It’s time to ponder whether a Jesus really existed

I’m always surprised at how much rancor is directed toward “mythicists”—those who deny that there was a real Jesus who, whether or not he was divine, was the nucleus around which Christianity accreted. I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence, and that arguments can be made that Jesus was a purely mythological figure, perhaps derived from earlier such figures, who gradually attained “facthood.” As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Probably nobody reading this post thinks that Jesus was the miracle-working son of God, and that pretty much disposes of his importance for Christianity. In the end, I’m most surprised at how much rancor is involved in these arguments, especially by the pro-Jesus side, even when that side readily admits that Jesus was not the son of God. (I can understand, of course, why Christians want to argue that Jesus was a real person.)

Regardless of your take on this question, I recommend you read Brian Bethune’s piece in the March 23 MacLean’s: “Did Jesus really exist?” (Subtitle: “Memory research has cast doubt on the few things we knew about Jesus, raising an even bigger question.”)

The gist of  Bethune’s piece is a description and critique of Bart Ehrman’s new book: Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. And what that book shows (see the brief interview with Ehrman on the Amazon link above) is that recent work on fallible human memory shows that even in a short time so-called “eyewitness accounts”—these constitute the bulk of the oral Biblical evidence for Jesus—can be corrupted beyond recognition. What that further means is that over the four or five decades spanning the reported date of Jesus’s death and the first written scriptural account of his deeds (the Gospel of Mark) the Story of Jesus could involve not just severe distortion, but even fabrication. That is, Jesus could be the subject of False Memory Syndrome. As Bethune notes, though, this puts a skunk in Ehrman’s historical woodpile:

Small wonder then that Ehrman sees the Gospels as rife with “distorted” (that is, false) memories. What is surprising, though, is how much of the Gospels he still thinks he can accept as reasonably accurate “gist” memories, how lightly he applies his new criterion, which he primarily uses as justification for rejecting Gospel stories he long ago dismissed on other historical grounds. Ehrman’s memory book, in effect, is more an appeal to the faithful to accept historians’ approach than a new way of evaluating evidence. His list of what historians, including himself, think they can attest to hardly differs from a list he would have made a decade ago: Jesus was a Jew, an apocalyptic preacher like the man who baptized him, John the Baptist; his teaching, rooted in Torah, was delivered in parables and aphorisms; Jesus had followers who claimed his message was validated by the miracles he wrought; in the last week of his life, Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he caused a disturbance in the Temple that, some hours later, led to his arrest; Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor found him guilty of sedition and had him crucified.

. . . However appealing and reasonable such a list is to modern skeptics, it is still drawn almost entirely from within the faith tradition, with buttressing by the slimmest of outside supports—brief references from Roman observers.

Bethune then argues that the one “solid” fact buttressing Jesus’s existence—his execution under Pontius Pilate, a historical figure—is likely based on post-Biblical fabrication, since many early Christians didn’t accept Pilate as executioner or even that Jesus died around the time of his reign. As Bethune notes, “Snap that slender reed and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history—the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and is an inspiration to millions who do not accept the divine Christ—is wobbling badly.”

Finally, Bethune argues, and I agree from what I know, that even the evidence in scripture for Jesus’s reality is dubious, since the earliest source, the letters of Paul, give us no picture of Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person:

That the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians has long obscured the fact that the bulk of the New Testament, its epistles, provide none at all. The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings. Paul never uses an example from Jesus’s sayings or deeds to illustrate a point or add gravitas to his advice—and the epistles are all about how to establish, govern and adjudicate disputes within Christianity’s nascent churches.

Bethune draws heavily from the work of Richard Carrier, a prominent mythicist. I’ve read quite a bit of that and find it heavy weather, but in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

But I’m not willing to do that—not until there’s harder evidence. And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed. Remember that eleven historical Americans signed statements at the beginning of the Book of Mormon testifying that they either saw the Angel Moroni point out the golden plates that became the Book, or saw the plates themselves. Yet nearly all of us reject that signed, dated, eyewitness testimony as total fabrication. Why are we so unwilling to take a similar stand about Jesus?

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 4.16.57 PM

h/t: Barry

340 Comments

  1. Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    What I find remarkable is that you devote such space to the question of the existence of Jesus. You’ll convince no one who thinks otherwise. Besides, arguing with religionists is hardly worth one’s time/effort.

    • steve oberski
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      You need to read Da Roolz!

    • bluemaas
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Well, what I find “remarkable” and certainly worthy of everyone’s “time” and “effort” is thus: in the guidance and instruction of future generations of human babes.

      ‘Education’ within any specific religion’s ideology is child abuse.

      Thus, anything that anyone can do to dispel and .stop. fakery and falseness in the face of 21st Century’s (and beyond’s) sciences and facts will give our children Worldwide the tools with which to (try to go forth on their own and actually help to) SOLVE their Real World – problems.

      Thank you, PCC(E), for this post. I have already passed it on to several friends and colleagues, very many of those with young human beings within their tutelages.

      Blue

      • bluemaas
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        “It .IS. Time To Get This Pondered.”

        The Earth’s Future depends upon it and the stoppage of it & other such mothermucks of ideological beliefs.

        That is why.
        Blue

        • bluemaas
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          Push
          Fall
          Rise

          Repeat !
          Blue

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      The point of the post, I think, isn’t that it is intended to convert the religious believers of this likely myth, rather why even the non-religious for some reason tend to assume the historicity of Jesus.

      In any event, this is a heavily anti-religious website. Why is an article querying the existence of a person at the centre of one of the world’s biggest religions not worth posting?

      • keith cook + or -
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        Oh he exists historically alright, inside individual deluded heads, swishing around in brain cells. There is more hard evidence of a bi pedal hominin striding around 3.7 million years ago than of a Jesus doing the same some 2000 years ago, note the time difference and I ask why there is none.
        I for one will gladly attribute Jesus to a hominin if he ever proved to have existed as a human and not in a figmental piss take of human existence and life on this planet.
        As you can probably deduce I’m in the weighty anti religious corner and for good reason, not some fantastical mush.

    • dabertini
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      It is not a waste of time. If that were the case, PCC(e) would have given up teaching WEIT!! No difference here. He is using evidence to debunk a useless belief system that has wreaked havoc on the human race for thousands of years. And it is working!! Just ask PCC(e). He has enlightened and converted many. I for one love these posts.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      We should never argue about anything. It’s only a childish, chest-thumping waste of time, seeing as how nobody has ever been persuaded by considered appeals to logic, reason, and evidence.

      (Are you aware of how many atheists are former theists who were reasoned out of theism by internet articles and blog posts just like the one above?)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Though I, like Jerry, am no expert in Jesusology, I think this discussion is meaningful in that it demonstrates how one uses reason to distinguish between fact and fiction. We should hold up the historical Jesus to the same standards as we hold up other historical figures of antiquity. It seems to me that you’d be laughed out of the Classics department if you used such weak evidence to show that some character lived, as flesh and blood in antiquity, say, Mithra, but you’d be embraced in the Theology department if you used the same sort of weak evidence to argue for the existence of Jesus.

      • Dick Veldkamp
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:59 am | Permalink

        Come to think of it, we’d better accept that Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus were real persons – because the book in which they are mentioned says so!

        And Troy existed.

        • CJColucci
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          We now know that Troy did exist, or more accurately, several “Troys” over the centuries at a location consistent with the legend. There would be nothing implausible about there having been real people, much mythicized over the centuries, that were the sources of stories about the legendary Achilles, Agamemmnon, and Odysseus, but there is no real hope of recovering any information about them if they did exist.

          • Dick Veldkamp
            Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink

            I now see that my final sentence could be read the wrong way: I meant it as a factual statement: Troy did indeed exist, as we know now. But that fact is no evidence for the existence of anyone mentioned in Homer’s works.

            My point is just that one book (like the bible, or the Iliad, or the legend of King Arthur) is no evidence at all for there having been a real person that did the (very improbable) things described.

            • CJColucci
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              Arthur is an interesting example. The various Arthur legends, if taken as true, are mutually inconsistent, anachronistic, and inherently implausible. But there is evidence that a 6th-century warlord in ancient Britain, who might have had a name somewhat like Arthur, actually existed and managed to maintain a fair degree of peace and security before it all went to s**t some decades later. He was probably, if he existed, a rough, smelly dude who held court behind a wooden stockade and wore leather armor, but it wouldn’t be hard to see the basic outlines in the Arthur legend in such a figure.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                And maybe he wasn’t a warlord but a chess master, and maybe it wasn’t Britain where he lived but Ireland, and maybe his name wasn’t, “Arthur,” but rather, “Bob.”

                But he was the real Arthur!

                I mean, really. At some point your “real” source becomes so far diluted that anybody could claim the title. It’s like designating some random creek in Canada as “the” source of the Mississippi, even though some other random creek three miles over feeds into the same river — and never mind thousands of other equally-deserving creeks all over the map.

                b&

                >

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      It’s a late Sunday afternoon and I’m ensconced in my home doing my taxes while a snowstorm swirls outside. I have Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series in the background on the National Geographic Channel and EVERY commercial break features Morgan Freeman’s stentorian voice telling me about the channel’s six-part “Story of God” that starts tonight. It’s utterly infuriating, and it’s why this topic must be discussed. This discussion is not for the believer, but arms the non-believer with facts and arguments that might be used to fight the nonsense perpetuated in this god-addled country.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      Well, thanks for telling me what I sholdn’t be posting about. In fact, DesertAbba, I wasn’t aware of the paucity of evidence for a historical Jesus until I began reading other people’s posts and books. And so I hoped that other people might learn about that paucity of evidence, too. The fact is, I was once ignorant of the whole issue but am now a mythicist to some degree, so yes, people’s minds can be changed.

      Now go away for good, please. You’re an impolite person who has no idea how he comes across. Unless you apologize, I don’t want any of your palaver here.

    • John Scanlon FCD
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      As a child I was persuaded that Jesus had been a real person and possibly even what the priests said (not to mention what Erich von Däniken said), but because I was also educated in science and history I tested that assumption and found it unjustified by any evidence. It was definitely worth my time and effort to save myself from foolishness, and unlike you I think that undeluding the deluded is a good and often effective act. It’s called teaching, when done by professionals.

  2. SylmarSteve
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Josephus, a Jew who came to Rome and wrote history, referred in passing to a contemporary rebel with a name very similar to Jesus. While I am an athiest, it seems that this is very strong evidence that a dissenter/insurgent type named Jesus did exist and was a leader. We all know that histories can be very biased (ever read Rumsfeld’s memoire?), but the fact that the “Jesus” reference was in passing and not at all central to Josephus’ theme, makes his documentation very persuasive to me.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      This. And this is the first point Ehrman cites in his book-on-tape I listened to (Lost Christianities, I think), when he briefly discusses whether there was a guy named Jesus who preached a dissenting message.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        Exactly the wrong reason to think J.C. authentically historical. Josephus tells us of no fewer than 10 fellows named Jesus, who were troublemakers and spoke revolution, and had followers. But he gave their last names or honorifics – and none of the them is the Bible’s J.C. Some of these guys had only a handful of followers – yet, THEY made the historical record.

        Which means everything the Bible says about J.C. – whether he existed, the people who followed him, the speeches he gave, the crowds who listened to him, etc – are surely false.

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          ” Josephus tells us of no fewer than 10 fellows named Jesus …But he gave their last names or honorifics – and none of the them is the Bible’s J.C.”

          This is just false. He mentions “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”. Remember Paul also met James the brother of Jesus.

          • Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            Not false:

            01. Jesus, son of Phabes – High priest. Ant 15.322
            02. Jesus, son of Ananus – Common man prophesied destruction of the temple. War 6.300
            03. Jesus, or Jason – High priest. Ant 12.239
            04. Jesus, son of Sapphias – Governor of Tiberias. War 2.566, War 2.599; Life 1.066, Life 1.134
            05. Jesus, brother of Onias – High priest. Ant 12.237, Ant 12.238, Ant 12.239
            06. Jesus, son of Gamaliel – High priest. Ant 20.213, Ant 20.223
            07. Jesus, no patronym – Eldest high priest after Ananus. War 4.238, War 4.316, War 4.325
            08. Jesus, son of Damneus – High priest. Ant 20.203
            09. Jesus, son of Gamala – High priest & Josephus’ friend. War 4.160; Life 1.193, Life 1.204
            10. Jesus, [or Joshua] son of Nun – Successor to Moses. Ant 03.049, Ant 03.308; Ant 4.459
            11. Jesus, son of Shapat – Principal head of a band of robbers controlling Tiberias, sallies against Vespasian’s messenger Valerian. War 3.450
            16. Jesus, no patronym – Captain of those robbers who were in the confines of Ptolemais, allies with Josephus. Life 1.105
            12. Jesus, son of Thebuthus – One of the priests, delivers to Titus precious things deposited in the temple. War 6.387
            13. Jesus, son of Josadek – High priest. Ant 20.231, Ant 20.234
            14. Jesus, no patronym – Galilean at head of a band of 600 followers, sent by Ananus & Jesus to depose Josephus. Life 1.200
            15. Jesus, no patronym – Condemned to cross by Pilate. He was [the] Christ. Ant 18.063
            17. Jesus, brother of Jacob – Called the Christ. Ant 20.200

            • Posted April 6, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

              Gingerbaker, you misunderstood me. I know there are lots of Jesuses (Jesui?) in Josephus. The false part of your statement is the part where you say “none of them is the Bible’s JC”. As you can see from your own list, a couple of them match the Bible’s JC.

              Thanks for this list though. It disposes of Ben Goren’s false argument (below) that Josephus always used surnames to identify his Jesuses. But your list contains several instances of Josephus using Jesus with some other modifier, not a surname. Below I pointed out one counterexample , but now we have a few other examples.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Titus Flavius Josephus who lived from 37 – c. 100, was born after the alleged death of Jesus, so is not a first-hand observer.

      He is also one who defected to Rome and eventually committed suicide.

      Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD (nearly 25 years after the first known Gospel, Mark, dated around 70 AD) which is 60 years past the life of Jesus.

      • Craw
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        Either he coincidentally made up a guy with the same name or he is an independent witness, right? He is at the very least proof there was a Jesus cult of some size. But there was none a few decades earlier. So the cults grew in a short period. The simplest explanation is that the cultists had a leader.

        • BobTerrace
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          No, your conclusion is not based on relevant evidence. Storytelling has been around for millennia and preceded this with very similar stories. Therefore, the simplest explanation is fictional stories that were embellished.

          • Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

            How is that the simplest explanation? You are ignoring everything in the above comments. Your thesis requires multiple rather forced interpretations of things in Paul and in Josephus. The simpler explanation is that there was some real guy (or several) who was the subject of these stories. We know from Carrier that these kinds of preachers were common in that area at that time.

        • Ick of the East
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Yes, the cult did have a leader. His name was Paul.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Just worth pointing out that Jesus was not exactly an uncommon name in first-century Palestine; and that contemporary sources name a number of “Jesus bar X” trouble-makers.

      • mordacious1
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes, itinerant rabbis named “Jesus” were as common as grains of sands during that period. The fact that one or two of them would be mentioned here and there is not outlandish.

        • decourse
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:24 am | Permalink

          It does make you wonder why, of all the uninteresting itinerant apocalyptic rabbis in 1st century Palestine, the Internet atheist echo-chamber thinks that this particular one was the only one who didn’t exist.

          To a mainstream secular historian, the Jesus whose stories were eventually mangled into the gospels was a very ordinary person. To a mythicist and to a Christian fundamentalist alike, Jesus was very special and unusual.

          But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. How many times have we seen on the Internet people who say words to the effect of: “I’m no expert in that field, and I don’t actually know anything about the field or how experts in the field come to the conclusions they come to, but I reckon I’ve read enough to be able to know better than them.”

          If you want to persuade historians that they’re wrong, the way to do this is to publish papers in historical journals. Although if you can’t get anything published, I guess you could blame the conspiracy of Big Pharma, Big GMO, Big Evolution, or Big Jesus. That always goes down well.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

            argumentum ad verecundiam

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Josephus … referred in passing to a contemporary rebel with a name very similar to Jesus.

      Which part of Josephus are you referring to? The “James the brother of Jesus” bit?, the Testimonium Flavianum, or something else?

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the scholarship concerning the authenticity of the Testamonium Flavianum is anywhere near settled.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        That’s my understanding. It’s been suggested that it may be an interpolation by a later hand.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      I am also an atheist, and I see no problem if there was a man named Jesus (Yeshua) in 1st century Palestine, obsessed with the imminent end of the world, convinced to have a special relationship with his god and freely talking despite the lack of a 1st Amendment in the contemporary Roman law, until this got him executed in a typical Roman manner. Actually, I think that such men in that society were dime a dozen, though of course only a small minority of them were named Jesus.

      Modern cults are centered on mythologized real individuals, rather than purely fictional characters. I am ready to admit that the ancients were the same. The Romans did not figure out in time how important Christianity would be, so they didn’t bother to keep any records about its origin. I suppose that, if we apply vigorous criteria to historicity of figures of that time, few would remain, except the kings, the military commanders, and some writers.

      Among other things, if some archeologist digs out evidence of Jesus’ existence, I’d want to be in a position to claim that my atheism has never been dependent on the perceived non-existence of a historical Jesus.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        Christianity was a mystery cult, not unlike the Cult of Isis and the Cult of Mithra. They appealed to the oppressed (women, slaves, etc.) and their rituals are not entirely known, but they did have a lot of similar features. See the Wikipedia article here. These cults were often from the East.

        • Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I’ve heard that Romans were actually longing for such a cult, and experimented that of Mithra before Christianity; as Dodds put it, in later Greco-Roman culture rationalism “fought its long losing battle against the revelations that came from the East”. I see a troubling parallel with the infatuation of many our Western contemporaries with postmodernism and Islam.
          Did Christianity actually offer to the oppressed anything except a promise of a good afterlife? It seems to me that it made their life in this world even harder by demanding from them to adhere to Christians taboos at all costs, and to keep all of their babies regardless of the family’s ability to support them.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            The Romans found it quite acceptable to take part in many religions (as long as you worshipped the Roman City Gods – not doing that was just rude and suggested you wished ill on the city). This is where the Christians and Jews got into trouble with the Romans. Their god demanded to be worshipped along with no other so that meant exclusivity and no worshipping city gods!

        • Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          It seems to me that the common denominator of all these cults for which we have enough information is the death and resurrection of the central divinity, and the doctrine that initiates will have a good afterlife while all other people will have a horrible one.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            Yes and Isis had a lot of similarities in her love of Osiris as she ran around the world gathering up his cut up corpse. She is like a Jesus figure in this way as well – bringing the dead back and her kindness.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      I’m no expert and I don’t know, so I’m not exactly disagreeing with you, but I would point out that apocalyptic preachers were common at the time. So one having a similar name to Jesus is not something I find convincing. It’s something that is just as possible if Jesus is a myth.

      • Craw
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        This sounds like you are saying, oh sure there were preachers named Jesus, just not this guy. Huh?

        • Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          +1!

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          That’s not what I’m saying.

          There were heaps of preachers. The chances of one being called Jesus are pretty high. Josephus mentioning one with a similar name, but not Jesus, means nothing. Josephus wasn’t even born until after the supposed death of Jesus, so he’s not contemporary anyway.

        • Pali
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          If I show you 100 musicians from the 70s named Elvis, does that mean Elvis Presley must be among them?

          If one is claiming the Biblical Jesus was real, it is not enough to show that preachers named Jesus existed. Some direct connection to the Biblical character is required, else how do we know we’ve got the right Jesus?

    • jeremyp
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      There’s a strong case to be made that the references by Josephus to Jesus are later interpolations by Christian scribes seeking to beef up the evidence.

      There are two references to Jesus in Josephus. Given that Josephus was not a Christian, one is a clear fake. Here it is:

      About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

      If Josephus had written that passage out, believing it to be true, he would certainly be a Christian. He was not.

      The other refers in passing to James the Brother of Jesus, but some have argued mistaken identity plus accidental interpolation.

      The best evidence that Jesus existed is that Christianity exists and did so at the time of Paul. Some single person almost certainly founded the cult (as it would’ve been at the time). That person we can choose to label Jesus.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately this is not where the story ends. One has to take into account what the earliest writings actually say about the “anointed savior” – and that’s where life gets very messy. Paul does not say anything about this saviour’s earthly existence, and instead tells stories about how he did stuff in (what we would call) outer space. Worse still, he says that he *and everyone else* did not learn the teachings of this demigod from a human source but instead from revelation and scripture. There’s more, but that’s a start.

    • Les
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      The name Jesus is a Roman version of Yeshua/Joshua, a very common Jewish name of the era.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      “Josephus, a Jew who came to Rome and wrote history, referred in passing to a contemporary rebel with a name very similar to Jesus. While I am an athiest, it seems that this is very strong evidence that a dissenter/insurgent type named Jesus did exist and was a leader…”

      According to Wikipedia, Josephus mentioned about 20 different people named Jesus. It was a popular name at the time (It is a form of ‘Joshua’, one of the more popular Hebrew prophets).

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        And also according to Wikipedia, he did specifically mention “Jesus, the one called the Messiah”, and mentions that James was his brother, as Paul also does.

        • Posted April 6, 2016 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Ah, and this mention of Jesus (unlike the one discussed above) is almost certainly not a Christian interpolation, since it was mentioned by Origen long before Christians had the power to alter well-known texts.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      The source of Josephus is not historical evidence by historian standards, since he wasn’t alive at the time and mention no sources, nor have other sources supporting him.

      So it may be persuasive, but it amounts to anecdote (probably invented) and not historical fact.

      If we don’t use historical standards, we are accepting a religious special pleading. As an empiricist [like Stephen Fry, I am glad to report!] I can’t accept that.

  3. Richard
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Prof. Coyne! I’ve struggled for some time to understand why Prof. Ehrman believes in the historicity of Jesus, and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who suspects that there’s a psychological blockage at the center of his stubbornness. It’s bothered me for some time, actually, because of the smugness with which Ehrman has dismissed mythicism as a fringe, quack theory. So far as I can tell, you’ve summarized the facts as they are: that almost all New Testament scholars accept the historicity of Jesus but that they do so on bad evidence.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    What started me on the journey to dis-believe in the existence of a Jesus was one of Ehrman’s earlier books, which showed that very little of the NT could be relied upon as accurate or non-fictional.

    That led me to Carrier’s tedious tome (it took me months to plow through).

    Add to this the lack of evidence that should exist if Jesus was a living being and I see no reason to believe anything but a created fantasy.

    “A religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt about the significance of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation”

    – Albert Einstein

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I’ve just read Jesus Interrupted by Erhman and it did the job of convincing me that Jesus didn’t exist, in spite of Erhman’s own irrational conclusion.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        I read one of Ehrman’s books on Jesus and also came away convinced Jesus didn’t exist. Before that, I thought there was a good chance he was based on a real person.

    • CJColucci
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Add to this the lack of evidence that should exist if Jesus was a living being and I see no reason to believe anything but a created fantasy.

      What should exist about the life of what would have been, historically, an obscure itinerant preacher ignominiously put to death, whose principal prophetic insight, if accurately attributed to him, was disproved a few decades after his death? What is the evidence for the existence of, say, Pontius Pilate’s second-in-command, whoever he might have been? There almost certainly was such a person, and he would have been of far more consequence than Jesus during their lifetimes, but what is there of him?
      I can’t help thinking about the Anti-Stratfordians who point to the minimal evidence for the existence of William Shakespeare when, in fact, there is about as much evidence as such a person would have generated at the time.

  5. GBJames
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    sub

  6. Brujo Feo
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    sub

  7. loren russell
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m quite comfortable with the Pythonian view of Jesus — there were a lot of him propheting around in that place and time, and at least one of them was a very naughty boy.

    • Richard
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I say he is the Messiah, and I should know, I’ve followed a few!

  8. steve oberski
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    The quality of the rebuttals by butt hurt xtians at the MacClean’s site can be summarized as follows:

    1) MacLean’s does this every easter.
    2) I dare you to do this about Islam/Mohammed.
    3) Canada is an xtian nation whose values are based on xtian values, why do you hate Jesus so much ?
    4) Richard Carrier – a historian who denies the existence of Jesus – (I attended his talk recently at CFI Toronto – very good) is self-admittedly polyamorous (I believe he is) there for his arguments are invalid.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      damn, I didn’t know that Canadians murdered people for working on a Sabbath (whenever that is).

      • steve oberski
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        That’s nothing compared to their reaction to the wearing of mixed fabrics.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Or picking up sticks on the Sabbath!

  9. jimroberts
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    As a non-Christian, my interest in whether Jesus existed is merely historical curiosity. Maybe there was an itinerant Jewish preacher and faith healer in early 1st century Judea, whose more or less distorted life story was decades later recorded in the Gospels we know. Maybe the story of an earthly Jesus was made up by the author of Mark and embellished by the other gospel authors. In either case, Jesus wasn’t a god, didn’t perform miracles, wasn’t born of a virgin. But there is some minor interest in determining which is more likely.

  10. SylmarSteve
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I should have added to my comment: While the person “Jesus” almost certainly existed, there is little solid evidence for the statements/doctrine attributed to him by the Bible and other religious texts.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Not that I necessarily disagree, but we need to determine what we mean when we say “THE person Jesus”.
      Personally, I’m ready to be very liberal in how distant a person can be from the Biblical Jesus, and still be THE historical Jesus, but frankly, I don’t have a good way to tell when the difference is big enough to make them different people.

      • John Scanlon FCD
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Jesus is a personage in writings of a fictional character by authors who are anonymous or themselves lack independent documentation, with no independent evidence of his existence, let alone the extraordinary claims that are the only important factoids in the case.

        For comparison, Socrates is a personage in writings of a fictional character that are not only less sensational and implausible, but attributed to authors whose names, biographies and published writings are pretty well attested by other sources (Plato and Aristophanes).

        For another comparison, Shakespeare is (by my definition) the author of the eponymous plays, and there’s really nothing proving that he was the actor/manager from Stratford (I use this example because the arguments so much resemble those around Jesus that perhaps it’s been a proxy/stalking-horse for mythicism over the last couple of centuries).

        Which one of these personages has the least claim on being a historically real individual, deserving of a capitalised definite article?

        • rickflick
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

          Another point to be made about these comparisons is, and I attribute the Hitch for this, no one really cares if Socrates was a real person or a committee, or an unknown hermit. The importance of the man is his writing and what we can take from it. Shakespeare is pretty much the same, although, since he’s more recent, we are more curious about his identity. Jesus, on the other hand has to have existed because if he didn’t the Christian religion goes up the chimney like so much newsprint and kindling.

  11. Scote
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I continue to be baffled by the number of atheists who argue for a “historical” Jesus, but when asked can’t define what that would mean, nor point to any sound extrabiblical evidence for his existence.

    How much of the life of Jesus could be false before one would say that Jesus was not a historical person? Does the name have to be right? The death? The life in between? How much of it? What if Jesus is a composite character, cobbled from a number of different people? (When reporters are caught creating composite characters out of the lives of multiple real people, the resulting character is called a fraud, not a historical person.)

    There was a real, historical Abraham Lincoln, though. There is all sorts of verifiable evidence to that effect. Yet none of that in any way boosters the truth of whether Abraham Lincoln was a Vampire Hunter, as documented in book and movie form. So, ultimately, whether or not there was a historical Jesus (whatever that means) does nothing whatsoever to prove whether or not the supernatural claims of the New Testament are true.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      ^^this I find a reasonable query. What makes a “historical jesus”

      historical

      and Jesus?

    • Linn
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 4:02 am | Permalink

      One thing is the number of atheist arguing that there might have been a crazy guy named Jesus at some point around this era, another thing is the Christians arguing the same.
      It confounds me why Christians are so eager to prove atheists wrong that they basically throw away their whole religion.

      I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Christians define their own saviour as just “some preacher guy” when arguing against atheists.
      It’s like they’re trying to pull a catch22 on us.

      Atheist:” There is no proof that a guy named Jesus was able to defy the laws of physics to perform miracles and rise from the dead 2000 years ago”.
      Christian: But historians agree that there could have been a preacher guy named Jesus at some point in history”.
      Atheist: “There’s plenty of people with the name Jesus, but that doesn’t mean..”
      Christian: “Aha. So you admit that Jesus exists”.
      Atheist: “Sigh”.

      In my experience Christians are willing to throw away everything that makes Jesus the son of god, just to make a point.
      They do the same thing with God itself, becoming sophisticated deists when it suits them and going back to believing in resurrections and miracles once the atheist is out of the room.

  12. Matt
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    If Jesus was a real person, it matters because… oh wait, scratch that. It does’t matter at all. Makes no difference one way or the other.

  13. Stephen
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Do you really understand the “historicist” arguments?

    Have you actually read Paul’s letters? (Bethune makes statements about Paul that are factually inaccurate.)

    If you don’t understand why Prof Ehrman has his opinion then why not read his book? (But don’t stop with Ehrman. Google Paula Fredrikson, Geza Vermes, E P Sanders, Gerd Ludemann. Read the classic text in the field, Albert Schweitzer’s THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS, still a good read after all these years.)

    Dismissing someone who disagrees with you by questioning his motives works both ways does it not? If I claim that mythicists deny Jesus’ existence simply as a polemical point to attack Christianity you would no doubt find that point of view somewhat lacking I would say.

    There are real reasons to think Jesus was a historical figure. You may ultimately not agree with them but at least find out what they are before you make your judgement.

    In conclusion let’s be skeptical and not accept any view without showing due diligence. Being atheists doesn’t make us experts on religion.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      There are real reasons to think Jesus was a historical figure. You may ultimately not agree with them but at least find out what they are before you make your judgement.

      I’ve read enough to know some of these reasons (including reading Paul and Ehrman). But, can you help us out, can you outline which you think are the best reasons for thinking that Jesus was a historical figure?

      • decourse
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:29 am | Permalink

        OK, I’ll bite. I’m going to assume that you’re really interested in how ancient historians come to the conclusions that they come to.

        As a disclaimer, I’m not a historian either. However, I did something that many people in this thread did not: I asked historians. You’d be surprised how well that works! So what you’re getting here is a synthesis of the opinion of several historians who work in ancient history.

        The first thing you have to understand is that real academia doesn’t work by “gotcha” evidence. You might be able to disprove a theory with a “gotcha”, but you can’t prove it.

        So let’s talk about evolution for a moment.

        Think of the bombardier beetle “argument against” evolution. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that it could be conclusively shown that such an organism couldn’t have evolved under the modern evolutionary synthesis model.

        What would that actually prove? Well, not very much, because this beetle is only one species out of billions upon billions.

        This one piece of “gotcha” evidence would not show that evolution by natural selection doesn’t happen in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases. It would not cancel out all of the paeleontological evidence, all of the genetic evidence, all of the geophysical evidence, all of the astronomical evidence, and so on, all of which points to a broad picture of a universe and Earth with certain ages, and plenty of time for evolution by natural selection to do its thing.

        At most, all this “gotcha” evidence would show is that maybe Darwin was more correct than modern biologists, in that perhaps natural selection isn’t the only mechanism by which species evolve.

        The reason why evolution is almost certainly true is that there are multiple independent lines of evidence that point to the same conclusion. The reason why scientists accept evolution is that it’s the only viable explanation which fits all the evidence.

        Anything is possible, including Last Thursdayism. But if Last Thursdayism is true, there’s no way we could know. At some point, we have to agree that it’s possible to know things about the natural world from the evidence that we have.

        Secondly, let’s talk about ancient history, and how it’s practiced by mainstream secular historians. The main theme here is that what makes a good historical theory is the same as what makes a good scientific theory.

        The name of this particular subfield is not called “Historical Jesus Research”. It goes by different names in different universities, but one common term is “Christian Origins”. The point is not to prove or disprove the existence of Jesus, because that actually doesn’t matter. The point is to find the best explanation as to how Christianity came to be.

        There is a point in the past where we can be pretty certain that Christianity didn’t exist. There is a point after this where we can be pretty certain that it did. There is a lot of evidence about that period in history, including but not limited to early Christian writings. The over-arching historical question is: What’s the best explanation as to how we got from A to B?

        This is a very important point to understand, because you often get to the question of “burden of proof”. Any theory of Christian origins is a positive claim, and anyone who poses such a theory carries the burden of providing evidence for it and providing evidence against an alternative theory.

        If the question was “does Jesus exist”, then you might think that “no” is the neutral or default position. But that is not the question at all. The question is “how did Christianity come to be?” A mythicist theory of Christian origins is not a neutral position. Carrier’s theory (say) is just as much of a positive claim as the mainstream secular theory is.

        So finally, we get to the main point: The main reason why the overwhelming majority of secular historians of the Ancient Near East believe that Jesus existed, is that it is the only theory for the origin of Christianity which plausibly explains the evidence.

        First off, Jesus is a very plausible figure. We know that many figures like Jesus (i.e. apocalyptic itinerant rabbis) existed in that time and place. Allowing only for the credulity of writers and listeners of that time and place (for which there is plenty of evidence), Jesus is exactly the kind of person you’d expect to find then and there.

        Secondly, there are so many multiple, independent lines of evidence for historical figures surrounding Jesus such that it is unlikely that they are the product of a conspiracy theory. To pick one obvious example, Paul is an eyewitness to both one of Jesus’ brothers (James) and his chief follower (Peter). Josephus mentions James independently (and in passing) in a passage which shows no evidence of tampering (unlike the TF).

        Non-existent people don’t have brothers. You could try to explain these independent sources away, by suggesting tampering where there is no evidence of it, or trying to explain why “brother” could mean anything but “brother”, and good on them for trying, but all such attempts tend to stack more implausibilities on top of each other.

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the claim that a guy had a brother is just not extraordinary.

        Thirdly, there is a complete lack of the sort of evidence that you might expect had Jesus been a fictional figure. We have, for example, a huge amount of material from early Christians combatting early heresies. Had there been any suggestion that Jesus had no physical form, you would expect to see a heresy which believed that, especially given a number of heresies for whom their beliefs would have been a lot simpler had they believed it (e.g. the docetists).

        Ultimately, to say that Jesus almost certainly existed is simply to say that we prefer the simplest theory which explains all the evidence, like any rational academic does.

        That’s a lot of text, and I’m sorry about that, but there’s only so much you can do in a comment thread, and mythicists do enjoy playing the Gish Gallop. It’s no substitute for reading a book like Ehrman’s or, even better, doing some undergraduate courses in ancient history.

        I’m happy to expand on this as well as I can, but let’s get a few things out of the way first: Any response of the form “look at the parallels between Jesus and Mythological Figure X” will probably be ignored; even if the “parallels” are genuine (the ones you see in Internet memes rarely are, e.g. Mithras, Horus, etc), they’re probably simple to explain using some combination of “mystics tend to say similar things” and “convergent evolution; see the Campbellian monomyth theory”. Any response of the form “miracles are unlikely” will be ignored; if you don’t know that miracles are attached to undisputed historical figures, you need to read more history. Any response of the form “you’re just shilling for Christian-soaked groupthink” will be treated with all the seriousness it deserves.

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 4:12 am | Permalink

          +1

        • maryhelena
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 4:20 am | Permalink

          I, for one, am not interested in an antagonistic discussion with you. One reason, apart from the fact, the fact, that you have no historical basis for your claim that Jesus was a historical figure, is that I believe debates between the Jesus historicists and the Doherty/Carrier mythicists are not the way forward in a search for early christian origins. That debate has become a cycle of argument that restricts forward movement.

          Both sides have their interpretation of the NT material. Interpretation! Interpretation is anyone’s game – from the ivory towers of academia to your doorstep Sunday morning preacher.

          The important point in regard to interpretation of the NT material is that, for it to have any relevance for a search for early christian origins, the interpretation has to link up with reality. In this case historical reality. For instance: one can argue that within the period 29/33 c.e. there possibly were apocalyptic prophets – but that premise is useless for a historical search for early christian origins. A historical search has to deal with history not with possibilities or even probabilities.

          So, decourse, if it is early christian origins that you are interested in, then, I suggest, you put all your NT interpretations aside for a while and take out a history book. Work from history towards the NT – not from the NT expecting to find ones NT interpretations reflected in a historical context. The danger with the latter approach is that the ‘history’ you will find is only in your own eyes….

          • decourse
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:02 am | Permalink

            I, for one, am not interested in an antagonistic discussion with you. One reason, apart from the fact, the fact, that you have no historical basis for your claim that Jesus was a historical figure, […]

            Excellent, I don’t want an antagonistic discussion either. Just as a friendly suggestion, we might start by being careful with possessives. It makes sense to talk about “Carrier’s theory”, but I’m not making the claim that you think I’m making.

            My claim, such as it is, is that pretty much every secular historian of the Ancient Near East has come to the same conclusion for extremely good reasons that even people who aren’t familiar with the methodologies of the world of the humanities can appreciate.

            […] debates between the Jesus historicists and the Doherty/Carrier mythicists are not the way forward in a search for early christian origins.

            I agree with you. Internet debates, especially, rarely settle anything, let alone provide anything resembling academic rigour.

            So, decourse, if it is early christian origins that you are interested in, then, I suggest, you put all your NT interpretations aside for a while and take out a history book.

            Well, I’m trying to outline the considered positions of secular historians as best I can, based both on the (quite a large number by now) books I’ve read on the topic as well as discussions with historians. I’m pretty sure I have it worked out.

            I will note in the interest of full disclosure that I haven’t read Carrier’s book yet. I did read “Proving History” and, being a mathematician by trade, was unimpressed to the point of almost wanting to throw the book across the room, but I guess I shouldn’t judge all of his books by that metric.

            I do note that phrases like “why we might have reason to doubt” or “it’s time to ponder whether” at least sound like the author is just keeping an open mind. On the basis of the evidence that we have, it’s not unthinkable that there was not historical Jesus, it’s merely unlikely.

            • maryhelena
              Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

              ”Well, I’m trying to outline the considered positions of secular historians as best I can, based both on the (quite a large number by now) books I’ve read on the topic as well as discussions with historians. I’m pretty sure I have it worked out.”
              —————-

              Well then – you are inline for a Nobel Prize……;-)

              What is unthinkable in a search for early christian origins is that the gospel story is without a historical core. The OT deals with ‘salvation’ history i.e. with an interpretation of Jewish history. The NT, likewise, deals with ‘salvation’ history i.e. with an interpretation of Jewish history.

              Where the Doherty/Carrier mythicists go wrong is to reject a historical core to the gospel story. Where the Jesus historicists go wrong is to claim that the historical core is the gospel Jesus.

              The historical core of the gospel story is history itself. From history springs interpretation, ‘salvation’ history. Interpretation without a historical footing is simply creating a vacuum in which wishful thinking can have a field day…

              The assumption that it is likely that Jesus was historical is a roadblock that is preventing forward movement in the search for early christian origins. If one is content with the assumption of a historical Jesus – then, by all means, stop at that roadblock. It’s a comforting place to be – the belief that one has ended ones search and found the holy grail. But, like life itself, change is unstoppable whatever the roadblocks erected to stem the tide of intellectual evolution.

              • decourse
                Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                Well then – you are inline for a Nobel Prize……;-)

                I don’t think they give them out for amateur history, sadly.

                What is unthinkable in a search for early christian origins is that the gospel story is without a historical core.

                Well, it’s not unthinkable that none of it has a historical basis, but it is unlikely because the evidence required to justify that position is relatively high.

                Just in case anyone reading is curious as to what I mean by this, consider three possible positions. I’m going to make these slightly unfair caricatures, so please don’t think that I’m referring to anyone in particular by these, it’s merely in service of a point.

                The first position I’ll call the “fundamentalist position”. This is the position where the gospels are completely accurate history, or at least close enough to completely accurate.

                This is a strong claim about all the evidence. If one story is more likely to be untrue than to be true, then this position is false.

                The second position I’ll call the “mythicist position”. This is the position where the gospels are completely inaccurate, either a work of fiction or a mix of material all of which is pure legend, pure myth, or pure fiction.

                This is also a strong claim about all the evidence. If even one story better explained as having been based on a real person, then this position is false.

                The third position I’ll call the “historical position”. This is the position where the gospels are a mix of material of varying veracity.

                This is a relatively weak claim. If some of the material is better explained by it being based on a real person (e.g. perhaps some of the anti-Sandherin political acts that Jesus is depicted as performing) and some of the material is better explained as legend or myth (e.g. the miraculous stuff), then this theory can explain it all in a way that neither the fundamentalist position nor the mythicist position can.

                It is undeniable that the gospels do represent a mix of material from different sources. That is absolutely clear from the text alone, to the point where you can tell that the redactors of the synoptic gospels had some material in common, as well as the mere existence of other early Christian texts such as apocryphal gospels.

                Where the Jesus historicists go wrong is to claim that the historical core is the gospel Jesus.

                I’m not sure what you mean by this.

                I can’t say I’ve taken a poll, but I imagine that most secular historians would distinguish the Jesus of history (e.g. Ehrman’s failed apocalyptic preacher) from the Jesus depicted in the gospels. The latter is based on the former, filtered through the normal process of mythologisation.

                Of course, the latter is still an interesting topic of study, if you’re into that sort of thing, because it says quite a lot about what at least some of the early Christians were thinking.

                The assumption that it is likely that Jesus was historical is a roadblock that is preventing forward movement in the search for early christian origins.

                The central point that I’m trying to make is that this is not an assumption, and it’s certainly not an unquestioned assumption. If anything, it’s a conclusion. But more importantly, it’s the only plausible theory which explains all the evidence.

                If Carrier or someone else succeeds in coming up with an even slightly plausible theory of Christian origins which involves no historical Jesus, I will be extremely happy. Extremely surprised, but happy. But if I were a historian, I’d consider that line of enquiry a waste of my time. Rather than shoehorn the evidence into a large pile of currently implausible assumptions, I’d rather just go where the evidence leads.

            • Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

              By the way, bear in mind that the vast majority of Christian-origins scholars have been Christians. Their whole mindset is “getting at the real Jesus behind the stories”. (This, for example, is the whole ethos of the influential Jesus Seminar.) For such people the idea that there was no historical Jesus is pretty unthinkable.

              Given that, it is very hard for the minority of secular scholars to go radically against the consensus. Even they are steeped in the ethos of a field that can cope with the idea that Jesus was not divine, but not with the idea that Jesus did not exist.

              • decourse
                Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

                One could also argue that most mythicists are ex-fundamentalists who just want to believe that Jesus didn’t exist because it makes it easier to rationalise what they once believed.

                I would not make that argument on either side. I have no psychology qualifications whatsoever. I’m merely pointing out that it’s an easy claim to make, but a hard one to justify.

              • Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                The claim that the majority of scholars of Christian origins are Christians is actually easy to justify. It’s also fairly obvious that Christians, with a faith-interest in the topic, are much more likely to pick that field of study.

            • maryhelena
              Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

              decourse: ‘I’d rather just go where the evidence leads.’

              And so do all of us….;-)

              If there was evidence that Jesus was historical – there would be no debate!

              What we have are sources of information. Sources that cannot be take on face value. Sources that have to be validated. Sources that have to be interpreted. There is no way on this god’s earth that a nobody figure like Jesus is ever going to be historically verified.

              What we have is a story, a gospel story. In order to find rhyme or reason for the existence of this story it is necessary to deal with Jewish history. Why? Because that is the setting for the story. The question we have to ask is what was it within Jewish history that generated this story being told. If all one is prepared to deal with is the story – then one is short-changing research into early christian origins. The gospel story is, as it were, a by-product of historical realities; historical realities from which the story writers found meaning – ‘salvation’ history. In other words; the gospel story is a super-structure that has been built upon a foundation of historical realities.

              —–

              For your information…..I am not a Doherty/Carrier type mythicists. Nor am I a Jesus historicists. There is a lot of ground between these two positions that needs to be examined. So – keep knocking your head against the mythicist – and vice versa for the historicists – nothing is going to come from that head-banging except perhaps a sore head….;-)

              • decourse
                Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                What we have are sources of information. Sources that cannot be take on face value.

                That’s true, but it’s also overstating it a little. Almost all of the time, an ancient text is exactly what it appears to be, given everything that we know about ancient texts.

                If it appears to be a letter, it probably is. If it appears to be propaganda, it probably is. If it appears to be apocalyptic literature, it probably is.

                A typical synoptic gospel appears to be an edited-together collection of material from varying sources. So a reasonable default assumption is that it probably is.

                That says nothing about what’s in it, except that now if you want to understand where those stories came from, you need to trace the sources as best you can.

                For your information…..I am not a Doherty/Carrier type mythicists.

                Sure, I got that. I’m only mentioning Carrier because he is the only mythicist who has produced anything on mythicism that’s interesting enough to be published in the academic press.

                My purpose here is to explain why historians come to the conclusion that they come to. As far as published academic work which disputes the mainstream conclusion goes, Carrier is (at the time of writing) the only game in town, so that’s the only work that can be responded to.

                I’m not accusing you, personally, of anything, and I apologise if I gave the impression that I was.

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:46 am | Permalink

                decourse: ‘I’m only mentioning Carrier because he is the only mythicist who has produced anything on mythicism that’s interesting enough to be published in the academic press.’
                ——————-

                While Carrier’s book, OHJ, is full of his detailed argument, it is not the only book worth reading. (I gave up reading after a few chapters and only use the book as a reference book for Carrier’s argument…I’ve been an ahistoricist/mythicist for over 30 years so have pretty much read all the arguments….)

                I would recommend that you read Thomas Brodie’s book:

                ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery’.

                While this book is not a detailed, scholarly, argument for the ahistoricist position, Brodie is a NT scholar of many years standing and has published scholarly books. Unfortunately, Brodie’ position of being in a sort of loyal opposition to the Catholic Church has resulted in him being no longer able to teach, write or make public statements. i.e. the man has been silenced.

                Brodie is not an atheist. Personally, I find that Brodie has a ‘feel’ for the NT, and the OT, material that I don’t think Carrier will ever have. Not, of course, in any ‘sacred’ sense – rather, I suppose, like someone who has a ‘feel’ for painting or gardening, a natural disposition towards their particular interest. Carrier leaves me cold – Brodie offers a helping hand…;-)

                (if you want to get a look at Brodie’ scholarly work – ‘The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings’.)

              • decourse
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 12:32 am | Permalink

                ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery’.

                I will see if I can track it down, thanks for the tip.

                I’m not sure if this is relevant, but if I’m understanding you correctly, would you say that Brodie is not a historian?

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:34 am | Permalink

                Thomas Brodie is not an historian. He has a
                ‘STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology’.

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Hi decourse,

          Cutting to the actual evidence you point to:

          To pick one obvious example, Paul is an eyewitness to both one of Jesus’ brothers (James) …

          That reference to “brother of the Lord” is indeed one of the strongest snippets of evidence for a historical Jesus, but it is not conclusive. For example, elsewhere in his letters, Paul uses the same Greek words “brothers and sisters” when he clearly means “fellow Christian”.

          Further, one should note that we don’t have Paul’s original letters, only later versions that have been tampered with. They first appear in history in the writings of Marcion, who states that they have been doctored.

          … and his chief follower (Peter).

          No-one is disputing the existence of *Christians* at that time, so that is irrelevant.

          Josephus mentions James independently (and in passing) in a passage which shows no evidence of tampering (unlike the TF).

          Carrier has a peer-review article asserting that this is not a reference to brother-of-Jesus James but to another James. He may be wrong, but again this evidence is not knock-down. Note also that Josephus is writing 60 years afterwards, and he may just be reporting inaccurate information.

          Ultimately, to say that Jesus almost certainly existed is simply to say that we prefer the simplest theory which explains all the evidence, …

          But there is a lot of evidence that that does *not* explain. Suppose you learned that *God* *himself* had been been very recently living as a human in a nearby town.

          Would you (1) go and sit at the feet of people who had met him, asking them all about him and what he had said, or (2) ignore them and wander round Arabia for a couple of years?

          Why is it that Paul does (2) and not (1)? Is it that he has no conception of there being people who had actually met Jesus (other than in visions of the sort that he himself claimed)?

          Why does he never distinguish between people who had met Jesus and other apostles? Is he even aware of that distinction?

          Why does he never quote any of the many sayings of Jesus that ended up in gospels, even when they’d be very useful to support the doctrinal points he was arguing?

          Why is Paul openly dismissive of people who would have been close followers of Jesus, and thus presumably much better authorities on Jesus’s teachings than himself?

          Why does he *tell* us that he gets his doctrine from *scripture* and from direct revelation, but never from what people were saying Jesus had said?

          Why is there so little evidence of proto-gospels or oral tradition about a historical Jesus in Paul’s letters? Afterall, he discusses all sorts of trivialities in his letters.

          The point is that the marginal evidence of the sort you point to (only two disputable points in a rather long comment!) is not sufficient to outweigh these questions.

          • decourse
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            That reference to “brother of the Lord” is indeed one of the strongest snippets of evidence for a historical Jesus, but it is not conclusive.

            As I tried to say, in some detail, real-world scholarship doesn’t deal with “knock-down” evidence, especially when it comes to ancient history. It’s about building a coherent picture out of multiple, independent lines of evidence which all point to the same conclusion.

            That particular detail is quite good, but that’s mostly because it’s particularly easy to explain in a comment field! Other lines of evidence are much harder to explain, and it’s better just to point people to books and papers that they almost certainly won’t read.

            For example, elsewhere in his letters, Paul uses the same Greek words “brothers and sisters” when he clearly means “fellow Christian”.

            Elsewhere, Paul referred to “the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas” (i.e. Peter). Clearly some distinguishing going on there.

            Why is it that Paul does (2) and not (1)? […] Why does he never distinguish between people who had met Jesus and other apostles?

            I don’t know what was going through his head (obviously), but as an observation, like many mystics, Paul didn’t seem to think that any Christian was better than anyone else. I don’t know if you’ve ever met any hard-core mystical types, but humility almost to the point of fetish is a common theme.

            Of course, a cynic might point out that giving Peter greater privilege just because Peter met Jesus physically rather than mystically might undercut Paul’s authority.

            • Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

              It’s about building a coherent picture out of multiple, independent lines of evidence which all point to the same conclusion.

              Agreed, but that’s what the historicists don’t really have. Much of the evidence points more to mythicism. It’s not clear either way, which is why the field of early-Christian studies needs to start taking the issue of Jesus’s historicity seriously.

              I don’t know what was going through his [Paul’s] head (obviously) …

              But equally you don’t really know his intention when writing the phrase “brother of the Lord”. There are a lot of alternatives: it could be a particular rank or title, or a term for a particular group of Christians (cf “Christian Brothers” today), or it could just be a respectful way of addressing an elder (just as one might address some people as “Mister …” but not others).

              The point is that if that’s the best evidence there is (and, yes, it is!) then it’s not that conclusive.

          • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

            ” Suppose you learned that *God* *himself* had been been very recently living as a human in a nearby town.”

            It’s clear from Paul’s letters that he DID NOT consider Jesus to be God himself – that conception of Jesus arose at a much later stage in the development (post John, actually).

            “Why does he never distinguish between people who had met Jesus and other apostles?”

            Paul does distinguish between the apostles and the “brothers of the Lord.” Why do you expect the distinction you ask about and ignore the distinction he makes?

            “Why does he never quote any of the many sayings of Jesus that ended up in gospels, even when they’d be very useful to support the doctrinal points he was arguing?”

            Actually, he does mention and quote “sayings of the Lord” at several points. Tho it’s true that there is little overlap between these and the sayings in the gospels. But “never” is simply incorrect.

            “Why is Paul openly dismissive of people who would have been close followers of Jesus, and thus presumably much better authorities on Jesus’s teachings than himself?”

            This is likely a polemical point: he considered his own “revelation” to be authoritative, and wanted to assert his authority against others in the early leadership.

            “Why is there so little evidence of proto-gospels or oral tradition about a historical Jesus in Paul’s letters?”

            I think the more important question is why is there so little evidence of a mythical Jesus in the early Christian tradition? All the evidence points the other way: the more mythical versions of Jesus (Gnostic, e.g.) come later in the tradition, the less exalted versions (Paul, Mark, Q) come earlier. How does the mythicist explain all this literary evidence?

            • Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              Paul does distinguish between the apostles and the “brothers of the Lord.” Why do you expect the distinction you ask about and ignore the distinction he makes?

              He calls one person, James, “brother of the Lord”, doesn’t he?

              But the point is that he has no concept of the “disciples”, people who followed Jesus in his lifetime, despite the fact that these feature prominently in the later gospels.

              He only talks about “apostles”, which is a wider term, including himself and others who had never met Jesus.

              Other than the “brother of the Lord” remark, he never names anyone who he says had met Jesus.

              Actually, he does mention and quote “sayings of the Lord” at several points.

              Can you give examples? (The Corinthians “last supper” sentences is one example.) Does he ever use a phrase “sayings of the Lord”?

              the more mythical versions of Jesus (Gnostic, e.g.) come later in the tradition, the less exalted versions (Paul, Mark, Q) come earlier. How does the mythicist explain all this literary evidence?

              We don’t have firm dating that puts Paul’s letters or “Mark” before gnostics such as Marcion, who was highly prominent in early Christianity (and later written out as a heretic).

              (And of course we don’t have “Q” at all, it’s entirely hypothetical.)

              The suggestion is that “Mark” wrote his gospel as a theological allegory, turning a gnostic Jesus into a human-being Jesus.

            • decourse
              Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

              It’s clear from Paul’s letters that he DID NOT consider Jesus to be God himself – that conception of Jesus arose at a much later stage in the development (post John, actually).

              This is a very good point (which I missed at midnight last night when I posted my response) which is worth expanding on, because this is a good example of a different line of evidence, albeit one that’s much harder to explain in a comment field.

              We have textual and, in some cases, manuscript evidence to put bounds on the dates on when the gospels and the authentic letters of Paul were written. I use the word “written” advisedly, because it’s more correct to say that the gospels were edited together from other material, and there’s some evidence that at least one “authentic” letter of Paul is actually several (probably authentic) letters edited together at a later date, but let’s use the term “written” for now.

              If you sort the gospels and interpolations in the order that they were probably written, a clear picture emerges: in the earlier texts, Jesus was not “God himself”, and that as time goes on, Jesus was depicted as less fully human and more divine.

              Robert notes that it was “post John”, and that’s true, but even in John you can see some early ideas creeping in which led to the eventual doctrine; the claim “before Abraham was, I AM” appears first in John, and not in the earlier gospels.

              Now there’s a lot of detail that goes into making this case; probably hundreds of individual pieces of historical research. Nonetheless, it’s a clear picture: Jesus was originally understood as a man, and came to be understood over time as God.

              Once again, this doesn’t prove that Jesus was a historical figure (as noted, that’s not what this field of history is primarily interested in), but it corroborates weight to a coherent picture of a historical figure becoming mythologised over time.

              But it’s hard to see how this evidence fits with a Carrier-like theory of a purely celestial/mystical figure. If Jesus was first thought of as very much a man, then the earliest stories are more likely to have originated with a man.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:19 am | Permalink

                “… as time goes on, Jesus was depicted as less fully human and more divine.”

                But the earliest writings are Paul’s letters, and everyone agrees that Paul has little interest in a living-as-a-human Jesus, and says virtually nothing about him, and instead talks mostly about a heavenly Jesus who appears in visions.

                So, the earliest writings don’t fit your case.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                The earliest writings I know of are in Zechariah, centuries before Paul. And Zechariah’s Jesus is as heavenly as it gets; Jesus is the architect of YHWH’s celestial temple and its high priest.

                b&

                >

          • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            Paul thinks he is hearing the voice of god himself in his head. It is not surprising that he thinks he doesn’t need apostles’s versions.

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          “The main reason why the overwhelming majority of secular historians of the Ancient Near East believe that Jesus existed, is that it is the only theory for the origin of Christianity which plausibly explains the evidence.”

          Ummm… no. Not at all. Firstly – there is no secular evidence. Secondly, it does a much worse job than the Mythicist framework.

          Third, there are very few secular historians of that time period who have even thought about the problem for more than ten minutes.

          Fourthly, your (lack of) argument concerning “James the brother of the Lord” is so awful I have no real wish to continue with you. I do not think you have spent very much effort in research on this topic.

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          See additional reply down-thread!

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

          “There is a point in the past where we can be pretty certain that Christianity didn’t exist. There is a point after this where we can be pretty certain that it did. There is a lot of evidence about that period in history, including but not limited to early Christian writings. The over-arching historical question is: What’s the best explanation as to how we got from A to B?”

          This applies to literally every belief system that came into existence. Mormonism, for example. At one point Mormonism didn’t exist, then it did. Couple that with with the sworn eyewitness testimony already mentioned by JC, and you find yourself accepting the literal existence of angels, along with Joseph Smith’s claims about the golden tablets, etc.

          Much verbiage, little substance.

          • decourse
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            At one point Mormonism didn’t exist, then it did.

            Allowing for the credulity of people at the time, we have a pretty good mainstream historical theory of how and when it came to be.

            It’s an odd choice of example you picked there. The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is extremely good, to the point that I don’t think anyone seriously doubts it.

            Much verbiage, little substance.

            I did say that it’s no substitute for an undergraduate course in ancient history. Nobody ever claimed that even a long comment or a blog post was any substitute for academic rigour.

            • Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

              It’s an odd choice of example you picked there. The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is extremely good, …

              Yes, the evidence for the writer is good, but the evidence for the things he wrote about (Angel Moroni, gold plates) is rather bad.

              In the same way, the evidence that there were people who wrote Paul’s letter and Mark’s gospel is good, but the evidence for the things they wrote about (Jesus) is much worse.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the paternalism and the argument from authority but the commentariat here isn’t as ignorant as you assume. There are most likely several historians here and many who have degrees in applicable fields. I’m most concerned for your reverence to authority, however. Sound reasoning and arguments are more important than assertions and degrees.

          • decourse
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the paternalism and the argument from authority but the commentariat here isn’t as ignorant as you assume.

            I’m sure there are plenty of people here who understand, but I did skim the thread first, and one common theme was extremely plain. A lot of people (probably not your good self) seem to think that the question that historians are trying to answer is something of the form “What’s the evidence for a historical Jesus?” The over-emphasis on that question reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what historians are trying to do.

            I went through it in some detail and using a lot of words, because I wanted to drum home that the real question, the one that you actually want an answer to, is “What’s best explanation for the evidence that we have?”

            If you want to understand why the overwhelming majority of secular historians think what they do, and why they find mythicist theories unpersuasive, that where the conversation needs to start.

            In ancient history, you never get the evidence that you want, you get the evidence that you get.

            Asking “What’s the evidence for a historical Jesus?” starts with the theory and fits the evidence to it, which has it exactly backwards. Asking “What’s the best explanation?” starts with the evidence and fits the theory to that, and if it doesn’t fit, or if the evidence needs to be twisted too much to fit, the theory is discarded.

            • maryhelena
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:06 am | Permalink

              decourse, How about giving a list of the historians that believe the ‘evidence we have’ leads to their conclusion that Jesus was a historical Jesus?

              Not only a name on a list of course – but references, and links if possible, to their published work, in peer reviewed historical journals, supporting their conclusion that the ‘evidence we have’ leads to a historical Jesus.

              And please – no names of NT scholars.

              • decourse
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

                How about giving a list of the historians that believe the ‘evidence we have’ leads to their conclusion that Jesus was a historical Jesus?

                Obviously a complete list is impossible, but I can throw out a few obvious names. Helen Bond, Larry Hurtado, R. Joseph Hoffman, Gerd Lüdemann, Joan Taylor…

                Oh, wait, but hang on…

                Not only a name on a list of course – but references, and links if possible, to their published work, in peer reviewed historical journals, supporting their conclusion that the ‘evidence we have’ leads to a historical Jesus.

                I’m a bit confused about what you want here.

                Let me put it this way. How many academic papers, in peer-reviewed biology journals, do you suppose have been published in the last 50 years which support the conclusion that “the evidence that we have” leads to evolution?

                In one sense, almost all of them do. In another sense, almost none of them do because almost none of them state explicitly that the evidence points to evolution, nor do they explain precisely how the evidence in this particular paper points to evolution. You have to be a biologist to see why, and if you’re determined not to agree with evolution, that won’t convince you because of all the arguments we’ve heard ad nauseam.

                So can you please explain precisely what kind of academic publications you’re after and, perhaps more importantly, whether or not we should expect them to exist even assuming for the sake of argument that Jesus did exist and the evidence points in that direction?

                And please – no names of NT scholars.

                What do you mean by “NT scholars”? Given that pretty much all of the evidence is textual in nature, you have to have some qualifications in ancient literature to understand this stuff, and if your expertise is in early Christian texts, that often gets filed under a heading like “biblical studies”.

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

                Not a professional historian among this lot….
                You made the claim that historians back up your historical Jesus – and all you do is provide names of NT scholars…..

                ————————
                Professor Helen Bond
                MTheol PhD

                Professor in Christian Origins

                ——————-

                Larry W. Hurtado, PhD, FRSE

                I’m a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins

                —————————

                R. Joseph Hoffman

                graduation from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Oxford, R. Joseph Hoffmann was tutor in Greek at Keble College and Senior Scholar at St Cross College, Oxford

                He began his teaching career at the University of Michigan as Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies where he developed the undergraduate and graduate program in Christian origins

                ———————–

                Gerd Lüdemann

                is a German New Testament scholar…he was appointed in 1983 to the Chair in New Testament Studies in the Theological Faculty of the University of Göttingen.

                ——————
                Joan Taylor

                ‘I teach New Testament and Second Temple Judaism in the department of Theology and Religious Studies at King’s College London.’

                After a BA degree at Auckland University, New Zealand, Joan completed post-graduate studies at the University of Otago, majoring in New Testament,

              • decourse
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, I still don’t understand the point you’re trying to make.

                How is it possible to have expertise on early Christianity and the world in which it existed without studying the source material heavily?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

              And you will realize, as do most Classicists, that the historians of antiquity were quite unlike today’s historians. They were much closer to story tellers and to rely on their tellings exclusively isn’t going to get you the facts, so there needs to be correlation of such things with other ancient sources.

              • decourse
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

                Of course! To pick an obvious example, from a source which doesn’t even pretend to be history, the main historical source we have for the Catiline conspiracy is Cicero.

                Cicero’s orations were blatant propaganda (today we would call it an election campaign) and therefore highly untrustworthy. Nonetheless, we can be pretty sure that it happened, and even reconstruct at least some of the details with a reasonable degree of certainty.

                The key is to understand the nature of the source material, and follow the principle that it probably is exactly what it appears to be. In Catilinam appears to be a propagandistic spin on real events, so without any evidence to the contrary, the most reasonable approach is to treat it as such.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                Though Cicero was an orator not an historian. A better example would be Herodotus.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          “The main reason why the overwhelming majority of secular historians of the Ancient Near East believe that Jesus existed, is that it is the only theory for the origin of Christianity which plausibly explains the evidence.”

          You’ve got to be kidding! There is no evidence for any of the major religion’s mythical founder theories. But there is plenty of evidence of early sects splitting off, where one – or in the case of mohammedanism, two – sect made it on a larger scale. It is a case of non-historical miracle vs darwinian-type small steps in a well known social process.

          Now I suppose you will walk back to the neutral claim – which you for some non-empirical reason best known for yourself call a ‘gotcha’ – that there is no historical acceptable evidence for this specific myth figure. Your tedious list of non-historical non-evidence makes that case stronger.

          Besides, I think you are wrong on what historians accept. Here is a description of the historical status:

          “There is widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings,[2] and the only two events subject to “almost universal assent” are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.[2][13][58][59].”

          [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Events_generally_accepted_as_historical ]

          But those “historical events” are pitiful. There is no historical evidence of the myth figure ‘John the Baptist’ and of the mythical procedure of ‘crucifixion’. (Personally I think the recurrent myth, which is described by Josephus, say, goes back to the historical event where Alexander put up ~ 2000 persons on X configured poles before a city that had resisted him at length, a Hellenistic Conquest trauma that underpins the religious movements at the time christianism arose.)

          I see no reason to accept this muddled non-historical assent in the absence of a peer reviewed consensus.

        • Barry Lyons
          Posted April 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          If Mithras and Horus aren’t considered genuine parallels, which ones would be? Is the story of a man-god who is murdered but come backs to life unique to Christianity or not? If it isn’t unique, which stories do you accept as being, in fact (as it were), genuine parallels to the story of Jesus?

    • dabertini
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes!! But us skeptics keep asking for evidence of a historical Jesus, yet none has been provided. In fact there is plenty of evidence that Jesus was a mythical character, yet no one has provided counter evidence.

    • Robert bray
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      I don’t recall whether you’re a regular commenter here, Stephen, but if you are you’ll surely remember the excursus made a year or more ago by Ben Goren. It was to my mind the definitive statement of the mythicist position. Unanswered by historicists because it’s unanswerable. It’s still entombed somewhere in the catacombs of this blog. If you haven’t read Goren’s essay, why, then, roll away the stone and have a look!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

        Here is Ben’s post. I consider him our go-to local expert in these matters as he’s put a lot of work into investigating this stuff.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          BTW I searched “Ben Goren Jesus” on WEIT to ultimately find it. I find that amusing. How often would I use such a search string?

          • Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            “Goren Ben Jesus” would be funnier, no?

            /@

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              Actually I think “Ben Jesus Goren” would be the funniest.

            • Posted April 3, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

              You crack in’ wise, son?

              • Posted April 3, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                Between autocorrect and WP’s stubborn refusal to create an edit function…

            • Posted April 3, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

              You crackin’ wise, son?

  14. Stonyground
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    The Gospel of Mark was written half a century after the events that it claims to portray. Nobody knows who wrote it or why. If Jesus was so important, why did no one write about him straight away? Luke and Matthew copied Mark and added bits of their own. The Jesus described in the Gospel of John is an entirely different character. The genuine letters of Paul ignore the Jesus character to such an extent that scholars are forced to jump through the most absurd hoops to explain why.

    Just sayin’

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      “If Jesus was so important, why did no one write about him straight away?”

      I suppose that 1st century Romans, similarly to present-day Europeans, failed to see in time the importance of a fundamentalist religion and the danger it could pose to their society.

    • CJColucci
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      If Jesus was so important, why did no one write about him straight away?

      If you assume, as secular scholars who believe there was a historical Jesus mus, that Yeshua ben Yusuf did not perform miracles or rise from the dead, then he wasn’t all that “important.” Just another minor character from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

  15. Steve Pollard
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    For those whose eyes glaze over at the thought of Bayesian history, it is worth giving Earl Doherty a go: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/home.htm

    He focuses on the awkward fact, alluded to above, that nowhere does Paul seem to cite a real, historical Jesus; and concludes that Paul’s “Jesus” was an entirely spiritual figure. FWIW Carrier appears to support Doherty’s general position.

  16. Posted April 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    This is fascinating stuff. But I’m tempted to suggest that arguing about the existence of a very long-dead individual, is a bit like fiddling while Rome burns. The biggest crisis facing humanity is the man-made hell we are making of the planet. Also as an anthropologist of sorts, I am horrified at the historical systematic abuse inflicted on indigenous peoples in the name of civilizing them and introducing them to the love of Jesus. Jeez!

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but…at least in U.S. politics, it can be rather difficult to separate the two. The politicians who take the position that ACC is a “hoax” are pretty much the same set as the ones who are Jeebus-addled.

      If you want action on ACC, then you may have no choice but to directly confront religion in general, and Christianity in the specific.

    • Robert bray
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Yet one of the most important functions of this forum is to raise and try to answer the ‘first things’ question: is X the case or is it not. Wouldn’t you agree that the truth of any assertion/proposition is the ONLY strong foundation upon which to build a more righteous society, saving our Mother Earth in the process?

      • Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        Earth first every time. On it alone all races depend.

  17. Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Just a few days ago I gave a talk on this very subject for a local Secular Humanist group. After many weeks of research, I feel that I have a good handle on it. I agree almost entirely with Prof. Ceiling Cat (emeritus): there is no good evidence that there ever was a real, flesh-and-blood person who is the basis for the Jesus myths or who had any role in the establishment of Christianity.

    The MacLeans’ piece has some utility in that it uses a popular story to show how a notion can take hold based on faulty memory, but as far as the actual question of the historical Jesus, it takes far too much on faith. There is no evidence that the gospel of Mark is based on earlier documents or on an oral tradition about an actual person. It looks far more like an allegorical retelling of stories from Hebrew scriptures, using a basic story line and character types which were commonplace at the time it was written. The other canonical gospels, and dozens of other gospels and similar writings that didn’t get included in what became our New Testament centuries after they were written, all go back to the fiction-writer Mark, and they clearly exhibit a trajectory of progressively more fantastical story elements being added layer by layer by successive authors.

    Tradition holds that the Apostle Paul wrote his letters in the 50s AD, which would be 25-70 years before Mark. There is some debate as to whether Paul was even a real person or just a character who was invented to give authority to letters written by somebody else (Marcion of Pontus, for example). But if the tradition is accurate, then Paul, who lived much closer to the supposed time of Jesus, should be a much better authority — their lives would have overlapped, and he would have been able to visit the places Jesus taught and interview people who heard him first-hand. But it turns out that Paul seems only to have believed in a “Christ” who was some kind of celestial being, who never had a body or came to earth, who never spoke to anyone face-to-face, never had a ministry, never had disciples, never preached to a crowd, etc. Paul’s Jesus was crucified and resurrected all right, but not even on earth, rather in the lower reaches of heaven, which in Hebrew cosmology was between the earth and the moon. And here’s the kicker: this belief, in a celestial Jesus who never walked on earth, was the foundation of Christianity. Not a belief in a man who had disciples and preached to crowds.

    I could go on: the talk I gave last week was nearly 10,000 words. If anybody would like to read it, I have made it available here.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Well, for some reason my link didn’t work. My talk is at tinyurl.com/Jesus-Fact-Fiction

    • Historian
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      The link to your talk doesn’t seem to work.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      The claim that Paul believed that Jesus was crucified in a celestial realm just below the moon was first made by Earl Doherty but which I find very unconvincing. How does this square with the early Paul’s blaming Jesus’ death on Jews. In Galatians, he claims to have met actual disciples of Jesus, and mentions that Jesus was a Jew.

      Doherty is basing this on a very ambiguous reading of one epistle, contradicted by two or three others.

      • Ken Daniels
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

        JonLynn, you don’t seem very familiar with Doherty’s thesis as he clearly answers the question of why one of Paul’s Epistles supposedly blames the Jews for killing Jesus.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          I believe I knew that at one time, but how does Doherty explain the multiple references to Jesus as a flesh and blood being in Galatians as opposed to the single solitary one in Thessalonians?

      • Starr
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:12 am | Permalink

        As to Paul blaming Jesus’s death on the Jews, that passage is considered an interpolation (something added later by another author), even by historicist scholars (i.e. most secular scholars).

        Paul never claims to meet disciples of Jesus, you should reread Galatians.

        Paul does mention that Jesus is of the seed of David, but this can be considered either figurative, or literal and still be mythical. However I did always consider this one of the weaker mythicist points.

        I used to lean toward historicism, but it was really Bart Ehrman’s book on the matter that changed my mind. Like you I’d read Doherty, and thought his ideas were interesting, but may have been a stretch at times, and was comfortable assuming the scholarly consensus was true. When I read Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist though I was stunned. I remember after reading it thinking: That is it!? That is the entire basis of the consensus there was a historical Jesus at the beginnings of Christianity!? Now it could be that Ehrman just did a piss poor job arguing the case, but I had to re-evaluate my position on the matter after reading his book. I think that most likely there is just not enough surviving evidence to say anything with much certainty, but I find the weight of evidence slightly weighted in favor of mythicism.

        Sort of an aside, but one thing I liked in Carrier’s book on the subject was his discussion of 1st Peter. This is considered by most secular biblical scholars to be a forgery. After all, Peter was illiterate right? Carrier pointed out that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a forgery because Peter being illiterate is, in and of itself, likely a literary invention (it being very unlikely that the leader and perhaps founder of the cult was illiterate). This made me remember a few times reading some of Ehrman’s books, where he would point out 1st Peter being a forgery, giving the reasoning above. I’d never questioned why he trusted that characterization of Peter as being a true historical fact.

        • Posted April 6, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          “Paul never claims to meet disciples of Jesus, you should reread Galatians.”

          What??? How can you say that? “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas [Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”

          From this you get that Paul never claims to meet disciples of Jesus?

  18. maryhelena
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Memory theory is the Achilles Heel of the historicists Jesus assumption. Bart Ehrman has even acknowledged, in his latest blog post that: ‘Even more striking, we regularly create memories of things that did not occur at all. It happens all the time.’

    (open public blog post http://ehrmanblog.org/hnn-news-story-on-jesus-before-the-gospels/)

    Erhman proposes that the gospel writers put their stories, sourced from memories, in written form somewhere between 40 – 60 years after the crucifixion. However, if this is the argument re how the gospel writers obtained their source material – acting more like researchers or journalists than creative writers – then the question these scholars are forgetting to ask is : What were the social/political memories of those living at the time of the assumed crucifixion under Pilate? i.e. memories that would have their source prior to the time of Pilate.

    One such memory would surely be of the Roman execution of the last King and High Priest of the Jews. Antigonus II Mattathias, executed by Marc Antony in 37 b.c.e. This Roman execution taking place around 70 years prior to the gospel crucifixion story, a story set somewhere between 29/33 c.e.

    Josephus says Antigonus was beheaded. Wikipedia: ‘Roman historian Dio Cassius says he was crucified and records in his Roman History: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him’.

    ‘Biblical scholar Gregory Doudna proposed in 2013 that Antigonus II Mattathias was the figure known as the Wicked Priest in the Qumran Scrolls.[10][11] According to Doudna, Antigonus was the figure underlying the ‘Wicked Priest’ of Pesher Habakkuk, and the doomed ruler of Pesher Nahum, the documents found at Qumran.’ (This negative view of Antigonus being due to the infighting between the Hasmoneans – Antigonus removed his uncle, Hyrcanus from the High Priesthood.)

    Whatever else is related in the gospel story, it does seem that it’s crucifixion story, the Roman execution of a King of the Jews, is being based upon the historical Roman execution of Antigonus. It is memory of this historical event that is being remembered by the gospel writers when they set their Jesus crucifixion story around 29/33 c.e. – a 70 year remembrance. The sedition elements of the gospel crucifixion story – including the incident of the ear being cut off – reflect the Josephan history of Antigonus.

    To conclude: When the gospel story is viewed as a political allegory – then the gospel story can be viewed as reflecting historical memories. A memorial, if you will, albeit in the form of an allegory, of Jewish history. What other method was open to a people living under Roman occupation?

    Yes, of course, lots of theology and philosophy etc within the political allegory – but ground zero is Jewish/Hasmonean history. That is the gospel’s historical core.

    • Richard C
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Dio Cassio was writing some two centuries after the event, which I think is too late to be reliable. Wikipedia also quotes Plutarch as saying it was a beheading, and he was closer to the time of the events than even Josephus.

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Possibilities: 1) Cassius Dio had a source for his statement. 2) Dio knows the gospel story about a King of the Jews executed by Rome and made the connection to Antigonus.

        The point I wanted to make was simply to draw attention to what would be the historical memories of people living around 29/33 c.e. I wanted to ask this question as NT scholars are keen to use memory as a tool by which to reach their historical Jesus figure.

        That Josephus only mentions beheading for Antigonus does not rule out a prior scourging on a stake/cross. Particularly as it seems Antigonus was not executed immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. (Marc Antony, re Daniel Schwartz, was not in Antioch, where Antigonus was executed, until later. Antioch, interestingly, being the place in which Christians were first called by that name…)

        Keeping in mind that crucifixion, hanging on a cross, was viewed as a curse, it is possible that the Jewish sensibilities of Josephus would have sought to side-step this aspect involved in the death of Antigonus.

        Just to be very clear. Antigonus was not, is not, the gospel figure of Jesus. That gospel figure is a literary construct. A literary construct that has used the historical figure of Antigonus as the basis of it’s crucifixion story. The gospel story is much more than it’s crucifixion story….it’s Jesus figure being a composite figure.

        Below are some quotes from Greg Doudna:
        ————————–

        A Narrative Argument that the Teacher of Righteousness was Hyrcanus II

        Greg Doudna

        What has long been overlooked is that a Qumran text, widely acknowledged to have been authored at about this very time, speaks directly of a Jewish ruler being “hung up alive”—just like Dio Cassius’s account of the fate of Antigonus Mattathias. This is found at 4QpNah 3-4 i 8-ii 1, which is a pesher unit consisting of a biblical quotation followed by its interpretation. The text introduces this unit with the words: “concerning the one hanged up alive on a stake it is proclaimed:”, or “to the one hanged up alive on a stake he (i.e. God) proclaims:”. This is how the text of Pesher Nahum visibly introduces this particular unit. A quotation from Nah. 2:14 then follows (destruction of an Assyrian ruler and his regime) and then the pesher or interpretation, which refers to a doomed ruler of Israel and the fall of his regime. Elsewhere this same ruler of Israel (from identical language) is said explicitly to have a malkut, “kingdom” (3-4 iv 3). This doomed ruler of 3-4 i 8-ii 1 is a Jewish king in the world of the text, and the text presents him as “hung up alive” and accursed.

        …..

        In what may come to be regarded as one of the more unusual, indeed astonishing, oversights in the history of Qumran scholarship, so far as is known it seems no previous scholar has proposed that Antigonus Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king of Israel, executed by the Romans in 37 BCE, might be the figure underlying the Wicked Priest of Pesher Habakkuk or the doomed ruler of Pesher Nahum. The actual allusion of the figure of these texts, Antigonus Mattathias, remained unseen even though it was always in open view, as obvious as it could be. And in wondering how Antigonus Mattathias was missed in the history of scholarship I include myself, for I too missed this in my 2001 study of Pesher Nahum.

        http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/03/dou398018.shtml

  19. trou
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    What troubles me about non-believers is that even though they reject religion, they accept the conclusions of the religious scholars. In other words, they reject religion but accept the paradigm. Why would anyone do this? If you don’t believe Jesus was the son of god, or that he didn’t perform miracles, etc. why would you accept the rest of the story?

    Let’s look at a few examples.
    He was raised in Nazareth. No,that town didn’t exist until the end of the 1st century (Rene Salm).
    Christianity got off running at the death of Jesus. No, it now looks like orthodox Christianity grew out of Gnosticism. The epistles, which scholars think came first, were written in the middle of the second century. (Price & Detering)
    Paul was converted shortly after Jesus’ death. No, Paul probably didn’t exist but was a figure created by Marcion to peddle his gnosticism in his writings. There were many authors to the supposed Pauline epistles and many redactors both orthodox and gnostic. As a side note, Paul and Simon Magus were probably one and the same. (Price, Detering)

    So, taking a fresh look at the evidence for Jesus or Paul or any of the Bible, one has to disregard preconceived “facts” that most have not even thought to question. Throw them away and start clean. That’s why challenging an historical Jesus is important. If you can do away with the central figure and reason for the faith then you might be able to make headway ameliorating problems like misogyny, racism, homophobia etc. that have come to us mainly from religion.

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    If the rift between Paul and the Jerusalem church (over whether converts to Christianity needed to become Jews first) lasted far longer than is implied by “Acts of the Apostles” (as several historians have suggested), it provides an alternative explanation for why his epistles have little reference to Jesus as a flesh and blood man. His churches then were still renegade churches not in sync with the Jewish Christians still being led by (most likely) the apostle James. Paul simply had only limited access to the oral traditions about Jesus. (Paul does claim to have met James the “brother of the Lord”, but otherwise relies on his personal visions for his understanding of Jesus.)

    Considering how UN-Pauline the Gospels of Mark and especially Matthew are, this seems somewhat plausible. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is a Jewish reformer of the Torah- none of the Pauline motifs about justification by faith are present at all.

    Paul is interested in Jesus as world Savior and Son of God, but Matthew is interested in Jesus as Jewish Messiah.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Of course, no one seems to listen to your position, John.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        On this issue, perhaps so. Curious as to why you say that.

        PS “Jon” no h

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:42 am | Permalink

          OT, the lead singer of Italian band Lacuna Coil, Cristina Scabbia, used to have the Twi**er handle @nodamnh!

          /@

  21. Posted April 3, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    We’d have a much easier time debunking Christianity if scholars were as divided as they should be over this question. The problem is generation after generation of biblical scholars are trained by professors who accept the existence of Jesus as gospel. Arguing otherwise is professional suicide.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point.

      • Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Another problem is that the existence of Jesus probably isn’t all that important to secular biblical scholars, in the same way that scholars who study ancient Greek philosophers consider Aristotle’s literal existence mostly irrelevant.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

          Given the unified character or Aristotle’s thought, and his having both Plato as a teacher and Alexander the Great as a pupil, I would say the issue of Aristotle’s existence is quite important to students of philosophy.

          • Posted April 3, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

            The point is where Aristotle is concerned the words attributed to him are far more important than who specifically said them. The same is likely true for secular biblical scholars. For Christians who said the words are of paramount importance, so Christian biblical scholars would be more concerned with the who, and bolstering the case for a historical Jesus. It’s only anti-theists among secular biblical scholars might be interested in arguing against a historical Jesus.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Or even more radically, if we stopped listening to theologians and booted them out of universities.

    • jimroberts
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      A non-Earthly Jesus needn’t be a deadly blow to Christianity. What does your average US Evangelical ask of Jesus? That Jesus be his heavenly saviour with whom he can establish a personal relationship. That works equally well whether Jesus had a ministry on Earth culminating in death and resurrection, or alternatively suffered in a heavenly realm and there defeated death. Indeed, since Death, in a Christian view, is a supernatural enemy, it makes no sense to try to defeat him in the natural world.
      There are already tens of thousands of Christian sects with greater or lesser disagreements on doctrine, government and ritual. A variety of non-historisist sects should be able to split off and maybe eventually become dominant: assuming that the religion does not die out altogether.

    • jeremyp
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      As far as I am concerned, Christianity is debunked. In fact, debunking it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

      If Pilate’s genuine diaries turned up…

      Friday: Crucified another one of those Jewish cult leaders today.

      Saturday: Relaxed

      Sunday: There seems to be some confusion about what happened to the body of one of the guys I had executed last week.

      … Christianity would still be debunked. Jesus definitely being a real person would have no more impact on the truth or otherwise of Christianity than L Ron Hubbard proves Scientology.

  22. chris moffatt
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Absent new evidence we’ll never know. But it has no significance either way. The unlikely stories are no more based in truth than the unlikely stories about Haile Selassie that are found in rastafarianism. Stories may centre on a real or on an imaginary being. The great leap, which cannot be justified in any way, is from an unknown itinerant wackaloon preacher to a full-fledged deity son of another deity who is the creator of the universe. This latter creature was the invention of Saul of Tarsus after Saul fell off his horse and presumably hit his head. Since Saul never knew the supposed Yeshue nothing he says can be relied upon.
    The next question is “did Saul of Tarsus even exist?” – personally I don’t think there’s a lot of good evidence for that proposition!

    • maryhelena
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      The next question is “did Saul of Tarsus even exist?” – personally I don’t think there’s a lot of good evidence for that proposition!
      ———————

      Have a look at Thomas Brodie’s book:

      Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery.

      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.

      The idea that that Paul was a literary figure did not remove the possibility that behind the epistles lay one outstanding historical figure who was central to the inspiring of the epistles, but that is not the figure whom the epistles portray.
      ——————————-

      Yep, Thomas Brodie is way ahead of Carrier in understanding the NT…..;-)

      No wonder the Catholic Church decided his book was ‘imprudent and dangerous’……

  23. Tom
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I have enjoyed reading Carrier, Ehrman, Ludemann, Vermes, Price etc but the more I read the more Jesus receded into the world of myth.
    How a scholar can continue to rabidly defend an obvious forgery is itself beyond belief. We even have forgeries of forgeries concocted to shore up the teetering christian sand castle.

  24. David Andrews
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I seriously doubt that the “historical Jesus” existed, and I suspect that Christian religion is a composite collection of fiction and wish fulfillment. But all that is irrelevant. You can’t seriously expect that your inquiry(or any historian’s debunking) will have the slightest effect on the faithful.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Do you really think a billion Christians believe they are going to be redeemed and reborn by a myth? They believe the Man-God existed, because their preachers tell them it is true.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        If Doherty and Carrier and a few others (including amateur me) are right, then *the first Christians* believed the mythological account. Mind you, this requires adopting an attitude towards myths that is now extinct (and good riddance, as far as I am concerned).

  25. JohnE
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s incomprehensible to me that Christians have no doubt that every one of hundreds (thousands?) of other gods who have ever been written about throughout history was fictional, any yet they insist that Jesus must be real because stories were written about him. But then again, no one here ever claimed that religious beliefs were rational.

  26. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I also want to know when people are going to start talking about the evidence for the existence of Mohammed being about the same as for Jesus.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      I think they do, but if they know what’s good for them, they do it in safe company which usually isn’t in public. I think first, we collectively need to stop catering to the wrong side and protect those who wish to speak their minds without putting themselves or their families at risk of death or mutilation.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Definitely. Moderate Muslims are treated really badly when they go public, and need all the support they can get.

    • Craw
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Some of us do. Read Holland’s In the Shadow of The Sword. Several good books by in Warraq. Even Robert Spencer. For more serious readers Crone or Luxenburg (sp?).

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Problem is even harder there, since there are even less likely to be Arabists who can do the relevant work. And there are many fewer resources for learning (classical) Arabic than ancient Greek, too. (So a partially self-taught amateur to kick things off like Doherty did is also less likely.)

      There are apparently Confucius-mythicists, though, for what that’s worth.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t know about the Confucius-mythicists. Interesting.

  27. Another Tom
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    A book I’m almost done with by Robert M. Price named Blaming Jesus for Jehovah delves into this a bit. I also liked the book he wrote with Edwin Suominen titled Evolving out of Eden. Ed was a creationist until he had to use evolutionary algorithms in antenna design. That’s right your cell phone antenna is the shape that it is because of natural selection.

    I learned about him through the Biblical Apocalypse episodes of Caustic Soda Podcast. He apparently isn’t only a Bible scholar but a Lovecraft mythos scholar as well. I highly recommend his writings, and the podcast.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Ed sometimes comments on this website.

  28. Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to point mythicists to Richard Carrier’s own essay, “Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire”:
    http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/kooks.html
    Sure, we have no proof that Jesus existed, but it is not at all implausible that the legends developed around a real person, as Carrier shows in this essay. In addition, there are minor mentions of Jesus (some admittedly disputed) in non-Biblical sources. And Paul does seem to contrast the non-physicality of the post-resurrection Jesus with his physicality before this event.

    The mythicists may be right. But it seems to me, given our knowledge of how modern cults have started, and given some tentative historical evidence that Jesus really existed, the “null hypothesis” should be that he did exist.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      But the only reasons anybody ever even talked about Jesus were the extraordinary claims — from his divine conception all the way to his resurrection from death. As Richard Carrier points out, as easy as it is to make up a grandiose myth about an ordinary person, it’s even easier to make one up about someone who never existed. So I can’t agree that the null hypothesis should be that there was an actual person at the core of it all.

      • Craw
        Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        No it isn’t. Would a story about Freddie Washington, George’s imaginary brother, cutting down a cherry tree have spread?
        It’s easier to attribute magical powers to a cult leader someone already believes in.

      • Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        History is full of extraordinary claims getting pasted onto historical figures. Look at some of the legends surrounding Roman emperors, or Alexander the Great, or the many Christian saints (each with multiple miracle claims attached to them, by definition), or look at any 19th and 20th century psychic. Founders of most recent religions also ave extraordinary claims attached to them. Indian gurus and African prophets are doing a great job generating extraordinary claims while still alive.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Which Roman emperor claims are you referencing? Many of the BS like Christians were persecuted by the Romans all the time, have been disproven. Even the rumour that Rome burned while Nero fiddled has been disproven. The difference is research and reason are necessary to prove claims in Classics departments but those same standards seem to be more lax in Theology departments.

          • Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

            Diana, you must have misunderstood my comment, or I am badly misunderstanding yours.

            I was answering Peter N’s statement that extraordinary claims are more easily applied to nonexistent people than to real people. I pointed out that wild claims had often been made about real people. Some Roman emperors were said to have worked miracles, and similar claims were made for lots of other real people, now and in the past. Just the other day an African pastor went to heaven and took pictures with his cell phone! There doesn’t seem to be any impediment to attributing wild claims to real people, even people who are alive right now.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

              Oh, yes I think I did misunderstand your comment. I took it that lots of miracles etc were attributed to historical figures so since they existed ergo Jesus did or that scholarship was just as hard on Jesus as the others.

              One historical figure that I see similar to Jesus is King Arthur. There are some who think he was a myth and others who think he didn’t exist and stood for the typical “strong man” of the time and most who think there isn’t enough reliable evidence to say he existed and most likely he didn’t. There are some miraculous things around Arthur but reading the Morte d’Arthur is really sad and it really follows the style of many tales of its time. What a sad, sad time the medieval period was, with all it’s death and all it’s pain.

              • Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:20 am | Permalink

                “it’s”?!

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                Autocorrect seems to favour apostrophes. I caught one but didn’t proof read the others. I think that one was written on my iPhone.

              • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                I guessed as much. But it’s interesting how easily errors creep into texts*, isn’t it? 😁

                /@

                * Documents in general, not SMS messages!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                Indeed. Similar to how people incorrectly believe Philadelphia means “city of brotherly love” all because of bad Greek.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                Oh… that’s the etymology I learned … and Wikipedia repeats. What’s the dope?

                /@

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Lou – your referenced article by Carrier is from 1997. He has written three books since of Baysian analysis on the historicity of J.C., with the conclusion that it is unlikely he was historical.

      The null hypothesis should be that he is mythical not historical, I would think.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Yes, I know he has changed his opinion, and I respect the Bayesian methodology, but it does depend very much on including all the relevant priors in the calculations. It also depends on the probability values assigned to the priors, but I can tentatively accept Carrier’s statement that his conclusion is not very sensitive to those values. I do question the completeness of his set of priors. And I think people in this field enjoy carving a name for themselves, and may unconsciously be motivated to advocate more controversial hypotheses than those that are actually suggested by the data. It is more exciting to become a public advocate for an extreme position. One rarely gets famous in that field by being cautious.

        Again, a plain reading of Paul does give the sense that Paul thought the pre-resurrection Jesus was a physical human being on earth, and there is some slight corroborating evidence. Not so for the post-resurrection Jesus, whom Paul claims was not physical. And the distinction he makes there shows that he thought the pre-resurrection Jesus was an ordinary physical human.

        And Paul knew some of the apostles so he may have reasons behind his belief in the physicality of pre-resurrection Jesus.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      “But it seems to me, given our knowledge of how modern cults have started, and given some tentative historical evidence that Jesus really existed, the “null hypothesis” should be that he did exist.”

      I don’t think that is a passable test. The historical null hypothesis is that a person doesn’t exists until there is historical evidence.

      Moreover, I would argue from your context that how cults starts reject myth figures.

      We know that after the printing press was invented, modern cults are started by actual, non-myth persons.

      And we also know that there is no evidence for any of the major religion’s mythical founder theories.But there is plenty of evidence of early sects splitting off, where one – or in the case of mohammedanism, two – sect made it on a larger scale. It is a case of non-historical miracle vs darwinian-type small steps in a well known social process.

  29. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps a bit offtopic, but I’m watching “The Story of God” on National Geographic now. I must say it is fairly balanced. It’s full of sentences like “To christians, this is holy…”, “People believe…” and “It may be that…”

  30. Jonathan Livengood
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about the rest of it, but this bit …

    “The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings.”

    … is false. The seven genuine letters are his letter to the Romans, his two letters to the Corinthians, his letter to the Galatians, his letter to the Philipians, the first letter to the Thessalonians (the second being in dispute as to authorship), and his letter to Philemon. Right at the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul says that Jesus was a descendant of David in “his earthly life,” and at several points later in the letter, he remarks on Jesus’ earthly existence.

    In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul recounts the last supper — a story that is widely repeated at communion rituals in Christian churches today. Paul writes (NIV), “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And then a bit later in that same letter, Paul reminds his readers of the core of his message: that Christ died, was buried, was raised from the dead, and appeared to Peter, James, and so on. He goes on to say that if Christ is not raised, then the Christian faith is useless.

    In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul again states (more than once) that Jesus was raised from the dead, and at the end of his letter, he says that Christ was “crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.”

    In the opening of his letter to the Galatians, he again says that Jesus was raised from the dead, and at the end of the letter, he mentions the crucifixion.

    In his letter to the Philippians, he waxes poetical about the incarnation. Later, he writes (NIV), “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

    Summing up: In the letters most likely to be authentic, Paul explicitly says that Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood human, that he was a descendant of David, that he had an evening meal with some people at which he claimed to establish a new covenant with them, that he was betrayed after the meal, that he was crucified, that he suffered, that he was buried, that he was raised from the dead, and that he appeared to witnesses (some of whom are named) thereafter. So, it looks like Paul does say *something* about Jesus’ life, his ministry, and his sufferings. He doesn’t say anything about his miracles (as far as I know), except for the (obvious) miracle of rising from the dead. And he doesn’t give any details about the trial, except for the claim that Jesus was crucified.

    There’s probably a core idea in what Bethune says that is right. By his own admission, Paul never *knew* the flesh-and-blood Jesus (assuming for the moment that there was one). Paul can’t say, “I was with Jesus when he went to Bethany,” or “I saw Jesus heal a blind man.” If stories like that are required in order to give us a picture of Jesus as a flesh-and-blood person, then Paul doesn’t do that — except maybe for the last supper reference. But if what is required are statements that clearly put Paul on the hook for the claim that Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood person, then he definitely *does* give us a picture of Jesus as a real, physical person.

    That said, Paul could have been wrong. I mean, we think he *was* wrong about the resurrection. He could have been lying or honest-but-deceived or simply mad about the rest. But claiming that Paul doesn’t paint a picture of Jesus as a real flesh-and-blood person is, I think, counter-productive. It makes us look sloppy and uninformed. And it makes us look like we are victims of motivated reasoning when we complain about the historical evidence for the resurrection (which, as Paul says, is the only historical claim that really matters here).

    • JohnE
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Romans I in the New Revised Standard Verison of the Bible (which is probably the most accurate), does state that Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh, which admittedly suggests an earthly existence; however,it does not use the phrase “his earthly life.” And yes, Corinthians I mentions Jesus breaking bread and passing a cup, but gives no details of when or where this was or who was present. Apart from that, all of your references are to statements about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but again without mention of when or where that happened. As I understand it, the argument of the mythicists is that Paul’s failure to mention any setting whatsoever for any of these events is evidence that Paul may have believed they occurred in the “celestial realm”. It seems to me that the statement about Jesus being descended from David is the only statement from the authentic letters of Paul that is difficult reconcile with that argument.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      In the opening of his letter to the Galatians, he again says that Jesus was raised from the dead, and at the end of the letter, he mentions the crucifixion.

      The mythicist case is that, in such writings, Paul is referring to a *heavenly* Jesus who was killed and then resurrected, as depicted in, for example, the Vision of Isaiah (and indeed in parts of the OT).

      The case is that it was “Mark” who then turned the account of a heavenly Jesus into an living-as-a-human Jesus. Thus, the bits you mention do not conflict with the mythicist case.

      (Though you’re right about the last-supper bit, which is the one place where Paul seems to talk about Jesus as a living human.)

      Right at the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul says that Jesus was a descendant of David in “his earthly life,” …

      That’s not what a literal translation says, which instead is: “concerning His Son, who is come of the seed of David according to the flesh, …”. The words “earthly life” are not there, so are an interpretation of the text.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but…

      It is all too easy for us to read Paul through the filter of the gospels. Remember, the consensus view is that he wrote his letters decades before the first gospel was written. He wasn’t familiar with the gospel stories. So for example, although Paul describes some kind of ritual meal (very similar to rituals practiced in other mystery cults in his part of the world), he doesn’t give us a place or a date or mention that any mortals were present with him. We tend to visualize the Da Vinci painting of The Last Supper when we read it, but there’s no reason to think that’s what Paul was talking about.

      That word “betrayed” is problematic also — the meaning of the original Greek is ambiguous. “Betrayed” is one possible definition — one that is chosen by translators to bring Paul in line with the later gospel story.

      And Paul thought Jesus was crucified, all right (although the meaning of the Greek verb is a lot more general than the form of execution we’ve all seen in the movies), but he doesn’t say anything about Pilate or the Romans or Jerusalem or Golgotha. Jesus was crucified in the lower reaches of heaven, by the “rulers of the age”, i.e. by demons.

      The other thing is that Paul is adamant that he only got his information from personal revelation and from his esoteric reading of scripture. So, as you say, he didn’t witness anything Jesus did with his own eyes — but he wasn’t relying on anyone else’s reports either.

    • Another Tom
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      If it was a proper Roman crucifixion Jesus would not have been buried. He would have instead been left to rot for a certain amount of time on the cross and then his remains would have been thrown on the rubbish pile to be burned. There would have been no proper burial without heavy bribes. That was just how the Romans rolled.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      I agree that the most natural reading of Paul is that he was talking about a real person whom the Apostles had met.

      However, your assessment of Paul’s statements on the resurrection are not accurate. Paul specifically states that the resurrection was not physical, and the witnesses he speaks of include himself, so it is clear that Paul did not distinguish witnesses who encountered a physical Jesus from “witnesses” who had visions (like Paul himself did).

  31. Mark S.
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    This topic has already been well researched and a recent book about Jesus’s historicity is by the secular scholars Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster. It is reasonable to be agnostic about the historicity of Jesus but on balance of the evidence it looks like Jesus is a myth (Paul’s vision/hallucination). Listen to this podcast:

    http://www.mythicistmilwaukee.com/mythicistmilwaukeeblog/2016/3/15/9fkfncy6l44xynoetze97r19ou6k1s

    There is a book edited by both called, “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists”

  32. Another Tom
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    After reading the comments I noticed something about the use of Jesus. From what I understand Jesus isn’t an uncommon name from the time/place (or even now as I met a Jesus in high school). The thing that differentiates him in the bible is that he is the Jesus who is Christ, not just another Jesus.

    As a fun side not, I have an uncle that celebrates Christmas with emails including CHRIST-MASS, and sends me Christian paraphernalia for Christmas despite me being openly atheist for several years now. It always makes my siblings and mom laugh. Although the blue cross he sent me is on a bookshelf with other gifts family members have given me. It’s near the nativity that my mom and dad gave me when I left for college.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      That would have been a good tag line for him: “Not just another Jesus”. 🙂 Too bad that didn’t make it into the bible.

      • John Scanlon FCD
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I think they used that in the trailer.

  33. Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Several thoughts:

    1. Given that history, which is supposed to be factual, or based on fact, tends to be reinterpreted every 25 years or so (according to certain historians), we can’t even be assured that what we’ve been told about events and persons from our own lifetimes are “real” as they’ve been portrayed by historian interpreters. And, popular versions of history is even more diverse, wild and, undependable. Look at the numerous so-called modern media sources of “information”.

    2. Think about what you remember/know of your own history. Certain “facts” have been lost, certain “facts” have been modified/solidified over time, etc. We come up with our myths about ourselves which are not totally true.

    3. In our own lifetimes, there have been deaths of political and religious leaders that
    much “history” has been written about. We may “know” that JFK was “real”, but how much of his life and death has been interpreted so variously that the composite is unbelievable
    and the reality isn’t known.

    4. Whether Jesus was a real, living person or not, he has been used and abused throughout history to promote political and religious agendas for the powerful. Supposedly, Constantine selected Christianity as the state religion in an effort to more closely meld western and eastern populations for ease of governance. Alexander the Great had attempted the same, but died too soon.

    5. It does not matter whether or not Jesus was a “real” person. The concepts surrounding this Jesus-figure since his purported life and death have been used to enslave and kill millions. Much harm has been done in the name of Jesus Christ.

  34. Craw
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Actually we have more than the testimony of various Christian texts. We have their existence. It seems that around year 0 there was no Jesus cult, and by year 50 there were a bunch. Occam suggests there was a guy, around whom legends accreted. There could have been several guys of course, but even then it’s simplest to assume one subsumed the others. The simplest explanation is that there was a cult leader who got crucified. And why is that inherently less implausible than a conspiracy amongst the cult (presumably one without a leader!) inventing a fictitious cult leader?

    • Scote
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      ” The simplest explanation is that there was a cult leader who got crucified.”

      By your same explanation, all Urban Legends actually happened to somebody. Likewise, There must have been a real historical Thor. A historical Anubis. Etc. And Christians can and do argue (cough*WLC*cough) that the simplest explanation is that Jesus was a real person and He was and is God.

      Humans are natural born story tellers. Thousands upon thousands of people are employed in the business of just making stuff up from scratch, from book publishing, to movies and TV. And that doesn’t include the people who just make stuff up to get people to do what they want them to. So it is absolutely just as simple for Jesus to have been made up from scratch as it is for Jesus to be inspired by one or more people in history.

      • Richard
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        And I’ve had a drink in the bar of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street in London. So surely the simplest explanation for the existence of that hotel in the street where Holmes supposedly lived, at 221B, is that there was a real historical Holmes!

        • Cliff Melick
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          Holmes must have been real; I visited his flat at 221 B Baker Street, which was turned into a museum after his demise.

    • BobTerrace
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      No, the simplest explanation is fictional stories that were embellished over and over again and preexisted these cults by hundreds or thousands of years.

      Quote by Harry Potter

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      There have always been many Christianities. There are three side-by-side in the New Testament: Worship of the celestial-only Jesus in Paul. Worship of the man temporarily possessed by God in Mark. Worship of the eternal and immortal god that came temporarily came to earth in human form in John. There were lots of other Christianities that were just a little too far beyond the pale, were declared heretical and suppressed.

      There’s an attractive theory that the gospel of Mark was written to try to rein in multiplying strains of belief, by asserting that one particular sect got their teachings directly from the source — Jesus in the form of a physical man.

    • Richard C
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      In the year 1976, there was no mention of a Jedi Obi-won. Yet by 2015 there are hundreds of surviving books and a registered Jedi religion all centered around this Obi-wan figure. Occam’s razor suggests that there must have been a real Obi-wan who was killed for inciting treason against the government.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      What is the minimum one needs to claim a historical jesus? That someone named jesus roamed judea in the first century? That someone was crucified for being uppity with the wrong people? That thirteen bros sat down for a passover feast?

  35. Posted April 3, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    After having read several blog posts by Richard Carrier I find myself unable to see how there could be more rancour on the ‘Jesus existed’ side, or more certainty in one’s conclusion for that matter. The way he treats people who disagree with him always makes me feel very uncomfortable.

    I am a bit confused why the non-existence of Jesus should be the null hypothesis when in doubt, as implied by the end of this post. The angel Moroni is supposed to be an angel, so there it makes sense, yes, because there is no evidence that angels exist. The same argument does not work against the idea that Bible-Jesus was based on a human doomsday preacher who was later deified, because human doomsday preacher do demonstrably exist and demonstrably do found religions.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I strongly agree with your assessment of RC’s tone. Many mythicists are extravagantly self-confident in their conclusion, and quite demeaning of those who disagree. Of course, tone shouldn’t decide the issue, but tone was mentioned in the opposite direction, so this deserves to be noted.

      The linked article also seems to be setting up a straw man in other aspects too:

      “Secular historians, without much questioning their own assumptions, accepted the entrenched academic idea that oral cultures were significantly better than literary cultures in preserving accurate memory.”

      Can any sane person really have believed this? Maybe there are a handful, but every skeptic I’ve ever met or read thinks the opposite.

  36. jay
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I miss the Weekly World News. It was hilarious, yet did it all with a completely straight face, so that even outfits like Skeptical Inquirer seem to have been taken in.

    Really, claiming that the Bush presidential library had only 2 books (the Bible and ‘The Pet Goat) took a lot of people for a ride. Or the wonderful article about the leftovers from the Last Supper found in a Jerusalem refrigerator (according to the bill, Thomas ordered diet wine).

    They got out of the humor business before the age of ‘trigger warnings’.

    • jay
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      … Ah yes, and the anger by the Europeans after the US had the Atlantic ocean drained for maintenance without notifying them first.

  37. Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Regarding Ehrman’s motives, Jesus scholars tend to be a goal-oriented bunch. The evangelists’ slogan “You need Jesus” applies to almost all of these guys in a very practical way. Without him, their entire subject of study–and, almost always, their faith–disappears. (Not the faith part in Ehrman’s case, though; he’s an agnostic.) Jesus is not just some itinerant preacher and healer wandering around the Levant two thousand years ago. On his historically dubious shoulders rests the full weight of a religion claimed by nearly a third of the world’s people. Being embedded in, and dependent on, a culture with such crying need to assure itself of the past reality of a single man cannot help but influence even those who don’t share that need themselves.

    This paragraph was adapted from my review of a book I highly recommend for evaluating the Historical Jesus question, by Raphael Lataster. It’s an easy read yet scrupulously footnoted, and inexpensive besides. The review, “A Christ-Myth Carol,” is at http://blog.edsuom.com/2014/08/a-christ-myth-carol.html

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Ed, I began reading your review, but was surprised to read that you learned from Lataster that Origen does not mention the key passage of Josephus on the death of James the brother of Jesus. Lataster thus concludes this passage was a later Christian interpolation. But Origen DID mention this passage; at least according to some of the articles cited in the comments on this post (e g https://www.quora.com/Do-credible-historians-agree-that-the-man-named-Jesus-who-the-Christian-Bible-speaks-of-walked-the-earth-and-was-put-to-death-on-a-cross-by-Pilate-Roman-governor-of-Judea/answer/Tim-ONeill-1)

      and in Wikipedia:

      “The earliest known such reference to Josephus’ work is found in the writings of the third century patristic author Origen, who refers to Josephus’ record of “the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ) in Book I, Chapter XLVII of Against Celsus, including Origen’s observations that Josephus did not recognize Jesus as “the Christ” when mentioning him in the “Antiquities of the Jews”..”

      Is Lataster mistaken on this central point?

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Is Lataster mistaken on this central point?

        You tell us. Provide chapter and verse of where you think Origen cited Josephus on Jesus. You might also do us a flavor at the same time of providing a link (and maybe a copy / paste) to an online translation of the relevant passage.

        Every time somebody’s posted such a claim (and not necessarily with respect to Origen) and I’ve done that sort of homework for them, I’ve come away with the obvious conclusion that the person hadn’t bothered to do so and had (perhaps indirectly) gotten the misinformation from a Christian apologist spreading outright lies. And that’s because, when you trace these things down to the original texts, it becomes painfully obvious that the texts themselves support the exact opposite conclusion of the ones the Christian propagandists would have you believe, and the only reason they mention them at all is to misdirect people away from the obvious truth.

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        ” Provide chapter and verse of where you think Origen cited Josephus on Jesus.”

        Ben, it’s on Wikipedia. It is astonishing that you have not looked into this key point but you are still willing to trash the standard scholarly consensus on the subject.

        Origen’s account is especially noteworthy because he is not quoting Josephus in support of Origen’s own interpretations, but rather in spite of them:

        “I would like to say to Celsus, who represents the Jew as accepting somehow John as a Baptist, who baptized Jesus, that the existence of John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins, is related by one who lived no great length of time after John and Jesus. For in the 18th book of his Antiquities[1] of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless—being, although against his will, not far from the truth—that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),—the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.[2] 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.[3] If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ…”

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          Lou, the only bit in there you have to support your cause is a parenthetical insert that, at absolute most, indicates that Origen concluded that the Jesus who was James’s brother must have been the Christian Jesus. It doesn’t even say that Origen identified James as such.

          So you’ve got Origen lamenting that Josephus didn’t know Jesus, got all the history about the period bass-ackwards, couldn’t even figure out that it was the Passion narrative that was responsible for the downfall of Jerusalem…and from that we’re supposed to conclude that Origen is reporting Josephus as positively identifying Jesus Christ?

          And even if I were gullible enough to grant you all that…you do know that Josephus himself wasn’t even born until some years after the death of Pilate, right? So why on Earth are you trying to reconstruct the life of Jesus from him?

          More to the point, why are you so hot and bothered to go to Origen’s hearsay of Josephus’s gossip of events long before either had been born…

          …and yet you’re not even considering the first-person account we have of the “real” Jesus from Philo, who was actually there at the time?

          The obvious answer, of course, is that Philo’s Jesus isn’t the Jesus you want to find, because Philo’s Jesus is Zechariah’s Jesus recast in the mold of the Logos. But Paul’s Jesus is nearly identical to Philo’s, and nothing whatsoever like Mark’s Jesus.

          And let’s not forget: Origen’s fantasy of Josephus’s Jesus is nothing like Mark’s Jesus, either. The Jesus you’re proselytizing here is noteworthy only for having been the brother of the most minor character in some palace intrigue. This Jesus doesn’t even rate more than a two-word parenthetical hint. “Mostly harmless” comes to mind….

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

            Take a breath, Ben. I am not proselytizing for one or another Jesus. I am just pointing out that Origen does write about Josephus mentioning Jesus.

            Origen identifies Josephus’ Jesus as Paul’s Jesus. And Paul provides corroboration, since both Josephus and Paul claim this Jesus was the brother of James. It doesn’t matter that later gospel writers embellished this Jesus, or maybe even confounded this Jesus with your friend Philo’s Jesus. The Jesus mentioned by both Josephus and Paul would seem to be a real, historical person.

  38. Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m open to either argument, but the one tradition that is found from the earliest source onward — really, the most defensible element of the narrative — is that the man was crucified; this is decidedly not the way one would want to start the story if given a choice. Another suggestion of a real person is the absolutely tortured logic by which Matthew and Luke place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. As Christopher Hitchens observed, if starting from a clean slate, he would be from Bethlehem to begin with, no hoops to jump through. That he’s identified in Mark and John “from Nazareth” is an inconvenient detail that fiction would not invent. If you cross Ockam’s Razor with the analogy that “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” it suggests evidence of some historical person. Stories snowball, myths gain traction; it’s just what they do, but I find more often than not there is some grain of truth in the sandbox of embellishment.

    After all, Santa Claus is real… or allow me to rephrase: there was a man on whom our mythological Santa Claus derived. Santa emerged over the centuries as a mythological and marketable alter-ego of Saint Nicholas. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night,” are words that were never uttered by the genuine Saint Nicholas, and yet these words are the “gospel” we cannot disassociate from him. At what point does a real person become mythology? I suspect that any genuine and historical Yeshua probably would have about as much in common with the celebrated “Jesus Christ” as Saint Nicholas would with the man in the red suit.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Those are very good points.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      But “from Nazareth” must have been invented if the town did not exist when Jesus was born (see up thread somewhere).

      /@

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      “That he’s identified in Mark and John “from Nazareth” is an inconvenient detail that fiction would not invent.”

      And yet Matthew seems to think that it was a prophecy.
      link

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      “the one tradition that is found from the earliest source onward — really, the most defensible element of the narrative — is that the man was crucified.”

      There is no evidence of the mythical procedure of ‘crucifixion’. (Personally I think the recurrent myth, which is described by Josephus, say, goes back to the historical event where Alexander put up ~ 2000 persons on X configured poles before a city that had resisted him at length, a Hellenistic Conquest trauma that underpins the religious movements at the time christianism arose.)

      I think that is response enough at this time (long thread).

  39. SA Gould
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I want to see the Birth Certificate.

    • Posted April 3, 2016 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      A death certificate will do as well.

      • SA Gould
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        ha! 😀

  40. KevinD
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    How history blurs into myth is always interesting.
    I read an interesting article about Thor a while back which mentioned an early carving of what is thought to be him and has his hammer on what appears to be a chain.
    Likewise in Irish history there is a record of abnormally tall heroes. In one of Steve Jones books he has a section about how there is a traceable lineage of a particular genetic condition which can produce this.
    There are various myths which seem to have a certain amount of historical evidence for them the trick is trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong.
    Take Robin Hood. There are references to that name in the court rolls but whether it is just used as a “john doe” for criminals or not isnt clear.
    Adrienne Mayor’s books about fossils and legends are another interesting take on it.
    For Jesus I am not sure the answer will ever be known. I would tend towards it being built around a real character to a certain extent but drawing in other preachers of the same era and then a whole load of bollocks thrown on top. With the entire mix being distorted to not being an accurate reference of whatever he thought anyway. Particularly given how much of it is built around Pauls ideas.

  41. Sagan Worshipper
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Please everyone, CHECK THIS OUT! A really great piece on the power of false memory and eyewitness testimony. Very eye-opening. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/nyregion/witness-accounts-in-midtown-hammer-attack-show-the-power-of-false-memory.html?_r=1

  42. Daniel
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Great piece in the NY Times about the power of false memory and how eyewitness testimony is basically worthless. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/nyregion/witness-accounts-in-midtown-hammer-attack-show-the-power-of-false-memory.html?_r=1

  43. Posted April 3, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    First, I agree with the folks here who have stated that the historicity of Jesus/Yeshua is not a topic that the vast majority of Christians would even consider – the New Testament is all they need for accepting the Jesus as described. Second, it is interesting to me that although Jesus could apparently read and write, there are no Jesus writings. This makes sense if we accept that Jesus was a rabbi who used the common oral tradition of teaching, and that his apocalyptic preaching claimed that the end of the world would come within a generation. As that generation aged, folks began writing things, which amazingly detailed the apocalyptic vision that did not happen. Mark 13:30. The writers of the gospels and Paul had to gin up a new take on Jesus’ life and teachings, expanding the Jewish messiah to the savior of the world.

  44. rickflick
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I wish Ben was here to sort this all out.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Agreed.

  45. Sagan Worshipper
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    The Christians copied the Egyptians.Try to find a discernible difference between the life of Horus and the life of Jesus OTHER than the names and places. You could win some HUGE prizes for finding even ONE.

    Being born of a virgin on December 25 is a sun god staple. December 25 is the first day that the sun visibly moves one degree North – this was believed to be a conscious decision by the sun…”god’s sun” to SAVE us. Otherwise, darkness would increase until it is all gone and the earth freezes. Hell USED to be a cold place, but the weather changed for dramatic license. Jesus is the representation of the kingdom of the sun for the age of Pisces – ergot “Jesus fish”- usurpation of Pagan rituals indeed.

    Egyptians often compiled an individualized book for each person at their death which contained declarations and spells to help the deceased in their afterlife. There were 4 chapters in each of the 192 laws and confessions to which a man must attest to in order to enter the afterlife. They were written by the God of the Dead, Osiris. Here are just ten of those hundreds of declarations, and the correlation between the Bible’s Ten Commandments and the below ancient Egyptian’s written laws is interesting.
    1)––not have I cursed God.
    2)––not have I committed murder.
    3)––not have I committed theft.
    4)––not have I used falsehoods wittingly.
    5)––not have I borne false witness.
    6)––not have I abandoned my parents.
    7)––not have I polluted myself.
    8)––not have I committed evil upon men.
    9)––not have I committed adultery.
    10)––not have I defiled the wife of man.

    Their laws were written some 4500 years ago, long before Moses. When Moses and his people left Egypt they stole everything they could carry. And Moses stole their laws and tried to say “god gave them to me”

    The original timing for this thing called “Easter” was the equinox. A lot of astrology is based on the procession of the equinoxes – that constellation that is lowest on the Western horizon at sunup on the equinox determines what “Age” we are living in. I believe we just passed into Aquarius and this makes Jesus, the Piscean sun god, obsolete and ineffective. We’re supposed to appoint a new one, but the tradition has been lost in time – it takes approx. 2150 years per age and there are of course 12 ages which reflect the signs of the zodiac.

    Also, don’t forget Tammuz, exactly like Horus and Jesus right down to a virgin mother and a star predicting their birth. Jesus was just a copy of those two, thanks to Emperor Constantine in the 3rd century.

    Easter was named after the wife of Tammuz, the son of the sun god. When he died at the age of 40, killed by a wild boar, he rose from the grave after 3 days to join his father in the sky. His wife, Ishtar (pronounced Easter) made that day a holiday, “Ishtar Day”. They ate ham in effigy of the boar that killed him. His birth was announced by a star and every year, on Dec. 25, they celebrated his birthday by hanging gold and silver balls on a evergreen tree and sang songs.

    Those “Three days” of death are equated to the astrotheological application that the sun, which last moved a degree south on the 21st, did not move and was “dead” on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th. On the 25th it miraculously moves one degree north.

    At the end of it’s southern trajectory, the sun is said to be “on” or “in” the constellation closest to it, in this case, the southern cross. And so it was said that the sun of god died on the (southern) cross for three days (the inactive 23/24/25th) and then rises and ascends (northerly) into the heavens (on it’s way to the summer solstice).

  46. Lelin
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    The signatures of the eight “witnesses” to the Book of Mormon were all in the same handwriting. For what it’s worth…

    • rickflick
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      From a quick search, it looks like this is not quite the case. The original Book was destroyed so the signatures do not exist. Thus, believers can always claim that if you did have the original, it would have legitimate signatures. If, in fact, the signatures ever existed in the first place, I would have to think Smith would have been clever enough to find a way to disguise his handiwork.

  47. Posted April 3, 2016 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if any of the characters in the bible existed. What evidence do we have that Moses existed? None.

  48. Don Gakusei
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    Jeffery Jay Lowder, co-founder of the Internet Infidels website, is another atheist who thinks that there was a historical Jesus. Lowder wrote on the Internet Infidels website an article called “Independent Confirmation and the Historicity of Jesus”. I’ve reproduced part of his conclusion below:

    http://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/indconf.html

    [I]ndependent confirmation is not necessary to establish the mere existence of the Jesus of the New Testament. There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus. (Just because Jesus existed does not mean that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.) Although a discussion of the New Testament evidence is beyond the scope of this paper, I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament “the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material,” we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus existed.

    • maryhelena
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus………we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus existed.
      ——————-
      The problem with that approach to the gospel story is that it offers nothing at all that would enable a search for early christian origins.

      Yes, lots of Christians are happy with that approach – but it is an approach that leaves Christianity moribund – a situation contrary to the very history of Christianity. i.e. a history of heresy. Perhaps it is going to be the downfall of the historical Jesus assumption (faith) that is going to be the final showdown for Christianity; a showdown that can open a road towards a more rational approach to our religious heritage. After all, the Jews survived the destruction of the Jerusalem temple – is Christianity any less capable of re-conceptualizing it’s historical faith?

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      “I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus.”

      Interesting – I find the same is true for “The Chamber of Secrets” and Harry Potter.

  49. Posted April 4, 2016 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    To my mind, biblical scholars arguing for the historicity of Jesus seem to imbue “more likely than not” with something approaching certainty. No 5σ threshold for them.

    /@

  50. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Well, I consider it a virtual statistical certainty (is that an oxymoron?) that a person named ‘Jesus’ existed. Probably thousands of them. And extremely likely that at least one of them was a preacher. And quite probable that stories sprang up about him.

    Of course this does not imply that any of the stories in the Bible have the slightest veracity, any more than stories about Billy the Kid or Mother Teresa…

    In short – was there a guy named Jesus? Yes. Was there a guy named Jesus who actually did any of that shit in the Bible? No.

    cr

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      The problem with this kind of contribution to the discussion, at least among atheists, is only that everybody involved already agrees with it.

      Among atheists, the historicists merely say: “on balance of evidence, I think it is more likely that a real human doomsday preacher was at the root of Christianity”. That is not actually a very grand claim. It involves no belief that this person actually did any of that shit in the Bible beyond perhaps having said more or less 5% of the sayings in the gospels.

      All the rest can be fiction but the historicist case would stand because, again, it is not actually a very strong or astounding claim. Which is also why all the argument from imperfect memory is irrelevant; nobody here doubts that the stories about Jesus have been transformed and embellished like heck.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 4, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        I plead guilty to stating the obvious.

        Which leads me to wonder “what are people arguing about”? I suppose the difficulty in defining the ‘real’ Jesus leads to a lot of arguing-past-each-other.

        cr

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          That’s at least my observation. Couple months ago it happened on two blogs at the same time: (A) There is no human at the root of the myth. (B) Here is why I think there is. (A) So what? That is still not a son of god. (B) But… you didn’t argue against a son of god, you explicitly argued against a human…

          Add to that that due to lack of clear evidence there is no way to settle the question, ever, and it is guaranteed to go in circles.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted April 4, 2016 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            Yeah. I was trying to compose a coherent, constructive reply last night and my head was starting to go round in circles… 😉

            cr

  51. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Upcoming debate:
    Mythinformation Conference III Feat. Bart D. Ehrman/Dr. Robert Price Debate
    Friday, October 21, 2016 – 6-9 pm
    Mythicist Milwaukee

    • Vaal
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Aaaawwesome! It’s finally going to happen.
      I can’t wait. (I’ve been listening to Bob Price for probably 15 years now). I presume (hope) there will be a video of the debate.

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        Be prepared to be disappointed re any real exchange of ideas….

        Ehrman has already said, in a comment on his blog, that he is not looking forward to the debate. He is doing the debate for his 5 thousand dollars, for charity. Beyond that I don’t think he has any interest in the debate as such. It’s really going to be a showcase for mythicists – as in they finally got Ehrman to a debate. But it’s the money not the debate that interests Ehrman…..

  52. Posted April 4, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Hi decourse,

    If you think that Jesus being historical is the simple answer that explains the evidence, here are some questions.

    I’ll analyse Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This is one of the earliest Christian writings, and one of the few that we have a good idea who wrote it. Thus it is crucial evidence of the period likely just after the supposed life of Jesus:

    I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

    Here is explicitly says that nothing he is saying comes from other people, nothing comes from any oral tradition or from people’s reports of a recently living Jesus. The people who would have been followers of Jesus have not taught him anything! Weird huh?

    Note also the “brothers and sisters”, which everyone takes to mean “fellow Christians”.

    But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia.

    What?? So Paul learns that there are people who have recently being living with the *Messiah* *himself*, and he decides not to talk to them, not to ask them anything, but to ignore them! Can you explain that? Surely the best explanation is there was no historical Jesus that Paul was aware of, and all there is is scripture and visions.

    Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [= Peter?] and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

    Only after 3 years did he think to make the acquaintance of people who had lived with Jesus. Really? Note also, that the reference to “the Lord’s brother” comes not long after using “brothers and sisters” for “fellow Christians”.

    As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.

    So Paul talks to Peter, James and John, and learns *nothing* from them! They added *nothing* to Paul’s message!

    Supposedly Jerusalem was buzzing with “oral traditions” and “proto-gospels” about a recently lived Jesus, yet Paul learns *nothing* of this!

    When Cephas [=Peter?] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face … “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. …”

    Here Paul tells Peter all about correct doctrine! Yet Peter is supposed to have been Jesus’s chief disciple for three years, whereas Paul never met Jesus.

    He seems to have no conception that Peter could reply: “look mate, I discussed this with Jesus on about thirty occasions, at many meal times, and he said …”.

    This dismissiveness of people who would have been Jesus’s closest disciples only makes sense if Paul had no awareness of a recently-lived Jesus, and didn’t regard those three as knowing any more than he did.

    Well, that’ll do for now. My main point here is that there is a lot that does not make sense under the mainstream historicist account. That’s why the rather feeble evidence in favour of a historical Jesus is not sufficient.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Hmmm, those are interesting points, but Paul also claims directly that Jesus did have dinner with those same apostles that he eventually visited. Though he claims he received this knowledge indirectly (either in a vision, and/or by hearing the story from the early Christians he abused), he also claims that when he did finally check with the apostles, they confirmed his story.

      Paul had extensive contact with early Christians before his conversion, so perhaps he felt secure in his knowledge of Christian doctrine for that reason. The hallucinations of Jesus, which of course must have been based on what he learned about Christianity from the people he persecuted, would have made him very secure indeed about his beliefs. No need to visit the apostles if he believed Jesus himself was communicating with him. This could easily explain his dismissive attitude towards the apostles. Why should he ask them what Jesus said when he thought he was hearing Jesus’ own voice in his head?

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Paul also claims directly that Jesus did have dinner with those same apostles that he eventually visited.

        Where does he say that? As far as I’m aware (but am open to correction), the only mention of Jesus having a meal is the “last supper” mention:

        “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, …”

        He doesn’t say who else was there.

        Though he claims he received this knowledge indirectly (either in a vision, and/or by hearing the story from the early Christians he abused), ..

        No, he explicitly says the former, that he “received it from the Lord”. Thus it was not a story he got from talking to Christians. That’s interesting, if we’re to regard it as historical as opposed to theological.

        … he also claims that when he did finally check with the apostles, they confirmed his story.

        Can you quote this bit?

        No need to visit the apostles if he believed Jesus himself was communicating with him. This could easily explain his dismissive attitude towards the apostles. Why should he ask them what Jesus said when he thought he was hearing Jesus’ own voice in his head?

        OK, but if we accept that then essentially nothing that Paul says about Jesus is historical (i.e. learnt from people who had met and heard Jesus), and all of it is stuff he made up for theological reasons or obtained from OT scripture.

        That means we have *nothing* prior to post-AD71 “Mark” pointing to a historical Jesus.

        • Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          “No, he explicitly says the former, that he “received it from the Lord”. Thus it was not a story he got from talking to Christians.”

          That’s what he said, but how were his visions generated? Where would he have gotten the raw material for visions about Jesus? It surely didn’t come from beyond, as he claimed; his knowledge of Jesus must have come from his extensive interactions with Christians he persecuted.

          “Can you quote this bit [Paul’s claim that the apostles confirmed his beliefs were correct}?”

          As you mentioned, Paul wrote “they [the apostles he met] added nothing to my message.”

          Regarding the “last supper” you wrote “He doesn’t say who else was there.” You are right about that, except for the betrayer. I frankly don’t remember if he elsewhere connects Judas to the other apostles.

          “…if we accept that then essentially nothing that Paul says about Jesus is historical (i.e. learnt from people who had met and heard Jesus), and all of it is stuff he made up for theological reasons or obtained from OT scripture.”

          No, if you accept that Jesus didn’t really appear to him, he must have learned his version of Christianity from the Christians he persecuted. He was immersed in fresh Christian doctrine; that was his profession. And he met some of the apostles, who apparently confirmed what he had learned, or at least so goes his claim (which is more than a little self-serving, so may not be accurate).

          • Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:10 am | Permalink

            “You are right about that, except for the betrayer. I frankly don’t remember if he elsewhere connects Judas to the other apostles.”

            But he doesn’t even mention a “betrayer”, never mind naming him as Judas. All he says is that: “that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread …”

            No, if you accept that Jesus didn’t really appear to him, he must have learned his version of Christianity from the Christians he persecuted.

            The mythicist case is that Paul’s Jesus was constructed out of the Old Testament. See, for example, the 100-odd places where Paul quotes the OT in his letters (contrasting with the almost total absence of anything that looks like a quote of a proto-gospel).

            There are precursors of this, such as Philo of Alexandria. Thus the case is that sects of Jews were constructing stories of a Messiah out of OT scripture.

            It was only later, with “Mark”, that Jesus was storified with an earthly life.

            A possibly linking document is the (non-canonical) “Ascension of Isaiah”, which appears to be an account of Jesus’s death and resurrection before “Mark”, and before Paul (since Paul at one point quotes it).

            See the Ascension of Isaiah here (particularly Chapter 9). Everyone agrees that this is a composite work, added to at later times (likely after the usual gospels), but one can also see in it relics of a pre-gospel version of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

            It may have been writing like this from which Paul developed his theology.

            • Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

              Why ignore his extensive contact with early Christians he was persecuting?

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                “Why ignore his extensive contact with early Christians he was persecuting?”

                You don’t usually sit down to dinner to discuss theology with people who you are persecuting.

                Anyhow, Paul explicitly tells us that he didn’t get his doctrines from anybody else, nor was he taught them.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

                Woah — hold it right there.

                How do you know that Paul was persecuting early Christians? Is it because of what the author of Luke wrote in Acts several decades later?

                When you start to peel back the onion, you quickly realize that the common wisdom is based on nothing at all of substance. There’s a very long history of Biblical “scholars” constantly “reconciling” various passages in order to construct a coherent whole. This is because no such whole exists in the first place.

                For the perfect example, see the official Catholic “reconstruction” of the Passion, which includes the radically different “last” words from each of the Gospels not as actual last words but as a sequence of pithy quotes from Jesus’s final stand-up act.

                Paul’s official biography is the same — fabrication from all sorts of fantastic and often-conflicting sources. Indeed, about the only things we can be reasonably confident about Paul is that several (but certainly not all) of the Epistles had the same author; that those Epistles are the earliest references to the version of Jesus the Church now considers orthodox; and that the author probably went by the name of, “Paul.”

                It’s worth expanding a bit on that middle point. There are very clear references to Jesus before Paul, especially including Zechariah and Philo’s discourse on Zechariah. It’s just that that Jesus didn’t have an extended vacation in Palestine — but, then again, neither did Paul’s. But Philo was the same age as the (fictional) Joseph and made mention of contemporary events through and after the entire relevant period, so Philo’s Jesus couldn’t possibly have been the Christian Jesus…and so the official position is that Philo never wrote of Jesus at all.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

                Coel, do you think he didn’t talk to the people he persecuted? That seems unlikely. “Know your enemy”.

                He said he got his info directly from Jesus through visions and voices. It is certainly possible that his subconscious was presenting stuff he had heard from Christians.

            • Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

              Ben, you may be right about Paul, I honestly don’t know if he admits he was persecuting Christians. I did not question that part of Paul’s story. Nevertheless, he most likely was exposed to Christiand, and that could be the source of the info contained in his visions.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

                Nope, I looked it up, Ben, and you are wrong (again). Paul himself writes that he persecuted Christians:
                “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”
                Letter to the Galatians

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted April 11, 2016 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        This assumes Paul is more than the myth description. Same as for the ‘Jesus’ historicity, I want historical acceptable evidence.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      This dismissiveness of people who would have been Jesus’s closest disciples only makes sense if Paul had no awareness of a recently-lived Jesus, and didn’t regard those three as knowing any more than he did.

      All of this also makes sense if he simply didn’t care, because he was in the process of setting up his own franchise targeted at a different demographic.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Also, he seems to have no doubt he was hearing Jesus’ own voice in his head. Why bother with third parties when he has god himself as his imaginary friend?

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:12 am | Permalink

        All of this also makes sense if he simply didn’t care, because he was in the process of setting up his own franchise …

        But how could be possibly “not care” about a recently-lived Jesus and the tales about him from those who knew him?

        That only makes sense if he was unaware of any such person. Paul does care hugely about OT scripture (quoting it over 100 times). If Jesus was who Paul thought he was, how could be not care about him?

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:38 am | Permalink

          Well, did he care about what Peter etc would claim that Jesus really meant, or did he care about getting his own franchise onto its feet?

          Imagine you want to convert well educated contemporary Brits to your New Age sect, but it just so happens that its founder, who was, say, a very charismatic but uneducated and slightly unhinged Laotian peasant, is said to have had a habit of cursing trees, frothing madly whenever running into somebody who didn’t defer to him, and making a lot of claims that would immediately be recognised as nonsense by your target audience. Also, he demanded that every follower cut off the tip of the left pinkie finger to demonstrate their devotion.

          Would you not kind of want to gloss over those irrelevant details of his life and ritual and instead focus on your guru’s spiritual message of one-ness and enlightenment, which is clearly more important in the great scheme of things?

          I see clear parallels between this hypothetical scenario and somebody trying to make Christianity palatable to philosophy educated Hellenes.

          At least to me this explanation is considerably more plausible than the contortions that mythicists have to go through, such as claiming that the gospels were fantasy novels, and that it then completely slipped the minds of the entire sect that their own central religious figure did its stuff in the celestial realm instead of on Earth.

          • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            So why doesn’t Paul refute the lies he thought the Apostles were spreading?

            But it’s not just the Apostles. All sorts of things that today are common knowledge as direct quotes from Jesus himself…Paul is instead perfectly ignorant of what Jesus is supposed to have said and done, and instead gone to much weaker “Old Testament” Biblical passages for rhetorical support. Why would so-and-so saying that Jesus taught this-and-that cause Paul to ignore Jesus’s own words?

            b&

            >

            • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

              I think the answer is implied in the scenario I described: What if he just didn’t care so much about what Jesus was supposed to have done in detail but only about a central spiritual idea? What if he considered many of his actions embarrassing and everyday miracle stories obviously made-up?

              I don’t know, you don’t know, and nobody will ever know. This is all about plausibility or implausibility either way. The above is a scenario that I personally consider plausible.

              I have yet to see plausible explanations for why somebody who writes a story about (1) a fictional character who (2) they want to make look good would do something like:
              * the Nazareth / Bethlehem two-step instead of just having him grow up in Bethlehem;
              * the “he was called Jesus so he fulfilled the prophecy of being called Immanuel” line instead of just calling their character Immanuel;
              * having him prophecy that the world would end before they actually wrote their book;
              * do so many undignified things like the fig tree episode;
              * behave in all details exactly like a deranged human doomsday preachers we are familiar with, down to telling people that they have to break up contact with their families to become part of the sect;
              * make him most human in the earliest gospels (when people supposedly saw him as celestial) and most divine in the later ones (when people supposedly had started to forget that he was not a celestial being and saw him as a human having walked among them).

              All this just sounds too much as if there was a real, partly embarrassing, person in the background who was known to have done and said certain things that somebody writing the story from scratch would otherwise not have been stupid enough to put in there.

              Just my $0.02.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

                You can invent an infinite number of conspiracy theories to explain anything you like. And your argument from incredulity would do an even better job at demonstrating that the stories about Paul Bunyan must be true. How else could you explain the inconsistencies? After all, in one story he’s only big enough to use pine trees as toothpicks but, in another, he carves the Grand Canyon by carelessly dragging his axe behind him.

                And that’s especially the case with fulfillment of prophecy. The authors had the “Old Testament” prophecies that the Savior was required to fulfill, and they had the character who was required to fulfill them. And each author took the two and put them together in their own ways.

                Which, of course, is how we wind up with Jesus having two daddies, both of whom were named, “Joseph.” Check out the genealogies: both have Adam at one end and Joseph in the middle, but radically diverge, especially after David. And, of course, Jesus is Joseph’s adopted baby, so why would you make up a fake genealogy for Jesus if he’s really YHWH’s son?

                In any other context, you’d take one look at the mess and conclude that it was all bullshit. Maybe colorful and creative bullshit, maybe even entertaining and so on — but bullshit nonetheless. And you wouldn’t think that the bullshit had to have some foundation in reality…who was the real “original” Paul Bunyan?

                So why should this bullshit get the presumption of accuracy?

                b&

                >

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 6, 2016 at 3:33 am | Permalink

                Ben Goran: ”In any other context, you’d take one look at the mess and conclude that it was all bullshit. Maybe colorful and creative bullshit, maybe even entertaining and so on — but bullshit nonetheless. And you wouldn’t think that the bullshit had to have some foundation in reality…who was the real “original” Paul Bunyan?

                So why should this bullshit get the presumption of accuracy?

                ————-

                Is this ‘bullshit’ talk really necessary?

                Carrier has already given mythicists a bad name re his method of argument. It seems to me that his fanclub are learning well at the master’s knee….

                The gospel story is not ‘bullshit’. It is simply a story. You might not like the story but that does not mean the story has no value for others. Value, of course, is in the eye of the beholder – and history is just one of the values that story can have for some people. Others can value that story for other reasons; literature, history of religion or moral or philosophical values. Throwing ‘bullshit’ at a person’s values is counterproductive. We may not like people’s values but as long as they don’t seek to devalue the values we hold – then tolerance could be the wiser course to follow. Seeking ‘truth’ by riding rough shod over ones opponents undercuts ones sincerity in seeking ones goal….

                So, Ben, calm down. Hard as it might seem to you – the historicists have an argument that will not be as easily dismissed as the Carrier mythicists would wish for….they certainty, won’t ‘win’, by firing dud ammunition….

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                Ben, your reply evades all the substantive issues Alex SL brought up. I think he makes good points, and the simplest explanation for them is that there really was a person behind the myths.

                Paul and Josephus thought he was a real person. Paul claims to have met people who knew him (eg James, “the brother of Jesus”).

                I bet you don’t question the existence of any other person mentioned in Josephus,just this one.

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Lou, first, again again, Josephus didn’t mention Jesus. The Testamonium is such an obvious and shameless fabrication it deserves no further comment, and the “brother of James” toss-off is of a person so insignificant he couldn’t possibly be the Christian Jesus — it’d be like an American history textbook whose sole mention of Washington was as an offhand reference to him as somebody’s third cousin.

                And I bet you don’t take seriously the proposition that any of the other gods Josephus mentions were real. Do you think there’s an historical Jupiter, Perseus, Athena, and so on? Would you not find it utterly bizarre to find somebody insisting that some random ancient text proved the existence of an historical Osiris because it mentioned some minor nobody as his hairdresser?

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 1:22 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                You can invent an infinite number of conspiracy theories to explain anything you like.

                Well done! Now apply that insight to the theory that Jesus never existed…

                I agree completely with all your points about this being nonsense, and it does not get any presumption of accuracy from anybody here. But it being nonsense is not incompatible with the idea that it is nonsense aggregated around a mundane cult leader for the purpose of making him look miraculous and messianic. Surely you do not doubt the existence of contemporary cult leaders whose followers claim that they have supernatural powers?

                And yes, Lou Jost is right: I have yet to see an attempt to address the content of the gospels beyond “ah yes, they are fiction”. But why would somebody write fiction like that?

                Lou Jost,

                I’d be careful, there have already been people upthread starting to argue that Paul and Mohamed didn’t exist either. The logic seems to be “I don’t like religion, so no religion had a founder”. I guess as soon as a few court records and newspaper articles from the 19th century get lost somebody will argue that Joseph Smith didn’t exist. But maybe those commenters were trolls, and I am just too dim to realise…

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                And yes, Lou Jost is right: I have yet to see an attempt to address the content of the gospels beyond “ah yes, they are fiction”. But why would somebody write fiction like that?

                Alex, the Gospels are written in classical Homeric style. Mark, especially, is an elegant palindrome, as Richard very eloquently demonstrates.

                That is, the early Christians wrote fiction “like that” for the exact same reason that Joe Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and Hubbard wrote Dianetics and every other founder of every other religion wrote indistinguishable fiction “like that.”

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                I have no idea what the style in which something has been written has to do with the content.

                Again: If you make up your character, why not have him be Immanuel of Bethlehem? How can a whole religion totally forget what its central figure is? (And then that they ‘humanify’ him! If anything it works the other way, as human cult leaders are demonstrably surrounded by claims to the supernatural.) If you are writing novels to impress people, including Greeks and Romans, why not have your made-up character travel all across the Eastern Mediterranean like Greek heroes (or like Paul did) instead of having him parochially limited like a real life peasant would have been?

                You just don’t even consider these issues.

  53. Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  54. Jeff Lewis
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t reading yesterday when this comment thread grew so long, and I admit I haven’t read through the whole thing, yet (still working on it). But I wanted to put this link out there. I’m certainly no expert on this subject myself. I’ve read some articles by Carrier, a book by Ehrman, and a few other online articles. I find myself leaning towards historicity, but only as the more probable scenario, not a certainty. At any rate, here’s a good article I came across the other day that I found very informative.

    What is the best evidence for a historical Jesus?

    I’d be curious to hear how the mythicists on this site respond to O’Neill’s arguments, since they sound convincing enough to a non-expert like me. Are they good points?

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      As you can see with (perhaps) Carrier’s help, a lot of point 3 is *bad translations*.

    • Posted April 4, 2016 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for linking to that article, which is very convincing. Not so much the first half, but the second half, which summarizes the most powerful evidence for historicity from a completely secular viewpoint. Mythicists really can’t answer this.

      The author discusses the second mention of Jesus in Josephus: Josephus refers to the execution of James the brother of Jesus who was called the Messiah. I’d like to remind everyone that Paul met James and calls him the brother of Jesus as well. Mythicists (including one commenter above) like to point out that all Christians were called “brothers in Christ”, but that interpretation is strained about Paul’s use of the term in that phrase, and looks like special pleading. And Josephus would certainly not have used the phrase in that sense.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Josephus refers to the execution of James the brother of Jesus who was called the Messiah.

        Josephus does nothing of the sort. You’re referring to the Antiquities XX.9 passage. Wikipedia has the full chapter that you can read for yourself in the Josephus on Jesus page, and it’s blindingly clear that the “Jesus” in question is Jesus bar Damneus, high priest son of an high priest, and the “Christ” bit makes absolutely no sense in context. And I’m not even sure those words exist in all extant copies. It’s quite obviously a scribal interpolation.

        Indeed, Josephus is all one needs to know that the whole Jesus story is purest fiction. Had anybody even vaguely like Jesus actually existed, Josephus would have been all over it; the Jesus story is just far too juicy for him to have let it go. And yet, not a peep.

        Eusebius found the omission so glaring that he went and invented the Testamonium. Now why on Earth would he have done such a thing unless it was as obvious as, say, the New York Times failing to mention the intergalactic treaty that Eisenhower and Xenu signed together in the Rose Garden with Darth Vader in attendance?

        b&

        >

        • Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Ben, your claim twists the actual text and the only reason you would come to your interpretation is if you were already committed to the mythicist theory.

          I am not an expert on Hebrew or Greek (though I can read Latin), so I (like you) have to defer to experts on the best original translation. The vast majority of secular experts think that Josephus’ mention of James, “the brother of Jesus, the one they call Christ” (Christ is replaced by “Messiah” in some translations)is genuine and means just what it says.

          As many people have pointed out on this thread, “Jesus” is a common name, so Josephus gives each “Jesus” a modifying phrase. He gives this Jesus the unique modifying phrase “the one they call Christ/Messiah”. It is blindingly obvious that this is different from the “Jesus bar Damneus” As you yourself say, under your interpretation, the phrase “the one they call Christ” makes no sense under your interpretation. It makes perfect sense in the consensual interpretation of the majority of scholars on the subject. And this is the way the phrase was interpreted by Origen before there was any chance of Christians tampering with the text (as they did indeed do later in the Testamonium).

          This also coincides with Paul’s referring to James, the brother of Jesus. Of course mythicists have another text-straining explanation for that. The more one explores the mythicist hypothesis, the more texts get strained, until a breaking point is reached. I once thought the mythicist hypothesis was possibly valid, but it strains too many texts to the breaking point.

          • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            Lou, strike “who was called the Divine Anointed Savior” from the text. The whole passage makes perfect sense.

            Add it back in. Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that there’s a casual offhand mention of a demigod’s brother without any mention of the demigod himself?

            Imagine a New York Times article that went something like, “…in 1976, Billy (the Supreme Galactic Overlord’s Adjutant) lost his bid to become Mayor of Plains, Georgia. […] Two years later, Billy Carter was accused of receiving substantial loans from Libya, causing President Carter to distance himself from his brother.” Would you really think that it was about two different people, both named, “Billy,” and the toss-off bit about the Supreme Galactic Overlord’s Adjutant was essentially to differentiate between the two?

            b&

            >

            • Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              But Josephus does put identifiers after people with common names. In Josephus it is always “Jesus such-and-such”. Just as he does with John the Baptist. This is not out of place at all for him.

              And Josephus claims this Jesus is the brother of James the Just. Paul’s Jesus also has a brother named James.

              To counter your example, suppose someone was writing about the history of Guyana and mentioned that Jim Jones, who was called “the Chosen one” (or whatever they called him), led a bunch of people to kill themselves in Jonestown. This is no different from what Josephus does here, and no more remarkable.

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                But Josephus does put identifiers after people with common names.

                I’m always astounded when Christian apologists trot this one out.

                What Josephus does is no more and no less than use a person’s surname and common name both, the exact same way we do today. The “Jesus” in the passage is Jesus ben Damneus, literally translated as Jesus the son of Damneus — which is exactly the formula still used to this day in Judaism. Technically, for example, as far as any Orthodox Jews out there are concerned, I’m Baruch ben Gershom, Baruch the son of Gershom.

                But the formula is always so-and-so the son of this-and-that. It’s not so-and-so the brother of this-and-that, and especially not so-and-so the brother of this-and-that who was the Messiah whom all Jews had been praying for centuries would manifest in the flesh.

                Even if the Jesus in this passage were the Christian Jesus, Josephus would not have identified him as such. Instead, it would have been James ben Joseph, and then perhaps some additional commentary.

                b&

                >

              • Posted April 6, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                Ben, just for the record, I am not a Christian apologist, and I was a mythicist for a short while.

                I am not an expert on Josephus, nor are you. We’d be better off not pretending we’re experts but rather accept the consensus opinion of secular experts, which is that the passage in question is genuine (because it appears in all copies of Josephus, even the oldest Greek ones, and is cited by Origen before Christians could have tampered with it).

                Fine, maybe the experts are wrong. So you and I will muddle through this ourselves.

                You said “But the formula is always so-and-so the son of this-and-that. It’s not so-and-so the brother of this-and-that…”

                Really? A few seconds of googling led me to this passage which mentions a different Jesus without the “bar-X” (= “son of”) construction, but rather using “the brother of”:

                “Now Jesus was the brother of John, and was a friend of Bagoses, who had promised to procure him the High Priesthood. In confidence of whose support, Jesus quarreled with John in the Temple, and so provoked his brother, that in his anger his brother slew him.”

                Full context here:
                http://biblehub.com/library/josephus/the_antiquities_of_the_jews/chapter_7_how_john_slew.htm

                I would think Josephus would not always know the father’s name.

                As for adding the qualifier “who was called the Messiah”, Origen mentions it (even though it pointedly does not say “who WAS the Messiah”, as Origen might have wished). This was very early in Christianity’s history and it is unlikely that Christians could doctor a well-known book at that early date.

            • Posted April 6, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

              “Billy (the Supreme Galactic Overlord’s Adjutant) lost his bid to become Mayor of Plains”

              Note how you’ve distorted the analogy to fit your thesis. Josephus says “who was called the Christ”. Not “who WAS the Christ”. Your example would not look so out of place if the Times article had said “Billy, who was called the Supreme Commander” or whatever.

        • Brujo Feo
          Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          Hey…I was THERE in the Rose Garden with Ike and Xenu and Darth. I DONE SEEN IT with my own eyes.

          And I would have written it down, but, well, you know, ours is an oral tradition…

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 11, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      It is a very long article. The testable hypothesis I want to defend is if there is any historical evidence for the ‘Jesus’ myth figure.

      I.e. O’Neill’s claim “”There are no contemporary accounts or mentions of Jesus. … But our sources for anyone in the ancient world are scarce and rarely are they contemporaneous – they are usually written decades or even centuries after the fact.”

      Compare with the nearly not historical person Alexander The Great. The only historical evidence (no tomb, no contemporary coins, no contemporary statues) is this:

      “Contemporaries who wrote accounts of his life included Alexander’s campaign historian Callisthenes; Alexander’s generals Ptolemy and Nearchus; Aristobulus, a junior officer on the campaigns; and Onesicritus, Alexander’s chief helmsman. Their works are lost, but later works based on these original sources have survived.”

      [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great#Historiography ]

      O’Neill is pulling a fast one. And he calls himself a historian? Amazing!

  55. bobkillian
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    For anyone who finds Carrier slow going or complex, there’s an easier-to-digest alternative, “Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed” by David Fitzgerald
    Fun read.

  56. Posted April 4, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Here’s my problem:

    Saying there was a guy named Jesus who was crucified in the 1st century is about the equivalent of saying there was a guy named John Smith who died in WWII.

    Now imagine if we had started a religion about John Smith who died in WWII.

    (I picked WWII specifically because Pontius Pilate was a right bastard, who handed out executions/crucifixions like candy during Halloween. He actually got fired because he was so ruthless. But you wouldn’t know that just by reading the Gospels; furthermore, without the Gospels as evidence, we don’t even know when Jesus was thought to have been crucified, so that expands the range of possible dates of crucifixion to “sometime before Paul wrote”)

    It doesn’t really fit to say that the John Smith guy “existed” nor does it fit to say the guy didn’t exist. There’s much too little information to go on to dogmatically confirm/deny the guy’s existence.

    But there’s also a methodological issue that Biblical scholars can’t seem to grasp; it’s a reason why the humanities should learn some math.

    Most arguments in favor of a historical Jesus suffer from egregious conjunction fallacies: They multiply hypothetical sources — sources that are *inferred* to exist, rather than ones that are extant — to prop up their arguments. As though these hypothetical sources actually *increase* the likelihood of their arguments instead of the reverse! It’s so backwards I start to think that the whole field is just one of religious apologetics instead of secular scholarship.

    For example, one of the arguments for Jesus’ existence is the collection of his sayings called Q. But this Q is reconstructed based on the assumption that Matthew’s and Luke’s shared material came from a single source. No matter how convincing you find that assumption/argument, there’s some uncertainty there. Therefore, the strength of your certainty that Jesus existed, based on Q, can be *no stronger* than the uncertainty behind Q itself. The likelihood of Jesus’ existence *goes down* based on Q, not up.

  57. Issa
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think that it is really interesting that we see the Christ protagonist as a historical presence and see Mithras, Heracles, Horus, Odin, and Baal as being fictitious. When many of these protagonists in their own mythos share many of the same characteristics across the board.

  58. Posted April 4, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Oy! When this was posted, I was wandering the palace with Venus admiring some portraits of her that had been made over the centuries. And I’m sure I’m not going to have time to catch up….

    The short version…Jesus is an ancient Jewish demigod whose first Biblical appearance is in Zachariah, written something like the fourth century BCE. Philo identified the Jesus in Zachariah with the Logos. Paul is the earliest source for the Christian Jesus, and Paul’s Jesus is indistinguishable from Philo’s — theologically, especially, but the only new biography we get from Paul is the wholesale adaptation of the Mithraic Eucharist as the Last Supper. There’s a bit more in that vein, and then “Mark” writes his Gospel as a classic Euhemeric biography in the epic style of Homer, and does so sometime after the fall of Jerusalem. All later sources derive from or are otherwise influenced by Mark. We also see a lot of utterly bizarre heresies contemporary with the canon, including Marcion’s (adult Jesus beams down from Heaven) and the Gnostics (including, for example, the Egyptian Ophites for whom Jesus was a bizarre snake god).

    And when you look at the whole context of the era…Jesus is indistinguishable from all the others. He’s especially similar to the demigods cast as priests of Osiris and Dionysus, such as Orpheus. Everything significant you might care to identify about Jesus has a very obvious parallel in some well-known much-more-ancient Pagan deity. Think the famous “coat of many colors,” and you’ve basically figured out where Jesus came from.

    Gotta run….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • maryhelena
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Ben Goren: “Mark” writes his Gospel as a classic Euhemeric biography..’

      ———————-

      Not so. Have a look at this criticism of Carrier’s position on euhemerism:

      What Is Euhemerism?

      ”Consequently, taking into account the writings of euhemerists in the past as well as its usage by scholars in modern times, euhemerism cannot refer to the gospels, since none of the evangelists were trying to rationalize a celestial Christ. They may have been creating legendary terrestrial events in a reconstructed life of Jesus, but they were clearly not consciously creating history in order to demythologize Jesus. If anything, they were adding to the miraculous nature of a celestial Christ who once walked on Earth — building him into a beloved teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, a wise man, a champion of the poor, a great prophet who stood up to the corrupt priests, a deep thinker who jousted with Pharisees and Sadducees, a true friend of his followers, a ransom for many, the beloved son of God.”

      http://vridar.org/2016/01/25/what-is-euhemerism/

      Carrier should have stuck to ‘historizing’ his celestial Christ figure. His use of euhemerism in order to add validity to his theory of the gospel figure of Jesus is not supported by scholars of euhemerism.

      Further, you might care to consider the work of Nikolas Roubekas, a scholar who is making a name for himself re his study of euhemerism.

      Three articles by Roubekas are available for pdf download at
      https://aberdeen.academia.edu/NRoubekas

      Later this year Roubekas has a book coming out:

      An Ancient Theory of Religion: The Reception of Euhemerism from Antiquity to the Present (Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies) Hardcover – 15 Dec 2016.

      • Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        If anything, they were adding to the miraculous nature of a celestial Christ who once walked on Earth

        Sorry, but that bit I emphasized is exactly what Euhemerism is all about. A god starts as a celestial being and then is brought down to Earth. And of course the terrestrial stay is miraculous, and more miraculous with every fresh telling. How else do you expect a god to behave, and why would anybody write any stories about a god unless it was making the god even more miraculous? I mean, you wouldn’t write that Jesus took a leak in the back alley unless his piss magically turned into sweet wine that cured a blind beggar of his impotence.

        b&

        >

        • maryhelena
          Posted April 4, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Sorry to have to say this, Ben – but you don’t have an euhemerism scholar to back you up. Carrier has wrongly used euhemerism.

          From a post I made on that Vridar thread:

          If Carrier was to do what Euhemerus did he would be able to say: The origin of the Pauline celestial christ figure was earthly legend. Legend either with or without a known historical core.

          But Carrier cannot say this. He cannot say this because: ”At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other……If ‘Jesus Christ began as a celestial deity’…”.

          In other words; the origin of the Pauline celestial Christ figure, for Carrier, was not earthly.

          Therefore, Carrier is not using Euhemerism at all. He is using, of his own creation, a pseudo-euhemerism. A pseudo-euhemerism to suit his own ahistoricist/mythicist theory of the gospel Jesus figure.

          —-

          The sad part is that Carrier did not have to get himself into this position. He could simply have used the term ‘historiization’. By redefining euhemerism to support his own controversial mythicist theory he has added unnecessary negaative baggage for those advocating the ahistoricist/mythicist position.

          • Posted April 4, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

            Sorry, but you’re putting the cart before the horse. By your logic, we must assume that even Jupiter himself is an exaggeration of a mere mortal. Carrier’s whole point is that we saw in Euhemerus how things really went down, as exemplified in the very Platonic dialogue between Socrates and Phadreus at the top of the Wikipedia article: the two start (as you do) by assuming the historicity of the character and then invent rationalizations for how the story might have come to be.

            Indeed, it’s no different from Midrash. Contrary to common belief, there’s no Biblical story of a young Moses smashing idols in a temple; rather, there was the Biblical figure of Moses who brought an end to idolatry, and from there, “it would not be out of place for me to reject it, as our intellectuals do. I could then tell a clever story: I could claim that [young Moses smashed idols]; and once [he had done so] people said [he ended idolatry].”

            It’s how mythology has evolved since long before Euhemerus.

            And it’s plain as day that that’s how the Christ story evolved. All the important bits are there in distilled form in Zechariah, and everything in Mark is trivially demonstrable an example of, “it would not be out of place for me to reject it….”

            Cheers,

            b&

            >

            • maryhelena
              Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

              Ben, I called you out re your reference to: “Mark” writes his Gospel as a classic Euhemeric biography.’

              What you need to do is quote from euhemerist scholars in order to support your, and Carrier’s, use of euhemerism.

              You have failed to do that.

              Carrier has also failed to support his arguments re euhemerism with reference to a euhemerist scholar. A quick search of OHJ did not turn up any mention of Marek Winiarczyk – a leading, and renowned scholar on this subject.

              As for the scholarly work of Nikolas Roubekas, Carrier said on his blog: ”He is making distinctions not relevant to the current question”.

              Carrier has an idiosyncratic, non-standard, non-scholarly, use of Euhemerism. Carrier has created a Carrierism…..

              It’s not a good policy, if one wants ones work to be taken seriously, to start re-defining words to suit ones own views….

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, but arguments to authority mean nothing. If the scholars you’re enamored with have anything worthwhile, you should be able to summarize them reasonably well yourself.

                As it is, the most charitable interpretation I can make of your argument is that the Christians brought Jesus down to Earth but left his head in the clouds, so that doesn’t count as “Euhemerism.” Even if true, it’s worse for the historicist case and so irrelevant. But it’s also clearly not the case, as exemplified by the Socratic dialogue I mentioned. Yes, yes — perfectly mundane details were added. But in Jesus’s case, as well; he washed somebody’s feet, fer chrissake! And Socrates still concludes that Boreas really did carry away Orithyia, just in a different way from prior myth…as the Christians concluded that Jesus really was the architect and high priest of YHWH’s temple, just in a different (and much more down-to-Earth) way from how Zechariah thought he was.

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                Ben: As it is, the most charitable interpretation I can make of your argument is that the Christians brought Jesus down to Earth but left his head in the clouds, so that doesn’t count as “Euhemerism.” Even if true, it’s worse for the historicist case and so irrelevant.

                —————

                It’s not my argument that is at issue here – it is your argument – and Carrier’s…..(your above statement does not reflect my argument at all…..)

                Actually, a Jesus historicist can make better use of euhemerism than can a Carrier mythicist. At least they would be starting where Euhemerus started i.e. the origin of the Olymlpian gods was earthly. Euhemerism is a theory that is bottom up, not, re Carrier, top down.

                Hopefully, this short exchange will make you more suspect when referencing euhemerism. Otherwise, like Carrier, you will find yourself getting called out….

                Historizing does the job that Carrier wants euhemerism to do – and does so without burdening his theory with controversy – he surely has enough of that already without adding the unnecessary misuse of euhemerism.

              • Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                At least they would be starting where Euhemerus started i.e. the origin of the Olymlpian gods was earthly.

                Eh, I’m still not sure what you’re arguing here.

                You might be arguing that the Olympian gods really did start as real nobodies about whom fantastic tales grew, but it’s really quite obvious that that’s not the case.

                You might instead be arguing that Euhemerus sought to create stories of Earthly origins for the Olympians — which, of course, is exactly the case. But that’s also exactly what the Christians did. In Zechariah, Jesus was an entirely celestial being acting upon the celestial stage; Philo’s Jesus was the Platonic archetype of the human soul (as Adam was the Platonic archetype of the human body); Paul’s Jesus was Philo’s, save Paul’s Jesus spoke to Paul in hallucinations; and Mark’s Jesus was born of a Virgin and died on the Cross.

                So, again, all I’m left with is that you might be complaining that the Christians kept Jesus extra special magical when he came to Earth…but did not Hercules still Labor? Did not Jason still Sail? Did not Orpheus still Sing?

                Cheers,

                b&

                >

  59. sshort
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    If it looks like a fable, reads like a fable and sounds like a fable… it’s a fable.

    I very much like a good fable, and I like to read history. They are usually fairly discernible.

    This fable ain’t even close.

  60. Vaal
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m late to this party but..

    I had read the Mcleans article and figured someone would be alerting Jerry 🙂

    The memory issues brought up by Ehrman are just one of the many reasons it’s absurd to rely on claims of the Gospel writers as “facts” that must be explained (e.g. purported facts about the beliefs of disciples or others who purportedly saw Jesus). We have nothing like the access we’d need to these people to even establish what they believed, let alone that what they believed was true. What happens in criminal cases? Witnesses are brought forth and GRILLED, because we first need to hear from the witnesses what they claim. Often, what was claimed FOR the witness is inaccurate (i.e. the witnesses say “I didn’t really say that…”) and often enough the stories from the witnesses change, or all sorts of holes are found in the testimony.

    How in the world are we supposed to simply drop this type of rigor and prudence when it comes to hearsay claims, thousands of years ago, and not for an ordinary crime but for a miraculous resurrection from the dead? It’s insane. Not to mention the absolutely dire history of dubious supernatural claims leading us to the highest skepticism about claims of that nature to begin with.

  61. Vaal
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Even if you go with Jesus having existed, from Christians you get the old “If Jesus didn’t actually resurrect, his followers would have known the resurrection story to be false” and “legends or stories of resurrection don’t happen that fast”

    That’s of course nonsense. “Godmen” of India, such as Sai Baba of Shirdi, have after death bodily appearances claimed for them:

    http://www.saibaba.org/shirdi12.html

    “Testimonials come pouring in from all quarters of the tangible reappearance of Sai Baba. In many cases the Master gives darshan (appearances) in actual flesh and blood, not only to those who had been his close disciples during his life time, but also to many others who had not even seen him or heard of him.”

    And it’s been fascinating following the aftermath of the recent death of Sathya Sai Babba, who died in 2011. Some of his followers expect him to resurrect. And you can actually see a resurrection legend building in real time. His followers have dreams of Sai Babba, which they already start interpreting as actual visits – that his presence in dreams indicate his actual PHYSICAL return:

    “Has our dearest Bhagawan already returned in His physical form? Some of the recent dreams/visions received by devotees at the commencement of 2015, certainly suggest so.”

    http://www.saikingdom.com/devotees/dreams/755-has-swami-returned

    There are many such reports, and you can see in the comments they are greeted enthusiastically by devotees. Others are reporting manifestations of physical substances left by a secretly visiting Sai Babba to their home. You can just see how much people want to see him physically, and how being the first to report a purely physical appearance will make that person feel special. And low and behold, now we are seeing reports of after death physical appearances. This person starts with a dream, but ends with a real appearance:

    “THERE I SAW SWAMI PHYSICALLY IN THE BALCONY ABOVE THE MAHASAMADHI WITH BOTH HANDS RAISED (ABHAYAHASTHA) !!!”

    If Jesus existed, and he had, like many cult leaders, people following him around who had “left everything” (family etc) for him, that is precisely the type of commitment that induces the cognitive dissonance reduction strategies seen in cults. It is entirely plausible that, like the devotees of Indian Godmen, Jesus’ followers after his physical death interpreted whatever they could as signs of Jesus’ being the messiah, with a continuing existence, with claims of Jesus’ presence and visitations growing in scope, and further exaggerated in the telling from one person to another to those writing the bible.

    • Vaal
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

      Ugh, sorry for the above. I didn’t expect the url to the Sai Babba physical appearance story to embed that page on this site.

      My apologies.

  62. maryhelena
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    James McGrath has a blog post re Jerry’s above post…..lots of comments….
    —————–

    It’s Time to Think about whether Evolution Really Happened

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/04/its-time-to-think-about-whether-evolution-really-happened.html#dq

  63. Dick Veldkamp
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Jesus and Mo sum up the matter nicely:
    http://jesusandmo.net/?sodoff=empty+tomb&key=transcript

  64. Zippy
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    What I find odd is that the idea that Jesus never existed only started growing in popularity fairly recently (18th century, so recent in a relative sense). Is it just because people simply did not question the church back then or is it because we are far enough removed from the time during which he was supposed to have existed that we’ve lost whatever physical evidence may have existed?

    Personally I consider myself an Atheist, but I don’t shout from the rooftops that Jesus never existed because I feel there is a pretty decent chance that he did. Was he the son of god and born of a virgin? Nope. Did he rise from the dead and continue preaching for a time before ascending to heaven? Nope. Did he exist? Well, I have not the evidence to disprove his existence, so I’m willing to believe that a Jesus of Nazareth existed around that time. Mostly I attribute his likelihood of existing to the way in which he met his end. Getting crucified is the sort of thing that reaches the newspapers (or their equivalent in antiquity) so stories of a fellow who preached about God and peace and such being put to death would be just the sort of thing used to start a religion.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      “Getting crucified is the sort of thing that reaches the newspapers(or their equivalent in antiquity)…”

      Not really. Countless people were executed this way (and plenty of other ways) in antiquity. This sort of thing was not “front page” stuff.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        Yes. The way Xtians go on about it, you’d think it was some spectacularly cruel and unusual punishment. Well, hideously cruel it certainly was (was there any punishment in those days that wasn’t?), but regrettably not in the least unusual.

        Of course there’s a clue to that in the Bible account itself – a pair of guys alongside Jesus who got the death penalty for theft – but that always gets downplayed by the Xtians.

        cr

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        GBJames: Countless people were executed this way (and plenty of other ways) in antiquity. This sort of thing was not “front page” stuff.
        ————-
        Indeed many Roman executions, whether by crucifixion or other means took place – and would not have been ‘front page’ news. Especially so if the one executed was a nobody figure, a figure of no consequence to Rome or Jewish society.

        However, how about a Roman execution of a real flesh and blood King of the Jews – what then – would not that be front page news?

        How many people are shot every day in the US – and their deaths never make it to the ‘front page’? How many ‘front pages’ did the shooting of Kennedy produce?

        The only Roman execution that had the kind of power to generate a ‘front page’ was that of the Hasmonean King, Antigonus II Mattathias. Executed by Marc Antony in 37 b.c.e. It is memory of that historical execution that supports the gospel crucifixion story – a story set around 70 years later – as a memorial, a remembrance.

        It was when memory of Jewish history faded that the gospel Jesus crucifixion story started to be read as history.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 5, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Yes, the reason Paul was all “I’m a Roman! I’m a Roman!” was so he could be taken back to Rome, tried as a Roman citizen and if the worst thing happened, be executed as a Roman citizen….instead of plopped up on a cross and crucified like all the riff raff. People criticize Paul of that but you can’t blame the guy.

      • Posted April 5, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        “Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.”

        /@

  65. maryhelena
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    For Ben Goren: I’m putting this post in a new thread as the present thread is in danger of becoming a long list containing very few words per line – making reading difficult…

    —————–
    Ben, I’m not here to educate you…..Your above statements indicate that your knowledge of what the theory of euhemerism is is lacking….

    I have mentioned Nickolas Roubekas to you and said that some articles are available at academic.edu. Seemingly, you have not made the effort to look at them. Remarking that ‘arguments to authority mean nothing’…

    I will leave this thread with this quote from Roubekas:

    What is Euhemerism? A Brief History of Research and Some Persisting Questions

    Nickolas P. Roubekas

    Whose euhemerism do we study then? The Hellenistic euhemerism has Zeus as its protagonist and narrates how kings were deified while they were still alive. The deification of previous dead kings plays a secondary role in the narrative; the Sacred Inscription is about Zeus. At the same time, this Hellenistic euhemerism makes an explicit distinction between earthly (Olympian) and heavenly gods, with Euhemerus maintaining that it is the latter group of deities that is truly divine. The early Christian euhemerism, on the other hand, concentrates on Euhemerus’ earthly gods in order to show the superiority of the Christian God but also seeks to establish a clear-cut classification of all previous religions versus the one religion (theirs/ours), while modern euhemerism maintains that every case of deified dead people constitutes an example of euhemerism and should be treated as such.

    https://www.academia.edu/6858533/What_is_Euhemerism_A_Brief_History_of_Research_and_Some_Persisting_Questions

    ————–

    There is nothing in that quote, from a scholar of euhemerism, to suggest that euhemerism relates to bringing a celestial being down to earth and creating a mythological earthly existence for said celestial being.

    That’s it from me re euhemerism. It’s pointless to continue when no attempt has been made to consider scholarly work in this subject.

    • Posted April 5, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Mary, the rest of that quote makes quite plain that the author of the quote himself recognizes that there’s conflict amongst his peers as to the “proper” definition of the term. Indeed, the whole point is his lament that nobody agrees with his own definition, though he at least urges clarity in definition.

      Richard does exactly that. He identifies how earlier pre-Christian traditions shifted the gods from one plane to another, especially including Euhemerus who grounded the celestial deities on Earth. He observes that the Christians did the exact same thing with Jesus: they took the entirely celestial Jesus of Zechariah and placed him on Earth in the recent past.

      If you’ve got a problem with Richard performing concluding that those are two instances of the same phenomenon, I suggest you take it up with all the other scholars the author of the article you cite is railing against as well.

      After all, the very passage you quote identifies no fewer than four different types of Euhemerism, with the only significant differences being the rhetorical goal of the theology in question.

      Indeed, you have about as much complaint here as Xerox, Inc., does against me when I xerox a tax form on a Canon-branded photocopier.

      b&

      >

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:50 am | Permalink

        Ben, that you can take the quote from Roubekas and claim that Carrier ”does exactly that” is simply mind-blowing….

        Roubekas is a scholar of Euhemerus – making, so it seems, a name for himself in this specialized field. Obviously, the man will be dealing with variations in how the theory of euhemerism developed and was used. However, contrary your position, and Carrier’s, Roubekas has not, from anything I have read, even suggested that euhemerism can be used the way that Carrier is using it.

        Roubekas: ”… received his PhD from the Aristotle University in Greece with a thesis on Euhemerus of Messene and his theory of religion.”

  66. Posted April 6, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that this post was used by a prominent Christian apologist and debater to question whether evolution is real.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/04/its-time-to-think-about-whether-evolution-really-happened.html

    • Posted April 6, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Someone already posted that link.

      McGrath isn’t really questioning whether or not evolution is real, he’s just posing the question rhetorically in any attempt to show how ridiculous Jerry’s questioning Jesus’s existence is. Quite a bogus comparison given the overwhelming volume, variety and strength of the evidence for evolution compared to the scarce, meagre and weak evidence for a historic Jesus.

      /@

      • Posted April 6, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the reply. Maybe it was a mistake to re-post the link to McGrath’s blog.

  67. Booker
    Posted April 6, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Just want to interject a few random comments into the discussion.

    Above it’s mentioned that Paul references that Jesus was “betrayed,” inferring that there was a betrayer, who (based on the Gospels) must have been Judas. This actually provides a nice example of mistakenly reading Paul’s letters through Gospel tinted lenses. My understanding is that, though its commonly translated as betrayed, the word used in the original Greek the word is actually “delivered” (as in “served up” as an offering or sacrifice).

    In regard to James, he is never referenced by Paul as the brother of Jesus, but as “Brother of the Lord.” It might not seem like a big difference, but as he references other followers of Christ as “Brothers and Sisters of the Lord,” it creates a reasonable line of thinking that this was not a biological brother but simply another member of the Jerusalem church.

    In regard to Josephus and “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ/Messiah,” there are a number of reasons not to connect these two individuals with the Jesus and James of Christian lore. One is that the context of Jesus and James in the passage points to them being the sons of Damneus: James, brother of Jesus, was unjustly killed by the high priest, who was punished for this action by being deposed and replaced by Jesus, son of Damneus. It’s perfectly logical to connect that the Jesus who was James’ brother is the same Jesus, son of Damneus, who replaced the high priest who unjustly had James killed. Also, the events of the passage take place in the early to mid 60’s, a full thirty years after the Gospel Jesus would have died, so there’s a question of whether a brother of his would have even still been alive. Another reason to doubt that the passage references Christian figures is that Acts in no way reflects this story. Wouldn’t that be strange for Josephus to better know the fate of Jesus’ family than early Christians? In regard to the authenticity of the phrase, one theory is that a Christian scribe made an incorrect marginal reference that was later copied into the text, but also consider that Christ/Messiah simply means “anointed,” and high priests were considered “anointed.” So the passage could very well be authentic but simply reference that Jesus (or James, for that matter, if you read the clause as describing him and not his brother) was called “anointed,” but not necessarily Christ/Messiah. Either way, there’s good reason not to take this as historical proof of the Jesus of the Gospels.

    And one last comment, in regard to the Gospels. The article from MacLeans discusses whether the early oral history in regards to Jesus can be trusted, but once one understands how the Gospels were written you come to understand that oral history likely played a minimal role, if any, in their creation. The first Gospel, Mark, is a very carefully crafted piece of allegorical faith literature preaching Pauline Christianity. It’s main source appears to be the Septuagint, as it recasts Old Testament stories with Jesus as the central figure – see the work of Robert Price on this subject: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm. There are internal patterns and rhythm in how it tells the story, and also use of literary devices such as telling an allegorical story within a story that tells a bigger “truth” (an example of this is the fig tree story that wraps around the cleansing of the temple — the fig tree is a metaphor for the temple, which no longer is “bearing fruit” and is cursed to never do so again). For more on the subject, here’s a presentation from Richard Carrier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e7uhaed594. So beyond Mark, Matthew is a rewrite that contains about 90% of Mark, but is preaching a more Torah observant Christianity. Luke is also a rewrite, containing about 55% of Mark, but also taking wisdom quotes from Matthew but placing them in different points within the narrative, that attempts to resolve the differences between Mark and Matthew and also place the narrative in a more historical setting. John is a pretty much straight reboot preaching a different Gospel but there is evidence that the author was also using Marks Gospel for the basic narrative framework (here’s more about how it differs from the other three — http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_john.htm). So there’s good reason to view the Gospels not as accounts of actual occurrences, but, again, as carefully crafted pieces of allegorical faith literature. On top of that, as there is a traceable line of influence from Mark to the others, so that rules out the idea that they’re based on first person experiences.

    • Posted April 7, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      The plot thickens. Those are good points re Josephus.

  68. maryhelena
    Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Booker: ‘It’s perfectly logical to connect that the Jesus who was James’ brother is the same Jesus, son of Damneus, who replaced the high priest who unjustly had James killed.
    —————–
    Well, I, for one, find no logic at all in that interpretation of the Josephus account.

    Josephus contradicts himself in that account re the nature of the High Priest Ananus ben Ananus. Indicating that more is at stake here than a ‘bad’ High Priest. And to top that mythicists want to add their own idiosyncratic interpretation to Josephus’ contradictory story….Ambiguity upon ambiguity.

    Rule number one in dealing with Josephus is to look where he places his stories. In this case around 62/64 c.e. That dating is around 100 years from the events of 37/36 b.c.e. And what happened around 37/36 b.c.e.? Herod the Great had the High Priest, Aristobulus III,drowned. Aristobulus, sister of Mariamne, was the last Hasmonean High Priest to hold office.

    After Rome had Antiqonus executed, Herod set up Ananelus as High Priest in 37/36 b.c.e. Ananelus was removed the same year in order for Aristobulus to be made High Priest. Herod changing his mind, seemingly, arranged to have Aristobulus drowned – and then replaced Ananelus as High Priest.

    Although High Priest Ananus ben Ananus was only removed in 62/64 c.e. he was killed around 7 years later during the Judean war. Earlier, Herod had ex High Priest, Hyrcanus II, killed about 7 years after the killing of Aristobulus II.

    Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with Josephus is that he claimed Hasmonean blood. i.e. his people’s history was paramount – as was remembering that history during Roman occupation.

    What Josephus is remembering with the Jesus and James account is the end of Hasmonean rule in Judea. Jesus and James, using the names of two gospel brothers, reflecting the blood connection between Antigonus II Mattathias and Aristobulus III – blood brothers of the family of Alexander Jannaeus. Thereby, of course, linking the gospel political allegorical story to Hasmonean history.

    Yep, Jewish history is far more fascinating than the never ending mythicist vs historicist debate over Josephus and the Jesus and James story….Josephus can tell stories as well as any gospel writer….

    • Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Do we no of any sources for Josephus’s mention and James-the-brother-of-Jesus? Could he bee riffing off Paul’s mention of James-the-brother-of-the-Lord?

      /@

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 7, 2016 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        I think what we can say is that the Josephan writer knows the NT story. Whether that means he supports that story or that he is simply using that story for his own ends…..is, of course, the ninety nine dollar question….;-)

        I don’t think, contra the historicists, that one can use Josephus to support a historical Jesus. What Josephus is doing is, at the very least, making reference to the NT story. It’s what we make of the NT story that will determine how we use Josephus – not the other way around. If, as I believe, the NT story is not history, that the figures in that story are not historical (baring, of course, documented historical figures, Herod etc)then what Josephus is doing is supporting, or using, the NT story. He is not supplying historical evidence for the historicity of figures in that story.

        With that view a whole new avenue of research into early christian origins opens up – that’s where the fun begins…;-) Josephus is, to my mind, the last hurdle to cross in the search for early christian origins.

        • Posted April 7, 2016 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          Thanks. That’s kind of what I expected. Josephus doesn’t add any weight to the Jesus-is-historical-because-he-had-a-brother argument, because there’s no evidence his account is independent of Paul’s, right?

          /@

          • maryhelena
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            Right!
            Simply really…
            Why mythicists get themselves in a knot re the Jesus and James story beats me. Even if one does not want to see the Josephus story as connecting to Hasmonean history – the simple fact of the matter is that the NT story is known to Josephus. That does not mean that he believes the story is history. To believe that he does is an assumption on the part of the Jesus historicists. Josephus can just as well believe the NT is a story.

            Josephus is not simply an historian. He was, according to two Josephan scholars, a prophet. That could mean that he was writing pseudo-history alongside history. i.e. his prophetic understanding or interpretation of history influenced his writing.
            ———————–

            ”Josephus’ prophetic role as historian merits special attention…..In War 1.18-19 he declares that he will begin writing his history where the prophets ended theirs, so he is continuing this part of their prophetic function. According to Ap.1.29 the priests were custodians of the nation’s historical records, and in Ap.1.37 inspired prophets wrote that history. As a priest Josephus is a custodian of his people’s traditions, and by continuing that history in the Jewish War and subsequently by rewriting it in his Antiquities, he is a prophet. For Josephus prophets and historians preserve the past and predict the future, and he has picked up the mantle of creating prophetic writings. Perhaps, in his own mind he is the first since the canonical prophets to generate inspired historiography….”

            Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis by Robert Karl Gnuse.
            ————————

            ”This is, of course, an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. There is no denying that the picture we now possess of Josephus as a prophet has been refined and developed in various ways. For example, the ideas that he claims first came to him in a moment of prophetic revelation at Jotapata – that God was punishing the Jews for their sins and that fortune had gone over to the Romans – have become major interpretive themes in the War as a whole. Josephus also sometimes reinforces the prophetic claims that he makes for himself by subtle changes in his presentation of the ancient prophets. And it is probable that, with the passage of time, Josephus’ image of himself as a prophet became clearer in his own mind.”

            Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus: by Rebecca Gray.

            —————————

          • Posted April 7, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

            But was Paul well-enough known at that date to influence Josephus? It seems to me that Paul gains notoriety only in retrospect. Furthermore this idea contradicts another comment somewhere above which pointed out that this could not be the Christian Jesus/James pair, because the story was set in a different context than that of early Christian writing.

            So if the story matches elements of early Christian writing, it is dismissed by mythicists as derivative. And if it doesn’t match exactly, it is dismissed by mythicists as irrelevant. This pattern of argument seems to be common in mythicist polemis: “heads I win, tails you lose.”

            • Posted April 7, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

              “polemis” > “polemics”

            • maryhelena
              Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

              ”But was Paul well-enough known at that date to influence Josephus? It seems to me that Paul gains notoriety only in retrospect. ”
              ——————-

              Well now, since the NT gives no date for the death of it’s Paul figure – perhaps Josephus met up with him when in Rome after the war of 70 c.e…..;-)

              They, surely, would have much to talk about – seeing that they both had experienced shipwreck on their way to Rome, had been in prison, and both agreed Gentiles need not be circumcised to live among Jews. Oh, and they both had a friend named Epaphroditus….There you go – perhaps Epaphroditus was the one relying Paul’s ideas to Josephus….;-)

              • maryhelena
                Posted April 7, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                ..the one relaying….

            • Torbjörn Larsson
              Posted April 11, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              “So if the story matches elements of early Christian writing, it is dismissed by mythicists as derivative. And if it doesn’t match exactly, it is dismissed by mythicists as irrelevant.”

              You mean _some_ mythicists.

              Me, I don’t see that ‘Paul’ is a historical person anymore than ‘Jesus’ was, no historical acceptable evidence.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted April 11, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

                By the way, since this got personal when you painted a whole group from the behavior of a few. I have to ask why if you accept that mythicists can be right (in an earlier comment), you are opposed to the possibility to a high degree? I am open for accepting that these mythical figures were somehow historical persons, but I need to see the evidence. As usual, it is simply not forthcoming and that is all I can comment on.

                Instead this whole thread have been non-historical polemics, except your own useful comment on null hypothesis. (Where I don’t agree, because it makes a (religious?) special pleading against the usual null hypothesis of no existence.)

    • Booker
      Posted April 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Hi Mary,

      So, I just want to make sure I understand. You’re saying that the Jesus and James in Josephus are names that were pulled by Josephus from the Gospel story, which itself is an allegory based or influenced in part by the end of the Hasmonean rule, and that the story in Josephus taking place in 62/64ce is actually a retelling of those events taking place 37/36 bce?

      • maryhelena
        Posted April 7, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        You got it…;-)

        Perhaps this re-wording would suit me better…

        ”….the story in Josephus *set in* 62/64ce is actually a retelling of those events taking place 37/36 bce?”

        Consider it a remembrance, in the form of an allegory, of days long ago…

        We remember the bad days as well as the good days. The recent 100 year commemoration in Dublin comes to mind. Yep, the Easter rising failed in 1916 – but that tragedy was remembered this Easter when the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic was read out in front of the General Post Office
        (GPO).

        In Europe the 1916 Battle of the Somme will be remembered this year.

        Wikipedia:

        ”It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. It was one of the largest battles of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.”

        Keep in mind that the Jews were living under Roman occupation – outward remembrance of the tragic end of Jewish self-rule would not be politically wise. The alternative? Political allegory…

        • Booker
          Posted April 7, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          Thank you. I’ve not heard that theory before — can you point out to me where I’d find supporting information?

          • maryhelena
            Posted April 7, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

            Yours truly I’m afraid 😉

            Over the years I have posted on various forums – the name ‘maryhelena’ with that of Antigonus theory is well know….;-)

            Basically, I view the gospel crucifixion story, a story set around 29/33 c.e. to be a remembrance of the Roman execution of Antigonus in 37 b.c.e. (a 70 year remembrance). I view the gospel Jesus as a composite figure. The King of the Jews gospel crucifixion story reflecting Antigonus who was executed in Antioch – the city where Christians were first called by that name. (There is of course more to the gospel Jesus story than it’s crucifixion story….)

            What did the Hasmoneans do after the loss of their kingdom? Could well be that they settled for a new spiritual kingdom – a Jerusalem above….

            Thomas Brodie: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

            ”… it is still not clear what historical situation led to setting up the image of the crucified messiah, but one of its components was a process that that was writing-based, and particularly scripture-based. Some form of crisis within Judaism apparently led a significant number of Jews to embark on a process of renewal that would require the development of their scriptures into a new narrative, involving a new covenant (or testament, I Cor. 1 1 .25), a term that had precedent within the scriptures
            (Jer. 3 1 .3 1 -34); a fresh covenant had been seen as an addition, not a replacement (Deut.28.69).

            The undertaking contained the building of a story-narrative, historicized-fiction especially about Jesus and Paul, and such story-building can be described with terms such as fiction, myth, invention, conspiracy and forgery (Ehrman 2012: 82, 1 1 4). The same terms can be used of the Torah, the Book of Moses, which was not written by Moses. At
            one level these terms are true, but used pejoratively they miss the heart of the matter, namely that, despite their use of story and their limitations, the Torah, Gospels and Epistles contain deepest wisdom.

            • Posted April 7, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              “I view the gospel crucifixion story, a story set around 29/33 c.e. to be a remembrance of the Roman execution of Antigonus in 37 b.c.e.”

              Gosh, that seems unlikely, given Paul’s statements that he knew and met apostles of Jesus not long after 29/33 ce.


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