence of their Respective Authenticity. English rationalist challenged apostolic authorship of the 4th Gospel and denounced several Pauline epistles as spurious.

    Charles François Dupuis, 1794, Origine de tous les Cultes ou La Religion universelle (The Origin of All Religious Worship) Astral-mythical interpretation of Christianity (and all religion). “A great error is more easily propagated, than a great truth, because it is easier to believe, than to reason, and because people prefer the marvels of romances to the simplicity of history.” Dupuis destroyed most of his own work because of the violent reaction it provoked.

    Thomas Paine, 1795, The Age of Reason. Pamphleteer who made the first call for American independence (Common Sense, 1776; Rights of Man, 1791) Paine poured savage ridicule on the contradictions and atrocities of the Bible. Like many American revolutionaries Paine was a deist:

    “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of … Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.” – The Age of Reason.

    Robert Taylor, 1828, Syntagma Of The Evidences Of The Christian Religion; 1829, Diegesis. Taylor was imprisoned for declaring mythical origins for Christianity. “The earliest Christians meant the words to be nothing more than a personification of the principle of reason, of goodness, or that principle, be it what it may, which may most benefit mankind in the passage through life.”

    Godfrey Higgins (1771-1834). 1836, Anacalypsis – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions. English pioneer of archaeology and freemason.

    David Friedrich Strauss, 1835, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Lutheran vicar-turned-scholar skilfully exposed gospel miracles as myth and in the process reduced Jesus to a man. It cost him his career.

    Bruno Bauer, 1841, Criticism of the Gospel History of the Synoptics. 1877, Christus und die Caesaren. Der Hervorgang des Christentums aus dem romischen Griechentum. (in English translation). The original iconoclast. Bauer contested the authenticity of all the Pauline epistles (in which he saw the influence of Stoic thinkers like Seneca) and identified Philo’s role in emergent Christianity. Bauer rejected the historicity of Jesus himself. “Everything that is known of Jesus belongs to the world of imagination.” As a result in 1842 Bauer was ridiculed and removed from his professorship of New Testament theology at Tübingen.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841, Essays. One time Trinitarian Christian and former Unitarian minister held Jesus to be a “true prophet” but that organised Christianity was an “eastern monarchy”.”Our Sunday-schools, and churches, and pauper-societies are yokes to the neck.”

    Logan Mitchell, 1842, Christian Mythology Unveiled. 1881, Religion in the Heavens or Mythology Unveiled. “Reigning opinion, however ill-founded and absurd, is always queen of the nations.”

    Ferdinand Christian Baur, 1845, Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi. German scholar who identified as “inauthentic” not only the pastoral epistles, but also Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians (leaving only the four main Pauline epistles regarded as genuine). Baur was the founder of the so-called “Tübingen School.”

    Charles Bradlaugh, 1860, Who Was Jesus Christ? What Did Jesus Teach? Most famous English atheist of the 19th century, founded the National Secular Society and became an MP, winning the right to affirm. Condemned the teachings of Jesus as dehumanizing passivity and disastrous as practical advice. Bradlaugh denounced the gospel Jesus as a myth.

    Ernest Renan, 1863, Vie de Jésus (Das Leben Jesu / Life of Jesus). Although trained as a Catholic priest Renan was inspired by German biblical criticism and wrote a popular biography of Jesus which cost him his job (which he later regained). Renan concluded that the hero of the Christians was a gifted but merely human preacher, persuaded by his followers into thinking he was the messiah. Renan subsequently wrote a History of the Origins of Christianity in seven volumes.

    Sytze Hoekstra, 1871, Principles and Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists. Scholar of the Radical Dutch school, Hoekstra concluded Mark’s gospel had no value as a biography of Jesus. [link]

    Robert Ingersoll, 1872, The Gods. 1879, Some Mistakes of Moses. Illinois orator extraordinaire, his speeches savaged the Christian religion. “It has always seemed to me that a being coming from another world, with a message of infinite importance to mankind, should at least have verified that message by his own signature. Is it not wonderful that not one word was written by Christ?”

    Walter Cassels, 1874, Supernatural Religion – An Inquiry Concerning the Reality of Divine Revelation

    Kersey Graves, 1875, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviours. Pennsylvanian Quaker who saw through to the pagan heart of Christian fabrications, though rarely cited sources for his far-reaching conclusions.

    Allard Pierson, 1879, De Bergrede en andere synoptische Fragmenten. [link] Theologian, art and literature historian who identified The Sermon on the Mount as a collection of aphorisms from Jewish Wisdom literature.The publication of Pierson’s Bergrede was the beginning of Dutch Radical Criticism. Not just the authenticity of all the Pauline epistles but the historical existence of Jesus himself was called into question.

    Bronson C. Keeler, 1881, A Short History of the Bible. A classic exposé of Christian fraud.

    Abraham Dirk Loman, 1882, “Quaestiones Paulinae,” in Theologisch Tijdschrift. Professor of theology at Amsterdam who said all the epistles date from the 2nd century. Loman explained Christianity as a fusion of Jewish and Roman-Hellenic thinking. When he went blind Loman said his blindness gave him insight into the dark history of the church! [link]

    Thomas William Doane, 1882, Bible Myths and their Parallels in Other Religions. Outdated but a classic revelation of pagan antecedents of biblical myths and miracles.

    Samuel Adrianus Naber, 1886, Verisimilia. Laceram conditionem Novi Testamenti exemplis illustrarunt et ab origine repetierunt. Classicist who saw Greek myths hidden within Christian scripture. [link]

    Gerald Massey, 1886, The Historical Jesus and Mythical Christ. 1907, Ancient Egypt-The Light of the World. Another classic from an early nemesis of the priesthood. British Egyptologist wrote six volumes on the religion of ancient Egypt.

    Edwin Johnson, 1887, Antiqua Mater. A Study of Christian Origins. 1894, The Pauline Epistles: Re-studied and Explained. English radical theologian identified the early Christians as the Chrestiani, followers of a good (Chrestus) God who had expropriating the myth of Dionysos Eleutherios (“Dionysos the Emancipator”), to produce a self-sacrificing Godman. Denounced the twelve apostles as complete fabrication.

    Rudolf Steck, 1888, Der Galaterbrief nach seiner Echtheit untersucht nebst kritischen Bemerkungen zu den Paulinischen Hauptbriefen. Radical Swiss scholar branded all the Pauline epistles as fakes.

    Franz Hartman, 1889, The Life of Johoshua: The Prophet of Nazareth.

    Willem Christiaan van Manen, 1896, Paulus. Professor at Leiden and most famous of the Dutch Radicals, a churchman who did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. After resisting the argument for many years van Manen concluded none of the Pauline epistles were genuine and that Acts was dependent on the works of Josephus. [link]

    Joseph McCabe, 1897, Why I Left the Church. 1907, The Bible in Europe: an Inquiry into the Contribution of the Christian Religion to Civilization. 1914, The Sources of the Morality of the Gospels. 1926, The Human Origin of Morals. Franciscan monk-turned-evangelical atheist. McCabe, a prolific writer, shredded many parts of the Christ legend – “There is no ‘figure of Jesus’ in the Gospels. There are a dozen figures” – but he continued to allow the possibility for an historical founder..

    Albert Schweitzer,1901, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. 1906, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. The famous German theologian and missionary (35 years in the Cameroons) ridiculed the humanitarian Jesus of the liberals and at the same time had the courage to recognize the work of the Dutch Radicals. His own pessimistic conclusion was that the superhero had been an apocalyptic fanatic and that Jesus died a disappointed man. Famously said those looking for an historical Jesus merely “found a reflection of themselves.”

    “The Dutch Radicals did not forget to question, when questioning had gone out of fashion for the rest of theology.” – Geschichte der paulinischen Forschung, 108.

    Wilhelm Wrede, 1901, The Messianic Secret (Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien). Wrede demonstrated how, in Mark’s gospel, a false history was shaped by early Christian belief.

    Albert Kalthoff, 1902, Das Christus-Problem. 1907, The Rise of Christianity. Another radical German scholar who identified Christianity as a psychosis. Christ was essentially the transcendental principle of the Christian community which aimed at apocalyptic social reform.

    George Robert Stowe Mead, 1901, Apollonius of Tyana, the Philosopher-Reformer of the First Century A.D. 1903, Did Jesus Live 100 BC? 1907, The Gnostic Crucifixion. A discussion of the Jewish Jeschu stories which moves Jesus back to an earlier time.

    Thomas Whittaker, 1904, The Origins of Christianity. Declared that Jesus was a myth, that the Christian movement began only after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and that the whole body of New Testament writings date to the second century. How right he was!

    Emilio Bossi/Milesbo 1904, Gesù Cristo non è mai esistito (Jesus Christ Never Existed). Bossi was a radical lawyer/journalist (“Milesbo” being his pen-name). Jesus is a concoction from Tanakh and the mystery cults, and Jesus’s ethics are a patchwork from Philo and Seneca.

    William Benjamin Smith, 1906, Der vorchristliche Jesus. 1911, Die urchristliche Lehre des reingöttlichen Jesus. Argues for origins in a pre-Christian Jesus cult on the island of Cyprus. [link]

    Gerardus Bolland, 1907, De Evangelische Jozua. Philosopher at Leiden identified the origin of Christianity in an earlier Jewish Gnosticism. The New Testament superstar is the Old Testament ‘son of Nun’, the follower renamed Jesus by Moses. The virgin is nothing but a symbol for the people of Israel. From Alexandria the “Netzerim” took their gospel to Palestine.

    In 1907 Pope Pius X condemned the Modernists who were “working within the framework of the Church”. Among those denounced and excommunicated was Alfred Loisy (The Gospel and the Church, 1902), Catholic priest and theologian who made the pithy observation “Jesus announced the Kingdom, and it’s the Church that came.” An anti-Modernist oath was introduced in 1910, as well as the Confession for children – opening the door for rampant abuse.

    Prosper Alfaric (1886-1955) French Professor of Theology, shaken by the stance of Pius X, renounced his faith and left the church in 1909 to work for the cause of rationalism. 1929, Pour Comprendre La Vie De Jésus. 1932, The problem of Jesus and Christian Origins. 2005, Jésus-Christ a-t-il existé? [Jesus: Did he exist?] Alfaric drew attention to Essene antecedents of Christian dogma.

    Peter Jensen, 1909, Moses, Jesus, Paul: Three Variations on the Babylonian Godman Gilgamesh. Orientalist argued that Jesus was reworked Babylonian mythology. [link]

    Mangasar Magurditch Mangasarian, 1909, The Truth About Jesus. Is He a Myth? Erstwhile Presbyterian Minister who saw through the fabrication. “Even in the first centuries the Christians were compelled to resort to forgery to prove the historicity of Jesus.”

    Karl Kautsky, 1909, The Foundations of Christianity. Early socialist interpreted Christianity in terms of class struggle. [link]

    John E. Remsburg, 1909, The Christ: A critical review and analysis of the evidences of His existence. Gospels rife with contradictions. Doubtful that Jesus existed and a supernatural Christ is certainly Christian dogma.

    Arthur Drews, 1910, Die Christusmythe (The Christ Myth). 1910, Die Petruslegende (The Legend of St Peter). 1912, The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus. 1924, Die Entstehung des Christentums aus dem Gnostizismus (The Emergence of Christianity from Gnosticism). 1926, The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus. Eminent philosopher was Germany’s greatest exponent of the contention that Christ is a myth. The gospels historized a pre-existing mystical Jesus whose character was drawn from the prophets and Jewish wisdom literature. The Passion was to be found in the speculations of Plato.

    John Robertson, 1910, Christianity and Mythology. 1911, Pagan Christs. Studies in Comparative Hierology. 1917, The Jesus Problem. Robertson drew attention to the universality of many elements of the Jesus storyline and to pre-Christian crucifixion rituals in the ancient world. Identified the original Jesus/Joshua with an ancient Ephraimite deity in the form of a lamb.

    Edouard Dujardin, 1910, The Source of the Christian tradition : a critical history of ancient Judaism. 1938, Ancient History of the God Jesus.

    Gustaaf Adolf van den Bergh van Eysinga, 1908, Examining the Authenticity of the First Epistle of Clement. 1912, Radical Views about the New Testament. 1918, Voorchristelijk Christendom. De vorbereiding van het Evangelie in de Hellenistische wereld. 1930, Does Jesus Live, or Has He Only Lived? 1951, Early Christianity`s Letters. Theologian and last of the Dutch radicals to hold a university professorship.

    Alexander Hislop, 1916, The Two Babylons. Exhaustive exposure of the pagan rituals and paraphernalia of Roman Catholicism.

    Edward Carpenter, 1920, Pagan and Christian Creeds. Elaborated the pagan origins of Christianity.

    Rudolf Bultmann, 1921, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. 1941, Neues Testament und Mythologie. Lutheran theologian and professor at Marburg University Bultman was the exponent of ‘form criticism’ and did much to demythologise the gospels. He identified the narratives of Jesus as theology served up in the language of myth. Bultmann observed that the New Testament was not the story of Jesus but a record of early Christian belief. He argued that the search for an historical Jesus was fruitless: “We can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus.” (Jesus and the Word, 8)

    James Frazer, 1922, The Golden Bough. Anthropological interpretation of man’s progress from magic, through religion to science. Christianity a cultural phenomenon.

    Marshall J. Gauvin, 1922, Did Jesus Christ Really Live? Notable speaker in the Freethought movement questioned the very existence of a Jesus figure.

    Paul-Louis Couchoud, 1924, Le mystère de Jesus. 1926, La Première Edition de St. Paul. 1930, Jesus Barabbas. 1939, The Creation of Christ. Couchoud, a polymath, espoused an historical Peter rather than an historical Jesus and argued that the Passion was modelled on the death of Stephen.

    Georg Brandes, 1925, Die Jesus-Sage. 1926, Jesus – A Myth. Danish scholar identified the Revelation of St John as the earliest part of the New Testament.

    Joseph Wheless, 1926, Is It God’s Word? An Exposition of the Fables and Mythology of the Bible and the Fallacies of Theology. 1930, Forgery in Christianity. American attorney, raised in the Bible Belt, shredded the biblical fantasy.

    Henri Delafosse, 1926, L’épître aux Romains.1927, Les Lettres d’Ignace d’Antioche. 1928, “Les e’crits de Saint Paul,” in Christianisme. Epistles of Ignatius denounced as late forgeries.

    L. Gordon Rylands, 1927, The Evolution of Christianity.1935, Did Jesus Ever Live? [link]

    John G. Jackson, 1933, Was Jesus Christ a Negro? 1937, Introduction To African Civilizations. 1941, Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth. 1970 Man, God, and Civilization. 1985, Christianity Before Christ. Most influential Black Atheist drew attention to the Ethiopian and Egyptian precedents of Christian belief. [link]

    Alvin Boyd Kuhn, 1944, Who is this King of Glory? 1949, Shadow of the Third Century. 1970, Rebirth for Christianity. Jesus was never a person, but a symbol of the divine soul in every human being. “We are forced to the conclusion that the Christian religion was born out of a misreading of the cryptic ancient Scriptures, by sincere but unschooled minds.” (Rebirth, 87).

    Herbert Cutner, 1950, Jesus: God, Man, or Myth? Mythical nature of Jesus and a summary of the ongoing debate between mythicists and historicizers. Mythic-only position is continuous tradition, not novel. Pagan origins of Christ.

    Georges Las Vergnas, 1956, Pourquoi j’ai quitté l’Eglise romaine Besançon. 1958, Jésus-Christ a-t-il existé? [link] Vicar general of the diocese of Limoges who lost his faith. Argues that the central figure of Christianity had no historical existence.

    Georges Ory, 1961, An Analysis of Christian Origins. French scholar concluded “Jesus-Christ was not a human Messiah.” [link].

    Guy Fau, 1967, Le Fable de Jesus Christ. [link]

    John Allegro, 1970, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. 1979, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth. Jesus was nothing other than a magic mushroom and his life an allegorical interpretation of a drug-induced state. Not jail for Allegro – but professional ruin.

    George Albert Wells, 1971, The Jesus of the Early Christians. 1975, Did Jesus Exist? 1988, The Historical Evidence for Jesus. 1996, The Jesus Legend. 1998, Jesus Myth. 1999, Earliest Christianity. 2004, Can We Trust the New Testament? Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony. 2009, Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity. Christianity a growth from Jewish Wisdom literature. Wells remains one of the best known advocates of Jesus mythicism though his later books concede the possible influence of a real preacher via the postulated Q document. [link]

    Jean Magne, 1975, Christian Origins, I-II. 1989, III, IV. Logique des Dogmes, Logic of the Sacraments. 1993, From Christianity to Gnosis and From Gnosis to Christianity: An Itinerary through the Texts to and from the Tree of Paradise.

    Samuel Max Rieser, 1979, The True Founder of Christianity and the Hellenistic Philosophy. Christianity started by Jews of the Diaspora and then retroactively set in pre-70 Palestine. Christianity arrived last, not first, in Palestine – that’s why Christian archeological finds appear in Rome but not in Judea until the 4th century. [link]

    Abelard Reuchlin, 1979, The True Authorship of the New Testament. Conspiracy theory par excellence: Roman aristocrat Arius Calpurnius Piso (aka “Flavius Josephus”, aka “Plutarch”, aka “Manetho”!) conspired to gain control of the Roman Empire by forging an entirely new religion. OMG, really? [link]

    Nikos Vergidis, 1985, Νέρων και Χριστός [Nero and Christ] Greek scholar argues for Christian origins in Rome.

    Karlheinz Deschner, 1986-2004, The Criminal History of Christianity, Volumes 1-8. A leading German critic of religion and the Church. In 1971 Deschner was called before a court in Nuremberg, charged with “insulting the Church.” [link]

    Hermann Detering, 1992, Paulusbriefe ohne Paulus?: Die Paulusbriefe in der Holländischen Radikalkritik (The Pauline Epistles Without Paul). 2012, Der gefälschte Paulus – Das Urchristentum im Zwielicht (The Falsified Paul. Early Christianity in the twilight). German minister in the Dutch radical tradition. No Jesus and no Paul. The latter Detering identifies with the Samaritan sorcerer Simon Magus.

    Gary Courtney, 1992, 2004 Et tu, Judas? Then Fall Jesus! The Passion is essentially Caesar’s fate in Judaic disguise, grafted onto the dying/resurrcting cult of Attis. Jewish fans of Caesar assimilated the sacrificed ‘saviour of mankind’ into the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah. [link]

    Michael Kalopoulos, 1995, The Great Lie. Greek historian finds strikingly similar parallels between biblical texts and Greek mythology. He exposes the cunning, deceitful and authoritarian nature of religion.

    Gerd Lüdemann, 1998, The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did. 2002, Paul: The Founder of Christianity. 2004, The Resurrection Of Christ: A Historical Inquiry. After 25 years of study German professor concluded Paul, not Jesus, started Christianity. Lüdemann was expelled from the theology faculty at the University of Göttingen for daring to say that the Resurrection was “a pious self-deception.” So much for academic freedom. [link]

    Alvar Ellegard, 1999, Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ. Christianity seen as emerging from the Essene Church of God with the Jesus prototype the Teacher of Righteousness. [link]

    D. Murdock (aka ‘Acharya S’) 1999, The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. 2004, Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled. 2009, Christ in Egypt. Adds a astro-theological dimension to christ-myth demolition. Murdock identifies JC as a composite deity used to unify the Roman Empire.[link]

    Earl Doherty, 1999, The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? 2009, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Powerful statement of how Christianity started as a mystical-revelatory Jewish sect – no Jesus required!. [link]

    Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, 1999, The Jesus Mysteries. 2001, Jesus and the Lost Goddess : The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians. Examines the close relationship between the Jesus Story and that of Osiris-Dionysus. Jesus and Mary Magdalene mythic figures based on the Pagan Godman and Goddess.

    Harold Liedner, 2000, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth. Anachronisms and geographic errors of the gospels denounced. Jesus a fictional Joshua for a 1st century Judaic cult and Christianity one of history’s most effective frauds. [link]

    Robert Price, 2000, Deconstructing Jesus. 2003 Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? 2011, The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems. Ex-minister and accredited scholar shows Jesus to be a fictional amalgam of several 1st century prophets, mystery cult redeemers and gnostic ‘aions’. [link]

    Hal Childs, 2000, The Myth of the Historical Jesus and the Evolution of Consciousness. A psychotherapist take on the godman.[link]

    Michael Hoffman, 2000, Philosopher and theorist of “ego death” who jettisoned an historical Jesus. [link]

    Dennis MacDonald, 2000, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Professor of New Testament studies and Christian origins maps extensive borrowings from the Homeric epics the Iliad and the Odyssey by the authors of the gospel of Mark and Acts of the Apostles. [link]

    Burton Mack, 2001, The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy. Social formation of myth making. [link]

    Luigi Cascioli, 2001, The Fable of Christ. Indicted the Papacy for profiteering from a fraud! [link]

    Israel Finkelstein, Neil Silbermann, 2002, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. Courageous archaeologists who skillfully proved the sacred foundational stories of Judaism and Christianity are bogus. [link]

    Frank R. Zindler, 2003, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources. No evidence in Jewish sources for the phantom messiah. [link]

    Daniel Unterbrink, 2004, Judas the Galilean. The Flesh and Blood Jesus. Parallels between the tax rebel of 6 AD and the phantom of the Gospels explored in detail. ‘Judas is Jesus’. Well, part of Jesus, no doubt. [link]

    Tom Harpur, 2005, The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. Canadian New Testament scholar and ex-Anglican priest re-states the ideas of Kuhn, Higgins and Massey. Jesus is a myth and all of the essential ideas of Christianity originated in Egypt. [link]

    Francesco Carotta, 2005, Jesus Was Caesar: On the Julian Origin of Christianity. Exhaustive inventory of parallels. Alarmingly, asserts Caesar was Jesus. [link]

    Joseph Atwill, 2005, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus. Another take on the Josephus-Gospel similarities. Atwill argues that the 1st century conquerors of Judaea, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, used Hellenized Jews to manufacture the “Christian” texts in order to establish a peaceful alternative to militant Judaism. Jesus was Titus Flavius? I don’t think so. [link]

    Michel Onfray, 2005, Traité d’athéologie (2007 In Defence of Atheism) French philosopher argues for a positive atheism, debunking an historical Jesus along the way. [link]

    Kenneth Humphreys, 2005, Jesus Never Existed. Book of this website. Draws together the most convincing expositions for the supposed messianic superhero. The author sets this exegesis within the socio-historical context of an evolving, malevolent religion. [link]

    Jay Raskin, 2006, The Evolution of Christs and Christianities. Academic and erstwhile filmaker Raskin looks beyond the official smokescreen of Eusebius and finds a fragmented Christ movement and a composite Christ figure, crafted from several literary and historical characters. Speculates that the earliest layer of myth-making was a play written by a woman called Mary. Maybe. [link]

    Thomas L. Thompson, 2006, The Messiah Myth. 2012, Is this not the Carpenter? (Ed.). Theologian, university don and historian of the Copenhagen school who concludes Jesus and David are both amalgams of Near Eastern mythological themes originating in the Bronze Age. [link]

    Jan Irvin, Andrew Rutajit, 2006, Astrotheology and Shamanism: Unveiling the Law of Duality in Christianity and other Religions. Explores astrotheology and shamanism and vindicates John Allegro’s work with psychoactive substances. [link]

    Lena Einhorn, What Happened on the Road to Damascus? (2006). Swedish historian and proponent of the theory that Paul was the founder of Christianity and that “Jesus” was actually Paul. [link]

    Roger Viklund, 2008. Den Jesus som aldrig funnits (The Jesus who never existed). A Swedish scholar reaches the same inescapable conclusion: Jesus never existed. [link]

    René Salm, The Myth of Nazareth (2008). Scholar who primarilly focuses on deconstructing the claims for a historical Nazareth – and does so very effectively. [link]

    Thomas Brodie, 2012. Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Memoir of a Discovery.. Priest and former director of the Dominican Biblical Centre, Ireland concludes “Jesus did not exist as a historical individual” and is a literary reworking of the account of Elijah and Elisha. [link]

    Richard Carrier, 2012. Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. 2014, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason To Doubt. Erstwhile editor of Internet Infidels and activist for atheism argues for the use of Bayes’ Theorem as a way out of the befuddled mess that besets Jesus studies. Carrier establishes that probability favours the non-existence of Jesus. The alternative? A figure first conceive as a celestial being revealed through private revelation and scripture, written into allegory and subsequently misunderstood as a literal truth. In fact, just what mythicists have been saying for years but elegantly and comprehensively presented.[link]

    Raphael Lataster, 2013.There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. Religious studies scholar at the University of Sydney puts his head above the parapet. This former fundamentalist Christian concludes from the spurious evidence, Bayesian reasoning, and rigorous logic that the historical Jesus never existed. [link]

    Sid Martin, 2014, Secret of the Savior. Jesus as a cypher for Israel? Not a new idea but skilfully presented here by Sid Martin, who analyses the gospel of Mark with the thesis that not a man but Jewish history was his source. [link]

    – See more at: http://jesusneverexisted.com/scholars.html#sthash.7khScpKQ.dpuf

    • GBJames
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      There’s more?

      (Pretty sure that was a violation of The Roolz!)

      • Susan
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        That wall of text wants to be the next great wall of China.

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but an interesting bibliography.

        • GBJames
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

          Would not the URL, which was provided in the last line, suffice?

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

            Apologies. If I’d thought quicker I would have summarized it to just the authors and book titles. On the other hand sometimes I worry that websites like JNE might just disappear so I was swayed by the idea of keeping the list alive.
            In any case, my thanks to Ben Goren, I think he really nailed it in his article.

  40. Posted September 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Sigh. As always, I go to bed late when this post wasn’t posted yet, I wake up in the morning and it has got 197 comments already, so probably nobody is going to read mine.

    Well, I do not claim to have a very strong opinion on the issue; perhaps there really was no human being at the origin of the story. But the one thing that I cannot reconcile with that idea are the gospels. Why would anybody write them in the specific way that they are written if they didn’t describe a real person?

    The ‘teaching allegory’ is the best I have ever heard but it doesn’t convince. Why then, for example, put the claim into Jesus’ mouth that the world was going to end decades before the gospels were written? It doesn’t make sense unless that was really something that the doomsday preacher’s followers all knew he had said at some point.

    So:

    1. Jesus may have been a third rate cult leader with a few dozen to perhaps 200 followers whose sect only grew to significant size after taken over (and changed considerably) by Paul.

    2. I do not expect there to be such evidence because his cult would have been too small to register.

    3. & 4. I hope I do not have to explain why claims of Jesus being a supernatural being are out. The strongest argument against a human Jesus is that Paul doesn’t seem to have written anything that describes Jesus at that level of detail. This could be explained with the assumption that Paulites prosyletising among philosophy-educated Greeks and Romans thinking “nah, Cartullus does not need to know the stories about the cursed fig tree and our leader’s racism, that would only put him off; the important thing to convince him of is the theological message anyway”. That idea is much more plausible than the inverse ‘teaching allegory for the unwashed masses’ story for explaining away the gospels.

    5. His followers exaggerated his abilities and importance because they were his cult followers. Same thing happens with other cult leaders. Duh?

    6. Many other people must have lived for whom we do not have any evidence either. You could just as well ask me where my evidence is that there was at least one baker in Sparta in 200BC – I can reasonably conclude that there would have been one from considerations of overall plausibility, and in the case of Jesus the gospels do not seem plausible without a person at their core.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I hope you’ll pardon me if I suggest that that’s not exactly an overwhelming case for historicity. Indeed, if that’s the strongest case that can be made, I think most could conclude that a Jesus such as you describe could just as easily be substituted with an entirely fictional one and nobody then or now would have noticed the difference — again, a situation most would describe as a mythical origin. After all, by your own description, nothing at all of the “original” Jesus survived….

      As to why the Gospel authors wrote of an already-failed prophecy…it’s clear that allegory was strong with them, and that the Passion narrative was at least in part a not-really-veiled allegory of the Roman conquest of Judea — the rending of the curtain in the Temple being an unmistrakable clue. It’s not at all a stretch to suggest that the authors considered the end times to be happening all around them as they wrote, so the prophesies you refer to were either then being or about to be fulfilled. Very, very similar modern parallels exist with the Jehovah’s Witlesses and their Awake! garbage bin stuffers — and they’re far from the first to do that sort of thing. Or the last…look at Harold Camping…or World Nut Daily…or any other “Seven Signs the Apocalypse is Already Upon Us!” rag….

      b&

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        Pardon me if I cannot make an overwhelming case – I am not overwhelmingly convinced myself but merely ‘on balance’. But again, I don’t have any hard evidence for the existence of a specific tribal chief of the Aboriginals of the Botany Bay area in 5,000 BC either but it seems reasonable to assume that such a chief existed.

        Your take on the gospels is to go for allegory. Well, that just doesn’t convince me. Revelation reads like allegories; the gospels read like the embellished life story of a human.

        • Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Your take on the gospels is to go for allegory.

          Not in their entirety, of course. There’s lots of straight-up mythologizing, and lots more simply putting the author’s words in Jesus’s mouth for rhetorical effect.

          But, Shirley, you’re not going to claim that the Gospels are devoid of allegory, are you? That would be a most bizarre claim….

          b&

          • Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            No, but why would Jesus standing in front of his followers and telling them that the world was going to end in their lifetime be allegory?

            Harold Camping, who you mention yourself, is precisely the point – he really existed, really believed that stuff and really told it to his followers. Real life minor sect leaders like him are exactly my model of what a historical Jesus could would have looked like once the supernatural nonsense and pagan / neoplatonic syncretist additions are removed.

            • Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

              Harold Camping quotes Jesus as his supreme authority for his predictions. The Gospel authors quoted Jesus as their supreme authority.

              Your objections are no different from claiming that, because Harold Camping is real, therefore Jesus must be real.

              Get back with evidence not of the Bible, not of the authors of the Bible, but of Jesus himself, and you might have a point…

              …and that’s the whole point of the exercise!

              b&

    • Susan
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      Alex – you have at least one reader other than Ben.

      I think this is plausible. Either Paul borrowed a composite of Jewish wandering messiahs to build his cult on, or there was one named jesus. Either way, Paul’s jesus bears no little or no resemblance to any real person.

    • marvol19
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      I read your comment too =). And I’ll stick my own brief reply here.

      A lot of people seem to confuse two related but different statements:
      “there lived people like Jesus on which the gospels (&c) could be based”
      and
      “the gospels are based on one such actual figure”

      The problem is that, for 99% of all fiction, the first statement is true, but this of course does not automatically lead to the second being true.

      It is a given that St Petersburg existed in the 19th c., that there were students, bars, landladies, a police department, and murders being committed. None of this is positive evidence that Crime and Punishment is based on a historical Raskolnikov; it is at best consistent with it.

  41. Keith Cook
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Point number 5 interests me, how could the son of god attract so little attention from the scribes of the day. Beyond that I can only answer with a question and slightly left of field at that.
    Can you have a virgin birth?
    No you cannot, so no Jesus.
    However, in the mythical sense, you can have as many as like.

    • marvol19
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      The virgin birth, though, is plausibly a mistranslation from Greek (with the same word for “virgin” and “young woman” – OK don’t ask why it is worth mentioning that somebody was born of a young woman).

      I also thought not every gospel even mentions the virgin birth.

      All of this doesn’t take away from the fact that I also don’t think Jesus existed…

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 67:

        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. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.

        Cheers,

        b&

  42. lezurk
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    There is something circumstantial about the Jesus story that has always bugged me: why didn’t Jesus stick around after he rose from the dead? Instead he disappears like a brother-in-law who owes you money. Did he have pressing needs in heaven? Was he on a messiah tour of all the planets in the galaxy and his schedule was really, really, tight? But sticking around would have also made moot the necessity of a second coming, as many Christians believe is imminent; to finish the job he should have done right the first time around. The Jesus “victory” tour to Rome would have avoided the crusades, the inquisition, pogroms, genocide, and many wars as it would have virtually guaranteed a one world religion even amongst the most skeptical. Along the way people healed, demons cast out, and thousands of togas sold with “Jesus Tour 33 AD” printed on them. And all the wine, bread, and fish you could possibly want! He could have let himself be crucified a few times along the way to prove his divinity. By the time he got to Rome the crowds following him would have been miles long. That messy “revelations” scenario could all have been avoided. But noooo!

  43. Posted September 5, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Having now read through the comments:

    – My previous #6 is more or less what Michael Johnson argued above. If the same criteria that some mythicists apply to Jesus are applied to all humans, we would have to conclude that world population in antiquity was a few thousand people, and nobody in particular lived in the Americas, subsaharan Africa and Australia.

    – There are several cases – including Ben replying to Pamela Turner – where people reject the hsitoricity of Jesus because if he had existed his huge magical powers would surely have been mentioned by contemporary writers. Seriously? That is the fallacy of the excluded middle. The question is not whether there was the Son of God or nothing; there could have been a non-magical minor cult leader whose followers merely claimed he was magical. Is that “the Jesus of the Gospels”? Well, good question. But Christians come in different types, and I have met many people in my home country who see him merely as a great moral teacher, not as a divine being.

    – Some people make the argument that the gospels could have been something like novels (James Bond was used as a model). The questions are: Did that genre exist in antiquity? And do the gospels look like novels?

    – It has been pointed out that the Jesus cult incorporated many pre-existing elements, again as evidence for mysticism. But that merely shows that contemporary Christianity is a syncretist religion. For comparison, when Joseph Smith invented his religion, he also copied elements of pre-existing Christianity. If all historical documents mentioning him except the Book of Mormon were lost, would such copying be evidence for the non-existence of a historical Joseph Smith?

    – Not sure if anything can be improved about what Pamela Turner and Don wrote.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      If the same criteria that some mythicists apply to Jesus are applied to all humans, we would have to conclude that world population in antiquity was a few thousand people, and nobody in particular lived in the Americas, subsaharan Africa and Australia.

      Oh, what nonsense. We’ve got literally mountains of archaeological evidence for all those people.

      What we don’t have — despite the claims of historicists — is evidence that one specific real person was somehow the basis for the Jesus story. There’s even agreement that the overwhelming majority of the Jesus story is pure fiction; yet, despite utter lack of evidence for historicity and extant evidence sharply contradicting claims of historicity…we’re somehow supposed to take it on faith that this one random schmuck was somehow the real basis for, literally, the greatest story ever told.

      There are several cases – including Ben replying to Pamela Turner – where people reject the hsitoricity of Jesus because if he had existed his huge magical powers would surely have been mentioned by contemporary writers.

      No.

      Pamela was describing a popular prestidigitationist. It matters not whether the amazing feats of such a person were actually miraculous or mere act; somebody like that would have been exhibit A for many, especially including Pliny the Elder.

      Either people thought he was a miracle-worker consistent with how the Christians described him, in which case he would have been noticed; or the proposed Jesus wouldn’t have been recognized by the Christians as their Jesus but instead just some random schmuck.

      Some people make the argument that the gospels could have been something like novels (James Bond was used as a model). The questions are: Did that genre exist in antiquity? And do the gospels look like novels?

      Are you kidding?

      Did you never read Homer?

      Did you not even glance at the link to Justin Martyr’s First Apology I posted above?

      If you’re so ignorant of the subject, why are you confident in your conclusions?

      If all historical documents mentioning him except the Book of Mormon were lost, would such copying be evidence for the non-existence of a historical Joseph Smith?

      AARRGGHH!!

      Joe Smith is not the parallel to Jesus. Joe Smith is the parallel to the authors of the Biblical texts. Moroni is the parallel to Jesus!

      If all that was left of Moronism was the Book or Moron, would you think that the Angel Moroni could even hypothetically have been an historical figure!?

      b&

      • Posted September 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        Susan,

        Thanks.

        Ben,

        literally mountains of achaeological evidence

        Okay, you claim that this is the difference between archaeological evidence for the existence of some unspecified people and evidence for one specific person. Well, the major of some minor town in Gaul in 30 CE would not have left any traces of their very specific existence either, but somebody would have governed that town, so we can easily infer the existence of such a specific person ‘major of Whateverdomum’. In the case of Jesus, a cult was founded and people wrote down sayings of a guy called Jesus, so one might be tempted to reasonably infer a source of the cult and of those sayings.

        Either people thought he was a miracle-worker consistent with how the Christians described him, in which case he would have been noticed; or the proposed Jesus wouldn’t have been recognized by the Christians as their Jesus but instead just some random schmuck.

        I have no idea where you get that from. Is it that different from any other myths growing around cult founders? Mohammed was said to have conversed with angels and travelled to the moon with his horse; contemporary cult leaders are believed, by their followers, to be able to heal miraculously or to survive for years without eating. Does that mean they could not possibly have existed or exist, respectively?

        Did you ever read Homer?

        I am not sure that Homer works as a novel. When I was younger I was taught that what he wrote what would have been considered history, or at least embellished history, by his audience.

        Justin Martyr / confident

        First, I am not confident, I lean towards a certain conclusion and merely believe that you are over-confident in the other direction. As for Justin Martyr, see my remark about prosyletising among more educated people above.

        Moroni is the parallel to Jesus!

        That is kind of begging the question, isn’t it? And no, of course the angel would not have been a real person because we do not have any evidence that that class of beings exists. In marked contrast, I might add, to the class of raving third rate doomsday cult leaders, which certainly is well populated with real people!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

          =D =D =D

          Sorry. I just thought it was funny that we have started to challenge the challenge, as predicted by Ben.

          In the case of Jesus, a cult was founded and people wrote down sayings of a guy called Jesus, so one might be tempted to reasonably infer a source of the cult and of those sayings.

          I have to agree with Ben. The question about historicity is not relevant to estimating the number of people living in a historical area or similar questions.

          The latter is best answered by genome sequencing, the former is a historical method not able to rope in every living human but such that historians may record for whatever value it has. (I think most people agree that the question of existence of religious founder personas does not matter. Except that people hijack science under the name of “scholars”.)

          Such cult sources, when we go that far back, are without exception arguable or already rejected as based in historical persons. If we look at the process, new cults evolve out of old, like languages and culture evolve.

          [I think there is a historical theory that historical persons can affect or have affected history. That is an iffy question, I’m sure, but it seems we don’t have to step into it here. Unless one can make a solid case that sects diverge differently than other cultural phenomena.

          And, come to think of it, why would people insist on the problematic method to hook myths onto actual persons? It is much easier, as early christians are known to have done and that today’s sect leaders are known to do, make shit up. If there were a smidgen of fact underlying sects, we wouldn’t have the plethora of sects we have.]

          It is a quirk of history that modern sects are sourced by identifiable individuals, the invention of dense documentation. Looking at that as factual longer back is both selection bias and erroneous: as Ben notes, Smith used Moroni as fictive founder. Maybe we should say that there is a conflation between source and founder fiction. If so, the question is resolved, no founder fiction was based in non-fiction.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

          And no, of course the angel would not have been a real person because we do not have any evidence that that class of beings exists.

          Talk about missing the point.

          1) Sure we have evidence; the testimony and works of Joseph Smith. The quality of this evidence may be questioned, but not its existence.

          2) We also do not have any evidence (same usage as in your comment) that the class of being: “God/Son of God who was tried by the Romans, was crucified, and rose from the dead, then ascended into Heaven” exists. So, in a parallel manner, we can dismiss the existence of Jesus. Right?

          Or: since we are digging into whether Jesus actually existed as a human who was at the root of the mythology that grew up around Him, we could ask the same questions about the angel Moroni. OK, so maybe he wasn’t an angel. Maybe he was just a guy. The whole angel thing, and the delivering Mormon scripture to Joseph Smith were just embellishments, but that is no cause to question his basic existence.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

          Did you never read Homer?

          I am not sure that Homer works as a novel. When I was younger I was taught that what he wrote what would have been considered history, or at least embellished history, by his audience.

          So, to answer the question you were asked, no, you’ve never read Homer for yourself. (In translation or not.)
          It’s been a few decades since I read Homer, Iliad and Odyssey, for myself. It’s only a few months since I last listened to Odyssey as an audiobook. (The same month I listened to Hiawatha on CD.)
          I don’t have any problem listening to Homer as novel. It’s also a series of philosophical commentaries on the duties of host to guest, and guest to host, and a lot of other things. Meanwhile the Lord of the Rings is an allegory on global war, and there’s probably some deeper meaning to the Potter Chronicles.
          But since you haven’t read Homer, you wouldn’t know that. (We’re talking about the Greek dude, BTW, not Mr Simpson.)

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            Especially Odyssey is a pretty entertaining read even today. Once you get used to the format and the poetic language, it’s a real page turner.

            Iliad is ok, but gets boring at times, plus there is too much gore for my taste.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

              For ancient epic poems I like The Aeneid, The Odyssey then The Iliad in that order. I suspect I like The Aeneid best because I read it in high school Latin class then many times in university courses where I could connect it to my favourite emperor, Augustus. The Iliad loses points for listing all those damn ships! There were a lot of people coming to the war, we get it! I don’t think I did Iliad site tests for Ancient Greek classes; I can only recall the Odyssey one, which was the passage where Odysseus is spotted by the maidens on the shore. I must say, it is a bit steamy.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

                1. Odyssey
                2. Iliad
                3. Aeneid
                for me.

                Best line? The Iliad’s Priam begging Achilles to stop desecrating the body of Priam’s son Hector, “I kiss the hand of the man who killed my son.”

                Oddest degree of separation nugget? Josephus had the Aeneid’s Dido as the Biblical Jezebel’s great niece.

                Slaínte.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

                Yes, the taking of the hands of Achilles like that I think was very touching.

                In the Aeneid, I liked how Dido wanted nothing to do with Aeneas when he sees her in the underworld. She was annoyed with him even in death.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                Yeah, Dido and Aeneas in the underworld is my favourite bit: call me an old romantic. Structurally, for us moderns I think that is my problem with the Aeneid, as the Aeneas/Dido tale occurs a third of the way through and is the emotional climax of the story. Less dramatically moving for me is the subsequent Augustus-inspired paean to the founding of Rome myth, the events in Italy.

                In the Iliad, the ‘I kiss the hand of the man who killed my son’ line (great translation – stark, pathetic and monosyllabic) comes at the end. It is the emotional and narrative climax: a simple plea that undermines all the heroics of the previous 23 books. Quite brilliant.

                Slaínte.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                Of course, I liked the Augustus tie-in — more evidence to Augustus’s propaganda efforts. He was such a virtuoso at it.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                Virtue did not come into it! Ho, ho. I always felt sorry for Ovid, exiled by Augustus. God knows why. Quite literally, in this case.

                On the subject of rulers of the world, do you know of the archaeological dig currently at Amphipolis in Alexander the Great’s Macedonia? It is of a huge tomb, 10 times bigger than Philip of Macedon’s just post-dating Alexander’s death, probably of someone very high in the hierarchy (but not of A himself). This could be as big as Tutankhamun.

                Google ‘Greek Reporter’ and they have reports as the dig slowly unearths the treasures. Very exciting.

                Slaínte.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Thanks – I’ll take a look.

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            My favourite part of The Iliad is when poor old father of Hector takes Achilles big ol’ soldier hands and begs him to let him bury his son. Very touching for a poem that isn’t meant to be touching like that or at least isn’t over flowing with sentimentalism.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

              Yeah that’s a good scene. My favorite scene is a bit more “shallow”. It’s somewhere in the beginning, the two armies are facing each other and it was decided that each army should choose a representative, the representatives would fight each other, and the result of the fight would determine the outcome of the war. The Trojans choose Paris and the Acheans Menelaus (the cuckloaded husband of Helen). So the handsome Paris starts walking towards the specified place of the duel, all graceful and prideful with elegant weapons and armor, but as soon a Menelaus sees him lets out a great cry and runs towards him, at which point Paris drops his beautiful arms and runs back towards his comrades. This was a violation of the truce so the war continued. I may have gotten the details wrong since it’s been a while since I last read Iliad, but I still have in my mind the vivid image the Homeric descriptions evoked. I also remember laughing by myself while reading the scene in a somewhat crowed coffee place and people giving me strange looks.

              I haven’t read the Aeniad, can you suggest any good translations?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

                I don’t know if this is a good translation or just sentimentalism as it was my first introduction to the Aeneid but I like the Oxford paperback version . I try to avoid anything where there is an attempt at rhyme in English. I must’ve had another version that I used in Uni but I’m not sure where it is.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              Host-guest obligations and vice versa. By being invited into Achilles’ home (tent), Priam is a guest and Achilles is obliged, on pain of impiety, to accommodate his reasonable requests.
              Being part-immortal, appealing to Achilles humanity might not get the desired outcome.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Sure but up until this point Achilles was being very wrathful and naughty by desecrating Hector’s body. We aren’t entirely sure he will be nice to the old man and the appeal I think is the one tiny piece of sentimentality in a work not known for being sentimental.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

                There is also the scene in book 6, between Hector, his wife Andromache and son Astyanax prefiguring Hector’s death: I think Hector is the only character of whom we see 3 generations of his family. Greeks again showing their penchant for viewing things from the other side. Cf. Aeschylus’ ‘The Persians’. Contrast the oldest part of the Bible, the victory hymn ‘The Song of Deborah’ in Judges 5:2-31, gloating over its enemies, cursing conscientious objectors, and female tent-dwellers murdering those who ask to be guests, perhaps 400 years earlier than Homer.

                Slaínte.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                I have to say, it’s with some guilt, that I laughed at the Hector death scene when I first read it. Clearly, I have no soul.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted September 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                desecrating Hector’s body.

                Living down to his godly heritage.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          Torbjörn Larsson,

          Well, obviously one would have to challenge a challenge if it doesn’t make sense. What would you say if somebody asked you to demonstrate that crocodiles sometimes give birth to ducks so that they accept the truth of evolution? (Not that this case is anywhere near the same level, of course, but a strawman is a strawman, be it crocoduck or widely famous magical Jesus.)

          Not sure how I have to understand you, but are you implying that Buddhism, Islam, Scientology, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Sikhism etc. did not have founders, and that we should therefore conclude that Christianity could not have had a founder either?

          Reginald Selkirk,

          Again, I am not saying that I am sure that there was a real life Jesus, but all this stuff about Moroni and suchlike does not help me understand why the gospels exist. Book of Mormon says, “angel”, and we immediately understand: fictional being, right out of the gate. Gospels say: “this guy walks around Palestine and he can do magic, and by the way, this is his list of ancestors, and this is his place of birth”. That at least leaves the possibility open that there was an afterwards embellished human, and the similarity of his rants, predictions and obsessions – the end is nigh! leave your families and follow me! those who reject me will burn! – with other doomsday preachers makes it even more plausible, and the alternative explanations less so.

          gravelinspector-Aidan,

          The question is not whether you read Homer as a fantasy novel but whether it was meant to be understood as one in its time.

          By the way, it sounds as if it is probably less long ago that I read Homer in school than you then. I am starting to wonder why contributions that boil down to a simple “don’t be too sure about mysticism, there are still a few things that seem more plausible with a person at the beginning of it” invite such condescension and aggressiveness. Can you be so sure that you are right in a case that does not involve any tangible evidence either way that this is called for? And how much does it matter if we are all agreed that he wouldn’t have had magical powers anyway?

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            Alexander, my challenge is no more than a bog-standard request for a scientific formulation of a theory. Present your theory unambiguously, make predictions based on that theory, and compare your predictions with evidence.

            If that doesn’t make sense to you, if it seems unreasonable…then all of science must be a closed book to you.

            b&

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

              Muhammad (below)
              Present your theory unambiguously, make predictions based on that theory, and compare your predictions with evidence.

              The problem is, you are seeing it as a hypothesis test, with the null hypothesis being that every historical character who did not (like Joseph Smith) author their own book or did something sufficiently big to leave buildings or battlefields behind, and especially every historical character to whom some unrealistic things are attributed, was utterly, totally and wholly invented.

              First, that does not appear to be a reasonable null hypothesis to me, but in fact a rather extreme approach, especially because you appear to be able to think only in black and white, in either supernatural real life person or no person at all, with no room for the possiblity of mundane real life persons whose supernatural attributes were invented.

              Second, the whole question does not have the shape that I would approach with a hypothesis test anyway, it looks more like a case for model fitting. And the “Jesus is just a spirit being in the spirit realm” model does not provide a good fit for how the gospels were written, whereas the “Jesus was a small cult leader whose followers later claimed he fulfilled prophecies, and was magical and more important than he really was” fits better, at least in my eyes.

              then all of science must be a closed book to you.

              Oh come on now. Your approach of demanding evidence for a strawman hypothesis (here Son of God, earthquakes and zombies at death) so that you can reject a much less ambitious one (here widely ignored small-scale cult founder) would not pass peer review in my area of science, of that much I am sure.

              Moroni (below)

              I do not understand what is so hard about this concept that you constantly go in circles around it. Moroni appeared to Smith as an angel, and angels do not appear to exist, meaning that we can reject the idea of him being a real person with quite some confidence. On the other hand, Jesus was a doomsday preacher and Muhammad was a multi-classing trader / preacher / war leader character. Those types of people existed historically and, wouldn’t you know it, exist at this very moment around us. What is more, there is copious evidence for doomsday preachers in the Palestine of the relevant era, and copious evidence for Muslim conquests, but there is none for a Jewish tribe having come across to America. Even if there are other good reasons for doubting the historical existence of the latter two, their cases are not comparable to that of Moroni in this regard.

              You know, I only brought up the Book of Mormon to point out that syncretist elements of a religion (pagan/Jewish/Neo-Platonism in the case of Christianity, American Exceptionalism/Christian in the case of Mormonism) are not an argument against the existence of a founder figure, and the fact that Smith is well documented despite his religion being syncretist was the whole point. This was really a different issue than the one you interpreted into it.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                The problem is, you are seeing it as a hypothesis test, with the null hypothesis being that every historical character who did not (like Joseph Smith) author their own book or did something sufficiently big to leave buildings or battlefields behind, and especially every historical character to whom some unrealistic things are attributed, was utterly, totally and wholly invented.

                No, that’s a complete mischaracterization of the situation.

                We can reasonably make accurate estimates of the population counts of the time and place. We can even go further, with some estimates as to demographics, distributions of professions, and the like.

                What we can’t do is pick some person at random and make definitive claims about that particular person lacking compelling positive evidence supportive of the claims.

                And, even more to the point, you’re not just picking some person at random; you’re picking the central divinity of a major religious cult and identifying him with unidentified and unidentifiable random schmuck.

                And the “Jesus is just a spirit being in the spirit realm” model does not provide a good fit for how the gospels were written

                Agreed — but irrelevant. “Jesus is a spirit being in the spirit realm” is a perfect fit for the Jesus of the Epistles. Any credible model of a “real” Jesus is especially going to have to fit that model, the earliest and least-indirect reporting of Jesus we allegedly have.

                “Jesus was a small cult leader whose followers later claimed he fulfilled prophecies, and was magical and more important than he really was” fits better

                “Better”? Perhaps. But how on Earth is that model a better fit than Justin Martyr’s own? To wit:

                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.

                That’s really all that my claim boils down to: Justin Martyr was right about there being wholesale imitation between Jesus and the Pagan gods — just not right about it having been done centuries in advance by evil daemons with the power of foresight in an attempt to lead honest men astray.

                Is it really so much to suggest that maybe, just possibly perhaps, Justin Martyr knew a thing or three about the origins of Christianity?

                Your approach of demanding evidence for a strawman hypothesis (here Son of God, earthquakes and zombies at death) so that you can reject a much less ambitious one (here widely ignored small-scale cult founder) would not pass peer review in my area of science, of that much I am sure.

                Again, a mischaracterization. I’m demanding evidence consistent with the early descriptions of spectacular supernatural events, and not consistent with the reality of said events. Early Christians were sincere in their characterization of Jesus as a larger-than-life superhero. That’s consistent with Jesus being a fictional larger-than-life superhero — especially given that, pace Justin Martyr, exactly that type of fictional larger-than-life superhero was as common as dirt. And this is also consistent with nobody contemporary noticing him. And, granted, it’s also consistent with him being an extraordinary showman — but not with the fact that nobody noticed him. It is most emphatically not consistent with him being an unremarkable schmuck.

                Moroni appeared to Smith as an angel, and angels do not appear to exist, meaning that we can reject the idea of him being a real person with quite some confidence.

                Great! Jesus was the undead son-of-a-god necromonger prince who appeared to “Paul” and the others, and we know that undead son-of-a-god necromonger princes do not exist, meaning that we can reject the idea of him being a real person with quite some confidence.

                On the other hand, Jesus was a doomsday preacher

                Calling Jesus a doomsday preacher and nothing else is like calling Luke Skywalker a poor orphan who grew up on an hardscrabble farm and nothing else or Harry Potter a boy with a peculiar birthmark on his forehead and nothing else or Paul Bunyan a tall lumberjack and nothing else. Most charitably, it’s a (presumably unrealizing) lie of omission. Indeed, as the saying goes, the most effective way to lie is to tell just a bit of the truth and then shut up. Whether or not that’s your intention — and, indeed, the intention is most likely that of the Christian apologists who, indirectly or otherwise, are the source of your theory — it’s certainly the effect.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:42 am | Permalink

                you’re not just picking some person at random; you’re picking the central divinity of a major religious cult and identifying him with unidentified and unidentifiable random schmuck.

                So what? I do not see the problem with that considering that the question is merely whether some random schmuck was at the root of it or not.

                Agreed — but irrelevant. “Jesus is a spirit being in the spirit realm” is a perfect fit for the Jesus of the Epistles. Any credible model of a “real” Jesus is especially going to have to fit that model, the earliest and least-indirect reporting of Jesus we allegedly have.

                I agree, and have said myself, that that is the most convincing argument for mysticism, but the inverse is hardly irrelevant. Again, I simply do not find the idea of the gospels as a superhero novel convincing, quite simply because they don’t read like that, and I struggle to come up with a different religion that would have done something similar with its central otherworldly character.

                Justin Martyr’s

                To repeat: Copying pagan elements or making some stuff up does not constitute evidence for the non-existence of a cult founder, merely for the need of his followers to make the cult more attractive. Justin Martyr was writing to the emperor, of course he would have tried to lean over backwards to make his cult palatable to educated pagans.

                In other words, I can explain the likes of JM in the same way that we can currently explain Scientologists who deny that Xenu is official doctrine or a Buddhist guru prosyletising in the West who focuses on wholeness and enlightenment but does not communicate the more superstitious beliefs of a Burmese peasant Buddhist. But conversely, how do you explain just the following items under the idea that the gospels were invented from whole cloth?

                1. The lists of male lineage ancestors of Jesus (not that that makes any sense for a virgin birth anyway, but there is the obvious desire to show that the character of the story was descended from David to fulfil a prophecy). Why bother with making those up if he was a spirit being anyway?

                2. The ways that two of them try to fudge it so that he is at the same time a Nazarene and born in Bethlehem, again to fulfil a prophecy. Unless there was a person known to be from Nazareth, why not simply place the hero of your story in Bethlehem to begin with?

                3. The utterly weird sentence that goes something like “he was named Jesus, and so the prophecy was fulfilled that the savior would be named Immanuel”. Unless your cult leader was really a Jesus, why not call the hero of your story Immanuel in the first place?

                4. Jesus’ prediction that the world would end even before the gospels were written. Unless there was somebody who was known to have said that, why put this embarrassing detail in there?

                5. More generally than all the above, why the whole story is so stultefyingly provincial. Jesus’ horizon is limited to a bunch of towns in a backwater part of the Roman empire, and this supposedly superhero character would clearly have been suprised if somebody had informed him of the existence of, say, Gaul. Why would gospel authors, the later of which were very clearly writing for a Greek and Roman audience, place an invented story about their important spiritual figure in that provincial setting and make him so limited unless they were constrained by, well, some elements of it not being invented?

                I am sure an hour with Mark or Matthew would provide another dozen points like these. I am willing to be convinced, but it would be helpful if you could provide reasonable explanations, one by one, for these pieces of the puzzle instead of merely going “but Justin Martyr!”

                Early Christians were sincere in their characterization of Jesus as a larger-than-life superhero…and we know that undead son-of-a-god necromonger princes do not exist,

                Again, so what? Do you really not know of any present day cult leaders whose followers have similar beliefs?

                meaning that we can reject the idea of him being a real person with quite some confidence.

                That does not follow, because his followers could have claimed that their cult leader was the son of god and rose from the grave; again, that seems like bog standard behaviour of cultists.

                lie of omission

                So I have to understand I lie, that science is a closed book to me, that I am ignorant, and so on. I write here – painfully aware how much of this thread is now taken up by my comments – because I enjoy discussions like these and because I assumed that you would likewise be interested in discussing the issue. If, instead, you merely want to insinuate that disagreement must be based on stupidity or dishonesty then I am happy to bow out.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

                I do not see the problem with that considering that the question is merely whether some random schmuck was at the root of it or not.

                Well, now we’re back to what sense it makes to describe Jesus as a random schmuck. Are you okay describing Luke Skywalker as a random schmuck because he was a poor orphan who grew up on a desert farm?

                To repeat: Copying pagan elements or making some stuff up does not constitute evidence for the non-existence of a cult founder, merely for the need of his followers to make the cult more attractive.

                It’s not just making up some stuff. If you’d take the time to read the whole First Apology, you’d discover that all of Jesus is stolen from Pagan demigods — and that that’s Justin Martyr’s whole complaint!

                Try it for yourself: make a list of each and every bit of Jesus’s life that he catalogues as having been imitated in advance by evil daemons, subtract it from Jesus as we “know” him, and what’s left?

                Nothing — not even including the preaching, for there’s lots of comparisons with Mercury as the divine messenger revealing truths to his followers.

                The lists of male lineage ancestors of Jesus

                …don’t even agree with each other aside from Joseph at the one end and David at the other. Either Jesus had two — erm, three — daddies, or Joseph did (Jacob and Heli).

                The ways that two of them try to fudge it so that he is at the same time a Nazarene and born in Bethlehem, again to fulfil a prophecy.

                Not one prophecy; two — one for Jesus being a Nazorean (much more likely a “wisdom” sect than a geographical designator) and the other for being born in the house of bread.

                The utterly weird sentence that goes something like “he was named Jesus, and so the prophecy was fulfilled that the savior would be named Immanuel”

                Again, two prophecies / scriptures being reconciled.

                Jesus’ prediction that the world would end even before the gospels were written. Unless there was somebody who was known to have said that, why put this embarrassing detail in there?

                Ask Harold Camping — or, better yet, the next door-to-door Jesus salesmen who come knocking.

                More generally than all the above, why the whole story is so stultefyingly provincial.

                The same reason why Orpheus was so “stultifyingly provincially” Thracian. And also the most virulent anti-Thracian ever, just as Jesus was the original anti-Semite. An huge theme of the New Testament is how corrupt and evil the establishment is and how much nobler and more pure the Hellenistic ideal (represented by Jesus’s transformation from Jew to Pagan Demigod in all but name) can be.

                Do you really not know of any present day cult leaders whose followers have similar beliefs?

                Do you really not know of any ancient cults built around mythical demigods?

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

                random schmuck / Luke Skywalker

                Yes, I mentioned myself way above that a Christian might not consider a mundane, widely ignored cult leader to be “the” Jesus of the gospels. But what the superstitious want or believe is besides the point. There is no reason to believe that Skywalker existed, but there are good reasons to believe that sects get founded by people, and that their followers write garbled biographies of them.

                Justin Martyr’s whole complaint!

                Again, his whole work is leaning over backwards to make Christianity appear palatable to a pagan emperor, so probably not the most honest source. You wouldn’t get your info on the true character of present day Christianity from Karen Armstrong either, I hope?

                As for your replies to the five points I listed, way to miss the point(s)! (And I am aware you will probably think the same of me.)

                Of course the ancestors were invented and contradict each other, but if you are writing a novel that does not try to convince the Jews that some real person was their messiah, why bother with inventing them in the first place? And why would a person in the spirit realm, the logos, have a line of material realm ancestors?

                I must admit I have never heard of any prophecies that the messiah must be from Nazareth or that he must be called Jesus as well as Immanuel, but even if those existed that would still leave the same question as in the previous sentence.

                Your reply to the end of world prediction makes my point for me – those are all real people!

                Orpheus – great, but that book wasn’t written to promote a sect prosyletising across all the known world, so no comparison. (Also, since when are the first gospels anti-semitic? Quite the opposite, Jesus is cruelly dismissive of all non-Jews, and the only times they are mentioned in any positive sense is when he says something on the lines of “that Jewish town rejected me, so when the end times come even the pagans will have it better than them”. Only the last one or perhaps two are anti-semitic.)

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

                Justin Martyr’s whole complaint!

                Again, his whole work is leaning over backwards to make Christianity appear palatable to a pagan emperor, so probably not the most honest source.

                His motivations are irrelevant. Do you deny that Bacchus turned water into wine, that Perseus was born of a virgin, all the rest? And that they were commonly understood to have done so? If you do so deny, on what possible basis?

                Having that established that much, we can then subtract out the pieces clearly grafted from extant superhero myth…and discover nothing, not even your preacher, remains. “Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all […] 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.” That, plus the perfect lack of Jesus quotations in Paul, even when Paul makes an ass of himself for quoting Hebrew gospels instead of Jesus.

                Of course the ancestors were invented and contradict each other, but if you are writing a novel that does not try to convince the Jews that some real person was their messiah, why bother with inventing them in the first place? And why would a person in the spirit realm, the logos, have a line of material realm ancestors?

                Because he had to have been of the line of David to fulfill the prophecy. You really don’t know any of this, don’t you?

                Orpheus – great, but that book wasn’t written to promote a sect prosyletising across all the known world, so no comparison.

                Um…no, there were quite many Orphic mystery cults, and many survived for quite a while. It’s but one of a great many perfect examples.

                Also, since when are the first gospels anti-semitic?

                Cursing the fig tree…”brood of vipers”…the scene at the moneychangers…astonishing the Rabbis with his superior knowledge of their own scriptures…the Sanhedrin flinging poo during the trial…”Pharisees”…and on and on and on and on and on….

                Um…this is very basic stuff. Where do you think all of Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism came from? And you do know, do you not, that Hitler’s own anti-Semitism was lifted wholesale from Luther?

                b&

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          Mohammed was said to have conversed with angels and travelled to the moon with his horse; contemporary cult leaders are believed, by their followers, to be able to heal miraculously or to survive for years without eating. Does that mean they could not possibly have existed or exist, respectively?

          Funny you should mention Muhammad. I’ve done much less research into his case, but I see no more reason to conclude he was an historical figure than Jesus. It’s the same pattern: a larger-than-life heroic archetype who changed the world…of whom the only surviving record is a generations-late written-by-committee transcription of an oral tradition. No contemporary evidence of any kind — and especially no archaeological evidence of a supposed superhuman warlord and general. And, even you yourself mentioned that his biography was assembled from the popular myths of the era, such as Bellerophon riding Pegasus into the heavens.

          Moroni is the parallel to Jesus!

          That is kind of begging the question, isn’t it?

          If I am, then so are you when you insist that Smith is the parallel to Jesus. The question is which theory is better supported by the evidence.

          We know for absolute certain that the Jesus myth grew with each retelling, for we have the record of exactly that in the Bible. Paul’s Jesus was devoid of 99 44/100% of Jesus’s biography, and Paul himself added the Eucharist / Last Supper. Mark’s Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin and had no history after the discovery of the empty tomb; Matthew’s Jesus was born of a virgin and Ascended. John’s Jesus was the first to walk on water.

          So, we have extensive documentation of the fabrication of Jesus’s biography but no independent evidence of Jesus himself.

          We also have extensive documentation of the fabrication of Moroni’s biography but no independent evidence of Moroni himself.

          And, we have evidence of the authors of the New Testament works: the New Testament itself. Somebody had to have written it! But it clearly wasn’t written by Jesus — it doesn’t even pretend to claim to have been.

          Similarly, nobody questions Smith’s existence or his authorship of the Book of Moron. Smith claimed to have conversed with Moroni and been inspired by him, but that’s no evidence for this historical factual reality of such a figure.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Susan
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      This is a good summary.

  44. Jim Sweeney
    Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve generally been inclined to think that, since Joshua was a common name, and an afterlife a popular upgrade to Judaism around that time, to say that there there was no rabbi actively teaching such things then in that area at that time is a stretch, given the scarcity of sources.

    The question is, perhaps, how many criteria does Jesus have to satisfy? Forget the miracles. Could He be Jesus if He wasn’t crucified, or didn’t cause a commotion at the temple? What’s the minimal Jesus?

    It seems to come down to whether Paul had a particular person in mind, who might have lived somewhat earlier than is generally supposed (not being bound by the Gospel’s Herod-to-Pilates chronology). Paul seems to have gotten it second-hand, and perhaps his source confused or conflated Jokannan with Jeshua. What would the unattested existence of either imply, if they didn’t actually perform the acts in the story? Not a lot.

    • Jim Sweeney
      Posted September 5, 2014 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      An aside regarding crucifixion. The rapid death of Jesus on the cross isn’t particularly credible.

      Mary Roach, in “Stiff”, I think, reported experiments in which high school football players allowed themselves to be suspended in the typically depicted position to determine whether it would make it impossible to breathe. Apparently it doesn’t.

      A friend reminded me that crucifixion is a common Easter pastime in Mexico, though the authorities no longer permit nails. Some people do it every year.

      I only mention it because the contrary wisdom seems to be universally acknowledged.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      Would Paul have something to contribute here? I think Ben said that Paul claims a dream story, not an actual person. That doesn’t seem to be evidence for historicity. (Which, I think, would be contemporary descriptions, or later descriptions of such descriptions, tombs, contemporary statues, established ownership of houses, et cetera.)

  45. Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Up to your old tricks, I see, Ben! The argument still doesn’t work, and your starting point is what you end with. Surprise! Surprise! That’s why I say you can’t start with a description of what you intend to find (your number 1 above). That’s like making up a hypothesis before having examined the evidence, and then choosing whatever supports the hypothesis. It would make science dead easy, but you wouldn’t be very likely to arrive at the truth.

    And to take Justin Martyr’s apologetic work aimed at a Roman audience to show that they should not find anything about Jesus surprising, because they say similar things about their own gods (remember, he is also urging them to correct their mistake about calling Christians atheists), is a real howler. Justin does not make Jesus a figure of myth. He simply commends the Christian faith to Romans as something with which they are already familiar. Nothing that he says (and much that he says in his apologies and his dialogue with Trypho) suggests, for a moment, that he doesn’t take Jesus as an historical figure.

    However, as I said before, I’m not going to get involved in this debate with amateurs. Read Hoffmann. He’s not a windbag, as some people suggest, and as I once mistakenly thought, but a scholar of some repute who, as an atheist, is trying to provide a serious scholarly assessment of the historicity of Jesus. As Hoffmann points out, myth is a regular feature of classical history, but this does not lead us to question the historicity of much of it. And, in order to make your dying and rising god theory come out, you’re going to have to explain why the gnostics are given such a hard time by those who came to be recognised as reliable “traditioners”, those who passed on the story of Jesus reliably. Had he been a dying and rising god, and begun that way, there would have been no reason to establish his historical bona fides, as early Christians were keen to do.

    However, as I say, this debate amongst amateurs is a bit pointless. If I want to know about evolution I actually go to Dawkins or Coyne or others to confirm what I am told. However, for amateurs half baked theories about dying and rising gods seem to do, without bothering with what historical Jesus scholars (many of them not Christians) have to say. Good on ya! There’s no doubt hope for amateurs like you and me yet.

    • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Hi Eric

      I don’t think anyone should doubt Hoffmann’s scholarship, but I also think he can be a windbag; scholars can be windbags too, you know :-).

      I agree with you to a degree about amateur debate; surely much of it is pointless. But there may be an encouragement in a lively amateur debate for scholars to think more about the difficult issues raised, why we believe what we do. Ancient history is an area with challenges to establishing truth that dwarf even the problems facing climate change scientists, I think.

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        This suggests that the cutesy things that amateurs come up with is likely to cause scholars to think about the difficult issues raised. What difficult issues? All these things (the simplistic things that Ben has to say, for example) have been discussed and discussed again by scholars (and usually dismissed for good reason), and the general conclusion is that the mythicists haven’t really got much going for them, and undoubted biases working against them. I’ve been trying to read Robert Price’s book about what he considers good evidence for the mythical Jesus, and it is laughably shallow, if not utterly fatuous, and he’s supposed to be a scholar! It’s like reading a conspiracy theorist. If someone like Price can’t come up with a believable case, why should we think that Ben Goren can bring up something that will really give some heft to scholarly thinking?

        By the way, I am not entering into the discussion here (pace Sbridge), because I think it is silly, so silly as to beggar imagination. Amateurs in biblical scholarship should be considered as irrelevant to the advancement of knowledge as amateurs in physics, like Deepak Chopra. It’s tiresome to have people rehash the same old same old over and over again, as though it has some substance. One of the reasons I’ve given up on the new atheism. It just goes round and round the mulberry bush, without adding anything of real substance.

        Dawkins, for instance, instead of deepening his critique, has decided that it’s been done, and that is supremely childish. I was quite prepared to endorse a fairly simplistic series of arguments for atheism, since such arguments are not widely known, but it is undoubtedly the case that those who have responded to Dawkins have added depth to the discussion, and Dawkins just pretends that all the answers have been given in his (what has to be acknowledged as) very elementary philosophising. If he intended to learn more and deepen his arguments, that’s one thing. But if he thinks he’s said all that needs to be said, well, that’s a completely different thing, and The God Delusion can now be just dismissed as a promising, but overly cavalier, beginning, but a poor place to end. Since he hasn’t really responded to anyone, except in one liners, his book is now a one-off piece of propaganda, and does not really constitute an argument at all.

        Same goes for all the silly historical Jesus stuff. Carrier’s Bayesian history is laughable (Price makes use of this kind of probability argumentation as well), for reasons that Hoffmann provides. I’ve tried reading his superficial Sense and Goodness without God, but it just ends up being a bit of amateur philosophising with a lot of sophistical reasoning. Talk about sophistical reasoning — just read his formal proof of the universal applicability of Bayes’ Theorem (106-7, supposing that this means that it applies to historical reasoning. This doesn’t, despite what he says, show that Bayesian statistics is applicable to history, for Bayesian statistics requires knowledge of the probability of an event given that something else happens, but there is no reason why we should be able to know this in advance of a reasonable assessment of whether or not something is true, based on quite different grounds, since the numbers to plug into the Bayesian theorem just aren’t available. Singular historical events (and no one has shown yet how to predict anything based on our knowledge of history) simply don’t come with accurate probability postdictions attached. Carrier’s has got to be the silliest philosophy of history yet written. Anyone who reads philosophy will have found Dawkins trying, but Carrier, on the other hand, impossible, to read, and I’ve actually wasted my money on his books!

        There, I’ve said my piece.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          And what a piece it is!

          Amateurs in biblical scholarship should be considered as irrelevant to the advancement of knowledge as amateurs in physics,

          Preposterous! “Biblical scholarship” is religious apologetics, not historians.

          You just sawed off the limb you were trying to sit on.

          And I think the conflation between evidence and apologetics is just an excuse to bash atheists in the next part. Nothing there has any bearing on the evidence for the myth persona being an actual person. Unless you think he was the magical agency the myth said he was of course. Then, yes, we can say with clarity that part of the myth is bogus. But that has nothing to do with atheism, just science.

          And it has nothing to do with philosophy either. Philosophism rears its ugly head in that last part.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Could you be more condescending? With all your huffy spiel, you still have no evidence to support you position. It is laughable when the historisists accuse the mythesists for what they themselves have done for millennium.

          • bobkillian
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            Amen. There may have been some substance amid all that sneering, but I’m sure it would be lost on us lesser (amateur) mortals, so I moved along.

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

            No, I thought I did a pretty good job the first time round.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Well, as I’ve said elsewhere, the consensus of experts *is* what matters, but they don’t operate in a vacuum. The interest of amateurs will surely have an effect on what work gets done. Carrier’s work may be silly, but it is peer reviewed and will sink or swim according to its merits. It’s just another contribution to the conversation in academia. If you (and Hoffmann) are right about its merits it will surely sink (as will Price’s, if it’s as shallow as you think). That is what happens in academia, I thought? I agree that scholars are hardly likely to take this sort of article *itself* seriously.

          What difficult issues?

          Well, the difficult issues of disentangling the truth from the evidence available; why else would we defer to scholars of great learning if there weren’t difficult issues?! I recall Hoffmann himself somewhere recommending people read Van Harvey’s ‘The Historian and the Believer’ for a discussion of the difficulties. The myth story may be wrong (I’ll go with the experts on this) but it is persistent. Maybe that is a function of the difficulty of the issue and degree of learning required to see the flaws in mythicism.

          Hoffmann himself wrote in 1996:

          It is no longer possible to dismiss the thesis that Jesus never existed as the “marginal indiscretion of lay amateurs” (to paraphrase a sentence once imposed on Matthew Arnold’s biblical criticism by his theological critics). The direction of biblical criticism since Albert Schweitzer’s day has circled back with dizzying regularity to the implied question of Jesus’s existence but has sought without success to answer it.

          http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oxkNm5b3MQ4C&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

          Of course, he now agrees with you that mythicism is silly, but it’s taken some years of scholarship to come to that conclusion; he was pretty knowledgeable in 1996 but didn’t dismiss it out of hand.

          On balance, because of its persistence, but persistent rejection by scholars, I’m inclined to think it a false idea that is hard to refute once and for all (despite the WEIT consensus!).

          • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            Nor would I dismiss it “out of hand.” My point is only that rehashing a lot of superficial amateur theorising on the issue is a waste of time, and makes atheists look silly.

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

              So we should return to the outright lying of Chrstianity and the obfuscation they practiced for thousands of years? Your comments are what is superficial here.

    • sbridge
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      “I’m not going to get involved in this debate with amateurs” and yet you do.

      Curious.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      This is the epitome of what not to do when faced with a challenge, trying to project your failings on the test.

      The argument still doesn’t work, and your starting point is what you end with.

      That is not in evidence. On the contrary, the responses to the challenge shows that people can’t meet it.

      That is not the starting point. The starting point was that some people assumed they could meet it. (Support that there was a non-fiction beneath the fiction.)

      The argument still doesn’t work, and your starting point is what you end with. Surprise! Surprise! That’s why I say you can’t start with a description of what you intend to find (your number 1 above). That’s like making up a hypothesis before having examined the evidence, and then choosing whatever supports the hypothesis.

      No. This is but the erroneous philosophism that you can’t use “circular reasoning”.

      As I have described many times, and I’m not alone in this description for all its faults, science rely on that very same reasoning, it is what makes it work. “Circular reasoning” could be the description of the method of making hypotheses to test based on the same data it is tested on. More in some cases, but exactly when the hypothesis is generally valid, it has tested all its supportive data.

      Specifically here, we can see that the hypothesis and the test constraints are, as they must, informed by the data. That is why the test part 1 crucially contains the constraints “Jesus”, “was”, and “Gospels”. And “street preacher”, “rebel commando” as admissible hypotheses.

      However, as I said before, I’m not going to get involved in this debate with amateurs.

      You are already involved at an amateur level (as you note later), see your attempt to describe science above.

      Really, I think what we are doing here is not history, but skepticism. After decades of studied skepticism in some cases, it is decidedly not “amateurs”.

      And what are we skeptic about? Well, in my case it is that there are any professional scientists involved, that there are any historical evidence for what historical amateurs like religious “biblical historians” (with an agenda to boot) claim is “historical”.

      There isn’t any evidence for “J.C” approaching that for J.C. (Caesar). Where does the boundary go for when a historical person becomes arguable? I don’t know, and I don’t know where this, intended as a fictional persona, places. I only hear people claim there is historical evidence. But there is none, just “scholar” opinion.

      Your example of an “atheist scholar” is a typical example. Hoffmann tries to “assess the historicity of Jesus”, you say. But your description is not Hoffmann doing that, but putting up apologetics. I’m not sure he is acting as a neutral historian: Hoffmann has described himself as “an unbeliever with a soft spot for religion”.[3]

      [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._Joseph_Hoffmann ]

      More telling, and the part that had been removed from the articles about the historicity of “Jesus”, is that Hoffmann tries to make a cross-area study of the question. “The Project, according to Hoffmann, was designed to determine “what can be reliably recovered about the historical figure of Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his activities, utilizing the highest standards of scientific and scholarly objectivity”.[25] The Project was seen as a continuation and modification of the Jesus Seminar, founded by Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan.[25][26] In 2009 the Center for Inquiry de-funded the Jesus Project and discontinued CSER.[27]”

      So, the jury, or at least that jury, is still out. But my hopes that Hoffmann would look at historicity same as for other historical persons have been dashed. :-/ It shouldn’t take that long to agree on criteria and current evidence or lack thereof.

      Is it too much to ask for historical evidence of the same type that goes into adjudicating historicity for J.C.? Documents, contemporary descriptions, contemporary statues, tomb, villas, … Or lacking that, a survey of professional historians only, on the current consensus? I don’t think so, I think that is the crux of the matter.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Eric, I’m bothered by the “this debate amongst amateurs is a bit pointless” bit of your comment. As near as I can tell there are “professionals” on both side of this issue. Richard Carrier is one, isn’t he? So your comment boils down into pure ad hom and appeal to authority.

      I watched Bart Ehrman’s talk when he accepted the FFRF Emperor Has No Clothes Award the other day. It bothered me that he, too, falls back on attacking his mythicist opponents as simply amateur, unworthy of response. Personally, I think that’s a shameful position to take.

      I don’t take a position on the question myself. I’m not convinced it is an solvable puzzle. But if I had to choose sides, I’d probably align with the mythicists if only because I really dislike historicists trying to settle matters by calling opponents “amateur”.

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        To my knowledge Richard Carrier is not an expert in biblical studies or in religion. He has a PhD in classical history, but that alone doesn’t make him an expert in biblical studies or in the study of the historical Jesus. As an historian, if his Proving History is anything to go by, he needs so basic remedial training.

        • GBJames
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Well, I guess that excuses the condescending dismissal.

          I’d be embarrassed to rely on that sort of argument.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          I find it curious that you believe that biblical scholars are more qualified than a historian to answer a historical question.

          Unless of course you don’t consider it a historical questuion but a theological one.

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

            Not only biblical scholars, but, clearly, if you are going to assess the evidence for the existence of Jesus, some judgement about the biblical writings will need to be made. Historians, qua historians, might be experts on only a very minute period, say, the Raj from the “Mutiny” until Independence, but even that period is rather long for anyone to be truly an expert on the period. And, no, I don’t consider it a theological one, which is obviously why some biblical scholars are not qualified, because of theological bias, to judge the material dispassionately. That goes for some unbelievers as well.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

              Indeed, overspecialization is a major characteristic of many academic disciplines, not only history. It may even be an inevitable consequence of the tremendous advancement of knoweledge that characterises our era. Nevertheless each academic discipline has developed specific methodologies to deal with the main questions it addresses, and this is certainly true of History. I would expect somebody with a PhD from a major University to be well versed in these methodologies. Now biblical studies are not exaclty a subdiscipline of history although some of the questions they tackle do have a definite historical flavor. So I’m not sure how well versed, by training, are biblical scholars in the general historical methodology. In general, are there courses about historical methodology taught in theology departments and seminaries?

              This is particular relevant in the “Historical Jesus studies” where their methodology has been shown to be invalid (in the technical sense that it doesn’t consistently lead to reliable results) and largely unsuited to tackle the question of “existence of a historical figure”. So when a trained historian undertakes to examine the methodology, develop methods adequate to address the question and to then apply these methods to actually answer it, he at very least deserves a very careful consideration instead of a quick dissmisal like the one you offered.

              Anyway got to go. Greece is playing Serbia for the FIBA World Cup!

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                Greece is playing Serbia for the FIBA World Cup!

                “for” is not the appropriate preposition here. It’s just an important game, not the final.

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

              Nikos:

              You’re asking pointed questions of the wrong man. Eric is not a historian, trained or not. He has been a preacher in Sunday services, talking to crowds mostly ignorant of the Bible and historical methodology. He needs only vague generalities to fill one preaching.

              You want to ask your questions of R. Joseph Hoffmann, an authentic historian of the Origins of Christianity.
              You’ll have lively debates with him, until he bars from his site, THE NEW OXONIAN. Go visit, ask questions, and report here. You’ll have fun, and will talk with a professional historian who is a HISTORICIST, or so we believe.

              But if you are too obnoxious, don’t be surprised if your comments are not getting published.

          • Dr. Richard Carrier
            Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            //To my knowledge Richard Carrier is not an expert in biblical studies or in religion. He has a PhD in classical history.//

            This is a No True Scotsman fallacy. In fact I am as qualified if not more so than by far most biblical historians, who all too often don’t get adequate training in historical methods, or the cultural history of the times and places they claim to speak on, and aren’t really taught the basics of how to determine whether something existed or happened in history, whereas that is explicitly what historians are taught.

            In actual fact, one of my doctoral majors was in ancient religion. I have published several papers on biblical history in peer reviewed journals. And my book on the historicity of Jesus passed peer review at, and was published by, a major, well-respected, university-level, biblical studies press.

            If anyone wants to know how the historical profession actually works, see my remarks on this shameful and ill-informed use of No True Scotsman fallacies to try and avoid conclusions one doesn’t like:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794#21

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794#2

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1117#thompson

            It’s worth noting that even before my book came out (the first ever peer reviewed, academic press case, so really the first time this argument has ever been properly brought to the academy), at least five other people with relevant qualifications at least concur that agnosticism about the historicity of Jesus is warranted:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794#22

            And so far, historicists have yet to adduce any non-fallacious or factually accurate rebuttals:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/5730

            //As an historian, if his Proving History is anything to go by, he needs so basic remedial training.//

            Assertions without evidence are of no weight. Lots of people who don’t like my conclusions insist there must be something wrong or misinformed about them, yet can never produce any examples of it.

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        My first comment was a bit hurried, GBJ, although it would scarcely be a normal day if GBJames wasn’t disturbed by something that I had said! I haven’t taken a definite position on the issue myself. I simply don’t have the knowledge to allow myself to do that, although I do tend to favour what I think is a scholarly consensus. As I have said, there is a lot of mythical material attached to the story of Jesus. It is interesting, though, that the official church rejected mythicizing accounts of Jesus, such as was common amongst the gnostics. Marcion’s anti-Jewish Jesus, which suggested that Jesus was not really human, was probably the reason that the church began to firm up the canon. Jesus’ humanity was crucial to Christian belief, and this was threatened by Marcionism, and the gospels that were accepted as canonical do seem to preserve a believable tradition of a Galilean preacher. He is similar enough to Jewish teachers of the time to convince people like David Flusser and Geza Vermes that there is a sound historical basis for Jesus’ existence. I find most of the mythicist literature that I have read simplistic and superficial. Even GA Wells, as Wikipedia says (and I don’t always trust Wikipedia), takes Jesus as an historical figure with a heavily mythicized persona. That about squares with my own judgement at the moment.

        My comment about Carrier is, however, I think, quite just. His book, Proving History, is enough to suggest to me that anything that he writes about history is in doubt. He may have a PhD in history, but he writes philosophy as though he is taking a 101 course. As for Ehrman saying that mythicists are unworthy of response, I think that is broadly true, but he does respond to those whose credentials he respects, and who may be thought to have enough credibility as scholars to deserve attention. A lot of Jesus myth theories are a bit like conspiracy theory. Read them and weep.

        It is true that there are professionals on both sides of the issue, but the weight of professional opinion is on the side of a Jesus of history — highly mythicized, of course, especially in the birth and resurrection legends, but both of these are based on Old Testament exegesis. See Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus, where it is shown how dependent the form of the story is on OT originals. Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy is one of the major themes of the mythical aspects of the story. That’s fine. He was (if he existed) a Jewish prophet or preacher. It would be expected that his followers would claim for him some significance as somehow a fulfilment of Jewish expectation (since such expectation is so large a part of traditional Judaism). But if he was thought of as a fulfilment of Jewish expectation, as the birth and passion narratives suggest, this is even further confirmation of the historical basis of the gospels, since, after all, the gospels were written in Greek, and the authors show no clear sign of knowledge of either Galilee or Judaea. If even they cannot help using the scriptures to exalt Jesus’ importance, the story’s origin in the “Holy Land” seems unquestionable. But why should he be linked so firmly to Galilee and Judaea if he was not an historical figure? (I say this, not as an expert, but because it just occurred to me. I’m not saying that amateurs can’t think!)

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          But why should he be linked so firmly to Galilee and Judaea if he was not an historical figure?

          For the exact same reason Orpheus was so firmly linked to Thrace.

          …and please tell us you don’t think Orpheus was an historical figure….

          b&

    • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Up to your old tricks, I see, Ben! The argument still doesn’t work, and your starting point is what you end with. Surprise! Surprise! That’s why I say you can’t start with a description of what you intend to find (your number 1 above). That’s like making up a hypothesis before having examined the evidence, and then choosing whatever supports the hypothesis. It would make science dead easy, but you wouldn’t be very likely to arrive at the truth.

      Eric, with all due respect, that paragraph conclusively demonstrates that you don’t know jack about science. But don’t take it from me; take it from the great man, himself:

      In particular, note the importance of starting with a guess, making predictions, and comparing those predictions with evidence — which is exactly what I’m asking for here. Also note the importance of the precision of the guess, starting at about the five minute mark. A guess that is consistent with any conceivable set of observations is useless.

      Justin does not make Jesus a figure of myth. He simply commends the Christian faith to Romans as something with which they are already familiar. Nothing that he says (and much that he says in his apologies and his dialogue with Trypho) suggests, for a moment, that he doesn’t take Jesus as an historical figure.

      Of course he thinks Jesus was real. He was a Christian!

      That’s not the point, not the question.

      What we should be concerned with here is whether he was correct in his conclusion that, as you yourself put it, Christianity was so similar to Paganism that the former would be well familiar to those who already knew the latter.

      And, surprise! He was right. It is!

      The question then becomes whether this is by design or coincidence or conspiracy. Justin Martyr goes for the latter, with his evil soothsaying demon theory. You seem to be angling for coincidence — that the Christians, in the midst of a culture where demigods looked exactly like Jesus, managed to independently derive a demigod of their own who just happened to resemble the Pagan ones but also actually had a real biography at least somewhat resembling the mythic one.

      Why is it so hard to simply admit that Justin Martyr and you are both right: that Jesus was indistinguishable from all the Pagan demigods he lists, for the simple reason that he was cut from the same cloth?

      b&

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Yes, Ben, imagination and “guessing” are important in science as in any human endeavour, but uninformed guessing is pointless. Think what Einstein had to know before he made his “guesses”!

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          Could you please define your ‘historical’ Jesus? Which parts of the story are historically accurate and which are not?
          Are his alleged parents’ names correct? Birthplace? Profession? Age at death? Life trajectory? Was he actually crucified?
          I’m terribly curious.

          • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

            This is silly. If Jesus was an historical person, as many historians believe, the questions you ask can only be answered by a careful historical study of the sources. Since I am saying that this is not a task for amateurs, I defer such judgements to them.

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

              I think what we’re saying is that thus far, the closest anyone has come is, and I paraphrase, “There was probably an apocalyptic preacher named Jesus with a small following who was crucified circa 30 AD.”
              That’s hardly a substantial affirmation. I’m happy to concede to that possibility, probability even. I just don’t see that that has any meaning or bearing on the bible’s demi-god.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                Indeed.

                1. There were lots of apocalyptic preachers with a small following in the area around 30 AD. (We know this, e.g. from Josephus.)

                2. Many of these would have been named Jesus, because it was a really common name.

                3. How likely is it that some of these would have been crucified? (I don’t actually know – anyone?)

                The missing step is to show that one such person spawned the tales in the Bible, rather than arising from myth.

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

              Once again, Eric.

              We’re not (yet) asking you to show your work.

              We’re asking you to show your answers.

              Finding the Higgs Boson took the largest, most expensive machine ever built and the collective work of tens of thousands of PhD physicists, but I could tell you what it is and why it’s important in a paragraph or three.

              You claim the research has been done and the answers answered.

              WHAT WERE THE GODDAMNED ANSWERS, ALREADY!?

              Is it really so much to ask?

              And if you can’t even give us the answers, how on Earth can you possibly expect us to conclude, “but answer came there none.”

              b&

            • GBJames
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              For a man who claims to not have an opinion on the subject by reason of being an amateur, you expend an awful lot of electrons staking out a position, Eric. And it seems rather an irony that your position relies primarily on demeaning those on the other side (of your not-a-side) for being amateurs.

              As for me, I don’t know how it is possible to demonstrate that there wasn’t a carpenter with a common name who led some mini-cult. That bar is so low that probability alone makes it reasonable. (On this I disagree with Ben.) But it makes no difference. If you grant the supposition it still remains to demonstrate an actual connection to the gigantic myths at the heart of real-world Xtian god clubs. And even if you do that, so what? The myths are so palpably ridiculous that belief in them deserves ridicule.

              This is as useful (to me) as an argument about the existence of the real King Arthur. It is unlikely that such a guy will ever be demonstrated. But maybe he did. We know there have been kings in Briton before good records existed. So what?

              The only people who I think really care to insist on a “historical Arthur” would be those belonging Arthur cults, fighting wars on behalf of Camelot, and believing in the miraculous events of the Arthur legends.

              (Oh… And those who don’t belong to the cults but think the cults are perhaps good things that need to be encouraged anyway.)

      • Posted September 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        @ Ben re Feynman: My exact thought.

        /@

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Hooray! I think this is the evidence I have been looking for. And I can launch a mini-challenge:

    I’m not interested in the agnostic possibility that the Jesus persona was based on a historical person. By definition there is always a possibility, of Sancta Claus, trolls and fairies. I am solely interested in whether or not we can decide if there was such a historical person, same as we do on other history. (To be formal, a possibility that reach a certain quality level. Here of finding supporting material.)

    Eric put me onto no less than _two_ consecutive projects trying to assess the issue of historicity. Hoffman, a presumed historian which I suspect isn’t even neutral, put up a “Jesus project” (2007-09) to do it. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Project ]

    The implicit reason, as I remember it described on Wikipedia earlier, is that Hoffmann claims there is no consensus among historians. The explicit reason is that the “Jesus Seminar” (1985-2006), according to Hoffmann, failed “to determine what, if anything, can be recovered about Jesus, using the highest standards of scientific and scholarly enquiry.”

    Now, when Hoffmann says “No quantum of material discovered since the 1940’s, in the absence of canonical material, would support the existence of an historical founder,” he wrote. “No material regarded as canonical and no church doctrine built upon it in the history of the church would cause us to deny it. Whether the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus or Jesus to Christ is not a question we can answer.”[2], he argues like an agnostic rather than a historian. As I suspected.

    But the question of historicity is decided, if Hoffmann is correct, in that there is zip support for a historical founder. The null hypothesis is of course that “the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus”, i.e. there is only myth.

    And why would Hoffmann be incorrect in his (implicit) assessment of the historian community consensus on the issue? Certainly historians hasn’t come out and criticized this.

    At least, to my knowledge, with the obvious lack of such criticism in Wikipedia. I’ll let that be my mini-challenge:

    *** THE MINI_JESUS CHALLENGE ***

    Can anyone come up with evidence from historians that their consensus is different from Hoffmann’s description of non-historicity of “Jesus”?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      As a side note, two interesting tidbits:

      – Hoffmann ended the project partly because it pushed against agnostic notions:

      “The project was halted in June 2009 when Hoffmann announced that in his view the project was not productive, and its funding was suspended. He wrote that there were problems with adherents to the Christ myth theory, the idea that Jesus did not exist, asking to set up a separate section of the project for those committed to the theory, which Hoffmann felt signalled [sic] a lack of necessary skepticism. He was also concerned that the media was sensationalizing the project, with the only newsworthy conclusion being that Jesus had not existed, a conclusion he said most participants would not have reached.[2]”

      The reason for a separate section could be to move faster. In the end, the overall project would have had to assess the material, or splinter.

      – Hoffmann’s cross area project contained “adherents to the Christ myth theory”. This goes against comments here, that has claimed that mythiscists doesn’t have “a believable case”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      More supportive evidence. Carrier on mythiscists were referred to above, and he agrees with Hoffmann:

      “amateurs should not be voicing certitude in a matter still being debated by experts”. [ http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4733 ]

      E.g. no consensus on historicity, no historical “Jesus” as of yet. Now from two sources…

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics

        1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.

        2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.

        3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

        The biggest problem in the Christ Myth area, is that everyone has an axe to grind.

        As an atheist and anti-theist I would love to make the positive statement that Jesus started in someone’s imagination and bloomed from there with absolutely no historical antecedent.

        I think the best we will ever get is:

        1) There were cynic preachers in Galilee that said things similar to the teachings of Jesus. One of them may have had delusions of grander and appointed himself in a way that upset the Romans and the Jewish establishment. He or his followers may have even claimed supernatural powers. And it’s possible that he was killed by the Romans.

        2) Paul, with no knowledge of this person, invented through hallucinations (some say Jesus is magic mushroom) is own mystery cult centered around a Jesus that operated in the higher planes of existence).

        Down the line, these two concepts were merged and the “biography” of Jesus embellished beyond recognition.

        • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Lowen Gartner

          You’re repeating the late thesis of George A. Wells in “The Jesus Legend” (1996) and “The Jesus Myth” (1999).

          Jesus Christ = Paul’s Christ in Heaven + a roving Joshua/Jesus prophet/preacher in Galilee.
          The final Jesus Christ is the fusion of the two figures.

          The whole package is, according to Wells, inspired by the figure of Wisdom in the Tanakh, right-hand assistant of God, who came down to earth to inculcate wisdom to men (i.e. ancient Hebrews, in Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, etc.) who rejected her, whereupon Wisdom of God returned to her place, at the right hand of God.

          As usual, people raid Wells’s arguments without ever giving him credit. Very unscholarly.

          • Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

            In fairness, many independently rediscover Wells’s arguments completely ignorant of him. I don’t think it’s fair to castigate people for failing to cite somebody they’ve never heard of….

            b&

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              Just a note from Wikipedia on GA Wells:

              Since the late 1990s, Wells has said that the hypothetical Q document, which is proposed as a source used in some of the gospels, may “contain a core of reminiscences” of an itinerant Galilean miracle-worker/Cynic-sage type preacher.[2] This new stance has been interpreted as Wells changing his position to accept the existence of a historical Jesus.[3] In 2003 Wells stated that he now disagrees with Robert M. Price on the information about Jesus being “all mythical”.[4] Wells believes that the Jesus of the gospels is obtained by attributing the supernatural traits of the Pauline epistles to the human preacher of Q.

            • Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              I should add that I have never questioned that mythical elements have been added to or superimposed on the historical elements of the gospels.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Ah — finally! We just might, possibly perhaps, be making the slightest hint of progress.

                If you would, expand upon that just the slightest bit?

                Which elements of the gospels do you consider mythical and which historical? Feel free to hedge — this-and-that is clearly mythical, such-and-so definitely historical, something-or-other is unclear and maybe a mix of both, and so on.

                I’ll even save you a bit of typing. Here’s a short biography of Jesus that I think few, if any, Christians would substantively object to.

                Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus by the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit in accordance with prophesy. He and his family narrowly escaped persecution by Herod the Great. Little is known of the rest of his childhood.

                Upon his return to Jerusalem during the reign of Herod Agrippa and Pontius Pilate, he began his ministry. Despite his youth, he impressed the Rabbinate with his wisdom and knowledge of scripture. His sermons drew large crowds, and his ministry was punctuated by many miraculous wonders — starting with turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, including many healings and even raising the dead, feeding thousands with but a few loaves and fishes, walking on water, and much more.

                Towards the end of his ministry, he caused a ruckus amongst the moneychangers outside the Temple, leading eventually to his arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pilate at the height of the Pesach celebrations. He was found guilty of trumped-up charges and condemned to execution by crucifixion.

                On the eve of his death, he shared a last meal with his disciples in an event that Christians ever since commemorate with the Eucharist, one of the holiest rituals of the faith.

                Three days after his death and burial, he conquered Death and arose from the grave. In the days that followed, he convinced his followers that it really was him; commended them to spread the Gospel; and Ascended to Heaven, where he remains to this day, seated at the right hand of the Father.

                It is his destiny to return someday to bring righteous judgement upon the quick and the dead; to conquer evil forever; and to bring the reign of the Throne of Heaven here to Earth.

                First, do you agree that that’s a fair summary of Jesus’s biography, at least as generally agreed upon by Christians? Did I exaggerate anything, or leave out anything substantial? Feel free to correct me as you see fit.

                Then, which parts do you consider mythical and which historical (and which indeterminate)?

                That’s obviously not the end of the process, but it’s enough to get us started. And I hardly think it’s an onerous burden, or an unreasonable request, or even something that should require much effort on your part. Indeed, you can simply have headings of “Fact,” “Myth,” and “Indeterminate,” and copy / paste my paragraphs above under the appropriate one. Shouldn’t take you more than a minute or three — about as much time as it’s taken you to read this response of mine, and much less time than it took me to type it.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                This “biography” runs together details from early and late sources. It is no surprise that someone sympathetic to mythicism should want to do this. When we consider early sources and compare them to later ones, we see evidence of a figure around whom legends and myths accumulate, rather than a celestial figure who is being turned into a human through a process of euhemerization.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                What’s glaringly missing from this reply is your proposed alternative. Or even your answer to the question: which elements you hold to, which you don’t, which might be. You know this area, surely you can offer us something rather than “nuh-uh, try again lol”.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                My proposed alternative is the consensus of mainstream secular historical study. Since mythicists are not persuaded by the extensive scholarship on this subject, I certainly don’t anticipate that they will be persuaded by a blog comment.

                Ironically, that reminds me of a group that this blog spends a lot of time combating because of their rejection of mainstream science.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                But this isn’t secular historians. It’s “Biblical historians.” And you’re still evading the question.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                My proposed alternative is the consensus of mainstream secular historical study.

                Then, would you be so kind as to summarize that for us?

                I was able to summarize Jesus’s official biography in under 300 words, and I don’t think you’d find anybody who would argue that it was an unfaithful rendition of the common religious understanding of Jesus.

                With the scholarly credentials you claim, offering a similar summary of the “real” Jesus’s biography should be trivial — at absolute most, the sort of thing you’d do on a napkin during lunchtime in preparation for an introductory lecture on the subject later that afternoon.

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                The bedrock is that Jesus was someone whose followers believed him to be God’s anointed one, the descendant of David who would restore the Davidic line to the throne. The strongest evidence for this is the fact that they also acknowledged that he had been crucified, which normally would disqualify someone from serious consideration to be a dynasty-restorer. And so we get from this two key elements: messianic beliefs about him, and crucifixion. Determining the extent to which Jesus himself fostered the messianic interpretation of his role is harder to say – as we see in the famous case of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it isn’t necessary for someone to explicitly claim to be that sort of figure, for followers to believe it, and to find methods of dealing with the cognitive dissonance that occurs when the person dies.

                Another point of consensus is that Jesus expected the dawn of the kingdom of God in the near future. Apocalypticism pervades our earliest sources, and later sources engage in damage control in relation to the fact that the end did not occur as expected.

                That he was from Nazareth is also very likely, given the fact that two sources make efforts in contradictory ways to explain how he could be born in Bethlehem – and thus fulfill that expectation – despite having been known as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Someone inventing from scratch would have had no need to invent problems for themselves in this manner.

                There are a few examples of the kinds of things that historians feel confident about.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                That he was from Nazareth is also very likely, given the fact that two sources make efforts in contradictory ways to explain how he could be born in Bethlehem – and thus fulfill that expectation – despite having been known as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Someone inventing from scratch would have had no need to invent problems for themselves in this manner.

                Well, then; in that case, we can be quite confident in summarily dismissing him as a fictional superhero from a fictional city — just like Bruce Wayne from Gotham City.

                You are aware, are you not, that no mention of Nazareth appears even once in the entire Hebrew Bible? That it appears not in any Epistle? That all other contemporary and earlier sources fail to mention it, including the Dead Sea Scrolls? That even Josephus, who lived a short walk away and who described all the neighboring geography, failed to mention Nazareth even once? That the only archaeological artifacts dated to the first century from there are of grave sites — and that no single Jew would ever live in a graveyard, let alone an entire hamlet? That, indeed, no non-Christian reference exists of the town until it had become a tourist trap on the Christian pilgrimage circuit some centuries later?

                I’m sorry, but I have an hard time taking seriously a “scholar” and “historian” who attempts to pass off such obvious fiction as fact. Would you not be similarly dismissive of me were I to claim that the real historical Arthur actually did discover Excalibur buried in a stone on Avalon? And would you really need an explanation of why such a claim is so obviously absurd?

                What’s next? Quotations from the Daily Planet with Clark Kent’s byline?

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                It seems that you prefer Rene Salm’s armchair assertions at a distance to the work of archaeologists and historians.

                That alone does you no credit. That you couple it with insults doesn’t make your stance more persuasive.

                I am not sure why you would think it likely that, because there are grave sites under what is now modern Nazareth, that that would have been where residents in the ancient place would have built their homes. But graves are rarely found very far from places where people lived, for reasons that should be obvious.

                Are you going to seriously suggest that the appearance of Nazareth in the ancient list of priestly courses involved Jews borrowing the place name from Christians, who made it up?

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Are you going to seriously suggest that the appearance of Nazareth in the ancient list of priestly courses involved Jews borrowing the place name from Christians, who made it up?

                I’m sorry; could you be a bit more specific?

                I’m unaware of any Jewish reference to the town before the third century. Certainly that qualifies as, “ancient,” but it’s also about as long after the formation of Christianity as the American Revolution is from today — far more than enough time for new settlements to develop, especially at a declared holy site.

                And if the best you can do as evidence for an entire city is a single textual reference centuries after the fact — and especially when the most prolific historian of the era (Josephus) spent so much time right where it should have been! — then, again, how can you possibly expect me to take you seriously?

                But maybe I’m being hasty in my judgment, and your “ancient list of priestly courses” is actually something relevant — in which case, I’d very much appreciate a bibliographical reference in exchange for my hearty apologies. Just yesterday I would have laughed at somebody who suggested that Philo described a character bearing strong semblance to the spiritual Jesus with a similar name; yet, somebody came through with chapters and verses. I’ve a long ways to go to agree with the conclusion, but I’ll certainly grant it merits consideration.

                Perhaps you’ll do the same for me with respect to Nazareth…?

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                The inscription from the third century found in Caesarea, listing the priestly courses and mentioning Nazareth, seems unlikely to be something concocted long after the destruction of the temple when the activity of the priestly courses suffered a decisive disruption. That it would be a late invention and would include a town fictitiously invented by Christians likewise seems implausible.

                But surely the crucial evidence is the presence of kokhim tombs in Nazareth, which were distinctively Jewish and ceased to be used after the first century CE?

                http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/29782/1/Ken%20Dark%20Nazareth%20paper%20from%20Ant%20J%20.pdf

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

                The inscription from the third century found in Caesarea, listing the priestly courses and mentioning Nazareth, seems unlikely to be something concocted long after the destruction of the temple when the activity of the priestly courses suffered a decisive disruption. That it would be a late invention and would include a town fictitiously invented by Christians likewise seems implausible.

                You demonstrate here a degree of credulity that itself beggars belief. Shirley, you couldn’t possibly accept evidence such as this as the sole source of an entire city in any other context?

                Again, to put it in perspective, you’re citing something — something with a questionable provenance, I might add — something an entire two centuries after the alleged events in question — at least a dozen generations! And that’s just the time after Jesus was supposed to have been born there — what of the time it would have taken to establish the city in the first place?

                In all that time, nobody else thought to make note of the place? Not even in the Hebrew Scriptures, not even in the Pauline Epistles? And not even Josephus himself, who could have walked there for lunch, even when he mentioned everywhere else in the area?

                And, for that matter, not even on the Tabula Peutingeriana, an encyclopedic Mediaeval copy of a presumed fourth century map (it includes Constantinople) of the entire Roman Empire with thousands of places, dozens in Galilee, even the Mount of Olives highlighted in red-letter text…?

                Or, how about the Itinerarium Burdigalense, a record of a Christian’s religious pilgrimage to all the holy sites in the Galilee in the year 333, and no Nazareth!?

                Instead, all you can offer is something from (well over) two frikkin’ centuries late on which to base a conclusion of historicity of an entire city!?

                Let’s not forget, either; the Nazareth of the Gospels wasn’t some one-horse watering hole.

                Luke 4:16 And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

                It took some measure of size and wealth to be able to build a synagogue complete with a Torah and everything.

                There really isn’t any charitable interpretation I can think of to explain this wild claim of yours. If you’re honestly ignorant of the paucity of evidence for Nazareth, such ignorance is inexcusable for somebody with your academic credentials — at least if you’re going to make claims about it such as you have. But if you’re aware of the dearth, either you’re blinded by matters of faith and evangelism — “Lying for Jesus” is the common term — or you’re so uncritical in your approach to scholarship that it’s hard to take anything else you might suggest seriously.

                Again, I’d be delighted to be convinced otherwise; all it would take is some evidence that wouldn’t get you laughed out of a dissertation defense. Or, for that matter, an honest admission of an error of some sort on your part would be quite welcome. I’d actually prefer the former; it’d be neat to be privy to such a surprising and momentous discovery….

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, but what leads you to expect it to have been a city in the first century? And what leads you to think that a village congregation had a designated building to meet in? And why do you simply accept what late sources add to the tradition, which might be misinformed or shaped by other considerations, and treat that as though it were relevant to assessing the historical probability of what earlier sources say?

                But more to the point, I would like to know why Jerry Coyne has decided to use his blog to combat fringe nonsense in the sciences and at the same time promote fringe nonsense in history, a field not his own.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, but what leads you to expect it to have been a city in the first century? And what leads you to think that a village congregation had a designated building to meet in? And why do you simply accept what late sources add to the tradition, which might be misinformed or shaped by other considerations, and treat that as though it were relevant to assessing the historical probability of what earlier sources say?

                This makes no sense.

                You’re happy to accept a poorly-provenanced third century fragmentary parenthetical mention of the city, one that describes it as one of several places of refuge after the Roman conquest…but you’re also eager to reject the Gospel description of it as a city with a synagogue that was written at least a century sooner? How about the Gospel of Matthew, earlier still, that, though less specific, still describes Nazareth as a “city” and not a couple hovels by the roadside?

                And if the Gospels are so unreliable as to mischaracterize Nazareth as a city with a synagogue when it was far too small as such…on what conceivable basis could you possibly conclude that Jesus was, indeed, born there? Were there multiple cities called, “Nazareth,” and Jesus was born in the shithole one that the Gospel authors mistook for the one with a synagogue?

                Forgive me — I’m just trying to make sense of your own theory as you’re presenting it here, and obviously not having much luck with it. Perhaps you could start again from scratch?

                Let’s leave Jesus aside for the moment, if you don’t mind, and just focus on Nazareth.

                Where was the city — at its modern location, or somewhere else? What was its approximate population in the first century? Did it or did it not have a synagogue?

                And — and here’s the kicker — please cite sources for your answers.

                Again, this really shouldn’t be that hard. Wouldn’t you ask these same questions, yourself, of a student in a dissertation defense if she had neglected to mention them in her paper? Shouldn’t you have them at the tip of your fingers?

                But more to the point, I would like to know why Jerry Coyne has decided to use his blog to combat fringe nonsense in the sciences and at the same time promote fringe nonsense in history, a field not his own.

                I’m sorry, but you’re the one providing hard evidence that the historicist position is the nonsense, fringe or otherwise. Jerry knows academia, and the very first rule is to provide citations that positively support your conclusions. You’ve been remarkably reluctant (or unable) to do so.

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                I included one recent article dealing with the distinctively Jewish tombs in Nazareth, disctinctive of the period in which Jesus is supposed to have lived. You ignored it. So I really don’t think the problem here is that I’m not providing references to sources. I can happily provide others, but if you aren’t going to read them, what would the point be? And if you were actually interested, presumably you would read books or articles on the subject? Have you seriously not had interactions that mirror the one I am having with you, on the topic of a matter of science rather than history?

                I am trying to be patient, but since you seem to think that Jesus was initially a divine being rather than a human being thought to be the Jewish Davidic anointed one, I can only assume that you prefer antiquated treatments of Jesus reflecting the antisemitism of that era, to the writings of modern historians. Wouldn’t informing yourself about the history of scholarship be an advisable place to begin, before drawing conclusions? Your arrogant tone, when you are ignoring evidence that is presented you, to say nothing of evidence that you seem not to have informed yourself about, doesn’t make one want to continue this sort of interaction. But if I stop now, will you do what creationists do when scientists get frustrated with them, and claim it is a victory?

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                I included one recent article dealing with the distinctively Jewish tombs in Nazareth, disctinctive of the period in which Jesus is supposed to have lived. You ignored it.

                I’m sorry, but I thought we had already established that Jews didn’t live in graveyards? And there were plenty of nearby towns within easy walking distance for which Nazareth would have been the perfect site for a graveyard. Are we really to believe that Jesus read the Torah in a synagogue built in a graveyard? And that this mind-blowingly evil blasphemy would have gone unnoticed by Josephus, himself in the next town over?

                Have you seriously not had interactions that mirror the one I am having with you, on the topic of a matter of science rather than history?

                Absolutely.

                And, right back at you: have you seriously never before been challenged to provide both positive evidence for the existence of Jesus (and Nazareth in your case) along with an explanation for how said evidence is consistent with the profound silence in contemporary records, Paul’s spirit-world Jesus, the Gospels’s larger-than-life Pagan demigod Jesus, Justin Martyr’s cataloguing of said Pagan demigods, Lucian of Samosata’s blistering satire of the fraudulent origins of those Pagan demigods, and all the rest?

                I very much doubt it. Either that, or you’re so far down the faithful Christian rabbit hole that you’re more interested in saving souls than academic honesty.

                So, here. Let’s try a different tack altogether.

                Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 66 clearly and unambiguously (and rather bitterly) makes plain that the Mithraic Eucharist was an imitation of the Christian one, save the imitating was done long in advance by evil daemons intent on leading honest men astray (chapter 54).

                Do you agree that the two Eucharists were similar enough for the one to fairly be characterized as an imitation of the other? If so, which was the original and which the copy?

                Be careful with your answer, for there is very hard documentary evidence to support mine — far more solid than centuries-late poorly-provenanced inscriptions not even consistent with earlier reports of Nazareth.

                I do believe, if we can come to a well-evidenced rational agreement on the origins of the Eucharist, we should be able to come to a well-evidenced rational agreement on the rest of the Jesus story.

                And I’ll bet you a cup of coffee (or other suitable beverage) that reason and evidence is overwhelmingly on my side.

                b&

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

                This is bizarre. What makes you think that they were allegedly living in or meeting on the graveyard?

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                Were the graves not within the presumed city limits?

                But never mind that. What is you answer to Justin Martyr’s complaint that daemons imitated the Eucharist in the cult of Mithras centuries in advance?

                …you did read the entire note you replied to, did you not?

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                Now you got me wondering about the damn graves. Usually they were outside the city limits IIRC from my archaeology classes.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                What bunk. A complete dodge. Anyone that maintains that some of what is reported in the gospels is historical and some mythical should be able to put together a working model of which is which and communicate the highlights succinctly and quickly.

                I’ll go. The beatitudes in one form or another were spoken by a cynic-sage sometime between 100 bce and 50 ce. They were probably spoken by several. One of them might have been named Jesus who might have been from Galilee. This Jesus was probably not the first to speak them.

                All the rest is myth.

              • Mark Erickson
                Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

                James, the more you comment, the more victories Ben has scored. If you were wise, you’d quit digging. Although I’m sure we’d all enjoy to hear more from you, so I’m glad you’re not.

                It isn’t really reasonable for you to expect Ben to stop the conversation and read a 30 page paper before continuing, is it? Here’s a summary of a critique of that paper for Ben and anyone else interested.

                This is a really long thread, so forgive me if I missed it, but did you provide an answer to the main challenge?

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

                This is of course the problem with attempting to respond to denialists. If you discuss, they share links to denialist web sites and claim that they refute the whole of mainstream scholarship. If you realize that the matter is not being discussed in a rigorously academic manner but in the manner of apologetic point-scoring, and withdraw from the conversation, then it is said to be a victory. Jerry Coyne has pointed out this very aspect of interaction with creationists, I believe. And so presumably I should choose in this no-win scenario the option that will at least waste less of my time, and allow me to actually spend more time undertaking the historical critical scholarship that is held in such low regard here.

              • Posted September 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                Seriously?

                I beg you to offer your learnèd scholarly interpretation of the very first Christian apologist’s account of the origins of the Eucharist…

                …and you choose this moment to take your leave?

                If Jesus’s historicity is as worthy of study as you claim, that passage alone damned well should be a focal point of interest. You really ought to have the historicist answer on the tip of your tongue — or, if you really think the conspiracy theory nature of the mythicist position is real, be able to trivially demonstrate how I’m abusing the context of the passage. Or, if you’ve never really considered it before, at least give us a, “Gee, I never thought of that. Let me do some research and get back to you.”

                But for you to flounce off now, the moment you’re presented with a difficult evidential challenge, demonstrates at best a lack of academic curiosity and at worse rank cowardice.

                b&

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

                No, Ben, I don’t think this is a fair summary of what Christians believe. For instance, having been a Christian for well over sixty years I never thought that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that this was a bit of prophecy historicised. All you have to do is to compare Matthew and Luke to know that this is not straightforward reportage. The problem is that you start with some sort of fundamentalism and then say, “This is what Christians believe,” but as long ago as 1930 (or thereabouts), the doctrine commission of the Church of England did not hold the so called “virgin birth” to be a matter of faith required of all believers, though clearly some still believe/d it. The point is that starting with this supposed biography is simply the wrong way round. We take the sources as we have them, and we try to discern historical traces within them. That is a work of very complex reading, interpretation, historical comparison and exegesis (based on other known Jewish figures of the time), etc. Read a Jewish scholar on the subject, David Fluser’s Jesus, to see how this kind of historical exegesis is done. In any event, running the gospels through Justin Martyr is scarcely a helpful way to go about trying to do the fine historical work that is necessary. So, he compares Christian beliefs to pagan ones? What of it? This is apologetics, where anything is grist for the mill. It was Irenaeus (I believe, though it may have been Ignatius) who spoke about the importance of crosses in all sorts of secular employements, like sails on ships, cross beams for houses, etc. All I’m saying is that this is really a job for professional scholars. Amateurs may make a contribution, but it should be done with the knowledge of the scholarly background. And as Wells’ turnaround suggests, it is not clear what some mythicists want to affirm. I have never doubted that there are all sorts of mythical accretions around the story of Jesus, and I have always held them to be unimportant for Christian faith, the resurrection included. Study the resurrection narratives and try to come up with a consistent story of what is being affirmed. You can’t. So, the resurrection, whatever else it is, is not, and should never have been considered, an historical event, though it is quite possible that Jesus’ followers had religious visions or experiences as to the supposed significance of Jesus’ death. As one commentator on the resurrection puts it, the resurrection is an eschatological event, it is a proleptic vision of Christian expectations. But going on about dying and rising gods (there is very little sign of this in the gospels) is mere persiflage, and makes those who take this stance look silly (in my humble opinion). Jesus was clearly a Jewish prophetic figure. What significance he took himself to have is very mysterious, based on the evidence of the canonical gospels, but his humanity is never held in question. Nor does Paul question his humanity, and even speaks of having met one of Jesus’ brothers. That does not diminish his sense of Jesus’ cosmic significance, a significance, however, which would have been empty had Jesus not been a human being. So far as I recall Paul knew nothing of the virginal conception. He was born after the flesh just as Paul himself was, and only by being so could he have been, in Paul’s conception, saving. If Christ was not crucified, then, he says, our faith is in vain. It is because you take none of this into consideration that your “theory” of the Jesus myth is, in my view, simply a stab in the dark.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

                For instance, having been a Christian for well over sixty years I never thought that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that this was a bit of prophecy historicised.

                Wonderful! This is exactly what I’m asking for. You’re well aware that the Gospels portray Jesus as having been born of a virgin in accordance with the prophecy, but you consider this to be an ahistorical fabrication. Again, this is exactly what I’m asking of you!

                Now, if you would, please take that same biography and copy / paste each of the elements under headings of, “Fiction” (obviously including the Virgin Birth), “Non-Fiction,” and, if you so desire, “Indeterminate.” If you think I’ve omitted anything significant, of course, feel free to add it under the appropriate heading.

                If you’re pressed for time, you needn’t explain yourself in this pass. We can take this in baby steps just fine. Almost certainly, single examples will suffice, so there’s no need to be exhaustive.

                The point is that starting with this supposed biography is simply the wrong way round. We take the sources as we have them, and we try to discern historical traces within them.

                Again, you’re describing the process by which one reaches conclusions. We’re not trying to reconstruct that here. Presumably, you’ve already reached your conclusion. Think of it more like a journal article: you’ve done all the research and you’re submitting the paper to the peer panel for review. Yes, you’re going to carefully describe your methods and observations in the body, but you need to start by summarizing your findings. “Jesus is an historical figure” is waaaay too vague to serve as such a summary. I’m trying desperately to extract from you something that actually could function as such a summary.

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                Interesting about the virgin bits. It prompted me to look up the Nicene creed & the originals in Latin & Greek say from a “vigin” – or “maiden” depending on what translation seems right. But, as you say, the modern Anglican versions says that god became “incarnate” in Mary & was made man.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                Ben, according to the Jewish Antiquities Authority, the remains of a first/second century home has been excavated in Nazareth. See http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_Item_eng.asp?sec_id=25&subj_id=240&id=1638&module_id=#as

                So the non-existence of Nazareth can apparently no longer be based on lack of any evidence.

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

              Ben, and you’re not going to get a detailed reply from me, until I am able to do a detailed study of the issues. I’m not an expert, and do not claim to be. My Greek is very rusty, having not used it for three or four decades except for brief excerpt. I do not have detailed knowledge of the relevant historical texts, nor the means to establish their reliability. Since I have said that amateur historicising or mythicizing are pointless, why do you expect me to give you detailed answers to questions that I have no qualifications whatever to give? This is getting ridiculous.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                Eric, there’s no conceivable reason you should have to embark on a decades-long study of ancient Greek in order to answer my question.

                Either you have a clear idea of who the historical Jesus was and what parts of the religious Jesus do and don’t align with the historical Jesus, or you have no basis for claiming such certainty in his existence.

                Again, see my analogy with the Higgs. If the CERN team hadn’t done all that work, I would be unwarranted to do more than express a guess or optimism one way or the other on the matter.

                But they’ve done the work, and we have our answer.

                If, after two millennia, there doesn’t even exist a plausible theory of Jesus — let alone supportive evidence! — then isn’t it long since past time to consign this idea to the same dustbin where we find all the other gods of ancient history?

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                Ben, this really is silly. I have not thought about this issue for some time. I have dipped into Ehrman’s book. I have read parts of Carrier’s book on history (which is a torment to read). I have paid some attention to the Jesus Seminar, and its attempts to come up with words considered to be probably spoken by the historical Jesus. I have no settled or informed position on the question, though I notice that Hoffmann, on the unbelieving side, as well as Ehrman, on the half believing side (?), and Robin Lane Fox, the historian of the classical world (whose religious belief I do not know), think that there is little historical question about the existence of Jesus, though I am not sure what, from amongst the gospels stories, they believe are historical. So, it’s not all that simple. I am a born sceptic, and am not prepared to say definitely what I think is historical. I simply have no basis upon which to do this. That’s why I find your own efforts to be superficial, because I do not think that you do either, and I am simply not sure why you think you do. So, no, if I am going to answer our questions I have to do a lot more research. That seems to me to the reasonable thing to do, and I have no qualifications to do anything else.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                So, it’s not all that simple. I am a born sceptic, and am not prepared to say definitely what I think is historical. I simply have no basis upon which to do this.

                Then neither have you any basis upon which to declare historicity at all. For what happens if, after you’ve done all your due diligence, you discover that not a single aspect of Jesus is credibly historical? You’ve as much as admitted that everything is already in the “not sure” category — and “not sure” can just as easily resolve to, “no.”

                Is there even one single fact about an historical Jesus you’d be willing to claim as true with any confidence?

                Just one fact?

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

                Reposting these:

                Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics
                1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.

                2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.

                3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

                It seems to me that unless one can articulate specific aspects of Jesus’s life that one considers to be historically accurate and provide evidence that on the whole supports it, that one is better off saying they don’t know if he existed, but don’t have any evidence that he did.

                They “I can’t argue or support it, but I think so anyway” seems like something we generally wouldn’t do for any other topic. Especially for a self-described skeptic.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                They “I can’t argue or support it, but I think so anyway” seems like something we generally wouldn’t do for any other topic.

                Actually, we do this all the time when we accept the scientific consensus in fields where our own knowledge is limited. Most of us here probably don’t know enough about climate science to tackle the subject of climate change in any meaningful way, but I assume all of us would accept the current scientific consensus as being almost certainly correct. Watts Up With That? is full of people who reject this principle.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                My position on climate change is “I don’t know, I haven’t studied it.” I hope that those making policy are studying it and working with the experts.

                But I don’t go out claiming that I know for sure the 1) there is significant climate change and 2) if it exists, it is caused by human activities.

                In this area, the experts seem to be agreement and I have no reason to dispute them. So following Russell point 1, I don’t dispute them.

                For me the historicity of Jesus is much more in Russell’s second category…and I have informed myself on this subject with lots of study, so I am comfortable hazarding a guess.

                Eric on the other hand was making assertions while admitting he had not data evidence or support, and yet called himself a skeptic. It was this conflict I commented on.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                The key difference is that, with climate change (or evolution or physics or any other real field), the evidence can be clearly summarized and supported independently. The greenhouse effect of CO2 is basic physics. How much fossil fuels we’ve burned and thus how much CO2 added to the environment is uncontroversial public record, and the measured amounts of CO2 are consistent with what one would predict. Similarly, the recorded rise in temperature also matches what the basic physics predicts. Anything past that is nuance.

                What we’re lacking from the historicists is even that level of summary. Jesus was a real human being, okay, so they claim — but, past that, none of them can even agree if his name was Jesus, let alone what role he might or might not have played in the rise of Christianity. Just now, Eric has flatly refused to tell us anything about Jesus, other than that he was a real human being who wasn’t born of a virgin.

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                Well, Ben, all I can suggest is that you read through the two books produced by the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus, where you will find a fairly well-defined character. Don’t ask me now what it is. It’s years since I read them, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. But there’s a fairly good methodology mapped out, and the conclusions derived from its application. But I’m just not expert enough to even begin to offer a summary of their findings. Given time, of which I have less and less as the years pass (73 this year if I make it to October), and better health, I might undertake a concentrated study, but I don’t expect to be able to do that, so you really must look elsewhere. But it would be wrong to suggest that it hasn’t been done, or that there are not some scholars who could do it.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                Then my only response is that I find the Jesus Seminar utterly unconvincing at virtually every step. It reminds me of nothing so much as a bunch of frightened children trying to convinced themselves that Mom and Dad really aren’t Santa.

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                As for his name being Jesus or its Aramaic equivalent, I see no reason to doubt that at all.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                Well, Ben, that might be your opinion, but it would be hard to understand why you should even suggest it. Indeed, it sounds to me rather childish. That aside, I find the methodology of the Seminar a reasonable way of seeing what consensus their is, and the person they end up with is very far from being the kerygmatic Jesus of Christianity. Many of the sayings are disputed. But, in order to find the answer, you might try Robert Funk’s A Credible Jesus: Fragments of a Vision. This is, after all the kind of thing you are denying exists, so it’s a bit unfair to say that nothing like this has been done, and then say, in a very cavalier manner, when directed to something that has been done, that it is simply nonsense. You seem to have let your guard down a bit, not relying on evidence, nor personal acquaintance with the sources, just a general dismissal without any reasons. Not very sound.

                The Jesus of the Seminar is, as I recall, much more like GA Wells’ peasant cynic than like the Christ of the fourth gospel. You do realise that there is no clear sign, in Jesus’ words (aside from the much later gospel of John) that he regarded himself as other than human. David Flusser, whose book I have mentioned, states in his Epilogue that he cannot “find any clear sign in the first three Gospels that Jesus spoke about belief in himself.” (176) Most people who deny the existence of the historical Jesus usually have a very different figure in mind. The birth and passion narratives aside — and these do not answer to Jesus’ own self-conception — there is no sign that Jesus thought of himself as the son of God or even the messiah. Indeed, the Jesus of Nicaea is nowhere in evidence until you come to the fourth gospel, and even there you don’t find Christian orthodoxy, and it is clearly the least historically reliable of the gospels. Critics seem to think that such a phenomenon as Jesus would surely have been more prominent in records of the time, but it is quite plain that the original group of followers was very small, and this ground (perhaps the Ebionites) was in time sidelined by the Gentile church.

                I find your dismissal of the Jesus Seminar telling. You really don’t want there to be a contrary story to your own privileged orthodoxy, do you?

          • Lowen Gartner
            Posted September 6, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            I haven’t read Wells nor am I a scholar. Perhaps he originated those ideas, I don’t know. My best guess is that the sayings and some rudimentary bio info isn’t from one person, but an amalgam of many roving cynics.

            Does Wells go further (as I suspect) that the Gospel of Mark was written to serve two purposes. One is to be read “literally” for first level initiates in the mystery cult. But, once one reached higher levels of initiation, the true meaning was revealed.

            In essence, the Kingdom of God does not exists externally, but is a state of mind within.

            There are some that even believe (with scholarship to support it) that “Jesus” was a magic mushroom. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a roving Cynic and a figment of Paul’s imagination (perhaps powered by a mushroom).

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              Yes, and John Allegro — he of the mushroom — lost all his credibility as a scholar with his outlandish interpretations, as he deserved to.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                🙂 Indeed he was. The idea was really far out. In the last few years there was a vatican priest that was doing translations in the archives who came to a similar conclusion regarding the use of magic mushrooms in Jewish/early Christian communities.

                I don’t know what it means to say “Jesus was a mushroom” but I do know what it means to think that Paul’s idea of Jesus was conceived under the influence of a mushroom and that it played a significant role in Paul’s cults where there were clearly conflicting visions of the spiritual Jesus.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Allegro’s The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was a knock-on effect of the 60s drug culture. I know nothing about the theory about the mushroom and what you call Paul’s cults, but I doubt very much it is any more soundly based than Allegro’s bizarre theory (which I read when it was published and thought to be stupid and irrational). It seems clear, from the evidence of Paul’s letters, that he was probably in touch with followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. There is simply too much humanity about Paul’s Jesus, and Paul’s allusions to Jesus’ teachings, to suppose that it was a figment of Paul’s mushroom modified consciousness. That historicity is at least one of the reasons that I think Jesus was probably an historical person, however overlaid with apocalyptic Jewish expectations.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                There is simply too much humanity about Paul’s Jesus

                Can you please cite chapter and verse of the single best example of Paul demonstrating Jesus’s humanity?

                Once again, no need for deep scholarship on your part; just book, chapter, and verse.

                And if Paul’s portrayal of Jesus’s humanity really made such an impression upon you, many such examples should already have leapt to mind before you wrote your original post; all I’m asking of you is to pick your single personal favorite example from that set.

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Well, for one thing, Paul seems to have been quite familiar with Jesus’ teachings on divorce, which he holds as coming from the Lord. There is also the emphasis which he places on crucifixion. It has to be a real crucifixion, not a merely docetic appearance of a heavenly being on a cross. Also he is quite aware that he was born as a human being. He seems clearly to have been taught the words alleged to have been spoken by Jesus at the last supper, and these indeed were spoken before his death, and say no more (despite later elaboration by the church) that this symbolises is death. It’s something a leader might very well do for his followers, giving them some way to remember him. He also speaks of having gone up to Jerusalem to speak with Peter and one of the Lord’s brothers. A man who has brothers is a man like others. (I’ll leave you to look up the sources. I haven’t a Bible in the house.)

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                Eric, I think I know exactly what’s going on — almost certainly in your case, and very likely in the case of many, if not most or even all in the Seminar. The remainder are those who are aware of the effect and are using it to their own advantage.

                Please, please, please, I dearly beg of you, watch this short (1’20”) video that asks you to count the number of times the players in white pass the ball. (I get 15 passes; what do you get?). It’s actually an harder test than it seems, so pay close attention. There’s a deceptive trick involved.

                After you have watched it, post a response here to that effect and I’ll elaborate further. For reasons you’ll understand after watching, explaining more at this point would be counterproductive; revealing the trick will upset your count of the passes.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                No, I don’t think I will, Ben. You clearly think that I’m the victim of some kind of conceptual illusion, and I don’t think watching a video is going to help detect it. So, no, I won’t. You tell me what you think, and we’ll progress (ha ha) from there. Remember, I’ve already said that I think this discussion is quite pointless, because none of us are more than amateurs (as are most mythicists, by the way) on this topic, and we’re scarcely going to move the ball very far, if at all. But you’re going to have to do better than a perceptual illusion to convince me than I’m wrong, and I’m not about to step in that particular bit of scat. So, what did you have on our mind?

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                Eric, please. Watch the damned video. It’s about eighty seconds out of your life, and what it demonstrates about how our attention works — especially in this case, how it affects your ability to count the number of passes the players in white make — will demonstrate the point I’m trying to make far better than anything I could possibly write.

                Just do it, okay? You’ve asked me to read the entire output of the Jesus Seminar, ferchrissakes — all I’m asking of you is an Internet video of not much more than a minute that asks you to count some basketball players passing the ball.

                b&

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                I got 14, but I felt that early on, I missed something. But I refused to play it back, to stay with my authentic System 1 impression (playing it back would be a System 2 correction, involving memory, comparison, computation, and correction).

                Daniel Kahneman makes a big use of this invisible gorilla experiment in his remarkable “Thinking, Fast and Slow” to pinpoint the limitations of System 1 (“Thinking fast”).

                In your conversation with Eric McDonald, I feel Eric is operating practically in System 1, using whatever comes to his mind spontaneously, in terms of memories, emotions, judgments.
                Which is why everything he says seems to be swimming in vagueness. You try to pin him down to a few exact details that he simply has no experience or expertise in clarifying.
                So he stays in his System 1-inspired floating vagueness.

                You and all of us are not going to learn anything from his answers.
                He is a poor mouthpiece for the Historicist theory.
                Far more instructive would have been a conversation with R. Joseph Hoffmann, who would have his facts and citations under his thumb, unlike Eric McDonald, with a rapier mind for repartees couched in epigrammatic sentences that a deep exertion of our System 2 would be needed to understand. But, warning, he is not a “windbag”, there’s thinking in what he says, but he won’t serve baby food. His stuff requires a lot of chewing, with some regurgitation now and then.

                So, you may keep pummeling Eric, but no definite information will come out. He does not even have a Bible in the house. Imagine!
                When GBJames and I were following his previous blog, “Choice in Dying”, he had never heard of George A. Wells, and had to check his a published biography listing to know who he was. Imagine the depth of his acquaintance with the “Frage nach der Historizität Jesu”, and the 200-year old debate!

                Pay close attention to what Eric previously said (and in that sense, he is painfully honest). I am extracting the meaningful bits, but you can go back easily to Eric’s full post higher up in this thread:

                “Ben.
                – I have not thought about this issue for some time.
                – I have dipped into Ehrman’s book. I have read parts of Carrier’s book on history (which is a torment to read). I have paid some attention to the Jesus Seminar. [Complete vagueness, you have no idea of what he’s read, and what he’s retained, or even understood.]
                – I have no settled or informed position on the question, though I notice that Hoffmann, as well as Ehrman, and Robin Lane Fox, think that there is little historical question about the existence of Jesus [He simply defers to three of his experts, he himself has nothing valuable to add.]
                – though I am not sure what, from amongst the gospels stories, they believe are historical. [From his vague readings, he does not have even a vague notion of what they stand for.]
                – So, it’s not all that simple. [Say that again, Eric.]
                – I am a born sceptic, and am not prepared to say definitely what I think is historical.
                – I simply have no basis upon which to do this. [The plain truth,from an honest man.]
                – So, no, if I am going to answer our questions I have to do a lot more research.
                – That seems to me to the reasonable thing to do, and I HAVE NO QUALIFICATIONS TO DO ANYTHING ELSE. (Emphasis added).

                You may keep pummeling Eric, but there’s nothing he can provide.

              • Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

                @ Roo

                « I am a born sceptic »

                I missed that the first time around.

                Perhaps a born-again sceptic, since Eric was an Anglican pastor for decades, which vocation I find difficult to reconcile with inherent scepticism.

                /@

                >

  47. Bastian
    Posted September 6, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    As a counter point to the mythological theory, I would cite the story of Sabbatai Zevi. In the seventeenth century, he proclaimed himself the Messiah and gathered widespread support within the Jewish community. However, he was captured by the Ottoman authorities and chose to renounce his teachings and converted to Islam. While one might think that the apostacy of their Messiah would end the movement, his prophet Nathan argued that it was neccesary for the Messiah to enter into the deepest depths of evil (apostasy) in order to redeem the world. A surprisingly large number of Jews maintained faith in Sabbatai, and even participated in a sort of sacred apostasy, living as orthodox Muslims and Jews while secretly maintaining faith in the return of Sabbatai to complete the work of salvation.
    This historical story has been compared to the life of Jesus, and it is thought that the Christian faith might have developed along similar lines when faced with the embarasement of a dead Messiah.
    As to why I think this more likely than that Jesus was purely mythical, in the first place, it generally agreed that John is the latest of the gospels. But fragments of John have been found dating to around 90 CE. Thus the Synoptic Gospels must have been written within living memory of the events they claim to record. There just isn’t much time in which the putative spiritual Christ became the historical one.
    Secondly, while the long passage referencing Jesus in Josephus is commonly considered a forgery, most scholars think it expanded an authentic reference. Secondly, almost no one thinks the later reference to James the brother of Jesus was fabricated.
    As to why there is so little contemporary interest, I would say that Jesus just wasn’t that big a figure. He lived and died in a backwater province that was constantly having uprisings and rebellions. At the time he didn’t seem worth mentioning. When Tacitus gets around to mentioning him in 116, it is because Nero chose Christians as an easy target on which to blame the great fire in Rome.
    As to the scientology and Mormonism references, those don’t seem all that similar. Mormon’s don’t contend Moroni was a modern resident of upstate New York who ascended to angelic status. He remains an angel. Your case would be closer if there had never been a Joseph Smith. As far as I know, Scientology doesn’t make any claims about the recent past. Both these religions only make historical claims about things that happened thousands, or even millions of years ago. Christian historical claims were made no more than sixty years after the case.

  48. Posted September 6, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    If you think that this conclusion isn’t the consensus of secular historians, you can’t have looked into the matter. You can safely ignore sectarian religious scholarship (if it even deserves that name) if you wish. But historians have long drawn the conclusion that Jesus was a figure in history, who expected that the kingdom of God would dawn in the lifetime of his hearers, and was mistaken. That conclusion is a troubling one for traditional Christian views of Jesus. To pretend that that conclusion is in fact evidence of the secular academy being beholden to Christian dogma strikes me as implausible.

    • Posted September 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      The concept of consensus of secular historians is questionable. The influence of religion on society up until the past few decades has been all encompassing.
      For centuries, questioning religion at all was taboo. In many circles it still is. We have to admit that that influence has negatively affected scholarship in many areas- history included.
      This influence bolstered the alleged inferiority of women, the persecution of gays and other minorities. It served as an unscientific basis from which much rubbish flourished.
      There’s nothing implausible about the fact that homosexuality was only removed from the DSM in the 70’s, and that it was socio-cultural attitudes (based on religion and patriarchy) that put it in there in the first place.

      • Tomas
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        This kind of an odd thing to argue, that historians are pandering to Christians, when in fact the views of Jesus by most historians, and particularly the sort that line our most established educational institutions, is offensive to most Christian beliefs. In every other area their views of Jesus do not align or even coddle a christians audience, in fact their views would be deemed as heretical and blasphemous.

        But you seem to hold on to this aspect, that Jesus did not exist, is not accepted solely because of academic brainwashing, or on some conspiracy to keep it out, and yet never really thought to consider that perhaps the arguments of this alternative theory is bit ridiculous? We all know countless mythicists theories that are noted as being quite absurd, such as Acharya S, that they even get pointed out by other mythicist?

        No one seems to pause to consider if the theory that the early christians believed their Messiah, existed in some other sort of platonic other realm, and that events like his crucification took place there, has any real evidence to make the case even remotely persuasive?

        The Gospels writers, and the early christians spent a great deal of time trying to squeeze Jesus into the Jewish messianic expectations, trying to find passages and etcs, even if they were a bit of a stretch, to try and fit a square peg into a round hole. Battling all sorts of inconsistencies in his supposed life, like Jesus not being from Bethlehem? These sort of abnormalities don’t make much sense if Jesus was madeup completely on the spot don’t you think? I mean if you were going to make him up whole cloth, why wouldn’t you imagine a Jesus that fit the best it could into Jewish expectations? Jesus was already a hard sell of a messiah, so why make it even harder on yourself?

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

          If you can’t identify the depth of the influence of religious diktats on society, then you simply don’t know much about history.
          Attitudes on birth control, sex & sexuality, gender, and even science itself- have all been drastically affected by the religious/patriarchal conditioning that most people in society absorb.
          Just look at the opposition faced by the ‘sex’ scientists of the 60’s and 70’s. Or, why don’t we just ask Prof. Coyne about attacks on evolution still occurring today? If you prefer to go back, how about Huxley vs. Owen? Historically speaking, that’s not very long ago. Contraception was only legalized in Spain in 1978- despite the opposition of a battalion of Catholic doctors/scientists. If my memory serves me correctly, their argument was based on the ‘possible harm’ caused by contraceptives. So I’m not alluding to conspiracy theories, I’m simply stating that many are conditioned to accepting religious claims at face value- and I can cite evidence, case upon case upon case, where that’s a factor of primordial importance.

          • Tomas
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

            //If my memory serves me correctly, their argument was based on the ‘possible harm’ caused by contraceptives. So I’m not alluding to conspiracy theories, I’m simply stating that many are conditioned to accepting religious claims at face value- and I can cite evidence, case upon case upon case, where that’s a factor of primordial importance.//

            So you’re saying non-religious historians are conditioned to accept religious claims at face value as well? Though they reject pretty much every other religious claim, such as miracles, jesus being God, etc…, and in fact their views are hardly the sort that cater to religious sensibilities, but you believe the question of Jesus existence is the exception here? While pretty much every other religious claim about Jesus is rejected, his existence is one that’s kept as the result of religious conditioning?

            This is why you believe Ehrman still accepts the historicity hypothesis? There are also plenty of non-believers here as well, that accept a historicity as well, would your explanation for this also be, “religious conditioning”?

            So in your view I’m guessing someone like Carrier and Robot Price, are the sort who broke through this supposed conditioning, unlike their more reputable peers?

            I think it’s pretty insulting to accuse those who have spend a good deal of time studying the subject, who come out on the side of historicity, as rejecting mythicism solely because of religious conditioning (which is just a nice way of saying brainwashed), the fact is most of us reject it because it’s ridiculous, and the supporters of it can rarely even defend it, without absolving themselves by plugging in some book we’re supposed to buy.

            I can hardly get answers to the numerous questions proposed to those who hold this minority view, and yet it’s brainwashing that keeps us from accepting it?

            • Posted September 8, 2014 at 2:44 am | Permalink

              Supposed conditioning? When a country’s money says In God We Trust- the implication is that a god exists. Wherever it can/could religion has inserted itself. There are still over 20 bishops in the House of Lords. A number of countries still have compulsory Church taxes (including developed ones like Denmark). A number of American courts display(ed) the 10 commandments. BBC1 (public television) broadcasts Songs of Praise every Sunday afternoon. Many countries broadcast Easter/Christmas/New Year’s mass. And that’s just off the top of my head; So yes, we’re conditioned into accepting religion as not just part of the landscape, but as a reasonable and respectable choice.
              American politicians must and do cater to that demographic. Questioning religion (any part of it) is still considered by many to be disrespectful, if not taboo. A supposed attack on freedom of religion.
              The teaching of evolution itself is considered an attack on religion by a number of groups. And that’s just because it doesn’t match a few lines in Genesis.
              I simply contend that questioning the historicity of Jesus is the ultimate form of dismissing Christianity- as such, a hornet’s nest. By choosing to embark on that path Carrier has made himself a target. Browsing the internet you can see a concerted campaign to label him a fringe figure. You do that yourself in your own comment; even though that disregards the fact that his case against historicity is solid and presented flawlessly- unlike Ehrman’s ‘Did Jesus exist?’

              The issue isn’t exactly brainwashing. It’s just that children grow up with a presumption that adults know what they’re doing. I remember thinking to myself as a child that there must be something to this religion hoojie because so many people are into it. It didn’t seem plausible that so many could be so completely deluded. Obviously I was wrong. It’s perfectly possible. 77% of Americans believe in angels.

              • Tomas
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                @pinkagendist

                //I simply contend that questioning the historicity of Jesus is the ultimate form of dismissing Christianity- as such, a hornet’s nest. By choosing to embark on that path Carrier has made himself a target.//

                No he made a small fortune and name for himself with it. He would likely have been some obscure dude, who wasted his time studying history, working at you’re local Sears store selling tires, or at best a professor at some community college. He’s not a target, anymore so than Ken Ham is a target, because the opinions on both of them by academics and layperson alike is the same. That they are panderers to folks who are ignorant, who hold views too ridicolous for anyone to take seriously.

                The case for mythicist is so poor that you can’t even gets folks here who are so eager to endorse to, to actually do so. You can’t even convince folks like Dawkins and Coyne of it. At best they’ll link to an article by someone else on the topic, and keep their hands far away from it as possible. Why do you think that is? Because folks like Dawkins and Coyne are afraid of the religious status quo?

                I think you have a very inflated view of how people view mythicist. No one views them as a threat, they view them as silly, like birthers and the like.

                //Browsing the internet you can see a concerted campaign to label him a fringe figure. //

                He’s peddling a fringe view, so he is in fact a fringe figure, like Michael Behe. But this doesn’t mean his view is not true, but we gotta call a horse by it’s name. Anyone who would like to claim that non-historical view is not a fringe view, is pretty much fooling themselves. But this would be the case even if Carrier is right and his views were in fact accurate.

                //I simply contend that questioning the historicity of Jesus is the ultimate form//

                That’s probably why so many people eat the mythicist position up, even the garbage ones like Arachaya S. They believe it to be the ultimate thorn in the coffin of Christianity, which is kind of silly. There are plenty of widely accepted views that do just that, that Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, that he was just a man, etc….

                You seem to think that non-christian scholars and historians like Reza Aslan, Bart Ehrman, are going to lose brownie points among communities in which they don’t have any to begin with, if they acknowledge this supposed “truth”.

                And yet you seem to make an even more sweeping generalization, that the only hypothesis that works, as to why no one accepts mythicism, is religious conditioning, rather than perhaps the mythicist position (to say it nicely) is not well thought out, and is far from persuasive. All the evidence suggests this is more likely to be true than “the religious conditioning hypothesis”. If this were the case than those that lack such loyalty to religious status qua, should be staunch supporters of non-historiticty, when in fact they’re not, and more likely to sit on the fence, rather than openly endorse it.

                How do you not recognize that the case you’re making is torn straight from the creationist page book, of the whole teach the controversy campaign, that teachers are afraid to question the ToE, express their doubts about it, because of fear that they’ll be fired, etc.. The lot of mythicist parallel their creationist brothers in so many ways, yet both parties are likely to be oblivious of this.

                Perhaps someone should get a Kickstarter campaign going to teach the controversy. I would suggest the title Expelled, but I believe that’s already been taken. I mean that would be a good way to get the word out, and perhaps obtain the support that’s needed to get things moving. We probably all agree “The God who Wasn’t There” was terribly inaccurate film, perhaps Carrier could create a better one, that we can all applaud rather than wince at.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                I think you’re a bit confused about a few things, and a bit too angry about others. I simply gave my perspective that I believe religious conditioning plays a tremendous role in historicity being taken for granted.

                From what I’ve read here on WEIT, and I could be wrong, but I understood that Prof. Coyne’s position is he isn’t entirely convinced by historicity. That seems like an intellectually honest and fair stance that makes no presumptions either way.

                There’s no parallel to creationism in that. Evolution vs. Creationism is science vs. mythology. Historicity vs. mythicism is: there’s not enough evidence to conclusively prove one or the other.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                Well said!

                I would also warn Tomas to be careful in comparing people who don’t buy that there is convincing evidence to decisively conclude that there was a historical Jesus to creationists, in this website. Prof. Ceiling Cat may not take that kindly.

            • Dr. Richard Carrier
              Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              //No he made a small fortune and name for himself with it.//

              I find it so strange when people claim this. It’s not only weird because it is wildly false. It’s also weird because, being false, it means you just lied about it. So what motivated you to tell this lie? I’m serious. Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: “Why did I do that?”

              Because there is something about this that should scare you. There is something so terrifying to you that you have to tell yourself and the world lies as an excuse not to accept it. What that is, only you can discover. You’ve been accused here of dogmatic bias. Isn’t the fact that you so readily and shamelessly resorted to lying proof of their case?

              I make next to no money (my annual profit is between $15,000 and $20,000 per annum), because I choose to operate with total academic freedom. Historicity defenders, like Ehrman, are the ones with big-dollar mass-market publishing contracts and six figure salaries.

              And I was famous long before I published on historicity, or even had any opinions against it. In fact it was my fame (as a blogger, author, historian, philosopher, and international speaker) that led many of my fans around the world to ask me to investigate this subject (telling me they wanted to hear my professional opinion, as an expert historian, on Doherty’s treatment of the subject, a request I resisted as a waste of time until the number of requests grew large). And it was my fame that subsequently allowed me, years later, to generate a fan-funded $20,000 research grant to do a thorough study on the subject, at a time when I wasn’t so sure whether historicity would be confirmed by the end of that project. A project that then took six years to complete.

              So to suggest I “made a small fortune and name for myself with” this is ridiculous. It’s a lie. Which makes you a liar. All that remains is for you to examine yourself for why you chose to be a liar.

              • Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                We try to be civil on this blog, so please deep-six the accusations of “liar”. One can be ignorant, which doesn’t make one a liar.

                We appreciate your expertise around here, but we are civil and don’t call each other names. So if someone is wrong, just say they’re wrong; don’t call them names.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Ceci est un blog?

              • GBJames
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                You caught the cat, Lowen! 😉

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                It’s a sad day indeed. But made better by RC’s appearance here.

              • tomas
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

                // It’s also weird because, being false, it means you just lied about it. So what motivated you to tell this lie? I’m serious. Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself://

                I stand corrected. I assumed so because the variety of books you’ve written on the subject, speaking engagements etc.. that you’ve accumulated a small fortune. I wasn’t trying to lie here, but it appears I over estimates what you make from these sorts of things.

                Either way, we’re all playing the same game. Mythicist attempt to explain the motivation behind the lack of seriousness given to their position among most historians, typically blaming it on religious conditioning. But what’s the motivation for mythicist? Perhaps you do so purely out of selfless passion for the truth, but how about others? Folks who do peddle a variety of garbage, Acharya S? What seems to motivate them? Anti-religious conditioning?

                //. Historicity defenders, like Ehrman, are the ones with big-dollar mass-market publishing contracts and six figure salaries.//

                Well Ehrman was a pretty late historicity defender, and was likely making a good penny long before he penned “Did Jesus Exist’, in fact his Misquoting Jesus sold better. He’s also a professor at UNC. So I doubt at any point he would have been a man struggling to make ends meet.

                And like Dawkins, he’s also a gifted communicator of his subject of expertise. If only mythicist had such a figure, it might make these discussion a lot easier.

                But either way, I apologize for wrongly accusing you of making a small fortune.

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

          Tomas:

          “if Jesus was madeup completely on the spot don’t you think?”

          You’re simplifying the issue to give a very simplistic answer.

          Paul-Louis Couchoud studied the issue of Jesus’s historicity for more than 30 years and concluded with his book “The Creation of Christ” (1939) that it took THREE HUNDRED YEARS to conceive and formulate the final figures of Jesus Christ, from Daniel and Enoch to the mid-2d century AD when both Paul’s epistles and the Gospels reached some kind of effective distribution.

          The scenario you propose is your personal ad hoc interpretation.

          • Tomas
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

            //Paul-Louis Couchoud studied the issue of Jesus’s historicity for more than 30 years and concluded with his book “The Creation of Christ” (1939) that it took THREE HUNDRED YEARS to conceive and formulate the final figures of Jesus Christ, from Daniel and Enoch to the mid-2d century AD when both Paul’s epistles and the Gospels reached some kind of effective distribution.//

            So by 300 years, you mean around 300 bc? And the final figure of Jesus, is the one that emerged around the first century, found in the Gospels and in Paul?

            Do we have a good deal of writing about this early Jesus? Or is the basis of this original form of Jesus, based on a few scant passages scattered here and there?

            But as far as Jesus not being from Bethlehem, and the gospel writers having to make some convoluted explanation to place his birth in Bethlehem, are you claiming this was because this pre-finalized non-existenst, possibly spirit Jesus was from Nazareth, so the Gospel writers had to create a story of a census to explain this away, and to have him fulfill the prophecies regarding his birthplace?

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        Pinkagendist says:

        “The concept of consensus of secular historians is questionable. The influence of religion on society up until the past few decades has been all encompassing.
        For centuries, questioning religion at all was taboo. In many circles it still is. We have to admit that that influence has negatively affected scholarship in many areas- history included.”

        This accusation is undeniable, and the stranglehold of Christianity on thinking and especially education and academic universities in Europe and the US has been “all encompassing” and a dominant force for nearly 1,500 years.

        “For centuries, questioning religion at all was” not just “taboo”, but a sure warrant of death, as the naive Jan Hus experienced when he came invited to the Council of Konstanz to expose his views supporting John Wycliffe, the translator of the Bible into English and a critic of the Church’s temporal power, who had been declared a heretic. Hus was arrested and burned on the stake for heresy by the assembled bishops of Europe (July 6, 1415).
        Hus’s supporter Jerome of Prague foolishly came to Konstanz to help Hus, was also arrested and burned at the stake (May 1416).

        Four centuries later, the Christian Church still dominated European and American universities.

        The 27-year old iconoclast David Strauss declared the miracles of the Bible mythological in his revolutionary “Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet” (1835) and promoted the concept of a “historical Jesus”, whereupon he lost all chances of a career in academia.

        His contemporary Bruno Bauer criticized Strauss as too timid, and went further, declaring Jesus’s existence to be also a myth (1841), and was duly evicted from his Bonn Un. position and never allowed to teach again.

        In the 20th c. Thomas L. Thompson wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the mythical nature of the history of the Old Testament, and was refused a job in American universities, obliging him to emigrate to Copenhagen where he finally was accepted as a professor of Old Testament studies.

        Only in Holland were the members of the “Dutch Radical School”, who had no compunction to criticize anything in Christian theology, allowed to hold university professorships in the 19th and 20th c. They went so far as questioning the authenticity of Paul’s famous Epistles, and even the historicity of Paul himself, whom they found more enigmatic than Jesus.

        In other countries, practically all Jesus’s historicity deniers with academic jobs were professors lucky enough to hold positions in departments not affiliated with biblical studies (William Benjamin Smith, Paul-Louis Couchoud, George A. Wells), or were independents who published outside the University establishment (Baron d’Holbach, Hermann Reimarus, John McKinnon Robertson, Arthur Drews).

        Today, a freshly-minted Columbia Un. Ph.D. such as brash critic Richard Carrier could not find a teaching job in the American university system and decided to become a free-lance critic of Christian theology, brandishing Bayes’s theorem on conditional probability as the most recent weapon to reheat and restate all the classical arguments established over more than 200 years of denial of the historicity of Jesus, but adding nothing really new.

        In Biblical-studies departments of American universities, only those professors are considered acceptable who hold views similar to those of, for instance, Bart Ehrman and James F. McGrath, essentially endorsing the historicity of the biblical Jesus.

        R. Joseph Hoffmann is a historian of Christian Origins, and not a theologian. He has been closely involved in the discussion about Jesus’s historicity and has voiced his opinions in very acerbic and elegant language, but which tends to be seen as hermetic, and even vacillating and confusing. His fluctuating views have to be carefully dated by year.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        You make a good point. Another example is there are sexual decorations in houses in the ruins of Pompeii that were sealed off for decades because of our society’s sense of impropriety. Only recently have these things been opened up.

  49. GakuseiDon
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    On Justin Martyr’s comment on the Eucharist in his 1st Apology: Justin writes: “For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated [in Mithraism], you either know or can learn.” That’s about all, and this ‘similarity’ is as vague as most of the other similarities that Justin provides.

    Check out some of the other ‘similarities’ claimed by Justin:

    (1) “Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus” = Christ ascending to heaven

    (2) Christ being said to be “Strong as a giant to run his course,” = “Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth.”

    (3) Christ being said as “… He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape.” = “Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine [or, the ass] among his mysteries”

    (4) Christ being crucified = AEsculapius struck by a thunderbolt, Bacchus torn limb from limb; and Hercules burnt by fire.

    Most of them are obviously very vague, but Justin explains it was because the devils copied OT prophecies… and got them **wrong**. I have a webpage on “Diabolical Mimicry” where I discuss this: http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/Diabolical_Mimicry.htm

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      GakuseiDon:

      Welcome back to the fray.
      And bringing along your disturbing precise knowledge of the ancient texts.

      Autodidact Doherty has departed, tail between hind legs.
      James McGrath never had anything significant to contribute.
      Bart Ehrman used to be a dependable scholar and is now a popularizer for the unlearned young (publishing without an index!).
      Joseph Hermann has not yet produced his tantalizingly promised epoch-making book on “Die Frage nach der Historizität Jesu”.
      Richard Carrier promptly labels as “insane” anybody diametrically hostile to his blog and is now inebriated with the belief that the imprecise probabilities calculated by the Bayes’s theorem permit us to adjudicate issues in the Historizität Frage.

      Now is the time for you to come back into the debate and contribute your in-depth pointed comments and inject some commotion into the molecules of that too static atmosphere.

  50. Nikos Apostolakis
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Neal Godfrey at Vridar has taken up your challenge.

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      And he did a damned fine job of it, too! Thanks for pointing that out.

      b&

  51. aspidoscelis
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Ben Goren–

    If you wish to rely on Paul of Tarsus, Justin Martyr, Flavius Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, etc., to make your case surely you must, at minimum, establish that these are actual people.

    And yet you state that, “First, “Paul” is himself a composite figure, and his official biography in Acts is undoubtedly fictional.” So Paul is a myth, by your standards. Who are the real people who establish your case? You are not immune from the standards *you have set*, but you do not meet them.

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      If you wish to rely on Paul of Tarsus, Justin Martyr, Flavius Josephus, Lucian of Samosata, etc., to make your case surely you must, at minimum, establish that these are actual people.

      After Ehrman’s whopper of his admission of belief in an historical Jupiter, this has to be the most bizarre thing I’ve read from an historicist today.

      Are you doubting the existence of the texts which I’m referring to? Do you accept their existence but think their origination comes from some source other than an human hand?

      It matters not whether the name signed to the texts matches the one the author would have signed to a letter to his mother. We have the texts themselves (or, sadly, in many cases, late copies-of-copies-of-copies — but that’s another story), and it’s the texts we’re examining. Not the authors of the texts.

      What’s next? An accusation that I’m naively trusting these sources as infallible truth?

      b&

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        A historical Jupiter?! Please, citation – I have to read this.

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          I’m afraid you’ll have to watch the video embedded in Jerry’s post:

          https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/more-tinder-bart-ehrmans-speech-on-jesus-at-the-ffrf-regional-convention/

          However, he presents the information as part of his latest book, so it may well be in that as well.

          I’m half tempted to buy it just for the shits and giggles, save I’m not so sure I want to throw the money in his direction….

          b&

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

            I own a copy of Ehrman’s latest boook but I haven’t yet read it. Quickly looking at all occurences of Jupiter, I didn’t find anywhere that he believes Jupiter is or was historical. But I may have missed it. I didn’t look that carefuly.

            • Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

              In the video, he presents the three as examples of how mortals became divine and how the precedent was there for the Christians to apotheosize Jesus. At least in the video, at least as I remember, he never disclaims historicity for them — and how could he? It would invalidate his use of them as precedent for Jesus. And he definitely gives a very strong impression that he believes in the historicity of Romulus at the least…and makes no effort to distinguish Romulus from either Hercules or Jupiter.

              Maybe he’s just a lousy extemporaneous speaker, and he doesn’t make such a mess of things in his book. But my recent experiences with his books don’t give me much reason for optimism….

              b&

              • Mark Erickson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

                You didn’t get his point with Jupiter, it was clear to me. In that case, Jupiter was the god who came down to earth in human form and made a demi-god, Hercules. So Hercules is the example of one of three ways a human can be divine, too.

                But you are right, he says Romulus was an historical person exalted to heaven and made divine.

                The third way (presented first) I don’t think he gave a named example, but it was for someone extremely intelligent, beautiful, etc. I’m 95% sure on this last point, but I’ll try to re listen and confirm.

              • Mark Erickson
                Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

                Okay, 5%. Romulus is called a human being, which doesn’t necessarily mean he was historical. And that was case of the really amazing person exalted to heaven at the end of their life, so those are not separate pathways.

                Jupiter is the third case, presented last, and just as a god who assumed human form for a time.

                So Ehrman is off the hook on this one.

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

                So Ehrman is off the hook on this one.

                Not at all. He explicitly used the three as examples of how humans became gods. Even if he only meant Romulus as the only actual historical being to compare with Jesus…he not only didn’t say that (does he in the book), but Romulus is universally recognized as mythical as well. Ehrman believing (or pretending) otherwise…just makes him a gullible idiot.

                And Hercules? And Jupiter! In a discussion about how real humans became gods? I mean, the dude’s got to be the worst teacher and rhetorician in the world if he thinks those two even belong in such a discussion, except as counterexamples.

                b&

              • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                just makes [Ehrman] a gullible idiot

                Don’t you sometimes wonder, Ben, why it is that everyone who disagrees with you has to be referred to in terms like “gullible idiot”?

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        I repeat, if you are relying on these authors to make your case surely you must, at minimum, establish that they are actual people.

        • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          Oh, what nonsense. By your logic, writing didn’t exist in Sumer because those clay tablets are anonymous.

          b&

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

            Well, OK then. I can hardly argue against that, nor improve on it.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Or do you intend to base your argument on the testimonies of fictitious people?

      If that’s the bar, one need only say, “Well, Jesus said that…” et voilá, we have a historical Jesus.

      You can’t just exempt your own position from the standard of evidence you require from your opponents!

  52. Lowen Gartner
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Published today! We need more Robin Hood analogies.

    “So whilst it’s practically impossible to confirm or deny the existence of a single figure in history as Robin Hood, what is perhaps interesting about him is that seemingly out of nowhere this legend sprang out, whether it was based on a real man or not. A name passed between different men, different faces, that came to mean something else – and after years of tales and stories, became part of Britain’s cultural history forever.”

    http://toybox.io9.com/was-the-doctor-right-a-look-at-the-myth-and-reality-of-1631486423

  53. Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I am happy to take on this challenge. Unlike the commentator I have two degrees in Ancient History, with my thesis being on Philo of Alexandria as it happens.

    As for Philo of Alexandria, aside from specific events such as his embassy to Gaius he barely gives us any information about his own life or the events surrounding it (what we do know you can find helpfully collated by Dorothy Sly’s “Philo’s Alexandria”). None of the myriad of important religious and cultural leaders, figures and movements that Josephus mentions are recounted in Philo’s work. Nor does he even mention the Pharisees or the Sadducees! But then his concern is using allegory to show the harmony of Jewish scriptures and Platonic/Stoic thought. Also we only have part of his writings, with some of it being missing and fragmentary. So, to put this in some context, it would be like complaining that Barak Obama, this supposedly “world-famous” “most important man in the world” receives no attention in fragmentary academic treatises written by a Malaysian philosopher on metaphysics. Suspicious huh? Or maybe you can understand why this is not a question that is raised in serious academic historical studies…

    But lets give this silly, and repeated, suggestion that because Jesus is not mentioned by contemporary historical sources that this indicates that he does not exist some extended consideration. (In a debate with Zeba Crook, Richard Carrier has stated that this argument should not be given the weight it often is).

    We need to realize that any person in antiquity who would not likely be recorded about in physical assets such as coins, epigraphs (etc…), that we are dependent upon literary documents to know about their existence. These are extremely rare from antiquity. We probably have less than .001% of all literature from Classical period currently extant. Apart from a few examples, and most of these during specific events such as the Athenian-Spartan conflict, the Second Punic War, or the upheavals during the fall of the Roman Republic, we do not have sources from the time on people in Classical history. We have almost nothing written from the time about dozens of Roman Emperors who ruled one of the largest and most literate societies pre-enlightenment Europe. We only hear of great generals, such as Scipio, decades after the event. Perhaps we might suggest that he didn’t exist too? Great philosophers who mingled with Emperors, politicians and business men, who would have had infinitely more influence (and connections with literate people) than the itinerant failed messiah figure Jesus in rural Palestine with twelve regular followers! How much do we know of them from the time of their lives? Practically nothing.

    People like the founders of Stoicism and Epicureanism; their writings were part of every educated Romans’ libraries and had followers (like Christianity) in every major city. So there must be thousands of copies of their writings? No. Apart from three letters of Epicurus almost nothing. Alexander the Great who conquered the whole known world. Well, we must have thousands of reports about him from Nope. We can fit it on about half a page of A4. Consider the “Loeb Classical Library” that has been published by Harvard University Press for over a hundred years. It translates and publishes all the major works from Classical Antiquity. Over 1,000 years of writing, during which time the West enjoyed its first Golden Age of literature. How large is this corpus of material? It can fit into two bookcases (!)- and they are double the size they need to be: each volume supplies the Latin/Greek as well as an English translation.

    Read Professor Robert Garland’s “Celebrity in Antiquity: From Media Tarts to Tabloid Queens” and Graham Anderon’s “Sage, Saint and Sophist: Holy Men and Their Associates in the Early Roman Empire”, try to note down in a spreadsheet how close the extant records we have for apparently well-known people in antiquity (including actors, philosophers, religious charismatics etc”) are. All are pretty much written about decades, mainly hundreds of years after their lives, and are almost always only referenced in one solitary source. Look at the Jewish historian Josephus’ works. He lists many Jewish leaders who were equal to Jesus in fame. Who else records them? No one, just Josephus. (by the way no-one mentions Josephus, supposedly this BIG Jewish commander and how client of the Emperor himself, he must never have existed a well!). The destruction of Pompeii, a large city, completely destroyed. An event comparible in terms of shock to 9/11. This must be recorded EVERYWHERE. Only no. It isn’t. Only one source from near the the time talks about it. So perhaps it, and all these other figures, are just made up too, or perhaps people like these non-trained activists like Ben and Fitzgerald need a new argument.

    One interesting exercise to show how ancient fame vis-a-vis ancient literary records works is to compare Jesus with Cato the Younger. Cato was probably the most famous person by the time of Christ. We even have two classical authors saying they are fed up having with having stories of his live being constantly recollected by everyone. Now how many biographies of his life now exist? One, by Plutarch who wrote it over a hundred years later! This is a very good indicator of that this argument from silence needs to be put to bed, not given the oxygen of media attention- especially by free-thinkers(!!).

    Lets not be ignorant about this. They would have a field day producing books, blog posts, and having their readers high-fiving them if it served the atheist cause to turn their “methods” to question such ancient figures and events’ existence – yet they think that historians are only wrong about this one figure. It is online amateur activism parading itself as reasoned scholarship.

    The fact that Jesus is talked about by a dozen pagan references within a hundred years is remarkable. But this is a narrative that is sidelined, and just as illegitimately so as when Christian apologists sideline the evidence of competing traditions within the Gospels, or when creationists try to explain “show me the missing links” Both are reprehensible, and both show complete ignorance of how to properly approach and understand the field. (And by the way a recent find in the Talmud by the leading British expert on it, and also new scholarship Mara bar Serapion do provide evidence that Jesus was talked about during his lifetime, but, well, that can wait for another day).

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      I am happy to take on this challenge.

      You don’t seem to, though. The challenge had very specific questions and guidelines. I see none of them answered in your post. Or are you planning to actually take the challenge in a future post?

      If you don’t mind can you clarify this for me? You say:

      We have almost nothing written from the time about dozens of Roman Emperors who ruled one of the largest and most literate societies pre-enlightenment Europe.

      Who are these emperors? And are you saying that the evidence for the existence of Jesus is comparable to the evidence for the existence of those emperors? You don’t seem to, but I just want to make sure.

      Looking forward to you taking up the challenge by Ben.

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

        No I am not claiming that there is an equivalence between the evidence for some Emperors in comparison to the existence of Jesus. Being an Emperor naturally gives you access to other means that document your existence- primarily epigraphical material. (Although I imagine if you are a skeptical enough and have the imperative to do so you can engineer scenarios to explain these away too). I am referring to literary documentation, which was the criteria that was implied.

        For Emperors that receive scant attention from extant third party sources from their lifetime consider, for example Quintillus, Numerian, and Carinus, etc…

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the clarification. Still in your answer you seem to imply that doubting the existence of Jesus is somehow related to doubting the existence of those emperors, if one is “skeptical enough”. Are you implying that somebody who is doubting the historical existence of Jesus would be inclined to deny the historical existence of, say, Quintillus?

          • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

            No. Again, I am not implying that. My point is strictly related to what sort of evidence we should expect contemporary references to supply.

            I do think (but this is a side-note, so lets not get sidetracked on this please!) that if people are skeptical enough, and if they give themselves enough reasons to want their skepticism to succeed they might believe that Emperors such as Quintillus might not have existed. Just as much as people on the opposite end of the spectrum can persuade themselves that Jesus’ existence, and everything the Gospels say about him can be verified. For example, I have seen one historian respond to this “Jesus did not exist” argument by using a similar argument with regards to Hannibal of Carhtage. He meant it as a parody, but he got enthusiastic replies from mythicists who thought that he too must not have existed! I also remember one time talking about Josephus and his possible references to Jesus (before I read Carrier) but my dialogue partner refused to accept the evidence unless I could prove that Josephus himself had existed. I could not supply any evidence that could assuage his skepticism. Likewise another person refused to believe that any Church Fathers existed because there are no manuscripts from them that are dated from their lifetimes. To him this was shocking and overwhelming evidence that their entire existence was questionable. He hadn’t realized, of course, that he just had no idea about how to approach ancient sources…

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

              Sorry for insisting and thanks for clarifying again. I do not want to sidetrack the conversation, but I also did not want to let potential innuendos hanging. Or maybe I’m just peeved because Greece lost the basketball game with Serbia. In any case I think we can safely put this behinds us now.

              If you read through the replies here and on recent related posts, an Herculean task, you’ll probably see that most people here don’t have any ulterior motives for questioning the historical existence of Jesus except curiosity. You’ll also see that the general sentiment is that whenever experts are asked for specific evidence and arguments for the support of what they declare as the obvious conclusion, namely the existence of a historical Jesus, they hand-wave the issue away.

              So I’m really looking forward to your taking of the challenge.

    • Mark Erickson
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

      We have very little pagan classical writing, that much is clear. How much of that is the result of pagans losing the Roman Empire and medieval monks copying over the writings that survived that long? How would you compare the survival rate of Christian writing from the first century? (One criterion could be how many non-extant sources are referred to in the extant ones) The point is, are you talking apples and oranges when comparing the lack of extant documents attesting major pagan figures to Jesus?

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        Christian material does not appear to have an increased level of preservation when compared to Classical literature. To get some idea of this look at Eusebius’ writings and the Christian sources he quotes from, most of which are now lost. Other important and popular works such as the Gospel of Peter (which had near canonical status)it only has one definite manuscript now existing, and two possible papyri fragments. The Church Fathers, most of their writings are lost, and almost all only exist in one early manuscript that dates to the early Middle-Ages. To put this in some perspective, it would be like finding, say, that in 1,000 years only one copy of Tom Sawyer existed in American. This is the extent of the loss of ancient writings. But consider though the most important and most copied book for early Christians- the New Testament. The earliest substantial copies come from the 300’s (!) (although there are a lot of fragmentary pieces from which we can get a good idea of its content).

        So this silly ad-nauseam claim of “ooh it is only 50-100 years after Jesus we have people talking about Jesus” only works if people have a completely errant understanding of ancient sources. Actually the number of references to Jesus and the proximity to the time of his life is remarkable for an ancient life. No other religious, philosophical or cultic figure that Garland or Anderson (noted above), for example, cite comes close to this. Yet go onto atheist/skeptic websites or read books by self-trained amateurs and this context is never supplied- and for good reason- it denudes the strength of the argument to almost non-existence. It might help their cause. In fact it seems to do it wonders. How many atheist facebook groups post images that outline such arguments that are liked/shared hundreds of times, or books such as Fitzgerald’s produced and enthusiastically bought and reviewed? I dont’ see it ending. It has gone viral. For the next couple of decades at least the same misinformed trope will no be wheeled out time and again.

        The online atheist movement is starting to exhibit the worst traits of Christian apologetics. Namely the propogation of myths, the denigration in its followers of the academy and scholarship, and the acceptance of arguments that are isolated from reality. I am sure that people such as Ben genuinely have no idea that this is what they are doing. But, then, they are fed on a long line of these types of arguments, and have (it seems) little training to help them see above it. The fact that they know that no scholar entertains these arguments (well, particularly this one regarding contemporary sources) can be brushed aside. Their internet group and self-published/trained experts know best. This is how such movements work and sustain themselves- as Coyne and others have shown time and again with the creationist movement (just watch Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled” to see these arguments being utilized). That Coyne is helping the manifestations of this same phenomenon to infect and grow in other areas should be a matter of deep regret.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Im sorry but the evidence we have for evolution is in no way comparable to the evidence we have for the existence of a historical Jesus. You yourself have not present much evidence, you rather give reasons why one should not expect much evidence. Plus the scienctific methodology as used in biology, is vastly more reliable than the methods of “historical jesus studies”.

          So to compare people that are not convinced from the evidence for a historical Jesus to creationists, is inapproptiate and frankly insulting. Prof. Ceiling Cat himself has stated that he doesn’t find the evidence for the existence of a Historical Jesus all that convincing. Are you comparing Dr. Coyne to a creationist?

          • Posted September 8, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            Nikos,

            Unlike last time when you kindly ask for a clarification before commenting, here you have presumed to read something into my statement that I never argued, and then go on to issue a rather impolite outburst. No, I do not think that the evidence is comparable, but the techniques of the two movements (creationism and internet popular mythicism) rely and express very similar worldviews and tactics. This is not new, and I wouldn’t think objectionable. I recently read one very thoughtful atheist who argued this very point with some eloquence (I can try to track it down if you want). Also, I remember that Tom Verenna (a mythicists, but a trained and scholarly one) also alluded to this about a year ago on his blog. I am sure many other atheists and even mythicists would argue the same point, and none of them will be expected to be taken to be arguing that creationism should be given more esteem.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

              My comment was not meant to be impolite, and I hardly think that can be fairly characterized as “outburst”. Please lets not get in to tone-trolling.

              Now let’s see what you actually say:

              The fact that they know that no scholar entertains these arguments (well, particularly this one regarding contemporary sources) can be brushed aside.

              Carrier has made the point that we don’t have any contemporary sources for Jesus and thus no strong evidence for his existence. Please note the difference between “not having evidence for existence” and “having evidence for nonexistence”. Whether some people use this incorrectly as evidence of non existence or not, the fact remains that the lack of contemporary attestation substantially weakens any argument for existence. Could you address that? If you really want to refute an idea you should refute the strongest points made in it’s support, or its most defensible manifestation, not the weak ones.

              Earlier you say:

              So this silly ad-nauseam claim of “ooh it is only 50-100 years after Jesus we have people talking about Jesus” only works if people have a completely errant understanding of ancient sources. Actually the number of references to Jesus and the proximity to the time of his life is remarkable for an ancient life.

              Again Carrier, which I hope you agree is a scholar and has an understanding of the nature of ancient sources, has made the argument that the sources for Jesus are too late to have any value as primary sources and therefore their are of no use for corroborating the historical existence of Jesus. For example after discussing why the TF and demonstrating that it, in totto, an interpolation, he remarks that even if it was authentic it’s so much later than the supposed time that Jesus lived as to be useless as corroborating historicity, anyway.

              As I said earlier, what you seem to be doing is explaining why the lack of contemporary evidence is to be expected if there was a historical Jesus. I’m not entirely convinced about that, but for the sake of the argument I grant it to you. Even given that, it still doesn’t follow that we can turn this lack of evidence around and argue that it corroborates the existence of a historical Jesus. The same way that the fact that we don’t expect to have any evidence for an invisible pink unicorn, together with the actual lack of evidence for an invisible pink unicorn, do not actually support the existence of an invisible pink unicorn.

              • Posted September 9, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

                Granted.

                The real evidence is from the New Testament epistles. If they do, despite suggestions from Price and Carrier, present Jesus as being a human being, who walked about Palestine, had brothers, bled, ate (etc…), taught, and whose life was reflected upon and remembered by dozens of people within the early Christian community then this is, as is granted by most mythicists, strong evidence that he existed, with competing theories needing to be too convoluted or extreme (i.e. Christianity was secretly made up by the Emperors and Paul was a Roman spy) to provide an alternative account for the evidence. Mythicism though relies on providing a different lens by which to read such sources, namely positing that they be re-interpreted as taking place in a Platonic sphere. If they can convince people (and preferably individuals who are trained in the relevant fields) that they are right then the evidence for Jesus is slight, but if they are wrong then the evidence is relatively strong.

                Basically, stripping away the erroneous arguments (paucity of contemporary sources, pagan parallels), it comes down to this question. I think that they can be shown to be wrong, and my training is in the interaction of Graeco-Roman philosophy and Hellenistic Judaism, and having put some of their points to colleagues who are also trained in such areas (including several non-Christian Classicists, and one whose expertise is in Philo, Gnosticism and the Gospel of John) I am quite confident that they are giving a misleading/misinformed picture. But putting together a robust response takes time and isn’t something that I am prepared to try to outline in a comment box in a blog on evolution (!). So, yes, I am aware that I am not giving positive evidence for Jesus existence; but please don’t interpret this as being because I don’t think it can’t be given!

                Also, you might want to track down a recent essay by Karl Sandnes that looks at whether Jesus existed. It is in the “Brill Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus”. Also perhaps read Eleanor Dickey’ “Greek Forms of Address: From Herodotus to Lucian” Oxford University Press, and her more recent “Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri,” Mnemosyne 57 (2004): 131-76″. Dickey’s studies have an impact on the mythicists claim that the N.T.’s language of Jesus’ brothers and family should be interpreted metaphorically, or spiritually. Dickey’s careful and painstaking linguistic research (that none of the proponents acknowledge or indeed show any knowledge of) shows this to be a problematic interpretation.

              • Posted September 9, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                The real evidence is from the New Testament epistles. If they do, despite suggestions from Price and Carrier, present Jesus as being a human being, who walked about Palestine, had brothers, bled, ate (etc…), taught, and whose life was reflected upon and remembered by dozens of people within the early Christian community then this is, as is granted by most mythicists, strong evidence that he existed

                Thing is…there’s not one single instance where Paul even quotes Jesus — outside, of course, where he quotes Mithras and attributes the words to Jesus. Nor does Paul ever say that Jesus walked in Palestine. Nor that Jesus had a brother; James was the brother of the κύριος, aka YHWH aka the Master, but not the brother of Ιησούς (Jesus) or Χριστός (Christ). And, though Paul’s Jesus most emphatically was crucified, the only blood I recall (but I could be forgetting something) was the Mithraic Eucharistic wine. Jesus’s teachings are as absent as his words…and the dozens (hundreds, actually) whom Paul describes all shared his own visionary non-corporeal experience of the risen Christ.

                Yes, if you listen to apologists and Sunday morning sermons, you get everything you say you get. But none of that is actually in the actual text — quite the opposite, in fact.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 9, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

                Andrew Henry

                re the essay from the Brill book (£700!): do you mean the one by Samuel Byrskog?

              • Posted September 9, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                Sorry yes I meant Samuel Byrskog. Sandnes is another scholar. Yes £700 is a bit steep. Sadly academia and scholarly works cost money. Which makes some sense: producing scholarship is an expensive and time consuming enterprise. The amateuristic stuff is free- and sadly now being propogated on Coyne’s blog.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 9, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                Not available in Europe either. Copyright issues, I think.

                Slaínte.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                @ Andrew.

                I may missunderstand you here, but I see two serious problems with what you’re saying. You say:

                The real evidence is from the New Testament epistles. If they do, despite suggestions from Price and Carrier, present Jesus as being a human being, who walked about Palestine, had brothers, bled, ate (etc…), taught, and whose life was reflected upon and remembered by dozens of people within the early Christian community then this is, as is granted by most mythicists, strong evidence that he existed, with competing theories needing to be too convoluted or extreme (i.e. Christianity was secretly made up by the Emperors and Paul was a Roman spy) to provide an alternative account for the evidence. Mythicism though relies on providing a different lens by which to read such sources, namely positing that they be re-interpreted as taking place in a Platonic sphere. If they can convince people (and preferably individuals who are trained in the relevant fields) that they are right then the evidence for Jesus is slight, but if they are wrong then the evidence is relatively strong.

                You surely don’t mean to imply, in the last sentence of your first paragraph, that a criterion for the validity of an argument is that people can be convinced by it. Because it’s the other way around: if the evidence is strong, then people should be convinced by it. But there have to be some objective criteria that people (and especially experts) use to evaluate how strong the evidence is, and being convinced or not accordingly. I hope this is just poor choice of words in your part.

                Also your argument seems to beg the question. Are you saying that if Jesus was indeed historical then the epistles provide strong evidence for his existence? Again I hope that I missunderstand what you’re saying. If this is the case, do you care to perhaps rephrase?

                In any case, this brings attention to the methodological problem within the field. In any field of academic study, if the consensus of the experts is to be trusted, the field needs to employ a valid methodology, and the validity of that methodology should be demonstratable, at least in principle. The more I look into the methods, not to mention the results, of the field, the more I doubt that such a valid methodology exists. And without a valid methodology the consensus in any field means very little. For example, if all astrologers, came to a consensus that if a person is born when Venus is in such a such position, that person would have such and such character traits, I wouldn’t be impressed and certainly I wouldn’t trust their conclusion.

                This lack of valid methodology has been observed by several practioners within the field, and is actually demonstrated by Carrier in his book “Proving History”. As I outlined in an earlier exchange with Tomas, he proposes the following methodology instead: look at all the evidence, and use valid probabilistic/statistical methods to determine which of the two competing hypotheses best fits the evidence. He went on in “On the Historicity of Jesus” to actually apply this, and he concluded that the probability that a historical Jesus lies in the origins of Christianity is at most 33%.

                If you, or any other expert, want to convince me, and probably any person with a scientific training that has looked into this question with any seriousness, the way to do it is to directly address the doubts about your methodology expressed above. It would also be helpful to me if you addressed Carrier’s arguments. I don’t know whether he’s right or not because I haven’t examined his arguments that closely, and I don’t have the expertise needed to check most of his detailed analysis, but at least I understand his methodology and I don’t see him commiting any blatant logical errors.

                Unless the field addresses these issues, my prediction is that as more and more people start to look into it with a critical attitude, more and more people will become convinced that the emperor has no cloths, despite loud protestations and comparisons with creationists and holocaust deniers.

                More later, if I find the time.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

                @ Andrew, continued

                I tracked down the chapter by Byrskog. I’m very busy at the moment and I don’t have time to look at it in detail, but from a rather cursory glance I can’t say that I’ve seen overwhelming evidence. I will read it more carefully when (if?) I find time but meanwhile I would appreciate if you could guide me into which parts you think present the strongest arguments in your opinion.

                I also tracked down Dickey’s article in Mnemosyne. It indeed seems a careful and painstaking piece of scholarship. Again my time constrains do not allow me to carefully read it, but, again through a cursory reading, I can’t see that she conclusively rules out interpreting “brother” in Paul with a symbolic meaning, for example. Also her corpus seems to be papyri from Egypt. Could you be so kind as to indicate where in the paper I should be looking for the relevance to Paul’s letters?

                I understand that more space than that provided in a comment box is needed to fully explain the positive evidence for the existence of Jesus. If you ever undertake such a project in a more appropriate venue, Meanwhile, could you give an outline of it, for example state which assumptions you want me to accept, and how you reach your conclusions based on those assumptions?

                Until you do so, please allow me to maintain my skepticism–preferably without comparing me to a creationist.

                I can’t help but comparing your protests for the lack of space to fully develop your evidence to the famous marginal comment by Fermat. Nowdays we are quite certain that he either didn’t have a proof, or he had a mistaken one.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted September 10, 2014 at 4:54 am | Permalink

          should read:

          ” If you ever undertake such a project in a more appropriate venue, I would be delighted to read it.”

          • Posted September 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Nikos,

            Thank you for the reply. Unfortunately I shall have to give a rather laconic response. University term has started am I have a new classes to teach and a book chapter to write. I was tempted to just move on and say nothing, but I thought that would be rude given the time you took to respond.

            Implied within my comments regarding the need to persuade scholars is that they find the methodology used to be persuasive. It is not a free-for-all, and the methodologies used in historical Jesus research are consider at length. For example read works by James Dunn, Stanely Porter, Dale Allison etc…

            On Dickey see, for example,http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/important-studies-of-kinship-terms-and-forms-of-address/

            On Carrier, see this series of interactions with Bayes’ theoremhttp://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/probably-not-a-fine-tuned-critique-of-richard-carrier-part-1/

            It is authored by a friend of a friend of mine. He has a PhD from Cambridge in Astronomy and Mathematics. I cannot evaluate it because I am not qualified in mathematics, but he is cutting over Carrier’s mathematical abilities. No doubt Carrier has responded, but lets not forget: Carrier is one voice of many. I also think he can use his criteria to cast doubt on anyone from antiquity, but that is for another day.

            If you want to remain in contact e-mail me atdonmacgjnr@aol.com (Andrew Henry is a non-de-plume) and I will pass on my details in a less public space.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

              Thanks for replying. This is also a very busy time for me, to some extend these online exchanges are my relaxing time, or perhaps more honestly, a way to creatively procastinate 🙂

              For the record though, I have to note that you didn’t really present convincing evidence that you have a strong case that Jesus was indeed historical. I did have a more careful look at the article of Byrskog, and I didn’t find any strong evidence that Jesus was indeed a historical person. The author seems more or less to take that for granted. In fact, it’s very hard for me to see, how one can draw the conclusion that it’s almost certain that Jesus existent from that article. The author himself is very careful in presenting the tentative nature of the interpretations, and the only time that he gives a definite conclusion is when he states:

              Scholars must separate the traditionality and the historicity of the gospels as two distinct kinds of diachronic inquiry. The implementation of the criteria for historical-Jesus research varies considerably and rarely relates them to a consideration of how oral tradition develops. The two kinds of diachronic research and the hermeneutical aspect of historical reconstruction imply indeed that Jesus existed, because from our own horizon this is the most satisfactory explanation of how the Jesus tradition emerged and developed. (Emphasis mine)

              Throughout the article, I didn’t find a single example where the posibility that Jesus did not exist is seriously examined, and refuted. This mirror’s your statement that if Jesus existed the epistles provide strong evidence for his existence. At the end of the day, when we strip the fancy language, that seems to be the strongest evidence provided. The circularity of the reasoning is obvious.

              Byskog himself says in pages 2186-87:

              We approach him from the viewpoint of the contextualized researcher and cannot but look into the otherness of his existence in history by means of analogies to our own present situation. The past can be known only in relation to what we already know, both in terms of its similarities and its distinctiveness. The basis of our knowledge of the historical Jesus is therefore contextual, not of course in the sense that we speculate freely, but in the sense that the documents which we scrutinize are the object of our own set of parameters concerning how to find the adequate data and scientifically determine the probability of his historicity. What comes out at the end is a reconstruction of history, to be sure, but a reconstruction which is essentially an informed kind of reconfiguration, fictionalization, and narrativization of somebody we believe existed in the past. This, it seems, is what we do when speaking of the historicity of Jesus.

              Or in plain english: “We believe Jesus existed, and we find him in our sources.” He mentions “scientifically determine the probability of his historicity” but I don’t see evidence of him doing that in this article or any reference to somebody that did it elsewhere.

              • Posted September 11, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

                The only competing scenario to explain the references to Jesus, his life, his family, the prominence that was given to people who knew or were related to him (etc…) as being non-historical is if we can explain these away as being metaphorical/philosophical idiom. Beyond that any other scenario would have to be so complex or conspiratorial to rightly be considered to be outlandish motivated by a desire to argue that he did not exist and not a sober reflection on the evidence- as many mythicists have pointed out with regards to the theories of Atwil and others. There is obviously much more to be discussed on this and other points, and with history (unlike science) it is not a case of pointing to graphs or hard pieces of evidence, but rather extended and carefully argued monographs and methodologies.

                And is happens, another carefully argued scholarly work has just appeared that undercuts the mythicists’ argument with regards to 1 Corinthians 15. See http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/paul-on-jesus-resurrection-a-new-study/

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

                Finally you admited that there is a competing senario. Where is that competing senario seriously considered by the historicists and was conclusively proven very improbable? If that has not happened, and frankly all historicists act as if it has but never pinpoint where, then the historicist hypothesis is just that, a working hypothesis. Not a solid fact.

                Nobody asks you, or other defenders of historicity, to present graphs and charts or other carricatures of scientific methodology. At this point I would be happy with basic logical consistency. A clarification of what we assume and what we deduce from the assumptions. Of how much the evidence really support our assumptions. Basic probability theory, I would even say basic logic, dictates that it’s not sufficient to prove that your hypothesis fits the data, you have to also consider competing hypotheses. We’re not talking about rocket science here, just basic logic that one would expect a PhD, in any field that presumes to make proclamations about what happens or has happened in the real world, to have.

                Contra to your statements, History as a discipline has developed methods that deal with its questions. Carrier, and Aviezer Tucker in “Our knoweldge of the past”, have convincigly argued that these methods can be formalized using Bayes theorem. In any case the historical methodology is valid, or at least not obviously invalid.

                Anyway I don’t want to write an essay here. I said earlier, that I haven’t seen any evidence not only that you presented a strong case for the historicity of Jesus, but that you even know of a strong case that has been made. This impression hasn’t changed in the slightest from your last reply.

                I think we’ve both made our case. If you don’t mind I’m going to call it a day.

              • Dr. Richard Carrier
                Posted September 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                Andrew Henry: And is happens, another carefully argued scholarly work has just appeared that undercuts the mythicists’ argument with regards to 1 Corinthians 15. See http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/paul-on-jesus-resurrection-a-new-study/

                This doesn’t contradict or undercut the mythicist thesis I defend in On the Historicity of Jesus. So you don’t seem to know what you are talking about.

    • Tomas
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. That was an excellent and well thought out post.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      I understand completely your analysis of the paucity of sources in texts for the whole period. The question I have is how can you be sure that the mentions of Jesus in early sources are not later interpolations?

      I am not denying the POSSIBLE historicity of Jesus or ‘A Jesus’ but I would deny that that makes the possible person anything other than a person.

    • Mark Erickson
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      “The fact that Jesus is talked about by a dozen pagan references within a hundred years is remarkable.”

      Is it the actions and words of Jesus of Nazareth that is talked about or Christians?

  54. Tomas
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone have any suggestions for a better format other than the comments section of this blog to have this discussion?

    The format here is kind of irritating to have an actual back and forth discussion? Perhaps move it into some mutually agreed up discussion forum?

    • maryhelena
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 2:55 am | Permalink

      Have a look at Peter Kirby’s forum. Yes, like all forums, it is not perfect – always someone who allows their frustrations to get the better of them….. but the format is much better for in-depth discussion.

      http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=3

  55. Tomas
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    @bobkillian
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink
    //“So the question was not did they make it up, but rather why would they make it up? Were they actively trying to trick people into believing Jesus existed as a historical person. If so, why do you think they would do that?”
    To put it in a practical perspective, imagine you’re a snake oil peddler, er, itinerant preacher, and your pocket money depends on finding a lucrative market open to your sales pitch.
    Now place yourself in Jerusalem in 70c.e. The Romans have just destroyed the Temple, and decimated the Jewish population, scattering them to the four winds. Hmmm. What if you could modify your story enough to make your “product” palatable to Romans, i.e., where the money is.
    Your business acumen would prompt you to the most obvious re-branding to please this new market, such as making Pilate innocent and the Jews guilty, and waiving that pesky circumcision rule. Each successive gospel makes your (New! Improved!) messiah Product less a troublemaker provoking the Empire, and more an ethereal divinity. Cha-ching!//

    lol, have you read the Gospels? These are hardly the sort of texts created by folks looking to line their pockets, particularly when they have a fairly negative view about the very notion of material prosperity, and personal wealth, “money is the root of all evil”, and suggestions of giving all your money to the poor, and communal living which if existed today we’d refer to as commie. etc.. Their ideal leaders are ones who took on vows of poverty, and hardly the Creflo Dollar types. So this kind of reason for why this all took place, seems pretty ridiculous.

    Even so, in regards to historicity. You believe that the early Christians added historicity to Jesus, because they found this more marketable to the Romans, than the original non-historical portrait of him? This doesn’t make much sense either, why would the Romans have found this aspect more palatable than the supposed original one?

  56. Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    I must say that I am mystified both by Goren’s challenge and the responses that I have received. Having said that I do not think this can be done by amateurs, since so much technical detail is required for answering the question of Jesus’ historical existence, I thought that repeating this ad infinitum, as I was challenged to provide what Goren thinks is the only satisfactory method of going about this, starting with “a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was,” something that it is, in the nature of the case, impossible to do; since, aside from saying that there is evidence for Jesus being historical (the number of independent sources, the care taken that the story of Jesus not be dissipated in mythologizing, the requirement that Paul’s Jesus is either historical or his idea of redemption must be forfeit, the letter to the Hebrews saying that Jesus was in every respect human like us, except without sin, and such like), the actual persona at the centre would take the sifting of so much evidence that it is impossible to say, at the outset, who the historical Jesus really was, and what can safely be attributed to him (without considerable scholarly work).

    The mythicizing, such as Ben Goren’s, which takes an apologetic work (much like the thing that is done by Raymond Pannikar in The Unknown Christ of Hinduism) as support of a dying and rising god figure, when Justin shows no sign of wanting to equate Jesus with mythical gods and goddesses, goes strictly against the early church’s concern not to allow the human Jesus to be swallowed up by mythicizing. If Jesus was a dying and rising god, why was the church so intent upon retaining the human Christ and dismissing attempts to Gnosticise and docetise Jesus? There is simply no precedent in the dying and rising god tradition for this concern for historicity. But none of this gets down to the bedrock of exactly who Jesus was, who he thought he was, and what words can be safely ascribed to him (though source and form criticism has gone some way towards providing some insight here, and the Jesus Seminar seems to me to be the most reliable source of genuine Jesus sayings). But I simply don’t know enough to be able to say exactly what the scholars have come up with, and neither, might I add, does anyone else here. Goren may begin with a definition, but this already prejudges the historical issue in question, and hopelessly prejudices the attempt to find out what really happened. This is not science, with all due respect to Goren’s theory construction, and there is no reason to start with an hypothesis, unless this is the minimal one that the early writings about Jesus imply an historical person at the centre of it who is a Jewish prophetic figure who was believed to do marvelous works, who gathered around him a small group of followers who later added a Jewish apocalyptic rendering of to the original source material (for which they may have had some basis in Jesus’ own self-understanding), and which grew mainly amongst the Gentiles, after the larger Gentile following sidelined the original Jewish fellowship out of which the later church grew. Why he was not noticed is probably due to the fact that it was originally a small Jewish sect with only a few followers but was eventually transformed into an international movement by the strenuous labours of Paul (amongst others) who spread what they considered to be good news for the poor and marginalised (originally), but which soon spread into more higher social classes. There is early evidence from Pliny the Younger that the cult met on Sundays, and worshipped Christ as a god. Beyond that, however, I begin to lose my way amongst the complex biblical and historical studies that form a barrier to further detailed study unless one has a lot of time.

    In answer to Jerry’s question what makes me an authority on what is and what is not symbolical or mythological, it seems clear to me that things that clear defy our knowledge of the world (and defied the knowledge of the world in the first century too) are probably symbolical. The waking on the water, the virginal conception, meeting ancient patriarchs on a mountain (often thought to be a resurrection scene out of sequence), the resurrection itself, are all reasonably taken to be symbolical. I have no special authority, but the accounts given of the birth of Jesus are so conflicting that it seems clear that they intend to say something symbolical but not historical. The resurrection likewise. This may not be thought to be satisfactory, but, since I do think the much else in the gospels is probably historical, some other explanation has to be given for these outliers. That the birth narrative is not historical is clear from the different family trees tracing Jesus to David (or Adam), which are the genealogies of David, not of Jesus’ mother, which would not trace Jesus ancestry unless he had a normal human father. So the rest is symbolical, based on the desire to fulfil scripture (which Matthew makes clear enough). I’m not saying that all these are perfectly satisfactory accounts of these parts of the gospels, but they are credible accounts, and I make no more claim for them than that.

    However, it seems obvious that the wish to call into question to historicity of Jesus is to question the foundations of Christian belief. I should have thought there are easier ways, but everyone to his own. This is my last comment on the question. There’s no future in it at this level, and I have no qualifications for taking it to the next level, though I do think the mythicists are one and all mistaken, though if someone were to provide some evidence, not just clever matching of the Jesus story to myths, without accounting for the otherwise strongly historical tendency of the record, I might be convinced otherwise. So far, I have not seen any reason to revise my view which has been briefly set forward here (and, if anyone had been paying attention, throughout my comments here).

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

      the actual persona at the centre would take the sifting of so much evidence that it is impossible to say, at the outset, who the historical Jesus really was, and what can safely be attributed to him (without considerable scholarly work).

      I’m a little baffled. It’s like everything you wrote came from an alternate universe where we just unearthed the first copy of the gospels last month. In our universe, people have sifted the evidence, we aren’t at the outset, and there have been mountains of scholarly work.

      What happened to the Eric that said several times that he read, reviewed, and recommended (or trashed) them? Why don’t you track down that guy and ask his opinion.

      Goren may begin with a definition, but this already prejudges the historical issue in question, and hopelessly prejudices the attempt to find out what really happened.

      I’ve heard you say this a few times without elaboration. Frankly, it’s nonsense. There may be some domains which are so new that simple data collection makes sense. But Jesus studies is hardly new and the data available is ancient. There has been ample opportunity to study the issues without prejudice. Do you really expect us to believe that these books haven’t reached any conclusions? That even asking for a few traits or features of Jesus is going too far and deserves long, scornful rebukes? That merely asking people who are defending an historical Jesus to tell us something – anything – that Jesus did is unreasonable and marks us as practically delusional amateurs?

      Nonsense.