Once again: Was there a historical Jesus?

This question is of perennial interest, and of course won’t be settled, at least by those theists who proclaim, wrongly, that “you can’t prove a negative.” (Really? You can’t prove that I don’t have two hearts, or a brother?) Even if, after decades, we fail to come up with good evidence for a historical Jesus, Christians will still maintain, based on Scripture, that he existed.

Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

Because of the paucity of evidence, we can expect this question to keep coming up. And so it’s surfaced once again, in a PuffHo piece by Nigel Barber.

Barber, who has a Ph.D. in biopsychology and a website at Psychology Today (“The Human Beast”), has also written six books.  And in the Sept. 25 edition (is that the right word?) of PuffHo, he takes up the question of the historicity of Jesus. His piece, “If Jesus never existed, religion may be fiction,” briefly lays out the mythicist case. Of course religion itself is not a fiction, but what Barber means is that Christianity’s empirical support, like that of Scientology or Mormonism, may well rest on a person or events that simply didn’t exist.

Here’s the crux of Barber’s argument. (I have not yet seen the piece in Free Inquiry to which he refers, as it’s behind a paywall, but if a reader wants to send it to me, I’d be much obliged.). I’ve put the critical part in bold:

In History, Jesus Was a No Show
Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.”

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

Barber goes on to talk about how the origin of Mormonism was a sham promulgated by a con man (an interpretation I accept). Yet even in that case there’s better evidence than we have for Jesus, for the Book of Mormon opens with two statements from eleven witnesses—people who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith—who swore that they saw the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. Those people are historical figures who can be tracked down, and so the evidence for the existence of the plates is stronger than for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Barber finishes by describing how credulous people have started sects based on phony gurus and leaders, and, indeed, how an Indian film director decided to create his own religion by pretending he was a guru.  And of course we all know how L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology based on a bunch of science-fiction writings and a phony theology involving Xenu, volcanoes, and thetans. How people can buy that stuff—and there’s a lot of them—is beyond me. But of course you don’t get to learn the theology of Scientology until you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and so are inclined to accept it (bogus as it is) because of the “sunk-costs fallacy.”

At any rate, if there is no contemporaneous record of Jesus, there should have been, how seriously should we take his historical existence? I am not inclined to accept the Bible as convincing evidence for a historical Jesus

Is there anyone in history with so littlec ontemporaneous attestation who is nevertheless seen by millions as having really existed? There is of course Socrates, but of course we have a historical figure, Plato, who attests to his existence. Yet even that is overlain with a patina of mythicism, and I don’t think most scholars would say that Socrates existed with the certainty that Christians (or even atheists like Bart Erhman) would say that Jesus existed. And there’s no religion based on the historical existence of Socrates. As for Shakespeare, well, we have his signature and a fair amount of contemporaneous evidence that he really did exist; we just don’t know for sure that he wrote those plays (absence of evidence).

p.s. If you want to comment saying, “I am not concerned with this tedious question,” please don’t bother. If that’s your attitude, there’s no need to inform us all about your lack of interest.

 

 

591 Comments

  1. bonetired
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Love the irony here: “the piece in Free Inquiry to which he refers, as it’s behind a paywall,”

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Psychics’ Conference cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.

      It’s the inquiry that’s free; perusual has a price.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        “It’s the inquiry that’s free; perusual has a price.”

        Very pithy.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          aka Free Beer vs. Freeze Peach

    • Richard C
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      They’re free to charge for your inquiry.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I always look forward to purchasing the hard copy of “Free Inquiry” at my local independent book store.

      (Though I suppose I could go to the local Barnes & Noble and scarf it up along with several other mags and books and leaf through them in the café, and then leave them there for book store employees to have to reshelf, as I’ve observed certain entitled customers do.)

  2. GBJames
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    sub

  3. JB
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Ben G.’s excellent post a while back pushed me closer to the myth camp as well, but I still wonder about this:

    “Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporary records.”

    Given how much material degraded or was intentionally destroyed in the Dark Ages, is this really a reasonable expectation? Especially given that Christian monks and priests were often the ones who decided what materials survived — what would be the chance for survival if the evidence portrayed him as a wacky and very mortal preacher?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      There is plenty of evidence of other events and people from the period. Those documents, etc. we’re not destroyed over time.

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      This is a good point, and it is a really, really frustrating thing to deal with on the subject. Medieval Christians were in charge of preserving basically all records, and thus the evidence has gone through a very non-neutral filter, on top of the vicissitudes of history leading to the destruction of documents by accident.

      Richard Carrier makes the Socrates analogy: we have a much better record of Socrates’ historicity than we do for Jesus. They were similar figures in history: both were great sages of lasting influence, neither wrote anything himself, both had humble backgrounds, both attacked the religious and political elite, both taught with questions and parables, both were executed by the state, ostensibly for blasphemy, but actually because they spoke against the sin and greed of the authorities, etc.

      But for Socrates, we know the names of over a dozen eyewitnesses who wrote books about him, and we know some of the titles of those books, and we even HAVE those books in two cases (Plato and Xenophon). And we have an eyewitness account from an unfriendly source, Aristophanes’ The Clouds. We have none of this for Jesus.

      The survival of texts from Athens is a product of medieval selection, as well; they preserved these texts because they wanted to. Yet if Socrates had immediately become worshiped as the Son of God, and founded a great church that survived for centuries and went on to be the only institution with the means and interest in preserving ancient materials, we’d expect EVEN MORE about Socrates than we have. We would expect to have nearly everything ever written about him by his contemporaries and associates, which would be hundreds of volumes.

      So a historicist theory for Jesus has to look more like Apollonius of Tyana, a famous person who nevertheless largely escaped the historical record. Except we can’t posit disinterest, because of the whole huge church thing. There are three options:

      1) Jesus wasn’t famous. He was so insignificant that no literate person at the time noticed him or became one of his followers. Paul was the first, and he didn’t know Jesus, and was uninterested in his ministry.

      2) The majority of documents about Jesus were deliberately destroyed or left to rot away unread by the very church that venerated Jesus.

      3) The same disruption in church leadership that wiped out all church history, and all or almost all of the original leadership, between 64 and 95 CE, also led to the loss of all applicable documents.

      All of these options are uncomfortable for the historicist. If you go for the first, then the majority of the NT, presenting Jesus as influential from the start, is lies. If the second, then the church engaged in a massive cover-up of the truth about Jesus’ life, for some reason. If the third, you have to believe, without any evidence, in an enormous destruction of any and all records about Christianity across three continents, which also entails that the majority of the NT is lies (or at least baseless myth-making).

      Or, alternately, there weren’t any such documents in the first place, because nobody knew Jesus in life, because he didn’t exist.

      • JB
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        If he existed at all, then I would suspect some combination of 1 and 2 above. I don’t think we’d need to evoke some great conspiracy for 2. If there were a small number of documents, all portraying him as a wild-eyed crank who was married to a prostitute and consorted with thieves, I doubt there’d be much motivation to preserve them.

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          Quite true. But, by the same token, if there were a small number of documents detailing Jesus as a pre-existent celestial being who was crucified by demons in the celestial sphere between the Earth and the Moon, the church that believed in a Jesus living on Earth wouldn’t have much motivation to preserve those, either.

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

            Ask and ye shall receive. There actually was exactly such a pre-existing celestial being, named, “Jesus,” mentioned in Zechariah 9, and further commented upon by Philo. (To be fair, the Jesus in Zechariah wasn’t crucified, but is otherwise perfectly recognizable as serving all the theological roles of the Christian Jesus.)

            See the previous discussion here:

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/

            and search the text for the word, “Rising.”

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Ian
              Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

              Can you say more about this? What word are you translating as Jesus in Zechariah 9, and why do you think this passage is about a pre-existent celestial being?

              • Ian
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Ah, you meant Zech 6, not 9. Typo.

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                Oops — sorry ’bout that!

                b&

    • DrBrydon
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      In History, more than anywhere, the saying “you can’t prove a negative” is closest to being true. I can’t provide documentation that someone didn’t exist. Before the 20th century records were minimal, and the ravages of time often wipe out what there was. We do have to ask, though, whether we have any good reason for believing that someone did exist. When we make extravagant claims about an historical figure’s importance, the burden of evidence is stronger, and we have to ask what the absence of evidence means. It would be wrong to place too much importance on a figure who is only described after the fact by interested parties.

      • mv
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Re can’t prove someone did not exist.

        the case where an author from say 40 ad (Josephus) has a collection of manuscripts which includes references (2) to Jesus. These Jesus references are quickly refuted (2nd-3rd century) by others and called out as forgeries and insertions by historical revisionists (monks?). Further disputed because the author was born after the supposed crucifiction.

        If someone wrote that he witnessed jesus, then the claim is disputed by another – if the reason for the dispute is personal knowledge that the claimed meeting / event never happened, combined with knowledge that the original reference to Jesus came from known (fictitious) literature – that is as close as we can expect to come to proving the Jesus tale is fictional. It’s here in the referenced source:

        This is Google’s cache of http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/1stC_Hist.htm. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Sep 30, 2014 20:17:23 GMT.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Yes, I can see your point. It is possible that the Jesus evidence is simply lost to time. However, Mediaeval monks & other church folk, as you point out, selected what they would preserve and most likely tossed many a good thing in the process. If Jesus evidence from witnesses to the miracles or his life events were there, you can be certain they would have preserved it.

      It is more likely, if Jesus did exist, that information about him was lost because it wasn’t worth recording by the literate state officials (Romans), couldn’t be recorded (witnesses were illiterate everyday people) or was passed down more or less in an oral tradition and not recorded (perhaps like other mystery cults).

      • JB
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        “If Jesus evidence from witnesses to the miracles or his life events were there, you can be certain they would have preserved it.”

        Yes indeed. On the other hand, if that evidence directly contradicted the Gospels, and/or portrayed Jesus as nothing more than a raving lunatic with a handful of gullible followers, we might not be surprised if they destroyed it.

        • Paul S.
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          If Jesus was a raving lunatic with a handful of gullible followers, then he isn’t the Jesus of the bible. Might as well be some guy named Bob (no offence to Bobs.
          Was a religion started around 2000 years ago, yes.
          Was there a guy named Jesus 2000 years ago, probably more than one.
          Was there a Jesus as described in the bible, no.
          If you’re going to claim a historical Jesus, you have to show that he’s the one and only Jesus described in the bible because that’s the one everyone is talking about.

          • JB
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

            To reiterate, I’m not making any such claims. I’m largely persuaded by the arguments that he was entirely mythical. I simply don’t accept as slam-dunk obvious that any documentation of such a person — documentation that almost certainly would have contradicted the Gospel accounts — would have survived 1000+ years in the hands of people motivated to expunge any “heresy” from the “historical” record.

            • Dionigi
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

              I agree that if a jesus figure existed and he did not carry out at least some of the things attributed to him then his existance does not matter as he is not the jesus in the new testement. If a jesus existed and he did carryout some of the things in the bible then there should have been some contemporary writing about him. Who could preach and draw the thousands that jesus supposedly drew everywhere he went, who could carry out the miracles that jesus supposedly did and not draw comment from the whole of the population and therefore have someone write about him unless he is a complete fabrication?
              Even taking into account the modern ways of communicating I have not met one indian who did not recognise the name of sai baba.

        • reasonshark
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Honestly, we can already be confident that the New Testament is a collection of lunatic ravings written by and for gullible followers. That alone should be enough to discredit Christianity. The only two remaining questions are:

          Did it start with a real Jesus who was subsequently turned into a franchise, or did it start with at least one inventive mind who coined the earliest Jesus story from scratch?

          Was it entirely delusional, or was there also a spark of cynical exploitation in there too?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:19 am | Permalink

          we might not be surprised if they destroyed it.

          They didn’t need to actively destroy it – simply not going to the considerable effort of copying it would be sufficient to ensure the fairly rapid loss of records.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      My guess is that it would likely have been selectively quoted or interpolated/forged, like what what happened to Josephus’ stuff.

    • Marella
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      Documents were not lost at random.Documents that were lost during the Dark Ages were lost because the Christian brothers whose job it was to preserve them chose not to, deeming them not sufficiently valuable to re-copy. The things they wanted to keep were kept, others were allowed to rot away, or were even scraped clean to make way for more valued works.* This is unlikely to have been the case with contemporaneous mentions of Jesus’ activities in Palestine.

      On the contrary they were so embarrassed by the shortage of such documents that several were forged to fill in the obvious gap. If such documents had ever existed they would have been copied and recopied until every Bishop in the world had one.

      *http://www.medievalists.net/2013/11/12/scientists-reveal-ancient-texts-in-medieval-manuscripts/

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

        or were even scraped clean to make way for more valued works.*

        The magic word is “

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

        “. I use it occasionally when talking about the textures of rocks and particularly the overprinting of high strain rate cataclastic metamorphic events onto pre-existing sedimentary textures (which may have their own history of diagenetic events).

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

          Oops, HTML hiccough.

        • Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

          And did you first learn “palimpsest” from the film version of _The Name of the Rose_?

          /@

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

            That’s the Sean Connery one, isn’t it? [Checks] Seems so. I’d probably been regularly using the word before the book came out, let alone the film. Like I said, it’s a regular part of geology, particularly metamorphic petrology, but it’s also an important concept in diagenesis of sediments and the taphonomy of turning dead organisms into fossils. It’s as much a part of my bread-and-butter work of sample examination and description as … [searches for an example] … there’s a car fixing programme rattling on in the background, whose mechanic uses spanners in the same way that I work with concepts of palimpsests of characteristics and events.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

              Interesting. I hadn’t realised before that it had a geological meaning.

              Most of people I know who who ut know it from the film — “a palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel”.

              /@

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

                Well, we use the word, but in it’s standard meaning. Literally, one set of events happen to the rock, then another, and each leaves it’s marks, one on top of another. Exactly the same as the papyrus-reuse sense.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                I thought Annaud’s usage here was quite witty.

                /@

  4. Charles
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    “If you want to comment saying, “I am not concerned with this tedious question,” please don’t bother. If that’s your attitude, there’s no need to inform us all about your lack of interest”
    If you do though, you’ll conveniently confirm that you can prove a negative… 🙂

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      🙂

      This whole “Can’t prove a negative” is pure nosense from a logical point of view anyway. Any time you prove P you also have proved not (not P). And this is not pure formalism, sometimes (not P) is equivalent to a “positive” sentence.

      • David Evans
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        For example, “There is no largest prime number” is equivalent to “There are an infinity of prime numbers” and has been proved.

        • Ralph
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

          That’s only a theorem.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            That’s only a theorem.

            With a decent fist full of proofs.
            While the Argument From Authority is always to be treated with a bit of suspicion, if you’re in the field of mathematics and Euclid, Euler and Erdős agree with each other in saying “that’s true”, then I’m not inclined to argue with them.

            • Ralph
              Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

              I was kidding – riffing on the “only a theory” canard.

              https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/only-a-theory/

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                OK.
                I was almost looking forward to someone trying to pick a mathematical argument with the “Three Degr-EEs”
                Hmm, works better as a spoken pun.

              • Ralph
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

                I guess pure mathematics is largely too obscure to the layman to be a target of any form of denialism that parallels the denial of evolution, climate change, etc. The closest thing that I can think of is widespread unwillingness to accept that 0.999…. = 1 . This, apparently, lacks truthiness to such a degree that there are discussions hundreds of pages long on messageboards insisting that it’s “just a little bit different”.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                Multiply 0.999999˙ by 2, subtract 0.999999˙, result 1; QED.

                /@

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

                It’s more visual if you multiply 0.99999… with 10 and then substract 0.99999…

                Joking aside, one of the reason this 0.99999… business is confusing for the layman may be because it’s not a periodic decimal that could ever come up as the result of the algorithm of “long division”. So to really give meaning to it one has to develope the theory of convergent series and so on.

  5. steve oberski
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Tom Holland make a similar case for Muhammad in his book “In the Shadow of the Sword”.

    Given that the Koran was written a hundred years after fact from an oral tradition by authors with a theological ax to grind, it is very difficult to ferret out a historical Muhammad.

    We are talking at least 4 generation here, it would be like trying to piece together the life of ones great-great grandparents from conversations with relatives.

    • gravityfly
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      I believe you’re referring to the hadith and the first extant biography of Muhammad, both of which were compiled/written centuries after his death.

      The Koran itself appears to date reliably from his time.

      Tom Holland’s excellent book was an eye-opener for me. I highly recommend it.

      • steve oberski
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        As I understand it, the Koran existed only in an oral form until after the death of Muhammad.

        Various written forms then emerged and these were finally standardized into one final text by Uthman about 20 years after the death of Muhammad.

        Given that Uthman also destroyed all the older versions that could be located it is not possible to say how these older versions disagreed with each other and what actually made it in to the Koran.

        What we can say is that these older versions must have disagreed with each other in significant ways otherwise why all the effort to bring them into agreement and then destroy the evidence.

        What we can also be sure of is that this process was thoroughly human and highly political and the chances of Muhammads original words passing though this process unchanged are close to zero.

        • gravityfly
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          According to Holland, the various parts of the Koran, as they were “revealed” over the years, were dictated by Muhammad to his scribes. But the full text was not compiled till after his death.

          You’re correct that what Uthman did effectively wiped out any evidence there might have been of different versions of the Koran.

          It was a very human and political process, that’s true.

  6. Sidd
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    “Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporary record of a Jesus-person’s existence…”

    Given the context of the sentence, it seems you meant contemporaneous? (Maybe a spell-checker mangled it?)

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I did mean contemporaneous and have fixed them all. No, not a spell-checker failure, which would be a good excuse. It was a brain failure!

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        In Jerry’s defence, “contemporary” can be used as a synonym for “contemporaneous”, albeit an ambiguous one. (In fact, that’s the first meaning NOAD gives; the second is “present day”.)

        /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          Yes, I use contemporary that way sometimes and we speak of someone’s contemporaries.

          • Ralph
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            “Someone’s contemporaries” is using contemporary as a noun – that’s always correct. Contemporaneous is a (liberal elite) synonym only for one adjectival sense of contemporary, i.e. “at the same time in the past”.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

              I don’t like the word, sounds snooty. 🙂

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                I like the word. Sounds snooty. 🙂

              • Mark Joseph
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                I like the word “snooty”!

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:43 am | Permalink

                As a former Beano reader, I remember Lord Snooty with both affection and contempt.

        • Marella
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t think it was an error either.

  7. Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    ⚪️

  8. Andrew
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    last April, I saw Dr. Carrier debate Zeba Crook, a professor of religious studies at Carleton University. I went in a mythicist and left completely agnostic. For one thing, to characterize the exchange as a debate would be to stretch the definition of “debate” since they agreed on everything they discussed except an interpretive approach to certain passages that I can only assume has currency among specialists in Biblical exegesis. To evaluate the debate fairly would require far more expertise than i can bring to bear, but Dr. Carrier seemed impressed with, and respectful of Dr. Crook’s expertise. I don’t think we’ll ever solve the question of a historical jesus. Also, how similar does a historical figure have to be to the Bible-guy to qualify? Does he have to be named Yeshua? If he was executed, does it have to be by crucifixion? What if he was born in Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem? Well, you get the idea…

    • trou
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      “yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.”

      “What if he was born in Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem?”

      What if a mythological character was raised in a mythological place? Would that be reason enough to doubt the existence of Jesus as a real person? Rene Salm writes that there was no Nazareth at the advent of the common era.
      He goes through the evidence quite thoroughly and has convinced me. He points out that most archaeology is done by the religious and tend to bend the evidence to fit their pre assumptions, then quote one another without examination as if it is incontrovertible.

      No contemporary record of Jesus, no evidence of his hometown. Take that, agnosticism.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        The key archaeological evidence proving the existence of Nazareth was uncovered in 2009, after Salm wrote.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          Link?

            • Jim Jones
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

              Thanks. Well that’s confusing! I know there’s a view that Bethlehem didn’t exist until the Empress Helena arrived with gold whereupon the locals ‘discovered’ it for her – along with pieces of the true cross™. But now I’m confused about Nazareth as well. Maybe it was Jesus’ Metropolis and Bethlehem was his Smallville?

  9. nickswearsky
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    How does the 126 sources examined compare to the total number of historical documents from the relevant time period. Is that most or all written sources from that era? I agree with the conclusion, I’m simply wondering what the sample size is in comparison to the whole. I think it is almost certainly a high quality sampling, but I have no idea how many such sources exist.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I haven’t had a chance to read the article, but it passes the “sniff” test, depending on how “sources” are defined.

      b&

  10. Robert Seidel
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Whoah, just one moment – 126 historians, and contempory ones on top of that? The overwhelming majority of those has to have come down to us only in fragments – a snippet here, a quotation there. So while it’s still telling if Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in those, the case is unlikely as compelling as “consulted no fewer than 126 historians” implies.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      I guess we will have to read Paulkovich to satisfy our curiosity.

    • Susan
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      But it isn’t 126 random sources. The early christians were desperate to prove that jesus existed. They cherished every scrap that could provide proof, and conveniently lost uncomfortable evidence. For 2 millennia, christians through councils, monasteries, etc controlled the records. Look at what they kept. In the second century, Lucien mocked christians as gullible fools waiting to get fleeced by the next conman, and 2000 years later this quote from Lucien is still one of only a dozen texts presented as proof that jesus existed. Wow.

      So, in an environment where people motivated to keep everything kept everything they could, we still have nothing – except, of course, blatant forgeries and 1900 year old accusations that christians will believe anything.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      To the extent that they were preserved only as fragments, one would expect that the parts about Jesus would have been been among the most important parts to writers in late antiquity and the middle ages.

  11. GBJames
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    I’m thinking that there is just some small possibility that Jerry has a brother, born before him under conditions that resulted in concealing the facts. I have, of course, absolutely no evidence for this. But how might one prove it beyond any doubt? (Especially if one includes half-brothers sharing a father.)

    Parents do conceal things from their children sometimes.

    • Ralph
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      There is a grain of truth behind the “can’t prove a negative” fallacy. In fact, what people are stumbling towards when they make that statement is this:

      It is much easier to disprove highly generalized or universal statements (by noting a single exception) than to prove them (by demonstrating that no exceptions exist anywhere). And some types of negative statement are often highly generalized, in particular that “X doesn’t exist”.

      However, there’s another common fallacy: the idea that because we cannot have perfect knowledge, we cannot have ANY knowledge. It’s timely that Jerry just posted an article on Bayesian statistics!

      “There are no unicorns in my living room.”
      – easily proved in a few seconds
      “There are no unicorns in Africa”
      – practically impossible to prove absolutely, especially since the properties of unicorns are poorly defined, but easy to show that the probability is vanishingly small, provided that we are talking about something the size of a horse.

      • GBJames
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        But then there are the invisible pink unicorns. Very hard to detect.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

          I disagree. The invisible unicorns are purple!

          • GBJames
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

            This site is full of heretics.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

              Thankfully.

          • rickflick
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            But, if they only show up as fuzzy blobs on black and white film, how would you know?

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Science tells us that She is invisible, for She cannot be seen.

            Faith informs us that She is Pink, for thus it has been revealed to us.

            And that She is real? Well, even atheists believe in Her, so what more proof could you possibly want?

            b&

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              Adn She lives inside of Mars — which is why we can’t see Her.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                Actually, She’s standing behind your shoulder, laughing at you. She does that a lot.

                No, don’t bother looking for Her…She’s invisible, remember?

                b&

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            Invisible Pink Unicorns are magenta. You’ll all burn in Hell.

          • Marella
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

            We of the Uniting Unicornists believe that the Invisible Unicorn is all colours at once. Just so long as we all agree that She poops rainbows, we can be as one.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:48 am | Permalink

            I remember a game of Go (think – it looks rather like checkers or draughts) which was aborted due to the inability of both players and two onlookers to agree whether a particular piece was white, black, or flashing purple.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

              Go, the oriental board game. One of the popular Go proverbs is “minutes to learn ; a lifetime to master”.

    • Alex T
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      But how might one prove it beyond any doubt? (Especially if one includes half-brothers sharing a father.)

      Rather than ask for proof or removing any doubt, we should recognize that science doesn’t deal in absolutes. The question should really be how confident are we that someone doesn’t have a brother. Infidelity and secrets do happen but the baseline levels in society are low and if an investigation into his past doesn’t turn up any red flags we can reduce the odds even further. That should be enough to remove *most* doubt.

      If a spouse comes home bruised & bloody and says they were mugged & beaten, there’s a chance that they are lying or even that they faked the injuries. Can you prove that they weren’t? Maybe not, but unless they have a track record of doing this, it’s safe to trust their account and say the alternatives are very, very unlikely.

      • GBJames
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I agree with you. While you can often not “prove” a negative, simply because it is impossible to examine every possibility, it is often quite irrelevant.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          I guess I was just trying to say that the “two hearts” example is stronger than the “no brothers” one.

  12. bobkillian
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve found it less effective to say “Everything written about him was decades after his death” than to substitute “at least two generations after his death.” Believers are quicker to grasp the yawning gulf of missing evidence.

    I’m not educated in these matters sufficiently to make the case, but it seems to me the traumatic destruction of the Temple in 70 was a spur to create a myth about a figure that’s conveniently too far back for fact-checking. I ask more knowledgable readers to disabuse me of this notion.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      You’re spot on about the 70 CE bit. The earliest Gospel, Matthew, describes the destruction of the Temple, but puts it at the time of the Crucifixion, thereby establishing not only that it was written after 70 CE, but that it had to be sufficiently distanced in both time and space for people to not wonder about the anachronism of Pilate being in charge at the time. Put it sometime in the second century in Greece — it is, after all, written in Greek by a Greek-educated native speaker of Greek and a non-stop magical mystery tour of favorite Greek bedtime stories — and you’re about on the money.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Matthew Prorok
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Minor clarification, the earliest gospel was Mark, not Matthew.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          Ngahk! Yes, of course…damned brainfarts….

          b&

  13. Sean
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Once you learn how the sausage is made, you have to believe that there is almost* certainly no real life character.

    Once again: Was there a historical John Frum?

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      I wear cargo shorts in preparation for his imminent return.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      “Ned Ludd or Ned Lud, possibly born Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam, is the person from whom the Luddites took their name.”

      And yet there are no records of his existence. Myths are all too easy to create.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Dionysian partiers unite and ramble on over to the Bacchanalia!

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        If there are no records of his existence, how do you know that he actually existed?

        My recollection is that Ned Ludd is a perfectly good example of a mythical character made historical.

  14. maryhelena
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    sub

  15. Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    The argument that if Jesus did the miraculous things that are attributed to him there should be more mentions from contemporary sources is valid when debating with Christians, but here that has little weight. All sides in the present debate (here at least) can accept the miracles are made up. So, under the premise Jesus was one of many apocalyptic Jews of the time wouldn’t set off too many radars, especially since he wound up crucified (therefore limiting his impact).

    With the level of scrutiny used by mythicists, it seems it would be nearly impossible to convince them that any non-ruler existed that didn’t himself produce a written record. Did Peter exist? Any of the other apostles? Mary? All were made up? Did Paul exist? When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist? To me it seems everyone at the time understood the person existed, so it was never in doubt to question or argue about. When you argue Jesus didn’t exist you have also then argue that many other people didn’t exist, or explain away why they thought that he did.

    It seems to me occam’s razor applies. To suggest Jesus didn’t exist falls a little too far into conspiracy theory territory for my liking.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Would “There’s is no good evidence for the existence of a real person behind the Jesus character mentioned in the Bible” be more comfortable?

      That is the situation.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        My position is that under your revised statement, the mythicist’s standards for what constitutes reasonable evidence is too high. So no, there is no irrefutable evidence evidence for a real person, but using the same level of scrutiny, you could refute pretty much anyone’s existence at that time in history. However, circumstantially, it is simpler to accept a real Jesus existed than to conjure up conspiracy theories to say he didn’t.

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      “Did Paul exist?”

      Probably. We have his letters, which is more than for Jesus.

      “Did Peter exist? Any of the other apostles?”

      Probably Peter existed, as did James and John. Paul mentions them in Galatians 2.9. But we don’t know any of the other names of “the twelve”, which is weird. Apparently, by the end of the first century, Christians had forgotten the names of the founding members of their church.

      “Mary?”

      Probably not. She appears only in the Gospels, which are clearly legendary, and the first chapter of Acts. She then disappears from history entirely, as do all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, as does Joseph of Arimathea. Pilate receives no more mention in Christian documents. Simon of Cyrene and his sons, Martha, her brother Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Mary Magdalene likewise disappear. Joseph is gone even before Acts 1.14, with no explanation. So either the author of Acts had some reason to erase EVERYONE DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO JESUS from history, or they weren’t in history to begin with.

      “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed?”

      A good point, but not the way you think. Why doesn’t that come up in trials? Every time someone defends themself before a court, they only mention revelations of Jesus. No trial ever brings up anything about Jesus’ life; no defense of Christian beliefs in a trial ever cites his miracles, or his recent execution, or his empty tomb. Nobody denies that Jesus existed, true, but NOBODY CLAIMS IT EITHER.

      “Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

      We do. See Ignatius of Antioch. He was not just convinced of Jesus’ historicity, he was very concerned with insisting on it, opposing “false doctrines” saying otherwise.

      As for why we don’t see any earlier than Ignatius, that’s not surprising on mythicism. After all, the earliest Christians wouldn’t refute mythicist doctrine if, as is the case on this hypothesis, that’s what they believed anyway, and historicity was a later development. It would only be surprising on historicity, since if Jesus had existed, we would indeed expect defenses of his historicity against mythicist claims. Yet, as you point out, we don’t have those. So the lack of early arguments refuting mythicism argues AGAINST historicity.

      “When you argue Jesus didn’t exist you have also then argue that many other people didn’t exist, or explain away why they thought that he did.”

      Yes, you do. So?

      • dewovasid
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        “The author of acts had some reason to erase everyone directly connected to Jesus, or they weren’t in history to begin with.”

        Or, they simply were no longer important to the narrative being told and were of no further consequence.

        “Nobody denies that Jesus existed, true, but NOBODY CLAIMS IT EITHER.”

        The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.

        “Yes, you do. So?”

        At some point the number of hoops you have to jump through to get to the logical result you want is too many, and it is simpler and more probably correct to assume the hypothesis with less obstacles.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.

          Eh…no. Not even close.

          The most straightforward reading is that the authors wished to convince their audiences in the reality of Jesus, but there is overwhelming evidence that they themselves believed either that said reality was otherworldly or were simply using it as a confidence scam.

          Whether the “real” Peregrinus or not, the Paul of the considered-authentic gospels is a dead ringer for him, right down to his introduction of the Mithraic Eucharist of his hometown of Tarsus as the Christian Last Supper. And we know for a fact that Matthew invented the Virgin Birth and plenty more — and this is after Matthew copied Mark who assuredly similarly invented at least some of Jesus’s biography.

          Now, it might be fair to suggest that Matthew really did sincerely believe that Jesus really was really born of a virgin. He could have had some sort of inspiration that he treated as divine revelation and really truly believed it was really real. Unlikely, but possible…but, even if true, such a fact does far more damage to the historicist position than the mythicist one, for it makes one of the most important sources of information about Jesus to be a shameless (in either positive or negative senses) fabricator of fiction, and utterly destroys his credibility on the matter. Quite literally, everything in the Gospel of Matthew is perfectly useless for establishing even the most trivial of facts about Jesus…and, once you perform similar analyses of the other sources, you discover that there actually isn’t anything you can reliably know about any “real” Jesus, save for the theological beliefs about him being espoused by the various authors.

          And that itself — a simple objective high-level analysis of the sources we do have for Jesus — is, again, independent of all other methods, more than ample to establish the mythical nature of the character. After all, if everything we “know” of Jesus is unabashed myth, of what sense does it make to claim that those plain-as-day myths are actually factual?

          b&

          • dewovasid
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            “Not even close”

            And yet, here we are with the firm majority on the side of a historical Jesus and a few (growing?) number of outliers claiming otherwise.

            To me, Matthew, Luke, and John bring very littl to the discussion. If I consider the gospels, I usually go to Mark. Whatever you say about Matthew I tend to agree with.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

              Then consider that Mark wrote of the destruction of the Temple that happened with the Roman conquest in 70 CE, but that he put it at the time of Pilate. Such can’t even plausibly happen in fiction unless there’s a great remove in both time and space from the events in question.

              So with Mark established as being unreliable, late, distant, and thoroughly enamored of supernatural bullshit…why, again, do you give any weight to anything he wrote as supporting actual historical facts as opposed to religious propaganda…?

              b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

                Because all ancient texts are unreliable and if we wish to glean any information at all, we must do our best to separate, parse, examine, and put together the most likely to be true, and most likely not.

                I am placing my bets on the side of Jesus existing (for now) based on a slightly more probable case.

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

                But they are reliable to different extents. Julius Caesar’s autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul has proven to be superbly reliable, as multiple archaeological digs have confirmed. The Gospels, on the other hand, were even admitted by the earliest Christian apologists to be nothing more than warmed-over rehashings of universally-known Pagan myths.

                Placing your bets with a faery tale that opens with Perseus’s virgin birth scene, features multiple zombies including a full-scale invasion and extended personal appearance by the main zombie character, and ends with a rehash of Bellerophon’s flight on Pegasus…well, I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that’s not exactly a very wise way to bet.

                Of course, if you do want to roll the dice that way, I’d be more than happy to offer all sorts of other gambling opportunities for you. Perhaps you’d like to guess which cup the pea is hiding under?

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

                My bets are not on the fairy tale as a whole, but the case I’ve already stated. That there are historical facts mixed in with exaggerated claims, and some completely fabricated events. That there is no way to know with a 100% certainty how to differentiate between them, but we can give some pretty educated guesses. That the circumstances and evidence to me suggests a real person, with later legends attached to him.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Then walk us through it.

                Pick one single fact you can express with great confidence about an historical Jesus, and back it up with affirmative evidence — that is, evidence which comes right out and clearly states this fact you’re claiming.

                But beware! If your evidence comes from an highly suspect source, especially one which is besotted with zombies, you’ll have to independently establish the trustworthiness of the claim. And you’re also likely going to have to deal with contradictory claims of equal merit, as well as contradictory circumstances that can be established from others.

                “Good luck with that,” as they say. But, if there’s to be a first to overlap the non-overlapping Venn diagrams, perhaps you’ll be it….

                Cheers,

                b&

            • dewovasid
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

              You have already dismissed or gave alternate explanations for any argument I could make. I’m not claiming to bring anything new to the table, I just don’t agree with your conclusions.

              Again, I think the standards of evidence you are asking for are too high for the claim being asserted. I don’t have irrefutable proof from an unsullied source, attested to from multiple independent sources. Does that mean you could be right? Certainly. Do I think you are? No.

              • trou
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                Mark was unfamiliar with the geography he wrote about in his accounts. He obviously was writing from afar in both time (as was pointed out by Ben) and place (since he has no idea what he’s talking about).
                For example, There’s the Sea of Galilee, which isn’t a sea at all. No wind blown waves would ever get large enough in that small body of water to make anyone fear being capsized. He has Jesus taking the long way to get to someplace (because he doesn’t know the area at all).
                I can’t remember if Mark wrote of the instance when Jesus was in danger of being thrown off a cliff in Nazareth for healing on the Sabbath, but it reinforces my point. Salm writes that there is no cliff in Nazareth, no Synagogue dating from the time of Jesus.
                My point is that these stories, though they sound as if they have realistic historical facts in them, really don’t if you look at them without your Christian scholar glasses on.
                Really, no sceptic should ever take the consensus of a bunch of religious scholars.
                They are presuppositionists and tend to see confirmation of their beliefs everywhere.
                To say that most believe in a real Jesus, so we should take them at their word is silly.
                Of course they believe that. They wouldn’t be Christians if they didn’t.
                Sceptics should be more sceptical, as a general rule. It could be axiomatic.

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          “Or, they simply were no longer important to the narrative being told and were of no further consequence.”

          Which is possible, but unlikely. After all, they were right there at the beginning of the church. They were central figures; Luke has them present for the 40-day closed-door meeting with the resurrected Jesus. We don’t even hear what happened to them, WHY they were no longer important. It is at least plausible that they don’t appear in the church’s official history because they weren’t real people.

          “The most straightforward reading and interpretation of the texts is that they believed in a real life Jesus.”

          I disagree. Any time it looks anything like Luke is referring to an official transcript, they say no such thing. The most straightforward interpretation is that they didn’t reference Jesus’ ministry because he had none, they didn’t reference the empty tomb because there was none, and they referenced a heavenly Jesus known through revelation because that’s the only Jesus they knew.

          “At some point the number of hoops you have to jump through to get to the logical result you want is too many”

          I’m not jumping through hoops, I’m suggesting we DO HISTORY. Explaining why people thought there was a historical Jesus is the point of all this. Yes, “because there was one” is one hypothesis, but hardly the only one, and hardly the simplest one, given all the evidence we have that looks very odd on that hypothesis.

          “it is simpler and more probably correct to assume the hypothesis with less obstacles.”

          Agreed. I think that hypothesis is mythicism. Because all the evidence we have is expected on mythicism, but not all of it is expected on historicism.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed?””

        Jesus Christ is not a man’s name. He should be known as Joshua Ben _____. Jesus Christ means “anointed savior”. This is the name of a character in a play (perhaps even a farce) or a character who represents a theological argument.

        And there is at least one reference by a fairly contemporaneous source that Jesus Christ IS a character, not a real man.

        • Marella
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:36 am | Permalink

          And what’s more in Mark, the first gospel, he refers to Jesus with the definite article, “The Anointed Saviour” making it clearly a title and not a name.

    • colnago80
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Interestingly enough, the Islamic position on Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth is that such an individual did exist. However, their position is that the man who was executed on Calvary was not Yeshua but Judas Iscariot and that Yeshua was ordered by Pontius Pilate to get out of Dodge and not to come back.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Interestingly enough, the Islamic position on Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth is that such an individual did exist…

        Not especially enlightening, since Islam was fabricated over half a millenia later.

    • kennyrb
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

      Paul appears to not have been interested in an historical Jesus.

      Gal 1:11-13
      For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;…

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Those verses were to show that was not corrupting or misunderstanding teachings from others, such as Peter. Instead his teachings are based on direct revelations from Jesus himself. There were disagreements about whether or not Christians needed to still follow the Jewish law and Paul was saying that he was right because he was given the direct revelation from the resurrected Jesus. He was not saying that an actual Jesus didn’t exist or that he didn’t care, his message of salvation was dependent on the actual life, crucifixion, and resurrection on the living Jesus.

        • kennyrb
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          Your claims are interpretively based in an acceptance of the gospels stories and does not take into account the near total or total lack of concern from Paul about the life of Jesus. He was primarily concerned with the crucifixion and resurrection. Your statement that he was interested in the life of Jesus or “the living Jesus” needs to be established. That’s where the Pauline material is in dispute.

          If you haven’t done so already, read the “genuine” epistles of Paul and Hebrews without a gospel filter. This is important to do since the gospels were written after the epistles. And when you do this pay special attention to the context of comments about crucifixion/resurrection. Also of interest are places where Paul could have used teachings or actions of the gospel figure of Jesus to buttress contentions but did not do so. Finally, pay attention to where the teachings of Paul are in disagreement with the teachings of the gospel(s) figure of Jesus. As context for all of this you might want to study the theology of Philo of Alexandria, the 2nd Book of Enoch and The Ascension of Isaiah. It’s difficult to reject the proposition that Paul and Hebrews were not influenced by some sort of “celestial” theology concerning Jesus. As an introduction, consider what Paul believed when he said that he “knew a man” who ascended to the third level of heaven.

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

            My claims are completely independent of the gospels. I agree that Paul did not mention much of what Jesus did or said in his life, I agree that Paul was either unaware or just not concerned with those details. However, the part that was a concern was that he was alive at some point, suffered real pain, and was crucified and then physically resurrected. The rest was not germane to the salvation message.

            • AdamK
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

              “…then physically resurrected…”

              That right there takes this story out of the historical and into myth and fiction.

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Obviously. But the point is that the author Paul believed that Jesus really lived and really died. The fact that he wasn’t actually resurrected is not the point. The argument was that Paul did not think Jesus was a real life person.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Paul most emphatically did not think that Jesus was a real life person, and he made that point as explicitly — and frankly, as eloquently — as he possibly could have. See the quote I already provided in this very thread:

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/once-again-was-there-a-historical-jesus/#comment-1073595

                Cheers,

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, but I fail to see how those verses indicate that Paul did not believe Jesus was a real life person. They basically say that believers resurrection would be like Jesus’s, a dead physical body would be planted as a seed, and on resurrection, would be transformed from the perishable, to the imperishable (but still physical) body. This was to refute the argument that some were making that they were already resurrected “in the spirit” without having physically died yet.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                If you’re replying to me, Paul directly contrasts Adam as the primordial genesis of corporeal bodies with Jesus as the primordial genesis of spiritual bodies, with the latter being an entirely spiritual and explicitly non-corporeal phenomenon. Read it again, especially the parts I highlighted.

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

                I have read it before, and then again after you pointed it out, and then several times since. You highlighted verses 13 and 14 as if those were proof of your argument, however those statement are false, he counters those with verses 20 and 21: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man”

                As for the other parts, the theme is that there is a transformation of the earthly body into a heavenly body. Whether you interpret that as a purely non-corporeal entity or not is really immaterial to the argument. I can concede the transformation is explicitly non-corporeal, but the important point was that the before was a physical earthly being, and there was a resurrection/or transformation of that physical earthly body into something else. The argument is about the before, not the after.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          “[Paul’s] message of salvation was dependent on the actual life, crucifixion, and resurrection on the living Jesus.”

          No, I believe you have missed the boat on this entirely. “Revelations” are not from people. They are hallucinations in the head of the person who claims to have had a revelation.

          There is, therefore, no need whatsoever for Paul’s Christ to have been from an actual man who lived and died on Earth.

          There is no need at all for revelations to come only from an earthly-living Jesus, and more interestingly, there is no need for a heavenly Jesus to have lived, been crucified, or have been resurrected on Earth, either.

          • dewovasid
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

            My assertion is not that Paul’s revelation was from from Jesus in person, rather, it was the “vision” of the resurrected Jesus that revealed the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

            Paul’s message is that to receive salvation, we must suffer in our earthly forms until we die and are resurrected, just like the savior suffered and died. I think it would be difficult to push this idea if it was a mystical being. The idea is that he became one of us to show us the way to salvation.

            • AdamK
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              You’re reading a modern theology back into Paul. The idea was that Jesus could provide salvation because he was NOT merely human, but a heavenly being granted the power to save by his proximity to God.

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                I’m tracing the genesis of the atonement back to Paul. Jesus was human, the power was that he was a “perfect” sacrifice sent by god so that all people, Jews and gentiles could have salvation. Sacrificing a perfect lamb was no longer required for forgiveness of sins.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Jesus was human, the power was that he was a “perfect” sacrifice sent by god so that all people, Jews and gentiles could have salvation.

                And in what context, pray tell, is a perfect human sacrifice of ultimate atonement even remotely hypothetically mistraken for some random schmuck who muttered into his beard on street corners?

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                In the context that Paul developed that narrative decades after Jesus’s crucifixion. The people of the time certainly didn’t think that or remember it that way.

                Also, I said he was a charismatic Jewish preacher that gathered a following. He wasn’t an invalid drooling on the corner. There is a difference between making such an impact during his time to be recorded by sources all over the world, and being a complete nobody. He could have gathered a following, and had a local enthusiastic following and still not made an impact outside of the localized area.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                In the ancient world, saying that that man over there talking to the handful of people was the eternal archetype of the transcendent soul of all mankind would have scanned as well as calling him a square circle.

                The same holds true today, of course, except in the case of apologetic last-ditch defenses of Christianity.

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

                Again, no one at the time was saying the “man over there…was the eternal archetype.” That was attributed to him later. At the time he was a Jewish preacher with a following.

                Are you suggesting that I am attempting to defend Christianity? If so, I’m am most certainly not. I understand that a historical Jesus would give ammunition to Christians still clinging to the hope of its message, and that proving he didn’t exist would be the nail in the coffin. But we are not going to be able prove definitely either way. My position is that he may have existed, but that does not make Christianity true, and I certainly don’t believe any other Christian “truths.”

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                Again, no one at the time was saying the “man over there…was the eternal archetype.” That was attributed to him later. At the time he was a Jewish preacher with a following.

                But that’s just it. You have no evidence to support such a claim. All we have is the eternal archetype, and that eternal archetype comes from the only alleged contemporary source.

                What you’re claiming, in essence, is that Paul hobnobbed with Jesus’s inner circle who knew him personally as a flesh-and-blood Jewish preacher, but Paul managed to argue to that same audience that he was their equal because his visions of the risen Christ, his only personal experience of Jesus, were equally valid to their only personal experiences of Jesus, which were equally visionary.

                Re-read those introductory lines in 1 Corinthians 15 again. Christ died and was resurrected according to scriptures (note: not according to the witnesses), and then he appeared to the witnesses, lastly including Paul. And Paul is their equal: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”

                Absolutely nowhere in Paul’s writing will you find any mention of any mortal interacting with the pre-Risen Christ. And that little tidbit right there is enough in and of itself to cast serious doubts on any claim of historicity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                I’m not claiming Paul necessarily hobnobbed with them, but as the closest contemporary writer, did he understand Jesus to have actually lived in a earthly body?

                Nowhere in that chapter does he say he is equal, he actually says he is the least of the apostles and doesn’t even deserve that. However, he makes up for it with his tireless effort through the power that Jesus gave him. Nowhere is there any indication that they all had similar visionary experiences.

                The scriptures referenced are the Hebrew bible, not any new testament books/gospels. The “according to scriptures” is “in accordance with prophecies in the Hebrew bible” not “my source of information about the actual events of the crucifixion was the gospels.”

                This whole chapter in dealing with the resurrection was to dispel the notion that Christians could be resurrected in spirit without dying. Paul is arguing that if that was so, then Jesus didn’t have to die either. And if Jesus didn’t have to die, there was no point in him doing so, and as such, he was a failure and not the messiah. But not so, says Paul, for indeed Jesus did die a physical death so that it was all part of God’s plan and therefore believers could not have a “spiritual” only resurrection, but had to in fact die a physical death first.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                Nowhere is there any indication that they all had similar visionary experiences.

                First, note the sequence of events: Christ died, was buried, rose according to the Hebrew prophecy, and then he appeared to Peter, and then the Twelve, and so on until he finally appeared to Paul. Unless you’re going to claim Jesus really was a zombie, and Paul saw the same zombie as the others, I think we can safely say Paul’s visionary post-resurrection experience of the Risen Christ was the same as the rest.

                And even that’s all ignoring the ultimate statement in the preamble:

                1 Corinthians 11:11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

                They’re all preaching the same thing with the same authority from the same source. Do you need it spelled out in skywriting, or…?

                The scriptures referenced are the Hebrew bible, not any new testament books/gospels. The “according to scriptures” is “in accordance with prophecies in the Hebrew bible” not “my source of information about the actual events of the crucifixion was the gospels.”

                Yes, exactly. Paul knew of Jesus’s resurrection not because your incorrectly-alleged eyewitnesses told him about it, but because he read of it in the Hebrew Scriptures — of which there are lots of references to exactly the sort of figure as was the Christian Jesus, many of them even associated with the same name (“Joshua”). All Paul is saying is that he read his Old Testament (of course not canonized for centuries and certainly not known by that name), found the stories of the death of Joshua bringing salvation to the people, and heard the voice of this selfsame angel on the road to Damascus or wherever.

                Why is it so hard to take him at his plain and emphatic word that he knew of Joshua only from the Bible and experienced him personally through hallucinations?

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

                I, for one, never alleged eyewitnesses told Paul about the resurrection. It was Paul’s vision of the resurrected Jesus that convinced him of the resurrection. That doesn’t mean he didn’t know of Jesus before that vision. In fact, he was prosecuting Christians. We don’t know exactly why he was prosecuting Chrisians, but it doesn’t appear that one of the reasons was that Jesus was not real. It was more like he was arguing that Jesus could not be the messiah because the messiah wouldn’t have been crucified. The vision he had changed his mind and his thoughts on what the messiah would be. You cannot say that just because his understanding of the Hebrew prophecies -in retrospect after his conversion formed his beliefs of the resurection- means that his only knowledge previously of Jesus was also from scripture. His persecution of the Christians was in regards to a real life Jesus who he didn’t believe was the messiah.

                I also don’t know why it is safe to say Paul’s vision experience was the same as the rest. All we know from these verses is that they were all preaching the same gospel, that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the thrid day. Just because they were preaching the same message of salvation, doesn’t mean Jesus’s appearances were all the same. Jesus didn’t appear to Paul until years after the were already preaching of the resurrection. Regardless, what is the point? They all were preaching the same resurrection message, so what? I guess I need the skywriting because I don’t understand why you keep emphasing that same “ultimate statement” that I don’t think I am even making arguments against. What difference does that make? And why does it follow that because they are preaching the same message of resurrection, that they also have the same authority, or the same source? And even if they have the same authority and same source, what does that prove?

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

                We don’t know exactly why he was prosecuting Chrisians, but it doesn’t appear that one of the reasons was that Jesus was not real. It was more like he was arguing that Jesus could not be the messiah because the messiah wouldn’t have been crucified.

                Worng on both counts.

                “Real” in the cosmology of the day included the (typically seven) layers of the heavens, starting with the firmament (the air above the clouds to the Moon) and ending in the ultimate celestial realm where the Most High God reigned. It was no more unusual for the people of that time to consider the denizens of those heavens to have been real figures than it is today for us to consider asteroids and comets and planetessimals real. Just because Jesus was the mediator between those realms doesn’t mean that he wasn’t really real to Paul. And just because the only evidence to support these theories was scripture and hallucinatory visions doesn’t mean it was less real; quite the contrary, those where the means by which, in that day, absolute certainty was warranted.

                And crucified messiahs were the norm then, not just in Paganism but Judaism as well. Attempts to claim otherwise get overly-specific, insisting that one can only be crucified if done on a cross of certain exact dimensions with nails of such-and-such a gauge placed at these exact points on the body…the fact is, then and today, crucifixion was any form of hanging up a body, living or dead, by means other than a rope about the neck, often (but not necessarily) accompanied by some form of piercing and frequently (but not always; see the Christian Jesus) on a tree.

                Claiming that the messiah couldn’t have been crucified is as bizarre a non-sequitur as claiming that angels couldn’t fly.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                Even if we accept your argument for the cosmology of the day, I see no indication of that being the case in Paul’s words in regards to the Jesus who lived and died.

                I am talking about the earlier Christian’s view of Jesus being the Hebrew messiah, prophesied in the scriptures, that was to bring about God’s kingdom here on Earth. As an apocalyptic Jews of that time, Paul would have believed the Hebrew messiah to be a warrior-king type that was going to take over the world, usher in a time of peace, and claim victory over the enemies of the Jews. Jesus simply didn’t fit that bill, and so he was persecuting Christians for believing such a person that was not extraordinary and not divine, just a preacher that was crucified as a common criminal could be the powerful messiah they were waiting for. It wasn’t until Paul’s vision that he changed his ideals on what the messiah would be. Instead of the powerful warrior-king, an innocent lamb of the ultimate sacrifice.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                I am talking about the earlier Christian’s view of Jesus being the Hebrew messiah, prophesied in the scriptures, that was to bring about God’s kingdom here on Earth. As an apocalyptic Jews of that time, Paul would have believed the Hebrew messiah to be a warrior-king type that was going to take over the world, usher in a time of peace, and claim victory over the enemies of the Jews.

                You do know that there were lots of different prophecies, don’t you? And not all expected the Messiah to be Rambo, no?

                I would ask if you’re aware of the prophecy in Zechariah 6 of a Jesus whom YHWH personally orders be anointed with many crowns and be Risen, for he is to build YHWH’s church by the Power of the Holy Spirit, share YHWH’s throne, and be the agent of peace…but it’s clear that you’re cherry-picking the theologically orthodox prophecies that the Church approves of. As such, it’s equally useless to ask if you’re aware that Philo commented on that same prophecy and observed that Zechariah’s Risen Jesus Christ is a perfect fit for his own Logos, a theological construct perfectly identical with Paul’s Jesus and whom John explicitly named in the first sentence of his own Gospel.

                For half a millennium or more, Jews already knew the Risen Jesus Christ in the exact theological role Paul described him in…and yet you think Paul had rely on some dumb schmuck to actually live out this celestial drama here on Earth in order to think of it? Or that some dumb schmuck could be mistraken for an archangel?

                Really?

                b&

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      But this is not the complete mythicist argument. To repeat in summary of a few points that the historicist has to answer:

      (1) There is also *evidence that there was no such* person. For example, to pick one pretty clear case: Hebrews *says* so (on pain of logical contradiction otherwise, anyway) – chapter 8.
      (2) Paul repeatedly says that what Jesus did was in the space of “myth” – he doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it happened in “another realm” – the modern reader has trouble even seeing what he’s claiming. (I cetainly did at first.)
      (3) Paul also repeatedly says he learned the gospel by reading scripture (i.e., what Christians now call the Old Testament) and by being inspired by God, with *no* indication that his letters’ audience is in any different situation.

      There are more, but the mythicist case is *not* an argument from silence alone.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        1) Hebrews is probably a forgery, but I’m not due I understand the problem in the chapter. Could you spell it out?

        2) Saying things occurred in another realm doesn’t mean the life and death occurred there as well. After resurrection, all believers supposedly go to this other realm. Did that mean all believers did not live a real life but always existed in a mythical realm?

        3) Paul didn’t learn the “gospel” he learned the Jewish law and tradition, as well as used some of the prophecies to make a case of Jesus as the messiah. He also wasn’t inspired, he had a direct revelation from the resurrected Jesus.

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

          “Could you spell it out?” You really, really need to read Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus before you continue to opine. You are simply unfamiliar with the depth and detail of the mythicist arguments. Your objections have been answered, just not in a blog comments thread.

          • dewovasid
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

            Sorry I asked someone to explain the Hebrews argument, I didn’t realize it would take a book to explain how it easily refutes a historical Jesus, and how that explanation is the simplest and most logical.

            • Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

              It says, “If he had been on earth, he would have been …” etc.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

                Thanks! I don’t think the tense you are using is correct. It is “if he were on earth” as in, “if he was STILL on earth,” not “if he had ever been on earth.” After his resurrection he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. That doesn’t imply he was never on earth.

                Later in chapter 10 the author says, “…when Christ came into the world, he said…”

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      The problem is twofold: either Jesus was a random schmuck, in which case he’s not even tangentially related to the Jesus of Christianity; or he bears at least passing semblance to the Jesus of Christianity, in which case he couldn’t possibly have been missed.

      Even if you want to propose that he wasn’t a real magician but did sleight-of-hand tricks to con the masses, he would have been noticed — by Pliny the Elder if nobody else.

      Even if you want to strip out all of the supernatural stuff entirely, we’re still left with the rest of his biography, which is full of delicious scandals involving the biggest power brokers of the era and especially would have been noticed — certainly by Josephus, and also by the various Roman Satirists.

      And even if you want to strip out all but the theological bits in the Pauline Epistles…well, even then, Philo, an exact contemporary who was on the scene, couldn’t have failed to have noticed him, especially since he invented those very theological bits and associated them with an Old Testament figure named, “Jesus.”

      And, again, if you strip out all of that…what you’re left with is literally nothing at all of the Christian Jesus, at which point you and I have exactly as much claim to the title.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        I propose that he was an apocalyptic Jew that gathered some followers, annoyed others, and made just enough noise to be put to death. I don’t believe he was unique in this respect, there were others that suffered the same fate but we’re not later resurrected (in the figurative sense). Later, his followers and then Paul, turned what would have been a fairly inauspicious life into something much more. So I don’t think there was much to write home about, except to his followers who didn’t want to believe it was over.

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In this case my claim is mundane, and does not require extraordinary evidence. There were others that existed, gathered followers and enemies, and were put to death. It is not a stretch to believe Jesus just happened to be one of them.

        That may leave little of the Christian Jesus, but again, I’m not asking for much. Simply an apocalyptic Jew who lived and died.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          Simply an apocalyptic Jew who lived and died.

          Yet such a person is not recognizable in the earliest references we have: Paul. Paul established his credentials with the other Christians on the basis of his equal knowledge and personal experience with Jesus as theirs, all the while making plain that his experience was not of a corporeal “apocalyptic Jew.” That, and Paul is perfectly ignorant of both Jesus’s biography and every word he ever spoke…save for the Last Supper, which Paul unabashedly fabricated from the central religious rite of the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus.

          Sorry, but your theory of Jesus is radically contradicted by what little we do know of him. It’d be like claiming that, say, the “real” Luke Skywalker was a wealthy trial attorney who practiced in Boston in the late ’70s before retiring to the Bahamas.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            I think you are overstating your case. You may not be convinced, but it is not only my theory, it is also the theory of scholars who spend their lives studying the topic. I think “radically contradicted” is a bit of hyperbole.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

              Your “scholars” are, with rare exception, theologians employed by religious institutions who would fire them the instant they significantly rocked the boat.

              And those exceptions — especially Bart Ehrman — have demonstrated the most pathetic examples of “scholarship” with regards to the subject that I can think of. No joke; Ehrman’s entire case for historicity rests upon a couple toss-off two- or three-word phrases in the Greek Gospels apparently awkwardly translated from Aramaic, from which he divines the entire Gospel narrative as related by reliable eyewitnesses.

              b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                And those on the mythcist side have no agenda, reasons, or motive? Didn’t carrier receive a grant for the specific purpose of disproving the historicity of Jesus?

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                The notion that Richard Carrier is somehow getting rich from his scholarly inquiries into the historicity (or lack thereof) of Jesus is both laughable and insulting. Here he is in his own words:

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comment-1054949

                Cheers,

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                I never said or implied he is getting rich or famous, or that he is even being dishonest. However, if you go into research with an idea of the result ahead of time, you are going to find evidence to support it, and tend to ignore or explain away the things that don’t. This happens both ways obviously, I’m just saying I don’t think the mythicist side is immune from a little bias, even if it is unconscious.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                And those on the mythcist side have no agenda, reasons, or motive? Didn’t carrier receive a grant for the specific purpose of disproving the historicity of Jesus?

                That’s inaccurate. The “grant” was to investigate whether mythicism or historicism makes more sense.

                As he tells the story, and it can actually be verified from the archives of his blog, he didn’t start out as a mythicist. Despite being reluctant to check “yet another fringe theory” because it kept coming up he decided to review Earl Doherty’s book (The Jesus puzzle) expecting to find the usual conspiracy theory drivel. Instead he found a well argued and documented thesis, with some flaws but overall competent scholarship.

                Some years later when he was in a financial bid, he asked for donations to support his work and he proposed several topics that he would be interested on working on. One of the topics he proposed was the investigation of the historicity of Jesus, and the majority of his donors wanted that. Again they wanted him to investigate the historicity of Jesus, not to prove the mythicist position. My impression is that he may have been slightly disappointed about the choice, and he’d rather work on science of the Imperial Era, his thesis topic.

                So he started working on the topic and realized that the whole field of “NT studies” was a methodological mess and he basically would have to first create a valid methodology able to attack the question. So he thought of Bayes’ theorem and the rest, as they say, is history.

    • charles minus
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      “Did Paul exist?”

      This is an open question. Even conservative Christian scholars agree that all of the epistles were not written by the same author. Some scholars, e.g. Robert Price, make a good case that they are all pseudepigrapha, some of which were likely written by Marcion.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Or was it partly Simon?

        http://vridar.org/other-authors/roger-parvus-a-simonian-origins-for-christianity/

      • maryhelena
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        A book very much worth reading is ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery’, by Thomas L. Brodie.

        //Like Hebrew narrative, the epistles are
        reticent. And composite. And repetitive. And, standing out from the list: like
        Hebrew narrative, the epistles are historicized fiction.

        Historicized fiction.

        A mass of data had suddenly fallen into place.
        What hit me was that the entire narrative regarding Paul, everything the
        thirteen epistles say about him or imply-about his life, his work and travels,
        his character, his sending and receiving of letters, his readers and his
        relationship to them-all of that was historicized fiction. It was fiction,
        meaning that the figure of Paul was a work of imagination, but this figure had
        been historicized-presented in a way that made it look like history, history like,
        ‘fiction made to resemble the uncertainties of life in history’ (Alter
        \98 \ : 27)………So-and this reality took time to sink in – the figure of Paul joined the
        ranks of so many other figures from the older part of the Bible, figures who,
        despite the historical details surrounding them, were literary, figures of the
        imagination.//

        Yep, for breaking with the consensus, Brodie, a respected Catholic NT scholar, paid a high price for his Memoir…..

        //On 20 February 2014, the committee had a two-hour meeting in Fribourg with Tom Brodie to discuss their reports and his response. Following this meeting the committee formally advised the Master that the publication was ‘imprudent and dangerous’, the standard set out in the legislation of the Order, and recommended that the sanctions imposed on Thomas Brodie by the Province of Ireland were appropriate. In a letter dated 3 March 2014, Fr Bruno Cadoré concurred with the judgement of the committee and instructed that the sanctions already in place be maintained. Despite the restrictions placed on him, Tom Brodie remains a brother of the Irish Province, and the Province continues to care for him and provide for him. From the point of view of the Order, the matter is closed.//

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_L._Brodie

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Again, if you are applying the same level of scrutiny you can construe any ancient person as myth.

        Is it really easier to believe 35 other scenarios, people, and stories were fabricated, or that the one person preached, gained some followers, and then was put to death?

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:20 am | Permalink

          Can you show how by applying the same “level of scrutiny” we can construe that, say, Julius Ceasar, as a myth? Or that Archimedes was. Or even Eratosthenes.

          But even if your wildely exagerated claim was true, then the honest position would be to just say that we have no idea what the hell happened back then, not to insist that we have certainty about the existence of all these people.

          • dewovasid
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

            Julius Caesar undoubtedly had more of an impact on his world and the world at large to be expected to have more sources and more evidence. I have stated prior that you would either have to be a ruler, or have written something influential in your own name to have evidence to the levels being requested for Jesus. However, I don’t doubt the conspiratorial minds at work could come up with enough scenarios to cause doubts about even them. Consider the theories devised to counter the mainstream acceptance about JFK, aliens visiting Earth, 9/11, climate change, evolution.

            I don’t insist we have certainty. I have said that based on what we know currently, it is just a little more probable (to me) that Jesus existed rather than not. And for the purposes at hand, I don’t think that is too much of a stretch.

            If there is any certainty, it is Ben who is giving the impression that he is certain that Jesus did not exist.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              You seem to be comparing Jesus mythicists to conspiracy theory nuts. That may be fair for some of them, but for most, and especially those discussed and participating here it’s not.

              You also mentioned evolution. Comparing the evidence we have for evolution to the evidence we have for Jesus is so absurd, it borders on logical fallacy. To spell it out, we can be almost certain that evolution happened, so when you comparing “Historical Jesus deniers” to “evolution deniers”, say, by logical implication, you’re hinting that we are almost certain that Jesus existed. No?

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

                I’m not comparing the evidence, and although I’m somewhat comparing historical Jesus deniers to evolution deniers, it is not on the same scale. I’m am trying to demonstrate the lengths and the mental gymnastics people are capable of to meet a desired results. So for example. even though evolution is undeniable and we have ample evidence, people STILL find bits and pieces of it to try sow doubt. For instance they will ask for fossils of transitional species, but after providing example, they will trot out Piltdown Man to show that since that was faked, how can we be so sure everything else wasn’t? So, in the case of Jesus, where we have scant little solid evidence, it is even easier to try to attack the bits and pieces to arrive at the conclusion we want (that Jesus didn’t exist).

                If people are willing and able to do so on the overwhelming supported issues, how much more so for issues with so little certainty.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                Wait — evidence for Evolution is overwhelming and evolution for Jesus is “scant little solid,” and yet those who dismiss the latter are cranks on the same sale as those who dismiss the former?

                You’re not even making sense of your own claims.

                b&

              • dewovasid
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                Cranks would probably be apt for most of the anti-evolution crowd. I don’t think mythicists are cranks at all. In fact, I was hoping the evidence was stronger. I would love to be able to believe and defend the mythicist’s argument to my family, and I may be convinced yet. I’m open to it.

                My comparison is in both in the ability to see what they want to see, and the strategy to over-analyze each minute detail to the point where the overall cohesive picture is lost.

                In the case of Evolution, some of that is ignorance or total lack of intellectual honesty. I don’t think that is the case for Mythcisits, who do have reasoned arguments and intellectual honesty.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

                It’s not minute details.

                It’s the fact that the very first Christian Apologist, writing about the same time as the Gospel authors, dedicated his First Apology to the proposition that Pagans had no right ridiculing Christians because Christianity was indistinguishably similar to Paganism…and this fact was because evil daemons with the power of foresight planted false stories of imitations of Christ in the generations before Jesus in order to lead honest men astray. And, again, that’s not some minor little off-hand remark; it’s the central thesis of the very first ever defense of the faith, argued for passionately and with copious well-referenced examples that stand on their own.

                All you need to do to demonstrate the Mythicist case is take everything Justin wrote, but instead attribute the copying to Christians imitating Pagans after the fact, rather than daemons imitating Christians before the fact.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

                @ dewovasid

                No offense but the one I see here involved in mental gymnastics is you. You mention evolution, you allude to climate deniers, and so on, and when somebody brings that up you take it back, but not quite. And then you go on inputing motives on people, implying that the only reason mythicists reach their their conclusions is that they want to. If I challenge you on that I’m sure you’ll take it back, but not quite. In a previous comment you stated that Carrier received a grant “to prove the mythicist position”, don’t you think that after I corrected you with the facts you should retract that?

                The think is that in order to explain the facts with a historicist position one has also to jump through a lot of mental hoops. How come a crucified dude came to be worshiped as the preexisting son of god within years of his supposed crucifixion? How come that all of the early Christian documents show very little awareness of the ministry of Jesus? In all the Pauline corpus, and all the early epistles, there are a handful of phrases that could be interpreted to refer to a recently lived Earthly Jesus. There are no clear cut cases, it doesn’t say “brother of Jesus” it says “brother of the Lord”, it doesn’t say “born of a woman” it says “made of a woman” etc. All in all five or so phrases. How come no contemporary sources mention Jesus? How come early Christianity looks so much like a Hellenistic mystery cult? How come all of the content of the gospels can be reconstructed from it’s literary sources and can be shown to be literary creation?

                I could go on, but I hope I made my point.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          > Is it really easier to believe 35 other scenarios, people, and stories were fabricated, or that the one person preached, gained some followers, and then was put to death?

          Superman comic books have been written since 1938. One series got up to issue #714. All of these stories have been written by a small set of authors, while almost every bible book and epistle had a different author – and very different details and stories about the characters, often contradictory.

          Can you show me how this proves that Superman is real and these books are accurate descriptions of his life?

          • Dewo Vasid
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

            It doesn’t.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      > So, under the premise Jesus was one of many apocalyptic Jews of the time wouldn’t set off too many radars, especially since he wound up crucified (therefore limiting his impact).

      That’s what I call the “Magic Jesus” argument: He was exactly insignificant enough that no one bothered to record as little as the years of his birth and death and yet he was so significant that he became the basis for the majority religion on the planet.

      Something doesn’t add up.

      • Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        He became the basis for the majority religion on the planet centuries after his death.
        This does not require him to be significant in his life time.

        We have a modern example of a Jewish religious figure who is believed by his followers to have made miracles. Many of them believe that he is the messiah:
        http://www.chabadworld.net/page.asp?pageID=FABD6C0E-964E-464E-9DEF-1C2B6F468AA3&moshHdr=1

        For more examples google “Lubavitcher”.
        Now, Chabad was a big movement during his life, and was very active and vocal, so I cannot say that he or his movement it was insignificant, and no serious account of Jews in the second half of the 20th century is complete without mentioning him, but the idea that he made miracles or that he is the messiah is of course rejected by a huge majority of the Jew, even if you count only the religious ones. This, 20 years after he was buried, does not stop his followers from saying things like that he isn’t really dead or that he will return.
        For us, it’s obvious that all that is nonsense, but they seem to genuinely believe this (I talked to some of them).

        I can imagine how a tiny marginal group of Jews in the 1st century B.C. believed similar things about Jesus. They were too small to be cared about at that time, but later succeeded to convince many others, grow and become a significant political power. Then Constantine wanted to use that power, and they could take over the empire.

        • Posted October 5, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

          “I can imagine how a tiny marginal group of Jew …”

          Well, that’s a problem with the historicist position: Too much imagination; too little hard evidence.

          /@

          >

  16. Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the Flavian Hypothesis (or theory? It has been present for peer review). I’m certainly no scholar of early Roman literature, but I do find the thesis compelling. I may be exhibiting a bias for deliberate fraud. 😉

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Since Richard Carrier got a mention in Jerry’s post, you might be interested in his negative assessment of the Flavian hypothesis.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4664

      A couple of things about Carrier you might want to know.

      First, he is not one for false collegiality, if he doesn’t respect someone, he will make his contempt clear.

      Second, he’s a strong advocate of a Bayesian approach to history, and he will use Bayesian lingo like “priors” in his blog entries without much explanation. But usually not to a degree that makes his writing inaccessible, and certainly not in this case.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Carrier seems really pissed at Atwill because people keep lumping them together. He is also misrepresenting Atwill’s position (I won’t say he’s guilty of the Straw Man Fallacy) and makes no mention of the latter’s qualifications, or the data on which he bases his theory. He dismisses Atwill’s profession offhandedly. He is not a peer, in the scientific sense. I find Carrier’s refutation unconvincing.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Just from cursory browsing it sounds like a conspiracy theory. “In 2003 Joseph Atwill discovered that the Roman emperor Titus Flavius, working with Flavius Josephus and other authors in his patrimony wrote the New Testament. Atwill deduced this by comparing The ‘Judean War’ to the New Testament. The ‘Judean War’, written by Flavius Josephus, was originally part of the Christian Bible, and was removed around 1100 CE. ‘The Roman Origin of Christianity’, released as ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ by Joseph Atwill documents the creation of the New Testament as a Roman satire devised to win over Judean dissidents by deceiving them into believing that the emperor Titus Flavius Vespasiani was Jesus!” [ http://www.fargonasphere.com/piso/ ]

      Evolution of religion predicts myth figures like “Jesus”, “Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus” [to take from Barber’s text] and many other religious founder figures that aren’t “sons” like “Buddha”, “Confucius” et cetera – variants on a theme. Sure there are stranger cons as modern history shows (Smith, Steiner et cetera), but we need stronger evidence to make stronger (less likely) claims.

      In any case, we don’t need to know the specific con in religious myths to know they are non-historical myths, anymore than we need to know the specific pathway taken in evolution to know evolution happens.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      It’s a conspiracy theory.

      But deliberate fraud was unquestionably part of the genesis of Christianity, and the explicit statements of such are in well-known literature.

      For background, start with Justin Martyr’s First Apology, the primary thesis of which is that Pagans have no business mocking Christians because the two religions are superficially indistinguishable…and that that’s because evil daemons with the power of foresight knew that Jesus was coming and so planted false stories of the Pagan gods in order to lead honest men astray when Jesus came on the scene. And he includes dozens of very explicit and uncontroversial examples: Perseus born of a virgin, Aesculapius raising the dead and healing the sick, Bacchus turning water into wine, Bellerophon Ascending on Pegasus, Mercury as the Logos of John 1:1 (and Philo), and so on. Add up all the examples he gives, and there isn’t a single bit of Jesus that the Pagans didn’t do first.

      In particular, pay attention to what he writes of the Eucharist.

      Next, read Lucian of Samosata’s delightful satire about the Passing of Peregrinus. Peregrinus was a lovable cad who especially preyed upon the naïveté of the Christians and “revealed” many Pagan mysteries as being “actually” Christian.

      Last, see evidence of this in action in two of countless examples. First, note that the earliest Gospel, Mark, has no clue that Jesus was born of a virgin; but in the next two Gospels written, Matthew and Luke, we get lots of (contradicting) detail about Jesus’s virgin birth. Matthew and Luke were both playing Peregrinus’s game. But, second, and even more significant, read the very first mention of the Eucharist, in 1 Corinthians 11 — which is also the most explicit Paul ever gets about Jesus’s terrestrial biography. He’s clearly revealing the Eucharist to the Corinthians to whom the idea is novel. But it’s also the central religious ceremony of the religion of his own home town, the Mithraism of Tarsus.

      So, “conspiracy” is likely too strong a word; rather, this form of syncretism is how all religions get going: take a bit of this and a bit of that, mix it all together with your own spin, and laugh with your prophets all the way to the bank. Paul certainly was playing the role of Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard, but so, too, were all the other authors in the New Testament…as were all the other heretical authors, such as Marcion.

      …that should keep you busy for a while….

      b&

  17. eric
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporary records.

    I disagree. If I couldn’t talk to him, I would be hard pressed to find background information on a living street preacher, and this is an age where everything is recorded, where you can snap a picture or record audio with a cell phone and have your phone search the internet for matches to it.

    I would probably also be hard pressed to find records on every apocalyptic cult or apocalyptic preacher in a given city from the 1900s. Or 1800s. Or 1700s. Probably 99% of them went unrecorded. So I see absolutely no reason to think that the actions of an analogous person from 20AD Jerusalem would necessarily have been recorded either. Absence of evidence is going to be the norm for most people throughout history. Absence of evidence in this case most likely means that if there was a figure on which Jesus was based, he was not remarkable in his time. He didn’t start a cult that made the news, either because he didn’t actually start a cult, or because the authorities saw nothing to distinguish it from the many other small cults of the times.

    I agree there’s no credible contemporay evidence for such a figure. But I think in this case it’s the mythicists who have the burden of proof, because at least IMO the hypothesis that the Christian religion was started *without* a real person as its focus is more extroadinary to me than the hypothesis that it was started *with* a real person as its focus. There are just so many cults started around charismatic prophets (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, heck even Jim Jones and Charles Manson count), that absent any proof one way or the other, that still seems like the most reasonable ‘origin mechanism’ to me.

    • eric
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      …and now I see Sid’s correction of Jerry also applies to me. Substitute contemporaneous for contemporary in my post, as appropriate.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      The “no contemporary mentions” are fine for what it is, but I agree they don’t clinch the case for mythicism. If the opposite were true and we had one undisputed contemporary mention by a disinterested person, that – as a contrast – would basically clinch historicity. But we don’t have what we don’t have. Shrug.

      That’s why guys like Carrier don’t use the lack of contemporary mentions as some kind of smoking gun. He’s more interested at looking at the Pauline Epistles and other pre-Gospel Christian writings and constructing a mythicist case based on them.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        “they don’t clinch the case for mythicism”.
        Right, but then what evidence would clinch the case? I suspect just about the only “proof” would be an exchange of letters plotting a fabrication. The issue really has to be what does the balancing of evidence available show, and what probability should we give to each side.

        • Kingasaurus
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

          Right. We’re stuck in a position of assessing probabilities.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          But wait *there’s no accusation of a fabrication*. We don’t know why Mark wrote the gospel he did, setting things into “secular history”. Contemporary mythicists (like Doherty and Carrier, and their “pupils” like me) do not say that Paul “made it up” in that sense. We say rather that Paul and the early Christians do not have a Jesus (or rather a Christ Jesus, an interesting point in itself) *in history*. Rather, it is *something else*, a sacred event that took place within “sacred time”, etc.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          I suspect just about the only “proof” would be an exchange of letters plotting a fabrication.

          I do believe what I describe upthread a bit:

          https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/once-again-was-there-a-historical-jesus/#comment-1073378

          comes about as close as one is going to get to such an exchange of letters.

          b&

        • eric
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Early records of strong disagreements between authors as to what to attribute to Jesus is evidence of fabrication. So the the inconsistency of the Gospels is (IMO) pretty clear evidence that some fabrication took place. The question is how much. Does disagreement over the timing of the resurrection mean one of the authors “honestly” believed some event sequence different from the other authors, or does it mean there were different people fabricating slightly different resurrection stories around the same time?

          • Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

            Indeed – one of the pieces of the puzzle for me was reading the non-canonical gospels. They are *different* in ways that is hard to understand if there was a historical backing …

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      “Absence of evidence in this case most likely means that if there was a figure on which Jesus was based, he was not remarkable in his time.”

      Very possible. But if true, then we have to discard the Gospels and Acts as supporting evidence for historicity, because they are lying about Jesus’ life and the history of the early church to invent a history that never actually happened, which is exactly the same thing that we would expect on a mythicist hypothesis.

      “There are just so many cults started around charismatic prophets (Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, heck even Jim Jones and Charles Manson count), that absent any proof one way or the other, that still seems like the most reasonable ‘origin mechanism’ to me.”

      Except there are also many cults started around mythical figures who were then placed in history. Moses, Abraham, Romulus, Osiris, John Frum, Tom Navy. Yes, there are many instances of historical people mythologized. But there are also many instances of mythical people historicized.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        Point taken, but we still don’t know if John Frum is real or not. Doesn’t belong in that list.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      These are fair points, but when was the last time a street preacher was put to death by the State, and then the followers claimed he came back from the dead? That’s a little more newsworthy than just a random nut.

      And there are also examples of people being invented out of whole cloth, for example, the latest scholarship makes a strong case that no one named Ned Ludd ever existed.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      But when you suggest that Christianity might have started with an unremarkable street preacher — a certain individual — you are buying into the story. There would have been crazy street preachers in every town, and when the Gospel stories were first read out loud, people would have thought, oh yeah, I remember Grandad talking about that guy. There’s no reason to think there was a single person at the root of Christianity.

      I think the Gospel retold stories from the Old Testament and local mystery cults by setting them in the past, and hiding the esoteric teachings under a thin layer of of dialog and plot.

      Jesus is the fruit, not the root of Christianity, as they say.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        >I think the Gospel retold stories from the Old Testament and local mystery cults by setting them in the past, and hiding the esoteric teachings under a thin layer of of dialog and plot.

        This to me is the most plausible explanation. Even current “mystery cults” have exoteric teachings given to the masses and esoteric of the more advanced initiates. The “truth” is revealed in layers.

        To me, if you read Mark with that perspective and knowing the basic gnostic mystery themes, it is really obvious. Then the other gospels make more sense as theological first, but also esoteric arguments with the previous versions “my mystery is truer than yours”.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      > IMO the hypothesis that the Christian religion was started *without* a real person as its focus is more extroadinary to me than the hypothesis that it was started *with* a real person as its focus.

      Here’s one origin I prefer because IMO it ‘fits’ better: Paul made up his religion from whole cloth but based on current Greek notions of ‘goddiness’. For his central character he chose a fictional magic man and picked Judaism as the mysterious/magic part since his Greek audience knew something of them.

      In the early part of the last century he might have chosen a Tibetan mystic. A century earlier he might have used an Egyptian priest. Joseph Smith used (American) Indians as his models. And BTW, you can compare with J. Z. Knight and others of her ilk and their “spirit guides”.

      This seems to be a common theme – not so strange that the audience knows nothing but not so well known and understood that they have no potential for magic.

      But that’s my two bits.

  18. Jeffrey Jones
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Well studying”Socrates/Plato” at university certainly shaped my life and thoughts a lot more than reading the Bible ever did.

  19. jwthomas
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    As with Yaweh himself, there’s no historical or other evidence that miracle worker Yeshua bar Yussef existed. As a practical matter I’d assume neither did and concern myself with more important issues. Since Yeshua would simply have been one of hundreds of contemporaries claiming to be messiahs (many of them also named Yeshua) his existence or lack of is unimportant. The effort to prove his nonexistence is simply a tactic by some atheists to drive a final nail into Christianity’s coffin.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      So, in other words, you are not concerned with this tedious question?

      • Ralph
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        It was grossly unfair to people who don’t bother to read to the end of the post before commenting to put that warning about commenting at the end of the post.

      • jwthomas
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        No.

  20. rickflick
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Great grammar lessons here on WEIT. 😎

  21. Dermot C
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus. And I strongly suspect is dishonest and probably motivated by some desire for being published and known as an iconoclastic thinker. But it just won’t do.

    I glanced at the list of the 126 authors yesterday and thought that we’re back to John Remsburg‘s similar list from 100 years ago. And the writer is obviously relying on the reader’s never having read them (has anyone on the planet read all of them?) and assuming that all the manuscripts are complete.

    Why would we ‘expect’ these authors to describe Jesus? If you allege that, is there an author-by-author analysis of their interests and subjects? That’s the minimum, a historian that one would require. The list looks initially impressive but it’s just plain dishonest.

    Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people? Is there ever any sly insertion into the narrative that Jesus was contemporaneously Empire-wide famous? And there always is in this iconoclastic end of Jesus the Myth.

    Do we have an analysis and presentation of the likelihood of survival, multiplicity and types of ancient sources? Do we get comparisons with the evidence for other alleged 1st century Jewish preachers? And, by way of putting the sources question into perspective, a sober presentation of the amount and provenance of sources for them?

    In the end I could not care less whether Jesus existed. But this list is just a pathetic reiteration of a 100 year –old (probably dishonest) gambit.

    x

    • Jeffrey Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      “Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people?”

      Hang on, we’re talking about a guy here who consistently performed incredible miracles. A guy who managed to feed 5000 people, who had gathered to hear him preach. Such was his fame. Not only that, but he fed them all with just 5 loaves and two fishes. A guy who was allegedly seen as such a threat to the Romans in Palestine that they were determined to have him killed by the Jews.
      Such a guy, if he existed would obviously have been known by more than a few people. You may not care if he existed, but millions of people seem to care an awful lot whether he existed, and many of them would want to force their beliefs on others through the education systems of the world.
      If he didn’t exist millions have been living for 2000 years basing their lives on a lie. That’s enough to make me care whether he existed or not.

      • reasonshark
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Hold on; this looks like bait-and-switch. Are we talking about the miraculous Jesus or a normal preacher that could have inspired mythologizing fanatics? I think Dermot C was talking the latter, not the former.

        I think we can all agree that miraculous Jesus has no chance of actually having existed, which already puts a huge number of Christians in a very uncomfortable position. What that leaves is basically a plausible mortal man, either deranged or cynical, who preached that the end of the world was coming to fulfil scriptural prophecy and that you had to follow certain moral principles to avoid damnation. The question then becomes: given that this is the closest we can get to an actual historical Jesus existing, what sort of evidence would we expect to find, and what sort of evidence would we expect not to find?

        What we find is that, with the possible exception of a brief mention of the origin of Christian “superstition” from Tacitus and unhelpful tampered evidence from Josephus, there’s no way to distinguish between a 100% bogus account in the New Testament and apocrypha, and a 90% bogus account in the same. Unless Jesus or his real-world counterpart was supposed to be disruptive enough to earn a mention in an extant text, it’s an inconclusive mystery how the stories originated exactly.

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      “This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus.”

      It’s not conclusive on its own, but it’s still important. An argument from silence can be poorly done; if, for example, we say “If Jesus didn’t exist, some critic would have said something”, that’s a bad argument from silence. You can’t argue from what unidentified people or unknown documents would have said. But if you would expect the evidence to be there in documents you have or have references to, from authors you can identify, and it isn’t there, then that’s at least more likely to be the case if there was nothing for them to report.

      “If you allege that, is there an author-by-author analysis of their interests and subjects?”

      Yes. See Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 293-305. There were many authors writing specifically on Judean affairs, some of whom were in Jerusalem at the time. Others write about Nero’s reign, or the Jewish Wars, or Jewish theology and the sects arising at the time, or satirize religious beliefs.

      But let’s grant that any given author would be unlikely to write about Jesus. Say there was only a 1 in 20 chance that any given author on that list would find a reason to write something relevant. What are the odds that NONE of them would say anything? Well, the probability for any one being silent is 0.95, quite high. We just have to raise that to the power of the number of iterations to get the probability of all being silent. So, what’s 0.95^126? 0.00156. A 0.156% chance.

      “Is there any underlining of the high likelihood that Jesus, if he existed, was known to very few people?”

      If that’s true, then the Gospels and Acts must be discarded as evidence of historicity. Because they’re lying, inventing a history that never happened. Which is precisely what mythicism says, too.

      “Do we have an analysis and presentation of the likelihood of survival, multiplicity and types of ancient sources?”

      Yes. A Bayesian one, in fact. Again, see Carrier, OHJ.

      • Dermot C
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        @ Matthew Prorok 4.40 p.m.

        Re: argument from silence, Matthew. You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus. That is a life’s work. Take for example, Pliny the Elder. He outlines just 3 pieces of information about the Jews. Then you have to judge whether those individual pieces of information are likely to be right. In one case, certainly not: he gets the Jewish diet plain wrong.

        Re: ‘many authors writing specifically on Judean affairs’. This is not the case. In the 4 centuries until Constantine’s time, there are 40 Roman references to the Jews. And during that time the Romans fought 3 wars against the Jews, renamed the country and capital city, taxed them for their worship and reinforced the diaspora.
        On probability and the use of the 126 number in the sums. That number begs the question: it assumes Jesus’ overweening contemporary importance and visibility. It assumes, again, an Empire-wide figure of fame.

        Re: discarding the Gospels (and we should add very early non-canonical sources) and Acts as evidence of historicity, we have to take each individual historical allegation on its merits and come to a judgement on the possibility or probability of its having happened. Take Tacitus (whose Annals: 15 reference to Christ survived to the Middle Ages in just one document, by the way) who wrote the hagiography of Agricola, his father-in-law. Did, say, the Battle of Mons Graupius really happen? Did Calcagus really make that speech? Or words to that effect? Did Agricola make his pre-battle speech? Or words to that effect? Did Jesus say, for example, the Sermon on the Mount or Plain? Or words to that effect? That’s the difficulty.

        Re: Acts, what do we make of the fact that only there is Paul described as being from Tarsus? Paul never says that in the documents copied down to us. So what does that say about the connection between the Mithraist meal (in which only men could participate and is one example of myriad among early Middle Eastern religions) and Paul’s Eucharist? How do we judge Paul’s origins?

        Every historian takes a whole text and sceptically judges the individual claims on their likelihood. Just like we do with Sallust, Tacitus, Herodotus, Thucydides et al.

        On survival of sources, there are many possible problems. Papyrus lasts for 60-80 years: parchment is highly reactive to atmospheric conditions. Copies needed to be made: hence the disappearance of many documents. Of course, there are miles more early copies of the Christian documents, kick-started by Charlemagne’s 8th century patronage of the professionalization of monkish scrivenors. There’s also, and much more likely, complete cock-up, as well as conspiracy. Why, for instance, did Tacitus’ reference to Christ (something you would think that a Christian would consider a pillar of Jesus’ historicity) only survive in one copy until the invention of the printing press? Sure enough, possibly because it was not an issue in ruling Christendom.

        Carrier has some good arguments, but I don’t buy either Bayesian analysis as he applies it to history nor his interpretation of Jesus as originally being presented as a celestial being in Paul(which he seems to have developed following Doherty’s line). And I would never consider calling my readership, ‘fans’.

        x

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          “You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus.”

          If you’re saying that such a task isn’t feasible, then you’re saying that we don’t know either way. Because, unless you have examined every individual author to come to that opinion, you don’t know that you WOULDN’T expect them to mention Jesus. Which means it’s a wash, and equally likely (so far as you know) on either hypothesis.

          Of course, your claim here isn’t true. We can make judgements based on general trends, we can make use of existing scholarship so that we don’t have to do all the examining ourselves, and we can note the sheer volume of authors at the time; we have only a tiny fraction of what was written.

          “In the 4 centuries until Constantine’s time, there are 40 Roman references to the Jews.”

          I think that’s an undercount, and I’d like to see your citation. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t many people reporting on Judean affairs. It merely means, if true, that not many of them survive. We can’t forget the massive church which ended up being in charge of the preservation of all records, which would have had plenty of motive to preserve references to Jesus.

          “it assumes Jesus’ overweening contemporary importance and visibility.”

          A one in 20 chance of being mentioned assumes Jesus was of overweening importance? I fail to see how that’s at all the case. Plenty of people who were not important at all get mentioned by historians. And again, if Jesus was a nobody who went entirely unnoticed, then we need to explain where the stories about an enormously famous Jesus came from. And, after that, we need to explain why those stories could form about an unimportant man, but not about a mythical man.

          “we have to take each individual historical allegation on its merits and come to a judgement on the possibility or probability of its having happened.”

          Agreed, but we can’t be inconsistent. If we’re going to claim Jesus was an uninteresting, unimportant nobody, then we can’t forget that we claimed that when evaluating claims in which Jesus is famous throughout all of Syria. If we claim that Acts doesn’t mention anything about Jesus’ brothers after chapter 1 because Jesus didn’t actually have brothers, and they were only there in chapter 1 because they were invented for the Gospels, then we can’t forget that we claimed that when analyzing Paul’s statement about “James the brother of the Lord.”

          “Take Tacitus (whose Annals: 15 reference to Christ survived to the Middle Ages in just one document, by the way)”

          Arguable, as it turns out. He was likely referring to Chrestians, Jewish followers of the rebel Chrestus, first suppressed under Claudius. The line about Christ being crucified by Pilate was probably added in the 4th century.

          “Did Calcagus really make that speech? Or words to that effect?”

          I see the point you’re making here. But reliability matters. There are historians who we know were in fact quite good at the job, and recorded things accurately and critically, and cited their sources well, and so on. And there are historians who we know were terrible gossip mongers, and we don’t trust them nearly as much. So if we find that, over and over, Acts is inconsistent with things we think to be accurate about history, we must approach all of its claims from a position of doubt. For that matter, if we find that most religious literature in general is fabricated (and we do), then we must approach all religious literature from a position of doubt, and only trust anything it says if we can otherwise corroborate it.

          “On survival of sources, there are many possible problems.”

          Quite true. It’s important, though, to remember that even if we have good reasons to expect that we wouldn’t have a particular piece of evidence, that doesn’t let us ignore the fact that we don’t have it. This would all be much easier if we had more information. But we don’t. And thus our knowledge is uncertain, far more so than we’d like. And where uncertainty exists, alternatives multiply, and we have to compare competing hypotheses.

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

            Your comments are often very long; this one runs over 700 words. As the Roolz state, write comments, not essays. Please adhere to that request from now on.

          • Dermot C
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

            @Matthew Prorok 11.30 p.m. 3-10-14

            Yeah, it’s difficult to keep proper, considered point-by-point responses below 500 words, Matthew, so I sympathize. But, yes Jerry, I’ll try to keep within the limits.

            Re: claims of each individual author, I did do the research on the original John Remsburg list, of which this 126 author list is the descendant. And I found that one of the authors only wrote a history of Rome up to 25 BCE, one was Nero’s fashion advisor, many wrote on rhetoric, and a lot, it being the 1st century CE, were Spaniards attracted to the metropolitanism of Rome commenting on Roman cultural gossip. The one thing that you could say in favour of Remsburg’s list, as opposed to this new list of 126 non-Christian authors is that it was shorter.

            Nevertheless, Remsburg was being plain dishonest in saying that one would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus: even in his own time, as all the German scholars, George Eliot their translator among them, knew, he was answering the wrong question. There is only one cast-iron source that I can think of who you would ‘expect’ to mention Jesus and I can virtually guarantee that nobody has mentioned him in this thread: and the main reason for that is because a huge amount of people have not actually read the documents.

            All serious historians of the Jesus figure knew that he was barely known. And this list of 126, in which one has to set the context of my comments, is 100 years behind a man who was dishonestly posing a rhetorical question to something that no serious Biblical historian had actually believed for 65 years. That’s demagoguery and a deliberate lie. And, to be frank, I resent having had my time wasted finding out whether these initially convincing allegations are true. One can feel only contempt for articulate people who use the language of academic discourse to make what they know is a dishonest thesis. And how much time they waste of other persons’ research. That’s a disgrace. I think of Velikovsky.

            On the ‘volume of authors’, I simply do not believe that there are 126 Roman authors, within 2 or 3 generations of 30 CE (which is what we use to talk about credibleish references to Jesus) that might be ‘expected’ to mention Jesus. Two problems: do we have that many full manuscripts (not fragments or references from near contemporaries) extant? Would they reasonably be expected to refer to a Jesus? I really do think, given that the bloke can construct a sentence and present the semblance of an argument, that the subject of Jerry’s post is lying: and that he knows that he is lying.

            I have not responded to all your substantive points and I’ll try later – bedtime, now. You, Matthew, and I both could write several extended essays on 1 sentence of each other’s posts. It’s unfortunately the case that a website – rather like a debate – is not the forum to settle the matter.

            Finally, in particular, re: number of Roman references to Jews and my figure of 40, it’s something I know, but cannot for the life of me remember the reference for: I’ll search it out and get back to you.

            x

            • Dermot C
              Posted October 5, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

              @ Matthew Prorok
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

              I wrote, “You have to look at each individual author to come to an opinion on whether you would ‘expect’ them to mention Jesus.”

              You responded that we should make judgements based on general trends, use existing scholarship, and note the sheer volume of existing authors, and their disappearance from the historical record.

              True: the one does not exclude the other.

              Goodman in ‘Rome and Jerusalem’, Kindle, 2006, notes that surviving Roman references to the Jews before 66CE amount to fragments from 30 or so authors. And that they mention the Jews only in passing. Never mind the width, feel the quality. A lot could not have mentioned a Jesus who died in 30 CE.

              Who were they?

              Poets: Virgil etc (interestingly, Lucretius the atheist miraculously survived to us in one copy).

              Historians: Livy, Curtius Rufus… Anyone who knows anything about Roman historiography knows what they were interested in: ’an author of Roman things’, ‘vast wars, the sack of cities, the defeat and capture of kings, or in domestic history conflicts between consuls and tribunes, legislation about land and grain-distribution, the struggles of the aristocracy and plebs’ – Tacitus. And you could say the same about most of the other Roman historians: in that case a 1 in 20 chance of them mentioning Jesus is generous.

              Polymaths: Pliny the Elder, Varro (whose words only survive as quoted in a theologically approving way by by St. Augustine).

              Literary Dandy: Petronius

              Medical encyclopaedist: Erotianus

              Agricultural writer: Columella

              The most commonly attested Roman attitude towards the Jews is amusement at dietary rules, circumcision and the Sabbath (in which case history was written by the vanquished for the innovation of a Roman weekly day of rest preceded Constantine’s coup d’état).

              Josephus appears to be the first person to consider a Hellenistic(ish) history of the Jews: hence the reason why histories of them rely so much on him as a resource.

              After 135 CE when the Romans renamed the land Syria-Palaestina and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina (thereby wiping out the Jewish name and substituting their Jupiter Capitoline god for the long-destroyed Holy of Holies), written Roman references to the Jews virtually dry up. We have to look elsewhere, to the evidence of archaeology, epigraphy and coins to piece together anything resembling a 2nd and 3rd century history of the Jews.

              And in all this we should remember that Jesus did not even live under Roman jurisdiction: Galilee administered itself.

              As for my figure of 40 written references between 1CE and 325CE ish, I still can’t recall the reference: nevertheless the sources are by no means extensive or of the quality we would like.

              x

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

                A lot could not have mentioned a Jesus who died in 30 CE.

                Once again, of course, it comes back to the question of who Jesus was supposed to be.

                If Jesus and the Gospels were even the crudest or most minimal reflection of each other, most if not all those ancient sources couldn’t possibly have missed him, depending on how accurate the reflection.

                If Jesus was an Haile Selassi figure with an entirely fabricated alter-ego that bore not even the faintest semblance to the Jesus of Scripture…well, okay, such a figure could have escaped all kinds of notice, but that figure is no more Jesus than Clark Kent is Superman or Peter Parker Spiderman. The alter ego is pure fiction and entirely independent of the human to which it’s been conveniently affixed — and, once again, all inhabitants of ancient Judea rightfully bear equal claim to the title.

                But, even so, we can be overwhelmingly confident that Jesus didn’t even start with a Selassi figure, for we actually have record of the Risen Jesus Christ, architect and high priest of YHWH’s temple and the Prince of Peace…half a millennium before Paul, in Zechariah 6. There’s your Jesus of History: the Jewish archangel known to prophets and theologians for centuries before Paul ever came on the scene.

                Cheers,

                b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      “This argument from silence really is the worst argument you can have for the evidence of a non-historical Jesus.”

      It is both necessary and sufficient to make the case, so why would it be the worst argument? The absence of historical evidence makes the figure a non-historical person simply because we need evidence to make them. E.g. JC (Julius Caesar) is a historical person, “JC” is not.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      First, the lack of contemporary evidence puts hard bounds on the nature of the “Jesus” in question. Specifically, he cannot possibly be a larger-than-life figure…and everything about the Christian Jesus is larger than life. As such, the Christian Jesus is emphatically demonstrated nonexistent.

      Next, one can consider whether or not some random schmuck can reasonably lay claim to being the “real” Jesus. Lack of evidence for such a figure in the non-Christian sources cannot be used either way in analyzing that claim…but the lack of evidence in Christian sources does constitute evidence that no such figure existed. From the get-go, Christians understood Jesus as a larger-than-life divine otherworldly spiritual entity. Even if an human being had such a Jesus as an alter (altar?) ego, and that’s the original origins, we’re still talking about a pure fabrication of a fictional character — plus, there’s not only no mention in early Christian sources of the human half of this split personality, such a dual persona would have been blasphemy.

      So, yeah. Lack of evidence is only the beginning, but it’s also the end if we’re discussing the Christian Jesus…and a lack of evidence in a different set of sources also seals the deal for the purely-fictional historicist Jesus as well.

      b&

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Here is the Remsburg summary:

      The following is a list of writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time, that Christ is said to have lived and performed his wonderful works:

      Josephus, Philo-Judaeus, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial, Persius, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberius, Apollonius, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Quintilian, Lucanus, Epictetus, Silius Italicus, Statius, Ptolemy, Hermogones, Valerius Maximus, Arrian, Petronius, Dion Pruseus, Paterculus, Appian, Theon of Smyrna, Phlegon, Pompon Mela, Quintius Curtius, Lucian, Pausanias, Valerius Flaccus, Florus Lucius, Favorinus, Phaedrus, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Columella, Dio Chrysostom, Lysias, Appion of Alexandria.

      Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.

      Philo of Alexandria was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ’s miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

      He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place — when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.

      From “The Christ” — John E. Remsburg

      (Still sums it up remarkably well IMO).

      • Dermot C
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Jim,

        Remsburg cannot possibly say that Philo was present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Philo says that he went to Jerusalem once in his lifetime. We do not know when. Philo never lived in Jerusalem. He lived in Alexandria, Egypt, 300 miles away. He did not write an account of the Jews, he mentions the historical Jews in passing; he was an allegorical theologian of the Pentateuch. None of the work of Justus of Tiberias (sic), whom Remsburg cites as not mentioning Jesus, is extant. Remsburg was a liar and a disgrace.

        x

  22. Jayso
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    I know this is a side issue, but I just want to say that there is a lot of evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays we attribute to him, not just that he existed. A number of contemporary works written or published during Shakespeare’s lifetime discuss Shakespeare by name as an author. The most famous is probably “Palladis Tamia” by Francis Meres, who not only names Shakespeare as England’s “most excellent” playwright but also lists a number of his famous plays. It’s exactly the kind of evidence we don’t have for Jesus.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      I was about to say much the same. Christian scholars would die for the evidence we have for Shakespeare.

  23. suckmydictum
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    i don’t Jeery is being fair stating *all* of the extra-biblical references have been proven to be forgeries. Tacitus (a pagan) in Annals explicitly mentions christ by name and his relationship to Pilate. Tacitus is otherwise trustworthy as a source of Roman history and does not have a penchant for embellishment like other Roman historians pretty obviously did.

    Granted, it’s only in a digression on how chistianity arose is Rome and it’s only a single reference but it is real evidence mentioned by a real historian.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Tacitus would just be repeating what Christians themselves would have been preaching at that time, and that’s after the Gospels were written. Mythicists like Carrier and Robert Price aren’t disputing that, because by that time, Christians had hitched their wagon to an earthly, historical Jesus. The mythicist case is talking about developments earlier than that.

      • suckmydictum
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

        i don’t think that quite correct. it’s true tacitus *could* have been parroting what the nascent christians were saying, but given a close inspection of the passage in question, and a broader reading of tacitus’ work, he seems to have held these fanatics and their account of their religion in very low regard. it’s too bad he didn’t provide a source for his reference to christ (and as you claim, his source could have been christian preaching itself). personally, i’m not sure, but it’s simply untrue for our host to call this reference a forgery or to say all such references are forgeries.

        • Kingasaurus
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          I don’t think Tacitus would have had “low regard” for the idea that this religion’s founder was a holy man who got himself executed on the 30’s.

          As far as Tacitus would be concerned, that would be a completely straightforward observation about something not very extraordinary. The Romans executed rabble-rousers every day.

          My point was there’s no reason to particularly assume Tacitus had concrete knowledge that this particular person would have been executed by Pilate eighty years before, other than the fact that Christians were saying so.

          Tacitus is just writing too late for what he’s saying to be much use in the debate. I totally agree that we shouldn’t assume everything is forged. There’s no reason to think so. Tacitus doesn’t need to be a forgery for us to dismiss its relevancy here. Like I said, he’s just writing too late.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

          “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”

          • Matthew Prorok
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            The term he uses is actually Chrestians, i.e. followers of Chrestus. The line about being executed by Pilate was likely added in the fourth century.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

              No, that’s Suetonius who refers to “Chrestus,” a Roman slave name meaning, “useful.” Tacitus uses the same name as the Christians themselves did. I keep wanting to mix the two of them up, myself….

              b&

        • Jeff Lewis
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          In addition to what others have said, you’ve also misread our host. Unless I read it incorrectly, he said there were no contemporary accounts of Jesus that weren’t forgeries. Tacitus wasn’t contemporary with Jesus. (Contemporaneous is too much of a mouth full when contemporary already means the same thing.)

          • suckmydictum
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            fair enough. i thought jerry was referring to obvious forgeries like in josephus which were added in later by christian editors. the tacitus reference was not the work of a christian editor.

            point is, tacitus represents a scrupulous historian recording the existence of a real christ figure not a ridiculously long time after the fact. also, even though he seems to have despised the christian religion, he does not take the occasion to state this figure is fictitious and a superstitious confection.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              Here’s the relevant passage, from Annals 15:44:

              Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.

              First, it’s well worth noting that we have overwhelming reason to believe that Nero did no such thing. As such, this entire passage is suspect, either as a later Christian propagandistic interpolation or even, if we’re to be charitable, as bad reporting on the part of Tacitus.

              Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

              You’ll knote that all he does there is repeat Christian claims. It’s even consistent with those words to read it as him not believing it as really happening but merely reporting on the weather. “Superman, who could fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, had an alter ego who worked as a newspaper reporter in the city of Metropolis.” Any one of us could easily write such a thing with neither intent to deceive nor endorsement of it as being really real.

              …combine that with the fact that Tacitus wasn’t even born until 56 CE, an entire generation after the end of Pilate’s reign, and I wouldn’t at all be eager to even pretend to cite him as evidence of Jesus’s historicity. Would you trust a similar offhand comment from a GenXer as a reliable primary source on the historicity of John Frum?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • suckmydictum
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                i’d like to think through your comment and consult the original latin. i’ll write back in a little while. advocating for the devil is fun.

              • suckmydictum
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

                OK. having reviewed it, i think i find your reading of this passage to be rather unpersuasive.

                1. you suggest this passage might be the product of an “interpolation” of a christian scribe. there’s no serious scholar of tacitus i can find who thinks this reference has been very much corrupted over 2 millennia. we can split some hairs, but i think the evidence (the unflattering portrait of christianity contained therein) and the academic consensus conclude that a pagan senator, nobleman, and historian named tacitus really did write these words.

                2. you recommend a reading where tacitus recounts christian reports about the origin of their religion, but does not subscribe to the historical truth or falsity of these reports (read, your superman comment). on this point, i’ll only say it’s curious that *before* elaborating on christian superstitious depravity, he cites christ’s supposed death separately (“adfectus erat” is pluperfect and stands apart from the perfect and imperfect tenses of the rest of the passage). to wit, i would alter your superman analogy to “clark kent had been a newspaper reporter in metropolis, but a bunch of deluded nutcases thought he could fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. idiots.” i’m in the process of consulting someone who knows latin a bit better than i do to pass a final verdict, but i’m pretty sure we end up differing on the reading the passage on this point.

                3. you and others point to the fact that tacitus lived and wrote too late to reliably report on this subject. i can’t really disagree that it is a bit late, but tacitus was an aristocrat who probably had access to sources now lost to us and unavailable to other historians at the time. maybe he can’t serve as a primary source as you would prefer, but we tend not to judge modern historians on how distant in time they are from their subjects but how diligently and consistently they consolidate data. is it unreasonable to extend tacitus the same courtesy?

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Tacitus’s Annals were written in 116, so relatively late. He was good friends with Pliny the Younger, and got information from him for his histories while they were governing adjacent provinces. Pliny also has a reference to Christian beliefs, which he says he knew nothing about until he interrogated some Christiants. (Which, by the way, means his adopted father, Pliny the Elder, didn’t mention Christians in his account of Nero’s fire, else the younger Pliny couldn’t have known nothing about them.)

      Tacitus doesn’t tell us his sources here, as he is otherwise typically careful to do. The most likely chain of information is that Tacitus learned it from Pliny, who learned it from Christians, who learned it from the Gospels. So while it may not be a forged account, it’s also not independent.

      • reasonshark
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Also, isn’t Tacitus’ account of Nero’s persecution of Christians in conflict with other writings of that time in history, e.g. Suetonius’ account? Suetonius never mentions Nero blaming the Christians for the event, and I don’t think any other historian does, either.

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          Yes, Tacitus is the first to make this connection. Seutonius doesn’t make it; he refers to Jewish rioters under Claudius who are followers of Chrestus, and then to punishments inflicted on Christians under Nero. The second is without any detail; it may even be an accidental interpolation of a marginal note summarizing Tacitus, though there’s not a great argument for that.

          And you’re correct that no earlier historians make the connection. Indeed, no Christians mention it until much later, and you’d think they’d know about it. Even the Tacitus passage may be irrelevant, as there’s a strong argument to be made that it’s not authentic. Tacitus was probably not referring to Christians, but Chrestians, Jews acting at the instigation of Chrestus (who was first suppressed under Claudius, as I mentioned that Seutonius reported).

      • Jim Jones
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        > The most likely chain of information is that Tacitus learned it from Pliny, who learned it from Christians, who learned it from the Gospels.

        Or, there were stories about Jesus going around, embellished from the speeches of Paul, and these were sources for Tacitus. Later, Greeks wrote these stories down with further embellishment and they became the gospels.

  24. suckmydictum
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Apologies, Jerry, not Jeery.

  25. JohnE
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Although I, too, am agnostic on this issue, you need to recognize that when you claim that there should have been some reference to Jesus in some of these 126 historians because of his spectacular miracles, you’ve gone beyond the mere issue of historicity and you’re fudging the analysis. If Jesus were simply an ordinary human being, such that none of his supposed miracles actually occurred and they were created by the imagination of subsequent scribes, then there would have been nothing remarkable about him that would likely have attracted the attention of these 126 historians. Note that Paul, the earliest author in the New Testament, does not reference any miracles other than the mere unadorned fact of the resurrection (such that, perhaps, that was the first miracle to be concocted).

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Paul not only doesn’t mention any miracles, he also doesn’t mention any biography of Jesus and never quotes anything Jesus ever said…with a single exception, when Paul interpolated the Eucharist of the Mithraism of his home town of Tarsus into Christianity and made it into both the Christian Eucharist and the Last Supper.

      That bit right there is enough to disprove any notion of Paul’s Jesus being a real historical figure.

      b&

      • JohnE
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Understood and agreed.

  26. Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I would call myself a Bryanist.

    Charismatic preachers exist in all eras. The moral teachings of Jesus were fairly widespread at the time, as were crucifixions.

    As were myths and religions involving death and rebirth.

    Mormonism and Scientology are indeed prototypes for how religions start and how a bit of flim-flam can become dogma. We can see the process. Anyone who does not accept both as inspired truth is a doubter and an atheist.

  27. Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I tend to fall on the mythicist side of things, but I think it’s also important to be clear of what the arguments are. When Barber says:

    Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention.

    he’s using a different criterion that Jerry states in the opening of this post, namely

    the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted

    We wouldn’t expect a mundane preacher necessarily to garner the same kind of attention that Paulkovich presumes a supernatural entity would.

    A better standard is whether there are other popular preachers/cult leaders in this community for which we have some sort of record. In other words, do we have other preachers besides Jesus showing up in the historical record? If so, that’s better evidence that Jesus should be there as well. But it is unfair to those who argue for the historical Jesus to say that he should have been famous for his miracles, since not all historicists argue for a divine Jesus that does magic tricks.

    (Of course, this then takes us to the point that Ben often makes: If you find a historical figured named “Jesus” that didn’t do any of the things reported in the Bible, how is that meaningfully the same person?)

    • peter
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Quite. The issue is whether apocalyptic preaching was common at the time. If yes, it might be quite possible that some apocalyptic preacher was called Yeshua, what seems to have been a common name.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      > (Of course, this then takes us to the point that Ben often makes: If you find a historical figured named “Jesus” that didn’t do any of the things reported in the Bible, how is that meaningfully the same person?)

      One correction: Don’t assume this potential person would have been named Jesus. It’s quite possible he would have had a different name if he existed. This seems to be common during mythologizing – renaming the character. And we’re told that Jesus (or Yeshua) was a very common name, somewhat like John Smith (or John Doe).

      So we can be sure that someone might have existed, although we don’t know his name, his parents’ names, his dates or places of birth or death, anything of his life or his thoughts or any words he ever said.

      That was all invented later.

      But we should all “follow him”, just in case!

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

        But we should all “follow him”, just in case!

        But should we follow him by following the shoe or the gourd?

        b&

  28. DrBrydon
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I was surprised last year to read that people are now arguing that Mohammad may not have been a real person. I had thought, based on old reading, that he was a pretty firm historical figure. It would be one more instance of a fabulous origin for religion. (The piece I read was in the September 2013 edition of the New English Review online here.)

    Also, Xenophon knew Socrates and wrote of him.

    • peter
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      Mohammad is based on late biographies only. The name ‘Mohammad’ seemingly did not exist at the time, and might be a title ‘the praiseworthy’.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        It’s also worth noting that his official biography is devoted to his role as the Divine Messenger, the same role played by both Mercury and Jesus, and that it ends with him Ascending to the Heavens on the back of a flying horse — an event that Justin Martyr had already equated with both Jesus’s own Ascension as well as Bellerophon’s similar feat on the back of Pegasus.

        I haven’t looked into the historicity of Muhammad in anywhere near the detail as I have of Jesus, but I’ll be damned if I don’t get the exact same stench coming off the both of them.

        b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        There’s also no archaeological or documentary proof of the existence of Mecca at the time Muhammed was supposed to be alive. My knowledge about this is also very recent. I assume it’s because Islam has done a pretty good job of stopping people questioning their religion, and we in the West are simply more culturally aware of Christianity.

        On Jesus, my opinion is that there was probably an eschatological preacher called Jesus. He obviously didn’t perform any miracles and was just one of many. When Paul witnessed the stoning of Jesus’ brother and didn’t intervene, the combination of guilt and dehydration caused him to have a vision on the road to Damascus. From there he attributed all sorts of things to Jesus from a variety of sources, including his own imagination, other myths etc. Basically he attributed the sort of things to him that he thought were correct in much the same way as people join a religion that supports their own opinions and think God sees things the same way they do themselves. If the Church has information on the original Jesus, and it could in the Vatican archives, it likely bears little or no resemblance to the Jesus in the Bible, is not flattering, and would be suppressed.

  29. Steve Pollard
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Richard Carrier’s careful scholarship is usually convincing (his criticisms of Ehrman’s book on the historical Jesus seem to have rattled Ehrman’s cage), and I am looking forward to reading his latest book. In the meantime, for something rather more polemical, but pretty entertaining and mostly well-written, I recommend this site: http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/

  30. Curt Cameron
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Barber offers nothing new in his article – everyone has known since forever that there’s no contemporaneous mention of Jesus, and seems to be taking the point that if he really was doing all these miracles it would have been noticed. I agree with that, but it doesn’t address the mythicist question. If Jesus was simply a failed apocalyptic prophet, you wouldn’t expect to find anything about him in records from the time.

    I agree with Carrier that there is very little to convince anyone that there really was a Jesus that all this is based on. However, Paul, within 10 or 20 years, says that he met the original followers, and Jesus’s brother. 10 or 20 years seems like a short time if there wasn’t really a person that these stories got attached to.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      The idea would be that the “original followers” (Peter, etc.) were just like Paul in that they only knew Jesus as a heavenly being who communicated through visions and hallucinations.

      “Brother of the Lord” doesn’t necessarily mean what historicists think it means. Catholics have an axe to grind in this area, but even they also think this “James” person wasn’t the biological brother of “the Lord.”

      “Brother of the Lord” would have meant just “baptized Christian” to distinguish any such people from “Apostles” (like Paul or Peter)who claimed to have had direct revelations from the heavenly Jesus.

      Interesting, but who knows.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        The notion that James was the biological brother of Jesus was prominent for 300 years among the now-vanished Ebionite sect, so regardless of what Paul meant, this was a going interpretation amongst many in some circles of early Christianity.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          The Catholic Church, especially once they began to promote the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages, couldn’t have Mary giving birth to other children, so other explanations were invented for Jesus’ siblings.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

          There’s also the claim that Jude (or Judas) called Thomas or Didymus was Jesus’ twin brother.

          Screws up the nativity, no?

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      “However, Paul, within 10 or 20 years, says that he met the original followers, and Jesus’s brother.”

      Paul certainly says he met with some of the original apostles, but he doesn’t say they were disciples of Jesus in life. He instead implies that they were apostles the same way he was, having received revelations of Jesus. They just got those revelations before he did.

      The “James, brother of the Lord” passage is very debatable. Setting aside what it meant to be a “brother of the Lord”, and the possibility that this is a later harmonizing interpolation or marginal gloss, it simply doesn’t jive with the history of the church. The James who was a pillar of the church wasn’t the brother of Jesus, he was the brother of JOHN. If you think Acts is accurate, then Jesus’ brothers were not at all active in the church, since they aren’t mentioned at all after Acts 1; the James in Acts leading the Jerusalem church is John’s brother. So you end up in a double bind; either the James mentioned by Paul isn’t Jesus’ biological brother, or he is and you have to admit Acts is inaccurate.

      “10 or 20 years seems like a short time if there wasn’t really a person that these stories got attached to.”

      It’s also a really short time if he DID exist, because the legends are truly outrageous. So either rapid legendary development is possible, and thus it’s possible on mythicism as well, or it isn’t possible, and the documents with all the legends are much later than we think they are, and thus even less reliable.

      • Curt Cameron
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        “It’s also a really short time if he DID exist, because the legends are truly outrageous.”

        But they weren’t very outrageous within 10 or 20 years – Paul never mentioned any miracles other than the resurrection. 40 years later we have the Gospel of Mark, which is still pretty light on the legends. It was even after that that most of the legends were added.

        • GBJames
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Yeah, and who ever would think that coming back from being dead would be thought an outrageous miracle? Heck, just about everybody does that!

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          It’s true that Paul doesn’t mention anything other than the resurrection. But, again, that counts against historicity, because Paul doesn’t mention ANYTHING about Jesus’ ministry. His sources of information, as he adamantly insists to the Galatians, are revelation and scripture. Every appearance of Jesus that Paul knows about was post-resurrection, everything he said was either revealed through visions or discovered in existing Jewish scripture.

          I agree with you that most of the miracle stories were added much later. But Acts doesn’t. Acts tells us that Christians were preaching these things from day one. So if we are going to hold that most legends about Jesus (save him being crucified by the “rulers of this age”, resurrected, and ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of God) developed at least a generation or two after the origin of the religion, we must conclude that Acts is complete fiction, and thus cannot serve as evidence of historicity.

          This is usually the way it goes. Trying to explain how some evidence might still be consistent with historicity entails discarding other evidence. While on mythicism, all the evidence is fairly well expected.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Acts identifies James as the brother of John. Paul’s letters seem to identify James as the brother of Jesus.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

          Not the brother of Jesus, but the brother of the Kyrios — the same Greek word used for both “LORD” and “YHWH.” If Paul wanted to write that he was the brother of Jesus, he would have written, “Ioseus.” If Paul wanted to write that he was the brother of the Christ, he would have written, “Krystos.” But he wrote, “Kyrios,” in a formula that survives to this day to refer to today’s Christian Brothers, also known as monks.

          Also, in the same passage that Origen wrote that dispels any notion that Josephus wrote of Jesus, Origen makes equally plain that this was the meaning of that relationship.

          b&

        • Matthew Prorok
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          Yes, today they do. Which, if that’s authentic (which is debatable), means either Acts is wrong, or Paul is wrong. Or Paul means something other than what he at first seems to mean.

          Did you know that, in Hellenistic religion, it was common to form dinner clubs in which the members venerated a personal savior deity, shared a sacred meal, and called each other brethren? Because that happened a lot. We even have the rules of some of these clubs, carved into the walls of their meeting halls.

  31. Cotton McKnight
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I’m inclined to believe that there was a charismatic rabbi named Joshua (or Jesus) preaching during the time in question. The basis of this is that the Gospel writers used so many mental contortions to make this person’s birth fit with the prophecies from earlier books. That this rabbi was the Son of God, or performed miracles, or even said the things that the Gospel writers say he said is a far different question.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Your argument applies equally well, if not even stronger, to the mythicist one. If Jesus was to have fulfilled prophecy, there would have had to have been lots of “retconning” to make whatever was known about him fit the prophecies. This would have had to have been done in equal measures for either an historical figure or a purely fictional invention…but it’s much more plausible that people would have been comfortable doing so with reckless abandon for a fictional figure than an historical figure subject to independent verification.

      Not that we don’t have examples of historical people having similar additions to their biographies, but for Jesus that’s all we have, and the historical examples have relatively few such supplements, especially in relation to the mundane things we know.

      b&

  32. Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, Jerry, but by taking Michael Paulkovich seriously you are showing your confirmation biases. Talk about absence of evidence being absence of evidence! Take a number of writers, assume that, if X existed, these writers would have known about him, note that they show no such knowledge, and then conclude that X did not exist because these writers show no evidence of knowing him. Now, I haven’t read Paulkovich’s stuff, but that’s a pretty thin reed to hang on to, as Dermot C points out.

    First of all, there is no evidence in the sources that Jesus was a world-historical figure at the time, so it is hard to know who should have known about him, and, if they did, whether they should have mentioned him in their writings. Josephus, we’re told, did not write about him, and everything about Jesus in Josephus is interpolated. Some of it certainly is, but the interpolated bits certainly suggest that Josephus did, in fact, mention Jesus, but not with the kind of adulation his Christian editors thought he should have. The very fact that the adulatory bits are added to a mundane report suggests that the mundane report was there to start with, not that the whole thing was interpolated.

    But, regarding other sources. The Qumram cult left some manuscripts in clay jars which were found by chance. Their silence about Jesus seems unexceptionable, since most of them are copies of Jewish scriptures, and we do not know (though some have speculated) that Jesus had any association whatever with Qumram.

    But even if Josephus had not mentioned Jesus, would not mean that he did not know of him. I know lots of people who, if I were to write a history of my own times, I would not mention. The same goes for any number of authors. The fact that they show no knowledge of Jesus tells us little. Either they knew Jesus or knew about him, but did not think him important, or they did not know him at all. Either way, it tells us nothing about the historical existence of Jesus. And, remember, communications were not that good in those days, so who “should have known what” is a very thin thread upon which to hang the kinds of claims that Paulkovich wishes to suspend from it.

    And who is Paulkovich? CBS calls him an “author and historical researcher,” which is an curious turn of phrase. If they knew who he was they would have given us some ideaq of his qualifications, and we know, from those like Reza Aslan, that even NYT bestseller authors’ credentials are often not what they seem (or at claimed to be). Yes, he’s written a book, of which his Free Inquiry article is clearly a condensed version. But the book is published by Spillix, LLC (of Maryland), and Paulkovich’s book seems to be its sole publishing venture. Paulkovich himself is listed as a “Systems Engineer at General Dynamics, Baltimore Maryland Area | Writing and Editing,” as well as a “Writer/Editor at Spillix,” which raises even more questions. Not that amateurs necessarily have nothing to say, but Paulkovich’s presuppositions make his own efforts in the area of historical Jesus studies (based on Paul’s hyperbolic claim that the gospel has been made known to the ends of the earth) of no value at all. Basically, the guy’s a crank, and does not deserve the space you’ve given to him.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Eric,but neither of us has read Paulkovich. You, however, seem to be pulling the Credential Canard, dismissing the guy in advance as having nothing of value at all. Besides, it wasn’t I who took him seriously but Barber, and I just put the article out there.

      I still rest my case that I haven’t seen anything convincing about a historical Jesus, with our without Paulkovic. You seem, without any evidence, to have a curious attachment to the historicity of Jesus. But I’ll let others squabble with you over that.

      In the meantime, would you please lay off stuff like saying I have a “confirmation bias.” If there were new evidence supporting a historical Jesus, I would put that up, too.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        No, Jerry, that’s not the order of things. I first suggest that trolling the literature in search of references to Jesus by those “who should have known about him, and if he was as important as Christians claimed, would have known about him” is simply methodologically unsound. There is no reason to suppose that anyone of any historical significance should have known about a relatively minor prophetic figure (notwithstanding Christian claims about him) in first century Palestine. Pilate was no doubt more important than Jesus, and should have been more widely known, but there are very few references to him in the contemporary historical record, and most of them are made in conjunction with references to Jesus. Paulkovich’s methodology has nothing to recommend it. In relation to that the credentials canard, as you put it, is relevant. From all appearances Paulkovich’s book is self-published, which suggests that he couldn’t find a reputable publisher. He has no other historical work to his credit, and that Free Inquiry should have published what is palpable nonsense (based simply on his reported methodology) says more perhaps than it should about FI than it does about Paulkovich, who by any measure is a crank.

        As for confirmation bias, Jerry, I’m sorry if you found that insulting. No offence was intended; but it was meant to place your link to this story. For, to be frank, this piece is (on methodological grounds alone) so obviously off the wall that its inclusion here is hard to justify on any basis than that it supports the mythicist view. As to my attachment to the historical Jesus, that seems to be the scholarly consensus, and just as you rightly expect the layperson to accept the scientific consensus, so the layperson should accept the consensus of historians, unless there are strong reasons not to. When you criticise Hoffmann’s defence of the historical Jesus you suggest that he doesn’t tell us anything new. Well, perhaps not, but he is telling us what historians use to support their consensus, and Hoffmann has no more dogmatic reason than I do to support the historical consensus. That is just the rational thing to do. Those who disagree do so against the background of a very detailed study of the sources and a consensus established by that study, and many of those who undertake the study (perhaps the majority) do not do so from any commitment to Christian orthodoxy. However, almost all those who support the mythicist view do so for ideological reasons, which are, to that extent, suspect.

        • Paul S.
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Eric, I haven’t read Hoffmann, so I would like to ask a few serious questions. Does Hoffmann, or do you for that matter, defend the miracle performing, resurrected Jesus as described in the bible? If so, wouldn’t you expect evidence other than hearsay decades later? If you’re not defending the Jesus described in the bible, then how do you differentiate him from any other wandering preacher and how do you decide how much is true?

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

            No, Paul S, not necessarily. Pilate was, by any measure, more important than Jesus, but he is scarcely mentioned in the historical record. Besides, religion and miracle went hand in hand in the first century, so the idea of someone performing miracles would not have been all that noteworthy. But neither Hoffmann nor I defend the miracle-working, resurrected saviour. Indeed, it is clear from the gospels that the birth narratives and the resurrection narratives are somewhat later additions to the story. And doing miracles is simply something one would expect of a holy man. There are miracles in the Jewish scriptures, so Jesus must have been capable of them too. And, remember, in a day when medicine was not even in its infancy, miracles were almost all that those suffering from myriad diseases had to hope for. If you count the number of corbels on English churches depicting people with toothaches, you will have some idea of how troubling sickness and pain was to people who had no remedy except prayer, and possibly some holy person, icon, or artefact. Many of Jesus’ miracles are clearly modelled on Old Testament (to use that biased term) miracles. And Roman and Greek temples were often resorted to by those desperate for a cure of their diseases, and no doubt told stories of answered prayers, just as people do today.

            Of course, in answer to your last question, perhaps, contrary to what I said to Ben, Jesus was distinctive as a wandering rabbi, and did tell memorable stories, and do apparent wonders. It’s wonderful what placebos can do, so why not belief in a wonder worker? It must have worked sometimes. At least those who followed him thought there was something remarkable about him, for they seem to have remembered and retold some of his stories. No doubt there were others like him, and only the memory of this man survived. What we know about ancient history often depends on flukes like that.

            • Paul S.
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

              Eric, thanks for the reply. It clears up some confusion I had reading you previous comments.

          • strongforce
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

            Eric, I would also like to know which Jesus you are defending as that really needs to be clarified.

    • maryhelena
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      //Basically, the guy’s a crank, and does not deserve the space you’ve given to him.//

      Calling the writer of the referenced article a ‘crank’ betrays irritation that this issue is constantly being brought up. Eric, the question of the historicity of the gospel Jesus is not going away. Interest in the subject is just too great. I’ve never heard of the writer of the article but the subject matter and the issues surrounding it are important.

      A quick internet search will show that this article has been reported all over the media. I followed a link from the Bible and Interpretation website – hardly a haven of Jesus mythicism. The link was to the UK Daily Mail – with comments now almost at 3,000.

      Three cheers for the internet 😉

      • rickflick
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        “with comments now almost at 3,000.
        Three cheers for the internet”

        Heavens! I’ll need another carton of cigs and a fifth for tonight, and probably a quart of oil de minuit.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Some of it certainly is, but the interpolated bits certainly suggest that Josephus did, in fact, mention Jesus, but not with the kind of adulation his Christian editors thought he should have.

      No, we have explicit confirmation from Origen, writing before Eusebius, the first to mention the Testamonium, that Josephus wrote not a word of Jesus because he instead wrote of James the Just. And, just to rub salt in the wound, there’s excellent reason to think that Origen himself was confused and attributed to Josephus what some other author had written. Eusebius clearly read Origen’s complaint and fabricated into existence what Origen so dearly wished to find but did not.

      I know lots of people who, if I were to write a history of my own times, I would not mention.

      But did those people perform spectacular public miracles, even by way of sleight of hand? Did they have crowds of thousands publicly assembling to hear their words and cheer their entrance to the city? Were they at the center of the most outrageous scandals of their day? Were they identified with the theological invention of the most prolific religious philosopher of the day?

      And if you wish to deny that Jesus was any of those things…of what sense is this fiction of yours in any way recognizable as Jesus?

      b&

      • Matthew Prorok
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        “there’s excellent reason to think that Origen himself was confused and attributed to Josephus what some other author had written.”

        That author, by the way, is probably Hegesippus. Origen is known for these errors of memory, attributing to one author things he’s paraphrasing from another. And he’s not the only one who confused Josephus and Hegesippus, so it was apparently an easy mistake to make.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        I think we can all agree there were no miracles, and feeding the 5000 was either an exaggeration or an invention.

        Imo it’s obvious that there was no real person who matches the description of the Jesus in the Bible. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t based on someone, and such arguments are valid and shouldn’t, imo, be dismissed out of hand.

        I know mythicists find the agnostic position on Jesus a bit wishy-washy, and the mythicist position has very strong arguments, but I’m not yet convinced of it. As I’ve mentioned above, my own position is a melding of the two arguments. Mythicists probably find this effectively mythicism in all but name, but it’s not really any different to the myths that Mormons believe about the real person Joseph Smith. It’s just a helluva lot harder to prove whether or not Jesus actually existed.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          The analogy isn’t with whether or not there was an historical Joe Smith; the analogy is with whether or not there was an historical Moroni.

          We’ve got lots of evidence that real people wrote about Jesus, just as we’ve got evidence that at least one real person wrote about Moroni. What we don’t have is evidence that the Jesus they wrote about was an historical figure — and that’s especially damning considering that each and every single thing written about Jesus is about a larger-than-life fantastic superhero, just like Moroni.

          It’s an especially striking analogy. We have Smith’s own words describing Moroni, but nothing from Moroni himself. We have Paul’s own words describing Jesus, but nothing from Jesus himself. And, in the case of Paul, we don’t even have any indication that Paul was aware of a single word Jesus ever uttered or anything more substantial about his biography other than that he was crucified — and, even then, not by Pilate but by the princes of an unspecified age!

          Agnosticism would be a reasonable position were there simply a lack of evidence, but we’ve got mounds and mounds and mounds of evidence that Jesus was, always and right from the get-go, a larger-than-life superhero of the type that can’t even theoretically exist.

          b&

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            There are myths surrounding Smith though, such as the golden plates that obviously never existed. Not only did Smith insist they existed, he convinced others they had seen them too. And people continue to this day to believe his translations of hieroglyphs even though we have proof of what those hieroglyphs actually say and that Smith made up his translation.

            Moroni, imo, isn’t equivalent to Jesus because of his origins and Smith (and 3 others) only ever claimed to see him as a supernatural being. Moroni is more like Gabriel in islam – clearly, to the rational mind, either an hallucination or a lie.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              Moroni, imo, isn’t equivalent to Jesus because of his origins and Smith (and 3 others) only ever claimed to see him as a supernatural being.

              But that’s exactly the point! The only claim we have of anybody ever meeting or otherwise observing Jesus is Paul’s — in which Jesus is explicitly a supernatural being! And not just Paul’s own personal revelation on the road to Damascus, but his account of how everybody else knew Jesus as well. Paul explicitly equates his own vision to that of everybody else’s in order to establish his credentials as a real and trustworthy Christian.

              1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;

              4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

              5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

              6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

              7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.

              8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

              9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

              10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

              That’s an exact parallel to the one you cite for how you’re certain that Moroni was “either an hallucination or a lie,” and yet you seem quite willing to entertain the notion that Jesus was neither.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                Except the disciples didn’t claim the first time they saw him was after his resurrection. They’d been roaming the countryside with him for up to three years before that. I obviously don’t believe he was resurrected – that’s obviously an hallucination, made up, or he wasn’t actually dead in the first place – he was cut down and stuck in the cave pretty quickly after all.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

                Except the disciples didn’t claim the first time they saw him was after his resurrection.

                But they don’t! The disciples didn’t claim anything at all. We have not a single word from them. The closest we have is Paul’s hearsay accounts of them…and, as I keep repeating but you keep ignoring, Paul makes explicit that the only way the disciples ever saw Jesus was post-resurrection, just like him.

                What you’re referring to are the Gospels, which were written a century or so after their claims of when the events happen — claims, it must be noted, that are not substantiated by Paul, who not only never wrote of when Jesus was crucified, but attributes it to some vague principality of another age.

                If you had the actual accounts of the disciples, I could see your point…but we don’t, and what we do have, again, explicitly contradicts your claim.

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                But then how did Paul expect his followers to believe that Jesus Christ ever started the eucharist ritual? At some point, that would require that they believed he was having that dinner with someone and talking to them. Not to mention that Peter, when described as having his vision, is described parenthetically as being “then of the twelve”, which suggests the twelve apostles already existed before the vision began, implying that they had met someone.

                Lastly, while Paul does stress Jesus’ spirituality in 1 Corinthians, he also describes Jesus appearing in human form in Philippians 2. Galatians 4 also describes him as being born from a woman, having been sent by God.

                Unless Paul’s sources are explicitly his “divine” visions, i.e. he made it up, then doesn’t that at least admit the possibility that Jesus was intended to be incarnate at some point?

                I doubt that makes the story somehow more plausible (rather, just less silly), but I don’t think I agree with your claim here. It seems to be making too strong a case.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                But then how did Paul expect his followers to believe that Jesus Christ ever started the eucharist ritual?

                Eh, that’s not what’s going on. You’re presupposing an human Jesus Christ whom Paul is crediting with acting out that scene, which isn’t at all what the text says; rather, it’s you yourself assuming that there was a mortal Jesus and that’s the only possible way this could have played out.

                Re-read the entire chapter. Paul most emphatically isn’t sitting by the fireside telling the story of Jesus’s last dinner with his friends before he was executed. Rather, he’s instructing the Christians in Corinth how to perform this religious ceremony that’s obviously foreign to them, and the ceremony is in the form of a ritualistic meal.

                A bit of context also helps. Very similar ritualistic meals were commonplace as religious ceremonies in the very popular mystery cults of the day. Paul instructing the Corinthians in how to perform this ritual is little different from a modern pastor teaching others his preferred baptism technique — full immersion, or sprinkling? In the church sanctuary or the nearest river?

                So, contrary to the historicist narrative, this isn’t Paul repeating to the Corinthians what he had heard from the members of the Jerusalem Church about recent historical events. Rather, it’s an upper-level seer of a mystery cult instructing the initiates / novices / babes on the proper means to perform one of the middle-level rituals. Think of a Mason correcting another on the proper way to perform the secret handshake, or somebody in a fraternity revealing the secret meaning of the Greek letters.

                It wouldn’t even have occurred to the Corinthians that Jesus actually sat down to dinner with people on Earth. They would have realized that it was all symbolism, with particular meanings for the bread and the wine, and either they already knew the meanings or anticipated their later revelation.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

                This seems rather speculative. It’s not that the chapter isn’t talking about the proper way to take the ritualistic meal, but it seems a bit of a stretch to take the bit about Jesus holding out the cup and the bread and explaining how the divine cannibalism worked, and then assume this was intended as a metaphorical story. The believers were firmly convinced Jesus was a real person, and the passage seems to indicate that the meal is significant precisely because of its “history” involving Jesus “the night he was betrayed”.

                However, upon rereading the chapter, I am thinking Paul made it up. He claims that he “received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you”, which almost certainly means either a hallucination or a barefaced lie.

                I do think Paul (or at least his followers) believed Jesus took on human form and interacted (however briefly) with earthly representatives. This doesn’t mean they were witnesses to a real counterpart, of course. If their only contact was divine revelation and word-of-mouth, I think we can safely call that historicity dubious, still.

                It’s like saying Santa Claus was a real person, just that he lives somewhere in the Arctic all the way over there, and we’ve only ever heard his voice in our heads. In this case, Jesus the Son of God incarnate was probably believed to be a walker among men, just that it happened long ago, he’s back in Heaven now, and we talk to him via “revelation”. This is why I think you oversell the “spiritual Jesus” angle, especially given the other stuff Paul wrote which I mentioned.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                However, upon rereading the chapter, I am thinking Paul made it up.

                Actually…he most emphatically didn’t.

                For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteriesof Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certainincantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

                Mithraism was the religion of Cilicia, roughly contiguous with modern Turkey, and Tarsus, as in, “Paul, of,” was the capital city.

                I do think Paul (or at least his followers) believed Jesus took on human form and interacted (however briefly) with earthly representatives.

                Not only are the only times Paul ever interacted with Jesus explicitly visionary, he’s most emphatic in equating his visions with the interactions of others who knew Jesus. Whether Jesus took human form within those visions is irrelevant; the only experience anybody ever had of Jesus was visionary. See again the preamble to 1 Corinthians 15.

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:13 am | Permalink

                Actually…he most emphatically didn’t.

                I meant that it can’t be cited as evidence of a real Jesus. In that sense, the “biographical” detail of the “Last Supper” was made up, whether Paul invented it from scratch or stole it from a pre-existing religion.

                Not only are the only times Paul ever interacted with Jesus explicitly visionary,

                Agreed.

                he’s most emphatic in equating his visions with the interactions of others who knew Jesus.

                I agree that he equated his vision of the resurrection with the visions of Cephas, “then of the twelve”, about 500 people, James, and the other apostles, but he also singles himself out “as of one born out of due time”. That seems to imply to me that Paul was unusual in receiving the vision and nothing else, further implying that the other apostles actually were in due time and so met Jesus.

                It’s true that, apart from the ambiguous “the Lord’s brother” bit, none of the other apostles are mentioned except in relation to what Paul’s proselytising right now (e.g. his history with them in Galatians after the vision, especially the dispute over Gentiles/Jews). But then how do you explain the suggested existence of apostles before they had the resurrection visions? I don’t think Origen left a helpful explanatory note ruing the fact that the visions, not any encounters, started it all off.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

                but he also singles himself out “as of one born out of due time”. That seems to imply to me that Paul was unusual in receiving the vision and nothing else, further implying that the other apostles actually were in due time and so met Jesus.

                It’s consistent with such a reading, but it’s also just as consistent with a simpler reading of, “they’ve been at this longer.”

                But then how do you explain the suggested existence of apostles before they had the resurrection visions?

                The visions of the Risen Christ are visions of a very common Jewish and Pagan theological figure. See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind — and Philo for how the Risen Jesus Christ of Zechariah is the same archangel as his own Logos…and elsewhere in Philo for why this Logos is the firstfruits, the original Adam of the spirit contrasted with the second Adam of Eden and the Flesh, how he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and so on.

                In that way, the visions the pre-Paul Apostles had were exactly the same as those who today have visions of, say, Gabriel, and know it’s him because he’s playing a trumpet. They weren’t having visions of shocking new information; they were having visions of stuff that everybody already knew. The new stuff was quite minor, and even trivial; Jesus had just recently done his salvific sacrifice here and now in the early first century, as opposed to in the not-too-distant future when people were writing of him a century or two earlier. Or, for Paul’s main innovation, Jesus’s sacrifice meant that all the old sacrificial covenants, especially circumcision, were now paid in full, as opposed to merely the priestly animal sacrifices at the Temple.

                You know how Christians even today make such an immense deal about the Reformation and how Protestantism is so radically different from Catholicism? Well, to an outsider, it’s damned near impossible to tell the difference between Lutheran services with Holy Communion and a Catholic Mass with the Eucharist. The Reformation obviously matters to them, but it’d require some pretty sophisticated anthropology to figure out what the big deal was.

                It was the same thing going on between Paul and the others, and similarly between the others and the various other (already quite diverse) Jewish sects and syncretisms of the period.

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

                It’s consistent with such a reading, but it’s also just as consistent with a simpler reading of, “they’ve been at this longer.”

                Fair enough. I don’t have an answer to that, so I shall concede it.

                See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind…

                This seems a bit of a stretch. Zechariah 6:11 talks about “Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest”. I don’t see what you’re seeing here. Where in all this do we have a Jesus precursor?

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

                See Zechariah 6 for an anointed messiah (Christ) named, “Joshuah” (Jesus) as well as “Rising,” who is the Son of God and the salvation of mankind…

                This seems a bit of a stretch. Zechariah 6:11 talks about “Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest”. I don’t see what you’re seeing here. Where in all this do we have a Jesus precursor?

                For the full scholarly exposition of this, see Richard Carrier, On the History of Jesus, page 200 / element 40.

                For starters, “Joshua” and “Jesus” are the exact same name, just having come to English by way of different intermediate languages. So either the passage is about an individual named, “Jesus,” or the central figure of Christianity is named, “Joshua” — take your pick; both are valid translations.

                The next verse is a prophesy addressed to this Jesus, with YHWH directly addressing him through the mouth of the prophet (Zechariah). And there YHWH says that Jesus’s name is, in the KJV, “The Branch.” The same word is elsewhere translated, including by Philo, as both “The East” and “The Rising.” All three are extremely common epithets applied to the Christian Jesus — the latter, especially, in the form of the Risen Jesus Christ.

                YWHW continues (still, of course, in the mouth of Zechariah) in that verse to proclaim that Jesus shall build YHWH’s temple, which would be understood to be the celestial temple of the heavens as mirrored here on Earth by the body of the laity — exactly the same as the Christian Jesus.

                The next verse says that Jesus shall “bear the glory” — the Holy Spirit — and sit and rule upon YHWH’s throne, again, both exactly like the Christian Jesus. And Jesus — both versions, again — shall be the the counsel / vessel / prince of peace.

                Philo makes the explicit comparison between Zachariah’s Jesus and Philo’s own Logos in On the Confusion of Tongues, 63 and expounds a bit further upon the theology. Philo’s Logos, of course, is recognized even by modern Christians as superbly congruent with Jesus, and that congruence is made explicit in the opening verse of the Gospel According to John as well as by innumerable other Christian theologians (such as my personal favorite, Justin Martyr, who compared the Logos with Mercury in his First Apology).

                Oh — and that verse 11? Setting gold and silver crowns upon the head of the Risen Jesus? That’s Jesus being anointed, in this case with gold and silver rather than olive oil. (“Crown him with many crowns” — and sorry for the cringe-worthy performance!) Thus, Zachariah’s Joshua ben Josedech really is the Risen Jesus Christ, same name / titles / epithets, and with all the major theological properties of the Christian version…

                …all there about half a millennium before Philo and Paul.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • reasonshark
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

                I checked out the passage, as well as Zechariah 3 and Haggai. If I understand you correctly, then what you’re saying is that Jesus is basically Joshua the High Priest, son of Josedech, spiritually resurrected and seen in a vision by the apostles.

                I still think this account has a few snags. A few people can be anointed prophets tasked with building a temple, but isn’t Jesus supposed to be the Son of God who was betrayed by Jews, and then crucified and buried for three days to pay off Original Sin? There’s no mention of Joshua the High Priest ending that way, and being “son of Josedech”, it seems to me simpler to say he was another prophet alongside Zerubbabel rather than a Son of God. Also, how does Zerubbabel figure into this? Did Paul and the others just ignore him?

                I’m not saying your claim so far is totally baseless, but it seems to me you’re trying to connect dots that don’t connect very strongly.

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:20 am | Permalink

                Zechariah’s prophecy can be dated to around 520 BCE. The prophecy regarding the rebuilding of the Temple therefore refers to its reconstruction and completion in the 510s, permitted, according the OT, by the then dead Messiah-figure Cyrus the Great and his successor Darius kept to his predecessor’s word.

                The passages are referred to in the NT in Matthew 16:18, Hebrews 3:3 and Ephesians 2:20-22, regarding the building of the House of the Lord. This should not be surprising as what characterizes early Christian story-building is the amount of times that they refer back to ancient prophecy (and often wrongly – Matthew confuses Jeremiah with Zechariah at one point). The only thing vaguely unusual in this is that Philo, the exegete and allegorist of the Pentateuch, mentions this Prophetic, non-Torah text as well.

                Christianity may have inherited this habit of seeing the fulfilment of ancient prophecy from late middle Judaism (genuine prophecy usually foresaw events inherent in the social milieu, it was short-term.) However the fact that there are 2 Isaiahs and 2 Zechariahs (the Z of chapter 9 onwards is a later Z) demonstrates that prophecies were inserted later, using the ancient name for authority.

                Your points, reasonshark, re: how Zerubbabel, the governor of the Persian province of Judah, and the later Christian theology fit into this illustrate the limitations of ‘defectus litterae’, the allegorical school which Paul, the Gospels and Philo share. I could easily allegorize Zerubbabel and Zechariah as the Essenes’ King and Teacher of Righteousness. But in the details, of course, it will break down. You can only take an allegory so far, but that does not stop me from doing it.

                x

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

                The only thing vaguely unusual in this is that Philo, the exegete and allegorist of the Pentateuch, mentions this Prophetic, non-Torah text as well.

                That’s excessively understating Philo’s reaction to this passage. Indeed, Philo explicitly equated Zechariah’s Jesus with Philo’s own Logos as being the same entity. Zechariah’s Jesus is the essence of the Christian Jesus’s theological job description, and Philo’s Logos is an exact match for Jesus’s theological characteristics and properties. Zechariah’s Jesus is even identified as Rising, which is what drew him to Philo’s attention in the first place. Literally all that’s missing between the two of them is the reason for the need to Rise and the time it took to Rise.

                However the fact that there are 2 Isaiahs and 2 Zechariahs (the Z of chapter 9 onwards is a later Z) demonstrates that prophecies were inserted later, using the ancient name for authority.

                It’s also the way that all ancient scripture was invented — and this is the entire discussion. You are claiming that Christian scripture was an exception, that it was at least in part a report of actual history. All the mythicists are claiming is that that would be unimaginably uncharacteristic, and that the pivot point between Christianity and Judaism developed in the exact same way that you right here just identified Judaism as developing before and that few would contest that Christianity developed after.

                But in the details, of course, it will break down. You can only take an allegory so far, but that does not stop me from doing it.

                But of course the stories change with each fresh telling. Otherwise, they’d just be scribal copies. How bizarre, really, is it to take Philo’s re-working of Zechariah’s Jesus, and to have a prophetic hallucination that explained why Jesus was commanded to Rise? Would it not be incredibly unbelievable to instead claim that this random schmuck who actually did die and return from the grave was the half-a-millennium-old archangel Risen Jesus Christ?

                b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes, if the purported historical Jesus doesn’t resemble the one of the Bible, then you have nothing except a nondescript person. And then, who cares?

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          And, even beyond that…how would you go about picking the “real” Jesus out of a crowd? If, for example, the “real” Jesus didn’t even have to be named, “Jesus”…did he even have to be male? Jewish? In the Levant? In the first century?

          If you could pick literally anybody who lived in the regions bordering the Mediterranean in a centuries-long period of time and argue equally valid for identifying that person as the “real” Jesus, then Jesus quite literally did not exist.

          b&

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            Ben, I think we would have been able to pick out someone like Jesus, although there may have been more than one, just as there are many wandering Sadhus in India. He was a wandering rabbi, I suspect, really, and taught people about God and his ways, and he was probably believed to perform miracles, as some contemporaneous rabbis were reputed to have done. He would likely have been born in Galilee, so he would have had a strange accent to someone from Judaea. He would probably have drawn to him a number of followers, and would have taught them things which can be learned from the Jewish scriptures, only, like the Pharisees, he would likely have been a bit of a radical when it came to Torah interpretation. And, yes, he would almost certainly have been a man, since he could scarcely have been recognisable as a rabbi unless he had been. Indeed, I suspect the Geza Vemes was right, and that Jesus was a country rabbi, given to wandering the countryside, teaching as he went. His parables, as they are told in the gospels, have a kind of country fireside wisdom that can be attractive even today, and there is no reason to suppose that he did not teach by means of telling stories. I think he would have been quite distinctive, but perhaps not the only distinctive country rabbi of a similar sort.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

              But the Jesus you describe is utterly alien to Paul — no miracles, no sermons, none of those heartwarming parables. And especially at times when he draws tortured analogies with Hebrew scriptures when Jesus himself offered the perfect example! How can we reasonably describe as the “real” Jesus a figure whom Paul himself wouldn’t recognize?

              That problem lies at the heart of all realist explanations of Jesus. We have multiple Jesuses, all of whom are incompatible with each other, save for the name and perhaps a few theological properties. Paul’s Jesus clearly wasn’t the same Pagan demigod of the Gospels; the Jesus of the orthodox Gospels clearly wasn’t the same Jesus as the various heresies; and none of those Jesuses are the same as the Jesus you’re proposing here. After all, the Gospel Jesuses were born of a virgin and spent some time as a zombie before flying up back home to live with YHWH, a stark contrast with your proposed Jesus.

              The only way to reconcile this surfeit of Jesuses is to recognize that they’re just like Paul Bunyan — a figure who goes from tall enough to use mature pine trees as toothpicks in one story to so big that he created the Grand Canyon by carelessly dragging his axe behind him in the next. Such inconsistencies aren’t merely not problematical for mythical heroes; they’re to be expected. But when the earliest record of somebody is by somebody who described him as a supernatural being and who didn’t know a thing about what he said or did on Earth, and only generations later has a fully-developed biography….

              b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

                I keep pressing “Post Comment” even though I already have an unposted comment written. The following therefore got out of place, and belongs here:

                Well, we don’t know this, do we? We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings. It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters. However his letters were occasional letters to congregations he had founded, and were chiefly concerned with problems that existed in those communities, which Paul sets about trying to resolve. He did not write a life of Jesus, but he followed him as the risen saviour. That Paul’s work is chiefly theological, insofar as it concerns the significance of Jesus, crucified and risen, is because that was most important to him, and it was also what was most relevant to his Gentile mission. But there is no question of his having accepted Jesus as an earthly figure, though in Paul we see Christianity transitioning from a Jewish phenomenon to one that made no distinction between Gentile and Jew. We are even told how offended Paul was at Antioch that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles the moment people sent by James came onto the scene. (Gal 2.11-12)

                I fail to see the importance that you think you detect in the difference between the gospels and in the works of Paul. Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God. So, for Paul, and for everyone else, for that matter, after the crucifixion-resurrection (whatever resurrection was thought to mean), the risen Jesus was the important figure. In him people saw salvation. But it was important that his teachings be written down by someone who, presumably, knew, or remembered something about Jesus before his crucifixion, and so they wrote down what we now know as gospels. Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He knew him as a risen saviour, and so his theology concentrates on that. Why should this seem so surprising or even in conflict with the gospel traditions? You seem to be making mountains out of molehills.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings.

                To suggest that Paul wrote of Jesus in documents that did not survive is absurd. It can only have happened through chance or conspiracy. Conspiracy would require Christians to have intentionally shot themselves in the foot, and even they weren’t quite that stupid. But the odds that, in all of the writings we do have of Paul, we just happened to have gotten the ones where he never mentioned Jesus…well, you can roll the dice like that if you want, but you’d be wise to never do so with money on the line.

                It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters.

                It’s equally clear that Paul knew of those teachings through personal revelation — hallucinations, of the same variety by which Joe Smith knew of Moroni.

                Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God.

                Exactly. And, in any Pagan context, that would instantly be recognized as a non-corporeal demigod. And, too, for that matter, in the Jewish context of the time, that’s exactly how such an entity would have been understood.

                Textbook example, really. Just look to all those prophecies, for example in Isaiah, which are so often cited that state as much that Jesus is said to have fulfilled. Isaiah foretold it, and what’re the chances that it actually came to pass as opposed to it theologically having come to pass?

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

                And it has to be added that Paul shows some knowledge of the human Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law, born in David’s line, crucified, died and buried. He knew that Jesus had forbidden divorce, and spoke of this as a word from the Lord. He also knew traditions of the Last Supper, and repeats them. So, it is not as though Paul did not know of Jesus. He may not have known his parables, but in any case they may not have served the points he was trying to make in his letters to his churches.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                Those are all prophecies straight out of Hebrew scriptures, except for the Last Supper, which we know for a fact was lifted wholesale from the Mithraism of Paul’s home town of Tarsus. Might as well claim that Arthur was a real person because we know that he drew Excalibur from the Stone.

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                Ben, how on earth can you say that the Last Supper was lifted wholesale from Mithraism? All we have to go on with Mithra are monumental structures, the slaying of a bull, the banqueting on the bull’s hide, etc. No clear reference to anything that is relevant to the Last Supper which was, by any standards, a Jewish Passover meal, reinterpreted to fit the approaching death of Jesus. Where is the “lifted wholesale from the Mithraism of Paul’s Tarsus”?

                As for Paul’s letters, we know that he does occasionally mention things as coming from the Lord, about divorce, for example, where he closely follows the gospel account, or the Last Supper, which shows no similarity at all to the feasts of Mithra (of which we have no written account, I believe), but do fit in well with the Passover meal reported in the gospels, where wine and unraised bread were to be expected, so it is not quite clear that Paul knew nothing of Jesus. Of course, this meal is not present in John’s gospel (we have the foot washing instead), because in that Gospel Jesus is executed at the same time as the Passover lambs would have been killed (in keeping with John’s theme of Jesus as the lamb of God). Of course, if Thomas Brodie is right, then both Jesus and Paul are creations of a school of writers, and then we have to ask why Paul does not say more about Jesus. A school of writers, one would have thought, that created both Jesus and Paul, would have made sure to have Paul refer to Jesus’ teachings more than twice.

                As for Ant’s remark (I think it’s in this thread) of Ehrman not being an historian, all I can say is that New Testament scholars must be historians, or else they could not do their work, which involves an incredible amount of historical knowledge and interpretation. So, yes, Ehrman, as a biblical scholar, is an historian.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                Ben, how on earth can you say that the Last Supper was lifted wholesale from Mithraism?

                ‘Taint me; ’tis Saint Justin Martyr hisself. First Apology, chapter 66 ends thus:

                For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

                (Note: Justin’s central thesis, oft repeated and greatly elaborated upon elsewhere in the Apology, is that the devils, with their power of foresight, created their imitations generations if not centuries in advance of Jesus’s nativity.)

                It’s also worth noting that ritualistic meals in which the central god was the main course was a very common motif in the mystery cults of the time; it wouldn’t have been only Mithraism with such a Eucharistic meal.

                As for Paul’s letters, we know that he does occasionally mention things as coming from the Lord, about divorce, for example, where he closely follows the gospel account

                The Gospels were written long after and with certain knowledge of the Epistles, and Paul makes clear that he gets such “teachings” directly from the Risen Christ, and not by way of hearsay from others in the church. That is, those “teachings” originated in Paul’s brain, whether sincerely as hallucinations or cynically as reported personal “revelations” to appropriate for himself the authority of Christ, in a tradition that Popes themselves continue to this day.

                That is, Paul’s report of Christ’s position on divorce comes from the exact same source as each and every single preacher since then’s position on divorce or anything else: the posterior fundament.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Ben, let’s get a few things clear. Whether or not the Testimonium Flavianum, in a form without the obvious Christian additions, was written by Josephus Flavius, is hard to say, but the historical consensus does not seem to rule it out. Obviously, he did not write that he was the messiah. But if a Christian had written the whole thing, it would have been a bit more spiced up than it is. As it stands, it doesn’t offer much for an apologist, which is why it was not mentioned by the early Fathers, especially if the Christian additions did not appear until much later. Celsus and Josephus did not, and, in fact, no early writer questioned Jesus’ historical existence.

        Secondly, the gospels are clearly given to hyperbole, and cannot be taken as evidence that Jesus must have been known far and wide. Can it be the case that Jesus entered the packed city of Jerusalem preparing for high holy day, and that people greeted him with shouts of Hosanna strewing his way with clothing and palm branches! No, it’s not. So the idea that Jesus performed miracles witnessed by thousands is surely doubtful; but, consider this: there have been for some decades in America a number of so called miracle healers who performed before audiences of thousands, but I can’t remember the name of a single one. It was likely the same in Jesus’ day, only now, if I wanted to, I could no doubt google a number of names on the spot. Since google didn’t exist when Paulkovich’s writers were writing, it is doubtful if Jesus would have been even as widely known as American miracle workers (which is to say, not very widely in the scholarly public).

        Third, I am not affirming any particular thing about Jesus, except that he most likely existed, and was the leader of a small group of Jews who came to have a highly religious view of him which, in time, and through many changes, became the many Christianities that have existed since his time. The only reason for calling him Jesus is that that is what he is called in the literature; and that, however much truth can be discerned in the gospels, it was that man who became the historical core of what became a religion in which he is believed to have played a central, and even (perhaps) a supernatural role.

        But these are very complex areas of historical interpretation, and are not easily settled. And since the historical consensus is that someone like Jesus was at the centre of a religious movement formed in his name that seems the most rational belief to hold.

        • Jeffrey Jones
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          You’d think Jesus would have been on Facebook and Twitter, what with him being able to perform miracles and all.
          Then again miracles are no big deal these days, here in South Africa on a Sunday you can tune in to religious TV programmes and see black preachers performing miracles left, right and centre.
          Back in Jesus’ day they weren’t so common, so no doubt word would have travelled fast that this guy could raise people from the dead.

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think so. Religion and healing belonged together in those days. People went to temples to ask for favours. They no doubt wore amulets around their necks, and touched sacred items hoping to be cured. There wasn’t much else they could do. Medicine was pretty iffy at best, and many people suffered for years from pains and troubles that we think of as petty nuisances. In that respect I don’t think Jesus was likely particularly unique.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          As it stands, it doesn’t offer much for an apologist, which is why it was not mentioned by the early Fathers, especially if the Christian additions did not appear until much later.

          Eric, you keep repeating this, and it’s simply not true.

          Origen explicitly mentioned the Testamonium, with to-the-chapter bibliographical reference and describing it in detail — and for the express purpose of castigating Josephus for writing of James when he ought to have written of Jesus.

          You really owe it to yourself to stop beating such a broken drum!

          b&

          • Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:21 am | Permalink

            Well, yes he did, he explicitly mentioned the contents (or at least parts it) of the so-called Testimonium, but it was not a Testimonium at the time, because no one questioned the historicity of Jesus at the time, and quite clearly the Christian additions had not been made at the time (viz, that Jesus was the Messiah, or that he could hardly be called a man). These clearly arose after Origen’s time. so it is not a Testimonium in the sense that it later became, as a testimony to the messianic significance of Jesus. The historical question was immaterial, since no one at that time questioned Jesus’ historicity.

            But the whole point of Origen’s argument is that the catastrophe that fell on Jerusalem was due to the crucifixion of Jesus (a mistaken Christian belief)… It had to be, because Jesus’ death was the significant one, and the one that, in Origen’s mind, justified the destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, this would have offered the apologetic that he needed, and Josephus did not provide it, claiming that the catastrophe fell because Ananus unlawfully killed James, Jesus’ brother (Contra Celsum, Bk I, ch. 47). In other words, Origen adverts to it, simply to say that Josephus got it all wrong. And this in itself is significant, because it shows that the Testimonium (not known as that, of course, at that time, because it didn’t have the Christian interpolations) was early, and that an early Father, adverting to it, claimed that Josephus had it wrong, and it didn’t, as I say, provide any apologetic material. From the historical point of view, of course, it suggests that parts of the Testimonium were likely original with Josephus, because Origen also says that Josephus did not think that Jesus was the Christ (which, if he had had the Testimonium as we have it, he would not have been able to say without questioning its provenance).

            Indeed, the points you make show that Josephus knew of James and his brother Jesus, and this supports the historicity of Jesus.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              In other words, Origen adverts to it, simply to say that Josephus got it all wrong.

              Eric, if Origen says that the right answer was Jesus and Josephus answered worng, then Josephus didn’t answer, “Jesus.” Insisting that he answered Jesus, which was the right answer, but that Origen said it was the worng answer, is perverse in the extreme.

              And, once again, Origen himself explicitly explains that James wasn’t Jesus’s brother, but rather the brother of the LORD / Kyrios / YWHW, which is the exact same language Paul always uses. You can’t claim that somebody who was a monk was the blood brother of the person whom he was explicitly not related to by blood.

              b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                I apologise for any confusion. What I have been discussing is what Origen says about what Josephus says about James and Jesus and the destruction of the temple, not the Testimonium. What Origen says is this:

                Now this writer [Josephus, in the Antiquities], 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, nor far from the truth — that these things 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.

                I take it that the words in italics comprise the quote from Josephus(though it may include the final words as well), to which Origen takes exception, because, in Origen’s mind, it should have been obvious to Josephus that it was because they killed Jesus (called Christ) that the Jews were punished. The point is that Josephus identified James by pointing out that he was the brother of Jesus, and Origen took exception to Josephus’ account, because it offered nothing in the way of apologetics, when, according to Origen, Josephus should have known, having mentioned Jesus, that the bigger crime was the execution of Jesus, not the killing of James. There is nothing perverse in saying this. Since I haven’t got the Greek here, I don’t know whether ‘kyrios’ or ‘Isous’ is used here, but Ehrman says clearly that in this reference “Jesus is actually called by name.”

                The Testimonium from Josephus Flavius does in fact have the name Jesus, and has nothing to say about James the Just, the beginning of which reads:

                “Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τός χρόνον, Ίησοῦσ σόφοσ ἀνήρ …” [not sure why the sigma on ‘sophos’ (and ‘Iesous’ too) changes in WordPress to a medial sigma instead of a final one]

                “Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man ….”

                So we both seem to have been speaking about the wrong bit of ancient history. So, Josephus mentions Jesus by name twice in the Antiquities — in the quote above and in the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (because it was the testimony of Josephus Flavius). Though clearly remarks about him being more than a man, and the messiah, are interpolations, for we know, from Origen (above) that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the messiah; but there is no reason not to take the bland statement, about Jesus as a wise man, having been accused by those of high standing, and being crucified by Pilate, as being original. There is no apologetic mileage in anything that Origen quotes from Josephus, though he uses one, just the same, to say how wrong he was, which achieves the same end in slightly sophistical ways. But that is because it allows itself to be used that way. The earlier mention of Jesus, in connexion with his crucifixion (if you remove the likely Christian interpolations), offers no such apologetic advantage.

                However, Ben, I can’t make sense of what you say about Origen’s accusation of Josephus being wrong. I think that is adequately dealt with above. And where does Origen explicitly state that James was the brother of the Lord (and not of Jesus)?

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Eric, I don’t think Origen could be more clear. He writes that Josephus should have blamed the calamity on the death of Christ the prophet; rather, Josephus blamed the calamity on the unjust execution of James the Just. Nowhere does Origen indicate that Josephus wrote about Jesus; he only indicates that he should have written about Jesus but didn’t.

                As to where Origen disclaims James’s blood kinship with Jesus, it’s in the very next freakin’ sentence after the bit you quoted:

                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.

                I can only guess that you’re grabbing your quotes from an apologetic source and not from complete texts. Might I suggest? The complete texts of basically all ancient sources are available online. Next time, after looking up passages in your familiar sources and before quoting them…take a moment to look up the original in its full context? It would save us so much agony, and you so much embarrassment….

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

                Come on Ben, the quote from Josephus is there. It mentions Jesus, James’ brother. If he knew Jesus, says Origen, he should have known that it was because of Jesus execution that the Jews were punished, because Jesus (known as the Christ) was obviously more important than James.

                And in answer to your insinuation, no, I’ve got the complete text, and see the next sentence. But it is not clear what it means. What is meant by “Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus”? Since Origen knew the letters of Paul, and doubted that Hebrews had been written by Paul, it seems an odd way to speak of Paul, the author of the letters. And certainly Paul does not say this about James in any of his known letters. In Galatians he says that he went to Jerusalem and that he met there with James the Lord’s brother (with whom he had some continuing difficulties), but there is nothing about James not being a relationship by blood. Certainly, it emphasises the reason Origen berated Josephus for considering this man’s death as more important than that of Jesus, but this was already adequately pointed out where James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned. It scarcely needed the emphasis of speaking about Paul’s reference to James not being a real brother of Jesus, since James is already known as the Lord’s brother in Galatians, and in Mark (chapter 6). James was also known as a pillar of the church in Jerusalem, and it seems that it was the same James, the Lord’s brother.

                Possibly the reason for the addition was the growing doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, though that is only a guess. But there is no historical reason for supposing that James was not Jesus’ brother, as he is named that way at least a couple of times in the NT, and once by Paul himself (without Origen’s qualification).

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                If he knew Jesus, says Origen, he should have known that it was because of Jesus execution that the Jews were punished, because Jesus (known as the Christ) was obviously more important than James.

                Exactly! And yet, Josephus didn’t know better, and therefore didn’t know Jesus. Really, how hard can this be? Josephus wrote B, not A, when he should have written A, not B. This is syllogism 101!

                But it is not clear what it means.

                Then, for whatever reason, you are struggling mightily with plain language. For whatever reason, Origen was compelled to identify that, contrary to your own stubborn assertion, James wasn’t Jesus’s biological brother but was rather the spiritual brother of YHWH.

                We can speculate until the cows come home on why Origen thought it necessary to make that clarification, but there’s no getting past the fact that that’s exactly the clarification that he did, in fact, make.

                James was also known as a pillar of the church in Jerusalem, and it seems that it was the same James, the Lord’s brother.

                Yes. The LORD‘s brother. Κύριος. יהוה. YHWH. Jehovah.

                Not Ἰησοῦς. Not even Χριστός.

                Κύριος

                How much plainer can it be?

                b&

          • Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:46 am | Permalink

            Well, we don’t know this, do we? We are not likely to have all of Paul’s letters or writings. It is clear that Paul knew of some of Jesus’ teachings, and refers to them in his letters. However his letters were occasional letters to congregations he had founded, and were chiefly concerned with problems that existed in those communities, which Paul sets about trying to resolve. He did not write a life of Jesus, but he followed him as the risen saviour. That Paul’s work is chiefly theological, insofar as it concerns the significance of Jesus, crucified and risen, is because that was most important to him, and it was also what was most relevant to his Gentile mission. But there is no question of his having accepted Jesus as an earthly figure, though in Paul we see Christianity transitioning from a Jewish phenomenon to one that made no distinction between Gentile and Jew. We are even told how offended Paul was at Antioch that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles the moment people sent by James came onto the scene. (Gal 2.11-12)

            I fail to see the importance that you think you detect in the difference between the gospels and in the works of Paul. Paul is dealing with someone who, in his belief, had been crucified, and then had been raised from the dead, and thereby was made son of God. So, for Paul, and for everyone else, for that matter, after the crucifixion-resurrection (whatever resurrection was thought to mean), the risen Jesus was the important figure. In him people saw salvation. But it was important that his teachings be written down by someone who, presumably, knew, or remembered something about Jesus before his crucifixion, and so they wrote down what we now know as gospels. Paul did not know Jesus in the flesh. He knew him as a risen saviour, and so his theology concentrates on that. Why should this seem so surprising or even in conflict with the gospel traditions? You seem to be making mountains out of molehills.

  33. Mattapult
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I tend towards the mythesist camp, but haven’t read extensively. Ironically, the one book that tipped the scales for me only covers the Old Testament. The Bible Unearthed discusses archeological evidence from those time frames and how that evidence contradicts the significant details in the Bible.

    TBE establishes a clear pattern of people mixing religious, political and tribal purposes with a poorly-transmitted oral history to establish their cultural identity and authority. When I read the New Testament, I see no indication that pattern had changed.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      But even TBE states that the last third of the Old Testament timeline (up to 4BCE) is largely correct. It’s the stuff before the 8th to 9th century BCE that is suspect, much written centuries after the events they purport to describe. Th Babylonian Exile did happen- the Exodus from Egypt did not.

  34. Karl Withakay
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    RE: “When Paul was persecuting the Christians, why do we not hear any argument about whether Jesus actually existed? Or why do we not see arguments refuting a claim Jesus didn’t exist?”

    I’ve never read any of Carrier’s books, but I have read a number of his blog posts, and he does present a reasonable, if not absolutely convincing case that Paul’s writings are of a purely heavenly, non-material Jesus.

    If I’m not mistaken, Carrier (or perhaps I’m confusing him with another mythicist) argues that the gospels themselves (composed well after the works of Paul) ARE arguments refuting claims that Jesus was a purely mythical figure.

    • Karl Withakay
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Minor tweak: “[…]the gospels themselves (composed well after the works of Paul) ARE arguments refuting claims that Jesus was a purely mythical or purely heavenly, non-material figure.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      I have not had a chance to read Carrier’s books, but I have read some of his posts and seen some videos of his lectures. I don’t find his arguments all that convincing and it seems like he had to try too hard to make his assertions fit. My reading of Paul is that he definitely believed in a flesh and blood Jesus that was crucified, and that for believers, there would be a flesh and blood resurrection when Jesus returned.

      I would say the gospels try to add additional historical “facts” to the stories any Jesus in order to fit one narrative or another, but I don’t think they are strictly an attempt to refute a mythological interpretation that was present at that point in history.

    • reasonshark
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      I’ve never read any of Carrier’s books, but I have read a number of his blog posts, and he does present a reasonable, if not absolutely convincing case that Paul’s writings are of a purely heavenly, non-material Jesus.

      I can’t say I find it totally convincing. Paul did mention once or twice that Jesus had been born from a mortal woman, took on human form, and was killed by Jews. He also suggests Jesus had a last supper, which even if it was an interpolation adapted from Mithraism, suggests he still expected his followers to believe in a real Jesus who was the Son of God incarnate.

      I think more damning are two facts. The first is that Paul says virtually nothing about Jesus’ biography, giving the impression that Jesus was born nowhere in particular and then died with nothing interesting happening in-between. This gives the impression that Paul knew virtually nothing about any real-life counterpart to the myth, beyond the myth itself, in spite of his referring to his own biographical details once or twice.

      The second is that Paul himself is a self-confessed second-hand source whose most credible sources are: the pre-existing Christians he had allegedly been persecuting prior to conversion; a hallucination which he mistook for divine revelation; and claiming to know at least two apostles, who presumably are eye-witnesses but whose explicitly mentioned credentials involve hallucinating the resurrection too (and possibly having the aforementioned dinner).

      And this is just considering the texts that, according to scholars themselves, were the earliest written. Whoever wrote the gospels and acts would have been something like third-hand sources at best, nowhere near the alleged events to be considered reliable sources even if they weren’t either outrageously liberal with the stories passed on or plagiarists of each other (such as the Synoptic Gospel writers). This is before you consider that the provenance of the extant New Testament papyri could still date it somewhere in the late 1st and early to mid 2nd century.

      If these people were gullible enough to swallow such a mythologized story so readily, and apparently in droves, just by word of mouth, then it seems to me that having a real-life nutjob to base it on would merely be a bonus.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        One possible hypothesis explaining the silence of Paul is that the rift between Pauline Christians and the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem (probably led by James rather than Peter) lasted far far longer than is let on by the Acts of the Apostles (the latter written to bolster Paul’s reputation). Paul then would simply not have that much access about the traditions of Jesus’ life.

        The Gospel of Matthew is clearly written by a NON-Pauline Christian who simply views Jesus as a Jewish Messiah who came to reform and promulgate a new version of the Torah/Law. This is one of several indicators of a non-Pauline Christianity persisting long after the Book of Acts claims it ever did.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      This is odd, because, for Paul, a real, human Jesus was an essential to salvation, for if Christ was not crucified, then our hope is in vain, remember? Indeed, Paul says that Jesus was made son of God by means of his resurrection from the dead, a view not shared by John, or Mark, for example. John’s view was that Jesus was son of God from before time, and Mark thought that he was recognised as the son when he was baptised by John. Matthew thought Jesus became son of God by means of a miraculous birth, a view to some extent shared by Luke. But for Paul, Jesus had to be a real human being, for, without that, he could not have been son of God and could not have played any role in delivering us from our sins. For the gospel of John, Jesus is almost a mythical figure. Paul, however, knew that, since he was crucified, died and was buried, yet rose again, Jesus was (and must have been) human. It’s the gospels that add the divine to the human while Jesus was still alive.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        This is odd, because, for Paul, a real, human Jesus was an essential to salvation, for if Christ was not crucified, then our hope is in vain, remember?

        But why on Earth should such a crucifixion have to have been on Earth?

        If Satan was not cast out of Heaven, there would have been no need for hope of salvation in the first place, would there be? So why should the antidote to the great celestial rebellion take place on Earth?

        b&

        • Posted October 4, 2014 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          Ben, you really don’t understand, do you?

          The point is the only slogan that what was not assumed is not sanctified (or saved). In this case it was humanity. If Jesus were not completely human, then he could not be the saviour of mankind. This is deeply rooted in Paul’s theology.

          It is a human drama, not a heavenly one. The victory must be human, or it is not a victory. And Paul makes this very clear. It had to be a real crucifixion (crucifixions don’t happen in the heavenly realm; it was principally a Roman form of punishment), and Jesus really had to suffer and die. The idea that Paul is speaking about heavenly goings on is a complete misunderstanding of Paul, except insofar as, for Paul, the resurrection, as the confirmation of the heavenly work that the earthly Jesus could do, raises Jesus to the level of Son of God. Read some Christian theology, commentators on Paul, and it will become as clear as you like, but if you insist on turning Paul’s Christ into a cosmic figure from the start, then you’ve missed the point. The insistence is ideological, not based on Paul.

          • maryhelena
            Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

            @Eric

            //If Jesus were not completely human, then he could not be the saviour of mankind. This is deeply rooted in Paul’s theology.

            It is a human drama, not a heavenly one. The victory must be human, or it is not a victory. And Paul makes this very clear. It had to be a real crucifixion..//

            ————–

            Hold your horses, Eric. This type of reasoning is way beyond the bounds of any humanitarian view of human life. And to ascribe such thinking to the writers of the NT betrays insensitivity in the extreme.

            Some years ago, Richard Dawkins made a comment that identifies the consensus interpretation of the NT story for what it is.

            // Among all the ideas ever to occur to a nasty human mind (Paul’s of course), the Christian “atonement” would win a prize for pointless futility as well as moral depravity.//

            Unfortunately, I can’t give a link as The Times is now behind a pay wall.

            Reasoning, such as you give above, demonstrates the very worst level to which an interpretation of the NT story can sink.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

              So what Helena? This is the way Paul’s theology works, so why should this reasoning be thought to be somehow transgressive? I too have read Dawkins’ statement, and I tend to believe that there is some justification for supposing that there is something inhuman in the suggestion, but that doesn’t mean that the suggestion wasn’t made. And, remember, so far as we know, Jesus went willingly to his death, and apparently thought that good would come of it, if any of the stories of what happened leading up to the crucifixion have any truth at all, but even if they don’t, the Jesus depicted is, we might say, willingly making a sacrifice of himself, so who is Paul to refuse it? And, remember, please, that others have made the sacrifice of their lives for others. It is hard to see any moral depravity in that, and as for futility, that is, of course, the $64000 theological question. I really don’t think that Dawkins’ statement was particularly well thought through. But from the Christian point of view (and with Paul you have to see it from that point of view), Jesus sacrifice was not futile, because it issued in the resurrection. All things have to be held together if you’re going to make sense of Paul’s theology.

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                All I can say is check your premises, Eric. If the conclusion is anti-humanitarian, the premise is wrong. i.e. the interpretation of the NT story is wrong.

                In fact this is one very important consequence of the ahistorical Jesus position – it does not need to subscribe to such a horrendous scenario nor have to engage in a misguided attempt to justify this contemptible NT interpretation.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

                It is you and Dawkins, Helena, who interpret the premise as anti-humanitarian. Early Christians — and certainly Paul — did not so interpret it. So the premise is not wrong, just because it has what is for you something anti-humanitarian. Though perhaps that is why, in Paradise Lost, Milton makes the crucifixion ultimately to be of

                ….thy Enemies,
                The Law that is against thee, and the sins
                Of all mankind, with him there crucifi’d,
                Never to hurt them more who rightly trust
                In this his satisfaction; so he dies,
                But soon revives, Death over him no power
                Shall long usurp …

                But this was humanitarian, just as the death of soldiers fighting for freedom, sorrowful as their deaths may be, are yet given so that others might live. Dawkins thinks the atonement is so inhuman. Does that make Joe’s death on Juno, or Sword, or Gold or Omaha or Utah beaches unworthy or futile, since he died that others might live and be free. That is the context in which the atonement must be seen.

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                //It is you and Dawkins, Helena, who interpret the premise as anti-humanitarian. Early Christians — and certainly Paul — did not so interpret it. So the premise is not wrong, just because it has what is for you something anti-humanitarian. //

                That, Eric, is your, and the consensus, interpretation of the Pauline writing. It is an *interpretation*. As such, it is open to being wrong on that basis alone. It is wrong on a humanitarian level. It is wrong on a logical level.

                Come now Eric, soldiers dying on the battlefield is a sad fact of life – a fact made all the more sad that their deaths are often futile as far as achieving ‘salvation’ for others. The history of war gives victory to one side not because of how many men died but because of who has the bigger guns….There is no morality in war. War is an amoral situation where necessity demands action not moral principles. (however defined)

              • GBJames
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:53 am | Permalink

                I do think, Eric, that Joe’s death on Omaha Beach is a bit different. It was a real action in the real world against a real enemy with real inhumane totalitarian policies that resulted in his undesired death. Joe was not sacrificed. He died in battle.

                All this sacrifice/atonement nonsense is of a completely different nature. It is an imaginary solution performed to appease an imagined asshole deity. Comparing Joe’s death and the Jesus fiction this way doesn’t wash.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

                GBJ, I think your way of expressing this is unthinkingly crude:

                All this sacrifice/atonement nonsense is of a completely different nature. It is an imaginary solution performed to appease an imagined asshole deity. Comparing Joe’s death and the Jesus fiction this way doesn’t wash.

                However, we know, reasonably enough, that there are always further and further depths to human evil. That’s why the idea of Original Sin makes sense. It’s something we’re born with, part of the human condition. Some religions try to deal with the knowledge of this fact. Atonement theories are one way of doing this. In Christianity, we’re told, God, knowing our tendency towards evil, makes a gracious approach to us, and invites us to live a sacrificial life. As René Girard says, the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ life is supposed to be the solution to human violence, by inviting us to share in Jesus’ sacrifice, and so obviating the need for further violence.

                Atonement in Christianity isn’t simply the account of a sacrificial act, as though that, in itself, is sufficient. That’s why that sacrificial act is repeated (in some cases daily) over and over in the Eucharist, so that we can identify, and make ourselves one with, the sacrifice that Jesus made. It has in fact led to sacrificial lives. Francis, for example, to name one amongst many, gave up his wealth and position to become a mendicant, dependent on others for his next meal, following Jesus injunction to take nothing for the journey. And others have been very like Francis, believing that, just as Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable, so theirs would be acceptable in communion with his. I’ve been tempted (and have given way to the temptation) to interpret atonement theories in simplistic ways, but they are anything but simplistic, read in the full context. The legal fiction theory of Anselm is clearly unsatisfactory, and so is every other theory of the atonement in Christianity, since the atonement has never been dogmatically defined. There is no one theory that has ever been accepted as required to be believed. None of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church have ever made such a definition, so any one account will never sum up what is meant by the Christian idea of atonement, although in the end they all have the simple at-one-ment of ourselves with God in mind, our reconciliation with God, despite the evil that clings to us so tenaciously.

                In this respect, comparing Jesus’ sacrifice and Joe’s doesn’t wash, because Jesus’ sacrifice has fairly global implications, as usually expressed, and Joe’s sacrifice is much more mundane, and is but one sacrifice amongst many who died (to continue your supposition) that day on Omaha beach. It is estimated that one German machine gunner on that day killed upwards of 3000 men trapped on Omaha, so clearly Joe’s sacrifice may be thought to be diminished by the extent of the slaughter that day. But Joe did in fact die as one man (there must have been any number of Joes on Omaha that day), and he probably died because he answered the call, because his country had been attacked, and was in danger. And while he didn’t want to die, he nevertheless offered himself as one who might die, willingly, in defence of what he believed in. So, in this respect the comparison holds up.

                On the other hand, if you’re just arguing that there never was a Jesus who died, that’s just one position to take, and not one favoured by the historical consensus on the evidence, and to that extent, you’re just one more mythicist, without the credentials, who opposes the consensus, which, on rational grounds alone, is suspect. But there’s absolutely no reason to think that some person, like Jesus, in a religiously elevated state, could not possibly have thought of his death as a solution to a religious problem, or that others might have taken it to be that solution. Indeed, the more crudely dismissive atheists become of religious ideas, the more reasonable those ideas seem to me, because the crudity expresses a state of mind that is in need of some kind of consolation.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                If “crude” is the alternative to sophisticated theological interpretation, I’ll go with that any day. All the centuries of theological blathering about the wonders of Jezuz-on-a-cross tell us nothing if not that sacrifice (in the religious sense of the word) produces no discernible benefit. It certainly hasn’t been “the solution to human violence”.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

              Well, what am I to say? Of course, it’s an interpretation. Good heavens, what else is a particular reading of a text? Whether you think it anti-humanitarian or not is neither here nor there. I may indeed be. But it would be wrong to say that there is no morality in war. Certainly, a lot of morality goes out the window during a war, and the battle of Normandy was especially vicious on both sides. But that doesn’t mean that moral categories do not apply to war. That’s what the Geneva Convention is all about, and, in many ways, at least in the war in Europe, the Geneva Convention was often adhered to. That doesn’t make war much less cruel, but it does have an effect in eliminating some of the worst cruelties. The fact that no medal was ever struck for Bomber Command, shows how Bomber Harris’s bombing campaign came to be regarded. But this is not about the humanity of war or of crucifixion. It is simply about the theology surrounding the crucifixion-resurrection story. Call it inhuman if you like. It doesn’t change a thing about how it was understood, and, broadly speaking, Christians came to accept Paul’s understanding of it (though that understanding is also foreshadowed in the gospels). Calling it inhuman doesn’t make it false as an account of Paul’s (or, for that matter, Christian) belief.

              As for Joe’s death not being a sacrifice, GBJ, that is how death in battle is usually interpreted. Those who died sacrificed themselves for us. You may have heard the song “Requiem for a Soldier,” (sung very beautifully by the Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, which ends on this note:

              You never lived to see
              What you gave to me
              One shining dream of hope and love
              life and liberty.

              Of course, every soldier in battle does not consciously give his life for others (most of them hope to get out alive, I suppose, but they know going in that some of them will die), but some do quite consciously perform acts which they know will lead to their deaths, though the ones for whom the sacrifice is immediately made are their buddies, their brothers in arms. But to suppose that Jesus was not fighting in the real world against a real enemy is already to have decided the historical question. There is no doubt as to the depth of the human capacity for evil. There seems to be little doubt that Jesus may in fact have interpreted his life and death as a way of dealing with the sources of that evil. Whether he was successful or not is another question. It seems not. But that does not make his attempt pointless, although you may want to say that it makes it a case of mistaken heroics. I think there is an analogy between Joe’s and Jesus’ deaths, though it is clearly not exact, by any means.

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                //Well, what am I to say? Of course, it’s an interpretation. Good heavens, what else is a particular reading of a text? Whether you think it anti-humanitarian or not is neither here nor there.//

                You missed the point Eric. Which was:

                It is an *interpretation*. As such, it is open to being wrong on that basis alone.

                Really? What I think is neither here nor there??

                I must sit back and have faith in the consensus? Nonsense.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                Well, Eric, if you can only suppose that most soldiers hope together out alive, what can I say?

                It is a romantic fiction to talk about dead soldiers as sacrifices. Nice poetry, especially for survivors seeking solice. But dumb, dumb, dumb. Were the dead Germans sacrifices, too? Is there any real comparison between real-world countries that send their kids to war and a make-believe invisible lunatic friend being offered a sacrifice burnt goat or sunnagod? It is silly talk.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

                So, the consensus of expert historians is of no rational significance? Well, that doesn’t say much for your ability to reason. As for interpretation, I’m familiar with the postmodern stance, but, you know, some interpretations are more reasonable than others. Hermeneutics is, of course, a problem, because of the familiar hemeneutical circle, but this does not disqualify all interpretations. If it does, it would be impossible to communicate, for everything that we say or write, as Derrida showed, is infinitely interpretable. If that is your point, make it by all means, but don’t simply use it as a way of hiding from the reasonable consensus of historians. If that is what you are saying, then there is no answer to the question whether or not Jesus existed, or any other supposedly historical person for whom no hands on proof is available.

                And what would that proof look like? For example, we know about Celsus only because his arguments are opposed by early Christian writers. None of his works have survived. Was Celsus just an imaginary opponent of Christianity, or a real one? We know of Celsus’ anti-Christian book, The True Word (Logos Alethes) only from Origen’s Contra Celsum, but, by the manner of mythicist reasoning, the whole thing could have been a fabrication by Origen, dreamed up for the sake of emphasising Christian beliefs, and answers to possible objections.

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                //So, the consensus of expert historians is of no rational significance? Well, that doesn’t say much for your ability to reason. //

                The consensus of ‘expert’ NT historians is wrong on the issue of the historicity of the gospel Jesus figure.

                You can, if you wish, question my ability to reach such a conclusion – that only makes me reluctant to continue this discussion.

                Thomas Brodie, a respected and published NT scholar, questions the consensus position on the gospel Jesus figure – and the Paul of the epistles. Are you really prepared to question his ability to do so?

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

                Well, GBJ, there you and I disagree. I do not think it is silly talk, especially if you are fighting on the right side in a just war. That may be hard to determine, but I do not think it can be questioned that opposition to Nazi Germany was morally justified. Not all that was done in the course of that war was justified. Indeed, the carpet bombing of German cities was not. Nor can the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki be justified. The power of an atomic explosion could have been demonstrated without dropping it on cities. Dropping one on concentrations of Japanese naval forces would have been as effective. But those who died in the war against the united power of Germany, Italy and Japan did give their lives for freedom and civilisation. That cannot so easily be said for the Russian soldiers who died, but they did at least sacrifice their lives for the protection of their country. German soldiers were at first welcomed as liberators, and soon showed that they were not, committing acts of ruthless and unnecessary slaughter, which was soon answered with steely determination.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                Thomas Brodie may question the consensus, but he questioned it before he had the tools to do so, and then simply used those tools as a way of providing confirmation of his bias. So, he is not a good example of someone who questions the historical consensus. That’s a bit like some of the creationists who learn biology and chemistry specifically in order to show that evolution is wrong, the conclusion with which they began their studies. The same seems to be the case with Brodie.

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                I am totally shocked at your views on Thomas Brodie.

                Eric, there is no more to say.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                Mary Helena, why do you say with such confidence that “The consensus of ‘expert’ NT historians is wrong on the issue of the historicity of the gospel Jesus figure”? It’s not only NT historians. You have to include classical historians as well. Robin Lane Fox also considers the evidence for the existence of Jesus unexceptionable. It is also interesting that no early writer suggested that Jesus did not exist, which, had it been known to be true, would have been a decisive argument against Christian claims, and so-called “pagans” (which really means country yokels) were eager to find arguments against Christianity. Even the emperor Julian (so-called “the Apostate”) never made such a suggestion.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Why are you shocked? It’s true, so far as I know. What’s more to say is that it is not true, if it isn’t.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                Mary Helena, to flesh out my concerns a bit, based on Wikipedia, and some details of the Dominican investigation into Father Brodie’s book.

                According to Wikipedia, Tom Brodie, a priest in the Irish Dominican Province, began his professional studies quite late in life, and received his STD (Doctor of Sacred Theology)from the Pontifical University in Rome at 48 in 1988. He taught Hebrew and NT studies in several institutions in the US and South Africa, and wrote a book on St John’s gospel (published by Oxford), as well as books on Genesis and the Elijah and Elisha cycle of stories. When he published his book Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus in 2012, he expressed surprise that people had not noticed that this was his view in his earlier work, and claimed that he had held these views since the 1970s, that is, long before he studied at the Pontifical University in Rome. He subsequently used his scholarly skills to flesh out his belief that Jesus was not an historical person.

                What substance there is in his work, I do not know, but it seems clear that much of it is comprised of confirmation bias, since he set out to show what he had believed since the 1970s, when he tried to publish a document questioning Jesus historicity. How else could you understand this order of things? He assumes that Christianity was created by a school of writers, who also dreamed up the figure of Paul, and presumably Peter, John, and other authors of the NT. In other words, not only Jesus, but Paul never really existed either, and that the whole thing is based on a kind of midrash on several Old Testament texts. There is, of course, no question of relationships between the Old Testament and the Christian writings. The Passion narrative seems to be an extended reflexion of Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, but it does not follow that the crucifixion did not occur, but simply that this was the only way those who reflected on its significance could understand it. It is just too much to suppose that the manuscript which he tried to publish in 1975 is anything like the result that he produced in 2012, after he had had time to reflect at length on the parallels and echoes that he detected between the gospels, Paul and the Old Testament writings. I don’t say he is wrong, but to challenge the consensus with anything like the degree of detail that he allegedly provides demonstrating that the Christian writing as simply an extended midrash on Old Testament texts, and that neither Paul nor Jesus, nor, it follows, Peter, James, John, Matthew, etc. ever existed except in the school of writers who created the myth out of whole cloth, is really asking a lot. Even the typical mythicists will have to go back to the drawing board, for they assume that Paul is the central figure, and did what Brodie claims was done by a school of writers.

                It all seems terrifically interesting, but, until some work is done on Brodie’s work, it will be hard to know what to do with it. It certainly cannot be taken, at this stage, as upsetting the scholarly consensus. If Brodie’s work is worthwhile, presumably scholars will work through it and tell us someday. This is not something that can simply be accepted as is, and the suspicion of confirmation bias is still there. Like John Allegro, who wrote The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross it is possible to make up plausible or semi-plausible accounts that seem to do justice to the evidence, even though they are really out to see. So far as Brodie goes, it must be a matter of wait and see.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                Eric,

                I’d like to assume you aren’t intentionally straw-manning here. I made no case that fighting against Nazi Germany wasn’t morally legitimate.

                What is silly talk is to equate real-world struggles against tyranny to the ritual sacrifice of religion. Actual loss of life in battle is quite different than attempts to appease deities, whether they occur in temples or in books of sacred fiction.

                Please don’t attribute arguments to me that haven’t been made.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

                GBJ: “Please don’t attribute arguments to me that haven’t been made.”

                Never meant to. Nor did I intend to make a straight parallel between the sacrifices made by soldiers and religious sacrifice. The point is that some people take any thought of sacrifice as an offence. Dawkins does, and I think I have taken offence too. But why? Sacrifice has always been central to religion. “The sacrifices of a broken and a contrite heart, O Lord, you would not refuse,” or something to that effect. The point is that the interpretation of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice is a very religious thing to do, and it is not so distant from our other uses of the word ‘sacrifice’, and so should cause us no offence. Others can die for us, why not Jesus?

                If God is, as he is pictured in Exodus, as an unapproachable, sacred being, then we must come with offerings. That’s the idea behind sacrifice. We bring sacred offerings that we hope will be acceptable to this figure of unapproachable sanctity. This, as Rudolf Otto pointed out, is what the experience of holiness is like. And it is, and it can be experienced by those who have no fixed belief in a god, who find themselves in a situation where they are overcome by a sense of awe and unworthiness. It’s a fairly universal feeling.

                So, Jesus, having offered himself, and then being, somehow, experienced as having died and then been raised from the dead, is a figure of awe, through which people have had (there is historical testimony enough of the experience at least) the experience of being somehow in communion with what they call God, who, approached through Jesus (understood as sacrifice), is met as eerily distant and yet as close. This is what is known in Christianity as the atonement, and, as I said earlier, this has never been defined as a creedal belief. It is, you might say, simply the primitive sense of union (or something like union) with God, with that sacred other whose presence may be sensed in places or in rituals that people have experienced as holy.

                Then, of course, Christians tack on a whole lot of other beliefs about God coming from what they believe about Jesus, but the Godhead itself is thought of as unapproachable majesty and mystery — which is why proofs of God’s being never really take you to something describable. The only approach to God that is possible is through human creations, and, perhaps, in the end, that is all that they are. Certainly some theologians, like Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering, Richard Holloway and others, believe that that is all that we have. Religion is as central to human culture and as human as morality, art, music, and all the rest, and its experiences are human (menschlich, alzu menschlich), but valuable nonetheless. Indeed, those who submit to an inhuman god, end up doing inhuman things. We remember that we and all our creations are of dust. And that is how we must approach God, as creatures to a Creator, as those who experience ultimate or absolute dependence (as Schleiermacher put it), which means, in religious language, with or as sacrifices. But these are not the inhuman monstrosities of the Aztec sacrifices, or the children offered to Moloch — though these are attempts to deal with the experience of distant unapproachable holiness. What does the Lord require of you, asks Micah, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is what the sacrifice of Jesus means to the Christian, really, the compulsion to love God, and because of this, to love others as ourselves, to offer ourselves, as the Eucharistic Prayer sometimes says, as living sacrifices, worthy to walk with God. Obviously, many religious people are distant from their ideals, but the ideals are those informed by the ideal of sacrifice, which is what this has been about, starting with Dawkins rather plodding notion of the atonement.

              • GBJames
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                Eric, I don’t think RD was referring to soldiers in war. Do you really? Come on.

                He’s referring to religious sacrifice ritual. And if we’re going to go on about the meaning of it, can we maybe take a broader view and stop focusing on the familiar territory of your years of faith-leadership? Let’s talk about religious sacrifice in the broader sense. How about we consider the thousands upon thousands of victims of Aztec (and other Mesoamerican states) sacrifice that ensured that the sun would rise the next morning. Let’s consider the sacrifice of children to the gods atop Andean mountains. Let’s talk about sacrifice of animals in rituals of faith in Haiti and across wide swaths of South America. This is the sort of sacrifice that Dawkins finds offensive. This is the kind of sacrifice that the Xtian tradition recalls. It is the killing of people (and other animals) on behalf of invisible spirits and fictional deities.

                Stop pretending this is a noble human activity analogous to a solder being killed in battle (not that the latter is particularly noble, either).

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                No, I don’t think so either, and never made the suggestion. I used it as a comparison or analogy to what RD took such exception to, the idea of a sacrifice of one person for others. That is what he objected to, and found so offensive. But it’s done all the time, although not in a religious context any more.

                In the case of Christianity it was Jesus’ willing offering of himself. It is sometimes put in terms that God was willing to offer his own son, but it is not clear that Jesus was thought of as God’s son before his death and resurrection, so it was his offering of himself. So it’s very different than killing a chicken on an altar, or slaughtering a bull as an expiation for one’s sins. The function of sacrifice is, I think, changed in this case, and is being likened to the latter because that is what we take to be religious sacrifice. According to Hebrews, for example, Jesus’s sacrifice is the one perfect sacrifice, in which he entered, with his own blood, into the holy place. That might seem very primitive, seen in that light, but Hebrews is a rather exceptional book in the NT, and in many ways is more Greek than Hebrew in its understanding of what Jesus did. That’s why I used the analogy of the soldier, because I think that’s closer to the spirit of Jesus’ offering of himself. He even prays, we are told, Let this cup pass from me, as a soldier might before a battle.

          • Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            The victory must be human, or it is not a victory.

            Wha…?

            How on Earth can a mere mortal on Earth bootstrap Earthlings into Heaven?

            And Paul makes this very clear.

            Again, the exact opposite: as Adam was the firstfruit of the flesh, so Christ was the firstfruit of the Spirit. Through Adam the flesh dies; through Christ the Spirit lives.

            It had to be a real crucifixion (crucifixions don’t happen in the heavenly realm; it was principally a Roman form of punishment)

            Nailing / hanging salvific demigods was de rigeur not just amongst Pagans but all Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religions, and the same punishment was used by the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures.

            Read some Christian theology

            Ah, I see. Well, that’s your problem right there: you’re using modern Christian apologetics to inform your understanding of ancient theology.

            Might I suggest?

            You’d absolutely love Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, and I mean that in all sincerity and with no sarcasm. I started yesterday afternoon and I’m already about a quarter of the way through the lengthy tome; he does a superlative job of densely packing a lot of material into an engaging narrative. He initially set out expecting to debunk mythicism but came down on the other side of the fence, but at all steps is as brutal as possible to both sides. He provides extensive examples from ancient Hebrew, Christian, and Pagan scriptures, including roughly equal amounts (by my guess so far) of those that both did and didn’t make it into the orthodox canon, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get new exposure to things you’ve never encountered before as well as a new perspective on the familiar.

            Just one high-level example. You must be, I’m sure, well familiar with the prophecies in Isaiah that are so often cited as Jesus having fulfilled. Richard examines many of them and compares them with other similar stories from both within ancient Judaism (including texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and ancient Paganism (such as Ishtar), and makes it quite clear that the redemptive dying messianic figure portrayed in Isaiah is no one-off, but rather a very common and pervasive theme. In that context, does it make more sense that a real flesh-and-blood human would live a life that just happened to be a perfect fit for the prophecy, or that the figure in the prophecy would be said to have had new adventures in the spirit world?

            The citations and footnotes are exhaustive — overwhelming, even. Just spot-checking them would be a monumental task, one that I’ve not yet undertaken. But he’s made references to a number of ancient works I happen to be familiar with, and I didn’t have to look those ones up to know that he’s representing them accurately.

            In short, it’s a level of scholarship that at least matches, if not surpasses, that which you’re familiar with from orthodox theology, but it expands its analysis beyond merely the canonical texts and sainted Fathers to incorporate the “other side” as well. If you enjoy Christian theology — as you’ve made plain you do — and you’re not committed to theological orthodoxy on religious grounds — as I hope you don’t — then this is a must-read book for you.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

              Ben. Will give it a try, though I have not found other work by Carrier particularly convincing. (Quite frankly, associating Ishtar with Jesus is really pushing credulity.) Certainly am not opposed to seeing Jesus as in some way a religious Leitmotif. But I am not opposed either to seeing a living human being having been interpreted in these terms. Of course, I am aware of the great extent to which the Psalms, Isaiah, and other narratives, like those of Elijah and Elisha give form to the gospel story. This is unsurprising. We tend to see things in familiar patterns, which is at least partly the reason for confirmation bias, but is also an aspect of our creative artistic sense as well. So none of these things comes as a surprise to me.

              But neither do they make these things non-historical either. Herodotus wrote about things that certainly never happened amongst things that did, and Thucydides composed speeches for his characters that they never spoke in history. So, yes, indeed, myth and history converge, especially in religion, which is precisely the place that myth finds its home. I’m not questioning any of this. What I am questioning is whether mythicizing (or its opposite, die Entmythologisierung)necessarily means dehistoricising as well. I’m not at all convinced that it does. If I see a pattern developing in a relationship with a man of remarkable holiness, then it is natural to associate him with the nearest mythology, but it doesn’t mean that he simply thereby ceases to be human. I suspect that Zoroaster was a real man, just as Jains believe that Mahavira was a man, and I have no quarrel with those traditions.

              I really do think that there are reasons for believing that Jesus was an historical figure, and that his placement within the prophetic tradition of Judaism is often strained, though there are parallels that can be drawn. The strain comes from the supersessionism of early Christianity, which has already done enough harm. I do not find the parallels with dying and rising gods as convincing as you seem to, because it seems clear that the man Jesus was never thought of as a god, though that pattern may lie behind the crucifixion, death, burial and apparent resurrection of Jesus. The provenance of the resurrection narratives are too questionable to give them a solid foundation, just as the birth narratives are. The figure that rises is too ephemeral. He is a visionary figure. But the Jesus of the gospels, and that Paul requires for his salvation history, is too human for that. He may fit a mythical pattern, but, for historical reasons, there seems to be enough basis to suppose that the mythical Jesus is rooted in a real man, and it is that real man that gives him the religious power that has accompanied teaching about him throughout history.

              As for the “dying” messianic figure of Isaiah, this is obviously a synecdoche for Israel itself, and has little relation to the dying and rising gods of the surrounding peoples, though it may (for all I know) be tinged with this myth. For the messianic figure of Isaiah 53 does not die.

              When you make his life and offering for sin, he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper…etc.

              It is only a small part of the chapter that can be applied to Jesus, mainly about his being treated contemptuously, and suffering pain. The rest is just window dressing, so far as the Passion is concerned. Israel will not die, that is the message. It can still hope. It may have been struck down, but it will rise up.

              What I find so troubling about this discussion is that it is possible to make these stories mean anything at all. We can even turn Jesus and his disciples into a sacred mushroom cult (thus far the 60s drug culture). So all the comparisons and theories of reflections, echoes, and other terms for parallels can really be applied to almost anything. If Ishtar and Jesus can be brought together, the goddess of war and sex (and other things), then anything can be brought together, simply anything. And it’s all guesswork and suppositions about plausibility, much of which, in a generation, will undergo a seachange. The most reasonable supposition, on the evidence, is that Jesus was a real man, and lived in first century Galilee. All the rest is just weaving with smoke, so far as I can tell.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                (Quite frankly, associating Ishtar with Jesus is really pushing credulity.)

                It’s not just Ishtar but the entire genre. Just as West Side Story has the same plot as Romeo and Juliette but are clearly different stories, so, too, does Jesus’s life have the same plot as all the other death / resurrection / salvation demigods but his own story.

                The plot is ancient and familiar, even if diverse in its telling. A divine entity descends from the highest heavens to either the lowest heavens or Earth itself. Some sort of humbling event accompanies this, either explicitly in the case of Ishtar or Jesus’s birth as an helpless infant. The figure performs miracles to establish divinity, such as Bacchus and Jesus both turning water into wine. The figure Speaks Truth to Power at great personal cost, resulting in a trial that’s a perversion of justice. The figure is executed by the Powers that Be, but triumphantly conquers death and subsequently appears to the devoted moral followers, revealing how they might join with the beloved in the heavenly afterlife.

                Either this exact same plot, or minor variations thereon, or substantial portions thereof, can be seen not only in Jesus, but in Ishtar and Osiris and Dionysus and Bacchus and Mithras, hell, even and especially Orpheus.

                Certainly am not opposed to seeing Jesus as in some way a religious Leitmotif. But I am not opposed either to seeing a living human being having been interpreted in these terms.

                The question, then, is which is more probable: that Jesus’s biography just happened to be a perfect match for the classical divine archetype, or if the archetype came first and Jesus was fabricated to match the archetype?

                You could perhaps argue that Jesus was a figure akin to Halie Selassie, and all the divine stuff was piled upon an entirely mortal entity. But, even then, you’ve first got to admit that all we know of in the case of Jesus is the divine archetype, and secondly that this divine archetype (which is all we know of) is entirely fictional. Strip the archetype, and you not only have nothing of reality left, you have nothing of Jesus left.

                I think most would agree that, at the least, the death, resurrection, and salvific offerings of Jesus are the essential minimal properties of any entity who can rightly claim the title of, “Jesus.” Paul’s writings are non-stop expositions on all three elements. You could maybe have a Jesus who was known by some other name, but not if he wasn’t resurrected so all might live. But if that’s the essential core of Jesus, why does one need the inconvenience of some human to serve as stand-in, especially when the exact same figure is without stand-in in all the other settings in which he appears?

                It’s like Romeo and Juliette but without the couple dying in each others’s arms. Just doesn’t make any sense any more.

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                I have just searched the local library consortium which includes most university libraries in Nova Scotia, and there is no such result. The only book by Carrier that is available locally is Sense and Goodness without God, which I consider a dud and unreadable.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                It’s still worth putting in a request, no? Maybe even inter-library loan…costs nothing but a phone call or email….

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                But I’m not sure that Jesus was type cast for the divine archetype, since Jesus was an ordinary man (despite the prophetically historicising birth stories), and was recognised as being such. An early creed, which Paul hands on in Romans 1 speaks of Jesus thus:

                … the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God according to the Spirit of Holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

                In this sense, Jesus died a man, and was declared to be son of god (which itself is problematic) by the resurrection from the dead. So, not a descent from highest heaven, but an ascent from earth to the divine realm. Jesus is always a human figure in his life on earth, never a divine stand-in. John speaks of him, uncharacteristically, as the Logos who was with God at the beginning, but that is uncharacteristic, and more like Gnosticism than Christianity. Have never been able to stomach John’s gospel. Paul preached Jesus crucified, a man who hung on a cross and died like any man. And if you get rid of that man, then you get rid of Christianity altogether. The later docetic doctrines made that clear. Jesus was true man, even though, confusingly, the church wanted him to be true God at one and the same time. So Jesus was just a figure of flesh slumming on earth for a little while. That wouldn’t work, according to classical Christian theology, and Paul is a representative of that theology. Incarnational theology is virtually impossible to express without expunging the human Jesus. I understand that. And so Christian theology is a muddle. But at the same time, the humanity is what is central, and Docetism and Gnosticism were firmly rejected as inconsistent with Jesus’ humanity. The reason that the church could not accept Marcion’s rubbishing of the Old Testament is that the OT is what provides the human (the cultural, biological) continuity that is necessary for Jesus’ humanity. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t convert that human Jesus into a divine figure. Not even Paul could do that, because he needed Jesus to be fully human in order to do his saving work. And what is Jesus raised from the dead? Son of God? Well, and what is that? Are we not children of God, and so are we not all sons and daughters of God? So the relationship is still there. Jesus is related to us by his humanity. The story doesn’t ever quite fit the archetype.

                Of course, the ancient Christian creed with which Paul starts Romans is actually more of less Arian, and it seems to me that Arianism was, in fact, much truer to the documents that we have than the later incarnational theology of Athanasius. There is no “homoousian with the Father” anywhere in Christian canonical texts, no coming down from heaven and being made man either. The so-called virgin birth couldn’t have achieved that, even based on a sematic error. It is really a story of a man being raised, or raising himself, to the presence of God, and so marking a path for others to follow. The recognition of Jesus as son of God keeps getting pushed back further and further. In Mark it’s at the baptism, in Matthew and Luke at the birth, in John at the beginning of time. But even so, except in John, of course, the humanity of Jesus is not erased. The synoptic gospels and Paul’s letters are clear evidence of that. Maurice Wiles called Arianism the Archetypal Heresy, because it is so true to the Christian scriptures, which incarnationalism is not. Well, he doesn’t quite say this, but he comes awfully close. And I have always been far more Arian in my theology than I have been orthodox. It’s truer to the Anglican experience, I would say, besides more faithful to the canonical texts, although for some reason unknown to me, John’s gospel is often taken to be the Anglican gospel par excellence. Which is probably why I am where I am (outside the church) rather than in.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Eric, I’m sorry. I just don’t get it.

                Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord

                There’s that YHWH again — Kyrios. YHWH’s son sounds much more divine and heavenly to me than any mere mortal could possibly hope to attain.

                which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh

                Erm…you do know that, by this time, David himself had long since died and was now in some upper level of the heavens, don’t you? Besides, we’ve already established Jesus as YHWH’s Son, so, unless you want to claim that Jesus had two daddies, we can rule this out as being anything other than the painfully-obvious reference to Hebrew prophecy it so clearly is.

                And declared to be the Son of God with power

                See? Son of YHWH again — and with power, no less. Not some wimpy mortal, but the holy Son of YHWH with at least some of Daddy’s tricks up his sleeve.

                according to the spirit of holiness

                “Spirit of holiness” is an attribute of angels, not men.

                by the resurrection from the dead:

                Mortals don’t have the power to raise the dead. If we did, why would we need the gods? We would be as gods — and remember how badly that turned out way back in Genesis?

                By whom we have received grace and apostleship

                How can you receive divine grace and a command to servitude of the divine save from the divine? You really expect a mortal to claim to be able to grant grace, save by the proxy power of the divine? And who is at the other end of that proxy that Paul is invoking if not Jesus?

                for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

                Yup. Divine grace on behalf of both Father and Son equally. Note again: it’s not Paul who’s granting them his own divine grace, but Paul assuring them that the divine Jesus is granting them Jesus’s (and YHWH’s) divine grace.

                I literally don’t get a single word out of that of mortality, and yet here you are citing it as somebody who’s always human and never divine.

                I mean, really? Here Jesus is portrayed as standing on the same stage as his dad, YHWH. Shirley, you can’t be about to suggest that YHWH, too, was an historical figure…?

                b&

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

              Oh, one other thing… I haven’t to my knowledge read Christian apologetics for years. Indeed, it’s scarcely taught any more. One reads theology, that’s all, by Tillich, Kung, Cupitt, Wiles, Kaufman, Ogden, and so on.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                Frankly, from where I’m sitting, the difference between theology and apologetics is that the theologians are more formal and obscurantist in their prose and more rigorous in their footnotes. But maybe that’s just me….

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                No, theology is the application of knowledge and reason to the religious beliefs of the religious. Some of it ends up being hackneyed apologetics, but the best of it becomes rigorous philosophical systems of great insight and power, and very often probing at the creedal limits of religious thought, and usually overflowing the banks in various ways. Has to be, if it is to keep up with changing culture, new knowledge, new methods of knowing. The biggest problem now, of course, is whether there is any way religious believing can be made consistent with science as a way of knowing, or whether there are other ways of preserving what is valuable in religion without supernatural forms of believing. The jury is still out on the answer to that question, and some theologians, unfortunately, are not even asking it.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

              By the way, Ben, I’ve just looked at the price of Carrier’s book. At that price it’s going to be some time before I read it.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                I obviously don’t know what kind of a budget you’re on, but $30 is probably less than most teenage couples will spend on a cheap dinner and movie date these days. I daresay you’ll get much more entertainment out of Richard’s book than you will at the local movie theater, if at worst from screaming at him at how horrible he is to have the temerity to compare Ishtar to Ioseus.

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                Incidentally, the local university library here has his previous book but not this latest. Knowing them, they’d be happy to order it; perhaps your own local library would be similarly helpful…?

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

                Closer on $40 here in Canada, and I’ve been rather overdoing it on books lately, so that’s over the limit right now for a paperback. Indeed, I have one by Philip Pitcher, Life after Faith to read, one by Peter Watson, The Age of Atheists and one by Kenan Malik, The Quest for a Moral Compass, among others, just waiting to be cracked open — all of the hardbacks, and none of them costing more than $30!

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

                Stupid! Philip Kitcher!

  35. Kevin
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    This post [*] along with Ben Goren’s contributions are worth a read. It should persuade any atheist who was once apathetic towards this subject to consider the strength of defending an evidence based position against an ‘Historical Jesus’.

    [*] https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/once-again-did-jesus-exist/

  36. theanim8ter
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I am on the fence about the subject, but could it be possible that the documents that were written about Jesus, perished in the fires at the Library of Alexandria? I find it suspicious that a Pope was responsible for one of the fires. Open to your thoughts.

  37. maryhelena
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    //Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.//

    The gospel Jesus story is about a Jewish man executed by Rome. That is the historical claim of the Jesus historicists. Christianity has a historical core, it’s not all pie in the sky. Unfortunately, the Carrier-Doherty mythicists, in offering a historicized Pauline celestial christ figure, are not able to counter the Jesus historicists. Pauline theology/philosophy has no weight against a historical claim. A historical claim needs to be countered with historical reality.

    Yes, of course, there is no historical evidence for the gospel figure of Jesus, of whatever variant its supports dream up. Searching 100 plus ancient writings for a figure that can be deemed to be ahistorical, from a literary approach to the gospel story, can only garner media headlines – it can’t counter the historicists claims for Jesus. Only actual history has that potential.

    One approach to the gospel story is to look for historical reflections within that story – sort of like a political allegory. For instance: the basic historicists claim is the execution, by Rome, of a Jewish man. OK – no historical Jesus. However, if one views the gospel execution story, the Jesus Passion story, as a reflection of an actual historical event, the gospel’s historical core can be identified. And that historical core is the Roman execution of the last King and High Priest of the Jews: Antigonus II Mattathias, executed in 37 b.c.e. (around 70 years prior to the various crucifixion dates one can interpret from the gospels).

    Rather than this post running on, I’ll give a link in which details re the above position are set out in a chart.

    http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=15048#p15048

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      “The gospel Jesus story is about a Jewish man executed by Rome.”

      Really? What about all the miracles? What about rsiing from the dead? Raising others from the dead? Earthquakes in Jerusalem?

      As Ben says, the Gospel Jesus story describes a super-hero not an ordinary, non-descript Jew.

      • maryhelena
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        “The gospel Jesus story is about a Jewish man executed by Rome.”

        Really? What about all the miracles? What about rsiing from the dead? Raising others from the dead? Earthquakes in Jerusalem?

        As Ben says, the Gospel Jesus story describes a super-hero not an ordinary, non-descript Jew.
        ——————

        Well now, Antigonus was not an ordinary Jew by any means
        ..a ‘revolutionary’ Zealot with a capital ‘Z’…..;-)

        The Jesus story is not history – so why concern oneself with miracles and raising the dead? That’s the gospel storyline not history. The core of that story is the Roman execution of it’s Jesus figure. Does this core of the gospel story indicate any relevance to anything that happened in Jewish history?

        If you had a look at my chart you will have seen that history (as far as can be established)is contrasted with the fictional gospel story. For instance; the gospel Jesus Passion narrative, is reflecting the historical event of 37 b.c.e. Yes, there is more to the gospel Jesus figure than a reflection of Antigonus in the Passion Narrative. (the Jesus figure being a composite literary figure – think James Bond). If it can be demonstrated, which I think my chart does, that the gospel Jesus figure could have been created from historical figures from Hasmonean/Jewish history – then there is no need for the ahistoricist/mythicist argument to have to burden itself with the speculative, and impossible to demonstrate, Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory regarding a historicized Pauline celestial christ figure.

        While the gospel story contains prophetic interpretations, mythology and theology – and what-have you – the base of the gospel Jesus story is political allegory. In other words, the Jesus gospel story sprung from Hasmonean/Jewish history not from Pauline celestial imagination.

        If it’s early christian origins that one wants to understand, then, one has to deal with actual history.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          If it’s not the Jesus of the Bible, then:

          1. How could you know it’s really him. A generic person named Jesus? Who cares, that shows nothing. How could you possibly show that you knew anything at all about this person?

          2. Why talk about it if it’s not the Jesus of the Bible.

          • maryhelena
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            If it’s not the Jesus of the Bible, then:

            1. How could you know it’s really him. A generic person named Jesus? Who cares, that shows nothing. How could you possibly show that you knew anything at all about this person?

            2. Why talk about it if it’s not the Jesus of the Bible.
            ——————–

            Jesus of the gospel story is fiction, a literary creation. There is no ‘really him’ there….

            Yes, of course, once one makes a decision for an ahistorical Jesus figure one can simply leave things there – or one can do battle with the Jesus historicists 😉

            Or, one can take things further. If the gospel Jesus story is a literary creation – from whence did it come? What was the motivation of the storytellers? If it’s early christian origins that one is interested in, then one will push ahead. An ahistorica position on the gospel Jesus is not the end of the line – it is the starting line for an investigation into early christian origins.

            • Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

              Mary Helena, this just goes to show that you are not approaching this in a rational way:

              “Yes, of course, once one makes a decision for an ahistorical Jesus figure …”

              On what basis are you making that decision? If on an historical basis, you have the historical consensus against you. If you are following the mythicists, you have to explain why you are accepting their theories, when historians have almost entirely rejected their theories, and on good grounds. There should be no deciding here, for the majority of historians argue for an historical Jesus. Most evolutionary biologists, for good reasons, reject creationism. They’re the experts. So why are you making mythicists the experts where history is concerned? It’s an irrational position to take, simply based on the consensus of historians. On what basis are you going to do battle with historians? Are you going to look at the evidence as they do? Do you have the ability to do this? Do most mythicists have this ability?

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                I think you are too free describing the historicist position as a consensus amongst “historians” when prominent historicists, such as Ehrman, have no qualifications in history.

                In any case, what is that consensus based on?

                As I noted elsewhere, Eric, comparing historicists v. mythicists to evolutionary biologists v. creationists is disingenuous, as there is a paucity of evidence in favour of historicity compared to the mountains of evidence for evolution.

                And not only is the evidence for historicity relatively scarce, but seems at best vague and suggestive, rather than definitive.

                What’s more, it is very easy to make up a plausible narratives of who Jesus might *really* have been, as you do elsewhere, that fits with the little historicists claim to know, but I don’t see clear evidence that anything you described is actually *true*.

                The historicists look more and more to me like von Däniken, for whom “it could be” too easily became “it could only be”.

                /@

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

                In any case, what is that consensus based on?

                Never mind the basis for the consensus; what is the actual consensus itself?

                Examine that question, and you’ll find that there is no consensus, aside from a conclusion of historicity. Historicist claims are all over the map, and each more absurd (and contradictory) than the next. The few that come closest to plausibility are so devoid of specificity that thousands of people in antiquity would have had equal right to claim the title — including, for example, Philo himself.

                That would make for another good challenge: Give a definition for Jesus that is both plausible and conclusively excludes Philo.

                b&

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                Well, quite. That’s what I was getting at with the lack of evidence for any specific narrative of the “real” Jesus.

                /@

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                @Eric

                “Yes, of course, once one makes a decision for an ahistorical Jesus figure..”

                //On what basis are you making that decision? If on an historical basis, you have the historical consensus against you. If you are following the mythicists, you have to explain why you are accepting their theories, when historians have almost entirely rejected their theories, and on good grounds. //

                Just like Thomas Brodie – having the NT consensus against one. Big Deal…..

                Following the mythicists? Eric, I was an ahistoricist/mythicist long before I read any book by any ahistoricist/mythicists…(that’s going back over 30 years now…)

                Eric, however one comes a decision for a non-historical Jesus is only of academic interest. People can arrive at this decision through various means. Thomas Brodie did it through a literary, narrative based, interpretation of the NT. Earl Doherty rests his decision upon his interpretation of the Pauline epistles. Richard Carrier seems to want to confine the correct method to being one of Bayes’ theorem…

                It’s not a question of how, individually, one gets to the ahistoricist position. It is a case of where to from there. In other words; the ahistoricist position opens the door to further research on early christian origins. The status quo, the consensus position, is a dead-end. Not only is it under attack because it cannot support it’s historical Jesus assertion – it’s anti-humanitarian interpretation of the NT story is painfully inadequate and makes a mockery of our intellectual capacity to reason.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

                If you are following the mythicists, you have to explain why you are accepting their theories, when historians have almost entirely rejected their theories, and on good grounds.

                Except, again, the historians have pathetic grounds. See, again, Bart Ehrman’s fantasy of the Gospel Truth inspired by a bad translation of a couple Aramaic words in the Greek Gospels.

                b&

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Christianity has a historical core, it’s not all pie in the sky.

      If you have evidence of that, please present it, and we can all go home. Waving your hands will not get the job done.

      • maryhelena
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        “Christianity has a historical core, it’s not all pie in the sky.”

        If you have evidence of that, please present it, and we can all go home. Waving your hands will not get the job done.

        —————–

        http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=15048#p15048

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          The Gospel authors clearly shamelessly stole from anything that caught their fancy. We know that Matthew stole Perseus’s virgin birth narrative — or, at least, that somebody writing after Mark did. The Gospels were all very reasonably written after Josephus, and it’s not at all unreasonable to suggest that they drew at least a bit from him for inspiration and touches of verisimilitude.

          but to pick just a few random story elements and match them up with a few historical parallels…well, considering how your story elements are generally little more than narrative fluff in the first place, I don’t see how you can extrapolate anything about a “real historical” singular figure from that….

          b&

          • maryhelena
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            but to pick just a few random story elements and match them up with a few historical parallels…well, considering how your story elements are generally little more than narrative fluff in the first place, I don’t see how you can extrapolate anything about a “real historical” singular figure from that….
            ==================================

            “…narrative fluff…”

            Did you miss this point I made at the end of the chart?

            “While a lot of what Josephus wrote re Antigonus cannot be historically verified ie biting off the ear of his uncle Hyrcanus, his writing is what we have. All one can do is put the Josephan account/stories alongside the gospel account and acknowledge the reflection of the Josephan account/stories within the gospel story”.

            Did you also miss the point about the Hasmonean coins? These are evidence for the historical existence of Antigonus.

            Contrary to the ‘either or’ thinking that Richard Carrier set out, in the quote below from his new book, there is room in the ahistoricist/mythicist position for both a “celestial deity’ theory as well as a ‘political fiction’ theory. (albeit not a Pauline celestial christ figure historicized….)

            Richard Carrier: On The Historicity of Jesus: “If ‘Jesus Christ’ began as a celestial deity’ is false, it could still be that he began as a political fiction], for example (as some scholars have indeed argued – the best examples being R.G. Price and Gary Courtney). But as will become clear in following chapters….such a premise has a much lower prior probability (and this is already at a huge disadvantage over Premise 1 even before we start examining the evidence) and a very low consequent probability (though it suits the Gospels well, it just isn’t possible to explain the evidence of the Epistles this way, and the origin of Christianity itself becomes very hard to explain. Although I leave open the possibility it may yet be vindicated, I’m sure it very unlikely to be, and accordingly I will assume it’s prior probability is too small even to show up in our maths. This decision can be reversed only by a sound and valid demonstration that we must assign it a higher prior or consequent, but I leave to anyone who thinks it’s possible”. Page 53/54.

            And if, referencing Thomas Brodie – and notwithstanding Carrier’s negative review of Brodie’s book – the NT figure of Paul is ahistorical – then Carrier needs to lower his probability estimate for the Carrier-Doherty theory and grant a ‘political fiction’ theory a measure of probability.

            As for my chart, Richard Carrier two years ago: “Useful chart. Good job including the citations to everything (shout out to everyone: that’s how you do this sort of thing). Thanks”.

            • Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

              I’m sorry, but I’m having a bit of trouble parsing your writing. If you’re suggesting that Jesus was a pastiche of many sources, some based on history that can reasonably be considered real and others based on various myths, I’d agree with you. But if you’re suggesting that Antigonus was the “real” historical Jesus, I’m afraid I just can’t go along with that.

              b&

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry, but I’m having a bit of trouble parsing your writing. If you’re suggesting that Jesus was a pastiche of many sources, some based on history that can reasonably be considered real and others based on various myths, I’d agree with you. But if you’re suggesting that Antigonus was the “real” historical Jesus, I’m afraid I just can’t go along with that.

                ———————

                😉

                Looks like you missed this point I made in the chart.

                “The composite gospel Jesus figure based upon the historical figures…..”

                As to other mentions of Antigonus I’ve made on this thread – always in connection with the gospel Jesus Passion narrative. I even mentioned composite figure – like James Bond…..

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Since the historical consensus is that Jesus was an historical figure, the burden of proof is on those who think he was a myth, and all the argumentation to the contrary is really pointless unless it addresses the issues as these are being discussed by the experts. Science is done by experts, so is history. Scientists insist that their discoveries be recognised and acknowledged as facts. Why cannot history do the same? Why is all this amateur hypothesising supposed to have any (and I mean any) authority?

        • bobkillian
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          2000 years of church scholars declare that what they believe is not bullshit. This is historical consensus! They’re untroubled by the rabble who say otherwise now that they can’t be hanged for blasphemy.

        • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          Since the historical consensus is that Jesus was an historical figure, the burden of proof is on those who think he was a myth, and all the argumentation to the contrary is really pointless unless it addresses the issues as these are being discussed by the experts.

          Ehrman, the historicist leading that charge, has done so in a most cringe-worthy manner, citing an awkward Greek two-word phrase as evidence of a bad translation from Aramaic, and from that piece of faery cake somehow managed to reconstruct multiple reliable, honest, and trustworthy detailed personal eyewitness accounts perfectly matching the Gospel narrative. “Addressing” “issues” such as that needs no more space than I just gave it right here.

          b&

  38. Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Lots of fictional characters are inspiring and edifying, and their non existence is a non issue – it’s the text that matters. And we credit the author for the wit and wisdom – well, if the author might not have existed, what of it?t’s the ideas that matter. Shakespeare’s oeuvre stands on its own whoever wrote it, and the least of his works may be of more interest for his authorship, but they are not more entertaining simply because they re Shakespeare.

    The difference between Socrates and Jesus is in the text: if the character doesn’t exist, with what are you left? The former offers something more valuable than revealed truth: a method for getting at truth on one’s own, and reason does not require authority. The latter is worse than nothing, it’s all authority and no reason.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      I agree with you, but as an aside, I think that the evidence for the existence of Socrates is vastly superior thin that for Jesus. We have “The Clouds” of Aristophanes that satirizes Socrates. Comedies like the clouds were written to make fun of real well known figures, so Socrates was most probably real.

      Plus we have two more independent sources with eponymous authors, testifying to his existence. We have nothing even remotely comparable for Jesus.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, except that people are building their life around this fictional character and wasting this life in expectation of receiving a really long one afterwards from him.

  39. Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit disappointed in the continuing mythicist thread here. It reminds me very uncomfortably of climate change deniers and creationists who maintain their position is true even though their is a scientific consensus in the other direction. In the case of climate change deniers and creationists, they claim that there is some sort of massive academic conspiracy against the truth for financial or cultural reasons. In the case of mythcists, they claim there is a massive academic conspiracy against the truth for religious reasons, and EVERY SINGLE professor of New Testament and Classical studies (outside of fundamentalist colleges) is part of this apparent cover up, including aetheist Bart Ehrman. And then, like climate change and creationist gymnasts, the mythicists have to do backflips to make their case fit the evidence.

    I’ve tried to engage with mythicists here. When I pointed out that the most parsimonious explanation for Jesus is that he was an apocalyptic preacher who died badly. He inspired a small group of followers who gradually came to believe he was something special and passed stories orally for decades before anything was written down. There is no reason for Jesus to have appeared in any contemporary records; he wasn’t important to anybody but his followers for many years. We hardly know anything about Pontius Pilate, and he was the Roman governor, so why would we know anything about a random preacher who had a couple dozen followers?

    I noticed that once this is pointed out to mythicists, they start saying that anybody who worked miracles would’ve gotten noticed, etc etc, suddenly raising the bar–apparently if Jesus wasn’t as portrayed in the Gospels, the Gospels must be completely fictional (rather than exaggerated), ergo Jesus didn’t exist, and by the way Paul was also a fictional character…

    I’ve concluded that mythicists, like climate change deniers and creationists, adhere to their position for emotional reasons. They completely discard the consensus of experts in the field. They start from the conclusion they want to arrive at and work backward to make the evidence fit. I love reading this blog precisely because it so often defends reason and evidence, no matter where it leads. But I think in this matter this blog has gone seriously astray.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I encourage you to read or listen to Carrier if you haven’t. Doesn’t mean he’s right – but I do think his case is at least plausible and he’s not just arguing from the silence of contemporaries.

      The analogy with creationists is false and pejorative. The evidence in favor of the existence of an obscure Galilean preacher is orders of magnitude less impressive than the scientific evidence in favor of evolution, et al. Disputing it doesn’t make you a crank.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      I don’t see your concern. Jerry: “If there were new evidence supporting a historical Jesus, I would put that up, too.”

      Not analogous, since denial flies in the face of evidence. “Mythicists” are _asking_ for the evidence.

      And they are claiming that “historicists” are credulous, using religious special privilege to totally remove the usual criteria for evidence. Existence claims need evidence for existence. There are none.

      Who are the denialists here?

      As regards your many strawmen on skeptics, they are both silly (not visible in these threads, say) and unsupported.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Yes, but the better historicists will admit there is not proof beyond reasonable doubt for Jesus’ existence, but the preponderance of the evidence still favors his existence. Criminal trial vs. civil trial

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          Who are those historicists?

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            Bart Ehrman says we can only speak about Jesus in probabilities (though IMO he somewhat exaggerates the strength of his case). It’s been a while since I looked at Albert Schweitzer, but I recall he said effectively the same.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              I think Ehrman stated that there was overwhelming evidence that Jesus existed so that we can be almost certain about it. He went on to compare mythicists with creationists and Holocaust deniers. That doesn’t exactly sounds like he acknoweledges the scarcity of evidence.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                All I can say is that he seems easily overwhelmed.

                It’s not like the historicity of Jesus is as well evidenced as the theory of evolution!

                If evolution gives you your baseline for “overwhelming”, then the evidence for the historicity of Jesus is meagre at best.

                I’m entertaining the not entirely facetious notion that the argument is really one of an interpretation of probabilities. A historicist sees a nonzero probability and concludes that Jesus did exist; whereas a mythicists sees a (say) 15% chance and concludes he likely didn’t.

                /@

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Ehrman did say that in the Huffington Post, but in his book he is more careful to claim that some mythicist arguments are better than others. He does dismiss the bulk of them as quacks (notably Earl Doherty), but allows that Robert Price’s arguments are worth grappling with.

                Ironically, Ehrman would probably in the end agree with Richard Carrier that there are so many BAD mythicist arguments out there, it is hard to get a hearing for a good one.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          … but the preponderance of the evidence still favors his existence.

          What evidence? Show us the freaking evidence.

    • Nathan
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Well said 😀

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      It isn’t just this, though. Once again, the mythicist argument is *not* just an argument from silence. If it were, maybe this would be a bit more fair.

      As for the “cover up”, I don’t think there is one, just an unwillingness to apply proper standards of evidence. I notice once again that my “Western Civilization” textbook drops its references (to anything other than the bible, not even to secondary sources) for the relevant time period. If it is such an important event, well and rigorously studied, why? Even in the 19th century, when mythicists first became “uncloseted” they lost their jobs, etc. for doing so. Only within the last ~100 years has there even been enough academic freedom to even *consider* the question, so of course there’s a preponderance on the “traditional” side.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that there is a “scientific consensus” that Jesus existed. Theology is not a science.

      There is a consensus among astrologers that the configuration of the stars at the date of your birth influences to some degree your future. Does the existence of that consensus lends some credibility to the idea, in your opinion?

      This is a genuine question. The point is that the consensus of theologians that Jesus existence is more similar to the consensus of astrologers than the consensus of scientists. Scientists use a valid methodology to reach to their conclusions. Astrologers and theologians don’t.

    • Matthew Prorok
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      “In the case of mythcists, they claim there is a massive academic conspiracy against the truth for religious reasons”

      Not entirely for religious reasons, but it’s undeniably true that the majority of people studying the issue are Christians, who clearly have an ideological bias towards historicity that isn’t based on the evidence itself. Plus, there are also several statements from various professors, including Ehrman, indicating that they are indeed willing to ruin the careers of anyone who advocates mythicism. That doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy, but there’s certainly a bias against even considering the question.

      “so why would we know anything about a random preacher who had a couple dozen followers?”

      We wouldn’t, necessarily. But that does mean that the Gospels are fictions, as is Acts. They are creating a history that didn’t actually happen. Which is precisely what mythicism says, too. The question becomes, if Jesus was so insignificant that barely anyone noticed him, how did the evidence we do have come about? And why, once you’ve come up with reasons for inventing stories ABOUT Jesus, do those reasons not also apply to inventing Jesus himself?

      “I’ve concluded that mythicists, like climate change deniers and creationists, adhere to their position for emotional reasons.”

      If there were clear evidence that Jesus existed, I wouldn’t be emotionally distraught. It wouldn’t affect my atheism at all, because of course a bare-minimum historical Jesus would still not be the Son of God. I simply don’t think that there’s good enough evidence.

      “They completely discard the consensus of experts in the field.”

      No, we are merely comparing it against a competing hypothesis. Which is certainly legitimate to do when every expert in the methodology used to reach that consensus, upon examining the validity of that methodology, has determined that it is logically invalid and produces no consistent conclusions. Which is the case with Jesus studies. I don’t reject the consensus on climate change, because the methodology of climate scientists is valid. I reject the consensus on the historicity of Jesus, because the methodology of Jesus scholars is not valid.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      How could you tell the difference between this nondescript, unimportant person and a non-existent one that people made up later?

    • Susan
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Pamela. From what I understand, until very recently the was no place for discussion on the historicity of jesus. Every said “well of course he existed.” Now it has become acceptable to explore that question and look at the evidence. There is no consensus yet. But it is unfair to put people seeking evidence in that same category as science deniers.

      There are a continuum of possible historical jesuses, including:
      None
      Local preacher known only to family and friends
      Wandering preacher who did nothing mentioned in the gospels
      Wandering preacher with a small following
      Wandering preacher with a small following who died badly
      Mega star preacher who did at least a few things mentioned in the gospel
      etc.

      In looking for evidence, part of the question is to examine which of those options are plausible. I think Paul borrowed the name of a small time wandering preacher but that everything else is fiction. This is based on comparing what Paul said to what was written later. Jesus’ life story looks to have been created after Pauls letters.

      However, just because I think I have figured it out is no reason for everyone else to give up and stop studying evidence.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        I think Paul borrowed the name of a small time wandering preacher but that everything else is fiction.

        Actually, Paul likely got the name from the Jesus of Zachariah 6 who serves essentially the same theological function but, granted, isn’t there described as having been crucified and resurrected.

        (To be fair, it’s also quite likely that Paul got the name from an extant bunch of Christians, but those same Christians in turn most likely got the name from Zachariah, or whatever even-earlier source Zachariah got it from.)

        b&

        • Susan
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:15 am | Permalink

          My only reason for thinking Paul might have borrowed the name is his feud with the Jerusalem christians. Their mutual dislike seems real. So if Paul created his religion from scratch in Asia minor, where did the Jerusalem christians come from? Why do these two different sects squabble like they do?

          • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            Why the squabbling?

            Die, heretic scum!

            b&

            • Susan
              Posted October 5, 2014 at 5:29 am | Permalink

              Ben. You missed the point. You are a strong proponent of myth (and we mostly agree). Where did the Jerusalem christians who wanted nothing to do with Paul come from? Did they predate Paul? Or are they too creations of Paul?

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

                Paul says the “Church of God” existed before him, and that he persecuted it in his previous life, before having the vision of Jesus. Reading through his epistles (I don’t have specific references handy at the moment) there were some pillars in the Church, Cephas (Peter?), James and John that were the leaders and probably the founders. There is nothing in the genuine Pauline Corpus to suggest that these pillars were apostles in any different sense than Paul himself. They were just the first to have (or claim to have) visions of the Risen Christ. Paul says something like “Am I not an apostle, have I not seen the Lord also?”. He also gives the chronology of these visions, Jesus first appeared to the pillars, then to the Twelve, then to 500 brethren all at once, and last (but in his opinion not least) to Paul himself.

                Overall it seems that the original “Church of God” was yet another hellenistic mystery cult, based on Jewish mythology instead of Thracian, Egyptian, Persian or whatever. This “mysterious” thread can be seen throughout the early epistles, the gospel of Mark, and some of the early apologists and Church Fathers. No other mystery cult’s central figure was a historical person, so it would be truly extraordinary if Christianity’s was.

                Carrier’s book lays out the details of all this.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

                Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Paul’s theology doesn’t seem to be that much different than the Jerusalem Church’s. Their main difference was about whether gentiles were allowed to join and whether once they joined they had to be circumcised.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

                Where did the Jerusalem christians who wanted nothing to do with Paul come from?

                Well, then, let’s walk through Paul’s own canonical list:

                And that he was seen of Cephas [aka Peter]

                Most likely, but far from certain, a real person heading up a mystery cult whose central figure was the archangel / demigod Risen Jesus Christ of Zachariah 6 and Philo.

                then of the twelve

                Almost guaranteed to have been mythical stand-ins for the Zodiac or something comparable; if real people, then chosen to fill offices corresponding with the Zodiac, and possibly representing an higher but not ultimate level of initiation in the cult. Most notably, they’re rarely named, and, when they are, there’s disagreement about the names and obvious parallels with Zodiacal imagery (most famously, Didymus the Twin). They’re also minor, insignificant characters who follow the archangel around like puppydogs.

                After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

                Mass hallucination (a common phenomenon even today) of the congregants / cult initiates, possibly induced individually in separate initiation ceremonies.

                After that, he was seen of James

                Little is known of James the Just, all of it from Christian theological sources. Plausibly a real figure contemporary with Paul and Peter. Emphatically not a blood relation of Jesus, despite centuries-later retconning.

                then of all the apostles

                The inner circle / priesthood of the mystery cult. The highest initiates to whom had been revealed the “true” meanings of the various (and often intentionally contradictory) allegories told to lower-level initiates and the public.

                And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

                The author of the letter, most likely named, “Paul,” almost certainly bearing at most passing semblance to the fictional character in Acts of the same name. A newcomer on the scene, claiming direct personal revelation from the Archangel Risen Jesus Christ and attempting to use the authority of that revelation to muscle in on the extant mystery cult — in a manner strikingly similar to that described by Lucian and attributed to Peregrinus aka Proteus aka other names beginning with, “P.”

                Does that help?

                b&

  40. Helen Pluckrose
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I come down on the side of those who think he existed, mostly because of the way in which the story spread. There is no evidence he existed and he clearly was not at all a big story in his own time. However, when a myth arises, it usually has a coherent story which then grows and becomes more detailed and then is exported and grows and changes again. The story of Jesus didn’t. It had numerous versions at one time in the century after his supposed death with only the name and the crucifixion in common. He was the son of Yahweh. He was a man beloved by Yahweh. He was a spirit come to save us from Yahweh. Many historians think this suggests that the origin of the story was an event rather than a story and then different stories were invented around it.

    Jesus may never have existed and his story is certainly invented and embroidered after the fact – most influentially by Paul, and he may actually be an amalgamation of Jesus and Apollonius of Tyanna. However, the simplest explanation for a sudden proliferation of stories about an apocalyptic Jewish faith healer named Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified remains that there was an apocalyptic Jewish faith healer named Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      That is a hypothesis. I don’t think it is correct though. Early christianism looks like any other syncretic religion, like the contemporary variants of abrahamism that Josephus describes.

      Specifically the many variants look exactly like the many centuries older Dead Sea Scrolls, the only change is that there is a new mythical preacher to place alongside the old. There is a whole lot of continuity going on here!

      In any case, this is neither the asked for evidence for historicity of a person, nor is it testable. The sudden proliferation of histories about a Santa Claus or an Invisible Pink Unicorn didn’t successfully test a hypothesis that they existed. So this is not the test we are looking for. (Unless we specially privilege religion yet again…)

      • Helen Pluckrose
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        No, I didn’t mean to imply this in any way constitutes evidence or is testable. Sorry, if it came across that way. I’ll see if I can remove the comment.

      • Helen Pluckrose
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        I can’t remove the comment so everyone else please note that I have been informed that this is not the kind of response that was asked for.

        • Susan
          Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          For what it’s worth, I thought your comment was reasonable and interesting. This is a discussion. There are a couple commenters with strong opinions who curtly demand evidence of anyone with a differing opinion. Whatever.

          I lean toward myth but appreciate hearing what others think and what factors they consider.

      • Helen Pluckrose
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        BTW – I have no motivation to privilege religion. I spend considerable time and money campaigning against religious privilege and frequently make Santa Claus and Invisible Pink Unicorn analogies of my own. Also I am a late medieval religious history postgrad and so should probably not be commenting on early Christianity anyway. This tends to be the view of the biblical historians I know and I have not read widely on the subject myself.

  41. Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    For some peculiar reason, I seem to have this intense burning sensation in my SIWOTI….

    b&

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      I was just thinking — I can’t wait to read what Ben Goren has to say about comments 39 and 40!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Ouch! I must have fallen for SIWOTI, I didn’t read this far before responding…

    • Paul S.
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I blame you for my change in thought that Jesus was a historical figure. It’s not that your arguments are devastating (they are. The issue becomes those defending the historicity of Jesus respond that he wasn’t the miracle performing Jesus of the bible; rather he was an unnoticed street preacher with a few followers.
      I may be missing something but it seems the only way to make Jesus a historical figure is to make him someone other than the Jesus of the bible, so what’s the point? What’s so hard about admitting that he didn’t exist?

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        Admitting that gives up the game – since the Jesus of the (canonical) gospels *would be a well known figure*. A nobody is *not the guy*.

        (“Santa Claus is real! He lives in Miami, never buys gifts and hates children! Really!”)

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Well, he may be other than the Jesus of the Bible, but he is still held to be the wandering preacher who said most of the sayings attributed to “Q”, those sayings found in both Matthew and Luke but not present in Mark. Even semi-mythicist George Wells held this was probably the case.

        The real Thomas More was utterly unlike the Thomas More of the stage play and film “Man For All Seasons”, but there is still a link connecting them.

        • Paul S.
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          That’s the point isn’t it. Jesus of the bible never existed. All we know is that there were guys named Jesus, there were wandering preachers and a religion was founded. Everything else is made up.
          True story; Paul S was born in Chicago, 1962 he invented a time machine and defeated the Germans in WWII.
          I can prove Paul S was born in Chicago, 1962 but it doesn’t mean anything. There were probably a lot of children named Paul born in Chicago, 1962 and the rest of the story is crap. Just because I can find a scrap of unrelated fact I can wedge into my story doesn’t make any of it plausible, nor can I say which Paul S is the basis of the story.
          Jesus defenders take a story they want to be true and attempt to force in snippets of reality to make it plausible.

          • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            Exactly. And I’m sure you could even find some boy who grew up in a London suburb a couple decades ago with the name of, “Harry Potter.” And even if Ms. Rowling personally knew him, even if he had an unusual birthmark, that still wouldn’t make him the “real” Harry Potter.

            b&

            • JonLynnHarvey
              Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              It’s not just a same name connection. It’s the same name with a biographical sketch that has a bare-bones outline similar to a historical character but different enough to amount to a falsification

              The real Thomas More is actually quite different from the one in the play “Man for All Seasons” but both got executed for refusing to join the Church of England. But the play is utterly false in making him into a modern free-speech hero.

              The real William Wallace is radically different from that played by Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” but both were involved in Scottish independence movements.

              The real Maria von Trapp is utterly unlike the character in “The Sound of Music” (much stricter and stern than the Captain in real life it turns out), but both lived in Austria and fled to escape the Nazis.

              We’re talking here about major falsifications based on real people, not just a shared name.

              • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

                …save that, to retain even the slightest hope of historicity, the “real” “historical” Jesus has to be stripped of every last shred of biographical continuity with the Biblical Jesus. After all, Paul knew nothing of the miracles, sermons, parables, clashes with authority, or the rest, so all that’s gotta go….

                b&

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                That does not follow.

                The “real” Jesus (if any) would continue to have a fair amount of biographical continuity with the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels. Even the mythicists like Doherty and Price recognize that these come out of separate stream of tradition independent of Paul. Doherty holds that the Synoptic/Q tradition later merged and synthesized with the metaphysical wildness of Paul, but they recognize it as coming from a separate source.

                No reason that has to go at all.

  42. Nathan
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve thought about this a little bit more and I believe the best evidence is that Jesus’ brother, James the Just, was the leading priest in Jerusalem. This is mentioned by Paul and in Acts and later (by christian) historians like Eusebius and Clement. He’s briefly mentioned in Mathew/Mark as well.

    Supposedly James and Paul didn’t get along. James wanted all the Jewish customs to be practiced, while Paul didn’t care about that as long as you believed in JC.

    So for me, as weak as the evidence is (all the supernatural crap), the most logical viewpoint for me is that there was a preacher that was executed, and there are a handful of things that can be extracted from all of the (weak) sources.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Acts is not historically reliable, effectively at all. Read Carrier or Crook on this (- no mythicist – they agreed on this at their debate). Paul by contrast talks about “brother of the Lord” … something else.

  43. Karl Withakay
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I often think the focus on mythicism is an attempt to achieve a shortcut, deathblow against Christianity. If you can prove there was no historical Jesus, then you’re done, and no other Christina claims need addressing. It’s very alluring because aside from a small subset of non-mainstream Sophisticated Theologians(TM), the entirety of modern Christian theology depends absolutely on the existence of a historical, material, earthly Jesus.

    However, as in swordplay, repeatedly going for a single, decisive deathblow typically leaves you constantly vulnerable to counter attack if you never succeed.

    I shouldn’t really need to prove there wasn’t a historical Kal-El to refute the notion that it’s possible for a man to fly, see through lead, and shoot heat vision/laser beams from his eyes. That I feel I do probably says more about the people I’m arguing with in regards to Superman’s powers and what it takes for them to believe something or not than it does anything else.

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I often think the focus on mythicism is an attempt to achieve a shortcut, deathblow against Christianity.

      Not really. It’s just a historical question: How did Christianity started? Most mythicists are atheists but there are notable exceptions for example Thomas Brodie.

    • Marella
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:47 am | Permalink

      Not at all. If gods don’t exist, and they don’t, whether or not Jesus existed is entirely academic.

  44. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    An interesting example of a legendary figure concerning whom historians have NO consensus on whether he existed or not is…Robin Hood. The scarce evidence can be read either way.

  45. Susan
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Paul likely existed – he wrote some letters.
    Paul mentioned some people in Jerusalem he didn’t seem to like, including Cephas and Peter as two different people.

    One scenario:
    1. Some people in Jerusalem followed a street preacher about whom nothing is known, maybe named jesus.
    2. Paul started a cult either believing it or as a con. He based this cult on a hodge podge of popular fads – mystery religions, wandering jewish messiah’s, gods existing in the spiritual realm, etc.
    3. Paul picked the name jesus for his mystery cult leader to make it sound more real. The dudes in Jerusalem still didn’t like him.
    4. Paul created all of his teaching out of whole cloth. He gained a following for the reasons any cult leader gains a following.
    5. Over time, people told stories about this jesus, creating a body of mythology with some basic elements but plenty of contradictions. Comparison – there are lots of versions of Robin Hood but everyone “knows” he lived in Sherwood forest. Some crazy plot twists were added to make the myths line up with Jewish prophecy. Eg how do we get “Jesus of Nazareth” to be born in Bethlehem.
    6. Things like the virgin birth, born on the winter solstice, calming storms, 12 followers, etc are obvious borrowings from other myths. Compare to the Zodiac – one of the followers was the Twin.
    7. After a couple of generations, people started writing done the myths. The leaders conveniently forgot where their religion came from. Think Mormons.
    8. The cult eventually had enough followers so that a politician used Christianity to solidify power.

  46. Posted October 3, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    if there was a figure on which Jesus was based, he was not remarkable in his time….”

    Those of you who believe the scenario that Jesus was so unremarkable as to be unnoticed have a very large difficulty to overcome, one that has never been well answered.

    And that is: Why would the Jews of that time believe an ordinary man was the son of God? Because such a view simply would not be countenanced – they would throw anyone making such a claim out into the street. The very idea is absurd.

    There would have to be proof he was divine. They would demand miracles. And an ordinary Joe can’t do that.

    And that is why miracles were added to the story, but only after a generation or two – when there was no one around to dispute the story.

    This is why Paul preached about a heavenly god, revealed to him in his dreams, who came to Earth as a redeemer – not the other way around.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Moses, who, according to Jewish theology, really was a random schmuck of humble origins who grew up to be one of YHWH’s favorite intermediaries, parted the Red Sea. A real human being claiming to be the actual personal incarnation of YHWH would have to top that — or, as one might say today, Moses was one tough act to follow.

      Jesus, of course, did top Moses, and in style…but certainly not by actually existing….

      Cheers,

      b&

    • dewovasid
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Because the narrative changed. At the time of his supposed life, he could have followers because he was charismatic and speaking knowledgebly about scriptures and the return of God’s kingdom on earth. He doesn’t have to claim to be divine to gather followers. Later, when he is dead and the return of God’s kingdom never occurred, followers had to tack on additional miracles to start a new narrative of a resurrected christ.

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Nonsense! It is probably because Jesus was distinctive that stories were told about him and his sayings remembered. And that’s why this argument is possible. If he was as undistinctive as you suggest, how do you explain this endless discussion?

      And, for your information, Paul did not preach Jesus as a heavenly God. He preached the man Jesus, crucified, died, buried and risen again, and sitting at the right hand of God. That is a very different thing. For Paul, as I have said elsewhere, Jesus’ genuine humanity was a theological necessity. According to Paul, if Christ was not crucified, that is, if he was not a man and died on a cross, then is your faith in vain. It’s as simple as that, and anyone who thinks that for Paul Jesus was simply a heavenly being, simply doesn’t understand Paul.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Eric, let’s review a bit of scripture, shall we?

        1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?

        13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

        14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

        […]

        35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

        36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:

        37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:

        38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.

        39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

        40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

        41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

        42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

        43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

        44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

        45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

        46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

        47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

        48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

        49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

        Now, can we please dispense with this notion of yours that Paul’s Jesus was “of the earth, earthy”? Crucified and resurrected, yes, but explicitly and emphatically spiritually as diametrically opposed to corporeally.

        b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        * If he was as undistinctive as you suggest, how do you explain this endless discussion? *

        Because somebody made up interesting – nay, compelling! – stories, for their own politico-religious ends, about someone who could have been anyone or no one.

        We *know* that Moroni didn’t exist, but that hardly impedes conversations amongst Mormons.

        /@

        /@

        >

  47. Paul S.
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I think we all agree the biblical version of a “real” miracle zombie Jesus is absurd and unnecessary. That being said, why do people feel is it necessary to have a “real” mundane Jesus for stories that are being told about past events that cannot be verified? What would be gained by the story tellers?

  48. Marc Bedard
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if it was already said but The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur is one of the best case done to prove the fact that Jesus is a myth. Harpur has a PhD in theology and was a Rhodes Scholar…. Very good read…

    • trou
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All

      This is also an excellent book. I’ve read them all and this one had information I hadn’t heard before.

  49. Posted October 3, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I strongly doubt there were over 100 known published works that “should have” mentioned Jesus less than four decades after his supposed death. I mean, look at the destruction of Pompeii, something much more striking than a new sect.
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/guest-post-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comment-1053239

  50. Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins, ” The God Delusion ” p122, ” It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others, Prof G.A Wells of the University of London in a number of books including, ” Did Jesus exist ?”
    I think there is something to be said in the C.S. Lewis idea~ ‘ That if Jesus is not the Saviour & Son of God as claimed then the story is in large part lies and lunacy ‘ [ only he said Jesus is either Liar, Lunatic or Lord ].
    There are advantages to saying Jesus never existed. This line avoids giving succour to Islam. Islam likes to down grade Jesus to just a prophet like their Coran says. I like to think Jesus never existed, it means I am in disagreement with the Coran. . There is not enough firm evidence to warrant anything else.
    How come none of the women folk is recorded as retaining some of Jesus clothing ? His mother isn’t said to have given his childhood clothes to anyone. None tried to ask for or buy the undergarment mentioned at John 19v23. Why did no one try to keep the ‘ original ‘ cross of Christ ? What about his carpenter tools ? Not even a lock of hair ? No sculpture of his head ? What about the scrolls of Scripture he owned ?
    For examples of events from O.T. rewritten as miracles of Jesus compare Elisha feeding of a hundred with 20 loaves of barley bread with some left over in 2 Kings 4v42-44 Vs Jesus feeds 5000 in Matt 14v13
    Or Elisha brings the Shunammite woman’s son back to life in 2 Kings 4v8-36 Vs Jesus raising Lazarus in John 11v38-43
    But then compare Elijah’s magic refilling oil jar trick of 1 Kings 17v16 to Elisha doing the same trick in 2 Kings 4v3. These old writers had a limited imagination. Why didn’t that oil jar keep refilling eternally, it could have made the owners the most wealthy people on Earth ?
    If Jesus had super-human ability to recognize the truth then he would have said, ” Plant & animal life evolved by natural selection. Culture evolves, study all the stories of religion and you will see how people have kept adding to and warping earlier tales. Look at all human technology and see how it has advanced in design, little by little. “

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Why did no one try to keep the ‘ original ‘ cross of Christ ?

      Just to pick this one example, in Mediaeval times, there was a thriving trade in reliquary, such that one wag observed that there were enough pieces of the one true Cross on the market to fill an entire forest. Also popular were Jesus’s foreskins, and I forget how many dozens of penises he must have had to have fulfilled that particular market. Rather puts Kali to shame, no?

      b&

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Good one, lol
        At the massacre of Acre 1191, Richard the Lionheart demanded the “true” cross of Christ which I would think was a bit hopeful even if there had been one seeing as how one thousand years had gone by.
        see Wikipedia massacre of Ayyadieh, “Any hope of regaining the True Cross disappeared after Ayyadieh; it was rumored that Saladin sent it to Damascus. By his orders the Christian prisoners were executed in Damascus.”
        { This article seems to have changed quite a lot since I last read it a couple of weeks ago }

  51. Keith Cook
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    We know humans love a good narrative, we know we are our own biggest fools, we know history can distort the truth (or lose it)
    I’m not any the wiser but this post made my head throb. I conclude, if there was a walking, talking Jesus (absolutely no evidence)he is long dead and that he did not walk on water like his mythical namesake, and again, no evidence whatsoever.
    Everything in a nutshell, what a relief.

  52. Josh
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    “Is there anyone in history with so littlec ontemporaneous attestation who is nevertheless seen by millions as having really existed?”

    Sure: Moses

  53. Posted October 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    On Youtube: The Thinking Atheist 27th November 2013 Robert M. Price made a good summary of the Christ myth theory. He also gave an example of the made up nature of the gospel stories that I hadn’t heard before. It was about the differences in the accounts of the people that Peter denied Jesus to. So in fact it would be easy to say Peter denied more than three times.

    Mark 14v66 has Peter deny to a servant girl, v69 the servant girl again, v70 those standing near

    Matthew 26v69 has Peter deny to a servant girl, v 71 another girl, v73 those standing there

    Luke 22v56 has Peter deny to a servant girl, v 58 someone else – to which Peter replies, ” Man, I am not ” which could imply the question was not asked by a servant girl, v59 another asserted – to which Peter replied, ” Man, I am not ”

    John 18v15 has Peter go with another disciple who knows the high priest, the other disciple goes into the highpriest’s courtyard and then has to ask the girls permission to allow Peter in. What did he say to her? ” We’re disciples of Jesus & friends of the high priest and have permission to enter ? ” or ” Here’s some money, ask no more about it ? ” At any rate in v 17 Peter denies to the girl at the door, v25 probably someone else in the courtyard, since it would be reasonable to assume the girl was still on duty at the door, v26 A relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, ” Didn’t I see you in the olive grove ? ” – wouldn’t it have been more likely, ” Weren’t you the one who struck my relative Malchus (Jn18v10) with the sword cutting his ear off ? Just as well Jesus healed it back on or i’d be doing a civilian arrest on you ”
    Interesting that gospels Mark, Matt & John don’t mention the ear healing. Only Luke 22v51 has Jesus touch Malchus’s ear to heal it but v50 had said the ear was cut off, so you would think Jesus would need to bend down and pick up the ear to place it back on the head ?
    Mark 14v48 Has Jesus scolding the arresting party for being armed with swords and clubs but he says no criticism of Peter for cutting of the servants ear.

  54. JimV
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Whether Christianity was inspired by Jesus, or by another Nazarene of the same name, doesn’t matter much to me except for this: it bugs me to see fellow atheists using such transparently bad arguments, e.g.:

    “He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” And yet Nazareth existed, despite there being no record of it in Josephus’s writings. This makes it more creditable, not less creditable, to me, that Jesus could have existed without being mentioned by Josephus.

    “… 126 historians … ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention…” Excellent argument against the mythical divine Jesus; terrible argument against a charismatic preacher of humble origins whose cult happened to snowball after his death.

    Various Internet estimates tell me that there were at least a million Jews in the Palestine/Jordanian region at 0 CE. I can think of only a handful for which there are good historical records. Yet the rest did exist. I don’t have any good historical records to prove that all my great-great-grandfathers existed – except here I am, along with the Christian religion (which also descended from some forebearers).

    • kelskye
      Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      “Excellent argument against the mythical divine Jesus; terrible argument against a charismatic preacher of humble origins whose cult happened to snowball after his death.”
      This is why the question is such a tedious one…

      What’s at stake is not a matter of historical truth, but a theological one. A historical Jesus who was a charismatic apocalyptic prophet may have well existed, but it’s hardly of interest other than from a purely historical perspective. Which is fine if you want to understand the origins of Christianity from a historical perspective, but I don’t think that’s what much of the fuss is over.

      Unfortunately, I think there’s a tendency to take Jesus as a whole package. That is, Christians will argue that if there is evidence for a historical Jesus, then that’s evidence for the miracle-performing godman of the texts. Conversely, if one is to deny the miracle-performing godman as historical, then that’s taken as a rejection of there being any historical cult leader at all.

      But from a theological perspective, I don’t think it matters much at all whether the claims were made up whole cloth or the claims are embellishments and mythic fiction woven into a historical cult leader. Either way, what’s being rejected is the claims that the cult leader was an actual miracle-worker including the essential claim of conquering death. What disappoints me about reading Christian rejections of mythicism is that they take full mythicism as a dichotomy with the miracle-performing godman. That is, either Jesus didn’t exist at all, or Jesus is God-incarnate.

      Of course, such a dichotomy is absurd, but that dichotomy plays a large part in how Christians react to mythicism. Then the claim goes like “Of course there was a historical Jesus, all historians agree that there was a historical Jesus. Look at the absurdities atheists have to conjure up to deny the obvious truth of Christianity.” Any sense of historical curiosity is then lost because the question is too theologically-charged to try to get the historical question treated seriously.

      Though that cuts both ways, and I’m sure there are atheists out there who are willing to entertain full-blown mythicism far more than their credentials in understanding history would attest. After all, almost all of us are not historians, and we don’t have privileged access to the tools and documentation of history, thus we cannot think that we are fully rational in our preferences on the matter.

      • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        There’s also a more practical concern. Let’s say I have a delusion, whether sincere or otherwise, that I’m really Superman. I’m undoubtedly real, and (for the sake of argument) I really believe in this delusion. That still doesn’t make Superman, even my own personal Superman real.

        Now, make one more minor twist: I believe I’m Superman, but I also believe that Superman’s real name is, “Ben Goren.” Ben Goren the deluded schmuck obviously exists, but Ben Goren the alien refugee from Krypton doesn’t.

        Even if we could establish that one Joshua bin Joseph really did exist and really was at the center of the origins of the cult — something Paul alone is enough to handily refute, but never mind for the moment — we still couldn’t say that Jesus as he’s known to history is real. In no ancient text is there even the remotest concept of Jesus as the product of a deluded imagination, even indirectly. We only know of the Superman Jesus, who clearly no more exists than my hypothetical delusion.

        Even the most generous of historicist possibilities just isn’t logically coherent.

        b&

        • kelskye
          Posted October 3, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          “we still couldn’t say that Jesus as he’s known to history is real”
          Perhaps not, but at this stage it becomes a question of semantics, and not really relevant to what history can say about the origins of Christianity. Yes, there is the problem that people actually think Christ is a miracle worker, but that seems to support scepticism of the claims rather than outright mythicism.

        • maryhelena
          Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:31 am | Permalink

          @Ben

          //Even if we could establish that one Joshua bin Joseph really did exist and really was at the center of the origins of the cult — something Paul alone is enough to handily refute,..//

          Big mistake here. The Pauline writings, however interpreted, cannot refute the Jesus historicists. In fact it’s this very assumption that is holding back the ahistoricist position.

          The Jesus historicists make a historical claim. Their Jesus figure was a historical figure. To counter that claim one has to produce a historical argument, based on historical evidence. Historical evidence that identifies the social/political canvas that enabled that gospel Jesus story to be created – and has given that gospel Jesus story a veneer of historicity. A veneer of historicity that has allowed the gospel story to ‘walk’. Early readers of that story would have been able to identify the political allegory within that story. With the passing of time, historical memory fades and the gospel political allegory becomes viewed as history. Today, to appreciate, to *see* that political allegory, one has to draw up a map, a chart, in order to see the historical reflections within the gospel story.

          Relying upon an interpretation of the Pauline epistles as though ones interpretation can counter the historicists claim is not only simplistic – it is illogical and futile. The historicists want apples – the Carrier-Doherty mythicists are offering them oranges….;-)

          Yep, it’s no better than firing off blank ammunition….

          • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

            To counter that claim one has to produce a historical argument, based on historical evidence.

            I’ve done so elsewhere and extensively. That Paul’s Jesus was a non-corporeal angel of the heavenly realm is but a small piece of the puzzle. The basic thesis can be simply stated by suggesting that Justin Martyr was exactly right about the origins of Christianity, save he got the direction of copying worng, and that Lucian’s portrait of Peregrinus as a Joe Smith figure is spot-on and superbly supported by the sequencing of novel additions to Jesus’s life (especially Paul’s adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist and Matthew’s adoption of Perseus’s virgin birth narrative).

            b&

            • maryhelena
              Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

              @Ben

              //That Paul’s Jesus was a non-corporeal angel of the heavenly realm is but a small piece of the puzzle.//

              As an interpretation of the Pauline writing, that’s fine. However, it is not a historical argument – however much you seek to dress it up re opinions from ancient writers. History, if the word means anything, deals with facts. All you have supplied is interpretation and opinion.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Again, I’ve supplied such facts. A quick summary: Justin Martyr identifies dozens of Pagan deities who represent “analogies” (his word) with Christ, including Perseus’s virgin birth, Bacchus’s turning of water into wine, Bellerophon’s Ascension, Mercury’s Wordship (in the sense of John 1:1), and many others. Those facts are trivially confirmed by countless other independent sources and beyond dispute; they merely happen to be conveniently gathered by the first of the Christian apologists writing his First Apology about the same time as the Gospels were being written.

                Once you strip out those analogies from Jesus’s story, nothing remains. All elements of his biography consist of instantly-recognizeable popular mythical archetypes. If I told you that Joe was born on the planet Nimrod, which was blown up in an ancient alien battle, and he only barely escaped as an infant to be raised by Wisconsin dairy farmers, you’d know Joe wasn’t a real person but a purely fictional variation on the Superman theme; same, too, with Jesus’s virgin birth in the exact same pattern as Perseus’s.

                That answers the “what,” but leaves unanswered the “how.” For that, Lucian of Samosata provides us part of the answer; Peregrinus was a Joseph Smith figure who preyed on the early Christians who was revered by them as a teacher second only to the Christ and who revealed many of their scriptures to them. We don’t know who Peregrinus really was, but we can plainly see that every example in the New Testament is one of exactly that sort of invention. Paul himself takes the Mithraic Eucharist of his hometown religion of Tarsus and turns it into the Last Supper. Matthew takes Mark’s gospel and adds on Perseus’s virgin birth narrative. Every single one of them adds to the stone soup of Christianity…

                …which is exactly how all other syncretic religions work. Again, see Moronism and Joe Smith, who took the existing framework of Christianity and added in his own flavors from American natives and ancient Egyptians.

                “Joshua” / “Jesus” was already a salvific messiah figure in the Judaism of the day, with all those prophecies in Isaiah that Christians so love to cite being incontrovertible evidence of the fact. That the early Christians would adopt that same figure and add in their own spices is, really, the only conceivable way such a new religion could possibly have arisen.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                @Ben

                //Again, I’ve supplied such facts. //

                No, Ben, you have supplied yet more interpretation and opinions. That is fine if all you want to do is create a speculative theory of early christian origins. It won’t do as argument to counter the claim of the historicists that their Jesus figure was historical.

                What you and I can agree on is that the historicists claim for their Jesus figure cannot be supported via historical evidence. Then we part company. I find the Carrier-Doherty theory of a historicized Pauline celestial christ figure to be as unacceptable as I do the claim of the Jesus historicists. Doherty’s theory has driven the ahistoricist position into a cul-de-sac. It has to reverse out of it in order to move the debate forward.

                The Carrier-Doherty theory puts all its eggs in a Pauline basket – and as I told Doherty over 10 years ago – that is not a wise thing to be doing. The gospel story does not need the Pauline epistles – it stands on it’s own feet and has to be evaluated on it’s own terms not via Pauline interpretations.

                Some mythicist are fond of saying – don’t read the gospels into the Pauline epistles. Well and good – but don’t forget to leave ones Pauline interpretations at the door when venturing on to gospel territory.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                //Again, I’ve supplied such facts. //

                No, Ben, you have supplied yet more interpretation and opinions.

                Fact: Perseus was born of a virgin. Fact: Jesus was born of a virgin. Fact: The first Christian Apology ever written explicitly equated the two. Fact: You can repeat the exact same triplet of facts for dozens of other figures. Fact: After so doing, you’ll have accounted for every substantial element of Jesus’s biography. Fact: The earliest non-Christian account of the origins of Christianity puts a fraudulent Joseph Smith figure at the heart of it all, revered second only to Christ himself.

                Care to dispute any of those facts?

                …no…?

                Then why are you claiming that all I’m offering is interpretation devoid of fact?

                b&

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                @Ben

                //Fact: Perseus was born of a virgin. Fact: Jesus was born of a virgin.//

                These are not facts – they are stories. Yes, the story is a fact, the story exists. The virgin births are stories. You can’t use stories to counter the claim of the Jesus historicists. You have to have a historical argument not a mythological story.

                Stories might help one in deciding that the gospel Jesus is ahistorical. However, stories will not counter the claim of the Jesus historicists. The Jesus historicists claim that behind, underneath, sideways and backwards, of the gospel story stands a historical Jesus. However much you can identify mythological elements as parallels to the gospel story does not counter the historicists claim. There is always the possibility that all this mythological dressing was used to dress a historical man.

                So, Ben, you can stand on a street corner all day long crying out the gospel figure of Jesus is made up of mythological elements – the Jesus historicists will walk on by knowing full well that clothes do not make the man.

                To show, to demonstrate, that there is no historical Jesus underneath all the mythology, one has to identify what in fact was there. One has to lay on the table, as it were, the historical social and political context that allowed, that generated, that motivated the gospel writers to create the Jesus figure. The gospel writers created a symbolic figure that epitomised, that reflected, what they found to be meaningful or relevant in the actuality of their historical situation.

              • Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                To show, to demonstrate, that there is no historical Jesus underneath all the mythology, one has to identify what in fact was there.

                I did. Or, rather, Lucian of Samosata did. And you snipped my reference to it.

                Maybe you’ll claim that Peregrinus was only one part of the origins of the Jesus myth, and that other parts of Jesus were based on honest fact. But it’s now upon you to at least identify which of those facts you know to not be fraudulent, and how you know them to be true.

                b&

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:34 am | Permalink

                @Ben

                You can pile up pagan parallels sky high and they won’t cause a dent on the claim of the Jesus historicists. What ‘pagan’ parallels do is cast doubt on the claim of the historicists. That’s all. Yes, that’s a good thing and will bring many to that place of doubt. But it will not counter the historicists claim.

                I’ve said this to you a few times…;-)

                Historical claims require a historical rebuttal, a historical counter argument. The Carrier-Doherty mythicist theory does not have such an argument. Thus, while there are some good points in that theory, it’s insistence upon a historicized Pauline celestial christ figure overshadows their value. The heart of the debate between the historicists and the ahistoricists is the gospel story – not the Pauline epistles. And as Carrier said in his book, a ‘political fiction……..suits the gospels well’. (page 54).

                http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=15048#p15048

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

                You’re still clearly ignoring what I’m writing, instead substituting your own personal prophetic vision of an idealized mythicist theory.

                So I’ll give it one last try, and then that’s it.

                Lucian of Samosata claimed that Peregrinus was a charismatic confidence artist who first tricked the early church into adopting him as one of their own; then as the most revered figure, second only to Christ himself; and finally to “reveal” unto them the “true” form of Christianity they came to adopt.

                That is, according to Lucian’s explicit description, Christianity originated in the exact same way that both Moronism and Scientology did.

                (And we know that “Peregrinus” did not act alone. Paul, yes, is a perfect fit for that mold, but each of the Gospel authors demonstrably were in on the act as well.)

                As to the origins of the Risen Jesus Christ? Zachariah 6 already has a Risen Jesus Christ that serves the same theological function of the modern demigod of the same appellation, and Philo expanded on that at great length, identifying Zachariah’s Jesus with Philo’s own Logos and thus the rest of what we today know as Christian theology. Joe Smith seemingly had to invent his Moroni from whole cloth, but Paul’s Jesus was already right there in the pantheon in plain sight.

                So, in short: the Christian Risen Jesus Christ is a pre-existent Jewish archangel / demigod already right there in Hebrew scriptures. Philo fleshed out the finer theological details. Paul (and other Peregrinuses) either had or claimed to have visions of this archangel and use the rhetorical power of those visions (which were the highest form of evidence in antiquity) to establish the church.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • maryhelena
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                @Ben

                //You’re still clearly ignoring what I’m writing, instead substituting your own personal prophetic vision of an idealized mythicist theory.

                So I’ll give it one last try, and then that’s it. //

                OK – when things get personal I pull out. It’s ideas that need evaluating not from whence they came…

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      And yet Nazareth existed, despite there being no record of it in Josephus’s writings.

      On what evidence do you base such an emphatic conclusion?

      b&

  55. Posted October 3, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Wow… 298 comments already? This topic brings it out!

    Again, I will happily grant that there are no convincing historical records. The question is whether one would expect any if Jesus was just a minor cult leader with a couple dozen followers.

    There are surely, at this moment, dozens of similarly small cults all over the world. If one of it persists after the death of the founder, slowly gains momentum, and hypothetically managed to be made the state religion of the New Chinese Empire in the year 2360, would we expect contemporary books mentioning the founder to survive to the year 4000? Well no, because there aren’t necessarily any contemporary books mentioning that founder because he is too unimportant.

    Still, of course it might be that Jesus never existed. Call me an agnostic too. It just seems difficult to imagine that an entire religion would completely forget that their most revered figure was meant to be a being of the spirit realm, and why somebody would write the gospels the way they were written unless they were describing a (glorified) real person.

    • Susan
      Posted October 5, 2014 at 2:03 am | Permalink

      Yes, but I would expect there to be a record if early followers desperately collected evidence of their god from the beginning and controlled record keeping for the next millenia. In this environment, the absolute lack of evidence tells me there never was any.

  56. Jeffery
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    It IS a “tedious” question: the “tedium” consists of the fact that it must be laboriously brought out again and again in order to counter the unceasing efforts of the “believers” to attract adherents to their, “IT’SALLTRUEIT’SALLTRUEIT’SALLTRUE” meme. I play, “whack-a-mole” with Creatards a lot in comment forums, and that gets tedious, too (although it can be amusing), but I think of those reading who are still “on the fence” more than I hope to de-program the “brainwashed ones”- the public needs to be reminded, at every opportunity, that there’s a “second opinion” that’s not based on ignorance, superstition, and blind faith.

  57. Posted October 4, 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    In, ” The Golden Bough ” chapter 5 ” The crucifixion of Christ / the scapegoat ” James George Frazer looks at the possibility that there was a real raving rabbi Jesus who got caught up in the Jewish festival of Purim. Oxford university press edition
    p 666 – ” We have seen reason to think that the Jewish festival of Purim is a continuation, under a changed name, of the Babylonian Sacaea, [ p642-652 ]and that in celebrating it by the destruction of an effigy of Haman the modern Jews have kept up a reminiscence of the ancient custom of crucifying or hanging a man in the character of a god at the festival. Is it not possible that at an earlier time they may, like the Babylonians themselves, have regularly compelled a criminal to play the tragic part, and that Christ thus perished in the character of Haman ? The resemblance between the hanged Haman and the crucified Christ struck the early Christians themselves; and whenever the Jews destroyed an effigy of Haman they were accused by their Christian neighbours of deriding the most sacred mystery of the new faith.”
    p670 ” The hypothesis that the crucifixion with all its cruel mockery was not a punishment specially devised for Christ, but was merely the fate that annually befell the malefactor who played Haman, appears to go some way towards relieving the Gospel narrative of certain difficulties which otherwise beset it. If,as we read in the gospels, Pilate was really anxious to save the innocent man whose fine bearing seams to have struck him, what was to hinder him from doing so? He had the power of life and death; why should he not have exercised it on the side of mercy, if his own judgement inclined that way? His reluctant acquiescence in the importunate demand of the rabble becomes easier to understand if we assume that custom obliged him annually at this season to give up to them a prisoner on whom they might play their cruel pranks. On this assumption Pilate had no power to prevent the sacrifice; the most he could do was to choose the victim.
    Again, consider the remarkable statement of the Evangelists that Pilate set up over the cross a superscription stating that the man who hung on it was king of the Jews. Is it likely that in the reign of Tiberius a Roman governor, with the fear of the jealous and suspicious old emperor before his eyes, would have ventured, even in mockery, to blazon forth a seditious claim of this sort unless it were the regular formula employed on such occasions, recognized by custom, and therefore not liable to be misconstrued into treason by the malignity of informers and the fears of a tyrant ? “….
    “The part of Mordecai was played by Barabbas ”
    p 674 ~ “the theme of such dying & rising gods was common over Western Asia and may help to explain the spread of the Christ story.”
    My opinion – what if someone hung a new story on the tradition of Purim. It was any old person who was hung as Haman but gospel authors made the event mean something else, rewriting the O.T. supermen Elijah & Elisha into the new adventures of superman Jesus. Several threads converged in the gospels ? The fiction got confused with reality after a few years. But for Jesus to be a hero he needed to cancel Hades otherwise to only save a select few is to behave like the Nazis.

    • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      On WEIT article,” Rabbi Sacks goes after atheists ” 29th September 2014. At comment 16. Simon Hayward posted the hilarious Youtube video of “Not the Nine O’clock news,Monty Python Worshipers”, kanizu00 channel, which reversed the idea of who was doing a parody – with a film, ” The life of Jesus Christ ” being a parody on the real life of John Cleese (ref to life of Brian }

      So the link is with the life of Jesus Christ being a parody on the Esther, Mordecai, Haman story which itself is a parody on the Babylonian festival of Sacaea or Zakmuk in the spring month of Nisan in March/April held in honour of the god Marduk during which the person playing the part of Zoganes dies. Zoganes during his five days in office personated not merely a king but a god, whether that god was the Babylonian Marduk or some other deity is not yet identified.

      • Posted October 4, 2014 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        Before the cotton cloth canvas was woven there were threads and a structure – loom & gin, before the threads there was cotton on a bush, before the bush there were seeds.
        There were religious customs & structures & temples before the Jesus story got going, there was also a lot of scripture material, plenty of other myths and legends.
        Is the Jesus story a cotton twill textile like Denim or plain woven fabric ?

  58. Marella
    Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    I came to the debate about an historical Jesus fully expecting to find that the whole thing was silly. However, having read extensively on the subject, it became clear that there is no real evidence for an historical Jesus, and on the contrary good evidence that Paul and the other epistle writers were talking about cosmic events happening in a heavenly environment, which had nothing to do with Palestine.

    Ben has done a sterling job defending the mythicist position and I would like to recommend the books of Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, and Richard Carrier for those who wish to understand the issues better.

    • Posted October 4, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Ben has done a sterling job defending the mythicist position

      Thanks! But, in the words of another death-and-resurrection demigod, “I am only an egg.”

      b&

      • Marella
        Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        • Posted October 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          Oh, my — thank you!

          …I’m glad you didn’t think of this:

          b&

  59. Nathan
    Posted October 4, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    Whichever side of the fence you are on in regards to a historical Jesus – I think it comes down to probability, as there won’t be a 100% proof for either position.

    I wonder where the “militant” (j/k) mythicists fall. Are you 100% sure he was made up? 80% sure?

    I’m at 60/40 that he existed. Who the hell would makes up all the details that make Jesus look inferior?

    1) Clearly from Nazareth (not from King David’s lineage so they had to go to elaborate lengths to get Jesus to be “born in Bethlahem”), and I don’t care if Nazareth wasn’t on a map for a million years.

    2) As a yound adult, he was baptized, again showing inferiority, by John the Baptist.

    3) Just like any itinerant preacher, he had a few followers, some women, some men.

    4) Familial ties, he had a handful of brothers, 1 of which went on to lead the Jerusalem Church and have theological fights with Paul. Here are familial ties.

    5) If you read Paul’s letters you’ll notice he despises Jesus’ brothers and the disciples. Here he is sh!t talking Jesus’ right-hand man, Peter:

    Galatians 2:11-14 New Living Translation (NLT)

    Paul Confronts Peter
    11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

    14 When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?

    6) Was executed.

    7) The followers were so fanatical (just like Jesus) that they elevated Jesus to “God” shortly after his death. The idiotic morons who would believe anything in 30-50 CE ate the story up. The Jews knew it was complete bullshit and were impossible to convince so they had to go for Greek-speaking Pagans.

    Is the entire story perfect and hold up to “scientific” standards of proof? No. But, is it slightly more than 50% probable (say 55-60% likely) that Jesus existed? I would say yes.

    • Marella
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I am 99% sure he didn’t exist in any form that would be recognisable to a modern Christian. That is, if you built a time machine and went back to 32AD you wouldn’t be able to find him.

    • Susan
      Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:33 am | Permalink

      I’m about 65% that he didn’t exist. I can’t fit the Jerusalem church into the myth narrative, but otherwise think it’s myth. You have some good points, here’s my reaction

      1. Convoluted stories don’t prove reality. The same thing would happen if you tried to merge Robin Hood with another myth and thus needed explain how RH of Sherwood Forest was born in someplace else.

      2. Jesus was only baptized by John 3/4 of the time. He was to god like in the book of John for such things.

      3. He had twelve followers, conveniently astrological including a twin. These people are barely remembered when you would think their remembrances would have been cherished. Jesus appeared “to the twelve” yon his resurrection

      • Susan
        Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        Continued – hit post accidentally

        … jesus appeared to the twelve upon his resurrection. But judas was dead and his replacement wasn’t voted on until later. This doesn’t sound like actual people but a poorly thought out astrological meme.

        4 and 5 – This is where I think there is something that needs explaining. Regardless of whether these people were related to jesus, if Paul created the myth from scratch in Asia Minor why are there believers in Jerusalem who don’t even like Paul? Where did they come from?

        6 and 7 – fanatical followers prove nothing. Hundreds of people commited suicide for Jim Jones. People get taken in by cults all the time.

        So to answer your question, I lean strongly toward myth but not completely.

        • Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

          if Paul created the myth from scratch in Asia Minor

          But he didn’t!

          First, the archetypes for this myth were legion. Far more popular than an unremarkable boy growing up on an impoverished farm, befalling calamity and being adopted by a wizard who teaches him great power, and who then goes on to lead a successful rebellion against Darth Vader’s Empire.

          And, specifically, Zachariah 6 even gives us the name — the Risen Jesus Christ — as well as the principal theological functions, and Philo added all the specific finer points of the Logos which entails the rest of Christian theology. That’s what there was before both Paul and the Jerusalem Church and what they devoted their lives and their “new” religion to. The rest of the Pagan syncretism — the virgin birth, the water into wine, the zombie intestinal fondling, the rest — all that unquestionably came after that crowd and through the normal “big fish that got away” syncretic storytelling.

          Cheers,

          b&

  60. Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What strikes me about the typical historicist argument is that it demands that we rely on the mere possibility of a character – some slippery Jesus no one can agree upon and for which there is zero evidence.

    Because the Jesus historicist MUST discard every single thing written in the gospels that has to do with an utterly un-ordinary man.

    Even the stuff that seems plausibly attributable to an actual rabble-rouser is too grandiose to have escaped the commentary of the time.

    We know a lot about minor characters of the time, and, for example, some dude who overturned things at the Temple and had a following of any size would have been mentioned.

    So, the historicist insists that:

    *we throw out all notions of this fellow being actually being Divine even though the Bible says so

    *we throw out all notions of this fellow performing actual miracles even though the Bible says so

    * we throw out all notions of this fellow actually being resurrected even though the Bible says so

    * we throw out all notions of this fellow having a large following or wide-spread popularity, even though the Bible says so

    * We throw out all notions of this fellow doing almost anything really unusual at all, because we DO have records of street preachers and rabble-rousers and apocalyptic prophets galore from that place and time.

    * we throw out all notions that the remaining man would never have been even considered to be the basis for a Messiah by the Jews of that time

    * We throw out all notions that the message of this fellow was simply rehashed stuff already familiar to everyone on the region.

    No, the historicist insists that an ordinary guy, with a small undiscernible following, who went around saying stuff that wasn’t particularly new would have an influence – somehow! – that would make Jews forsake their religion.

    And he insists that this makes sense despite not a shred of independent evidence, and in the presence of known forgeries attempting to bolster their rather preposterous narrative.

    And he insists that this makes sense despite the fact that the only evidence he has is the Gospels and the Pauline letters, which are self-contradictory and problematical for his narrative, but which make very good sense when seen from the mythicist perspective.

    And he insists that while the other 10,0000 gods which preceded were, of course, best understood as being mythical… but this one, ah, this one was based on a real guy.

    • bobkillian
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      To accept the historicist position, one probably has to see Paul as honest.

      But Paul, feuding with the Jerusalem cohort, must recruit among the Gentiles for his Hellenic vision (or con, or snake oil), so throws away requirements that would meet sales resistance, like circumcision and dietary restrictions. He seems more like L. Ron Hubbard or Joseph Smith.

    • Posted October 4, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Oh, and I forgot one!

      The historicist insists that the real Jesus started a movement of such innovation and persuasiveness that it superseded a thousand years of Jewish tradition and theology. Yet the Gospels are not new – they, and Paul’s testimony, are based on long-standing Jewish scripture – they just happen to be the fulfillment of ancient Jewish Messiah prophecy.

      Now, why would a breakaway cult supposedly based on the preserved oral tradition of a charismatic, wise, revered leader use such a narrative?

      Answer – it wouldn’t. But it is perfect for mythicism.

    • Dewo Vasid
      Posted October 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think we have to throw out him being a rabble rouser, or gaining a following. Obviously, I think we can assume he wasn’t performing actual miracles. I think the assumption that people were in the habit of blogging the daily happenings in antiquity are a bit unrealistic. Most couldn’t even read, let alone write. So, the things that were remembered were passed on through oral traditions, which is what we would expect at that time and what seems to have happened. As is also expected, oral traditions then tend to get exaggerated. But that doesn’t mean the original oral traditions were completely based on total fantasy.

      Also, what are the other sources of the other preachers galore? Why are those sources trustworthy but the ones that ended up in the bible less so? It is as if all texts that ended up in the bible are automatically disqualified, but anything not in the bible is given extra weight and are viewed with less scrutiny. Like the other non-canonical texts are immune to the same issues that affect the texts that ended up in the bible. History is messy, ancients texts are rife with problems. You can either dismiss them all and say we cannot know anything about the history of that time, or we can accept the limitations and do our best to separate fact from fiction.

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted October 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        But there is very little evidence of this “oral” traditions. Why nobody before “Mark” thought of writing any of these traditions down? Why none of these traditions made it to any of the early Christian epistles? Why they appear all of the sudden about 40 years of his supposed death in the Gospel of Mark? And how come all these oral traditions have this rich literary structure and their sources can be traced either in the OT or in greek literature?

      • Nikos Apostolakis
        Posted October 5, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        History is messy, ancients texts are rife with problems. You can either dismiss them all and say we cannot know anything about the history of that time, or we can accept the limitations and do our best to separate fact from fiction.

        This is not what historians do, this is more like what apologists do. Actually pretty much Origen uses your argument in “Contra Celsum”, see this comment of mine in an older post.

        A more sound method would be to first determine if there is any fact in the works you examine before you try to separate it from fiction. I don’t think that any historian would consider it valid to look at the comics of Superman, say, and try to separate facts from fiction.

        And there you go again, claiming that if we discard the evidence for Jesus we would have to discard all evidence about ancient history. This is patently false. To take an example (this is from “Son of Yahweh, the Gospels as Novels” by C. W. Owens) consider the evidence we have for Jesus and the evidence we have for Thales. For Jesus we have some anonymous Gospels full of supernatural tales, with clear evidence of literary constructions, and as clear theological agendas. For Thales we have works by people like Aristotle and Diogenes Laertius, a philosopher/proto-scientist and a historian respectively. Their works refer to their sources and they are not full of obviously made up supernatural events.

        Do you care to explain how discarding the evidence for Jesus would compel us to discard the evidence for Thales?

        • Dewo Vasid
          Posted October 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          I’m sure if Christianity was dependent on the existence of Thales, there would be some that would find a way to argue that Thales did not exist.

          • Nikos Apostolakis
            Posted October 5, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

            If that was the case we would be able to point to the evidence and expect that most reasonable and objective people would accept it. In the case of Jesus this can’t be done because, well, there is not that much evidence really.

            • Dewo Vasid
              Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              We have evidence, as much as can be expected from rural Galilee at that time. You just dismiss it because it is not up to unrealistic standards that is not typical for that time and place. If that evidence is not enough for you, fine. But it is enough for the majority of scholars and enough for me at this point in time.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                Can you spell out the evidence?

                Also, whether evidence is good enough to support a given proposition does not depend on time and place, at least in straightforward case like somebody’s existence. Either we have evidence or something or not. Expected lack of evidence is not evidence. We don’t expect to have evidence for magenta Invisible Pink Unicorns, etc.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                I’m not going to spell out the evidence. I am not an expert by any means and I bring nothing new to the table. My evidences is the same as what has already been rehashed over and over. I have read Ehrman’s books, as well as several critiques of his books, including Carrier’s. I found Ehrman convincing, and the others, not quite as much. If you agree with Carrier and Ben that Ehrman is a hack, then is your business, but I do not.

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

                I found Ehrman convincing

                Really?

                Including that whole schtick at the heart of it where he invented an entire faery cake of the Gospel narrative out of naught but two or three words seemingly awkwardly translated from an Aramaic aphorism?

                …if such are your standards of evidence….

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

                Yes, really.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                In addition, we are not trying to prove a case in a court of law where someone’s life is on the line and we just cannot settle for inadequate evidence. The evidence, as it is, is not going to convince Christians not to be Christians. Your arguments are just not that bullet-proof or convincing. Therefore, my position is to accept there could have been an actual Jesus, but that the miracles and the legends associated with him, and the theology that grew from it, are not true. I think it is possible Jesus existed, I’m not certain of it, and could still be convinced otherwise if some new arguments are made that I find convincing. The standards of evidence I will accept are up to me. if that doesn’t suit you, I don’t really care.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                So, out of curiosity, after you’ve stripped out the miracles, what, exactly, do you think you’re left with?

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

                A apocalyptic Jew who preached, had followers, was crucified, and later had legends attached to him.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

                First, if the evidence is insufficient to warrant certainty, then uncertainty is called for, not the confidence you and these so-caled “scholars” express. And the evidence in this case is a textbook example of insufficiency at best.

                And, as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We certainly know of Jesus as a bog-standard Pagan death / resurrection / salvation demigod. Indeed, that’s all that the Gospels describe, and in classical idealized form. We are confident that none of the other Pagan death / resurrection / salvation demigods were based on real figures, and so it would be a most unusual claim to suggest that, in this one example, the rule should be broken. A claim so extraordinary would require equally extraordinary evidence to take seriously…

                …and, yet, by your own admission, we’ve got bupkis.

                It’s also worth noting that there are absolutely superlative examples of well-evidenced historical figures, including one from just a generation earlier: Gaius Julius Caesar. For starters, we’ve got his own autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul, and archaeological digs at the sites he describes perfectly confirm the details he records — location, company size, dating, artifacts, the works. He really is the best-referrenced figure in antiquity, with scads of contemporary and near-contemporary references, including even both sides of conversations he had with others and that others had about him. And then there’re all the public works projects and statuary and even coins so numerous they’re affordable for middle-class private collections…and even then I’m still just barely scratching the surface.

                You might object that the first Caesar was a bigger figure than Jesus…but that actually gets to another head of the beast. According to the Gospels, Jesus was bigger; Caesar was a mere general-cum-politician, but Jesus was an actual demigod come to Earth with all the expected fanfare and hoopla. So, either the evidence we have demands that Jesus should have been even better preserved elsewhere in history than Caesar, or the evidence we have is so far out to lunch you’d have to be insane to even consider it evidence in the first place — just as you’d have to be insane to consider a pile of comic books evidence for an historical Superman.

                Now, if you could actually adduce some evidence that the particular Superman in question was in reality an Haile Selassie figure, we could perhaps begin to have an intelligent discussion on the matter…yet even that is impossible, for the earliest mentions of the Christian Jesus are of a figure identical, down to the name and celestial role, of a Jewish archangel known for at least half a millennium before the rise of Christianity. Extracting a flesh-and-blood figure from such a matrix is, frankly, ludicrous.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

                I have repeated many times that I’m an not certain, you are the one that seems to be projecting that there can be no doubts that he didn’t exist and to believe otherwise is to be willfully ignorant.

                Again, I’m not making extraordinary claims. I’m making the rather mundane claim that a Jewish teacher lived, gathered followers, and died. Later, legends were attached to him.

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

                But that is an extraordinary claim.

                You would think me mad were I to claim that Bastet was an Egyptian teacher who lived, gathered followers, died, and then had legends attached to her.

                You would think me nuts to claim that Zeus was a Greek teacher who lived, gathered followers, died, and then had legends attached to him.

                You would think me irremediably gullible to claim that Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec teacher who lived, gathered followers, died, and then had legends attached to him.

                …yet you think it’s mundane to claim that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who lived, gathered followers, died, and then had legends attached to him?

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

                I wouldn’t actually find it that incredible to say those legends were in fact started based on actually living persons. Similarly, the legend of Santa Claus was based on saint Nicholas, who was a historical person. Or maybe you are not convinced of that either? However, if your other scenarios had the same evidence as the historical Jesus, I would believe then too.

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                And what, exactly, is there of the ancient Bishop of Smyrna in Santa Claus — even including the name?

                There’s far more of the Teutonic daemon Nicholas, and even the Christian Satan, in Santa Claus than any human bishop. And there isn’t even a linear progression that goes unambiguously backwards from today’s Santa to your bishop; much bigger tributaries go elsewhere. That’s really what you’ve done with your Santa example; you’ve found that there’s some dude in Billings who left his hose running, and you followed the runoff through the sewer and Yellowstone and the Dakotas to the Mighty Mo and eventually into the Mississippi…and you’re declaring that spigot as “the” headwaters of the river.

                And the difference with Jesus, of course, is that you can’t even find the spigot you’re claiming in the city’s municipal billing system….

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                Oh yes, of course. No unambiguous linear progression. The point was that in your examples and in mine, I don’t find the claims to be extraordinary. Stories based on real people are turned into legend.You act as if this has never occurred, or never could occur unless you have 25 independent attestations, all of which are inerrant and unassailable, and of course, not in anyway connected to Christianity.

                This reminds me of the OJ trial. If the glove don’t fit!

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                Even were I to grant, for the sake of argument, your conception of an human Jesus somewhere in the mix of this, the Emperor Vespasian would have a better claim to the title, for there’s more of him explicitly contributing to the Jesus of the gospels than your phantasm. Vespasian cured a blind man by spitting in his eyes, and so did the Gospel Jesus…but your random schmuck isn’t anywhere to be found in the Gospels.

                If you want to suggest that Vespasian was the “real” Jesus, go right ahead. You’d be on firmer ground than you are right now….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                If you can point me to the article/book making that case, I’d be happy to consider it.

                As I’ve said, I have seen his arguments before, but I haven’t read Carrier’s book on this topic. I still plan to do so, and once I do, I’ll let you know if I have shifted my position. For now, I think I’ve said all that I wanted to say on the issue.

                I appreciate your perspective and the time you have spent responding to me.

              • Posted October 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                Mark 8:

                22 And [Jesus] cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.

                23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.

                24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.

                25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.

                Tacitus, Histories IV:81:

                In the months during which Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the periodical return of the summer gales and settled weather at sea, many wonders occurred which seemed to point him out as the object of the favour of heaven and of the partiality of the Gods. One of the common people of Alexandria, well-known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor’s knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. This he did by the advice of the God Serapis, whom this nation, devoted as it is to many superstitions, worships more than any other divinity. He begged Vespasian that he would deign to moisten his cheeks and eye-balls with his spittle. Another with a diseased hand, at the counsel of the same God, prayed that the limb might feel the print of a Cæsar’s foot. At first Vespasian ridiculed and repulsed them. They persisted; and he, though on the one hand he feared the scandal of a fruitless attempt, yet, on the other, was induced by the entreaties of the men and by the language of his flatterers to hope for success. At last he ordered that the opinion of physicians should be taken, as to whether such blindness and infirmity were within the reach of human skill. They discussed the matter from different points of view. “In the one case,” they said, “the faculty of sight was not wholly destroyed, and might return, if the obstacles were removed; in the other case, the limb, which had fallen into a diseased condition might be restored, if a healing influence were applied; such, perhaps, might be the pleasure of the Gods, and the Emperor might be chosen to be the minister of the divine will; at any rate, all the glory of a successful remedy would be Cæsar’s, while the ridicule of failure would fall on the sufferers.” And so Vespasian, supposing that all things were possible to his good fortune, and that nothing was any longer past belief, with a joyful countenance, amid the intense expectation of the multitude of bystanders, accomplished what was required. The hand was instantly restored to its use, and the light of day again shone upon the blind. Persons actually present attest both facts, even now when nothing is to be gained by falsehood.

                Also see John 5.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                You would think I was bat shit crazy to claim that Santa Claus was based on a Christian bishop that gave gifts to children, died, and then had legends attached to him. Oh wait…

                I guess I have to accept that Santa Claus really has flying reindeer, or that saint Nicholas never existed. There are no other possibilities in between.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

                @Dewo Vasid

                I don’t believe Ehrman is a hack, and I don’t think Carrier believes that either. I read the “Did Jesus Exist” book by Ehrman and found it rather unconvincing, it actually made me lean more toward mythicism, I mean if this is what evidence is there and these are the logical sklls historicists tuse to analyze it, there is really not good arguments for historicity.

                Of course just because Ehrman wrote a bad book that does not make him a hack. Please refrain for putting words in my mouth.

              • Posted October 5, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

                In fairness, DJE? is the only book of Ehrman’s I’ve read, so I think I might be forgiven for having an especially low opinion of him….

                b&

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

                I did not put words in your mouth, I said “if” you thought that, so be it. I found it persuasive, you didn’t.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 6:19 am | Permalink

                @ Dewo Vasid

                You may not have exactly put words on my mouth, but you certainly put words in Carrier’s mouth. You said if I believed, like Carrier does. that Ehrman is hack. You also implied that since I don’t accept the evidence presented by Ehrman I must consider him a hack. The subtext (as they say in the lit biz) is clear.

                You are ofcourse free to have you own “standards of evidence” but if they are different that the accepted standards of rational inquiry, you should have said that up front instead of waisting everybody’s time.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 6, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                I put words in carrier’s mouth because I believe he has said as much, at least in regards to “does Jesus exist.” Again I said “if.” You asked for evidence, my response is that I don’t have any new evidence, but mine is basically a parroting of ehrman’s evidence. IF you think he is a hack, then I have no further evidence. If you DON’T think he is a hack, then the evidence is the evidence he has laid out in his book, and that I personally found persuasive.

                I’ve just provided my opinion on the topic and have tried to express my logic for my position. Other than that I have been just responding to the criticism and responses. I’m sorry if expressing myself is wasting everyone’s time.

                As for the “accepted standards,” it isn’t as though I’m expressing a rogue opinion on the matter. My standards for evidence seems to meet the standards of the majority of scholars on the subject. You seem to have higher standards the the majority of scholars, but that is your prerogative.

                If I am wrong about carrier, I apologize. I will try to find the quotes to back it up.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted October 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          As for the “accepted standards,” it isn’t as though I’m expressing a rogue opinion on the matter. My standards for evidence seems to meet the standards of the majority of scholars on the subject. You seem to have higher standards the the majority of scholars, but that is your prerogative.

          That’s exactly why people outside the field that bother to examine the evidence don’t take the results of the scholars in that particular field, on this particular subject, seriously. These standards are not mine, they are the standard of scientific, rational really, inquiry. Any field that profess to talk about what really happens or what really happened, has to adhere by these standards if it wants to be taken seriously by rational people.

          Astrology, homeopathy, creationism, etc are also fields that their practitioners adhere to lower standards than what rational inquiry requires. And people don’t take their consensus seriously either.

  61. Robert Petry
    Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I’m curious. Paul is used to argue against the reality of “Jesus,” right? So, what value is there in using Paul, as a real historical figure, to claim the Messiah was not real. Where is Paul fully described in any of the 126 sources? Or, any sources contemporary with Paul? If Paul is real, then “Jesus” is real. Right?

    Secondly, within the Bible itself is very clear information on why the Messiah was not to be written about by Jewish authorities, Josephus, etc. Nor was He even to be spoken about. Thus, it would have been very difficult for those outside of Jerusalem to find substantial records to use in writing about the “Jesus” of the Jews at that time. I’m surprised that no one seems to know about this. And, if this is true, i.e. what the Bible itself says about it, then any ancient written source describing the Messiah would then prove He did not exist. But, it is just the opposite. The only source for His existence is the New Testament, which was written by men who disobeyed the edict of the day and wrote about a man the Jews were forbidden to write about. And, the disciples were specifically and personally given that order. Thankfully they disobeyed the order.

    Also, the Bible and external sources are clear that what the Messiah said, was written down as He said them. It was rrequired by the law to do so then. Those scribal notes were then required to be archived in the Temple. Thus, having access to that material the disciples, and Paul, etc. could read the whole story. From those contemporary notes Mark, Mt. etc., preserved by the disciples, were compiled later into the books we have today, The notes were available in the Temple. So, from day one, so to speak, there was a written recoord of the events and sayings. Sadly, in 70 A.D. the Temple was burned and destroyed. And, evidently, all the archives were also destroyed. Thus, no one will ever find the original writings.

    • Lowen Gartner
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      >If Paul is real, then “Jesus” is real. Right?

      Would the also be true then, if Paul is not real ehtn Jesus is not real?

      • Robert Petry
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        I’m speaking of the use of the critic to use Paul against Jesus, but never using the same claim. That is, there is lack of history outside of the NT of Paul. That is hypocrisy, and or, deception.

        • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          The Paul of Acts is a fantasy. The various Pauls of the inauthentic Epistles even more so.

          But so, too, are the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John whose names head up their respective Gospels.

          We still need titles to refer to these works, and names to use to refer to their authors. Though we know for a fact that the Gospels are anonymous works not authored by those whose names have become associated with them, it’s still most convenient to use the traditional names.

          So, too, with the Pauline epistles. We know the fictional character confusingly named, “Paul,” that appears in Acts had nothing whatsoever to do with their authorship, but we can also be reasonably confident that the same individual wrote a baker’s half-dozen of them. And so, whatever his actual name and whoever he actually was, we call him, “Paul.”

          He might even have been a fraud — and, indeed, I personally suspect him to be Lucian’s Peregrinus. Makes no difference. The man who penned the letters might not have believed a word he wrote. In that case, he was taking on a fictional persona, and, again in that case, it would be that fictional persona who “wrote” the letters whom we name, “Paul.”

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Lowen Gartner
            Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            > I personally suspect him to be Lucian’s Peregrinus

            Do tell…

            • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

              Well, for starters, there’s all of Peregrinus’s aliases starting with the letter, “P.” Not much to go on, but it’s what I think initially triggered my speculation.

              Lucian says that Peregrinus was an outsider who conned the Christians into welcoming amongst their ranks, after which he became second only to Christ himself. Whether Paul was sincere or a fraud, the rest is a perfect summary of his career. Lucain also describes Paul as “revealing” Pagan “mysteries” to the Christians that they adopted as their own, and we have a textbook case of that in Paul with the Eucharist. I seem to remember there being more, but I’d have to go back and dig it up.

              Even if not Paul, Christianity is littered with Peregrinus figures. We know that Matthew “revealed” the Virgin Birth, and so on. Whether Paul was the actual figure Lucian was writing about, or even if Lucian’s work is purest fiction — it’s immaterial. It establishes that it wasn’t at all unusual to propose that a Joseph Smith figure was at the heart of new cults even then as still today.

              b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

                Does the timing of his life work? I thought Paul’s letters (legitimate ones) were reliably dated to the second half of the first century.

                >It establishes that it wasn’t at all unusual to propose that a Joseph Smith figure was at the heart of new cults even then as still today.

                Excellent point.

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

                I think it’s reasonable to suggest that Paul was writing before the Roman conquest of 70 CE, but I could be convinced otherwise. Peregrinus’s self-immolation is dated to the Olympic Games of 165 CE, so there’s obviously a mismatch there. It doesn’t rule out, however, Lucian, for example, crediting Peregrinus with Paul’s own exploits.

                Again, that the two are the same is my hunch, and not something I’ve ever pretended I can reliably demonstrate. At the very least, it seems unquestionable that they were cut from the same cloth.

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

                Cool. This is an interesting angle. BTW, when are Paul’s letters first mentioned in reliably dated writing?

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                I honestly don’t know…I’d have to go searching for that, but I’m almost certain not until the second century.

                You make me think of something else. Clement is generally dated to the turn of the century, but Richard Carrier thinks he’s a likely contemporary with Paul and so suggests a dating of Clement to the 60s instead. But if we flip that around and keep the late date for Clement and move Paul up to be his contemporary…that puts Paul as a brash young twenty-something causing an uproar at the turn of the century and a doddering old fool at the time of the 165 Olympics….

                b&

          • Robert Petry
            Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

            Ben Goren, I’ve read all the arguments you list. After 61 years of research on the subject, I find that most of this is speculation and not real fact.

            As to the speculation that all is myth and fairy tales, and the authors did not exist or write the books labeled after them is simplly speculation and assumption.

            It also fails to reflect what is actually in the Greek text. That is how the material is titled. Be that as it may, I think the question was, Why no secular records about the Messiah by contemporary authors. That is easily answered.

            The problem is, critics today can’t believe that people of that day actually did what the Bible commanded. Therefore, they cannot understand a simple matter like “blot out the person that is a false prophet [under their belief about the Messiah] from the records of Israel.” What is so difficult about that. The command is there, and in the eyes of the priests in those days they were to obey it, and they did. Even Josephus who was a former priest.

            The Messiah was labeled a blasphemer, so He was under the curse of death and of His name being blotted out. When that occured in those days, that person was made to pay the penalty. And, so He did.

            One cannot deny this is what Scripture says. But, one can deny the Scriptures most often without proof, and or ignore them as critics do today.

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

              The problem is, critics today can’t believe that people of that day actually did what the Bible commanded. Therefore, they cannot understand a simple matter like “blot out the person that is a false prophet [under their belief about the Messiah] from the records of Israel.” What is so difficult about that.

              Really?

              Sure, the Jews who considered Jesus a false prophet may well have tried to have done that.

              But, for the Christians, Jesus wasn’t a false prophet, and they would have fought such an attack heart and soul, and they would have documented the attack itself.

              And it was the Christians who demonstrably won all such doctrinal battles.

              Or are you claiming that the Sanhedrin had some sort of magic eraser wand that could “blot out” not only documents not under their control but the memories of those who wrote and read them?

              b&

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted October 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Secondly, within the Bible itself is very clear information on why the Messiah was not to be written about by Jewish authorities, Josephus, etc. Nor was He even to be spoken about.

      If it’s in the Bible that settles it I guess. Silly of us not to have thought of it before.

      • Marella
        Posted October 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        Also why does he spend the whole book of John wandering around saying things like “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but through Me.” if he’s not to be spoken of?

        The Bible never explains the Markian Messianic secret and the other three gospels do not follow it.

      • Robert Petry
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        If one cannot understand why something is done, from a Biblical point of view, then one cannot state an assumption as fact. There is clear command in the Bible to ignore the Messiah, not write or speak abo9ut or mention Him. The Jews obeyed that.

        The disciples did not, and are the only ones who wrote of Him. And, the NT letters, etc. were not sent to the pagan world, they were personally sent to the believers.

        Why ignore directions by a book that was believed by the people in the first ccentury, whether one today does or not. It is what they did, not what we believe in order to make a false case in order to deny the person [the Messiah] existed. There is llegitimate reason from the Old and New Testament that explains clearly what the critic doesn’t fathom.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted October 7, 2014 at 4:39 am | Permalink

          If one cannot understand why something is done, from a Biblical point of view, then one cannot state an assumption as fact. There is clear command in the Bible to ignore the Messiah, not write or speak abo9ut or mention Him. The Jews obeyed that.

          So the Jews that did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah obeyed his command to not talk about him nevertheless. Or was this a command in the Bible about the Messiah in general? If so where is that command?

          The disciples did not, and are the only ones who wrote of Him. And, the NT letters, etc. were not sent to the pagan world, they were personally sent to the believers.

          Even assuming that there were “disciples” none of the books of NT were written by them. Paul’s letters were written to his congregations which included gentiles. And the apostlesclaimed that they were sent (that’s what “apostolos” mean) by Jesus specifically to spread the good news. How could they spread the news if they were not allowed to speak of the Messhiah?

          Also, regarding evidence about the existence of Paul vs the exsitence of Jesus. In the NT there are letters written by Paul. That’s much more evidence than we have for Jesus.

          Why ignore directions by a book that was believed by the people in the first ccentury, whether one today does or not. It is what they did, not what we believe in order to make a false case in order to deny the person [the Messiah] existed. There is llegitimate reason from the Old and New Testament that explains clearly what the critic doesn’t fathom.

          In such a diverse and inhomogeneous piece of mythology, like the Bible, it’s natural that by cherry picking you can find evidence in support of pretty much any theological claim you wish to make. I understand that that’s the modus operandi of theology and apologetics, but that’s not how historical inquiry, or any other rational inquiry works. This thread is about history.

          • Robert Petry
            Posted October 7, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

            I’m glad you asked.
            First, when I said the writings were sent to the “disciples” I meant just that. Those were people who accepted the teaching. The writings were not written for nor to the secular pagan world. A disciple was not limited to the Jewish people.

            You write none of the books of the NT were written by them. Well, all the apostles were disciples, Paul was a disciple, the church members were disciples, etc. Caesar was not, Titus was not, Josephus was not, Pliny was not. All the books of the NT were written by disciples to other disciples.

            The command in the Bible to “blot out his name” applied to all persons who were deemed false teachers trying to lead Israel from her Elohim. Use a concordancee and look for “blot out” The command is in the first five books of the OT.

            The story of the Sanhedrin forbidding the followers of the Messiah to speak in His name is in the book of Acts.

            The evidence you quote for Paul is quite reveaing. A book claimed to be myth is only OK when using Paul against Yahshua??? That does not equate.

            As to “cherry picking?” First that is a cop-out excuse. Secondly, when verses and chapters speak to the subject being discussed is not cherry picking. The fact is, what I wrote is the exact teaching of the OT & NT and cannot be disproved. It can be ignored and/or overlooked by those who cherry pick what they don’t want to see.

            • Lowen Gartner
              Posted October 7, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              Robert, do you believe that the gospels relatively accurately describe aspects of the life of an historical Jesus including the supernatural stuff?

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

                In our day believing in “supernatural stuff” can mean anything.

                As to “believing” the evangels are accurate? If you mean after researching the whole Bible over a period of 61 years do I find them a problem? So far, I have found no attack against them reputable.

                Most claims against them, are what the critic doesn’t like, doesn’t understand, and sadly can’t understand.

                This may or may not satisfy your question, but I do not accept things on “belief” or “faith” only.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

                Even in your attempt to dodge my question you answered it to my satisfaction. I learned what I needed to. Thank you.

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

                As to “believing” the evangels are accurate? If you mean after researching the whole Bible over a period of 61 years do I find them a problem? So far, I have found no attack against them reputable.

                Do you therefore believe that, for example, John 20:24-29 is an accurate depiction of events that actually transpired? Or Matthew 27:52-53?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                Why the diversion from the main question? That is, why no secular records of the Messiah from His time?

                To jump to a question about my personal undeerstanding of certain verses does not apply to that question.

                The point is, there is a perfectly legitimate answer to the question and from the Bible itself. And, because it is from the Bible does not negate it. What is does show is that atheists, Christians, and critics do not know or understand the Book.

                By the way, what does my beieving or not those particular verses have to do with anything? Are you looking for an “attack” opening?

                Can you prove beyond any doubt that they are true, or not true?

                I prefer sticking with one topic at a time until it is understood. Other topics thrown in is a way to ignore the fact that was not known or understood before.

                Again, the question and topic of this post was/is “historical Jesus?”

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

                The questions are inseparable. In order to ascertain if Jesus existed or not, we must also explain what we mean by, “Jesus.”

                Most charitably, that question is generally applied to a figure not unlike Haile Selassie: a real man upon whom others — against his repeated pleas in his case — affixed all sorts of obvious fictions.

                But you seem to be arguing instead for a different figure as having been real: the Jesus of the Gospels. And that’s an entirely different question.

                So, again: John 20:24-29 and Matthew 27:52-53: honest and reliable accounts of real events, or religious fantasies invented for whatever theological or sociopolitical purpose?

                If you wish, you may add to that the rest of the Gospels to that question, from Virgin Birth to the Ascension, but I think those two passages serve as a convenient proxy for this particular discussion.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                @ Robert Petry 4.11 p.m.

                “That is, why no secular records of the Messiah from His time?”

                So presumably you have looked beyond the Pentateuch for an explanation? (Btw. the Elohim of those books is of a different religion and theology – monolatrous, believing in your own god but not denying the existence of other gods – to that of monotheistic late Middle Judaism and early Christianity).

                So you know the size of the roughly contemporary Greco-Roman library? The interests and topics they describe? The amount of times that they mention the Jews? And why should they mention a Galilean? Who did not even live under Roman jurisdiction?

                It’s curious that after the coming of the Messiah, those who still deny him should not be blotted out forever. Like Josephus. Like all religious Jews. For that is the corollary of your theology. And I certainly hope you do not hold that point of view.

                x

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted October 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

              It’s clear we talking across each other at this point, and about different things. I’m not intersted in apologetics and you don’t seem to be interested in secular rational methods. So how about we call it a day?

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                Sounds good to me.

    • Susan
      Posted October 5, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      If J. K. Rowling is real, then Harry Potter must be real.

      • Robert Petry
        Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see how this applies to what was presented. We’re talking about Biblical commands not to write about a real person. It has nothing to do with a real person writing a modern fiction book.

  62. Elizabeth Oakley
    Posted October 5, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    The lack of independent historical evidence for Jesus is compelling in its silence, for according to the Gospels multitudes followed Jesus and must have witnessed his miracles. But where are the written accounts of witnesses? Destroyed? Never existed? I think the 3 Gospels after Mark are in part accretions. That is one builds on the other to try to reinforce the stories. Fine, but where are the accounts by local historians, or by ordinary people who were healed? One could imagine great biographies along the lines of “Jesus healed me and changed my life…”, but do accounts such as this ever see the light of day? One suspects their absence is not just due to the fact that people may have been barely literate. The lack of true historical evidence is a big problem for Christianity.

    • Robert Petry
      Posted October 6, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      There is clear evidence of what was required in the first century reference the subject of this post.

      1st. It was required by law then that a person claimed to be a prophet, which they believed the Messiah was, was to have his teachings recorded as they were given. A scribe was required to write this information as it was being given, and then filed in the Temple archives. There was not only a scribe that recorded what the Messiah taught, as He spoke it, but so did the disciples and those who became the Apostles.

      The records recorded and filed in the Temple archives were destroyed when Titus burned and destroyed the Temple in 70A.D.

      Thus, there will never be any surviving original writings. Anyone who will read what is preserved in the Jewish writings of today can find this information.

      2. When the Sanhedrin proclaimed the Messiah a false teacher, the Law required that His name be “blotted out” of the Temple citizenship records. And, he was to be forgotten and not spoken of or written about.

      3. In acccordance with this, in Acts the Sanhedring commanded the disciples to stop using that “name” and stop teaching about him. That command also applied to all Jews of the day. That command was obeyed by all exept the disciples.

      Of course, no one who is a critic wants answers to their complaints and criticisms. But, the reasons are clear why the Messiah was not written about. Even those few claimed pagan writings about “Chrestus” etc. never give any full information about the Messiah. They had none.

      Anyone who will research this has to admit, whether they believe it or not, that the Bible is very clear abut these things, and the writings of the Jews outside the Scriptures themselves.

      And, there are books written by the Jews today who explain this.

      • Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Your complaint that the Sanhedrin would have ordered the eradication of all mentions of false prophets is addressed by Richard Carrier in the chapters I read last night.

        First, that admonition only would have applied to the non-Christian Jews, who then would have been working in opposition to the Christians. We would have expected Christians to have considered Jesus a true Messiah, and thus to have worked to preserve all mention of him. Which they dutifully did, as evidenced by the New Testament and other surviving Christian texts — and, indeed, their seemingly innumerable attempts to fabricate exactly the evidence you claim they destroyed.

        Further, we know that there were far more documents extant for many centuries than that survive to this day, for they are quoted and cited and parenthetically mentioned in the documents that do survive. And the picture that we can draw from those references is striking: Christians themselves as early as the second century were desperately searching for sound historical citations of Jesus and found none.

        And, even more striking: the Christian accounts of the life and times of Jesus begin with Paul, whose Jesus was an otherworldly divine archangel devoid of terrestrial biography. The closest we get from Paul is his adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist that he turned into the Last Supper. There’s then an explosion of irreconcilable biographies, including heretics who placed Jesus in the first century BCE, Clement who was every bit as ignorant of Jesus as Paul but adamant about his corporeal nature, docetists who insisted on a non-corporeal Jesus, and all the other even more bizarre heresies such as the snake-god-Jesus of the Ophites. It was only with the later canonization that resulted in the division of orthodoxy v heterodoxy that we get a single unified picture of Jesus…save, of course, even that picture is hopelessly jumbled. Pick any “fact” of Jesus you might care to claim, and you’ll find it contradicted in the Bible itself.

        As such, your complaint of a conspiracy to silence the voice of history…well, it really doesn’t matter. Sure, it could account for us having fewer documents than we might otherwise hope for, but how, then, do you account for Christians themselves, desperate to find Jesus in the historical record of a few decades earlier failing to blame the evil conspiracy of Jews to suppress even mention of Jesus? Doesn’t even pass the “sniff” test.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Robert Petry
          Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

          Ben,

          I believe you are misconstrueing the command in the OT to “Christian Jews.” How could that be? There were none when Dt. was written.

          I have read all you wrote before in the writings of Hotema and other “spiritists”, etc. They do not hold water.

          And, to say “I suspect” so and so was the Apostle Paul, etc. is just speculation.

          There was no “conspiracy” as you wrote. It was a fact of life for the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, etc. in the First Century. They were commanded to do what they did to a perceived false prophet and blasphemer in their eyes. There is no proof to the contrary, and trying to make it a Christian Jew thing fails at first step.

          What is the real hangup against the NT Messiah? Why not Krishna, or Dionysius, or Zeus?

          The Bible itself explains why the Messiah was censored. Why is that so difficult to understand? Whether one believes the Bible or not, it explains clearly what and why, and claiming it to be some kind of conspiracy does not negate the facts as presented in the OT and NT.

          • Dewo Vasid
            Posted October 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            The law requiring the false prophet to be blotted out only explains why Jews who did not believe he was the messiah would not write about him. That does not prevent other Jews who DID believe he was the messiah from writing about him, and does not prevent non-Jews from writing about him.

            If the miracles as described were really happening, someone other than disbelieving Jews would have taken notice. Was it only disbelieving Jews that witnessed the miracles?

            In addition, I find it hard to believe there would still BE disbelieving Jews after witnessing the miracles. What sort of proof were they waiting for?

            Were miracles (inexplicably) so common at that time that they failed to impress? Or, were there so many faked miracles that they doubted what they were seeing?

            • Dermot C
              Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              On miracles, yes, pretty much there were several Jews around the 1st century with the reputation of being miracle-workers. Abba Hilkiah the rainmaker, who modestly attributed the rain’s arrival not to his prayers. Hanina ben Dosa was a healer from a distance, a controller of demons and a rainmaker. Honi the Circle-Drawer was also a charismatic rain-maker. None of them is recorded as claiming Messiahship because of their fame and abilities. They attributed their ability to faith or the power of prayer. Like Jesus.

              And don’t forget that Acts acknowledges as much in the story of Simon Magus whose miracle-working is ascribed to evil influence.

              So yes, the Jesus miracle stories in the NT are perfectly of their time. The difference in Jesus is that the miracles became supporting evidence for Messiahship.

              x

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                End of 1st para. should read, ‘Like Jesus often does.’

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                Don’t post while watching Brian Cox on TV.

                ‘Perfectly of their time’ means ‘credible to a 1st century audience’. Many of Jesus’ miracles refer back to OT stories.

                x

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                Right, that is my point. Either they didn’t happen and were made up for Jesus and the others, or they happened all the time and doesn’t distinguish Jesus with proof of divinity. Otherwise, people would have taken notice and written more about them, and there would have been very few Jews that would have not believed he was the messiah, thereby not having any reason to “blot out” existence.

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                There was absolute reason to “blot out” this particular man in the eyes of the “religious government of the day.” The final edict to do that was not over miracles at all. It was over the fact that he was accused of blasphemy in front of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin.

                Thus the High Priest was bound to proclaim the curse upon the Messiah. ” Mark 14:62-64 (Amplified), Leviticus 24:16 (Amplified), and the final straw — Deuteronomy 29:14-21.

                Those were the charges and punishment against the Messiah in His day. And, the leaders of His day followed those orders. Orders from the most holy section of the Bible to Israel, the Law, which by the way, is the only section of the Bible Yahshua said not one jot or tittle would pass. The Law was the first section of their writings in order, the other two were the Prophets and the Writings.

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

                It seems to me your effort to prove Jesus’ historicity from gospel sources is like proving the historicity of Yoda, not from the Star Wars movies, but from Star Wars fan fiction.

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                You wrote: “It seems to me your effort to prove Jesus’ historicity from gospel sources is like proving the historicity of Yoda, not from the Star Wars movies, but from Star Wars fan fiction.”

                I’m afraid you miss the point. I am only pointing out that when a critic claims something he/she should know the subject and what they are talking about. Not knowing the inner workings of the OT and NT which explains what and why things occurred is one thing, but defaming without knowledge is another. So, someone doesn’t believe the book. That does not excuse ignorance of the book and how it explains clearly the fault in the critic’s argument.

                Argument: No historical Messiah.

                Basis? Can’t find contemporary records from outsiders.

                Fault: No one asks does the book itself explain that?

                Result: Personal opinion rules the day, or “consensus opinion” by others of the same opinion rules the day. But, facts, internal and external can’t be believed. So, why is personal opinion more factual?

                Why is it so important to make the NT a myth?

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

                @ Robert Petry

                Robert, these are the facts about the construction of the OT. From archaeological and literary-analytical scholarship.

                The P (Priestly) source wrote: Sabbatical Creation account later 6th century BCE, related to rise to prominence of the Temple priests; promise to Noah; the Flood; covenant of God with Abraham; Tabernacle; priesthood; laws of holiness and diet (Leviticus), bringing of people under God’s domination. Main source written 530-500 BCE perhaps.

                The J (Yahweh) source calls God, ‘YHWH’: wrote Eden; Eva and the Fall; Moses, Exodus, Sinai, wilderness, no interest in priestly rules, no emphasis on covenant of God with Israel: written in Judah, probably early 8th century BCE.

                D (Deuteronomist) source: 7 books from Joshua to end of Kings, essentially written by 1 person the D historian, written in exile Iraq, held fast to Book of the Law found in the Temple in 662/1, misfortune is result of disobedience of God’s Law, fascination with Prophets, some Moses stories and speeches.

                E (El) source wrote Moses and early patriarchs, probably in Israel before CE 722

                J, E, P and D were edited by a 5th unknown author between ca. 520 and 400 BCE, probably nearer the latter

                The Song of Deborah is probably the oldest part of the OT, not, as you say, the Law.

                The writing of the OT spans at least 700 years. Most of it was written after the start of the exile. The first attestation of monotheism is in the 2nd (forged) Isaiah in the 530s BCE.

                Job possibly 4th century. Ecclesiastes followed. Chronicles ca. 350 BCE.

                1 Maccabees ca. 130-110. 2 Maccabees after 124 BCE. Esther possibly written in Susa, Persia. Daniel 3rd century BCE.

                The Early Israelites were the Canaanites.

                The Kingdom of Israel emerged no later than the start of the 9th century, post-dating Saul, David and Solomon. Judah became a fully-fledged state only in the late 8th century.

                YHWH was married: he had a consort Asherah whose figurines litter Syria and Palestine. Even YHWH could be worshipped in a monolatrous way.

                Your timeline for the OT is wrong. I have more.

                x

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                Dermot C,

                All of the “facts” you presented are not stable “facts” since other scholars dispute them, and all the facts are still not in.

                And, how can my timeline be all wrong when I didn’t give one?

                Whether you are right or wrong does not change the situation in the First Century which is the topic of this discussion. Whether the OT was compiled in one day or in 10 million years, the fact is that at the time of Herod, Josephus, Titus, the Messiah, Paul, Matthew, etc. the Law was the law the Sanhedrin followed, and is the law that condemned the Messiah of the NT. To ignore what both the OT and NT says on this matter is not up to snuff.

                To claim that no secular sources mention the Messiah has an explanation within the OT and NT themselves. Not to know that is ignoring information that negates the “no secular history” argument. How is it that the Bible indicates clearly that no public record was to be done by the Jews? And, this leads to no public “State approved” record of the Man to pass on to secular historians. And, how is it then that we find no public records outside the NT? Just as would be expected if what the Bible itself said is true. It is no accident then that the NT is the only record available to us, and in fact, the only accurate record.

                The question is not — Is the Messiah a historical person because some Greek or Roman historian wrote about Him, or even someone like Josephus, who was under command not to write about him, the question is, did He actually exist? The answer by all information available is yes.

                And, if you like, “consensus opinion” is He existed.

                I do not trust “consensus opinion” for many obvious reasons. A simple one being, years ago, by “consensus opinion” the bumble bee should not fly, body too big wings too small, etc.

                Another reason is, every year “consensus opinion” changes. So, at what point should we believe what changes every year?

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                @ Robert Petry

                ‘The Law was the first section of their writings in order, the other two were the Prophets and the Writings.’

                That looks like a timeline to me, Robert. And I just demonstrated to you that the Law is by no means the first part of the OT to be written. The fact that you dismiss the analysis of many scholars in determining the OT’’s timeline means merely that you dismiss the analysis of many scholars. We don’t need no education.

                I am not aware that I made any argument that the evidence of a Greco-Roman author would validate the existence of Jesus. If you consider it remotely likely that we would have a reference to Jesus in Greco-Roman literature, you know nothing about the size, interests and survival of that library of works.

                You are someone immune to reason and not worth debating with, as I suspected on your first post. Nevertheless, it was worth a try. Goodbye, and have a good life.

                x

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

                Dermot C.
                you wrote: ‘The Law was the first section of their writings in order, the other two were the Prophets and the Writings.’

                That looks like a timeline to me, Robert.”

                It appears you do not know the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible. The order I gave was what you will find in the JPS, etc. That is the order the books were placed in for the canonization of the OT. It is not an order for the time of writing of these books.

                I can now see why you would not want to continue. I think that is a good idea too.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                I’m not saying the edict was about the miracles, but that instead, if they were to have occurred, why was the Sanhedrin not convinced by them as to not accuse him of blasphemy?

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                Anyone reading the actions of the priests against the Messiah would understand why they did not accept His “miracles.”

                It’s called “ego, pride, authority, I’m in charge and you aren’t,” And, it is described in Jer. 17:9 quite well.

                And, anyone reading the names the Messiah called them would understand the kind of men they were. Snakes, hypocrites, liars, etc.

                It’s so simple to understand, except for….?

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                Right…so simple. Apparently the miracles were simply not that miraculous.

                Except for…? Except for it defies belief, reason, and logic.

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                It only defies the reason? logic? etc. of the skeptic. The skeptic is so busy finding the “loose bricks” that the point of a message is totally missed.

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

                @ Robert Petry

                A simple one being, years ago, by “consensus opinion” the bumble bee should not fly, body too big wings too small, etc.

                Just how scientifically ignorant or disingenuous are you?

                There was never any such consensus; “the laws of physics do not in any way forbid bumblebee flight; there are no papers that deny bumblebee flight, and no scientist has done so in a lecture, except, perhaps, ironically.

                /@

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                Sorry, but many years ago in my early days articles were written on why bumble bees can’t fly. Science changes all the time, so at what point are we to believe a scientific claim, when it is stated, or when days, months or years later it changes again?

                You asked: “Just how scientifically ignorant or disingenuous are you?”

                In high school that was my best class. In college my major was science.

                So, how scientifically ignorant or disingenuous are you when it comes to non-secular science?

                As to Biblical matters one year the Bible didn’t do this or that, later it actually did do this or that. So, which archeologist or scholar are you going to believe, and when? Then what do you do when that changes? Oh, I remember now, personal preference rules the day.

                First no Nineveh. Oops, we found Nineveh.
                Then, no Hittite. Oops, we found Hittites.
                Then, no census during time of Messiah’s birth. Oops, we found record of census at time of birth. Etc. etc. etc. etc.

                All presented by scholars who have to keep covering their tracks.

                “Oh, another great one. Moses couldn’t have written anything, there was no writing then. Oops, we found writing then and before Moses. Back to square one. One day we’ll be able to prove the Bible wrong, somehow.

                No invasion by Joshua, no archeology evidence. Oops, just found burned remnants as described. Now, how could that be? Oh well, we’ll get it right some day.”

                On the other hand I do my homework properly in both secular science and non-secular science, thank you very much.

            • Robert Petry
              Posted October 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              You wrote:

              “The law requiring the false prophet to be blotted out only explains why Jews who did not believe he was the messiah would not write about him. That does not prevent other Jews who DID believe he was the messiah from writing about him, and does not prevent non-Jews from writing about him.”

              [Actually, Jews who were not believers in the Messiah would still have followed this edict. It was the law of the land, not just some edict thought up on the spur of the moment by the High Priest. And, those who did believe did write. Ergo, the NT.Thus, as I wrote, the disciples did not follow that edict. Acts 4:16-20. “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” was the disciples’ reply after being ordered to stop using the name.]

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

                Re: my post Posted October 7, 2014 at 4:39

                Typo: Book of Law found in the Temple ‘622/1 BCE’. It’s ‘Eve’ and the Fall, of course.

                x

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                My contention is that there are conditions for which the law applied, and apparently someone being a false prophet was one of the conditions. Therefore, for some Jews that thought he WAS the messiah, the condition for the law was missing. So even though the final edict may have been given, to the true believers who did not think they were breaking the law, they would have had reasons to still keep records if they had them, maybe more so after the edict. You act like the Sanhedrin had absolute control over the entire region and no one could resist or dissent. However, even if that were the case, the Jewish law does not prevent non-Jews from recording the events,so this explanation still doesn’t cover all lack of evidence.

                Acts is most likely a forgery, so I don’t give much weight to it. Plus, the question was why were there not other contemporary accounts, prior to the gospels.

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

                Acts is “most likely” a forgery??? Actually, it is not a forgery under any schee.

                You are proving my point in your post. I said the disciples went ahead and wrote the NT which would be against what the Sanhedrin decreed. And, I also quoted from Acts 2 where they said they would not obey that order.

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                How about pseudepigrapha then? And what is a schee?

                We don’t know who wrote the gospels, so we don’t really know if they were disciples. Paul is really the closest source, but he never witnessed Jesus outside of his vision.

                If the miracles really took place, why not more sources closer to the time of Jesus’s life?

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                A schee is scheme. I left out the m when typing. At my age its good that only that was left out.

                We know who wrote the Evangels. They were simply the scribes used in those days to compile the notes written by the disciples. They were under the guidance of Matthew, Mark & Peter, Luke & Paul.

                The notes were written by a scribe who followed the Messiah, and the notes taken by the disciples for their own references. Just as we take notes at a meeting today.

                Today we use pen and paper, or iPads, etc. Then they used pinaxes and a writing quill. The pinax was used by John the Baptist’s father to name him. See Luke 1:59-63. This is what was used to write down what the Messiah said and did. From those notes the Evangels etc. were later compiled.

                You also wrote “If the miracles really took place, why not more sources closer to the time of Jesus’s life?” Well, what more do you need? Why do you need more when what we have fills up enough pages to get across the events? How many witnesses do you need to learn that 2 + 2 is 4?

                How many mechanic manuals do we need to change a spark plug? How many texts do we need beyond 5-20,000?

              • Dewo Vasid
                Posted October 7, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for your time.

              • Posted October 7, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

                * The notes were written by a scribe who followed the Messiah, and the notes taken by the disciples for their own references. *

                And how do you *know* this?

                /@

                >

              • Robert Petry
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                By doing my homework properly.

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                So what sources stating that Jesus had a scribe running around after him all the time did your homework reveal?

                /@

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

                …and how did this scribe escape the wrath of the same Sanhedrin that allegedly successfully suppress all other relevant sources?

                b&

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                Fortunately, Baihu is civilized enough to play with his toys and eat his food…critters that he catches disappear down his gullet as fast as the food I set out for him in a bowl — practically inhaled. Toys, such as a mouse-like something on the end of a string, or a laser dot, or especially my hands or feet or ponytail, suffer a much more lingering fate….

                b&

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                >Fortunately, Baihu is civilized enough to play with his toys

                Like Baihu like Ben 😉

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                @ Ant,

                Do we have the portable desk that he used to rest his papyrus on when he was transcribing the itinerant Jesus’ words? Or do we presume that he used his knees? Did the writer use reed pens or brushes? Is there any evidence for a 1st century form of shorthand? Is there any link between this unknown amanuensis and Boswell 1700 years later? Fascinating historical parallel: I suspect the Illuminati, myself.

                x

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                Probably one of the Heavenly Host, come to think of it. And with a timewormhole cellular connection to Siri to handle the dictation — angles have always had access to that sort of technology, apparently….

                b&

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                why the crude pseudo-scientific explanations – can’t you be satisfied with miracles?

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

                Just following the literary tradition — see, for example, our newcomer’s invention of the Sanhedrin Gestapo to explain the dearth of evidence….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • bobkillian
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                Siri would mis-type that bit about the cheesemakers.

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                Yeah…we all know it was, “Blessed are the charcuteries.” No way would they have mixed milchig und fleischig!

                b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                You do know, bobkillian, that there was a Valley of the Cheesemakers in Jerusalem? Monty P were more sly than we know.

                x

              • bobkillian
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

                It was a documentary.

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                ‘Doctrinal Tap’.

                x

              • Dermot C
                Posted October 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

                Btw, Robert Petry spots some historical points which need responding to in his post of October 8, 2014 at 8:47 a.m. A post which for some reason did not appear in my ‘new comments’ e-mails.

                Yes, Nineveh was rediscovered as he says. But, it was abandoned in the 4th, if memory serves, century CE. (Either that or the 5th). The abandonment of Nineveh presents a problem for Christians because for them Christ will sit in judgement aided by the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh. (I think the reference is in Matthew, but it could be another evangelist).

                Re: the discovery of the Hittites’ capital in the mountains of Turkey, I have no idea what his point is: if he is hinting that the early Israelites are the Hittites who overran Egypt around 1500 BCE, that is impossible as the earliest archaeology for the Israelites dates from the Transjordan at least 3 centuries later. The idea that the Israelites were the Hittites is the floating of an old idea, discredited by archaeologists such as Finkelstein.

                On the census, yes there was one. By Quirinius, the Governor of Syria. It was a property registration census to reassess tax in 6 CE (citation: Josephus). Luke ascribes it to the reign of Herod the Great who had been dead for 10 years. Luke got the dates wrong. As well as the idea that you had to go to the home of your Davidic ancestor, 1,000 years before. Before the mythical founding of Rome itself. Do you know where your ancestor lived 1,000 years ago? The Roman Empire was not that irrational.

                Robert Petry is right that writing, in the sense of the alphabet, pre-dates Moses. But Moses is a founding myth and there is no evidence for his existence. The earliest that scholars can date the Biblical Moses story is somewhere early in the 8th century BCE: so, assuming an oral tradition, let’s place the nomadic Moses somewhere before the formation of the state of Israel in, say, and let’s be generous, the 12th century BCE. We know that Moses did not write the tales ascribed to him. Nevertheless, the alphabet, from which ultimately derives our own, is a Canaanite invention from around 1800 BCE.

                On Petry’s Joshua and his evidence of burning in his invasion of Israel, that’s just a lie. There is no archaeological evidence of a transjordanian invasion by the Israelites committing genocide on the Canaanites. All the evidence points to a similarity of the cultures, so similar as to be virtually indistinguishable. See Finkelstein again.

                Petry sees history through the lens of the Deuteronomist historian(s). He/they were the first writers whom I know of to attempt to write history, even before the Greeks. As Hitchens used to say, the first and worst attempt. But influential? Absolutely.

                x

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                @ Dermot C

                He probably committed things to memory, then scribbled everything down she he got home. See Pullman’s _The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ_.

                /@

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                Let’s examine from another angle. What possible excuse could explain how Philo could have failed to have become an evangelist at the very least, if not the very rock upon which the church was founded (instead of Peter)?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 8, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

                Can you identify even one other example of a culture, society, or country in which this sort of totalitarianism you attribute to the Sanhedrin was so successfully applied? Even the Nazis and Soviets were unable to pull it off — and North Korea isn’t able to, either.

                Furthermore, how do you explain the failure of the Romans to note this degree of control the Sanhedrin allegedly had over the population? The Romans would have killed to have had that kind of control for themselves, and couldn’t possibly have failed to notice it in one of their client states — and assuredly have imitated it for themselves.

                Or do you base your “knowledge” of these “facts” on the same source as you do your confidence of the Great Zombie Invasion of Jerusalem in 33?

                b&


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